It was a peculiar feeling to run at full speed and feel no shortness of breath. The sun gleaming down on the two figures continued its warmth, but neither of them felt fatigue or sweat upon their brows as they dashed across the field, closer and closer to the great dark forest. When they finally stopped running, they gazed up at the trees before them, which looked so much larger than they had from a distance. Eugeo could never remember seeing trees grow this tall and close together, cutting off most of the sunlight from the cool green forest floor.
"Well, this is it!" Yuuki swept her hand out in front of her. "I call it the Great Dim Forest, because, well it's really big and much less bright than this field."
"How far have you dared to venture through it?" Eugeo asked curiously.
"Not very far, I was secretly worried that if I went too far in by myself that I might get lost and never see the sunshine again. Silly fear for someone who's dead!" She laughed effortlessly. Eugeo was silently jealous that she could speak of death so freely. He had tried to ignore the reality as much as he could.
"But," Yuuki continued, "With two of us I'm sure we're more likely to find the other side, and if we do get lost, we won't be alone at least!"
Eugeo frowned. "No, I have to get to the other side, I have to find those mountains and find where Alice went."
"This Alice, she meant a lot to you didn't she?" Yuuki mused aloud.
"Yes, very much so," Eugeo's voice fell silent.
"Alright then, I will help you find her no matter how long it takes! It's not as though we will run out of time!" She laughed and Eugeo rolled his eyes slightly at her joke. "Come on, let's see what's in this forest already! Maybe we'll find something interesting!"
"Okay, but we should be careful, who knows what's in there and whether we really are free from any harm in this world."
"You worry too much!" Yuuki grabbed his arm and pulled him towards the shade and trees. "Who knows it might be fun!"
As they entered the forest, the sunlight immediately faded away among the thick, glossy leaves of the dark trees growing there. The ground beneath them had become cool and covered with moss and small growing plants that felt soft underfoot. The silent wind still moved through the highest branches but the air around the two figures was cool and still. The bark of the trees was not gnarled like that of the willows, but almost smooth as stone and nearly black in color.
"What a strange place," Eugeo whispered half to himself half to Yuuki
"It's strange, but also sort of peaceful, don't you think?" she replied.
"I guess," Eugeo looked around as they continued walking, "I wonder how far it goes, look even up beyond those trees it's even darker!"
Yuuki shrugged beside him and the pair continued walking.
The filtered sunlight became more and more dim as they strolled deeper into the forest and soon the small patches of light that were able to make it through the dense foliage to forest floor had all but disappeared. Now the scene around them became almost like that of the mid evening, just after the sun sets and everything is dim, but still slightly brightened by the last beams of the disappearing day.
"It's getting really dark in here," Eugeo whispered a twinge of anxiety in his voice. "If we go much farther, how are we going to be able to see anything?"
Yuuki sighed beside him. "Who knows, maybe we're almost to the other side? Maybe the nighttime is coming again? Do you feel tired, Eugeo?"
"No," he glanced up towards the tops of the trees where they could no longer see any direct light or glimpses of the sky.
"Well, maybe we will be able to see even if it gets completely dark? Maybe we have special powers now?" Yuuki's statement was a little ridiculous and caused Eugeo to give a soft, skeptical sniff. Yuuki frowned at him and punched his shoulder gently. "Look! I'm just coming up with ideas..." her voice faded off as suddenly they seemed to walk into the darkest shadows, where the little bit of light finally faded.
"Gosh, it's dark!" she exclaimed, grabbing Eugeo's arm as if she was afraid he might get lost.
"Yeah, now what? I really can't see much ahead of us, just the outlines of the trees..." his voice was audibly nervous now.
"Let's just keep walking, the spaces between the trees are the darkest, so at least we won't walk into...wait...look!" Yuuki had become suddenly distracted and yanked Eugeo to the left, throwing him off balance.
"Look! Up there! Something is giving off light! It's a soft glow but we should follow it!" Pulling the wobbly Eugeo after her, Yuuki took off towards a gap in the trees. At first, Eugeo couldn't see the strange glow she seemed to be following and protested against running through a dark forest that neither of them were familiar with. Gradually though, he began to make out, far ahead of them, a faint bluish green glow filtered between the tall dark trees. As Yuuki jogged him along the glow became more clear and suddenly the two of them found themselves in a clearing among the trees, lit as it seemed from a soft light, like that of the moon on a clear evening in the summer. Before them, the ground was soft and mossy with various mushrooms, flowers, and small delicate plants growing around the bottoms of the tree trunks, each with their own reflection of the glowing light. Stepping fully into the clearing the two gazed around in wonder for the first time as they saw small bright lights hanging in the air.
