I didn't know what to do once I reached the comforting confinements of the forest, its thick, towering oaks and high grass a welcoming gesturing, for it would help me escape the Inquisition. Despite the dense buzzing of gnats in the air, this place felt comforting. Even though those legends could turn out to be true. But, I couldn't deal with that at the moment.
I treaded through the high grass, sliding past the trees and vines to quicken my pace. The more and more distance I covered, the more smothering the air became. It was literally pushing down on me, pushing me to the ground, as if hoping that the rutting Inquisition would catch up to me. But, that wasn't going to happen. I wouldn't let it. Not in a million years. But, I wasn't scared. I had an idea of how I would escape if they caught up to me: climb a tree and then jump along the canopy of green, swirling leaves above. Hopefully, that would be enough...because I haven't really thought it out.
Running was the only thing on my mind at the moment. You'll just have to make things up as you go, I told myself. Not the best strategy, I know, but it was all I had at the moment. Plus, at the rate I was going...it would be impossible for them to catch up to me. Well, if I kept up my pace. I was still bothered by the legends that had originated from this forest: the ones about evil creatures and the evil humans who controlled them, the others ones about witches and how they snuck up on innocents and feasted on their flesh, and finally, the legends about the Land Of Hearts.
That was a tricky legend to understand. All the empires on the continent knew about the legendary kingdom, but the details were different here and there, depending on the region. I personally chose not to believe in the Land Of Hearts, since I didn't preferably want to think of a place that could be so cruel - even crueler than the empire I lived in.
There were many different stories about the Land Of Hearts, about the kind of inhabitants that lived there and the royalty system that governed it. But, the other legends about the Forest Of Hearts...those I believed in. For, sometimes...when I would sneak a peak above or below, I would see things: creatures, so much like the legends that I didn't even feel like dubbing it that anymore. One time, I caught sight of a red-and-black speckled snake curled around a tree branch. Expect, as I ran by it, I could hear the slightest whisper of a voice on the wind. Yes, very creepy, indeed.
But, as long as I kept running, my pace slowly becoming less and less of what it used to be, hopefully, the creatures wouldn't get me. I mean, there had to be some extent to the legends. They couldn't all be true, could they? The most disturbing thing of all was that I could be wrong and that maybe...just maybe...all of the legends were true...and even more.
* * *
After an approximate hour spent running, my body too tired to withstand any more sprinting, I managed to force myself to take a break. Nothing too long, for the Inquisition would eventually catch up to me, but long enough for my energy levels to subside. I crouched into a low position by a huge oak tree, its gnarled roots poking up through the soil-rich ground, biting into my back as I sat down upon them.
Luckily, the tall, still grass would keep my body hidden from the Inquisition. I couldn't speak for predators, but the Inquisition surely wouldn't be able to discover my whereabouts while I hid out here. Unless I made a noise, that is. I tried to slow my breaths, trying to stop the insistent huffing and puffing that resulted because of my loss of air. My lungs were tight and continuing to constrict themselves. Soon, air wouldn't be able to flow in at all and then the Inquisition would find me for sure.
All I had to do was relax, focus on my breathing, and close my eyes. I couldn't fall asleep because of my snoring habits, but I could fall into a trance, one that would allow me to hide out here...without a peep.
Within minutes, I was in a trance, my breathing shallow but effective, my eyes closed but fluttering open once in a while to survey my surroundings, and my hands clasped tightly together in my lap. The perfect, silent human being. See, I was getting better every day at living on the run. The more days that came and went the more silent I was, the more stealthy I was, and the more controlled I was.
Silent, stealthy, controlled. The perfect combination.
Soon, the buzzing of gnats in the dense, smothering air died down, and the moisture of the air also dissipated. The forest around me grew darker and darker and the light coming down from the cracks in the canopy between the oaks disappeared with it. At some point during the night, I finally realized that the Inquisition wasn't coming for me. That they had perhaps given up and gone back to the king's palace to report. That's when I knew I was safe...and with that realization...sleep quickly fell upon my eyes.
* * *
Sometime during the night, I dreamt of beautiful places. At first, I was on the beach of some unknown empire, the sand soft and comforting under my body...which was irrelevantly naked. In the dream, I drew circles and patterns and beauty and mystery in the sand, swirls of great extent etched into the rocky, but soft, material. The waves ebbed against the shore, bobbing in the distance. The water curled up against the balls of my feet, a welcoming feeling that reminded me that this was a great place and that nature had faith in me.
