Jack followed Adrian’s footprints for hours, until they led him to harder ground; the path left behind for him was no more; the trail had vanished in the composting leaves, and other debris, covering the path. He scanned all around, trying to locate any continuing footprints, only to find, they just ended right where he did. Lost in despair and frustrated, Jack took a couple steps forward, kicking leaves sluggishly. What a series, of many great findings and adventures of his life, this had been thus far. Would this be the end of his expedition days; had all the glory of his life, finally reached a point, where there would be nothing more... nothing after this. Lost in a forest to die. This was the end. The cruel truth of what was to come; what he expected. He walked passed a tree, which oddly began to glow purple; a purple radiating vapor, like it was set off by a motion detector. Jack stepped back, and faced the glowing tree with an expression of horror, quickly changing to curiosity. He moved nearer to the tree, and baffled at this foggy layer of purple glow; he slowly reached out towards this unknown phenomenon, to touch it.
Once his hand met with the tree, he found himself, soaring through a purple and black glowing tunnel, after being sucked in by a strong vacuum. Passing through the tunnel, he shouted, then vociferated strangely; divulging fear; screaming in terror.
A bright light, gleamed at the end of the tunnel. Jack brought up his arm, shielding his eyes from the wondrous rays of fair light. Upon reaching the light, he felt as if he was shoved out a door, by an unrelenting and invisible force. There he was, standing there, in an unrecognizable forest. The trees were different, the plant life was different; even the moisture in the air. Jack felt to see if he was still in one piece. He then, turned to the tree behind him.
It was glowing purple, just like the last tree, but unlike the tree before, this one’s branches and shape, was noticeably and very dissimilar, to the other. He backed away from the tree, intriguingly studying it. After casting his eyes upon it, looking all the way up and all the way down, he went over to the tree, and suspiciously made contact with it; palm to the bark. He flew through the tunnel once more; sucked in as earlier. The purple and black vapor, swirled together unevenly, and it made him dizzy to watch. The bright light came again at the end of the tunnel, but he appeared, not in the same place, of where he came from; but in a dark and somber woodland. He glanced around, then said out loud to himself; in bringing his thoughts to fruition. Going back and forth between these tree portals… why doesn’t it lead back from where I was before…they must have a purpose… they must lead somewhere important.
Jack laid a hand on the glowing tree, emerging from it once again. This had proven to be dangerous now; he appeared in front of two, huge, battling coldblooded beasts. He quickly acted; flying through the tunnel yet a third time! Now he appeared at another place, tripping upon a rock; resulting, in him falling forward, face down in the ground.
Jack rolled over painfully, his vision thrown into disorientation. He spit moss and leaves from out of his mouth. Then, lying there awkwardly, he beheld a great sight! A vast monolith of stones, propped upright in a circle. Jack rose up upon his feet, getting a better look.
The tremendous rocks, surrounded a gray figure of a maiden, sitting on a small boulder. Stairs made of petrified wood, led up to her from all sides.
Jack glanced behind him, then, side to side. Steadily moving forward, staring at the statue, he started in a gentle pace up the steps.
Jack gazed in wonderment at the huge rocks, as he passed by them, and came into the circle, now approaching the stone figure. And he felt as if someone was there. But who was there. The maiden was there… and the maiden’s presence, gave him such a strong notion, of being living flesh, it’s as if she wasn’t a statue at all! There was a droplet of sadness on her cheek; eyes were cast down, and the tears, seemed to have authentic movement, upon her face.
As Jack looked upon her, a sudden sorrow came over him, and he began to weep marginally. He stretched out his hand, and touched the tears, frozen on her face.
A ghastly vision, took over his sight, and a cloud, shadowed his mind. He dreamt of darkness… darkness covering over the sky; a young maiden ran from a vicious beast. But it wasn’t a beast really; it wasn’t anything tangible even; it was a metaphor. She was really running from her pain and misery; running far, far away from this agony, her despair, that would want nothing more, than to ruin her…to destroy her.
