Author's Note: Inspired by a photograph and a joke, this short story took a little over three months to complete. Due to its length it will be released in seven installments over the course of the next few weeks. Writing this has been a real odyssey and I hope you enjoy it.
Another Author's Note: Well, this is it. We've finally reached the end of this story. For those who have read the whole thing, I really hope you enjoyed it and I'm glad you saw Nayeon through to the end. If you have any questions or comments please post them as I'd love to talk about the story a bit. If you're just tuning in now, I encourage you to go back and read this from the start. Thank you very much for giving this story a chance. I'll always love fiction more than writing previews and recaps, so it's nice to be able to practice and keep this dream alive.
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Nayeon: Stolen by The Wind
She felt better. Her legs weren’t as tired, her back wasn’t as sore, her thoughts weren’t so sluggish and her fingers were starting to regain sensation. Nayeon exited the shrine. Morning had only just begun, but a storm had already taken shape. She could feel the wind slapping her kimono against her legs, chapping the exposed skin. Rain felt inches away. People hurried through the street. They paid no mind to the girl dressed in rags staring at the roiling sky with shut eyes.
There were footsteps behind her, accompanied by the faint rustle of long hair gracing silk.
“Thank you, Sana.” Nayeon said. There was no response. Nayeon turned over her shoulder. “I mean it.”
She didn’t need to turn around to know Sana was smiling too.
“I hope Raijin will help you find what you need,” Sana replied.
“I hope so, too.” Nayeon fell silent as thunder pealed to the east. It appeared sOs had kept his word and she was prepared to do the same. Raising her hood, she stepped into the street. “I hope so.”
The rain was already falling the time she reached the city's eastern gate. It was just a drizzle but as the road beneath her feet gave way to loam, the first peals of thunder began to announce themselves. If Nayeon felt any doubt she did not show it. Any bypasser would have seen a lonely beggar, face frozen like stone, imperiously striding towards the fields. With some concern he would note her bruised feet, the ragged yukata that she pulled around her frail body.
She didn’t need to see the storm to know sOs had kept his word. The air alone spoke of his presence; it was oddly humid, humming as if fish danced among the breeze. She continued to press forward amidst murmurs of shelter and food. A stampede of hurried footsteps enveloped and passed around her, speaking of crooked roofs and how terrible the cold would become. They must’ve be eager to return to the city before bad weather caught up to them. Lightning crackled in their wake, daring them to stay.
By the time their voices faded away, Nayeon had reached the edge of the field. Weeds tickled her legs as she timidly felt her way down the slope. Nothing guided her path except the faint touch of pampas grass, which she grasped with her fingers whenever she felt unsure of her footing. The drizzle had turned into a deluge and everything clung to her. Hair, clothes, twigs, the stinging sleet, everything latched onto her and refused to let go. It was like the weight of her destiny wanted to drag her down. Yet she refused to let the discomfort hinder her. Nayeon resolutely continued forward, her mind focused solely on the possibility of salvation. She staggered against trees, boulders, outcroppings, stopping long enough to reorient her dulled senses. The world was all frozen, only distinguished by the panoply of textures and shapes cold took at this time of year. Ever-louder thunder assaulted her ears and the cold crept through her arms and legs.
Sometime during her stumbling, she didn’t know exactly when, Nayeon paused. She didn’t know why either. She had lost all sense of time and place; her entire being felt worn down to a nub of will. Yet a realization struck her through the numbness that claimed her body and mind: it was silent. The air here was oddly still and she felt no sleet pricking her face. Despite the chaos of the storm, Nayeon heard the ragged gasps of her breath as clear as a bell. Branches still creaked and the field cooed in the way all snowy fields did, but the sound were muffled. Suddenly, with a fierce joy, she understood: this place was reserved for her.
Nayeon gingerly sat down, taking care to massage her stiff ankles. Slowly she canvassed the ground with her fingertips, taking care to avoid the patches of ice that. Only when she found a bumpy knoll of moss did she stop moving. Nayeon fought to quell the newfound trembling that refused to release her body. Nothing could be done now. The rest was up to providence. It was an unsettling feeling to be so helpless...and somehow freeing.
