Welcome to Elaria

a Short Story by Katie Hutchinson

I always had vivid dreams as a child. In my dreams, I was a pirate, a fairy, or just me. My dreams took me on adventures that felt so real yet ended when the sun streamed into my windows. But with great dreams came even greater nightmares. Some nights I would wake up covered in sweat, gasping for air after coming back to my reality. In the most lively, I would return to the world with scratches and bruises all over my body. My dreams never scared me, except for one. I am still running from it today.

“Welcome to Elaria,” says a woman, covered in sapphires, gold, and rubies.“I do hope the journey was not too rough. Sometimes those who enter for the first time can experience struggles”. This was a new one for the books. I had always entered my dreams like I had always been there and they would resume as if I never left. Come to think of it, I never remember falling asleep. And in other worlds, I knew the characters within. They were my friends from school, an actor from a TV show, or even book characters I saw in a fanart. But the women I had never seen before. She was not a friend's mother, a woman I noticed on the street or an actress.

“Where am I?” I asked the gilded woman. “As I said, you are in Elaria. Our world is just beyond the realm you come from. Only those with a divine consciousness and an open mind may enter. You may choose to stay, like most do, or leave, but we do wish for you to stay.” the goddess began to walk and signaled me to follow. Just another adventure, and so I followed her. “The history of Elaria runs deep within our blood. Many years ago, humans were living in shambles. Slums, hidden away from the world to protect themselves from those who sought to hunt them. One night a woman-Gia- prayed to me for help. And so I did and led them to the land of Elaria. For centuries, our ancestors have sought to protect this land from threats. We hope you can use your more “modern” knowledge of the world to aid our cause”. We reached a clearing, full of wildflowers, fruit trees, and small creatures. To the left stood 2 twin mountains. “I’ve never seen mountains quite like this before. They seem out of a fairytale or an old myth I used to hear.” I muttered to the goddess. I could not tell why I was so drawn to the mountains, but something overtook me. “Please tell me the stories of your land. What do the mountains remind you of” asked the goddess? “An Aztec''Romeo and Juliet”, a man loved the princess but had to go to war. The princess was falsely told of her lover's demise and sought to join him in the afterlife. When the warrior came back to see the body of his beloved Princess, he took their bodies just outside of Tenochtitlan and began to weep beside her grave. So, taking pity the gods covered both with snow and turned them into mountains so they may always be together” I responded still gazing at the mountains which now seemed to be the home of a few goats singing in the distance. “What a marvelous story, I do wish to hear more but I must be off to take care of something. Please explore, and remember to go to the mountains at the full moon. The hunters may still be lurking and the caverns of the mountains are the safest place. It will take place in 2 nights, so you may do as you please with the nocturnal hours for 2 days.” the goddess explained as I marveled at the world around me.

Before I could ask any more questions, the goddess vanished into a pile of gilded dust scattered to the wind. Off in the distance, watering holes for animals sprawled along the plains, colorful birds flew overhead, and insects wandered around me in search of food. The sun rested in the sky and covered the earth in a soft blanket, warm but not hot. The breeze was soft and wave-like. This world truly is perfection. My attention was drawn back to the mountains. There was a figure standing at the opening along the side. My thoughts wandered to the conversation a few moments ago with the goddess, be weary of the mountains and the hunters. I moved away from the beautiful mountains, not long enough to try and see what was on the mountains, and certainly not long enough for it to see me.

I walked until the sun set and the moon and stars danced in the sky. I knew very little of the world, but it was only slightly different from my dreams prior. As the sun went to sleep, a new world came alive. Glowing bugs radiated the sky and the stars laughed with the moon. The night was truly perfect. Oddly enough I was tired, another new experience. Usually, I can go for hours in the dream world without being tired. But, I found a haven beneath a willow tree and drifted to sleep. I have no idea how long that lasted before I was awoken by the snap of a twig. I moved without thinking and suddenly I was wrestling a boy no older than me. He had long brown hair and the darkest eyes I had ever seen. The boy was strong and managed to free himself from my grasp. He had a small scar on the top of his left cheekbone. . “Who are you and why are you stalking me” I yelled

“Hey, what do you mean by stalking you? I live here too ya know”. It had never dawned on me that there might be others here, after all, it was a long night in our world. “Look, I have no clue who you are but please leave, this is my tree and you have already interrupted my rest” I turned back to where I had once slept. “Oh, your tree huh? Hate to break it to you but I was here first” he responded. I was taken back to the first moments of my arrival. The trees, the sun, the mountains, and the creature looked back at me from the mountains. This was that creature. Another creature, like the goddess, I had never seen or imagined before. He could have matched any “dark and brooding” character in a fantasy novel, so I assumed my mind was making up its own visuals, very normal so I’ll be fine.

