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Leia stared at the daunting running track stretched out before her. Its lines of painted white grass created an intimidating path of pressure and humiliation. Leia took her last look before she started to follow the others. The track of terror was about to push Leia to her absolute limit.
The PE teacher quickly snapped at his pupils. “Hurry up! We’re getting old here!”
Leia angrily growled when the gruff man opened his mouth. But being her attentive self, she followed his orders anyway.
“The 80 metre sprint,” he announced proudly. “Each and every one of you’s gonna make that finish line, even if I have to move yer feeble legs myself. Clear?”
“Yes, Mr. Galdway,” the class groaned tiredly.
“Alright, then line yerselves up at the start line and let’s get this over with.”
Leia awkwardly sauntered to her marking point. Seeing the track from the very centre daunted Leia even more. It was so bare and open, yet so foul that all the harshness and humiliation of the track could not be captured in a single glance. It had to be run on, fell on and ungracefully trampled on in order to see its true self. A field of painted grass to some, but a horror to others.
This is it…Leia thought to herself. The field became deathly quiet. The chattering ceased, the shuffling stilled and the faint rustle of the few far away evergreens quietly vanished. The breeze gently blew Leia’s soft black hair against her fair cheeks. Grey clouds now masked the sun. It was the calm before the storm.
BOOM! Mr. Galdway’s old-fashioned racing gun shot a short piercing snap that echoed through the fields.
Leia’s legs took off. The wind instantly slammed against Leia’s body. The thumps of her feet and her increasing heartbeat pounded in her ears. Just as Leia formed a quick, agile pace, her determination was wounded when three of her classmates overtook her.
Leia growled. She gritted her teeth and lowered her eyebrows ferociously. She was not going to lose another race. She would not let it slip into a shameful jog to the finish line. No. She had to go faster.
As soon as Leia pushed her legs one speed quicker, she felt parts of her body starting to change. Her sweaty feet squashed into chubby pink ovals and burst out of her grimy tennis shoes. They kept expanding until rigid nails poked out of her toes. Leia’s back hunched over, making her arms dangle perpendicular to the ground. Her hands morphed into stubby fuzzy paws and pawed at the grass. Leia’s breathing became hoarse and deep, almost like heavy grunting. Her teeth grew into sharp pointy canines. The seams of Leia’s mangled PE outfit burst as fine, spotted, yellow and black hairs quickly sprouted from her pale skin. Enthralled with compelling determination and dominance, Leia opened her massive mouth and let out a deep, gruff, ferocious cheetah growl. It boomed through the field, bellowing through the cloudy gray skies and sparse clusters of trees. Leia truly let her cheetah leadership instincts run wild. Her large plushy paws thundered beneath her as she galloped down the track. Leia was in the lead—she was winning! There were only a few precious seconds until she would triumphantly cross the finish line. Her winning desire flooded her thoughts. Almost…there…! She thought.
Leia stretched for one last push of the arm, then leaped to the finish line. Mr. Galdway all of the sudden jumped in front of Leia, causing her to crash into his old body, terminating her glorious leap.
Everything came to a standstill. The compelling determination pounding through Leia’s veins ceased. It was all over.
Mr. Galdway tried to roll the 120-pound cheetah off of his front. Groaning and grumbling, he shoved Leia to his side and dusted himself off when he got up.
“What the—” he began. “Since when did we have a wild cheetah running around on our fields?”
Leia tried to explain, but the only sounds that came from her mouth were a mixture of growls and whines.
“Oh, we’ve got to git this thing outta here!” Mr. Galdway panicked. He turned around and started fiddling with his mobile phone, attempting to call someone.
Leia slowly molted her spotted fur. Her body shriveled into her normal fair slender figure. Her feet and hands flattened and her feline face sank back into her beautiful clear complexion. Leia’s fine, silky black hair quickly grew back into its original state.
Mr. Galdway whipped round after he called the principal on his mobile phone.
“What? L—Leia?!” he stuttered. “Where’d the cheetah go? Why are you laying on the floor?” He was obviously perplexed with the situation.
All the rest of Leia’s 8th grade PE classmates stared at her.
“Did I see what I think I just saw?” one boy said.
“That’s so unreal…that’s so—” a girl began.
“Weird!” snickered another, who quickly turned to her friends and giggled rudely.
“Enough! Leia, I will have a serious talk with the principal about you,” Mr. Galdway spat. “As for the rest of ya, class is dismissed. This feline predicament lost us too many valuable minutes on the track.”
The pupils turned around and sauntered back to the changing rooms. Leia took one last look at Mr. Galdway. He read the shameful expression on her face perfectly.
“Go on, Leia,” he whispered in a disgruntled tone.
Leia couldn’t pinpoint the mood she was in as she walked alone back to the changing rooms. She felt embarrassed, exposed and angry. Why did Mr. Galdway stop me from probably the only victory I will ever achieve on that awful track? She thought. Why did he make such a commotion about it, why, why?! Now that her secret was exposed, Leia felt even more vulnerable to the catty glamour divas who stormed the hallways. And what would the guys think of me? she continued. Will they think I’m some weird alien whose body morphs into blobs of different species? Leia was ashamed. She knew her secret would leak out into the prying world of middle school at some point. Her mind continued to whirl anxious thoughts. But now? In PE? IN FRONT OF PRACTICALLY EVERY LIVING SOUL WHO COMMENTS ON EVERY LITTLE THING I DO? Leia’s anger flamed inside of her, heating her brain until it boiled with fury. Leia, she told herself, You have to hold it together, otherwise you’ll—
CLUNK! She slammed her face into the closed gym room door as she walked into it. Three girls opened the door from the inside.
“Hey, looks like you don’t need any help morphing into a door stopper!” one spat. Her minions squeaked with laughter and shoved Leia into the door as they stormed out.
Leia grumbled under her breath. She gritted her teeth in agony as she entered the girls changing room. After Leia took a few steps to her gym bag, a classmate spotted her.
“Hey! It’s—L—L—what’s your name again?” the girl began.
“Leia,” she murmured.
“That’s right! Leia! Leia the leopard! Hehe!” she giggled.
Leia’s first thought that came to her mind was how unfamiliar these girls were with common feline species.
Another girl tittered over to Leia in her patent pink heels.
“Ooh, you were all the rage with the guys. I can see it now…” she said sarcastically. She backed up and suavely slouched against the wall.
“Leopard, will you go to the dance with me?” she mocked in a lovey-sweetheart voice. Her voice then instantly dropped into a gritty cackle, followed by a chorus of subsequent laughs.
Leia stared at the floor as she silently changed into her maroon flowy top and straight-leg khakis. She did this ever so quickly so that no one could see her stretched pale skin and her—
“Oh, what’s this?” one girl questioned in a curious tone. She pointed to the four animal symbols on Leia’s lower backside. Leia’s face instantly flushed a vibrant pink as she turned her back to the wall. Astonished, alert and ashamed, Leia quickly pulled on her billowy top and snatched her gym bag.
“Tatoos! Girl, there’s nothing to hide! Where’d you—” the girl snootily asked.
