We are so excited (and maybe a little nervous) to share this prologue with you from the first book in our new graphic novel series, Charting Stars. This series will be a set of illustrated graphic style novels with an educational twist. One page will be in a full graphic novel format where readers can see the illustrated panels and read the word bubbles however, the corresponding pages will be printed in a regular novel format. The reader will understand the gist of the plot from the graphic section but if they want to learn more about the story, the setting or the characters they will need to read the corresponding text to delve more deeply. We are hopeful that this style of book will encourage intermediate readers to take the plunge and read more. 🙂
Scroll on down to catch your first glimpse!
Hushed, but not completely silent. The heavy rush of air beating against wings broke the stillness of the early morning, the stars above being the only source of light before the dawn. The ocean below made hardly a sound save for that of the water’s soft rhythmic splash against the wall of rock lining the coast for miles in both directions.
A single figure made itself known to the swaddling darkness. A woman, taller than most men and equally strong, alighted to the edge of the cliff as she folded her prominent wings. The angelic creature glowed of her own accord, her ivory skin radiant beneath the silvery white of her cropped hair, the color shining like starlight to match the snow-white wings at her back. The light from her presence shone gentle and pure, undisturbed by any shadow as she waited for something to come to her from the dark.
For a long while, nothing stirred, not even the woman as she stood like a beacon shining from the rock’s treacherous edge. Hours passed, but there, someone had come to meet her.
She did not need the use of her eyes to recognize the newcomer, her lips softly moving to smile as she let her voice go forth like the mellow ring of a cathedral bell, rich and soothing. “Welcome, Maren. You are earlier than anticipated. I expected you with the dawn. Allow me to assume this is a sign of success?”
“Indeed it is, Jora.”
Another figure joined the angelic creature on the cliff, the young woman being a good two heads shorter than the one called Jora, but matching her in a warrior’s physique. Maren pulled the edge of her crimson hood away from her face to reveal the dark and exotic features beneath, her fiery red hair secured behind her.
The woman’s voice was low like Jora’s, but she spoke in tones more hushed, the mark of a warrior accustomed to keeping her presence a secret. She habitually crossed her arms as she gave her observations, a foreign accent hinting at the edge of each word. “Something is stirring. A new star has formed not but two days ago, yet no one can account for its origin. None of your kind have passed on?”
Jora’s hair swished gently around her face as she shook her head, giving answer without a word as she thought for a few moments in silence before making her careful reply. “No, it is unlike anything we have previously observed. Both earth and sky are restless, but in anticipation of what, we cannot be certain. It is a mystery, one we must unravel, but not yet. There is a reason for all things. We will have our answer in due time.”
Turning to face her companion, Maren’s voice faltered with uncertainty, hinting at her differing opinion. “Are you suggesting that we simply wait?”
Jora’s gaze did not waver, her sights set on a distant star, its glow a foreign presence in the heavens. “I ask that we remain patient for the time being. To do so will ensure that we recognize the proper moment to act. We know too little at present. For now, I must inform the Council of your discoveries. They will find this of great interest.”
Jora raised her wings to their fullest height, the icy blue of her eyes turning their attention to her companion as she dipped her head in a respectful gesture, giving closure to their meeting. “Until tomorrow, Maren. May your path remain clear in dark times.”
Taking a few steps back to allow her winged companion more space, Maren replaced her hood letting the darkness of the early morning obscure her face once more. “Fly safely, Jora.”
“Shh! No questions!” Readjusting his gentle hold on Talia’s hand, Jarrett turned with a brilliant smile, excitement gleaming in his eyes as he led the young woman through the underbrush and dense clusters of trees. “We’re almost there.”
Over the past weeks, Talia had become proficient at holding Drew with one arm, this unusual skill allowing her to hold both the cat and Jarrett’s hand whenever they walked together.
Mindful of her steps, Talia’s feet paused as Jarrett moved to stand directly in front of her, the squirrel perched on his shoulder anxiously skittering from one side to the other.
