|"At the center of the crater was a massive forest...."|
Belak and I emerged in what looked like a wide crater. We could see the jagged edges of the rock wall surrounding the place, jutting up above the treetops.
At the center of the crater was a massive forest. The trees bunched thickly within this valley, making its heart almost as dark as nighttime.
The whispers had started again, but I was so used to the noise I considered ignoring them. Glancing at Belak, I saw him squint and turn back toward the darkened tunnel.
"Do you hear it?" I asked him.
"The noise?" He asked. "Yes—I don't understand, though. It's... confusing."
I nodded, "Like trying to converse at a party, without knowing exactly which conversation you are a part of."
There it was, the entire of my experience summed up in one metaphor.
Belak squinted as he tried to recall such an experience. "Perhaps; but if you can hear it too, maybe we can find out where it's coming from." He started scanning the edges of the rather small clearing as he advanced onto the grass.
A swath of poppies unfolded like vermillion cloth under his feet. "Stop!" I warned him, but Belak had already disturbed them. I saw the delicate cloud rise like steam from a kettle around him, and Belak immediately cried out and put his hands to his face.
"Gah! It's burning my eyes!"
I stared down at my own feet, but the flowers only seemed grouped in that one area.
When I looked toward the forest again, a man appeared in the middle of the road, pacing and muttering to himself.
"The knight was struck blind as his penance for unbelief, but his maiden true... Hmm... His companion... No..." Finally he stopped and looked up at me.
"What are you?" He asked abruptly. His cheeks were so hollow the bones stood out around them. He had quite a long beard, but it was thin and grizzled. The clothes he wore no doubt had once been fine, now hung off his frame in tatters. "Not his lady, for certain—at least," he giggled, "not yet. Hmm! What shall I do with a character like you in my story?"
Anger boiled inside me as he kept blathering to himself.
"I am not your character!" I seethed, "And this is not your story!" To prove my point, I marched right through those deadly poppies and grabbed Belak's hand.
"What?" He cried as I jerked him out from among them. "Who are you?"
"It's me, dummy!" I snapped at him. I set my sights on the tunnel we had left. "We're leaving!"
"Shereya?" He sounded surprised to hear my voice. "It's so dark! Where are we?"
I opened my mouth, but no words came. Behind me, I heard the strange man mutter, "The lady did not answer. The knight had nearly reached his destination when—"
The rest of his words were lost in a thunderous rumble as the grass in front of us thickened and lengthened, springing from the ground in great, thorny vines. I stopped, but Belak kept stumbling forward, nearly impaling himself.
"Wait!" I thrust my arm in front of him and got us turned to face the forest again.
Belak's head thrashed like he was having difficulty standing upright. "What happened?" He asked.
"Thorns!" I cried.
"What is going on?"
I could not figure out what enchantment lay over this valley, or what sort of man we faced, who could cast spells over the area and cause such grief to a couple innocent strangers such as we.
"I think that man is doing something," I said.
The man was still mumbling. "She saw but she did not believe. Her eyes must be dim as well, though not so much as the knight leaning on her arm. When the blind lead the blind, they both fall into a pit..."
I nearly plunged to my death as a chasm opened under my feet. The only thing that saved me was the fact that Belak felt the tightness of both my hands on his arm and reacted beautifully, bracing his feet and throwing his free arm around my body like a shield.
When I had caught my breath, I looked out and saw one narrow pathway stretching across the crevasse toward the man and the forest behind him.
He was a Wordspinner, that much was certain—but he was the first of his kind to be so malevolent! And what sort of Wordspinner would have such power over the terrain?
"Why are you doing this?" I tried yelling at him, but he just kept ranting.
Another thundering rumble, and I saw rocks loosing themselves from the tops of the crags—and rolling straight toward us!
We were going to die. All the perception in the world couldn't stop a boulder.