Leia rapidly slunk to the door. She waited for the other students to finish barging through. Leia couldn’t tolerate her courteous patience at this time. She wanted to get out—NOW.
“Hey wait! Lua! Come back!” the girls hollered through the changing room door. Their voices were faint now. Leia stormed out of the corridor in disgust, but then felt her pace slowing down. She began to shuffle, almost hobble. The anger was all too much. Leia’s glassy blue eyes started to well with tears. She dropped her head into her dry palms and quietly sobbed.
Leia slunk off to the stack of chairs beneath the stairs. The plastic and metal chairs clanged and clunked as she squeezed her way through to an open corner.
Oh great, more attention…she thought. Leia cowardly sank into the cramped corner in fear of the glaring passers.
“Leia! Hey! Where’d you go?” a voice hollered from down the hallway. Leia couldn’t stand to hear another person beckon her name at this time. She wanted to scream, “Go away!” but she was too worried about people finding her secluded place.
“I’ve been looking for—” Melissa quickly halted at the side of the plastic chair cluster. She froze and watched the innocent Leia dribble warm tears all over her hands and sleeves. Melissa forlornly frowned at the sight. She slowly squeezed through the chairs until she towered over the curled up being.
Leia sensed her presence. She could only see Melissa’s shadow filling the little dim light in the corner. Go away…Leia groaned in her thoughts. Melissa slid against the wall and squatted next to Leia.
“It’s ok,” Melissa whispered, kindly draping her around Leia’s shoulder. For a few moments no words were spoken, no laughs laughed. There remained only the soft breaths from each other’s mouths and the sullen sobs from a damaged girl.
During the incidence Leia was so alone, so scared. She felt cold and lost, trapped in an icy cave of bitter exclusion. As soon as Melissa wrapped her arm around her shoulders, Leia felt warmer. She relaxed into Melissa’s arm. In the midst of all her sobs, Leia was delighted that someone actually found her.
Even though she was desperate to escape from her peers, Leia now knew that she truly didn’t want to eliminate herself from the prickly thorns of the social crowd. Instead she dived into the thickest cluster, the prying eye, only to be seen and humiliated, but also found. She longed for a blossom in the thorny bush, a sweet delicate flower to soothe this madness. And if she had not made that risky leap, she would still remain confused and alone. Now she was ever so happy that the flower found her—and it enrobed Leia in a feeling of security.
The emotional silence ceased when Melissa perked her head up and sensed something.
“Why don’t we go…er…someplace else?” she suggested as she heard the swarm of fashion divas strut out of the changing room. Melissa did the best she could at hiding Leia from the crowd, but one pair of intruding eyes saw past her barrier.
“Better not keep her in there too long, Melissa…or she’ll become a forgotten bat!” the girl spat. Her surrounding friends squeaked with high-pitched laughter.
“Brittany, now’s not the time…” Melissa defended.
After the fashionistas stormed out of the hallway, Melissa looked at Leia.
“Bat!” she chuckled. “I’m telling you their insults get worse and worse each day.”
Despite Melissa’s limp humor, Leia’s face welled with tears after the glamour diva’s spiteful comment was said.
“Aww, no! Leia—here, come with me…” Melissa comforted as she stood up and grabbed Leia’s arm.
Leia looked up from her moist damp palms and into the rusty hazel eyes of this new person. Melissa’s bouncy tight riglets framed her oval face. Her lips wore a smile so cute, so happy but so understanding at the same time. Leia, embarrassed by her teary complexion, got up and timidly followed Melissa.
Leia managed to squeak a few words. “Hey—aren’t we going to be late for class?”
Melissa showed Leia outside to the steps of the nearby garden shed. “Well, you have a good reason,” she began. “I, on the other hand will gladly miss tons of time in class and get a tardy slip in front of—”
Leia stopped walking and spat out her lingering curiosity. “Why? Why are you giving up your time for me?”
Melissa turned round. “I—I—can’t fit it into a few words. But anyway, come sit down,” she quickly said, avoiding the topic.
Leia, still curious, joined Melissa on the mossy steps.
Melissa looked at the floor. “I don’t understand why they do it. I don’t see one ray of sunshine in the middle of it all.”
Leia smiled. Her lips then quickly fell back into a frown.
Melissa knew she should change the subject.
“…I thought that was really magnificent how you turned into a cheetah like that,” she said quietly.
Leia perked up at the word magnificent. Her power? Ever called magnificent?
“You were there?” Leia asked.
“Yeah, I was the one who said it was unreal. I still have a feeling it’s not real. The whole concept is surreal.”
Leia was silent. Was someone actually fascinated by her power?
“I mean, how cool would that be, to be running as fast as you can and then boom! You’re a cheetah! That’s so…indescribable! You’re so…”
Leia looked at Melissa’s cheerful face.
“Magical,” Melissa quietly exclaimed.
Leia’s lips started to dip into a smile. Magical? Indescribable? Surreal? Are my ears hearing these words?
“It’s like, you’re this…this extravagant being and—oh my gosh! This is so exciting! Can you do magic? Fly? Oh, I couldn’t wish for more than to fly!”
Leia was overwhelmed by Melissa’s enthusiasm. She couldn’t quite figure out why her power was so appealing to Melissa. If it is so appealing to Melissa, then why not everyone?
Melissa couldn’t control herself. “Oh my gosh, this is just like the scene from Glatzer’s Forest: The Last Leaf! Where Jermy Asten discovers that Teale Tore is actually a magician! Except you’re a—”
“A shape-shifter, right. Whoa! A shape-shifter?! That’s almost like Harna Thesthorn, who can turn into any sea creature except for—wait, have you read the Glatzer’s Forest series?”
Leia shook her head.
“Ok, then I won’t spoil it, there are too many exhilarating parts!” Melissa’s eagerness was abundant and overflowing.
“So,” she continued, “You like, came from a book or something! You came from an imaginary world that is oh so magical and wonderful and—”
“Actually I come from a place called A—”
The bell blared for a few seconds, sending many clunky classroom doors flying open.
“Aww, I guess it’s time for our next class,” Melissa solemnly exclaimed. She got up and brushed off her soggy pants.
“You’ll have to tell me this fantastic place called ‘A’ another time. I’m so excited!” she squealed, blithely prancing around.
“Oi, Melissa! Get in here! Stop skipping around in that mangled moss and get to class!” sounded a stern manly voice.
“Ahh, Mr. Roadenbrick won’t stop yelling! I better be off, or he’ll give me a ten minute lecture on why getting to class on time is an art…I’ll see you around, Leia,” Melissa scrambled to get her backpack on, smiled at Leia and started to run.
“Bye, Melissa,” Leia softly whispered as she watched the teenager jog around the corner.
She enjoyed her walk back to her fourth class. Leia’s mind was spinning with so many thoughts that she became slightly oblivious to her surroundings. Why did she stop and sit with me, why is she interested in magic, what happened to her that made her relate to me? This recent experience was quite quick and over soon, so Leia found it hard to take in so many new thoughts and emotions. Yet the memorable event had already formed a new, rare emotion in Leia’s heart: friendship. It was something soft and light; like a delicate feather. Did this pure delicate feather just brush her soul now? Had she really been touched by one of the most comforting and reliable emotions in the world? Yes. Though it was only a slight stroke, the feather already triggered its beginning: the beginning of a friendship.
