“Where are we going?” Elizabeth managed to wheeze, out of breath.
After accepting his challenge, Leon had led Elizabeth away from the suburbs and they had walked half an hour into the wilderness towards Mt. Logan — the tallest mountain range within the city surroundings. They had trekked through deep snow banks and thick forests. Leon strode confidently forward as though he knew exactly where he was headed, despite Elizabeth feeling completely turned around and lost. Leon also still wore no coat or gloves, just jeans and a tight fitting tank top. Elizabeth thought he must be out of his mind from the cold, but he showed no sign of faltering, nor did he even shiver or cough. Elizabeth, on the other hand, shuddered inside her thick downy jacket, constantly sniffled, and could see her breath misting whenever she spoke or coughed.
“It’s just a little farther,” Leon assured her. Elizabeth sighed; that had been his answer the last three times she had attempted to discern their destination. She knew she should feel scared, lost here with someone she barely knew who was convinced The Other Realm was real — but her curiosity was stronger and won out every time she considered trying to leave and find her way back on her own — a daunting task she knew was beyond her, even if she did want to leave him. She had accepted his challenge and intended to follow it through to the end — wherever that may lead her.
Part of Elizabeth wanted his words to be real, wanted her fantasy world to exist, wanted somewhere to exist where she wasn’t called crazy her entire life, or treated as though she were completely inept in life. She had finally met someone who knew her greatest flaw and embraced it. She didn’t want him to be wrong, because she didn’t want him to walk out of her life and leave her back to feeling isolated. However, the rational part of her brain knew that his words couldn’t ring true, that it was simply not physically possible for another world to exist without anyone knowing about it — that was a pure fanciful concept best left to the imaginations of children, not a young adult such as herself. Still, the idea was enticing.
Lost in thought, Elizabeth almost tripped over a large tree root hidden under the freshly packed snow. As she fell forward, though, Leon spun around reflexively and caught her. She landed against his chest, and instantly felt the heat that radiated from his body almost unnaturally.
“You should be more careful,” he admonished. She felt herself blush and quickly composed herself, flustered. Amusement danced in Leon’s eyes, but it quickly faded as he turned back to his course of action. “Come, we need to reach our destination before nightfall.”
“Nightfall?” Elizabeth exclaimed. “It’s barely close to evening, how long will we be out here?” Elizabeth stopped in her tracks, refusing to budge another inch without answers. “Where the hell are you taking me?” she demanded. Leon’s eyes grew dark as he glowered at her, insulted by her challenging his command, but eventually he caved and pointed up towards the peak of Mt. Logan.
“There. Where the dancing lights touch the earth,” he replied in riddles. Elizabeth was perplexed, but she couldn’t fault him — he had answered her in regards to where they were headed: the top of the mountain. That was definitely going to take all afternoon!
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The hike up the mountain was long and arduous. Elizabeth often lost her footing, and Leon was content enough to help her back up again. Every time their hands touched, Elizabeth felt her heart fluttering. She still wasn’t able to discern which of her emotions were genuine and which were merely remnants left over from her strange dreams about him. Either way, it had begun to frustrate her, and the only feeling she understood was how annoyed she had become with his contempt and ego.
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As the sun began to set, Leon finally stopped to let Elizabeth rest. She plopped herself ungracefully own on a fallen tree, thankful for the reprieve from their long jaunt. She began to massage her calf muscles through her ski pants and gloves, trying desperately to work out the kinks and stiffness caused by the cold. As they had trekked higher above the tree line, the wind had no more buffer and reached all the way through her clothes and chilled her to the bones. Leon, on the other hand, still seemed completely un-phased by the drastic temperature change.
Leon lowered himself to sit next to Elizabeth, and she was fully aware of his presence as soon as she felt the heat from his body warming her.
“Allow me,” he offered. Elizabeth complied as he lifted her leg into his lap. His fingers worked like magic, finding all the tender areas even through her thick clothes, and the heat flowing through his fingertips and warming her frigid limbs. When he was finished with one leg, she eagerly offered the other.
The sun crept along the horizon, slowly descending into dusk. The scarce trees cast long shadows across the snow bank before them, and glittered off the ice crystals. The world was cast in soft pink and orange hues, and Elizabeth marveled at its beauty and splendor. Without staring directly at the sun, she watched the cotton clouds drift and shift shades with the dying light, until the sky before them looked as though it was burning.
