“I’ve never been on a road trip before. This ought to be fun,” Alex says with excitement as he jingles the keys to the apple-red convertible parked outside the tavern.
“You don’t call what we’ve been doing for the past year a road trip?” Arya questions as she stops opposite Alex by the passenger side door.
“Well, not really. I’m told a road trip is fun and relaxing. Everything we did during the past year was anything but fun and relaxing,” he shrugs and slides the key into the hole. He pulls the door open and climbs in, getting comfortable.
Arya gasps. “It wasn’t?”
“Opps, umm, my mistake. I meant most of what happened wasn’t. Of course, finding myself here in the Elvin realm and all is fun. It just wasn’t very relaxing,” Alex corrects himself.
Arya smiles smugly. “Anything that involves a road and moving doesn’t sound fun to me. My butt is still sore from riding horses and dragons and deer,” she grumbles, climbing in next to Alex.
Alex rolls his eyes subtly, thinking, ‘you’re such a princess; can’t even handle a horse ride without complaining.’
“Stop. You don’t have to speak for me to know your mood, Alex,” Arya complains.
He sighs. “Sorry. What even is a car anyway?” Alex asks, holding the key up in front of him. “I haven’t ever seen one before, but here we are, climbing in one and I somehow know exactly what to do,” he says, putting the key into the ignition and turning it. The engine roars to life with a soft hum.
“How should I know. I’ve never heard of one either,” Arya shrugs, pulling her knees up and bracing them against the dashboard. She reaches up and pulls the ribbon holding her silver-blonde hair off her face and lets it down around her shoulders. “Did Sarine really give you those keys without any instructions? That’s so unlike her,” Arya asks.
“No, the witch elf did. She saw me looking at them in the shop – I had no idea what they were, and she just gave them to me. Free of charge, she said. I couldn’t believe it,” Alex says with honest surprise.
“Neither can I. Isn’t she the one who gave you that language potion?”
“Yup. The same one. Maybe she likes me,” Alex wonders.
“Perhaps. So, any idea where we’re going?”
“Nope,” Alex chuckles. “I believe a road trip, by definition, requires an unplanned destination. Either that, or it doesn’t really matter, because it’s the moving that is the purpose.”
“Lovely. Well, let’s just hope you know how to steer this… car,” she says doubtfully. The convertible jolts forward suddenly and jerks to a stop.
Alex laughs nervously as Arya eyes him with a worried look. “Oops… well, now I know which one goes forward,” he grins.
“I hope I don’t die. I think I might feel safer with my godparents,” she groans.
“You do? Even after we fell from the sky?” Alex grips the stick shift and changes the gear into reverse. Arya doesn’t respond. The car rolls back away from the tavern and Alex seems to struggle to handle the steering wheel before the convertible turns onto the dirt road.
“Do you know what these buttons do?” Arya leans forward, staring at the dashboard curiously.
“Hmm?” Alex turns to look, his gaze narrowing as he studies the dash.
“Alex! Eyes on the road! You’re going to get us killed!”
“Sorry!” Alex snaps back up and stares ahead. “Wouldn’t be the first time,” he chuckles weakly.
“Honestly, I’m surprised we’re still alive.”
“You are?” Alex asks.
Arya turns to Alex, a bewildered look on her face. “You aren’t? That explains a lot.”
“Let’s just enjoy this trip, ok? We deserve a break, Arya,” Alex sighs.
“I’ll consider it enjoyed if we make it back alive,” Arya frowns.
They sit in silence for a while as the convertible continues to increase speed. Arya’s hair starts to whip around her face as the wind tangles with it. Alex squints through the open top vehicle at the road ahead as trees and farm buildings zoom past. The needle on the dash continues to rise – 50 km/h, 60 km/h, 85 km/h, 100km/h.
“Alex! Slow down!!!!” Arya screams over the rush of the wind, her voice sucked away as they fly past a village.
“I don’t know how!” Alex screams back, gritting his teeth. “Maybe we should put on the belt I saw hanging from our shoulders!” he suggests, trying to handle the wheel with one hand.