Leia was still unaware of her surroundings, but when she pulled herself back into the real world, she realized she was flying. Not as a human, but as a dove: an innocent, cooing dove that glided over the campus.
The silence broke and shouting began again.
“A dove? I didn’t call for no symbol of innocence! Neither did I call for Leia to be so dern late to mah class! Where is dat girl? Leiya, tell us yer whereabouts!” shouted Mrs. Pating, Leia’s obnoxious study hall teacher, from her classroom window.
Leia quickly descended behind a bush and morphed back into her pale human body. She ran with confidence in every stride to her sluggish study hall period.
During study hall, Leia glanced at the clock almost every minute. She turned to face forward with an anxious look on her face every time afterward. Why was she so impatient, so willing to break out of the safe enclosed environment of the classroom? Was it the fear of never finding Melissa in the huge population of the eighth grade? The rush of a new event or feeling triggered Leia’s restlessness. Before she was never eager to dive back into the gushing rapids of the middle school hallways. Now she had someone to look for in the bobbing heads of the crowd.
As soon as she was out of the classroom, Leia quickly remembered that she needed to find Melissa. An image of the smiling Melissa kept flashing in Leia’s head as she searched the faces of the passing students. But Leia soon felt like someone was watching her blindly looking for Melissa. She became embarrassed, and instantly shrunk to a length of a mere five centimeters. A thin pink tail sprouted behind her brown furry backside as her primate hands morphed into tiny padded claws. Innocent, distinguishing features of a house mouse—tiny ears, beady eyes, twitching nose—soon grew onto Leia’s complexion. This common mouse hastily scampered across the slippery hallway floor, dodging all incoming feet that stampeded over her. Leia got a few squeals and shrieks from those who noticed her, but for the most part she blended in well with the tiles and was unseen by most.
Later, after some swift adventure through the forest of her classmates’ legs, Leia bumped into the foot of Melissa. How could she tell it was Melissa? The curly-haired teenage girl had her face buried in Glatzer’s Forest: Calling of Creation. It must’ve been quite engrossing, because it took Leia several annoying nudges on Melissa’s foot to get her attention.
Wide-eyed and mouth hanging open, Melissa slowly pulled away from the captivating words that flowed down the pages of the book. She took a nonchalant glance at the jumpy thing below her, but then startled when she realized that there was actually a mouse scratching at her worn tennis shoe.
“Whoa! Hey there little mousey! Aren’t you the cutest—” Melissa looked at her watch when she bent down to pick up the little mammal.
“Ahh! I’ve got to get to lunch! Err…I’ll put you in my backpack. Stay put and hold on!” Melissa said. She unzipped her backpack, threw the mouse into it and began to jog.
Leia jostled up and down in Melissa’s dark zipped backpack. She felt happy that she didn’t have to scamper through the crowded hallways again, but also nervous about how long she was going to stay a mouse. As long as she stayed embarrassed, nervous or anxious, Leia would remain in her current form. But the smell of wholesome pasta and tangy tomato sauce from the cafeteria instantly calmed her. It wasn’t long until—
“Yes, I’d like the pasta with the tomato and meat sauce please,” Melissa asked the cafeteria servers. She then felt some uncomfortable, uncontrollable movement in her backpack. Pop! Zip! Snap! Melissa’s backpack tore apart piece by piece until finally it burst, projecting fabric and books all over the checkered cafeteria tiles.
The cafeteria went silent. Melissa whipped around and stared at all of her backpack, except for the backing and the shoulder straps, strewn across the floor. A couple binders and books shook and trembled, causing many gasps and anxious faces from the surrounding cafeteria line and tables of students. Leia’s head shot up from the pile of fabric and papers.
The shocked crowd gasped. Silence. All eyes met Leia’s shimmering, innocent blue eyes. Leia, stunned and confused, glanced around the room, probably even more perplexed than the actual crowd.
“Melissa laid an egg! Haha!” teased a younger student in a whiny tone.
The crowd briskly caught on and started to chuckle.
“Ha! Good joke you cracked there, Joe!” shouted a deep adolescent male voice.
Leia got up and brushed herself off. She turned to Melissa.
Melissa had trouble finding her words. “I…I didn’t know that you—how was I—well, you were in…” she stuttered. Leia shamefully slunk behind Melissa in the lunch line.
The cafeteria ladies tried to shift the environment back to normal.
“Err…what can I get you honey…” a server hesitantly asked Leia.
Leia tried to pull her attention to the cafeteria food.
“Just the pasta and the tomato sauce, please. Thanks,” she said as she got handed her plate. Leia quickly slid to the concessions counter. She felt like crying, but she mustn’t in front of all these people, in front of—
Two shimmering blue eyes looked into hers. “Hey, Leia, can you pass a napkin, please?” voiced a tall, brunette manly figure.
Leia’s black hair whipped across her flushed rose cheeks when she shyly handed him a napkin. Oh gosh, it’s…
“Yo Mark! Stop flirtin’ with the napkins and get over here!” teased a few rowdy teen boys at a nearby table. Mark shot an impatient glance at them.
He slowly turned to the coy Leia.
“Thanks,” he softly spoke. Mark gave her a sincere smile before joining his immature friends at their lunch table.
Melissa, beaming with excitement, trotted over to Leia and nudged her obnoxiously.
“Hey! Look who’s smiling at Mark Darson! A little love moment at the concession stand…aww!” she teased.
Melissa fell into a cafeteria seat and plopped her plate on the table.
“But seriously Leia,” she continued. “He is cute. If only I were to casually run into him at the napkin counter…ohh…”
Leia timidly blushed as she sat down at the table.
“And I also think he wasn’t one of the ones who laughed when the whole backpack incident happened, right?” Melissa continued.
“You’re quite fond of him, aren’t you?” Leia questioned while casually slurping up a piece of spaghetti.
“Me? Well, he does have amazing blue eyes and an awesome voice, but he’s not the one for me. Jeremy Asten is my guy. From Glatzer’s Forest, remember? He’s on the cover of every book of the series…”
Leia giggled at Melissa’s affection with a book character.
“Hey, Jeremy is cute! And he has a sensitive side too, like when he tells Maya Nea that—wait I won’t spoil it! Anyway he is just another reason to read the Glatzer’s Forest series.”
Before Leia opened her mouth to speak Melissa continued.
“Hey—I noticed you didn’t get any meat sauce with your pasta. Do you just not like it or…?” she remarked.
Leia looked up from her tomato spaghetti bite. Was the reason not obvious? Couldn’t people figure out from putting the pieces together—or maybe they forgot? Ugh…she thought.
“I, uh…well, to say it simply, if I eat another animal, that’s basically eating myself.”
Melissa cocked her head to the side and gave her a questioned look.
“You see, I can turn into cows, and if I ate beef, well…” Leia continued.
