“You came back, Tyler.”
“Yes, of course.”
“I’m glad. You’re really here… For some reason, I feel comfortable today.”
“You’re being treated with healing magic, but…”
“You don’t have to say it. It doesn’t matter anymore. But if I’m not mistaken, this is holy magic. How did you cast it?”
I turn my head and give a slight nod to Si. She nods in return, and reveals herself to Helena. Obviously, she is surprised by Si’s presence atop her own chest.
“Is she the friend you said you had to meet? I would never have imagined she was a fairy.”
“H-hello, my name is Si…”
“Nice to meet you Si. My name is Helena. Thank you for healing me.”
“B-but I didn’t cure you properly.”
“You did a wonderful job, Si. I couldn’t have asked for more. Besides, I’m happy I could meet someone new, even now. Thank you for looking after Tyler.”
“I-I wanted to say the same thing. Thank you…”
I’m starting to wish I had introduced them sooner, but I dare not say anything to soil this moment.
“I must say Tyler, it’s kind of ironic you sought the help of a fairy to save a changeling.”
“Hrm? What’s a changeling?”
“I’ll tell you about it later Si, just don’t feel depressed.”
Helena chuckles in response and goes on to say, “You know, it’s kind of relieving to hear I am human directly from Si. I guess my short life was just destined to be.”
Of course not, is what I wanted to say. It’s hard to hold in my despair whilst knowing this is her final night. I can tell by the rate her soul is deteriorating. I still can’t accept this, but all I’m doing is denying her resolve.
“I’m glad to have met you Si, but would you mind if I spend the rest of my time with Tyler?”
“Of course not… I-I’m happy to have met you too. May the Spirits of Light guide you.”
She gives Helena a quick peck on the cheek before she departs. My feelings are a bit… complicated from watching Si’s farewell kiss. Without a doubt, this is the last time they will meet.
Apparently I’m wrong, as she zips back inside with some flowers and gifts them to Helena. Before Si leaves, she gives Helena a slight wave and gives me a look of concern. Don’t worry, we’ll be fine.
As soon as she is gone, a moment of silence passes by.
“… I’m home, Helena.”
“… Welcome home, Tyler.”
“I’m sorry I left.”
“I’m still a bit mad about that, but some good came out of it.”
“I see. Did the children visit?”
“Yes. We already held the graduation ceremony. Don’t worry, I prepared a private one for you. Speaking of visits, my brother comes here every day now. It is thanks to him that I managed to last this long. I hope we can sit together and chat.”
“… T-that would be pleasant.”
“You were a little too slow to reply. No matter, I’m sure you will meet him regardless.”
“Come to think of it, how did you know I wasn’t the one who cast the healing spell. I never told you my affinity…”
“Well, that’s because… you’re an unquestionable numbskull!”
“Don’t sit up so suddenly! You’re still-, wait… what?”
Helena’s thin hands reach towards my mask, but I decide against pushing them away. My wooden face falls off, and my hood is cast aside. Already, I feel like turning away, but her hands firmly hold my skull in place. It’s vaguely ticklish as she traces along the contours of my skull, even poking inside my head for fun.
“You know Tyler, you’re not as frightening as I imagined you would be.”
“… When did you realise?”
Helena is clearly enjoying my reaction.
Were all my efforts to disguise myself completely pointless!? We could have spent more time together instead of shying away.
I snap out of my daze when Helena begins knocking on my cranium to check if I’m still here.
“Why didn’t you say anything!?”
“I wanted to keep you away, so I feigned ignorance. I-I didn’t want you to see me like this. But now that my worst fears have come to pass, I must say… it was probably for the best.
Anyway, you won’t be using this mask anymore.”
As I ponder her words, she gestures towards a wooden box on top a shelf. I take the box and put it on her lap. Her posture has grown unsteady, yet she tries her best to face me with a straight back.
“Without further ado, let us begin your graduation. For brilliantly learning everything I can teach and surpassing me in magical skill, I present to you this certificate.”
She offers me a small leather parchment. I open it to find its contents state, “Certificate of graduation from Dellmore Cabin School, bestowed to Enbos the Hunter.”
“I’m sorry the name isn’t Tyler. I didn’t know your preferred spelling.”
“It’s okay. Although you say I have learnt everything, I still don’t know what Enbos means.”
I give an exaggerated bow and express my gratitude. For some reason, she appears to be stifling her laughter. Helena then pushes the wooden box onto me.
“In recognition of your hard work, I also award you this gift.”
With elated interest, I open the lid to find a beautiful ceramic mask. It’s a full face mask in the style of a brown deer, with wooden antlers to complete the appearance. It has loose black fabric and eye mesh to disguise the entire head. It must have been costly to make.
“Thank you Helena. It’s amazing.”
“The deer is a symbol of kindness, spirituality and freedom, and is also associated with the moon.”
I understand her reasoning, though I must say “freedom” is her personal wish for me.
“Ah, not good. I thought I cried enough for Anna, Kyle and Joel, b-but now…”
Helena weeps softly, not out of despair but out of joy. I rue the fact I am physically incapable of joining her.
She begins to sway from side to side, unable to stay upright. But instead of laying her back in bed, I embrace Helena from behind and let her rest against my torso. She is taken aback, but soon relaxes within my arms. After so long, I can finally touch her, finally hold her. I swear I can feel Helena’s warmth seep into my bones.
“Quite bold of you Tyler… wouldn’t you agree?”
“I’m just being honest with myself. I am… happy.”
“Really? Your ribcage is slightly… uncomfortable, and frankly… bit macabre, but… I’m happy too…”
Her voice has grown quieter and her face is losing colour. I don’t want to use my skills to check. We continue to savour each other’s presence, and as the sound of her heart becomes fainter, my imaginary one beats faster.
“Helena… I love you.”
For a moment, I feel her heartbeat quicken. She entwines her fingers around my own, and faces me with a dreamy expression.
“I… love… you too.”
With four words, all my anxiety is washed away. Her condition doesn’t matter anymore. All that matters is that we are here for each other right now.
“Please… don’t let… me go.”
We continue to trade small talk until dawn. I tell her more about myself, even about Earth. Helena answers in kind, as each tale becomes more fractured and hushed. As I lose sense of her warmth, my embrace tightens and Helena does the same.
By the time the sun dawns, my story still hasn’t ended. It’s long, it’s uninteresting and…
… I know better.
I know if I stop she will never reply.