“Alex!” Arya scolds.
“I think this is faster than a horse!” he grins, though he looks a tad unsettled.
Suddenly, his leg shifts and the car skids, kicking up dust and rocks as it slides along the dirt road before coming to a stop. Arya slams her hands forward, bracing herself against the dash, her mouth hanging open as her hair falls in a knotted mess around her face.
Alex starts to laugh. “That was exhilarating! I think I like cars.” Arya remains breathless, starring forward as her life passes before her eyes. “I wonder if the Author will let us keep the car. That would make the story so much more fun, wouldn’t it?”
“No, it wouldn’t,” Arya finally speaks. “I think it would clash too much with the plot and you would find some way to muck up the flow of things.”
“I already do that and I’m hardly trying,” Alex pouts.
“Exactly,” Arya retorts. “Besides, I don’t think you’re in good favour with the Author to even ask. Didn’t she throw you in prison after you succumbed to snow blindness and frostbite among other things?” Arya raises a brow.
“Please don’t remind me. Those were dark times. I’m sure she’s feeling remorseful about that. Maybe she’ll let me keep the car,” he says hopefully. Little does he know the Author had other plans in mind for the car.
Alex looks up. “That doesn’t sound good.”
“You said it, not me,” Arya sighs, following his gaze toward the sky.
Alex slowly releases the brake and straightens the wheel, setting the car forward again on the road. This time, they seem to move along at a reasonable speed, no more than 50 km/h. Arya finally gives in to her curiosity and starts to press the buttons on the dash.
As she does, a loud blaring noise emits from each of the doors, the sound of a screeching guitar and the heavy beats of drums. Both Alex and Arya’s eyes go round and Arya claps her hands to her ears with a grimace.
“What is that?!” Alex raises his voice over the loud speakers.
“I don’t know, but it sounds awful!” Arya shouts back. She reluctantly lowers a hand and taps another button and the music coming from the radio changes. A much softer toned guitar plays back with light female vocals and a sweet echo.
“That’s much better,” Alex notes, bobbing his head along to the beat.
“Agreed. Oh, I think this one changes the volume,” Arya says, starting to sound excited as she raises the volume of the radio.
They listen to the music as it changes to a male voice with a similar sounding guitar accompaniment. Alex seems to lose himself in the music while Arya gazes out the window at the passing landscape; open fields with this years crops growing start to shift into an untamed wilderness, less inhabited by the local elves and humans and other races of Asthintine.
“I’ve never heard anything like this before. It’s really pretty,” Arya turns to Alex with a small smile.
“I also think so. My father’s court had musicians that played the lute and wind instruments, but nothing ever sounded anything like this. I wonder what it’s called,” Alex replies.
“Me too. I would love to see this live.” The song comes to an end as another begins, this one a little more upbeat and both Prince and Princes lose track of their surroundings as they become engrossed in the melodies.
Suddenly, Alex sets the brakes and they roll to a stop alongside a building.
“I’ve never seen that before,” Alex says curiously as they stare, wide-eyed at the red building with a sign on the top that reads Andrei’s Diner.
“What is it?” Arya asks.
“I don’t know. Whatever a ‘Diner’ is. I assume Andrei is the owner? Maybe it’s like a tavern or an inn,” Alex shrugs. “Wanna check it out?” he asks, turning to Arya.
“Sure,” she shrugs back.
Alex maneuvers the convertible off the road and puts it in park just out front of the diner. He turns the key and the music and engine shut off. They both stare a moment, slightly perplexed before climbing out and shutting the doors. Alex holds out his hand, waiting for Arya to round the convertible and takes hers before they walk into the diner together.
“Welcome, to Andrei’s Diner!” a girl smiles at them from a wooden stand, wearing a red cap and an apron. Her blonde hair peeks out from under the cap, bright, blue-green eyes smiling back at them.
“Oh, wow. This seems fancy,” Arya blushes.