“Oh!” Melissa exclaimed. “So you would be consuming a different animal form of yourself—I get it! Eww…”
“Yeah, and I don’t eat milk or eggs. Because I can turn into a chicken, and eating an egg would be like eating my own—”
“Ugh! I understand now. Sorry for asking…”
“No, I probably would’ve told you at some point. I just wonder sometimes, how people who know I’m a shape-shifter, still get confused with the topic of me being vegan. It perplexes me…I wonder why the human race cannot come to conclusions that quickly. Or is it better if they don’t…?”
Oh, shoot! Did I just let that thought wander out of my head and roll onto my tongue? Why was I not being careful, what if Melissa gets offended or—?
“I wonder that sometimes too…” replied Melissa, engaged in the topic.
“Maybe humans are just so busy with everyone and everything around them, that they just lose sign of detail? Perhaps their minds are not as quick to notice things. Or maybe I’m just getting worked up…” Leia exclaimed.
“Leia, do you have a journal?” interrupted Melissa.
“Well, uh—I’ve thought about getting one, but at the moment, no.”
“Because I think if you put those words down onto paper, you could have practically a book on the detailed and quite professional thoughts of a observative girl like you.”
Leia blushed. “What do you mean by ‘professional’?”
“I mean, what you just said about the human race and everything—it sounded like it came from a college course in psychology! But in a good way.”
Did someone just compliment my intelligent way of speaking? Leia thought.
She was unprepared for a compliment. “Oh, ah, well…”
“Hey Leia, what do you want to be when you grow up?” Melissa asked out of the blue.
“I’m—I’m not sure. I never really thought about it. I’ll definitely be lots of animals, though! Haha…
“But other than that, no. I know at least one thing I want to do someday…” she continued.
Am I actually going to tell Melissa this secret? At a busy lunch table? In front of all these prying teenagers?
Leia stuttered and found it hard to find her words.
“Tell me,” Melissa urged.
“Well, it sounds a little, err, unbelievable, but I’d like to visit my birthplace someday,” Leia muttered.
Melissa was silent. Her face wore little expression except for the curiosity lingering in her rusty hazel eyes.
“You mean—you’ve never seen where you were born?” she finally spoke.
“Well, I remember bits of it—just a few seconds of some of the scenery and the te—” Leia stopped. She would be almost guilty if she revealed any more information.
“Yeah, just some of the scenery,” Leia mumbled. “But I’d like to go back there again…”
Melissa was perplexed by Leia’s secretiveness about the topic. Her demanding curiosity tried to nudge a bit more information out of Leia.
“Where were you born, Leia?”
Leia, overwhelmed by the personal matters Melissa tried to explore, stumbled once again.
“Di-didn’t I tell you when we were by the garden shed?”
“No, you just said it’s a place called ‘A’. You were more enthusiastic about it when we were talking near the shed…”
“Yeah, I don’t know why I’m so—”
Leia was surprised by how Melissa instantly declared the status of her mood. Other people can just tell I’m quiet, but why did she point it out? Leia wondered.
“These surrounding people are probably what’s making you nervous,” inferred Melissa.
She read my mind! Leia thought.
“Well, you’ll have to tell me sometime. I’m just so curious because you must’ve been born in a place of magic and wonder! How exciting is that?!” Melissa exclaimed.
“What if your birthplace was like Glatzer’s Forest?! There would be the Leaning Valley, the Pylem’s Court and even…Jeremy Asten!” Melissa squealed.
“Well, I’m not sure what those places are like, but there aren’t any in Acala—” She shut her mouth.
Melissa’s eyes glowed with wonder.
“Acala? The name sounds so mystical, mysterious, so…”
“Yeah!” exclaimed Melissa as she sat back in her chair. “You finally told me.”
“I—I guess I did!” said Leia in an accomplished tone.
Why was that so hard for me to say? I know I’m surrounded by tons of perceptive ears, but I just told it to Melissa. Am I ashamed of Acala? I’m not, am I? Sometimes I wonder why I was given this shape-shifting superpower and am from Acala. Why? Why is it hard to declare who I am?
“I’d love to go there someday. Or knowing more about it would satisfy me for now. So where is it? Is in on Earth? Which continent?”
“I—well, to be frank, Acala isn’t on Earth. It’s in the Kingd—” started Leia.
I feel so guilty! I have a feeling that the elders don’t want me to tell the whereabouts of Acala, as they fear that the Earth humans will find it and destroy it! But how would they get to Acala? Could they go through the oaken portal by themselves? Leia worried.
“What? Oh. Uh, I don’t think I can s—” Leia shut her mouth and looked out the cafeteria window. The pupils of her bright blue eyes suddenly turned a bright green colour.
Leia got up and made her way to the window, almost without control. She softly draped her hand on the frame and stared out into the plain grassy field. A massive, swirling dark green oak shot up from the turf, twisting its cylinder trunk round and round. It flapped its leafy branches and shook off a small purple leaf from its thick verdant arms. A silver aura illuminated the deep violet leaf as it spun towards the open hand of Leia. It lay in her hand, curled up into a tube. The oak threw its rustling branches up, pulled itself out of the ground, hovering there for a few seconds. A slow noise, almost like an exhaled breath, sounded as the gigantic tree faded into the air.
Leia, black hair softly blowing in the breeze, lips slightly parted open, and eyes full of profound purity, stood at the window in silence. Although it was rare, she knew what just happened. The elders had called Leia.
She pulled her eyes away from the window and to the unraveling leaf in her hand. As it uncurled, Leia noticed silver writing embedded in the leaf. She lifted it up and read in Acalan:
We, the four elders of the Eversee temple, summon you to Acala. Our reason for asking for your presence? We have noticed many changes in your heart and mind, Leia. The elders know that youth-hood is a time of change, however, these new feelings concern us. Lately we sensed you questioning why you were a shape-shifter, and before that, feeling out of place because of this wonderful gift! Leia, when we sent you as a baby to Earth during the Kaplem crisis, we were doing it for your protection. We did not want for your mind to be consumed by popular human culture.
Our traditions state that at a certain age (at which you are now applicable for), a shape-shifter is given the choice to keep forever or lose their special abilities. A less-personal note is given for most Acalan adolescents at this time, but we feel that we need to connect personally to you. Practically all Acalan teenagers who attend their ceremonies stay shape-shifters forever, with hardly any thought over the decision. But we, Leia, are unsure in your case. We summon you to attend your ceremony in one sunset and one sunrise.
The Elders of Eversee Temple
P.S. This spell will aid you in coming to Acala: Acalan mesporta
Distraught, Leia rolled up the leaf and tucked it into her pocket.
I let them down! I let my own people, my elders, down! They think I don’t want to be a shape-shifter! I do but…I didn’t know that they were watching me when I felt insecure of who I am! Aww, but I also can’t just be blindly loyal and do what they think I should do. But do I want to stay a shape-shifter? I need to do something that will get me loving my powers again. Something that really encourages me to change… Leia thought as she slowly walked back to her cafeteria seat.
“Are you ok?” asked Melissa, blown away with confusion. “I watched you get up and go to the window—whoa! Your eyes are green! Wait, no, now they’re fading into blue again. What’s going on?”