A jungle loomed in the distance, arching into the ocean and creating a bay of water before me. It was magnificent...truly magnificent. That's when I looked behind me...to the group of people now gathered there. They were clothed, but they didn't seem to care at all that I wasn't. They smiled and laughed at me and their hand gestures - wait, why were they making those gestures? At first, I thought they were crying out for help, for they were waving their arms in a frenzy, but soon I realized they were actually beckoning me to join them.
I hadn't had any friends in a long time, but maybe I did in this dream. Maybe I could even relish in it. You know, while it lasted. I didn't really have a decision whether or not I wanted to get up and spend time with them because my body did it regardlessly. I stood up, dusting caked sand off of my back and off of my legs as I proceeded to join them.
I had a smile on my face...and I was even laughing. I hadn't heard that sound come out of me in a long time. It was almost like the sound of laughter surrounding me had summoned some of the mirthful feelings I still had tucked deep inside me. They clapped me on the back the moment I reached them. We laughed and laughed and, as the sun slid behind the clouds and turned into the moon, shining silver light upon the land, we finally sat down upon a man-made camp a few dozen feet from the shore, in the midst of the jungle.
The noise produced by the gnats in the air was rampant, though it was soothing somehow...as someone made a fire, the crackling of it reverberating the peace among us. The silver light from the moon cast ripples of light across the waves in the bay beyond the jungle. The people around me began talking and laughing up a storm, that it was hard for me to stay focused. It was almost as if I was lost in all the commotion, for it was unusual for me.
But, things turned awry very soon.
Just as someone began singing a tune and another started playing the fiddle, thunder sounded in the distance. This didn't stop them, but all of a sudden...a cold wind swept up across the ground and the fire blew out. Looks of surprise and fear appeared on "my friends'" faces, the playing of the musical instruments and the singing over all too soon.
And, just like that, they quickly stood up and ran away, one almost tripping on a wooden log before finally escaping the man-made camp. I tried shouting for them to stop, to come back, for I needed the company. I hadn't had any of the likes in the past ten years. That was how cruel the world was. And, just as much as I wanted to live a happy life, I might never get one. Maybe that was what this dream represented...that I would never achieve a joyous life. But, the dream wasn't even half over yet. Some very bad things had yet to happen.
I shivered as rain appeared from the sky, big drops of water plopping onto the grass and all around me, soaking my naked body. Before, it had been warm and lush outside, but now it was cold and unforgiving. I could feel that something bad was going to occur...even before it happened, it seemed. And, it looked like I was. A heavy, black, whispy cloud of evil was collecting in the distant sky, but it was slowly drifting downwards the further it traveled...right toward me.
I gasped, the rain dripping off of my sides now better than ever compared to that cloud getting closer and closer. The cloud of darkness swept toward the ground, its mighty weight surrounded everything and anything. The fear speeding through my veins and into my mind, into my heart...was all too real. I was really scared now. I knew the dream had been weird from the start, but now it was just creepy and enticing at the same time, somehow.
But, when that cloud was within a dozen yards from me, tendrils of sweeping mist grabbing at the waves, pulling it up into its belly, I did what I had become extremely good at in the last few years: run. I ran like hell, trying to cover as much distance as I could to put distance between me and that swirling cloud of blackness, but it was already edging up against me. I felt it, rather than glimpsed it. I was glad for that since I probably wouldn't be able to muster up the strength to see it. It grabbed me with an invisible force, though, gripping onto my skin...ripping at with claws as it tried to pull me in.
I would've tried harder to run faster, but I had no strength to do so in the dream. So, the black cloud pulled me in and ripped hard on my back, forcing my body to the ground - the hard, wet, sloppy ground - and tugged. It tugged and tugged and tugging, pulling me along the jungle floor and then across the infernal sand as if I were a rag doll. I couldn't see anything at this point because the dark cloud covered everything in existence. There was no light...only darkness.
A flash of a hideous face hit me before I awoke from the dream, one so familiar, it seemed, that I lingered on the image, trying to make something out of it. But, I couldn't, so I woke up.
That's precisely the moment I heard boots marching on the ground not too far from where I was hiding. A tugging feelign linked onto my heart and I knew what it was immediately.
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