“Alright Talia, close your eyes please. I promise I won’t let you trip. You trust me, right?”
“Of course I do.” The young woman gave a small chuckle as she obeyed Jarrett’s request, making certain that the cat dangling from her arm wouldn’t slip as she waited in eager anticipation. “They’re closed. Now what?”
Jarrett waved a hand in front of the girl’s eyes to make certain that she couldn’t see. “Not much farther, just keep walking”
The first change Talia noticed was the warmth of sunlight against her cheeks, the low chatter of birds replaced by the gentle rustling of grass as it tickled her legs.
“A few more steps, Talia. There we are. You can look on the count of three. Ready? One…Two…Three!”
It took Talia’s eyes a moment to adjust as she squinted in the bright afternoon light, a gasp escaping her parted lips as she struggled to believe what she saw. Wildflowers of every imaginable shade and form billowed over the open field she now stood in, the kaleidoscope of colors stretching from the forest’s edge to the base of the mountains far to the east. The gentle breeze made the plain ripple and roll like ocean waves, the low babble of a nearby brook distinguishable above the whispering grass.
“Oh Jarrett, it’s absolutely beautiful.”
Enjoying her reactions, the young man dipped his head in thanks as he pulled a hand up to distractedly pet over QB’s tail. “Pretty, isn’t it? Maren found it last night before we made camp. Thought you might enjoy it.”
“It’s wonderful. I’ve never been very good with painting landscapes, but I think even I would try it with a place like this.”
“And I bet you’d do a great job. Come on. I have a place we can sit.”
The grass made a soft crunching sound from beneath Jarrett’s blanket as Talia sat, carefully placing Drew on her lap as she watched the young man move to settle down beside her.
Acting rather unimpressed, the cat was content to stay curled up in the folds of Talia’s skirt, the girl’s gentle touch urging a low purr from Drew as she slipped back into light sleep.
Recognizing his moment to act, QB carefully moved down Jarrett’s arm to sit atop the blanket, keeping a wary eye on the slumbering cat before scurrying off toward the tranquil brook flowing just out of reach.
Talia’s hand methodically felt over the thick white fur of Drew’s slender back as she and Jarrett talked, their conversation taking them in every direction as they sat in the warm sunshine. A simplistic idea soon pushed its way into the young woman’s thoughts, her hands deftly picking through the flowers that surrounded them as she began to weave them together.
Unaware of what Talia was doing, Jarrett continued to casually talk on, having since moved to lay beside her as he watched the wisps of clouds lazily roll above them. “I don’t know why Bash still insists that we’d be better off going through the pass instead of around the-hey!”
Giggling freely as she threw the flower crown over the boy’s eyes, Talia adjusted the way it laid as he slowly sat up to face her. “There we go. Probably the best I’ve ever made.”
Even QB returned to see what was so amusing, the squirrel’s high pitched chattering receiving a quizzical glance from his companion as the small creature moved to perch himself upon the young man’s knee.
A smile hinted at the corners of Jarrett’s lips, unable to contain the urge to laugh along with Talia and QB as he carefully removed the array of flowers in order to admire the girl’s handiwork. “Well, color me impressed. How…How did you do this?”
Tilting her head as her quiet laughter subsided, Talia’s gaze remained fixed on Jarrett even as Drew shifted and stirred in her sleep. “You want me to teach you?”
“Well, sure. Here, you see how these stems are all sort of braided together? This is how you start.”
Talia was just as much a patient teacher as Jarrett was a persistent student, neither noticing the late afternoon sun as it began to make its daily descent toward the forest.
“Hey! I think I did it!” Jarrett eagerly held his completed crown aloft, his smile almost like that of a child as he quickly turned to face Talia, his excitement holding despite the few flowers which tumbled away from the others now adorning the young woman’s head.
“I think you did!” Jarrett’s eagerness and excitement was truly what made Talia’s smile brighten, placing her own flower crown back onto him as she gave a small laugh in satisfaction. “Now we match.”
