Chapter Three Sneak “Peak”

As the early dawn haze ran away from the light and the birds began to wake, Tovi Tivka sprinted along a familiar ridge never pausing to consider the danger should she fall. Her breezy yellow dress billowed in her wake, as did the long waves of her dark blue hair. She was petite in every way, short and wiry. She had an angular nose, a stubborn chin, and dark brown eyes with one small purple star on the edge of her left iris. To her left was dense forest. To her right, a cliff that fell to boulders far below. Under her tough, bare feet was the hard-beaten path she had run every morning for the last six months. 

Tovi lived in the land of Adia, a peaceful village nestled in a lush valley. Adians worked hard but didn’t know it, spending their days doing what they loved — building or gathering or anything that was both pleasant and occupying. They delighted in their sweat, blisters, and long days in the sun. 

They lived in a sprawling network of tree-top cottages. Instead of inviting others to their homes, they would say, “Come to my tree.” Each little house had a thatched roof and open windows. Some had half doors, but the purpose was to keep small children in rather than to keep others out. Their community buildings were built in the same fashion, only much larger. “Main Street” was a cluster of trees so dense that it was hard to know which limbs belonged to which trees. Everywhere you looked there were bridges, rope ladders, and swinging  vines connecting the general store, doctor’s office, cafe, meeting house, and so much more. 

Adians lived in plenty and had a bountiful trading system. There was always enough of everything for everyone, and they all knew and loved the satisfied feeling of being tired at the end of a full and lively day. 

The people of Adia were happy. At least most of them were. 

Tovi stopped running when she reached her usual place along the path, where the dense forest abruptly opened to a stunning vista of a deeper portion of the valley and the mountains beyond it. Adians called this place “the ridge,” but it was more cliff than ridge. No one knew where the name started, but no one particularly cared. 

Tovi caught her breath and strained her eyes for any sign of movement on the horizon. All she saw were the oranges and pinks climbing over the mountains in the distance. Deep in thought and disappointment, she sat and dangled her legs over the frightening expanse. She opened her left hand and examined her palm where an untidy and asymmetrical brown heart marred her skin. It looked as if it had been drawn by a child, but she — and everyone she knew — was born with this mark. The point reached nearly to her wrist, and the curves touched the base of her fingers. 

“I hate you,” she said aloud. “Do you hear me, Adwin? I hate you!” Her voice echoed below, as hollow and unheard as she felt. 

A soft breeze rustled the grasses nearby, and something blue caught her attention. She reached out to trace the edges of a strange flower, the same color as forget-me-nots but much larger, with an unravelling indigo center flecked with orange pollen. She loved flowers, a striking contrast to the tough exterior she tried to project. She was fascinated by the complicated patterns that made up such a small thing. It reminded her of herself. Small and complicated. 

Tovi had never fit in with the strange people of Adia who lived in whimsical tree houses. When she and her twin brother, Tali, were no more than a few hours old, they arrived in Adia, bundled in elegant blankets that were far finer than anything found in the valley. An aging and childless couple named Ganya and Avi Tivka took them in and told them that Adwin himself had instructed that they care for the little ones. 

Adwin. Tovi had many doubts about the legends surrounding Adwin. Supposedly, he was some sort of god who had created their world and everything in it. All the people of the village spoke of Adwin as if he was real and lived nearby, but Tovi needed some proof. She had never seen him in the flesh, and there was plenty of evidence that it was all a bunch of wishful thinking. People were always looking for something to make life make sense, and Tovi figured the legend of Adwin was simply a way for Adians to explain the unexplainable. 

Tovi and her brother Tali grew up in the Tivkas’ charming tree house. The children had identical coloring, from their navy-blue hair to their brown eyes with little purple stars. They were the delight of Avi and Ganya, who embraced their new role of adoptive grandparents. 

Tali had no trouble fitting in with the other youngsters in the village. He loved adventure and exploration, and he often came home from his outings covered in mud, burrs, a little bit of his own blood, and a huge smile. He sometimes coaxed Tovi to come along, and she would grudgingly agree. But she never felt like she was one of them. There was something deep and aching that was missing from her life, and she preferred to spend her time searching for answers while even the right questions remained elusive. 

Where Tali was free-wheeling and fun-loving, Tovi was serious and impatient. Where Tali was outgoing and popular among his peers, Tovi was aloof and independent. Where Tali was free, Tovi was captive. Captive to what or to whom, she did not know. 

