The forest should have been a blur around me. But my elven eyes could seen, in precise details, every leaf in the trees, every pinecone that rested on the bed of pine needles on the forest floor, every vine hanging from the canopy above me, even see the small insects on the trunks and the patterns of the bark on those trees…
Every branch that wanted to slash my face.
I was riding over roots and rocks bareback and bridle-less on the back of a dune colored horse. Fast as a comet, he streaked through the forest, pausing nowhere, stumbling nowhere. His footing was as steady as the earth turning. I couldn’t steer him away from the branches, even though I tried by tugging at his thick mane my hands were tangled in. I had also tried to with my legs like Crystal had told me once. Again, the stallion had ignored me. I tried to avoid the branches that came towards my face just from my vantage point on his back, but when I dodged one branch, another, opposite the side I had avoided, scrapped my face. And it kept happening.
I finally gave up on this lost cause, centering myself on him and squeezing my eyes shut tight so I wouldn’t see them coming. But once I had stopped trying, it stopped happening. I opened my eyes, had we come in a field? But the forest was still speeding past me, the branches still coming toward my face. But I closed my eyes again, and laid my head down on the stallion’s thick neck. I trusted him now. I should have trusted him sooner.
Of course Crystal’s shape shifting fiancé would keep me safe.
Seth neighed in a way that sounded more like he was laughing, the thudding pace of his hooves picking up.
With my eyes shut, I could enjoy the exhilarating thrill of the fast and slightly rough ride that Seth was giving me. His hooves made an almost frantic tempo that my heart kept perfect time with. I enjoyed the feel of the wind that whipped in my hair and brushed across my face like the gentle caresses of the fingers of a lover. Enjoyed the feel his mane through my fingers and that playfully smacked across my face. The smell of the trees and forest around added to my enjoyment. The smell of pine and sap and leaves and animals and secrets that were held within their branches were a wonder to behold. The wonder horsy smell Seth had in his current form made me smile in a reminiscence to a time long since past.
I felt it easily when Seth started to slow. My heart slowed with it, the exhilaration dropped, the wind died down and the smell of the forest around me had changed. I opened my eyes as Seth gave a shrill whinny that only hurt my sharp ears, not warn me that the ride was almost over. As he slowed to a walk, I, irritated at him, leaned up and flicked one of his ears, saying “Ow.”
He stopped and shook himself violently, trying to throw me off, it seemed. I gripped his mane and sides tighter, fearful he would succeed. After he was done, I was ready to give him a good piece of my mind but he sighed loudly and gently lowered himself to the ground. I jumped off his back quickly, no telling what the mischievous Quwi-Ho Indian would do. He did his laugh-neigh again as I walked off, still irked, looking at our destination.
It was a cave, off of every path that I knew of in this forest that I had known since I was eight. It was a fairly large cavern, and very well hidden. I was looking right at it, standing not three yards from it, but still the shrubs, vines and trees crowded around the entrance, hugging it possessively like they were trying to keep everyone out.
Or keep something in.
“So,” Seth said happily, coming to stand beside me, “Wha’da ya think?”
I looked at the smiling Indian besides me. His black eyes were scrunched slightly from his huge smile. His young face ecstatic from the fast ride. I knew the feeling well. It was the same one I wore once I was done after a good fly. Looking at his face, I couldn’t help but smile as well, from his own happiness and from my remembered own. His happy go-lucky nature was catching. “I almost seems,” I said, “as if the forest doesn’t want people to know that the cave is here.”
“Do you think Emerald or Father Nature did it?”
“No, no,” I paused. “At least, I don’t think. Even though I am elven, some moves that Nature and his daughter of earth make are a mystery to me. This could be the forest trying to claim the mountain this cave happened to be on, or Nature and Emerald could be hiding something.”
“I think it’s the second one. I mean, why else would Crystal send us to this cave? It’s too close to the dragon territories and the main house to be filled with enemies. Plus, my tribe is around here too. They couldn’t really come or go without us knowing.”
Very smart, I thought. It seemed that some of Crystal’s leading and strategic mindset was starting to rub off on him.
“I agree to some extent. There are still those who could get past all of Crystal’s defenses, stay clear of the dragons and still avoid notice from your tribe. But I’m sure as I am elven that Crystal sent us here for some reason. But because there are brazen enemies or a secret to be found, we are here, and thus, we will enter.”
I started off toward the cave when Seth grabbed my shoulder and stopped me. His hand was so warm it was like he had left it on a stove top. The heat of it was so high, my healing instincts told me he was sick, running a fever so high he was about to die. But his whole tribe was like this, making their body temperature higher than what a normal human’s is. So high, a normal human would be dead. There shape shifting abilities made this such, and though I should have been long since use to it, it still made me think ‘Is this guy sick?’
I turned to him, raising one eyebrow. Still looking at the cave, he said, “Let me take a look first, in the trees. Both outcomes we had thought up are none too safe to just go waltzing into.
“Agreed,” I said with a smile. Well, look at Mr. In-charge! I thought.