Leia bit her lip in worry. “Did everyone see it? The tree? The leaf?”
“What tree? Outside? That field’s been free of trees since kindergarten! What leaf?”
Leia lifted the curled purple leaf out of her pocket.
“I—I just see the palm of your hand…” stated Melissa.
Leia looked at the window and then at the leaf. Oh good, no one saw! Well, they probably saw me at the window but that’s fine, right? That’s good that the elders made the message secretive…she thought to herself.
“Leia, are you feeling okay? Do you need me to take you to the nurse?”
What? Nurse? Does she think I’m crazy? Argh, should I tell her what happened? Can I confide in her? I think so. But I already exposed Acala. And the elders certainly won’t be happy about that.
“No, I’m fine,” Leia responded. “I just have a lot on my mind.”
“Tell me,” Melissa pursued again.
“No. I can’t tell you this. I’ve told you enough.”
“Enough of what? What is so secretive?”
“Look, I have to keep it to myself.”
“You’ll feel better if you tell me…”
“I’m not going to judge you or tell anyone.”
The conversation ended on an irritated note. Leia’s snappiness about this recent event confused Melissa, for she was so innocent and sweet before. This must be pretty big if Leia doesn’t want to tell me, thought Melissa.
Leia sighed and turned to face Melissa.
“Hey, I’m sorry. I just…I need a break. I need—”
“Want to go outside to recess?” interrupted Melissa.
Leia was startled but glad that she didn’t have to continue talking about the awkward topic.
“Uhh, sure. Let me just dump my tray…”
The two girls quickly cleared their trays. As they exited the cafeteria, Leia looked at the school’s maintenance workers sweeping up Melissa’s torn backpack from the cafeteria floor.
“Hey, don’t you need your binders and papers that got…distorted by the backpack incident?” Leia asked.
Melissa turned around.
“Oh yeah!” she exclaimed. She walked over to the maintenance workers and politely asked for the plastic bag they had put her binders and books into.
Leia smiled and said nothing as she followed Melissa out of the cafeteria and threw the garbage bag into her locker.
“Come on, let’s go out to the playground to get that stuff off your mind.” Melissa suggested as she slammed her locker door.
Leia hadn’t realized, but Melissa’s humor helped her to take her mind off of that ‘stuff’ swirling in her mind earlier. Now her mind was on the playground. She rarely went in the playground, even at a younger age. She preferred sitting under the tree and reading, taking a walk, or writing in her notebook. Now that Leia is 14, she finds the playground to be quite childish. Or she just hadn’t gone there enough to acknowledge how much fun it could be.
The two girls pushed open the double doors and entered the wide world of the playground. Apparatus, trees and energetic children composed the vast view before them.
Leia squinted at Melissa in the bright afternoon sun.
“Leia! Let’s climb the Mast tree!” Melissa shouted over the incessant chatter of young school kids. She ran towards a gigantic, tall, wide tree with a merry smile on her face like a toddler’s.
Leia towered over the scampering children at her hip as she gently jogged to the Mast tree.
Melissa, both hands on hips, proudly stood at the base of the tree.
“They call it the Mast Tree,” she proclaimed in a booming, heroic voice, “Because it sticks out of the ground like a mast on a sailboat. We are aboard the sailboat of Earth.”
Leia couldn’t help but to smile at Melissa’s silly description.
“Come on, let’s climb it!” Melissa grabbed onto the rough bark and pulled herself up to one of the tree’s branches.
Leia had no experience of climbing trees as a human before. She walked over to the tree, held onto the bark and jumped upward, but failed to hoist herself up such a vertical angle.
Leia’s animal instincts took over her. She couldn’t just mope at the foot of this tree, no. She needed to get up it. Leia’s pale slender body instantly shrunk into an eight-inch pale pink blob. It quickly sprouted short grey hairs and small appendages stubbed with claws. She bared her tiny white incisors and flung herself onto the bark of the tree. Leia rapidly climbed the crusty bark. She swirled around stubby branches and jumped through thick clusters of leaves. Leia saw the sky vertically above her, looking like it was so close and touchable. She was so proud herself for being so high up the tree. She was only a few scampers and climbs away from the top branch. Leia became so distracted by her success that she became slightly less aware of where she was climbing. She leaped and crawled so quickly, almost too quickly to notice—
“Ow!” yelped a large figure that she just ran into the back of. Leia startled. It was Melissa! She had already come this far up the tree?
“What the—oh hello squirrel! Aren’t you the cutest little grey rodent ever? Aww, were you following me?” Melissa swooned in a lovey-dovey voice. She turned around and picked up the furry creature.
Leia squealed and squeaked, trying to explain that she was Leia, but failed. Melissa continued in an annoying cutesy tone.
“Hey, I wonder where Leia is…” Melissa finally wondered.
“Is she coming? I can’t see beneath these branch—whoa—WHOA!”
Melissa tipped backward too far when she tried to look for Leia below. She dropped the squirrel and flipped backward. Melissa flew back too fast that the thin branches were unable to catch her. She rolled out the side of the tree and plummeted down to the field below.
Oh, shoot! Melissa! Leia screamed in her head. The top half of her body quickly enlarged and sculpted itself into the majestic torso of a white bald eagle, complete with swooping wings. Her bottom half grew into a furry, muscular hind with two strong claw-toed legs and a long thin tail. Leia projected her massive wings and flapped out of the leaves and branches. The grand griffin soared into the air, then quickly darted down towards the ground. She scooped up the falling Melissa onto her furry and feathery back and zoomed upward. Leia bellowed a deep, ferocious roar as she glided across the field.
Melissa, stunned, clutched on to Leia’s soft white feathers on her back and pulled herself upwards so she lay in a flat position. The griffin sailed through the air at an intensely high speed, forcing Melissa to clutch onto her feathers with a grip almost life-depending. She closed her eyes as the blasting gust of incoming cool wind whipped her cheeks until they were pink and flushed.
Leia, sensing Melissa’s uneasiness, descended down towards the ground and continued the momentum with only a few gentle flaps. Her dangling eagle and lion claws scratched at the ground when she landed. Leia trotted to a halt and molted her pure white feathers along with her golden fur. Her wings compressed into her sides and disappeared. The bony claws of the eagle compressed into pale long arms, while the burly legs of the lion shriveled into pasty tall legs. The magnificent head of the bald eagle receded into Leia’s same beautiful visage, framed with her silky, straight ebony hair. She lay down on the ground breathing heavily, deprived of energy.
Melissa, on the ground next to her, got up and nudged Leia.
“Hey, Leia…” she softly spoke.
Leia glanced up at the smiling Melissa towering over her.
“I cannot thank you enough,” she continued.
Leia, confused, pulled herself up when Melissa offered her hand to her.
“W—why are you thanking me?” asked Leia, still dazed from slight fatigue.
“For saving my life. And pretty heroically as well! I literally felt like I was Teale Tore in chapter three of Glatzer’s Forest: The Last Leaf, where Jermy Asten saves her life by—wait I won’t spoil it! But anyway…” The two girls walked slowly back over to the classrooms.
“Uh…” Leia found it hard to grasp her words. She was blown away from the compliments.