Tovi pinched the base of the blue flower’s stem, snapping the emerald column under her fingertips. Lifting it to her nose, she breathed in a mixture of blueberries and honey and something magical. She examined the flower, turning it this way and that, running her finger over its velvety exterior. 

“I hate him,” she said aloud, divulging her frustration to her little discovery. “If I ever find Adwin, I’m going to tell him just what I think of him.” 

The sound of moving branches broke her reverie and made her turn toward the trees. A young man about her age emerged from the woods. His messy brown hair with golden streaks almost reached his sparkling blue eyes. His faded green tunic, tan linen pants, and bare feet were splattered with orange and blue paint. 

Silas sat down beside her. “The dream again?” 

Tovi nodded, blinking back sudden unwanted tears and ripping petals from the flower. Realizing she had destroyed it, she threw the blossom over the edge of the cliff. They both watched it fall. 

Six months ago, before the dreams began, Tovi had woken to find her brother’s bed empty. This was not particularly strange, but something didn’t feel quite right. She looked for him all day, but he never came home. 

No note. No goodbye. He was just gone. 

In front of others, she kept a stoic face. In private, she wept until her sides ached. There was no relief and no comfort to be had. Her brother had been her everything. 

Ever since, Tovi woke each morning from a terrible dream. In this nightmare, she found a letter from Tali telling her that he was leaving forever, but if she ran fast enough, she could catch up to him at the ridge. Her dream-self sprinted there at once. From the very edge, she could see Tali in the distance, and she was able to call out to him, begging for him to come back. When he turned toward her, she would wake covered in sweat. 

Each time Tovi woke from her dream, having seen Tali’s face in the hazy distance, she couldn’t help running to the ridge as quickly as she could. She would run to the point of desperate exhaustion only to be disappointed when she saw no one out there in the wilderness. She knew it was foolish and irrational, but it had become a daily routine. It seemed to be her method for dealing with her deep, shattered grief. 

Silas almost always came to the ridge with Tovi. Sometimes he ran with her, and sometimes he appeared when she was finished. They would sit and look at the mountains while Tovi calmed her fortified but broken heart, and often they would talk about the questions that were always on her mind. 

Silas was the same age as Tovi and Tali and lived in the tree next to the Tivkas. His home was perched just above and to the side of theirs, and throughout their childhood he often swung on a vine from his porch to theirs. 

Silas and Tali were as close as brothers, and he was the closest thing Tovi had to a friend. She didn’t spend as much time with Silas as Tali did, but Silas knew her better than anyone else in the village. 

“I miss him, Silas,” she said, picking another flower from the nearby grass and frowning in concentration. 

Silas sighed. “I know you do.” 

“And then there’s the whole Adwin thing,” she said, rolling her eyes at the mention of the mythical man she suspected was purely fiction. “If he was really out there, he could snap his fingers and bring Tali back. How convenient that I can’t find Adwin. Why won’t anyone tell me where to look for him?” 

Smiling apologetically and looking out toward the morning sun, he answered, “You know the answer to that.” 

“Hmmph,” was her irritated reply. Tovi knew the old legends. They were repeated incessantly, especially among the oldest and youngest of the village. Not so long ago — a little less than fifty years ago — everyone lived above the clouds on the squat Mount Lemuel to the northeast of their valley. Adwin made that mountain and oversaw everything and everyone on it. He was kind and peaceful and taught the people to be kind and peaceful as well. However, his benevolence did not stop a young man named Damien from seeking power for himself. Rather than be forced off his mountain by Damien’s growing army, Adwin left the mountain of his own accord. He climbed down the mountain to a beautiful valley, trailed by a small band of followers, and thus Adia was formed. 

The newly-crowned King Damien renamed the mountain Mount Damien. From that day on, the people of Mount Damien and the villagers of Adia had little contact, and the chasm between them widened. Adians became afraid of their higher-altitude relatives and never ventured up the slopes.

Not long after the split, Adwin went into some sort of hiding, the part of the story that Tovi found the hardest to understand. He was supposed to be there with the people of Adia, but at the same time he kept himself hidden. It was frustrating. How could she ever get her questions answered when the only person who could answer them was shrouded in secrecy? 