Jack flew back with great force, as if some sinister and powerful poltergeist, pushed him away. He laid on the ground, but didn’t bother to get up completely. He pushed up from the sufface and just rested on his hands, to bring himself to face the statue; and then, he spoke words, out of merely gut feeling and intuition. “It’s not as bad as you think; why... why did you give up on this life…” Everything went silent, and Jack realized, he wasn’t talking to anyone; as if coming out of a daze and delirium, he recognized that the statue was not living and breathing. Therefore, it wasn’t very likely that it was going to answer him.
He rose to his feet, ready to go back the way he came and leave this odd place, but slammed into a transparent wall, just sealing closed in front of him. The magical wall, gave off waves, of tiny ripples, as his body collided with it, and had knocked him back down. He lay out on the floor of the enchanted cromlech, not wanting to get back up; and he thought of just lying there forever; why not. Just drift into darkness, let this wretched place have its way with him, to just give up on his father, give up on himself, and give up on Adrian.
Clouds accumulated, and rolled through the sky, swaying the time away. Jack slipped into delightful enchantment, and floated far off into dreams. He dreamt of sadness, he dreamt of paradise; and he dreamt of death. A repulsive screeching woke him from his dreams; forcing him to search for its source. It was the statue! The statue split in a fine fracture, trailing out; then, ruptured apart, sending bright light shining out from between its cracks. Jack rose, covering his ears, as the screeching grew louder.
The shell of stone, broke off and fell down, from an illuminated figure; in the same pose as the statue. As the light dimmed, Jack found that the statue had come alive. He stared at the mysteriously living, and now breathing, maiden, with fear and astonishment! But as she wiped her eyes, he saw only her beauty, and the fear was no more. She stared back at him, not in alarm, but in wonder; her angelic face eminently shined, and then, settled to a pleasant and flawless pale tone. Jack opened his mouth to speak, yet nothing came from his lips.
The maiden drew her chin up, and said, in a warm and peaceful voice. “Hello Jack…my name is Lithia.” Jack opened his mouth again, wording successfully, in deep suspicion. “How do you know my name?” Lithia answered. “I know everything about you Jack. I know that your father died, when you were just of eight years; and you vowed to find the “Forest of Lost Secrets”, “The Forest of Beginning”, “The Forest That Cannot Be Found”…“This Forest”...” Jack stumbled back, and gulped a long swallow, to loosen the knot in his throat. He then, said, as he looked on, to one side, and then, looked to Lithia. “I’m dreaming… you can’t be real.”
Lithia stood up, electrically moving closer and closer to him. She reached out to touch his arm, and he pulled back, trembling in fright.
“It’s okay Jack, I’m not going to hurt you.” She reached out her hand once more, and Jack, slowly felt and caressed it. “You are real! So this isn’t a dream is it?” Lithia answered. “No… this is not a dream. I’m as real as you.” Jack asked her, astounded. “You knew I was going to come here?” Lithia replied. “I knew, when you touched me… but no; I didn’t know you were going to come.” Pulling his hand away from hers, Jack said in frustration. “Who are you?” She replied. “I’m Lithia; I use to be the Leader of the Cloud Clan, the Queen of Forever, and least of my favorite... Maiden of Madness.” What horror grew over Jack, from the sudden way her voice had changed, with the last title she had given herself. “Maiden of Madness?” He hadn’t known whether to feel uneasy about this or not. “Why were you called the Maiden of Madness?”
