The stranger pressed his muddy palm against Kim's bleeding ear as a sharp whistle rattled inside his tiny head. The two were bloodied, caked in mud and freshly split veins. Kim cringed, painfully trying to focus on the stranger's deep voice, like a distant fire horn, calling out to him from across the crackling evening embers.
"Do the moon twins rise before our mother sun sleeps?” the stranger asked.
Kim shook his head. “I'm not the moon. I'm not anything. I'm dying!”
“Quiet,” the stranger snapped. He stared at Kim's strange clothes, a golden cloak tangled around his oversized armor. “Mother sun must wait, to sleep before the twins arise. And so the twins must wait And so shall you, Woodprince.”
“Woodprince? No, I'm no prince. I'm a coward. A coward!” Kim cried. “I’m dying, aren’t I?” he swung his head low.
“Like our shining sisters above, you shall rise another day.”
“Why do you talk like that? Who are you?”
“You are small for a Woodprince,” the stranger said, pointing the sky.
Kim followed, distracted by the glistening starry night. Balls of light danced above a green thrush, the dark thicket of elm bark surrounding the wounded Woodprince. The world seemed so much bigger, and yet, so much darker now.
"What was that beastly creature?" Kim asked, his four fingered hand pressed firmly against his gash. A shard of glass encrusted with gems festered in the wound.
The stranger ripped a fragment of woven cloth from his belt and wrapped Kim's bleeding head. Long strands of white hair matted against his battle mark.
"By the gods, you've been blessed. She's bestowed to you the beautiful gift of ignorance," Arunakhan said. "You truly do not know? That was a Ravenstar."
Kim froze. He had never met a Ravenstar before, unless you count his nightmares. Tales long ago, just stories. Bird-like beasts with feathers mounting their arms like armor. When the moons rose and roasting fires blazed the sky red, their foul stories were told. The imagined cackles, hidden amongst the forests' whispers, haunted Kim. The Royal clan, Kim's father, mother, sisters and bothers, all gathered by the nightly flames and sang of their horrors. They weren't real though. Stories told to scare children into bed, to keep them safe from the night's darkness.
“My mother, she sang to me the Ravenstar:
'Creatures black, cold, distraught,
Nothing of love,
Hardened souls, consumed,
Noble once, now deceive, the Ravenstar,
Do not trust.
Their hearts stolen.
An empty pit.
They cannot love.'”
“Your people know of the Ravenstar, yet you still wander the woods at night?” the stranger wiped his bloody palms against his silver plated chest, staining the engravings brown.
Kim frowned, lines creasing his low, pale brow. "The foothills grow the Basley, my people's healing herb. It was only a short trip."
"You risk your life over a weed? You're not so smart for a Woodprince.”
“Stop calling me that. I'm no prince.” Kim cowered. He was so much smaller than the stranger, three of him fitting across the stranger's broad shoulders.
The stranger laughed. “Your blood is too thin. Runs all over. By your looks alone, you have the veins of a Woodprince. The entire clan needs thickening." Arunakhan grabbed Kim's forearm and effortlessly lifted him off the ground, swinging him over his shoulder. Dangling, Kim studied at his blood stained armor, noticing the distinct silhouette of a double horned rhino.
“I know you,” Kim shouted. “I know who you are!”
“Then you best keep quiet.” The stranger pummeled through the forest, blending into the night's shadow, Kim's frail frame smashing against the wood.
“Where are you taking me?” Kim whispered. The stranger was a Spartan, a city warrior and Kim had never known a Spartan to offer hospitality to a Woodprince before. Brash, violent, Kim best avoided their infamous drunken clashes and less than cordial demeanor.
"You say you know who I am,” the stranger hollered at the trees as they bent around them. “Then you must also know of our queen, Naruta, the true Dala, foretold by the Metal Box.”
The stranger suddenly stopped, slamming Kim into the ground. The world spun round him. Metal swirling in and out of focus.
“Where are we?”
A twisted heap of metal burst out the center of the Forever Woods. Tethered by thick silver strings, the mountain roared with life, hissing steam around its base. At its a peak sat a towering box made of silver.