“We’re talking about saving my life here. Not a toy or a piece of jewelry, but my existence. Everything feels quite surreal right now, because my life was so close to its end, but thankfully you saved it. My future, everything has been saved. By you,” Melissa whispered.
She turned to Leia and gave her a long, tight hug. Leia accepted the hug and realized what she had just done. Melissa explained perfectly it in deep words, words Leia easily understood and remembered. The way Melissa threw her arms around Leia’s shoulders and squeezed her, made Leia feel needed, cherished, and loved.
When Melissa withdrew, Leia saw the tears in her hazel eyes brimming at her eyelids.
“You have something amazing,” Melissa croaked trough a trembling, shaky voice. “Yes it’s awesome, cool and totally fantastic just on its own, but when you use it to help people, it becomes something bigger. It no longer is just a power. It’s heroic, beneficial and strong. It’s a superpower.”
Leia’s bright blue eyes started to water too. She was amazed by how Melissa crafted such emotion through her compliments. The sincerity in Melissa’s voice kept reminding Leia that the praise she heard was real and honest. And it all was for her. Leia’s soul had never beamed with such an appreciative glow before. Melissa’s commendations triggered the beginning of Leia’s self-acceptance.
“Thank you,” Leia whispered.
Melissa felt proud of herself for making someone, especially Leia, the shy, quiet wonder, cry because of her compliments. She felt even more proud of her friendliness and the ability to reach out to people.
The bell rang noisily and signaled the end of recess. Leia and Melissa withdrew from their hug and began to walk to the entrance of the locker hallways.
After their last hug, Leia made a decision in her head. A great decision, and was confident that she wouldn’t change her mind later. She had something to tell Melissa…
“Melissa!” Leia yelled as Melissa entered the crowd of noisy teenage students frantically bustling around at their lockers.
Melissa turned around and saw Leia. “Yes?”
“I have to tell you something after school. Meet me by the car park, that’s where you get picked up, right?”
“Yeah, see you then!” Melissa waved goodbye and turned around, curious to know what Leia had to tell her.
Through the last two periods of the day, Leia tried to throw herself into her lessons but was too distracted by planning on how she was going to tell Melissa her decision.
“Leia! What is the method of treating units as an algebraic quantity that can be cancelled?” snapped Mr. Cray, her science teacher.
“Uh, duh…” Leia’s intellectual mind blanked for a second.
“Not duh! It’s dimensional analysis! C’mon, this is easy physics, Leia!”
Leia became attentive for the rest of the lesson and the class after that. She couldn’t let a silly blunder like that ruin her learning.
3:30pm. The bell noisily rang again for the last time that day. As it was Friday, school was over for the week.
Leia snatched her green canvas shoulder bag from underneath her desk chair and raced out the art class door. She sprinted quickly, but not so fast that she would turn into a cheetah again. Leia barged through the double doors and into the packed locker hallway. Searching for a tall, brown and curly-haired girl, she darted in between girl gangs and clusters of rowdy boys. Leia finally caught Melissa as she slammed her locker door shut.
“Hey!” Leia exclaimed with a smile.
“Hi! What was it you wanted to tell me?” Melissa questioned. It had obviously stayed on her mind for the last two periods as well.
“Err, why don’t we wait until we get outside…but let’s hurry because I want lots of time.”
“Uh, okay…let’s go.”
The two girls jogged out of the hallways then walked when they got outside Columbia Private School’s main entrance.
“I’m all ears,” Melissa declared.
“So,” Leia began. She felt the nerves and guilt creeping onto her again.
“Uhh, well. D—do you remember at lunch…when I went to the window all of a sudden?”
“W—well, I saw a Lormess tree, a tree that sends us messages…from Acala…”
Melissa instantly perked up. “Go on…”
“A—and, it sent me a message, via a leaf. But only I can see it. The message was from—well, that’s not important. Let’s just say it was from people of Acala. Because they are.”
“Okay, continue…” Melissa was determined to get a direct answer out of Leia.
“…They say I need to attend a ceremony tomorrow. About if I want to stay a shape-shifter. B—because I, well, they thought that I wasn’t so…happy with myself a couple days ago and—well, actually it’s been going on for a while before today.” Leia finally admitted her low self-esteem.
Melissa was silent.
Leia continued. “A—and, I will attend the ceremony and especially after today, I’m going to say I do want to stay one. And also because of today I’ve made the decision to…”
Melissa’s hazel eyes glowed with curiosity and slight impatience.
“…To invite you to come with me to my ceremony. I mean, I’ll be attending it by myself but you can come and…be there?”
Melissa’s face lit up with excitement. She hugged Leia from the side and exclaimed:
“Oh, Leia, I’d love to! Wait…I would get to go to Acala? The magical world of shape-shifters, an actual magical land? Ahh! I thought the closest I would get to Glatzer’s Forest would be reading the books, watching the movie, and going to the convention, but going to a place probably like it?! Ahhh! Maybe there’s a shape-shifter version of Jermy Asten there!” Melissa fantasized. She squealed and jumped up and down ecstatically. Then she froze.
“Wait,” she said. “Are you sure I’ll be able to go there if I’m just plain human, not Acalan?”
“I think so. The only circumstance is that you mustn’t tell anyone about this place before or after you go. It’s very important,” Leia stressed.
“I cannot say.”
“…Alright. But still! Aaaah! Oh—my mom’s here to pick me up. I’ll see you tomorrow. Wait, when are we actually leaving to go there? How long will we be there for?”
“Well we have to leave as early as we can to allow plenty of time for the ceremony. Tomorrow’s Saturday, so what if I meet you here, in this parking lot, around 7am? We’ll probably be there for the morning and afternoon, but I’m not sure how much we’ll run into the evening.”
“What am I supposed to tell my parents when they ask where I am?”
“Uhh, I haven’t gotten to that bit yet, sorry!”
“Oh, well, I’ll try to figure something out…”
“MELISSA! Come on, I’m going to be late for my yoga class!” yelled a voice from a nearby car.
“Gotta go, see you tomorrow!” yelled Melissa as she waved to Leia and ran towards her mom’s car.
Leia smiled and waved.
“See you tomorrow,” she replied quietly. She jumped at the loud beep of her foster mother’s car.
“Coming,” she responded. As she opened the car door she gazed into the clear afternoon sky. Tomorrow Leia would be here, but for a completely different reason than today.
A cool misty cloud hung over the school parking lot. Bright sunrays pierced through the wafting leaves of the surrounding maples. Tiny robins chirped among one another happily and merrily. Their twittering songs mingled with the gentle rustle of the swaying trees, creating a blissful, peaceful morning melody.
Fresh damp air glided off of Leia’s soft cheek. Strands of her midnight hair wafted in the benign breeze. She squinted at the rising sun. The day is young, she thought. Only the future knows what will happen today. It is a complete mystery for us. Yet we craft it through living through and seizing every valuable opportunity. The future is something in our hands…
Leia’s profound moment and mood abruptly ended when she heard an obnoxious honk from a squeaky Toyota. The car pulled up to the curb, and out hopped Melissa. She stumbled and waved at Leia, then turned to her mom:
“I’ll see you at…well…come pick me up around…eight in the evening? No, that’s not too late. Leia knows what we’re doing for lunch and dinner. Yes, I have my granola bar just in case hunger strikes. Ok, bye.”