Lithia pleasantly, went about revealing to Jack, all that he asked. “Very well, I’ll tell you; I was disgraced with the name the Maiden of Madness, after being cast off my throne. I became weary and overcome with grief. I had not the will to live, after my love Everrek, of the Cloud Clan, died in battle. The Dark Creatures increase in number every day. There has been a war between the Dark Side and the Light, for the last eight hundred years. When my dear Everrek died, I felt too much pain, and couldn’t function a clear thought in my mind; I would spend days, blaming myself remorsefully; denying reality; fantasizing, imagining a happy place, where Everrek was still alive. I went mad, and the council, saw I was no longer fit to rule. I wanted to die… but death was too easy of a way out, to be good enough for me. I tried to replace my loss through revenge. I was a war queen. I fought off countless Dark Creatures, led many battles… led many to their slaughter… and the bitter taste of the loss of Everrek, followed me everywhere I went. And still the fighting was not enough, to satisfy my thirst for revenge on Everrek’s death. I slowly gave up…was overtaken with misery, and went mad. I decided it best, to go to the Sacred Stones Circle, and turn myself to stone, forever. To freeze my grief; I stopped it nothing, until I reached my destination; and came to rest at the center of this place; sitting myself down. I cried and cried, and wallowed in woeful anguish; then suddenly, I was paralyzed, I could not move. My tears stopped and my eyes fixed on the ground. I could not feel. I slipped into a deep sleep, and dreamt nothing… but then...you came along; and when I felt your warm and pure human touch, upon my face; I knew there was something worth waking for. Like a cry for help, that needed an answer. I reach out, extending beyond the limits, of ordinary experience, to aid thee. Heaven-sent, hell-bent, and crazed for this certain thing, that holds me out on a limb. And Jack… I thank you for giving me the strength to come back. To now face what’s real. To now feel again.”
Jack gazed into Lithia’s eyes, as she started to cry, not of sadness, but of joy. “You are a perfect picture of strength Lithia, and your story has influenced me to be stronger; stronger for myself, and stronger for my brother. Lithia… will you help me find my brother?” Lithia replied, postured well in composure. “Yes.”
She strolled down the weathered steps, and Jack followed. He did not expect her to stop abruptly, but she did; and she pulled up something, from off of the ground, covering over a small hole. It appeared as leather, except it had a tougher exterior, riddled in scales. He then, watched her pick up a roll, of the same kind of leather, from out of the hole; it was bound shut, and she untied it, spreading it out on the ground, revealing it to be full of a variety of weapons and armor.
As Lithia strapped on a shiny leather belt, with compartments for knives and a sword; Jack, could hide his curiosity no more. “What is that made of?” Lithia picked up her knives, inserting them, one after another as she answered. “Quinrylack and dragon skin.” Jack replied, fearful of the unknown. “Are we going to run into a lot of dragons and these Quinrylacks?” Lithia asked him. “Why? Did you not already?” Jack answered. “No I haven’t... well there were these two dragons, ripping each other apart, after that once I went through the… some kind of teleportation tree.”
All finished arming herself, Lithia tossed Jack a dragon-scaled, leather breastplate, and said; half acknowledging what he said. “Oh! You better put this on.” She drew up her shield, walking away swiftly, while holding her sword out, ready to strike! Sure enough, no sooner than after she did, a loud roar of a great reptile, echoed from ahead. Jack paused in panic, searching the area vigilantly, when he heard the sound of wings, come slashing through the air!
He watched for any movement, but there was nothing; just the huge trees glowing with sunset; and the soft light, poured down over the stone circle. Suddenly, Jack was disturbed by the sound of a voice within his mind, saying to him. “Come, follow me, what are you delaying for?” Jack ran to catch up to Lithia, and said. “Lithia I don’t like this! I don’t like this one bit!”
Lithia stopped dead in her tracks, and motioned Jack, to stop as well. She listened to the forest, the ground, and the trees. And when Jack asked her what had been going on, she responded. “Shhhh... Do you hear that? It is coming!”
“What is coming?”
Lithia stood silent, and all that was heard, was the wind; which rapidly picked up. He did not know what to make of it. Something remarkable, or something dangerous, or both.
All in an abrupt moment, she turned, pushing Jack back and away from her! He flew through the air, and then, tumbled on the ground.
A great horned dragon, zoomed passed, out of nowhere, knocking Lithia down! Lithia scurried up, with her sword in hand, and stood strong, as the red-eyed, black dragon, aggressively came, tearing through the air, straight for her. She threw out her arms, and bellowed a loud war cry, as she charged the dragon, which charged her; now more heinously, and more ferociously, than before!
