Time stood still at the center of the valley.
It wasn't a secret. The stories had been passed down from generation to generation, warning away those who might accidentally wander into Time's domain unexpectedly and daring those who wished for something different to come closer. There were whispers of creatures unlike anything seen in the outside world, tales of splendors beyond imagining... but the price for seeing them was losing everyone and everything you knew.
Most people who lived in the lands around the valley had no interest in taking the risk of entering a land where the passage of time was halted. The fields were fertile, and the woods were filled with game. The lake was large enough to hold plenty of fish, and the small brooks and streams that fed into it kept it from stagnating. All in all, there was little for anyone to ask for, so most people stayed as far away from the center of the valley as they could.
The three of them, on the other hand, were curious.
Curiosity by itself wasn't dangerous, if there were things to temper it. Family, friends, a reason to stay where it was safe rather than venture into the unknown. Well, that's when curiosity could become something more.
Jonas, at least, came by it naturally. His grandmother was one of the Timeless, someone who had wandered deep in the valley in her youth only to return to the outside world five generations after she had left. His childhood had been full of stories of what she had seen there, a mixture of clear truths and blatant lies tinged with nostalgia. Whether she had missed the world she had been born into or the one she'd found in the valley, the one she'd always been hesitant to truly talk about... well, that he'd never quite figured out.
All he knew was that even years later, after she'd married his grandfather and had children who'd grown up to then have children of their own, she still drew odd looks from the others in the village. She'd left on a bright sunny day, a young woman with no familial ties to hold her back and the hope of seeing something new... and then she'd returned so many long years later looking like she had barely aged a day.
Only the oldest of the elders had remembered her at all when she'd returned, and even they had only heard stories from their parents and grandparents of the girl who'd wandered into the center of the valley. None of those who had lived in the village when she left were still alive when she returned, not even the youngest babe.
Just because time didn't pass in the valley didn't mean it stayed still in the outside world, after all.
Those were the stories that Jonas had grown up on, though, tales of things he could barely imagine. He had known when he was just a child that one day he would go into the valley. It had called to him from the beginning.
Kylah, on the other hand, was the opposite. She'd been terrified by the very idea of leaving the village one day and returning to find that everything she knew had changed. While Jonas had relished in his grandmother's stories, she had feared them. It seemed like a punishment to her, not an adventure. Who would want to leave, knowing they could never return, for no real reason but to see what was out there?
If it hadn't been for the fact that their fathers had bonded with each other after their mothers were gone – buried beneath the ground in Kylah's case and fled to a village on the far side of the valley's rim to live with her lover in Jonas's – the two of them would have most likely never become close. Jonas was loud and brash, ready to jump into anything at a moment's notice, while Kylah was quiet and thoughtful.
They were polar opposites of each other, and they most likely never would have become friends. Fate decided to make them siblings, though, which was a bond all its own. One that could undermine even the greatest fear.
And then there was Tobin.
Tobin was older than both of them: a child already when they were both babes, in his teens by the time they were children, and a young man by the time Jonas and Kylah were orphaned in the wind storm that blew through the village one cold night. He took them in and put a roof over their head, clothes on their backs, and food in their bellies as their bodies shifted and changed from that of children to adults.
He listened to the stories they told him – tales of a grandmother long-dead who had stepped out of Time itself, bedtime stories told by parents long gone, warnings and whispers and everything else – and he told them stories of his own. He told them about the parents he barely remembered, who had passed through the village years and years earlier only to disappear in the night without a sound, leaving behind the child they'd brought with them. He told them about the voices that he heard in his dreams, calling to him from a world a step out of beat with their own.
And he told them about the home he barely remembered, the one where he'd been born and lived as a child. A place where creatures beyond imagining roamed the fields and flew through the sky in the deep, green center of the valley, where strangers would occasionally visit but rarely stayed... and when they left, they never returned.
That's where their story begins. It's a tale of three young people, one slightly older than the others in more ways than one, with stories of another world filling their minds from childhood onward. It's a story of loss and of gain. A story of friendship, and family, and a bond made of love that knows no bounds. One of bravery and fear and the dozen or so emotions in between those two.
Time stood still at the center of the valley. It wasn't a secret. Everyone knew the price of venturing too far into Time's domain.
It was just that Tobin, Jonas, and Kylah were more than willing to pay that price when the time came.
But that's a tale for another time.