“What's your name anyway,” he said

“Since when I have been obligated to tell you anything? You wake me up, insult me, and now you demand to know my name”

“Well then if you won’t tell me yours, I'll tell you mine. The name’s Henry. And now, it would usually be kind to return with a name”

I still refused to say a word. I stared blankly at Henry hoping he would take the hint to go away but he never did. Instead, he made himself comfortable and lay down looking at the stars.

“Do you ever wonder what it would be like to live here forever?” he asked.

“How long have you been here?” My intrigue got the better of me. I had been here one day, how long had he been here?

“I have no clue. I lost track of time a while ago.”

Which meant one of two things in my mind, he never found his way out or he never wanted to go back to wherever he was before. I felt an odd sense of trust in him. He seemed normal and provided a sherpa around my new dream. So we kept the interrogation going.

I have no clue how long we kept talking but at some point, the sun came up. We talked about our lives, families, and whatever else came to mind. And when the sun came up, the heat came but we spent the day swimming and exploring. He took me all around from the rainforests to the prairies and even to a Sahara with lions and such. By far this had to be the best dream, the lions were more like domesticated cats and the cheetahs let you ride them like horses. I had no idea what time it was or how much time had passed but I was covered in sweat and dust. Henry led us both to an oasis in the desert where we cleaned off and swam with hippos. While swimming, I cut my foot on what I thought was a rock. When I looked, I saw a snake sneak out, blood seeping from its fangs. Why would it hurt me? Not even 20 minutes ago, I was hugging cheetahs and playing with lion cubs. I sprang from the water faster than I ever had. Holding my ankle trying to stop the bleeding when Henry saw the commotion and came over. “Woah, that's a bite if I’ve ever seen one. What happened to you” Henry asked while looking at my foot.

“Snakebite. What should I do?”

“Nothing, it’ll heal on its own. In the meantime, look at the snake that bit you”. I looked over and saw the snake crumbling in the sun as if its skeleton snapped. Then it faded into a pile of gilded dust, just like the goddess did on my first day.

“What the hell just happened” shock overcame me. It was a snake that had hurt me prior yes, but the woman claimed nothing would harm me, and yet something did.

“It's fine, he hurt you, and nothing that harms another can stay in this world. It has to be flushed out, like the devil in the garden of Eden” Henry said oddly cold yet calming. The entire situation triggered something in me. Things began to feel off like I was no longer dreaming but trapped in a dystopian novel. I kept reminding myself of my active brain and chalked it up to some unconscious memory of mine. Henry was standing with a hand out to help me up. I took his hand and got my footing on the earth again. Henry helped wipe away the blood and mud that painted my heel. And oddly, enough there was no wound. No scar, no cut, nothing.

“Ah, there you go now you’re all better. It was why the snake had to die, a life for a life. Everything comes at a cost and everything needs an exchange” Henry sounded as if he were reading a poem. This time, I could see a shift. This was no longer the Henry I met under the tree yesterday. This was something colder and darker.

“So do I get to know your name? I have saved your life twice now” he asked. Why did he want to know my name so badly? Why was I so insistent on not telling him my name? I remembered reading a story when I was younger. About fairies stealing the souls of mortals when they said their names. I’ve always protected it for that. I know fairies don’t exist, but still. Then again, Henry didn't look like a fairy. He looked normal, like me. Maybe he shared my ability and if things started to go south, I could always just leave. “Alina,” I said. He looked at me for a moment and then smiled. His grin made him glow like the goddess. I just stared at him, waiting for a fairy to steal my soul, but nothing happened. Finally, he spoke.

“Lovely name Alina. Now, next time we get into a pinch you get to save me. I think that’s enough swimming for the day. I’m sure there are more things to see and do.” he began walking off toward the distance. I stalled for a moment as the sun faded beneath the horizon, remembering what the goddess warned of the full moon. It had been 2 nights I had been here. “Maybe we should go to the mountains. The goddess said that on the full moon the hunters come out.” I yelled while walking towards the mountains. “But we still have time before the moon rises. And I have stayed out plenty of nights and no hunters ever found me” he sounded as if he were mocking me. “You can do whatever you want but I am going to the mountain” I began walking quickly toward the peak when I felt Henry fall in toe behind me. The walk was not far, but I did enjoy the company. We rambled on the walk-up. He talked about his life before and I asked questions; I wanted to learn more about him. I learned he had a deadbeat father, his mom had money but never enough time to make it home for dinner, and his sister left for college and never came back. Then one night, he fell asleep and when he woke up he was here. The goddess stood over him saying “welcome to Elaria''. It took a while to reach the entrance of the mountain and the sun was still dominating the sky. Henry began walking into the mountain and its dime caverns. I followed in toe looking around. Walls of emerald, amethyst, and quartz lined the surfaces. I was amazed at how beautiful the mind can truly be. This whole world, hidden by my unconscious mind ready to blossom into a dream. We descended further and further into the mountain until it was no longer gems, but brimstone and onyx lining the walls. The heat grew higher and higher the lower we went. I began to feel tired, but not sleepy. As if I had been given something and the last thing I saw before the world went dark was Henry standing over me smirking and yelling something which I did not hear.

