Chapter III


Sophia woke up with a single thought in her mind – how to get out of Shelters as quickly as possible. Yuki-Onna’s pendant hung safely around her neck while she was sneaking out from her shed. The wooden box was safe in her oversized backpack. Lars and Anders were no threat, as they never took their job too seriously.

She turned around to look at Shelters for the one last time. Regardless if the blood creature was a friend or a foe – she felt she can no longer stay in this temporary safe haven. The sense of fear was overwhelming, but the dedication prevailed – Alkmaar is not that far – and she’ll reach it no matter what. According to her friends it is just a few days of walking along the shore.

After a few hours, her feet needed some rest. It was a warm day, so she found a tree trunk in the shade to relax and recuperate. Her backpack was next to her legs when she realized it is covered in tiny, bloody spots. She looked up and there it was again, a blood creature was hovering over her.

– Don’t be afraid, Sophia. I am what I am, your Guardian Spirit. Just making sure you’re safe. –

Sophia didn’t scream, but the tears were hard to hold in. The pendant was not reacting, which meant the creature was telling the truth. That calmed her down a bit.

– OK – Sophia said – I am not afraid of you. Just tell me again, why are you doing all this? Why are you following me? – she asked curiously and politely.

– Oh, let me tell you the story then. We clearly have time and you definitely need some rest. It all happened way back in 2022. Aokigahara was restless those days, vivid with activity. The winter was coming and all Guardian Spirits gathered on one of the forest plains. The truth was fueling the elders with anger – they were questioning if humanity is worth saving at all! They knew what was coming, as Guardians don’t care about the concept of time. Their eternal dedication to help and teach humans how to cope with their fears was under question. They were trying to help, but people were just not listening. Stuck in their own bubbles, with each step they took they were further and further away from what is important in life. Huge argument lasted for days. Young ones didn’t care that much, but the elders were firm in their decision. The Gates needed to be closed – and they’ll be. Eternals and the Elders agreed on the date. – Winter Solstice, 2022. Till then, Guardians will listen to calls from humans. But on December 21st, 2022 – all uncalled Guardians will remain in Aokigahara. – the Guardian explained.

– Wait! – she said – what is Aokigahara?

– Oh, it is the infamous forest in Japan, known for spiritual activity. I call it home. – the Guardian said. – That’s where I come from. And to answer your other question, I am helping you because you’ve found that pendant, and I’ll be with you till you need me. The road ahead is not safe, and I’ll always know what’s coming. To give you an example, I know Lars is looking for you and he’ll be here in 5 minutes. You should hide. –

Sophia was eager to test this, so she hid behind a tree anxiously waiting to see what happens next. And after a few minutes, there he was! Lars was there, walking slowly towards the trunk she was sitting on just moments ago. He sat on the same trunk, rested for a few minutes and continued walking.

– Why did we need to hide? I am not a prisoner or anything like that. – Sophia asked.

– Because he would convince you to go back, and that would be the end of your journey. – Guardian said. – You need to get going. Take the lantern out of your backpack, you’ll need it soon.

– The lantern? But it is the middle of the day! – Sophia asked.

– It is never bright enough to not miss the right path, Sophia. – Guardian laughed. – Sometimes you’ll just need to listen as we won’t have time for explanation.

– Alright, I’ll do it! Let’s see what happens – Sophia said joyfully.

After a few minutes of preparation, Sophia continued walking. She was a few steps closer to Alkmaar.


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