Melissa waved to her mother then walked toward Leia. With a massive smile on her face, she said:
“Leia, I’m so excited! I could hardly sleep last night. I woke up this morning with such energy and excitement and—wait, what are we doing for lunch and dinner, anyway?”
“Err, well, did you have a satisfying breakfast?” Leia asked.
“Yeah, it was huge! I had a granola bar complete with two slices of raspberry jam toast and a banana and some ora—”
“You should be fine. Do you get hungry easily?”
“Well, I’m not sure who is going to serve us in Acala. We’ll have to see when we get there. But I know for one thing that they won’t allow in food from other sources, especially Earth. Well I’m not sure that’s a rule, but to avoid any complications…”
“So you mean I have to bin my granola bar?”
“No, I mean, eat it now.”
“But I’m sooo full!”
“Eat it, you can think as if you’re stocking up for later…”
“Humans’ digestive systems don’t work that way. If we have too much we might throw u—never mind. Anyway we’re not hibernating here.”
Leia smiled. “Just eat it.”
“Fine,” said Melissa as she began to munch on her granola bar. Then she said in mid-chew,
“How are we getting to Acala anyway?”
Leia flashed a sneaky smile. “Allow me…” she said.
She closed her eyes. Suddenly a flurry of wind blasted from the ground beneath her, causing her hair to fly straight up. Leia slowly raised her hands.
“Acalan mesporta,” she whispered. Her fingertips turned green and created a lime aura around her hands. It swirled around her palms, expanding into a larger magical formation. Leia then flicked her hand back and aimed at the ground. A tiny vertical circle formed above the pavement, slowly growing into a massive dark purple oval. The outside rim of the oval beamed with a little lilac aura.
Leia, beads of sweat slowly forming on her forehead, grit her teeth and strained her face muscles. Arcuna partoen, she thought. Almost there…
When the glowing portal reached its maximum height of six feet, Leia motioned to Melissa with her head to step into it.
“What!? Now?” Melissa yelled over the noisy whir of the portal. “Uh…okay!”
She nervously approached the oval. Breathing heavily, Melissa forced herself to climb into it. She disappeared into the matte dark purple that composed the centre of the portal.
Leia broke free from her tense position by opening her eyes, flinging her glowing hands out to her sides and jumping through the gaping hole between worlds. The portal quickly swirled around in itself, like water entering the sink drain after Leia had jumped into it. When it swirled to its centre point, it disappeared into thin air.
THUD! Melissa and Leia slammed against thick compact mud. They groaned and their eyelids fluttered open.
“Whoa, that was…” began Melissa as she picked herself up and held her head in her hands.
“Quick? I know,” finished Leia. She slowly pulled herself up into a kneeling position.
“Wha—what do you mean ‘you know’? I thought you hadn’t been to your birthplace before.”
“Well, I obviously have been there because I had to be born someplace! But I only remember a few blips of it. I was so young when
they—” she caught herself.
Melissa stood up and gasped. An enormous forest of muddy green thorns stood on one side of them. A murky, hazy fog shrouded the prickly pass, turning the air a sick, dark mossy colour.
Melissa’s throat tightened with fear.
“L—Leia…do we h—have to go…in there?” She stuttered.
Leia whipped her head around and stared at the intimidating grove.
“No, turn around,” she calmly stated.
Melissa turned around and gazed at a colossal hill of slate-grey rocks and boulders.
“Whoa,” she awed.
“We have to climb over that,” said Leia.
“Uh…what? Isn’t that going to be really hard and tiring and—”
“Just follow me.”
Leia ran towards the coarse rocks and hurled herself up the steep slope of boulders. Melissa, after a difficult start at the bottom, soon grasped and climbed the rocks with ease. Leia reached the summit of the uneven mass of stones, and Melissa was right behind her. She pulled Melissa’s hand up to her rock. Both said nothing. They just stared.
Leia’s blue eyes were mesmerized by the land before her. Perched on the summit of the steep mountain, she felt like this place, this wondrous spectacle, was only a heavenly vision.
The rolling grey pathways cascaded over hill to hill, piercing through mint ivy meadows and steeping violet birches. The gentle trickle of a thin stream was audible from the highest rock.
Leia took a step forward. She could feel the damp blossomy breeze seep through her body and uplift her. Her thin black hair softly whipped her flushed cheeks. Leia’s legs began to feel light. Her arms became wide and sprouted feathers. As the musky willowbark scent swirled around her, Leia felt herself become one with the wind. Her broad grey feathers fanned out and began to flap. Her crusty yellow claws floated away from the rock. She was flying.
She courteously scooped Melissa onto her back and dove into the deep forest beauty. Leia’s wings glided effortlessly on the fresh cool wind. Marbled treefrogs perched on hawthorn trees croaked at her with curiosity. Camouflaged owls peeped out of their nocturnal nests to see the swooping grey eagle explore the land.
Leia was engulfed with an immense feeling of purity. This land was so untouched, so quiet, that it indeed felt like her home. She knew that from the first moment she peered over the jagged rocks that this was the place: the place of birth, heritage and security. This was Acala.
Leia’s blithe flight through her homeland ended as soon as flashbacks start to circle in her mind. Leia’s wings soon molted feathers as her yellow claws slowly morphed into pink toe-stubbed feet. Melissa clutched Leia’s shoulders as they propelled themselves into a wet soggy pile of crinkled leaves.
“Leia! What’s—why’d you—” Melissa began. She instantly silenced herself when she saw the mesmerized serious expression on Leia’s face.
Nestled in a gentle dip of the land, Leia saw what was the most important place in her life: her birthplace.
Sprinkled with flowering water lilies, a large still pool of aqua water spilled out from a circular waterfall. Glazed, satin white water flowed out from a small vortex in the centre. Raised above the vortex lay a small marble platform studded with a pointed ceramic pillar. The temple’s history and character oozed from every droplet of water, stone fragment and water lily petal that composed it. It said a thousand words by just overlooking its magic waters. Leia remembered being held up to the pillar and then lay in the rolling pool to slowly descend into the large aqua lake.
Melissa’s voice irritatingly broke the silence. “What is this?” she asked.
Leia stared straight ahead. “This is my birthplace,” she slowly whispered.
Ever since her first glimpse of Acala from the mountain summit, Leia felt different. She felt cleansed and purified. She also felt like something was missing.
Since viewing Acala, flying through the crisp, rolling forest, and now looking at the glistening temple before her, Leia was engulfed in a carefree, soothing mood. Her body reacted to the mood, for wherever Leia looked there was a hopeful sparkle in her eyes. A sign of content flourished in every cheekbone and muscle that composed Leia’s face. Her personality had changed immensely in one hour. Why was this feeling of happiness, of pure content only revealing itself now?