“We do indeed. Look, even QB learned a thing or two.”
The squirrel’s every step was quiet and careful as he slowly approached Talia, a collection of tiny flowers knotted together clutched in his little paws. With one swift motion, QB tossed the miniature crown over Drew’s head, the chain sliding to dangle from one of her twitching ears as he scurried back to the safety of Jarrett’s shoulder.
The cat lazily opened a single eye, looking between the flower crown and the squirrel before shaking the flowers from her head as she tried to go back to sleep.
“Oh, come now, Drew. QB made a very nice crown for you. There, much better. It looks very pretty.”
The cat’s glance was unamused to say the least, but she made no move to rid herself of the flowers a second time.
It wasn’t until the last rays of golden light faded from view that the two reluctantly moved to stand, Talia repositioning Drew in her arms as she leaned up to leave a light kiss against the boy’s cheek.
Jarrett’s face grew visibly more red at the gesture, fighting to regain his composure as he quietly laughed away his momentary surprise. “What was that for?”
“It’s a thank you. I had a wonderful time, Jarrett. Thanks for taking the time to bring me here.”
The young man began to distractedly rub at the back of his neck as his smile grew a little wider. “You’re very welcome. I’m glad you enjoyed it so much. I did too.”
As they made the long trek back toward their camp, Jarrett couldn’t seem to stop smiling, able to ignore even Drew’s threatening glances as he walked hand in hand with Talia through the darkened woods. The day had gone better than he had hoped, but it was more than just a good day, it was the very best kind. It had been a day spent with Talia.
Once a homeschool Mom – always a homeschool Mom! My kids have been schooled at home all the way through, my daughter just graduated last year and my son is due to graduate next year. Education has been a daily focus in our home for nearly two decades! Our mission as a small family owned company is to produce engaging, thoughtful, quality books to enhance the lives of children. Part of enhancing their lives includes offering educational opportunities and in this series we’d like to focus on encouraging intermediate kids to read more.
How will we do this?
By using art and illustration to encourage the process. Kids love visuals – even older kids.
Charting Stars will be a graphic novel series but we are actually splitting it down the middle. That is, one page will be a full graphic novel format where kids can see the comic style panels, read the word bubbles and get the gist of the story. However, the corresponding page will be printed in regular novel format. The kids will get the gist of the story from the graphic section but if they want to learn more about the story, setting and characters they will need to read the corresponding text to do so. We are hopeful that this style of book will encourage those intermediate readers to take the plunge and delve more deeply.
we are so incredibly excited about this project and we can’t wait until you have the story in your hands – fall 2017 can’t quite come fast enough!
Guess what!? First book is written and headed to the editor! YES!!! Then after that it’s draw, draw, and draw some more! Thought you all might enjoy seeing the edited version of our 1st book cover idea (not set in stone thought – this cover may certainly change), also attached are a few more concept illustrations. In the near future we are also going to share the prologue of our first book, some related short stories set within Charting Star’s Nine Realms and even some free Charting Stars colouring pages! So stick with us!!!
Charting Stars, our new graphic novel series, is developing well and we are looking forward with joy to our release date this year! Ideas are generating, new supporting characters are being created, our world is taking form and so much more fun! Attached are more concept illustrations and explorations for you to take a peek at. If you’d like to see more daily updates make sure you join Whimsical on Instagram!