“Would you like a table for two?” the girl asks, waving a hand toward the row of tables and a bar to their right.
“Umm, that tall table with the stools looks fun. How about that?” Alex asks Arya. She nods and the girl smiles.
“The bar it is! Right this way. My name is Caroline, I’ll be your waitress today,” she places a folded paper menu down on the counter as she gestures to two stools. “Please, make yourself comfortable. I’ll be right back with some water,” she turns and disappears around the counter.
Alex and Arya take their seats at the bar and glance down at the menu. “Is this a place for food?” Arya whispers.
“I think so, but…. I don’t recognize any of these things,” Alex hums, dragging his finger over the menu.
“Is that your car?” a male voice calls out from behind them. Alex and Arya spin around to see a skinny, black-haired man with an angular jawline and dark brown, almost black eyes.
“Uhh, yeah, why?” Alex responds.
“It’s sick!” the young man grins, moving to the stool next to Alex.
“Sick? What’s that mean? How can a car be sick?” Alex asks.
“No, no, I mean, it’s cool!” The young man corrects.
“Well, there’s no roof or windows. I don’t know why I think that’s why it’s cool, but you get a lot of wind,” Arya shrugs.
The young man laughs. “Wow, you guys are funny. Cool means… awesome! Unique! I’m jealous. My name’s Kaede. What’s yours?” he holds out a hand to Alex.
“I’m Alex and this is Arya. It’s a pleasure to meet you,” he nods, taking Kaede’s hand. They shake briefly.
“We’ve never seen this place before, how did you get here?” Arya asks.
Kaede purses his lips in thought. “I’m not really sure. Andrei just thought it would be cool if he started running a diner and, BAM! Here we are!” The blonde girl comes back around the counter with a jug of water and two cups. “Oh, Car! Can I have one too?” Kaede calls out to the waitress with a look of recognition.
“No, this is for the guests. You can get your own water,” she says cooly.
“I like her,” Arya smiles. Alex remains silent.
“So, have you decided what you’d like to order yet?” Caroline asks them.
“No, we don’t know what any of it is,” Alex admits.
“Oh, well…” Caroline’s smile fades.
“I can help!” Kaede grins. “Here, let’s have a look.” He reaches for the menu and takes a look. “Ahh, so at the top, we have appetizers, like fries and cheese sticks and chicken wings and salad.”
“What is all that?” Arya asks.
Kaede looks up with a blank look on his face. “You don’t know what fries are?” he asks. The two guests shake their heads no. He sighs. “Well…” he turns to Caroline. “I told you pictures would be better. Put pictures on the menu and everyone will know what it is, even Hitomi,” he accuses.
“I didn’t make the menu!” she frowns. “Kat and Andrei did.”
“Oh, yea? Then why is there Montreal smoked meat, bagels, and chocolate cake on here? That sounds like Heath! And scones! That’s Selene,” Kaede points to the menu in exasperation.
“Scones?!” Arya perks up. “I know what scones are. Can I have that?” she asks Caroline.
Caroline smiles and pulls out a pad from her apron pocket. “Sure! And for you?” she looks at Alex.
Alex looks to Kaede. “I guess I’ll try the bagel, whatever that is.”
“Toasted or untoasted?”
“With or without butter?”
“Would you like a drink with that?”
“Do you have ale?”
Caroline stops and stares. “At this time of day? How old are you anyway?”
“I’m 18! Soon to be 19, and since when did the time of day matter?” Alex frowns. Arya hangs her head with a shake.
“You’re far too young to be drinking ale. The legal drinking age is 19 here.” Caroline states, pointing to the door. Alex twists around to look at the sign. Sure enough, it reads ‘must be 19 or older to drink alcohol.’
“Fine, I’ll have…” he looks at the menu, “coffee, whatever that is.”
“You don’t know what coffee is?” Kaede asks loudly.
“No, I-“ Alex starts.
“You don’t know what coffee is?” a deep voice comes from behind Alex, making him jump. He spins around only to look up at the towering figure of a man with dark curls and equally dark eyes hidden behind dark framed glasses.
