Due North [Episode 5]: The River's Song, Part I

Water horses, sentient houses, disappearing cats, grave whisperers, semi-dead grave robbers, minotaurs, bearotaurs, satyrs, dryads, sirens, and more!

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Bella, solo this time, trudged through the forest trying her best to retrace their steps from the night before. For all the craziness and world-shattering revelations she had quite literally stumbled upon in this very forest, she knew it was the best place to clear her head.

Canvas and colours in tow, she had a very specific place in mind. Just before she saw the minotaur, she spotted the most beautiful river all the way at the bottom of the cliff face. The deep blue silk, dropped from the heavens, had left Bella instantly mesmerised. The sunrise was her first thought, and sure enough, here she was, fumbling around in the dark forest before first light; she had forgotten her phone at home, leaving strange-looking luminescent shrubbery as the only available light source. Whether she doubled back, walked in circles, changed directions, or simply stood in place, they were always there and couldn’t ever be seen more than a few feet ahead.

Truthfully, some small part of her thought they were guiding her towards the river. A few days ago – maybe even just a few hours ago – she would have immediately dismissed the thought, but now she wasn’t so sure. If minotaurs were real, why couldn’t mildly telepathic (hopefully helpful) berries be?

In the end, it was these berries and their guiding light that led her to the river she ardently sought. Without them, she was sure to have continued blundering about well into the morning, missing the sunrise altogether (that had happened once on her holiday to Greenland, with the slipup ending in the week’s supply of ice cream magically disappearing overnight and a slightly ticked off girlfriend).

Her eyes were treated to the sight of miles upon miles of uncultured land, stretching to the very ends of the earth until it merged with the horizon and gradually rising sun. Through it all, cut the river. The startling, glorious, sparkling river that glittered impossibly bright. The moment Bella saw it, she breathed an impossible sigh. One of calm and elation and serendipity and ease. A sigh more complicated than she could have ever imagined being possible, but one that was there all the same.

She cast a glance across it, trying to process its enormity and find the perfect spot from which to paint the sun whose ascent she wished would slow, but it was a futile effort. The river stretched just as far as the pastures did, perhaps even further, with seemingly no end in sight, so she began to walk.

As she scaled the riverbank, her enchantment grew. Music wafted all around her, apparently being carried by the light breeze itself. The river’s song permeated every faction of the pastures, dipping to the bottom of the stream, jostling flowers, and soaring up to mingle with the clouds all at once. It tickled the grass, carried stray leaves to the ground, and sang with the distant hills. More than anything though, more than the magic it seemed to breathe into the world, it felt like the source of life all around.

Alongside Bella swam tadpoles, moving faster than she thought was possible. As she watched, they grew right before her eyes, tiny limbs building in their upper sections before springing out, tails shrinking inward, and a fully formed frog taking its place in a matter of minutes.

Bella watched on in quiet bewilderment, managing no more of a reaction than a smile as she continued forward, finally having seen her perfect spot. As she sat down to paint the sunrise in her own, beautifully distorted style, she took note of the sky and all it had to offer for the first time, having previously been much too preoccupied with the grandiose of the river.

Pegasi dotted the clouds, their pearly whites, rich browns, and obsidian blacks, bathing in the sun’s light, renewing their coats for the new day. Leading the sun’s ascent, almost carrying the light itself, Bella saw a bird flanked by luminescent wings. Red, orange, yellow, and fantastically golden gradients graced its feathers, simultaneously blending in with the horizon and outshining the rest of the sky. It grew as it flew upwards, a new colour appearing with each beat of its impossibly large wings.

There were flocks of traditionally flightless peacocks soaring confidently; birds with two heads and others with four wings; griffins, somehow poised regally even mid-flight; and large, three-eyed ravens. A sudden fire on a cliff face preluded the arrival of a phoenix, the raging plumes chasing its coattails as it pushed higher and higher, disappearing into a puff of smoke at the edge of Bella’s vision.

In the distance, was a bird that seemed as though it was born of the river, its feathers glowing an enticing blue, creating a second, bluer, sun in the sky. Bella was instantly struck with jealousy, desiring such an innate connection to the river of her own. The bird streaked across the sky, landing on a distant mountaintop, morphing into a humanoid figure as it touched down, still retaining its wings.

Some part of her expected these incredulities. She was beyond bewilderment at this point, and instead rested comfortably in quiet amazement, soaking in the wonder around her. As the sun painted the pastures, Bella painted her canvas, and as the river glimmered, basking in the dawn, she began to mentally connect the dots, a clearer picture slowly beginning to take place. Alecia and her twinkling, changing eyes might not be human; the dog that guided them to her diner on their first day might actually have understood them; and minotaurs, and possibly even other beings that could previously only be found on the pages of myths, were real.

There would be others too, she reasoned. There was every possibility that people she had gotten to know and grown close to weren’t human. She wondered what that meant, if at all it meant anything, and ultimately decided that it didn’t. It didn’t matter at all. She sighed contently, a smile brighter than any that had ever graced her face never once faltering, marvelling at her luck at having found this town.

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