Erin Kleveland and I, Micheline Ryckman are working hard towards our goal of creating a new graphic novel series for Whimsical in 2017. If you follow along with me on Instagram you’ll have had the opportunity to get to know the constantly evolving characters from this new world. I thought it might be fun to share with you here as well a bit more of my concept illustrations, a blurb about the upcoming series and a new concept idea for a cover (not set in stone though.) Hope you enjoy these! “Talia Benson would consider herself fairly ordinary. Anyone would. Diligent student, only child to a single mother, protector of three cats, nothing special ever seems to happen to her. Life’s consistent rhythm brightened only by Talia’s talent for art and her obsession with the stars, a single evening in front of a blank canvas becomes the adventure she never dreamed she wanted. Swept away from the only life she had ever known, Talia now finds herself lost and alone in a world completely unlike her own. In a land where magic thrives and wars are born then die at the wave of a hand, strange creatures decide the fate of those who live among the Nine Realms. The guardians of this foreign world have felt a great shift in the heavens. Something has changed. A darkness is coming. No one would believe that a simple girl thrown between worlds could be the key to saving them all.”
It is amazing how much time it takes to create a new world, write scenes, pull it all together into cohesive illustrations and then edit, edit more and finally print. These things are what we are currently working on here at Whimsical for our upcoming graphic novel series. For me, the between times are full of practicing, and more practicing! As an illustrator it helps me to look ahead and come up with ideas and visual concepts for the series, it especially helps me grind the character designs into my drawing memory. I thought it might be fun to share with you some of the concept drawings I’ve come up with in the past few months around this new world (more to be announced in 2017), I hope you enjoy these! (Oh and if you’d like to see more on a daily basis be sure to follow me on Instagram –> @whimsicalillustration)
Oh and coming up shortly we’ll be posting an illustrated Christmas story special – another opportunity for you to get to know of these characters a little bit more!
We are excited to announce that Whimsical is in the beginning stages of developing a new series of graphic style novels! These novels will be aimed towards pre-teen and teen ages (as well as those who are just young at heart). The novels will be constructed in a half graphic / half traditional novel style. Our hope is to provide the illustrated graphic novel excitement but still emphasize and encourage kids to read. The more they read the text that corresponds to the illustrations, the more depth they’ll receive about the story. We want kids to love reading and our hope is that this style of novel will encourage this! We promise to give you more concrete information on all the details of this project in 2017.
But to whet your appetite my co-creator, Erin Kleveland and I have been having fun drafting and creating the characters for this new series. Attached below are the preliminary character sketches – we hope you enjoy! 😀
Pssst… if you’d like to follow along with us on a more daily level be sure to come join Whimsical on Instagram —> @whimsicalillustration
Drew, master magician and changeling child, don’t let her innocent and seemingly youthful appearance deceive you. She has seen far more years than anyone would guess, her reputation as a skilled handler of magic paving the way for her to be allied with vast and powerful kingdoms. When the plagues of war broke out through all the land, Drew was called upon by many to prove her usefulness in battle, entire armies rising or falling in a single night at her hand. But when the battles had ceased to be waged and the kingdoms had begun to heal, the great magician was nowhere to be found. Some thought her dead, others believed her to be deep in hiding from the countless enemies she had made, but only a few knew the truth. For reasons unknown to most, the Witch of the Nine Realms, as she had been since called, had decided upon a simpler life to suit her, not in hiding, but simply distancing herself from the troublesome kingdoms who would seek to use her again for her power and power alone. Few would even be able to distinguish her in a crowd, Drew’s nearly permanent form being that of an ordinary white cat, clear of scrutiny and prying eyes so that she might live the remainder of her life in the way she would so choose.
Jarrett has been an orphan for as long as he can remember, fending for himself on the streets of a kingdom in the middle of the nine realms. With his charismatic wit and easy-going outlook on life, no one would be the wiser to the hardships his lowly beginnings have afforded him. He will do any and everything to remain feeling useful, putting his street-smarts to use for just about any honest job that will pay in cash. With Jarrett’s personality, he has often found himself making friends with relative ease, his loyalty towards those he puts his trust in nearly unshakable once put into place. In comparison to most of his friendships, his closest attachment is with his squirrel companion, QB, the two having spent years together traveling the realm, going wherever they please, making friends and bonds in any place they find themselves. But despite his vast freedoms, Jarrett has never felt wholly complete, making his way over the world as if in search of what he is missing without the faintest idea of what that “something” could possibly be.