“No, as I was saying, I don’t know what coffee is. Is that so wrong?” Alex shrugs innocently.
“Yes. Coffee is the sustenance of the earth,” the tall dark man replies.
“No, it’s not. Water is,” Caroline corrects him. “Sorry, this is Heath. He thinks one can live off coffee. He’s as bad as Kat,” she rolls her eyes.
“You can live off coffee,” he replies deeply.
“No, you can’t. You’re body is about 60% water. Without water, you’d die. People live without coffee all the time,” Caroline states.
“They are missing out,” Heath says softly.
“Sure, but they still live,” Caroline grumbles. “Would you please stop haggling the guests. I’m trying to take their order.
“Sorry,” he steps away and moves toward a table by the window. He takes a seat and hunches on his elbows a little, staring at the empty seat in front of him.
“Don’t mind him. He’s waiting for Selene to get back with Emrys. They went for a walk after Emrys saw some strange looking faeries,” Caroline sets her hand on her hip.
“Faeries?” Alex asks.
“Yea, you know, small human-like-“
“We know what faeries are. They’re very common, actually, but they don’t usually appear out here in the middle of nowhere. They usually prefer forests or gardens,” Arya interjects.
Caroline shrugs. “I don’t know what kind he saw. He’s the faerie king, not me. They should be back soon. Anyway. What would you like to drink?” she asks Arya.
“Oh, umm. This berry tea looks nice,” Arya says, looking at the drinks.
“Great. I’ll let Kaede explain the menu and you can order anytime you like. I’ll be right back,” Caroline disappears around the corner again.
“So, Andrei owns this place? Will we get to meet him? Usually, we see the inn owner at the counter,” Alex asks Kaede.
“Oh, I’m sure he’ll come out with your orders. Andrei owns the place ‘cause he cooks the food. That’s what a Diner is – a restaurant.” Kaede is met with two blank stares. “A place where you get food?” They both nod their understanding and he sighs with relief.
“Order’s up!” a voice calls from the back and suddenly, a chocolate brown haired man, not much older than Alex and Arya appears on the other side of the counter. They both blink in surprise.
Alex is the first to speak. “How’d you…” he gestures with his finger, drawing circles to which Arya thinks means appear in the area of the space he’s tracing.
“Appear?” the man guesses correctly. Alex nods.
“That’s his magic, well… sort of,” Caroline smiles knowingly as she rounds the counter herself.
“Sort of? What’s that supposed to mean? I’ll have you know- ” Andrei starts.
“Andrei’s a time mage. He can also skip space and make things heavier and he’s got devilish good looks,” Kaede cuts him off. Caroline shoots him a flat glare and Andrei just smiles smugly.
“Well, I’ve never been complimented so much in one line. You got that recorded right?” Andrei asks. Kaede nods.
“Oh, please…” Caroline sighs exasperatedly.
“Anyway, here is your bagel and scones and your coffee and tea,” Andrei smiles, placing them on the table before Arya and Alex with hardly a sound. They stare in wonder at the display, each plate laden with fruit and whipped cream and a flower from some unknown land.
“There’s no way you made all this in that short amount of time,” Arya breathes doubtfully.
“No? Last I checked, time was but a relativity, especially to a time mage,” he smirks. Both Arya and Alex are corrected into silence, accepting what they’re told as truth.
The two guests eat their meal happily and before long are back on the road, zipping past the empty landscape of Central Arnithean.
“So, what do you suppose we’ll see next?” Arya asks as the radio plays a pleasant tune in the background.
“Not sure. I wasn’t expecting such a place as a Diner. They seemed like nice folk, unique magic and all.”
Arya smiles. “Yes, they were pleasant. Very different than the people back home.”
After some time Arya asks a second question. “Have you ever traveled so far before?”
Alex glances at her from the side. “Does traveling through a portal gate to a parallel earth not count as far?” his lip curls at one side.