Something was seeping out of Leia. It crawled slowly out of her. Perched at the core of Leia’s heart, the thing had made an inseparable clutch to Leia. Its pearl white teeth bit on her thoughts. Its ridged claws sharply scratched her heart. Every heavy bruise and piercing bite from this vicious internal wolf chipped at Leia’s self-image and acceptance. It held her back when she could’ve loved herself more. This internal beast was a hungry animal that Leia couldn’t shift out of—until now.
Since the encounter of Acala the inner beast began to excrete itself out of Leia’s body. Slowly creeping out of her soul, it only needed one little last push to banish the wolf entirely from her body.
Leia could feel that push enter her body as she started to slowly walk to the temple. The time had finally come. Leia was about to change forever.
Leia gracefully walked across the marble bridge to the waterfall. The smooth magical water softly lapped at the bridge’s edge. The delicate trickle of the falling water and the soft rustle of foliage created a peaceful ambience. Leia took each unhurried stride with power and confidence. She felt spiritually connected to the temple, her race, and her power.
As she reached the end of the bridge, Leia halted and looked into the shimmering drape of water glistening before her. She saw her face reflected onto its glassy surface. Leia smiled, took a deep breath, and closed her eyes.
“I am here,” she proclaimed.
“Leia of Meyloa,” a low voice called from the pillar-studded platform. “Your acceptance ceremony begins. We will now summon you to the Aneay pillar.”
An aqua glow quickly formed around Leia’s body. She was gradually lifted up until she hovered over the waterfall. The glow pulled her forward to the marble platform in the centre of the waterfall’s shallow vortex. The aura quickly faded from her body, and Leia landed on the platform.
Four elders emerged from thin air. Long old white hair draped over their hunched shoulders. Their elaborate colourful robes glistened in the faint afternoon light. The skin of the elders’ faces was sagged and aged. Yet their beady glistening eyes shone impeccable wisdom and knowledge.
“Greetings,” murmured Puleh in Acalan, an elder dressed in a royal blue robe.
“Greetings,” Leia replied, nodding her head to each of the elders.
They spoke Acalan from now on.
“I, Talou, will lead the main part of the ceremony. Puleh will assist me. Yier and Vesoh will aid in only the end, as they specialize in other ceremonies than these acceptance ones,” declared Talou, an elder in an emerald robe.
Yier, dressed in a purple robe, noticed a confused teenager wandering around the foot of the temple bridge.
“Who is that being?” he sternly asked, squinting. “Look’s like a visitor of some sort…”
Leia quickly turned around. “Oh. That’s Melissa. M—my friend. I invited her to my ceremony.”
Vesoh, in a turquoise robe, spoke out. “Without informing us? What is she? Human? Acalan? Does she carry violence in her soul?”
“No, no! She actually carries the opposite of violence in her soul, in my opinion. Anyway she’s human and…” Leia explained.
“Humans…” Puleh muttered.
“Leia, you know that these ceremonies are held for the acceptance of oneself, correct? The acceptance of oneself is an action one must perform themselves,” stated Talou.
“I know, but…she helped me…” Leia mumbled.
“Helped you with what?” asked Vesoh.
Leia paused. “…accept myself…” she whispered. All the thoughts and feelings from yesterday had finally sunk into solid ideas.
“Well, she may stand where she is now. Those of another race should not walk on the temple and its bridge. We do not hold anything against her, nor are we being racist, we just need to remember that this ceremony is spiritual, and, from what we know, the version only exists in Acala,” announced Talou.
Leia sighed and nodded her head. “Yes, elders…”
“Though she is allowed to watch the ceremony from afar. I will send her a message to…turn around,” stated Yier. He squinted his tiny eyes at Melissa and scrunched up his face.
Melissa startled when she heard the words ‘Daren hi aviskay’ sound in her ear. She slightly panicked and turned around in circles aimlessly. She then caught sight of Leia, who waved at her. Melissa dizzily faced the temple and waved back.
“Stay,” Leia mouthed, signaling her hand.
Talou cleared his throat. “Let the ceremony commence,” he proudly announced.
“Leia of Meyloa, we gather at the Aneay temple today to bestow you an important question. We elders will not sway your answer by any means, just tell us honestly and truthfully,” proclaimed Talou.
“Leia, come to the pillar,” beckoned Puleh. “Place your hand on its ancient carved surface…”
Leia raised her hand touched the Aneay pillar. Through touch, she felt a concrete and absolute connection to the vast spiritual structure before her. The pillar symbolized Acalan people, history and culture through its engraved markings. Rarely an Acalan came in such close contact with such a monument. It was only in large life moments like this, where they could experience such a mighty connection between native and land.
“Do you, Leia of Meyloa, accept your shape-shifting power, which you will have for the rest of your life?” asked Talou.
Leia closed her eyes. “Yes, I do,” she clearly stated.
Talou and the other elders bowed their head. They circled around Leia and the pillar, softly chanting an Acalan spell.
Leia’s eyes quickly opened. She felt a sudden burn on her lower backside. In the centre of the four glowing animal markings, formed a white, shining imprint of the letter ‘A’. It beamed a glistening, almost blinding glow and illuminated from under her shirt. The symbol of Acala, the symbol of her shape-shifting power, had been imprinted on her skin forever.
Uncontrollably, Leia’s arms flung out to her sides, and her eyes closed. Her feet gently raised up from the ground, as her whole body levitated slightly above the temple. A delicate yet compelling blow of wind swirled around Leia’s hovering slender frame and whipped her fine hair upwards. The inner beast inside her soul howled and screeched as it violently squeezed out from the walls of her anima. All of its darkness that had once consumed Leia’s thriving heart was now banished from her spirit, forever.
As Leia slowly descended to the temple platform, a peaceful, calm mood of purity engulfed her soul and mind. She felt that something had been stripped from her soul, but in a good and refreshing way.
Leia opened her eyes and looked at the smiling elders standing before her.
“Your ceremony is complete,” Talou proclaimed.
“Congratulations,” the elders commended simultaneously.
Leia bowed her head. “Thank you,” she stated.
“You may leave the temple,” Puleh uttered.
Leia bowed her head and smiled. The elders cast the same aqua glow around her body that transported her down to the marble bridge. Once she landed, Leia strode down to the foot of the bridge at a semi-quick pace. Melissa, beaming with her ever-friendly smile, waited patiently at the bridge’s edge. When Leia reached the emerald grass, Melissa threw her arms around her, then spun Leia round as she slightly lifted her off the ground.
“Ahh! Put me down!” Leia laughed. When Melissa put her down she looked into the shining eyes of the happy teenager in front of her.
“How do you feel?” Melissa asked.
“I feel exuberant! Ecstatic! Joyous!” replied Leia.
“You look like it! Oh my gosh, that ceremony was…AMAZING! I literally felt like I was Harna Thesthorn in Glatzer’s Forest: Dawn of Dreams, where she undergoes this massive ceremony and levitates and glows and…ahh!”
“Well, we’re living in a non-fictional world right now…”
“I know! That’s what amazes me! I keep feeling like I’m in a book or something, but I have to keep reminding myself that this place is for real! …By the way, are you coming back to Minnesota with me? Or are you staying here? I’d love to stay here but I have to finish my education and—”