Calystra, daughter of the air thrown back to the earth, one can instantly recognize how greatly she differs from Jora. Though born of the same race, Calystra has never shared the sentiments of her kinsman towards humans, seeing those who live upon the earth as lesser beings, undeserving of the protection her people have always freely offered. Her pride and avarice had long gone unchecked, those leading above her holding firmly to the hope that she would one day shake off such notions, but time alone was enough to force their hand. Upon Calystra’s demands to be granted the star promised her from birth, the council’s attempts to explain how ill-prepared she was for such rights to be granted were met by the girl’s attempts to forcibly acquire what she believed to already be hers. Her punishment was severe. Banished to the earth she despised so poignantly, her powers nearly all stripped from her, the wings Calystra had always been so proud of could no longer bring her higher than the treetops, forcing her into as much of a mortal form as could be done to a child of the air. Wallowing in bitterness and her desire for recompense, most days of Calystra’s confinement to the forests and mountains are greatly spent in idle mischief and the caring of her adopted twin foxes Toss and Lear, simply biding her time until the day her plans for revenge can be realized.
Born of a race quickly receding into legend, Jora belongs to the company of those who take to the air, keepers of the stars and caretakers to all that their light shines upon. Her years are unknown to most, even to those closest to her, Jora’s wisdom and understanding of the world and those which lie beyond the nine realms only a small testament to her disguised age. Just as most of her angelic kind, she is graced by majestic wings which carry her to the sky and across the kingdoms, allowing her to better oversee the care of the people she has long sworn to protect. She does everything with reason and careful thought, her abilities, though more powerful than many can truly understand, never put into use without thought of the price there will always be to pay. Jora’s wise counsel and extensive knowledge have long distinguished her as a leader among her race, but it is her patience and unending compassion which truly set her apart as capable to guide the worlds into harmony and peace.
Upon first glance, Talia is the sort of girl that anyone would consider rather ordinary. Her childhood was a happy one, Talia’s every spare moment spent scribbling over any paper she could get her hands on, the years that followed only furthering her love for expressing her vast imagination through art. Paint or pencil, charcoal or marker, if Talia could think it, she could create it. But of anything she loved to portray, her greatest love was for the night sky. Stars had always fascinated her, Talia’s insatiable curiosity for them earning her the nickname “little star gazer” from her mother. They were a tight-knit pair, Talia and her mother, especially considering that they were all the family each other had. Being a single parent, raising Talia had been an adventure, but never an unwelcome one. Her mother sacrificed a lot for their little family, working hard to put Talia through college. It was a sacrifice that was not about to go overlooked. Talia was determined to perfect her artistic endeavors, hoping that her efforts would someday come to fruition to offer up the life she had always dreamed of for herself and for her mother. But no one, not even Talia herself, could yet understand just how truly extraordinary this ordinary girl was or the incredible destiny that would soon unfold to change her life forever.
Sebastian, prince and heir to his father’s throne in one of the center-most of the nine realms, Bash is a credit to his kingdom. His fierce loyalty, courageous heart, and determined spirit inspire many in their anticipation of the day he will ascend the throne. Trained in the sword from youth, Bash also showed great interest in the bow, his hands clearly skilled in any weapon he so chooses. Despite his father’s discouragement of pursuing archery, the prince spends a majority of every day perfecting the craft through hunting and competition. Well educated, a proficient leader, and adept warrior, though seamlessly able to appear perfectly content, Bash’s happiness is simply the mask he wears. Years of experience has taught him to play the dutiful son and prince rather well, but those closest to him know how greatly he longs after a more normal life, the peasant life.