Arya juts out her bottom lip. “I’m not sure. Would that be considered a great distance or the same distant, just… on the other side of the coin?”
“You have a point. I guess I haven’t. My father sailed the ocean once, to England. That is pretty far. I myself have only gone on hunting expeditions and of course, all over Maala.”
“Maala is pretty big. How far away was England?” Arya asks.
“Didn’t you learn that in Presqu’ile?”
“No,” Arya answers. “I was learning about Arnithean history and geography.”
“Ahh, I see. It’s just about a two-month journey if you don’t get blown off course.”
“That is far,” Arya hums. “Well, I suppose at this speed we might go further than a two-month journey on foot would take us by the end of the day. Amazing…”
Alex smiles, glances to the left out the window and spots two people walking. He slams the breaks, coming to a stop.
“What the heck, Alex! What now?” Arya gasps.
“I saw something,” he shrugs, putting the car in reverse and stepping on the gas lightly. Arya rolls her eyes as Alex reverses the car, pulling to a stop beside two people walking alongside the road. One, a young boy who stands nearly six feet tall with bright red hair and a narrow freckled face, the other, a shorter young lady with pale blonde, almost white hair and clear grey eyes.
“Hey!” Alex calls out to them, draping his arm over the door. “Do you guys need a ride?”
“Alex! We don’t even know where we’re going. How can we offer them a ride?” He shrugs in response.
“Actually, we’re fine. We’re just walking, looking for faeries,” the short blonde girl says.
“Oh, are you Selene and Emrys then? The waitress back at the Diner mentioned how two of her friends were looking for faeries,” Alex smiles.
“Yes, we are them,” she replies.
“But the faeries got away,” the tall, red-haried boy pouts, sounding childish.
“You know,” Arya interrupts, “not all faeries are visible. Sometimes they like to hide.”
The red-haired boy frowns. “I do know. But they don’t hide from me!” he says defensively.
“The faeries act differently around him. According to them, he is their king,” Selene explains.
Arya and Alex both blink in surprise. “I didn’t know they had a king…” Alex whispers to Arya.
“Me neither. Perhaps they would be angry if we didn’t include them in the peace treaty,” she sighs. Alex nods his agreement.
“What’s a peace treaty?” the boy asks.
Alex smiles, whispering, “he reminds me an awful lot of Fren.”
Arya smiles warmly. “Yes, he does.”
“A peace treaty is when two or more groups of people sign a document agreeing to be kind to each other and not fight,” Selene explains simply.
The boy nods his head, a finger held to his thin pink lips. “Oh, I see. So, because no one’s signed one with the faeries, they could do what they want?” he asks.
Alex and Arya cringe. “Not exactly,” Arya replies.
“Please, don’t trouble yourself explaining. Emrys is still learning, it will take time. I would hate to take you both from your trip. Perhaps we’ll meet again someday,” Selene smiles knowingly. Something about the way she answered them so quickly makes Arya and Alex a little nervous.
“Oh, well, if you’re sure you don’t need a ride,” Alex shrugs, shifting the car gear into drive. They wave as Arya and Alex pull away from the side of the road and continue on their way.
The day begins to grow late as they continue through the wilderness in the red convertible. They zoom past the expansive forest to the south, known as Mirilin Forest. Arya relates the tales she’d heard from her wet nurse about this forest but never had she dreamed she’d get to see it, in less than a day no less. Alex compares such landscapes as he knows from his own realm of Presqu’ile and they find common ground between their two worlds. Once again, Arya and Alex feel drawn to each other despite being forced together by the prophecy.
The mountains to their left draw ever closer as they approach the far eastern ridge of the Great Nivmar Mountain range, a place once known to be the home of the great wizards of Ciarhin, back when both humans and elves lived together on this great continent. Alex informs Arya that this was where Fren was born and would have studied, had the wizards not been eradicated by the Thorg army some 100 years ago, as Fren had told him.
“I still find it surprising, Fren’s own role in all this. To be so young and yet so gifted with magic,” Arya muses.
