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I stared ahead past the man sitting in front of me. I avoided his probing gaze, clearing my throat awkwardly. I shifted uncomfortably, trying to ignore his blue-eyed stare.
The truth was I was angry. I was angry with him and with everything else in this world. It wasn’t my home. Ha-ha, I was a very, very long way from home. This man was the only one who could help me get back.
He infuriated me. He was so laid back and casual about the whole thing. This entire world was at war and he made a joke out of it. He seemed to take his time in answering my questions and sometimes I got no answer at all. He would smirk and clasp his hands behind his blonde head, leaving me to wonder and wonder.
“I just want to go home,” I said, looking at the ground under my feet. It seemed like the hundredth time I had said that.
I glared at the forest around me, trying to see into the dark shadows of dusk. The fire before me crackled and spat, cackling with delight. I swallowed the lump that was rising in my throat. The further time got on, the more I began to lose hope. Perhaps I would be trapped here forever.
The man, Howl, smiled kindly at me. “You will, I promise.” He said softly.
He had promised me this several times and each time I believed him less than the last. He had sworn to take me back to my world.
“No matter what I have to do to get you back, I’ll do it.” He continued.
I couldn’t bear to look at the sincerity in his eyes. Did he really believe he could take me back? With soldiers patrolling every teleport and rift in time itself, we’d have better luck finding a needle in a haystack. But this was worse. This was like trying to find the hay in the needle stack.
“Howl, there’s a war on, for goodness’ sake! We could get killed!” I said, sighing heavily.
“I will guard you with my life. No harm will come to you as long as you stay with me. I swear it.”
I fought back tears. I had only known this strange man for a few short days and he was already willing to give his life for me. I couldn’t say I would do the same because I didn’t want to die just yet…not so soon.
He was a wizard. He showed me his awesome powers and I couldn’t help but squeal with delight when he grabbed hold of me and literally swept me off my feet. I barely had time to look down before I saw the ground becoming smaller and distant. I was flying! He showed me how it was just like walking. Holding my hands to steady me, he told me to straighten my legs and walk…on nothing but thin air! But I obeyed and soon found myself dancing on the breeze.
If I had powers like those, I would never stop bragging about them. I would always find ways to display my incredible magic. But Howl…he was different.
He never talked about his powers. He treated his gift as though it were a terrible secret he had to hide away. He always told me that if he could do something without the use of magic, he would do so. And that always baffled me.
Howl shifted closer to me, his expression as serious as ever.
“I know how many times I’ve promised to take you back. I will remain true to that promise until the very end. But there is something you must know.”
I nodded, waiting for him to continue. Howl was a cheery person, full of confidence and glee. I had never seen him so grave. He placed his hands on my shoulders and squeezed gently.
“You may have to get back to your world on your own. We may never see each other again.”
I opened my mouth to protest but he stopped me by putting his hand over my mouth.
“Before you say anything, let me explain. I know what you’re thinking. I am not going to abandon you. I never would. But if helping you means letting you go…then that is what I must do. Please try to understand.”
He released me and waited for me to speak.
“But,” I said, my voice rising in anger with every word. “You said you wouldn’t leave me until I was safely back at home!”
Howl ran a hand through his golden locks. “I know, I know. But you’re not seeing the whole picture. I will help you in any way I can. But that doesn’t mean that I’ll always be with you. Like you said, we’re in the midst of a war. The worst war I’ve seen in all my life. And, trust me, I’ve been around for a long time. There is no guarantee I’m going to make it out alive.”
I gasped. As much as I disliked Howl, I liked him. He was just such a loveable person with his charming smile and graceful gait. I couldn’t stand the thought of him dying for me.
“Now, Howl,” I said, trying to sound tough. “There’s no need for you to…”
Howl removed the pink coat he always wore and wrapped it around my shoulders. Then he slipped a beautiful ring off his finger and put it on mine.
He gestured to the blue jewel in the center. “This will help guide you home if I am not around.” He said.
I glanced at the ring. “How?” I asked.
“Just…just…erm…” he stumbled on his words. This was rare. I had never seen him at a loss for words. He was always quick to explain things and never ceased his endless chatter. He patted my hand.
“You’ll figure it out.” He said.