In a time when most animals are seen only for their ability to be useful to their human friends and masters, a lowly squirrel like QB would easily be overlooked. Playful but a bit aloof at times, friendly yet always wary, QB’s unparalleled loyalty was tried and proven true when his undiscovered potential caught the eye of Jora. It was during the age of bloodshed, a time when the Realms were inundated in the seemingly endless plagues of war. Jora saw a purpose in QB, his inconspicuous presence proving vital to the secretive messages the winged guardian passed between her allies at his hand. Once the fighting had come to an end, Jora did not wish to lose the friendship of her companion, placing him in the path of a young man named Jarrett. She had plans for this street-smart orphan, knowing perfectly how well he and QB would be able to work together. Having felt that he never truly fit in anywhere, QB found new joy for life in his travels with Jarrett, the two sharing many mishaps and trivial adventures together. The two are nearly inseparable now, for theirs is a friendship destined for greatness, the kind one would not expect of those starting from the humblest of origins.
Maren, a warrior by blood and by trade, her fierce determination makes her a dangerous enemy, but a loyal ally. Born in the southern-most lands of the nine realms, she was raised to be a leader and an example to her people like her father before her, but it was not to last. Sent away by the very villages she called home, Maren is determined to regain the respect of her people, working as the eyes, ears, and hands of Jora wherever she is most needed. Even though her skills in a fight should never be underestimated, Maren’s strength lies just as much in her vast knowledge of the realms as it does in any of her physical accomplishments. With both mind and body at work, she is not one to be trifled with.
I’ve had a heap of fun creating this little illustrated series on my Instagram account @whimsicalillustration – finished up yesterday with my last lady in the series the Spartan Queen Gorga! Thought it would be fun it share with you these last six famous historical gals!
Women were usually omitted from any Greek historian’s work (they were not “worth” mentioning) but amazingly enough Gorga is not only mentioned but also even quoted! This means she must have been truly notable and impossible to ignore. There are no descriptions or art depictions of her so she is completely concocted from my imagination. (Image background is an ancient Greek statue.)
The Irish Pirate Queen – Grace O Malley! This is a pretty fascinating 16th c lady! Her story is long so to sum it up here would be too much but if you get a chance you should definitely go read about her!
Had to be a little patriotic… 😁🇨🇦 Chose to draw one of Canada’s most beloved authors, L.M. Montgomery. Ever heard of ‘Anne of Green Gables’? This is the author! Her novels and characters were a memorable part of my childhood.
Margaret Fuller, journalist and critic during the 1800s. She was an advocate for women’s rights (especially for jobs and education). She also encouraged many other reforms in society, including prison reform and the emancipation of slaves in the United States. Impressive and ambitious objectives for a lady of her day!
The funny thing about this beautiful queen is that she is better known and remembered than her pharaoh husband. They ruled together during ancient Eygpt’s most prosperous period. Considered to be heretics because they revamped the Eygptian religion down to the worship of only one god. After her husband’s death there is some possibility that she ruled as pharaoh herself too for a short time.
I could pick a dozen artists out of history that I admire but Mary Cassatt (1844 – 1926) is by far my favourite.
She lived an extraordinary life for a woman of her time. The affluence and mobility of her family provided her with the ability to chose her destiny more freely. At an early age she set out to become more than the typical “lady painter”, she wanted equality and she pursued an art career in the world of men. She was born in the US and lived most of her adult life in France where she became connected with the Impressionists and also many other famous artists of the day. It is admirable that Cassatt pursued a career in a vocation dominated by men but even more admirable that she did not do so in a typical fashion. She stepped outside of the popular subject matter and art styles of the day and chose to reflect and celebrate the domestic lives of women using new impressionistic art techniques.
My friend Erin Kleveland (@treasureplanetjimxzara ) and I have been having a little story time fun lately. I created some character designs and concepts on my Instagram account (@whimsicalillustration) and Erin has whipped up some wonderful stories around them! (I’m deeply grateful to her for all her talent with words!) Thought it might be fun to share what we’ve come up with thus far in terms of text and images – we’d love your feedback on this little idea so please comment below –>>>
The rhythmic step of Jarrett’s boots on the hardened earth paused for a moment as the young man turned his eyes upward to peer through the brief break in the line of seemingly endless trees. There it was. The ocean. He had only ever seen it a handful of times, but the way the golden rays of evening sun now danced on its rippling surface was a sight he had never taken the time to watch. It was breathtaking.
