Nausea overwhelmed her as the vertigo set in. The wind whipped through Kyra’s hair, and pushed her across the stone walls, making her descent seem much more precarious than she had originally anticipated. Underneath her, the remainder of the rope twisted and thrashed. Her decision to escape the confines of the castle became less and less appealing as she went, because although the ground had gotten closer, time seemed to drag on indefinitely.
Her hands burned from the rough twine as golden strands cut through her palms; Kyra closed her eyes to avoid any more of the dizzying sensation, feeling her way down. One hand after another, boots firmly gripping the rope to take some of the strain off of her arms. She whispered to herself as she went, attempting to calm herself, counting every inch down.
Without sight to help her judge the distance from the ground, Kyra’s inevitable fall came all too surprisingly when the rope ended a few meters short of the destination. Her impact with the ground left her gasping for air. The world was swimming, and after brushing her messy hair from her brow, her hand came away bloody. The sweet and salty stench became suddenly apparent in the air, hanging thickly about her. She stood up slowly and weakly, ignoring the black, thick mud covering her legs. Kyra glanced up at the castle and sighed; without any means of returning, her only option was to move forward.
Her energy came in spurts, the obliviousness to her surroundings pushing her farther into the woods, into the darkness. She hardly noticed a change as the trees grew thick and the light thin. It wasn’t until she collapsed from fatigue and sat upon a wicked lattice of roots spreading across the ground that she understood the danger she’d walked into.
The Black Forest, or so it had been called for many decades now, was aptly named. There was no light there. Shadows upon shadows danced around every corner, like savages in the night. Even the plants were dark, and the very souls of the animals seemed tainted–not to mention the rumors that depicted trolls hiding there, as well as witches, tree fairies and a myriad of other nasty creatures. Children throughout all of Luminae were taught to never roam the forests lest they be gobbled up.
Kyra didn’t want to think of her lost childhood though. Her mind was set on survival, and if that meant braving the Black Forest, then so be it. She slowed her breathing and pushed herself back onto her feet, concentrating on her small, quiet footsteps. Every snapped branch and crushed leaf made her jump in fear, leaving her so unsettled that it became impossible to control her appendages with any amount of confidence. Her hands were crusted with layers of blood, wiped from her forehead and welled up from the rope burns.
Many hours passed, creeping by with a silent ominousness that she couldn’t shake. Her limbs felt like anvils, weighing her down into the soil. She was sure her ragged breathing and clumsy movements would be the end of her. She became so paranoid that the light beginning to seep through the trees and the new shadows cast on the dark green flora only personified her fears. She tripped over her feet in a futile effort to flee the blackness, stumbling through the edge of the woods.
A rustling sound in the ferns next to her brought Kyra back to reality, and she backed herself up against the stoic trunk of a wide tree, facing the noise with a small flame in her hand. A strange chittering erupted from the foliage at the appearance of the flame, and a small yellow fox with three striped tails dashed out of it’s cover and darted for higher ground, performing a four meter vertical jump as it leaped to the bottom branch of an adjacent tree. Its tail tips disappeared into the branches, and for the first time since leaving the castle, Kyra began to cry.
The tears flowed freely and mingled with the dirt and blood on Kyra’s face. She couldn’t sustain the trek any longer, but couldn’t remain in the open. Out of the corner of her eye she noticed a cave in the womb of one of the great trees marking the edge of the forest and dove inside, taking refuge in the damp stone walls. She laid on her back attempting to catch her breath, her head spinning from the lack of air. The exhaustion overwhelming her injured body, she longed to feel the relieving embrace of sleep – but sleep would not seize her as readily, and the cave floor was unforgiving. The hard, uneven surface twisted her back in uncomfortable ways and the protruding rocks jabbed at her sore muscles. She sighed in defeat, and with the last of her energy went to scavenge for dry sticks to build a fire to warm the stone walls of her refuge. She built them into a tiny pyramid, and with a flick of her finger the pile was alight. With new warmth to seep into her skin, she felt more comfortable with the idea of rest. The flames danced on her face as her eyes closed for the night.
It had not been long before a barely audible noise in the trees awoke her from her uneasy slumber. Kyra covered the smoldering coals of her fire with dirt and lunged to the back of the cave.
Only seconds had passed when two dirty, rambunctious boys clamored into her safe haven, gurgling with laughter. The cave walls shuddered with the echoes of their howling cackles, and as they collapsed on the dirt floor in a heap of filthy clothes and scrawny limbs, Kyra shrunk into the shadows. It seemed that they were oblivious to her presence.