Tovi had never once seen the evasive Adwin. Everyone she knew — except her brother — claimed to have met him at least once. It was all so unfair. If Adwin really existed, why couldn’t they find him? Why hadn’t he made himself known to them? Most infuriating, why would no one tell them where to look? She knew there was something magical and odd about him. The stories all spoke of his powers and how he had the ability to gift them to others. Had he used his magic to become invisible? Was he hiding from them? 

Tali’s disappearance only made matters worse. The twins had shared everything, including their quest to find Adwin and answers about their family. However, Tali’s attitude had always been vastly different. While Tovi sought answers and retribution, Tali never let go of his hope that Adwin really was as good as people said. He looked for Adwin with a far more open heart and mind, fully believing there would be a good explanation for their circumstances. 

“It’s just so maddening,” Tovi said to Silas, trying to sound tough even though she was dangerously close to crying. “It’s not fair. I was taken from my parents, and now my brother was taken from me. It’s not fair, Silas! Adwin, if he’s really out there, owes me some answers.” 

“Give it some more time.” 

To distract herself from the tears brimming just below the surface and to keep her feelings at bay, Tovi jumped to her feet and started the trek back toward Adia with Silas in tow. She let her hand glide along the tops of the tall grasses as light filtered through the leaves, speckling the ground and casting a cheerful yellow-green glow. The earth was soft but not muddy. Their bare feet left slight impressions in the path. 

While the two were walking along the edge of a stream, something caught Tovi’s eye. Etched deep into the rich soil of the shoreline was a strange pattern unfamiliar to her. Always curious, she knelt to get a better look. 

“It’s a shoe print,” Silas said. 

Tovi’s forehead creased and her eyebrows drew together. “What’s a shoe print?” 

“You know the stories about Mount Damien? On the mountain, people wear coverings on their feet. They’re called shoes. Someone wearing shoes has been in our forest.” 

Spine prickling, Tovi wondered what it could mean. 

“Don’t be afraid,” Silas said, his expression relaxed. 

“I’m not!” she countered defiantly. 

Silas rolled his eyes, and they continued through the woods. They were crossing a shallow pond, jumping stone to stone, when Silas stopped and looked over his shoulder. “There is something I need to do. You go ahead,” he said. 

She followed the line of his vision, but she saw nothing in the thick forest. Shrugging, she walked on through the trees, turning just once to check on Silas. He still stood in the same spot on the last stone in the pond, staring into the woods. He seemed tense and alert, as if he was waiting for something. 

When she arrived in the village, she climbed a long rope ladder to Ganya and Avi Tivka’s cottage nestled in the crux of five willow boughs. To some, it would seem imperfect and rustic with missing knotholes and nothing uniform about the length and width of the boards. Gnarled vines created a diamond pattern in the windows, and the inside of the upper branches made a perfect dome high above the thatched roof. 

The interior was wide open, their dining room, kitchen, and sitting area all flowing together in one large round space. Brightly-colored rugs, richly-painted canvases, and vases full of fresh flowers were the room’s only adornments. Everything else was as rough and natural as the exterior. Avi had made big, comfy chairs out of branches and woven grass, and Ganya had crafted plates and cups from the soft clay of the earth. Everything had its rightful place and perfect nook, with nothing out of order. 

Two doors opened off opposite sides of the room. One led to Avi and Ganya’s bedroom, with its light green curtains and shelves carved into the trunk of the tree that were filled with knickknacks and family mementos. 

On the other side of the house was Tali and Tovi’s room. Their beds were made from sturdy but imperfect oak and were covered in soft quilts Ganya made from scraps of yellow and green fabric. Tali’s bed was against the far wall, but Tovi liked to keep hers right next to the window. Sometimes at night she would sit on the puffy mattress and look out into the sky, getting brief glimpses of sparkling stars through the softly waving willow leaves. 

“Good morning, Ganya,” Tovi called. 

A short, chubby, radiant old woman put down her rolling pin. Her white hair with its orange swirl was bundled on top of her head, and flour nearly covered her pink apron. “Good morning, my sweet Tovi,” Ganya greeted warmly, placing her soft hands on Tovi’s cheeks and leaving streaks of white powder. “Did you have the dream again?” 

Tovi nodded, and for the first time that morning she let the tears flow. She allowed herself to be wrapped in Ganya’s plump arms, wishing beyond anything else that they were her mother’s.

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