“Such is fate. We cannot debate with the gods,” Alex replies casually.
“Tou mean the stars,” Arya corrects him.
“Well, they are God’s, aren’t they?” he asks.
“No, they are far different! God’s only go so high! Stars are far above the heavens, deep in the galaxy. They used their dust to create the world’s and then us and everything you see.”
“Sounds similar to the legends in my own world, though there is often only the one God who created all,” Alex denotes.
“It’s hard to say when there is so much history and neither of us was there to witness it,” Arya sigh wistfully.
“Well, wasn’t there the great star herself, Alamera Starrheart?” Alex asks.
“Yes, I suppose you’re right. She would be our best guess. Alex…” Arya pauses, staring at him grim the passenger seat as her hair blows wildly in the wind.
“Yes?” Alex responds, keeping his eyes on the road.
“I’ve been thinking,” she blushes, not sure if she’s ready to say it out loud.
“About what?” Alex asks still oblivious to Arya’s wavering voice.
“About you, about us,” she says hesitantly.
Alex doesn’t respond. So Arya continues.
“I know that the prophecy put us together and all… and things along the way worked out the way they did… but…” she trails off, still uncertain.
Alex shrinks a little in his seat? Hands gripping the wheel hard. ‘There’s a but?’
“I think I may be beginning to actually… like you,” Arya says through her exhaling breath.
The car suddenly hits a rock and the front end of the vehicle jumps over it, slamming down hard onto the dirt road ahead. Alex, in his surprise, swerves the car just as he catches sight of another rock. The car starts to spin, dust picking up around them. Arya screams as they come to a jarring stop and the passenger side of the car slams into the thick trunk of a tree.
The dust settles around them before either speak. They are still attempting to calm their racing hearts. Alex is the first to break the silence.
“You… like me?” he coughs, face and hair covered in dust.
“Perhaps I spoke too soon,” Arya croaks, eyes scanning the scene. The trunk has left a sizable dent in her door and smoke is starting to rise from the engine.
Alex slowly climbs out of the driver’s seat and walks around the car, eyes wide with dismay. “The car! What am I going to do!??” he gasps, gripping his hair in his hands.
“You mean ‘we’. What around WE going to do? You do realise if this thing’s broken well have to walk all the way back, don’t you?”
“I honestly didn’t even consider it… Oh… This is no good! Now what? It’s nearly sunset and were in the middle of God knows where!” Alex gestures to the very barren landscape that surrounds them, all but for the random tree.
Arya climbs out on the driver’s side, brushing the dust from her arms and combing it from her hair. “Perhaps we could enlist the help of my Godparents.”
“I am not flying with them again! They dropped us the last time, remember?” Alex reminds her strongly.
“It was just an accident, Alex. Hardly their fault. Besides, it would be faster than walking, and we don’t even have horses. I’d say at least a six-week journey.”
Alex groans in protest. “I’m sorry… It’s all my fault,” he whines, letting his shoulders sag.
“Hardly, I was the one who spoke rather brash,” Arya admits, unable to meet his eyes.
Actually, the fault was neither, for the author was but looking for a way to end off the short tale with a little drama and she could hardly leave her protagonists with and modern vehicle. Perhaps they’ll meet with and friend along the way, or Andrei will be around to help them skip back to their own realm. In the meantime, they’ll have about six weeks to enjoy the wilderness once more, just the two of them, reflecting on how they feel about one another.
*Amused laughter resounds from the skies.*
“I’m concerned about that,” Alex groans.
“Me too, but we can’t do anything about it,” Arya sighs. “We best be off.”
Alex waves goodbye to the car, a forlorn look on his face as the sun dips below the horizon. A breeze picks up, blowing in the opposite direction than usual. Dust blows into their faces and shortly after, the breeze vanishes. Up ahead on the path stands a short figure with short black hair in a white and red uniform from some far off country. The wind rustles through her hair and she smiles.
“Ano, isshou ni kaerimasho ka?”
By Kayla West