The nearly unnoticeable weight of the companion balancing atop his shoulder now disappeared entirely as the squirrel leapt from his perch to scurry to the top of the closest tree, his little furry head just partly distinguishable once it made its way into the open air again.
Shading his eyes from the sun’s piercing last light, Jarrett let his voice carry up to his friend, hoping that the response he received would be a welcome one. “QB? Are we getting close?”
The squirrel seemed to search the horizon for a brief moment of silence, the reprieve soon broken by his enthusiastic chattering as he came running back down the tree to meet his friend. The creature scrambled over Jarrett’s shoulder to rest atop the young man’s head, attempting to point him in the right direction before leaning slightly upside down to let Jarrett see him nod in eager confirmation.
“Thanks buddy. I’d have never made it this far if I took this trip alone, I know that for sure. Didn’t realize how far out Jora really was. And QB? Thanks for coming. I needed the moral support with this first one. N-Not that I’m afraid of her or anything. She’s just…tall. Really tall.”
The squirrel gave a small chirping chuckle as he moved back down to rest on Jarrett’s other shoulder, knowing full well why they were traveling to spend time with Jora first.
QB’s introduction of Jarrett to his other friends, all girls mind you, hadn’t exactly panned out as he had imagined. Between a few of them nearly tripping over each other at the mere sight of him and another seemingly perturbed in contrast, Jora had been the only one to truly keep her composure through the brief encounter. QB had been, in truth, more than relieved when Jora invited him and Jarrett to spend a day with her, the idea of getting to know the girls one at a time a welcome solution to how the previous event had turned out.
The trees now completely cleared from the path, Jarrett found himself shaking his head a little to regain coherent thought before giving a low whistle in approval. “Well then…A castle.”
The thought had never occurred to him, but there it was, a castle of the purest white marble gleaming in the evening’s last bursts of light. The brilliant white against the ocean’s crystal background, it really was a sight to behold. But with each steady step, Jarrett could feel his chest tightening in anxious uncertainty the closer they came to the cliffside on which the structure stood.
The setting sun was all but a memory now as the darkness of early night overtook the canopy above the travelers, the castle just ahead of them seeming to glow of its own accord as its luminescence shone forth in ever direction as if to welcome them to its gates.
The young man tread carefully over the perfectly paved stones beneath his feet, each step ringing out to echo into the silence around them before stopping to stand face to face with the ominously large pair of doors looming magnificently above him.
Tilting his head back to see the full extent of the castle’s face, the nervousness that had been building up inside him all the while was given momentary relief as his eyes worked their way back down to the bottom of the doors. There, carved into the base of the entrance was an inscription, the words giving him a strange sense of courage as he released the last of his nerves with a small nod to his companion beside him.
Peace and Wisdom Reign Here.
“Woah.” For a moment, Jarrett could only stand in place as the magnificent double doors before him slowly opened up on silent hinges with hardly a knock to urge them forward. White. Pure, glorious, white. It was not the overwhelming color of a hospital hallway, but the soft hue of moonlight which colored every surface he could see. It wasn’t until he received a few questioning taps from QB that Jarrett found the composure to make his way inside, curious as to where their winged hostess was.
“Hello?” Nothing but the subdued echoes of his own voice replied. “Jora?” Turning his head to receive confirmation from his companion, Jarrett found some relief in how calm and silently cheerful QB seemed to be, realizing that his own instinct of intimidation was probably all for nothing.
Intrigue quickly snuffed out any other feeling of discomfort as several unique items filling the entryway pulled at the young man’s attention, making him unaware of the angelic figure who now stood just at his back.
“It means ‘harmony’.”
