Chapter 4

The journey onward towards the Dark had left Aira exhausted and out of provisions. She traveled through endless forests of knobby roots and thick vines. For a place of such evil, it was magnificently green.

Dusk had settled upon the day when Aira finally found out that she had run out of water. She wouldn't be able to last more than three or four days at the rate she was going. Although the forest was lush, she hadn't come across any running streams. It occurred to her that perhaps she should have asked the two creatures in the boat if they knew where to get supplies, or if they had any with them. Then again, it didn't seem like they got out much.

Her only hope was that she was nearing villages surrounding the City of the Dark.

By now night had fallen and Aira wandered blindly through the forest. It was slow going but she took careful steps and gradually she could tell that the roots were lessening. Each step made her drowsy and weak. Finally she stopped to rest upon the trunk of a large tree and there she quickly fell asleep.

Morning broke quietly through the thick canopy of the forest. Aira woke to find herself famished and with only one meal left to sustain her. She chewed on salted bread and dried fruit slowly so that she would savor each bite and hopefully satisfy her hunger.

Gathering her strength and her small and somewhat empty rucksack she set back on her trail. She had now become extremely dirty without purposefully intending to do so. She was confident that even she would not recognize herself if she were to see her own reflection.

Her senses the night before was right on target. The trail was becoming less and less complicated to maneuver. She hoped this meant she was nearing a break and approaching some sort of civilization.

"Marcee, come and play with us," the younger children of the village called to a small girl who was busy picking at weeds near the Gates to the Forest.

The girl did not answer them but continued picking weeds and mushrooms. The other children didn't seem to mind and left her to her strange habits as they usually did.

As she was picking a weed she had never noticed before, she heard rustling from the woods. It was odd because no one ever went in and moreover, no one ever came out. Marcee stopped and stared for a long time until she saw a monster emerge from the depths of the forest.

The monster was tall and broad; its fur was long, flowing, and extremely dirty.

After emerging from the never-ending woodland Aira saw a small village ahead of her. The village was made up of mud huts with thatched roofs. Animals were kept in log-fenced pens and children ran about the streets.

She shielded her eyes as it was brighter than the forest and brighter than she ever expected the Dark to be.

It was then that she noticed a young girl staring right at her. Great, thought Aira, what a perfect way to start my journey into the Dark. The girl didn't attempt to move, she seemed transfixed on Aira's appearance. That was no surprise; Aira realized she was completely filthy. She probably didn't even look like a seraph at all.

She was unsure what to make of the situation. Anything she did could cause the girl to go running away screaming that there was an intruder. Then Aira would have no chance at even getting past the simple village to see the gates of the City. So she crouched down and didn't move. The girl kept staring so Aira stared back.

The staring contest last for longer than Aira could keep track, when all of a sudden the girl approached her. Cautiously the girl took small, light steps towards Aira. Aira noticed the girl's appearance then. She was dirty from playing in the field with the other children, although Aira had no room to speak considering her own appearance. There was also something odd about her that Aira couldn't quite place.

Marcee came closer to the beast that halted at the edge of the forest. When she approached it, she realized that it wasn't so terrifying up close. It looked rather haggard. Maybe it was some sort of spirit of the forest who was angry that it's home was being cut down on what seemed like a daily basis.

"Are you a tree spirit?" Marcee asked the dirty creature staring curiously into its eyes.

The creature made a slight growling noise as if it was clearing its throat. "Why yes little seraph, that I am," it replied.

Seraph? Marcee wondered. It's voice sounded like a tree too. "Why did you come out of the forest, tree spirit?"

"I was looking for someone, and so I found you," it said and reached into a knapsack it had hanging on its back. What a curious thing for a tree spirit to have. The tree spirit pulled out a small vial of what Marcee thought was water, but it was glowing.

"What is this?" Marcee asked with fascination as she looked at the glowing substance within the small vial.

"This is the soul of a star little seraph, and I will let you have it if you help me," the tree spirit told her as it tucked the soul of the star back into its knapsack.

"What must I do?"