The storm swallowed up the sky as she found her at its center. Shielded from its terror, Nayeon was left to admire the spectacle. Although she couldn’t see the lightning and wind, their power coursed through the earth and echoed in her bones. Intertwined with the thunder was another deep rumble that vaguely resembled laughter. The wind barked back with a voice haughty and wild. A smile crossed Nayeon’s lips as she tilted her head to the sky, ready to meet her doom. Nayeon’s arms fell to her side. There was no doubt. The wind was more stiff. The rain had not lessened. If anything it was stronger than before. She laughed lightly. Could it really be?
“You did it,” she whispered. She did not need a response. She already knew. He really had kept his word.
“I suppose I did,” sOs’ voice faintly met her ears. There was a lightning bolt. The smell of singed earth met her nose. It’s good to shut him up once in awhile. He tends to forget who’s boss,” sOs replied.
“So, you got my eyes?” Nayeon demanded. She took a step towards sOs’ voice, her arms stretched before her.
“I did, but...I don’t know. After working so hard for them, perhaps I shouldn’t give them away for nothing..”
“What do you mean?! You said you’d give them back to me!” Nayeon charged forwards only to slip and fall onto her back.
“I’m sorry. I couldn’t resist,” sOs chuckled. A stiff pressure formed between her ears, like a sparking cloud had taken root in her mind. She flinched as a dark cloud of smoke settled onto the ground before her. She smelt grass smoldering as the faint sound of a whisper temporarily overshadowed the storm. “We are extremely powerful, Nayeon, but only as powerful as the people who believe in us. Sometimes it’s hard to accept that we won’t always been the most popular, so we get a little out of line. That’s our fault, though, and we have to deal with it among one another. It was wrong of MC to involve you in our feuds. I guess it’s only fitting that you needed to involve one of us to settle matters.” A pause. Nayeon dared not speak. “So, here’s the deal. Tell me what you want most of all.”
“Your eyes are a means to an end. Why do you want your eyes?”
Nayeon felt her heart skip a beat as the pressure jumped towards her face.
“I want to go home. I want to see my parents again and sleep under their roof. I want to live with them and do anything other than singing.” She stumbled on her words. “I can hardly see their faces, but I know I’ll remember them when I see them. Not even a god could take that from me. And I want to see the Han. I spent so long telling myself I didn’t need it, but when I lost everything else it was all I wanted. I want to see it again! That’s what I want most of all!” She sobbed as the pressure turned to tiny lances of heat, burrowing into the pits where her eyes had once been.
“That’s our deal then. Go home and be happy.” His words were as sharp as the pain. A moment later they both vanished.
A flare. It was white, not black. Color! And then… More! Jade and malachite beneath her, glossy from the rain. Overhead a topaz sky peeked out from behind cobalt clouds thicker than the forest off on the horizon. All Nayeon could do was breathe. She blinked. It all returned. She looked her and there in search of sOs, but he was gone. She was all alone. Nayeon slowly looked to the sky, finally smiling in the face of radiance like blossoming sansuyu.
The street was vaguely familiar. Everything about this place was. She’d gotten lost more than once since landing in Josean. A detour was just another chance to see something new.
She knew she wasn’t far. She’d seen it for days, but it wasn’t the same. It wasn’t hers. She didn’t know where she was going, but the path she had taken felt right. Night was creeping towards the horizon, but she didn’t shudder as silver pierced the black veil. The void could never win the war against light.
Would she ever have returned if she hadn’t met MC? Would she still be with the troupe? Would they have eventually abandoned her anyway? She certainly wouldn’t have prayed to sOs. His help had gotten her where she was, but she’d been the one that made it all happen.
She wasn’t so much angry anymore. Anger did her no good. More than anything, she was proud to have withstood the worst MC had sent her way and came out stronger on the other side.
This rise was familiar. She gained speed as she hurried up the slight slope. Turn here! She already knew to before she reached the alley. She was running now, arms pumping at her side. Her hair trailed behind her as the ground sloped downwards. The grass and dirt yielded to loose stone; pebbles more vibrant than the first flowers of spring. She dared not blink as she rushed to a spot only she knew. She fell still, facing west and the last remnants of daylight. Thoughts of gods, adventure and what was missing in her life sloughed away. In their place; the Han. It was even more beautiful than she remembered. Nayeon bit her lip as she blinked tears from her eyes. She was finally home.