Lithia rebound, and leapt up into the sky, an amazing thirty feet. Jack beheld, in disbelief, as she flipped through the air, and landed on top of the dragon’s head; a stunt executed supremely! And in such a way, only a supernatural creature could have done.
She drove her sword into its brain, and the dragon, plummeted to the earth; sliding, while Lithia still stood, and surfed upon the crown!
Jack gaped at her in astonishment, as she hopped off, like this feat was nothing. “Jack, come on. Let us get moving.” Lithia’s eyes gleamed, with the possession of power, as she looked at him; rapidly walking away, in a fast pace.
What is she! She can’t be human! Lithia turned, and said to Jack, when she noticed, he hadn’t been following. “Jack, what is wrong?” He stared at her; beholding the contrast her black hair and her glowing eyes, had in approval, to each other. She seemed to spark with mystical glitter, as she gazed at him. And it made him uncomfortable, as if she could see into his soul; chuckling at the weakness, with a ridiculing and wicked laugh. If strength is a curse, she is definitely cursed… there is something off about her. Like the way she is looking at me right now! Could something so beautiful, be of evil?
Lithia blinked, and then smiled a little. “Jack, come on! We’ve quite a walk ahead of us!” Jack decided to abandon his suspicious thoughts; and refused to see anything but beauty, in this creature. He hurried up beside her, and they both, were on their way; though, she walked fast, really fast. He could not keep up, without altering between, running and walking, every so often. Lithia noticed, and slowed her pace. She was good; good could not be evil... could it? Jack pondered in his thoughts, questioning his judgment of her; and whether or not he should trust her entirely. “Are you human?”
Lithia stopped, looked at him, cunningly, and said. “No, I was the Cloud Clan Queen. The Cloud Clan is not human. There’s a rule that everything follows; you can’t cheat death, but, minus that, the Cloud Clan, are what they see themselves to be… they can see, whatever they imagine, to be… they can be whatever they like… whatever they want to be… and they can do whatever they believe, can be done. Every time I face a fight, I believe I will triumph. If at any time a Cloud dweller does not fully believe… fully have faith, that they can do something, then, they won’t be able to. They are dreamers... and dreams can come true… we should get moving.” Jack grabbed her arm, to hold her back, as if keeping her back, from changing the subject to something else; he wanted her to finish. “What do you mean a Cloud dweller is a dreamer?” Eyeing up his grip on her arm, she slowly pulled away, facing him, saying. “Let me show you.” She lifted her hand to his face, but he jolted, and backed away a little. “Don’t be afraid… trust me.” Lithia placed her fingers lightly on his temples, and suddenly, they were flying. He saw the world under him, and then the Forest, and then, very soft looking clouds, all brilliantly colored, in the bended, reflected rainbow, of the light spectrum. Floating in the sky, and then into space, and further on, and further into the abyss; Jack drifted away into reverie… and then, Lithia finally removed her hands. “Did you see?” Jack replied, enlightened, and shocked by her. “Yes I saw, but what is it?” Lithia sighed, and then answered. “Cloud dwellers dream, they don’t actually live in the Clouds, they dream… and they believe.” Jack stared at Lithia, with a puzzled expression, and then asked curiously. “Can you become a human, if you wanted to?” Lithia responded. “You do not see it still? We do not limit ourselves as humans do. We do whatever we believe is possible.”
“So you believe, jumping up thirty feet into the air, is possible?” Lithia took a deep breath, and replied, exasperatedly. “You do not understand. Well… of course you don’t… you’re human!” She hiked on off, and Jack caught up to her, apologizing, and was surprised, by her response. “Alright… you are forgiven… and now, if you don’t mind, we should be going this way!” Lithia paced around a huge rock, and Jack joined her, with haste.