Leon watched Elizabeth marveling at the sight, and couldn’t help but smile. She was truly beautiful, and everything he remembered. But she still wasn’t her, and he needed to remember that. His smile quickly faded and he rose to his feet, clearing his throat.
“We should continue onward before it grows too dark to see,” he recommended. Elizabeth nodded, feeling rejuvenated. Leon offered her a hand and she accepted it. He pulled her up in ease and she was surprised by the strength in his slender form.
“How much further is it?” Elizabeth asked curiously.
“Less than half an hour,” Leon replied briskly.
He was correct in his estimation, as they arrived at the peak of the mountain top just as the sky was blackened and the stars could be seen coming out to play. Elizabeth couldn’t help but smile as she looked skyward for long minutes, watching the stars come into view as night fell upon them like a glittering cloak of stars. After a long time, she remembered why they had come here.
“So, where is this so-called proof that you dragged me all the way up here for?” she demanded, hands on hips.
“Patience, dear lady,” he replied in a soothing tone. “I assure you, you will know when it occurs.” Elizabeth sighed at the cryptic answer. There was nothing better to do but wait — it would only be a few more hours before she proved him wrong and he agreed to never bother her again. She had listened to him this long, what harm could a few more hours be? You could die of hypothermia, her brain retorted as Elizabeth realized they had no supplies to survive the frigid night air.
“How can we get back in the dark?” she gasped, panic setting in. Leon looked at her, thrown by the question.
“Why would we go back?” he asked, quizzical.
“To go home? Duh!” Elizabeth began to hyperventilate as her reality further dawned on her. She had been so caught up in the competitive attitude, that she hadn’t thought ahead at all. Here she was, hours up on top of a mountain, in the middle of the night, with nearly a stranger who became stranger by the minute. “That’s it!” Elizabeth cried. “I’m out of here!” She turned on her heels and began to walk briskly back down the path they had come, following their previous tracks. She had to squint in the dark to even remotely see where they had come from.
“Wait!” Leon called after her. The northern lights had begun to dance across the velvet sky, and lit up the way before her. “Elizabeth!” Leon called again, but she refused to respond or return to him. She heard footsteps crunching in the snow after her and tried to pick up her pace. She wanted to get away from him as soon as possible. “Elizabeth!” He called her name again as he caught up, grabbing her roughly by the arm and swinging her back around towards him.
“WHAT!?” she screamed, but the venom in her voice died out almost instantly as her gaze fell beyond her assailant. Far behind him, where the northern lights appeared as though they touched the mountain’s peak, a bright and blinding light shone at the exact point of the ground where the lights touched the snow. It dazzled like thousands of multi-faceted crystals under her gaze, and she had to shield her eyes as the intensity grew. “What is that!?” Elizabeth nearly shrieked, blinded by the light.
“It is my proof,” Leon responded confidently and soothing in the same instant. He turned her back away from the light so she could open her eyes again, and she squinted through watering eyes. Leon remained behind her, hands guiding on her hips. “Do you trust me?” he asked very seriously suddenly. Elizabeth peered over her shoulder just enough to gaze into his piercing blue eyes.
“What?” she asked, completely thrown, her mind still reeling from the fantastical sight before her.
“Do you trust me?” he asked again as he held his hand out to her. Elizabeth took a long time to answer, weighing the decision heavily in her mind. She wasn’t certain at first what her honest answer was, because she was so torn between wanting to believe him and what everyone had always told her her entire life. Was The Other Realm real? How did Leon know about it in the first place when she had never told anyone? Why did she dream about him years before ever meeting him? All these questions danced through her head, and Elizabeth searched his deep blue eyes as though she would find the answers she sought there. Finally, after a long silence, she came to a startling decision.
Elizabeth took hold of Leon’s hand, and her grasped it tight. She felt her heart flutter again, and she swallowed hard, trying to keep herself calm as Leon guided her towards the light. She used her free hand to shield her eyes and allowed Leon to guide her closer to where the light seemingly touched the earth.
“Are you ready?” he asked.
“Yes.” She nodded and swallowed hard, unsure what would come next.
“Then here we go,” Leon responded as they took the last step into the light together.551Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡt3FSAfK8ptns 220.127.116.11da2