"Fireflies," Yuuki whispered, reaching out towards one of them. "Wow! There is something else here!" Her eyes were wide with enchantment as they followed the path of the small, delicate creatures wafting upon the silent, cool air.
Eugeo gazed in wonder as well, for a moment, then turned his attention to the middle of the clearing.
"Yuuki! Look! That's where the the brighter light is coming from!" He grabbed her shoulder and pointed.
The two of them turned and were met with the sight of a small lake towards the left side of the clearing. The water was silent and smooth as if it was a mirror of ice, but the entire width and depth was glowing with the soft moonlit light that illuminated the entire clearing, which they now realized was quite large. Yuuki, immediately curious, took a few steps and stood at the edge of the lake, wonder spread across her pale young face. Eugeo, though still feeling a strong twinge of anxiety joined her standing by the lake and stayed silent, unable to think of anything else to say. He couldn't take his eyes off the crystal water, silent and still, but something deep within him wanted to reach down and touch the water. It seemed as Yuuki beside him had had the similar thought for she had knelt down and gently reached out towards the glassy surface ready to brush her hands against the liquid crystal.
As her slender hand came close to brushing against the water a sudden sound of rushing wind made both of them lurch back in fright.
"MORTAL SOULS DARE YOU TOUCH THIS CRYSTAL SPRING?" A deep, thundering voice echoed from among the darkest shadows of the trees.
Terrified, Eugeo gave a high yelp and scrambled back away from the edge of the lake, while Yuuki sat on her knees, suddenly transfixed upon the darkness beyond the trees.
"Yuuki, get back!" Eugeo whispered frightened.
But the violet haired girl shook her head. Standing up and putting her hands on her hips in defiance she called back into the shadows.
"We do want to touch the water! Who's there!"
For a moment the forest was silent, then another sound of rushing wind and the deep booming voice returned.
"MORTAL SOULS THOU SEEKETH REFRESHMENT IN THIS SPRING?"
"Yes!" Yuuki called back while Eugeo continued to push himself away. "Who are you! Why don't you come out!"
"MORTAL SOULS YOU HAVE BEGUN YOUR JOURNEY AND ENDED UP HERE." This time the voice sounded closer and Yuuki detected movement from deep within the shadows. The voice seemed to be echoing off of something as if it was coming from within a cavern or a cave. As Yuuki pondered though, another light answered her unspoken question as some sort of being became visible among the shadows where the trees leaned towards the mouth of a small cave, surrounded by cool white stones. As the light grew brighter she could make out the form of some sort of creature standing at the mouth of the white cave.
"Who are you!" she called again as Eugeo whimpered softly behind her.
"I AM THE RULER OF THIS FOREST, MORTAL SOUL." This time the voice was clear and loud as it trumpeted through the branches of the trees into the forest. All around them, the fireflies, which had been drifting lazily on the cool forest air suddenly scattered off into the trees as if frightened by the creature at the opening of the cave. Yuuki gave a small gasp as the creature finally stepped forward and revealed itself, a silvery lion with the wings of an eagle and a fiery mane of blue and silver flames. Its eyes were a bright yellow and stared unblinking across the lake at both Yuuki and Eugeo.
"Hast thou come here seeking refuge on your journey?" This time its voice seemed lower and less threatening as it stepped forward.
"I guess, well," Yuuki's voice drifted off. The sight of such a magnificent creature had caused her voice to fail her as she stared in wonder. Behind her, Eugeo had slowly risen to his feet and now threw himself suddenly in front of her and called out.
"Look! We mean no harm, we're just trying to get through this forest and find our way to the mountains beyond it!" The sudden burst of courage left him shaking.
"Indeed." The lion stepped forward and its paws touched the crystal water as though it was a glass surface. Then taking a few steps forward it stood before them and bowed its head, it's glowing yellow eyes never leaving their faces.
"You two mortal souls have come here in search of your final journey? Have you not?"
Still in front of Yuuki, Eugeo couldn't find any words and stood, still shaking in fear. From behind him, the violet haired girl suddenly piped up though and answered.
"Yes! We are!" Nudging Eugeo she pushed his arm aside and stood facing the silver beast. "We both came here from another world and we want to know why we are here and where we need to go. You seem like someone who would know the answer to those questions." Her voice wavered at first but by the end of her sentence it had become firm and determined.
"Ah yes, the last journey of the mortal soul," the lion nodded as its fiery mane swirled around its silver face, "it has been a long while since I have seen souls seeking this final quest. You are both welcome then."
Sorry, short chapter here! I've been working on my main fic and some other projects that might take a little more center stage to this one. BUT, don't fret I will be updating this fic from time to time, probably shorter chapters since this is a little side project to my main fic. Thanks for reading and supporting!