This short story is told from the perspective of the equivalent of a five-year old who was born long after the fall of Malora. Arden Masiona is the youngest child of the Aulor Bethel Masiona, and he is a secondary character in The Crystal Lattice. I have several stories of Arden's unusual childhood in the Yolane Forest, but this is the only one I've written out in full so far. Arden's mother was an Efi, a descendant of the original refugees of Efilon. Efi have long childhoods and lifespans of 500-600 years because of their Aulor blood, but most of them fall to unnatural deaths well before reaching old age.
Arden Masiona loved living in a hollowed-out tree at the center of the Yolane Forest. Then again, he did not yet know there was any other way for a person to live. Birds lived in nests, foxes lived in dens, badgers lived in burrows, and people lived in trees. The concept of living in a stone or plank house never occurred to him until he was much older.
Arden's tree was ancient and Daddy said he planted it himself. Arden found that confusing. He knew Daddy was old, but it seemed odd for Daddy to be older than the big tree. Daddy was magical, though, so maybe he really was that old.
Mommy used to live in the tree, too, but she was gone now. Arden was sad when he remembered her. She was always there before, but she left one day and never came back. Arden always felt like she left because he wasn't magical enough. She wanted magical children and instead she had ordinary Arden.
Arden was aware from a very early age that he had no magic in him at all. Daddy was something called an Aulor. He had many magical abilities. Most obviously, his coloring changed to match his surroundings. Mommy could change the temperature of anything and make the air hot or cold around her. Mommy tried to teach Arden to do magic. He only became tired and frustrated because he couldn't do what she wanted. She was mad at him sometimes, but now she was gone and Arden wanted nothing more than for her to come back.
Daddy would never leave. He never expected Arden to be anything other than what he was, and Arden knew Daddy loved him even without magic. He thought Mommy loved him too, but he must have been wrong about her. He hoped he wasn't wrong about Daddy.
Daddy was hiding and it was up to Arden to find him. Daddy was the hardest person in the world to find because he changed colors. His hair, skin, and eyes blended in with everything around him until he was almost invisible. It was such a neat trick, and Arden was sad he would never be able to learn it. Magic would have made Arden special, but instead he was ordinary and out of place his own family.
Radish followed Arden and he thought she was funny. There were lots of cats at home, but Radish was the only one who was his and not Daddy's. She was very fluffy and had yellow eyes and gray stripes. She always slept on his pillow at night, even when he didn't want her to. Every time Arden turned around, Radish was either not moving or was lazily licking her paw, so she must have only moved when he wasn't looking. She was sneaky and it made him giggle.
“Where do you think Daddy is?” Arden asked the cat after he unsuccessfully searched both the fallen oak and the little wooden bridge over the icy creek.
Radish squeaked at him. Arden wished he spoke cat, because she had just told him exactly where Daddy was hiding. If he spoke cat, he would know so many things and he could talk to Radish and the other cats.
Arden sighed and scratched at his hair. “Radish,” he said as sternly as possible. He put his hands on his hips and shook his head at her. “You are no help. No help at all. Go home, Radish!”
She tilted her head to the left and stared at him with her yellow eyes. Her tail swished as she watched a little brown moth fly far above her head.
“Don't eat moths, it's not nice,” Arden cautioned. Cats ate nasty things like birds and mice. Sometimes they left dead voles in Arden's shoes. Daddy said they were presents, but Arden thought they were gross and the cats were mean to do such a thing.
Arden skipped away from the creek and walked back toward the tree house. The air smelled like fresh bread, so maybe Daddy was hiding in the kitchen. Arden ran down the cobblestone walkway and swung open the front door. To the right was the spiraling staircase that led up to his bedroom, and to the left was the kitchen and the smell of bread. Radish ran past him into the kitchen. Arden tiptoed behind her. A steaming loaf of bread sat on the table, but Daddy was nowhere to be found. He was there recently, though. Arden squinted in the bright afternoon light to try to make out Daddy's shape against the counters.
Radish jumped on the windowsill and yawned. Daddy was definitely not in the kitchen, and Arden doubted he was in the house at all. He had to be outside. There were more places to hide outside than inside.