They had walked all the night long. Jack was extremely exhausted, and almost, falling down. The sun had risen, but the Forest, was still dark, except for the small amount of light, that created an outline of the trees; streaming down through the thick and endless branches. Jack wasn’t able to take another step forward. He fell down on his knees, and sighed. “I need to rest. I can’t go on anymore.” Lithia went back to help him up upon his feet, of which she did so, quite easily. “Alright Jack.” She then, sauntered off to a tree, and gestured for Jack to follow. Lithia stopped in front of it, waiting for Jack, who was coming to stand beside her. “You’re tired. We’ll take rest in this tree… come on.” Lithia began to climb the tall, wide giant; which would be an impossible feat for Jack. Jack tried to climb it all the same, but sure enough, to no avail. Lithia had made it halfway up the tree by now. “I can’t climb it.”
“Hold on, I’ll get you something!” Lithia climbed up the rest of the tree, and grabbed onto a monstrously large branch, pulling herself up upon it. She collected pieces of the hanging moss, and twisted it together tightly. Within minutes, she had made a long rope, out of it. Lithia secured one end to the tree, and tied a loop on the other end, tossing it down to Jack.
Jack was baffled, to see, she had created this rope so quickly. Lithia exclaimed, as she made for certain the knot had been snugly fastened. “There we have it then… Jack… get in the loop and hold on.” Sitting in the loop, just as she said, Lithia hoisted him up.
Dangling in the air, wasn’t so bad, as long as he didn’t look down. When Jack had reached the large branch, where Lithia stood, he grabbed onto it, almost slipping off; but luckily, Lithia with her quick cat like reflexes, snatched him by his coat, and lugged him to safety.
He held tightly to Lithia as he glanced down, and regrettably, saw how far up they were from the ground. He had been both, very nauseous, and oh so exhausted, that when she set him down, he ludicrously, fell into instant slumber. He fainted? Lithia shook him. “Jack, I’m going to make a bed for you... don’t fall asleep yet.” Lithia rose up to collect some dry brownish moss, which hung from the branches, all over the tree, in abundance. She returned unto Jack quickly, for she worried he might roll off the tree, and fall down. She used the rope, to tie him to the core of the great tree, and then, wrapped some dry moss around him. “This will keep you warm.” she said. But Jack hadn’t heard her; he was fast asleep.
It was late afternoon, when he woke, finding himself in a moss hut, held up, and entwined together, by twigs and branches. Looking around, he then discovered, Lithia sleeping next to him. He poked her a couple times. “Lithia wake up…wake up Lithia.” Jack grew impatient, and shouted. “Wake up!” Lithia sprung to her feet, pulling out one of her knives; and not realizing, where she was for a moment, she smirked, then apologized. “Oh… sorry Jack.” she put her knife back in her belt, continuing, laughingly. “Did I frighten you?” Jack replied, with a slight grin. “Ha, what do you think?”
Jack stretched and yawned, walking out of the moss hovel. And then, he became conscious, that he was entangled in a heap of dry moss and rope, weighing him down; and he slowly, pulled it off, piece by piece. Lithia came out right after him, taking a deep breath. She glanced at him, as he took the last piece of moss off of himself, and threw it down, upon the impressive surface, under their feet; a thirteen foot wide branch. Lithia took notice. “I wrapped you up, when you were sleeping, so you wouldn’t get cold… get a chill, and grow sick.”
“Ah, thank you! So how are we going to get down from here?”
Jack leaned over, looking at the Forest floor below. Then, without warning, Lithia grabbed hold of him, and jumped down, cradling him in her arms like an infant.
How dare she. Jack felt emasculated, being handled in such a way; had he no pride! He shrugged away from her clutches, as soon as they were safely on the ground.
“Don’t handle me like I’m helpless; I can take care of myself.”
She ignored his statement. “We better get moving.” As Jack followed, he tripped clumsily upon a tree root, with a hotheaded attitude; which would have been humiliating for him, if Lithia had seen. He quickly scrambled to his feet, and contended to catch up to Lithia.