He looked up into the trees and he seemed to go up in a silent explosion, and in his place was an oddly colored sandy sparrow, already in midflight. With a chirp, he few up into the trees. As he came to the tops of the trees, there was another silent explosion around the sandy sparrow, and instead of the bird there was a tan colored monkey that swung down into the trees. I heard him moving about in this form before he came down on a vine, gesturing me forward. If monkeys could look cautious, that one did. And it made me smile as I walked forward.
He dropped down, and before he could hit the ground he was a human again, crouching down where the monkey would have landed. “I didn’t see anything,” he said as he started to stand, “But I think it would be a good idea to approach with care. There are some rocks at the top of the entrance that look ready to fall, so be on your guard, ‘kay?”
“Of course, Seth,” I said.
I walked to where the trees and things protectively curved over the entrance and looked up. As Seth had said, rocks were piled in a seemingly random and tedious way over the entrance to the cave, held on by vines as thick as Seth’s muscular arms and thick branches that were like giants that easily hold back such rocks. But standing there for a moment, looking up at the rocks, I felt a sense of wrongness. Not at the rocks I was staring at, but there was something about these trees, this cave, this part the mountain itself that seemed… off. I kept gazing up, Seth besides me, also watching, when it dawned on me.
I heard no songs, no flapping wings, no chirping arguments over food and nesting areas and supplies. I could see a squirrel or two sitting on the tree branches, hear more still all around the trees. I could feel more than see the fox that snoozed under the cool and shady roots of the trees. I could see the places where many a deer had bedded down around this area, see the tracks of many rabbits all around the shrubs. The animals did not shy from this place. On the contrary, with the close proximity of the fox and the rabbits, I would say that the animals felt a deep sense of safety here. They seemed to be welcomed and drawn to this place.
So where were the birds?
I turned to Seth to tell him this. But when I opened my mouth, there was a grating sound of the likes I had never heard. It only happened for a short second, but the damage was done. With a shiver and a spike of pure terror, I could describe the sound as it happened again. It was the sound of rock grinding on rock.
Seth and I looked back quickly at the rocks, fearful and paralyzed, to see the branches straining with their loads, the vines around them snapping like they were silk strands. The branches started to moan and some smaller ones cracked like dry twigs. As the first rocks began to fall, Seth and I snapped back to reality. We had wasted too much time and couldn’t run anymore. We mashed ourselves closer together, gathering momentum, then used each other as springboards, pushing ourselves away from one another and out of the deadly path of the rocks. We were launched in opposite directions, Seth landing safely outside the cave, in the forest.
I was shot into the mysterious cave.
I landed hard, face first, on the cavern floor, my breath effectively fleeing from me. I rolled over, dazed, to see a pile forming. It looked like the stones were trying to make a mountain. I leaned up, still trying to catch my elusive breath, as I watched in awe of the boulders that fell, one after another. The dust it was kicking up had me choking on the breath I was finally grasping, my elven eyes stinging and watering from the mountain’s successful assault on me. My bewildered and oxygen deprived mind couldn’t grasp that I was still in danger of the falling rocks, only to think in awe that there were still more and more rocks raining down. As one chip the size of a softball came flying down from the rest, too late, my mind finally brought me to the realization that I was in serious trouble.
But before the chip could shatter my knee as it intended to, strong arms grasped me around my waist and drug me away from the landslide. The arms that still held me bound me against an equally strong male chest. I could hear his soft grunting as he moved me quickly away from the natural disaster. Eventually I was able to help him enough so that I was straight up again, though he held me an inch or so off the ground. We spun in a fast circle and he braced me against a wall of the cavern, hunching over me slightly, using himself to protect me from other flying rocks. I heard the sharp crack of a rock splitting, sending shoots of pain down my ears. I flinched and leaned myself more into the kind man who was helping me.
After a moment, as suddenly as it had started, it was over. The silence seemed to have as much volume as the landslide it was so abrupt. I felt my savior turn, still holding me tight to his chest. He sighed and then released me, too quickly and I was unable to proper footing. I spun slightly and stumbled back into his arms. But instead of my back being against his chest, my shoulder was pressed to his chest, my hands grasping his forearms to keep from falling again.
I sighed sadly at myself, closing my eyes. What a silly, human thing to do. I opened my eyes and found myself staring at a nude muscular arm that was oddly slim for such a build and had a dusky tone to it. It was a combination that I had seen before. It brought back a memory of a dark night in a city too rank and loud for my elven senses. The memory made my eyes travel up slower than I intended. His built arm flowed into bare shoulder, attached to an equally exposed chest. My eyes followed oh so slowly up his long, arching, graceful neck. They ran along his sharp jaw and prominent chin. His full lips, opened slightly in shock. His angular nose and high cheekbones. His medium blonde hair and pencil thin eyebrows. But what really caught my attention were his eyes and his ears. Ears that were long and pointed, like mine, and eyes that were slanted and angular like mine…
Eyes that were as pale blue as the clear sky on a sunny day in August.
My mysterious elven savior.