Jarrett about jumped out of his skin as the soothingly rich voice of a woman spoke from very close behind him, forcing the poor squirrel perched atop his shoulder to grab at the young man’s hair to keep from being completely flung from his seat.
Jarrett was quick to take a step back upon realizing the close proximity in which they were standing, unable to hide the stunned confusion in his dark eyes as he looked up at the pale-haired woman he’d met only once before, his single word sounding fumbled even to his own ears. “W-What?”
The angelic woman smiled sweetly as she folded her snow-white wings behind her, nodding once more toward the unique inscription above the mantled fireplace. “Harmony. An ancient script long forgotten by most, aside from those of us who still take to the air. It is said to bring the true intentions of what is written if done so in its forgotten text.”
“Ah.” Jarrett didn’t know what else to say at first, feeling only a little less than completely lost as he glanced back at the mantle. “Very cool. Neat place you got here, Jora. Bit of a trick to get to.”
Finding his simplistic answers endearing, Jora’s smile brightened all the more as she carefully reached her hand out to QB, letting the small creature nuzzle playfully in the palm of her hand before motioning toward a well-lit hallway nearby. “I do apologize for that, but I have made up the dining room for your complete recovery in the respect of all good things to eat. Unless, of course, you’d like to see the rest of the castle first?”
Receiving an excited nod in confirmation from his squirrel companion, Jarrett relayed the reply up to their hostess as he opened an arm with theatrical flourish. “Lead the way!”
Jarrett released a heavy breath as he leaned more heavily against the white marble railing, his eyes never leaving the star-kissed sky as he waited for any sign of movement. “How high does she need to go?”
Merely glancing down at his furry friend for an answer, QB simply shrugged his little shoulders before continuing his distracted scuttling along the balcony rail.
Turning his gaze upward once more, Jarrett’s mind began to wander over the events of the evening, pondering everything that Jora had shown him. There was so much he didn’t know before, or at least, had never taken the time to really think through. Despite the monolith of knowledge that had been heaped upon him in those short hours, he somehow felt lighter, more at peace than he had when he first arrived. But the young man was only allowed a few more moments of reflection before the excited chattering of his companion brought his attention back to the here and now.
Sure enough, there was Jora flying down toward them, actually more gliding than flying before she lightly touched down on the smooth balcony floor. For the effort flying must take, Jarrett was surprised to see how perfectly composed the angelic woman still seamed, not even a heavy breath to confirm to him that she had expended any energy at all.
“I have returned with your gift, as promised.”
Jarrett quickly shook his head to convey how undeserving he truly did feel. “Jora really, you’ve given me more tonight than I could ever repay. I should be giving you stuff.”
The woman’s quiet laugh rang like a clear bell as she extended her closed hand toward him, waiting until he finally surrendered his own hand before opening hers.
For a stunned moment, Jarrett had to turn away, wholly unprepared for the white-blue light which suddenly met his eyes. As soon as he could understand what he was holding, the young man found himself speechless once more, a state he’d often found himself in that evening. “Woah. This…This is the real deal? This is a star’s heart?”
“Only just a piece. To hold the entire heart of a star would require more power than even I possess.”
Jora’s hand was soft to the touch as she carefully closed Jarrett’s hand around the small bottle which held the shining star.
“May it bring you clarity and light as you walk through this dark world. I hope that it will remind you of all we’ve spoke of this night, for I am truly glad that you came, and I would hope you feel this also.”
“Oh definitely. No, I had a great time. I think QB did too, didn’t ya buddy?”
“Be mindful of your step as you leave this place. Your journey here was eventful, yet I’d hope the road home would prove smoother for you.”
“Trust me, we hope so too, but thanks for the warning. Come on QB. I think it’s time we started back. Thanks again, Jora. I’ll stop by if I’m ever in the neighborhood.”
“Peace be with you, Jarrett. May next we meet come swiftly.”
(To be continued…)
Story by Erin Kleveland – Illustrations & Character concepts by Micheline Ryckman
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