When I woke, my head was pounding. There were torches lit all around me and crowds of people surrounding the stone slab. The room was lined with stone, dripping with water yet humid due to the obscene number of torches lit. I tried to sit up, but I felt the weight of my body all at once. I looked around and saw Henry sitting on what looked like a throne. It was made of gold, brimstone, and bones. The woman who greeted me suddenly appeared but not in the same glow she once had. Her once golden hair had turned to a dreadful black and stringy as tar. Her molasses skin had turned a wrinkly, paper white. “Is she ready?” Her voice was no longer the sound of butter, but rather a raspy, strained clatter of sounds. “Gedeon, I said, is she ready?”. The creature looked at Henry. The Henry I had trusted, the Henry I gave my name, and the Henry who was suddenly Gedeon. His dark eyes turned even darker as he began to walk towards me. “Well Alina, welcome to Elaria.”

“Do I get to ask questions or do I die without knowing?” I whispered through my teeth. Gedeon let out a soft laugh, malice pouring from his grin. “As all you wish, you won’t live to tell the truth”

“What's wrong with her” I jerked my chin towards the creature now draped across the throne Gedeon once sat in. “For that, we must go back thousands of years. She is the goddess who led my people to this land. But you see, Gia made a mistake. She saw the goddess's kindness and just that, but in reality, it was a bargain. You see our goddess comes from the mortal realm, but her power is something much more. Have you ever wondered why you can remember the details of dreams with ease? Why you control the story? And how you can jump right back in without skipping a beat? Because you are special, just like the goddess is. But again she is mortal, so in the early days, Gia was the life force to keep her alive and well. She is tied to our flora and fauna. The health of the trees, the fruits, and the water all rely on her. But, Gia was weak. She was not divine enough to handle the weight of her standing. And so, she crumbled under the pressure. Those mountains you loved so much, the ones we stand under right now are all that is left of Gia and her failure. A pile of rock and dirt. And since then, nobody has been powerful enough to become her lifeforce, until you Miss. Alina. Those who enter our world are chosen, young, and powerful. You have power in the realm, power that could save our goddess indefinitely. So, we transfer your life force into her, and boom, you return to your world and we remain in ours. A simple exchange.”

My head was still pounding but the feeling in my limbs was beginning to come back. I was processing everything Gedeon was saying. “And what of the hunters I asked, were those real or just a ploy to get me here,” I asked, still trying to regain my senses. But I had to keep talking, I needed to buy myself enough time to think of a plan. I had tried leaving, again and again, I tried to wake myself up but I couldn’t. Was I even in a dream? Or some twisted reality. “The hunters are the myth, our goddess has been able to keep them out and so our safety was never questioned. However, she is weakened on the full moon and so we gather in order to aid her in regaining her strength. But none of us are special, and so we have sought a solution for years. And here you are” Gedeon paced around the slab looking at me. “Now, we both know you are trying to buy time for yourself. And it's no use, this happens now. And you will be honored here, we can turn your body into a meadow or perhaps another oasis somewhere. Now bring the goddess forward and untie the human. She can’t move anyway” Gedeon commanded when I assumed were guards, and to mobilize. I had regained enough feeling in my legs to move, but not to fight. I had to be smart about my next moves. The guards untied my arms which fell, exhausted over the table, followed by my legs which I made to follow my arms to the ground. Gedeon began to speak in a tongue I had never heard. A portal opened when he was done speaking, or what I assumed was a portal. He began walking closer to me while the goddess sat on the throne. “Now Alina, this may pinch just slightly but then you have saved us all” he exclaimed. It was now or never. My options were slim and neither yielded a good outcome, but I would rather take my chances than stay here. I flung myself from the stone slab onto the ground, which greeted me with a scrape on my knee and a bruise in the morning. There was a ringing in my ears that prevented me from hearing everything going on around me. Gedeon lunged toward me but I rolled before he could get to me. I started to pull myself toward the portal. I had no idea where it went or what it did, but I needed to get out. Gedeon kept clawing at my shoes, trying to pull me back but he was too late. I felt the world around me grow quiet as I fell deeper and deeper into the abyss.

About the Author

Kathryn "Katie" Hutchinson is currently a senior at Garnet Valley High School. Growing up she lived in a small suburb in Northwestern Pennsylvania. A child of two educators, she grew to value learning from a very early age. In the summer of 2019, her mother got a job in the Garnet Valley area and the family moved the summer of her freshman year. Since then, she has continued to love learning and currently participates in her schools drama club, Model UN team, and mentors students through her school.