Radish trotted at Arden's heels as he left the house. Above his head, lofty branches creaked in the gentle breeze. The great and wonderful trees seemed to speak to each other. The Yolane Forest was so exciting that Arden hardly ever wished to see anywhere else. There was too much left to discover in the forest to think about other places like the ocean. the cities, or even the huge mountains on the eastern skyline. Everything in Yolane was magical except for Arden, and he didn't mind as long as Daddy didn't.
Arden carefully crossed the archery range. He was not supposed to be in the range, but there was no one around and it was the fastest way to get to the garden. Maybe when he was bigger he would be allowed to shoot the arrows too, but for now he was too little to even draw back the bow string. He had be content for now with the little wooden swords Daddy taught him to spar with.
The garden was overflowing with wonderful things. Rows and rows of colorful vegetables made Arden's stomach grumble. His favorites were the pumpkins, but they would not be ready for a long time, so he grabbed a handful of green beans instead. He snapped the beans with his teeth and swallowed them quickly. A small grove of peach trees stood at the other end of the garden. Arden was afraid to go there alone after seeing a particularly angry-looking fox scouring the blackberries beneath the peaches a month earlier.
Bored Radish stretched and yawned. Arden decided Daddy must not be in the garden after all. He ran back across the archery range and through the back door of the tree. He returned to the kitchen. A bowl of strawberries had joined the bread on the table. Arden grinned widely and his mouth watered. He wanted to eat the food, but he had to find Daddy first. It would only be polite to eat with him, after all.
Radish jumped up the spiral stairs and Arden followed her into the higher levels of the tree. There was no one in the study, or the bedrooms, or anywhere else. Daddy wasn't anywhere! Maybe he tricked Arden and left like Mommy did. Maybe Arden was all alone in the world with no one to look after him and no one to look after except for Radish.
Arden ran down into the kitchen and sat at the table. Radish furiously rubbed against his ankles as he leaned on his hands. Tears welled in his eyes. There was no one in the house and he was frightened.
“Everyone has left me, Radish!” Arden cried. Maybe if he cried loud enough, Daddy would hear him and come back. “Mommy went away and Grasshopper Kitty died, and now Daddy disappeared. I have no magic and no one wants me!”
Radish nipped Arden's ankle and he yelped. The bite did not hurt, but it did surprise him. He sniffled and the sound he made was not quite loud enough to cover up the shuffling noise behind him.
“Daddy?” Arden asked nervously. He jumped from his chair and turned around. The faint outline of a hand crept around the pantry door frame. Arden bounded towards the door and threw his arms around Daddy's waist.
“Found you!” Arden shouted. Daddy put one hand on Arden's shoulder and ran his fingers through Arden's hair.
“You don't have to have magic to be magic, my Arden,” Daddy said. His low, soft voice always reminded Arden of the talking trees of Yolane. “You're mine and that is all the magic you will ever need.”
“I thought you ran away like Mommy did,” Arden whispered, clinging to Daddy's side.
“Mommy will be back next week. I'll never run away from you. Do you know why we play this game?”
“No, why?” Arden asked. He looked up at his father's face, which was golden brown against the wood of the kitchen. Daddy was green if he was outside in the grass and black at night, but inside the house he was usually brown. It didn't matter, as Arden was comfortable with him no matter what he looked like.
“Because I want you to learn that even if you can't always see me, I will always be there for you,” Daddy explained. He smiled warmly and his white teeth lit up his face. “You will never really be alone even if we are separated by distance. Sometimes you have to look hard to find me, but I will be there when you need me.”
“Can we eat the bread and the strawberries now?” Arden asked. He tried to make sense of Daddy's words, but he couldn't really understand them. Maybe when he was older he would, but for now he was happy that Daddy hadn't run away from him like Mommy had. Daddy was the only family in the whole world who wanted to be with him and he was happy Daddy promised never to go away.
“Of course!” Daddy said. He took Arden by the hand and they sat at the table to enjoy warm bread and fresh-picked berries.