Chapter Nineteen: The Shimmering Forest
They ran down a hill and hurried back to the cliff under a full moon. They were racing across the plain toward the rocks when they saw something they could not believe. There were trees ahead, glowing faintly with a wavering light. The shimmering wood was like a fanciful vision, a dream that had shifted somehow into their material realm. It was an impossible forest that could not be explained.
They stepped amidst the glowing trees where they stood for some moments in mute wonder, aware they had passed into a place that was apart from the world they knew. Their forms glimmered with a pale light, as if touched by the power of the mystic forest. Around them, leaves fluttered in a breeze that seemed to sing in the shimmering air. It whistled through branches, blowing across the forest with a sentient grace, and suddenly there was the sense that a power dwelling in this forest was near, sailing toward them in the sighing wind. At once, a luminous being stood before them, glowing so bright they could barely perceive its form.
The light dimmed and, as it faded, a slender being with hair the color of coppery fall leaves and shining eyes stood revealed before them. They stared in wonder at the sylvan spirit whose glowing eyes gazed back at them. Every leaf and blade of grass that stirred around them was a part of her.
She stood there a moment, looking at the three travelers, and then fell to one knee when her eyes met Efkin’s gaze. She spoke and her voice was a crisp breeze of summer: “You honor me, Guardian.”
Efkin stared at the bright spirit with surprise. “Guardian?”
“Forgive me,” the dryad said rising, “I sometimes forget I know more of the destinies of others than they are aware of themselves.”
Efkin stared at the trees. “I have seen this forest before.” He thought for a moment. “I saw a girl in this wood. In a dream, dark creatures surrounded her and she screamed.”
“It was so long ago,” said the dryad. “I was just a child.”
“It was centuries ago, in a time when the Braey warred with an ancient enemy. The evil ones dwelled in the hills, but on a full moon, they sent dire creatures into the forest. Fearing they would harm the wood, I exerted my power over the trees, enchanting them to repel the creatures. I was too young to wield the forces I unleashed and some of the trees I enchanted faded around me, for they were no longer in tune with the earth, and that part of the wood was cast from the material realm on an endless course through the planes.”
Efkin stood staring at the sylvan spirit in a trance. The curse of wood had been laid so long ago no one could recall its origin. Some believed the Braey lords of old had used their powers to banish the trolls from the forest.
She gazed at the elf lord and smiled. “I was just a child.”
Then she turned her glowing eyes upon Ebin. “You are Ebin of the Sword,” she said. “None may stand before your blade, but you have not fought your greatest battle yet.” She turned to Colun and at once the knight remembered something he had forgotten long ago, as if in her gaze he glimpsed the past and saw things that had been hidden for years.
“I have been in this forest,” he said surprised. “Many years ago.”
“You fought hard against a terrible army in the desert of Yoor,” she said, “and might have perished if fate had not brought me to you in that desert where so many were slain.”
The knight was startled, overcome by a flood of memories that seemed to flow into his consciousness with each word the dryad spoke.
“It seemed like a dream,” he said with wonder. “How could I forget?”
“Your memory of that day was clouded, for it would not serve our purposes if others knew of this forest and its path through the planes. There are dire things everywhere in these days and our enemy gathers power in hidden places.
“Where is the horn?” asked Efkin.
“The horn lies far away in the west. I placed it in a temple of stone in the valleys that were carved by your ancestors, where only a Braey may claim it.”
Her crystal voice sang through the shimmering air as she held the elf lord with her gaze. For some moments, Efkin thought he saw a wondrous city, glimmering through a veil of mist under a pink sky. Then it faded and he found himself staring into her glowing eyes.
“Beware the Runes,” said the dryad. “You can heal the lands with the horn, but if you are poisoned, your chord will be corrupted and the forces you summon will destroy the earth.”
Efkin was stunned.
“Make haste, Guardian. The horn must be recovered and the Runes must be broken before the earth will be healed. Hurry now, the enemy is upon us.”
Her bright form was fading and, in another moment, she would be gone, but Efkin still had many questions and, before she disappeared, he asked one.
“Can the war be averted?”
“No, Guardian, there will be war in these lands. A dark storm comes out of the east where dire things are gathering. Go now, my lord, or travel with me through the planes!”
They went running past trees that faded around them, bounding out of the shimmering forest as it disappeared. They reached the plain and turned to see the last glimmering traces of the wood before it shifted away.
And then it was gone.
The three stood there a while in silence, staring across the grassless plain, still in wonder of the bright forest that had stood there moments ago.
And unseen above them, a black shape flitted across the sky, eastward to Mor.