Eyes of the Forest
The Rebel survivors from Greenthorne Lake had been travelling for almost two days. Their food supply was still full and they were lucky that the forest was home to so many streams and tributaries.
So far it had been an easy journey, with relatively flat terrain. Each step they took brought them closer to reuniting with the rest of the Rebellion.
It was around midday when the Lake began to curve, signaling that it was time to cut through the forest entirely.
"Are we still sure this is a good idea?" Cas asked, adjusting his travel pack.
Weston looked down at the girl lying on the pony, her eyes still closed. "We have to," he said. "If she stands any chance surviving, we have to."
Kane nodded solemnly. "It'll be alright," he said, "as long as we keep a straight path."
Weston touched a hand to the soldier's forehead, feeling the warmth. Tinker was lying below her feet, mewing quietly.
The wound on her leg was concerning to him, as it had been almost three days since she'd received it.
"We have to move quickly," he said, slinging the travel pack back over his shoulders.
Kane and Cas agreed before they continued to journey on, and he band of soldiers moved slowly always from the shore of the Lake into the thick of the forest.
For awhile it seemed the same to them, just as spacious and clear. But eventually the trees began to grow closer together and vines hung down from them idly.
The more they moved, the more Weston felt that they were being watched. He couldn't explain it, and didn't question his companions about it. He knew by their demeanor that they didn't feel the same.
Moon seemed to share his sentiments as she kept close, her whiskers twitching at the slightest sound.
He supposed that it could be Elves, and a part of him was hopeful of the possibility. On the other hand, they were soldiers, and he wasn't sure that the Elves would be fond of anyone walking through the forest that held their city.
Still, the young Rebel soldiers kept moving, Weston still keeping an eye out for any unusual movements or sounds. The other two Shifting Cats had begun to catch on as well, as Tinker was alert still lying beneath the girl's feet. Spook was posted on the top of Cas's travel pack, his dark blue eyes wide.
"I'm starting to get creeped out," Kane confessed, looking at the two of them. "I don't know why, though. It just feels..."
"Quiet," Cas finished.
"I'm sure it's nothing," Weston lied, glancing all around them.
The forest was now much darker.
Suddenly, there emitted a sound from beside them and all three of the boys jumped. Upon realizing it had come from the injured soldier, Weston ran over to the pony and looked back into her eyes.
She was breathing heavy, her mouth open, mouthing something almost in a whisper.
"What? What is it?" He asked frantically, taking her hand in his.
She continued to mouth it weakly until Weston heard it.
"Water?" He asked. "Water?"
She nodded and Weston released her weak hand from his grasp.
"Water!" he yelled at Kane and Cas.
Without hearing a response from them, Weston ran through the trees, a few lengths in, searching for a nearby stream. Moon took after him, leaping over fallen branches and bouncing off of small stumps.
He located one near enough and dipped down a large container from his travel pack. It took him only a moment to realize that he was not alone; that the forest did indeed have eyes.
After putting the container back into his pack, he rose slowly, looking ahead of him.
As if they appeared out of thin air, a figure with long silver hair stepped out from behind a tree, his expression perplexed.
Moon hissed, warning the stranger.
Weston stood frozen as the figure took a step towards him; almost transfixed at the sight of him.
A scream came from Moon's throat before she leapt towards the stranger. As the feline soared in the air, she was transformed into a large black animal, surprising both Weston and the stranger.
The figure was knocked over, with Moon standing over him growling defensively.
"Moon," Weston called, stepping over the stream.
The now great beast turned back around and stepped away from the stranger, a low growl still deep in her throat.
Weston could see now that the figure was indeed an Elf, with long silver hair that was tucked behind his pointed ears.
He stood to face Weston, his expression still curious.
The young Rebel soldier noticed something peculiar about his eyes. The felt familiar to him.
"Who are you?" he asked, his voice almost in a whisper.
"I am Aero," the Elf said, towering over Weston. "And who are you, half-blood?"
The soldier's eyes widened, his mouth dropping open. "I-- How did you know that I--"
"Those are Elven eyes," Aero said, lifting his chin. "As are mine."
When Weston didn't say anything more, Aero pointed to Moon. "That's a Matriarch Shifting Cat. You're lucky to have found such a powerful adversary."
Weston shook his head, blinking in disbelief.
"Now," Aero mused, folding his arms. "What brings you this far into Greenthorne Forest?"
"I-- Well, we-- My comrades and I, we're with the Rebellion and we got, well, separated from the rest of our fellow soldiers. We're just trying to make it to the other side of the Lake, we--"
Suddenly Weston's mind went back to the girl. The water.
"Wait! I have to-- the water," he said, pointing to where he came from. "I have to go, I'll be right back. Wait here. Please."
The young soldier turned away from Aero and rushed through the trees back to where he left his fellow Rebels. The branches and vines nicked his arms as he went. Eventually he broke through to them, his breath heavy.
He whipped out the container of water as Kane and Cas were still crowded around the girl. Weston noticed her eyes were still open as he approached, a hint of relief evident on her face as he lifted the container to her lips.
She drank a few sips and then leaned her head back, taking in a deep breath.
"We have to go back to the stream," he told Kane and Cas.
They both gave him looks of confusion.
"I saw someone-- an Elf, I mean. I left him there, I told him I'd be back--"
"Wait, what?" Kane asked in almost disbelief. "An Elf? Where did it come from?"
"At the stream," Weston reiterated, pointing in the direction. "I have to-- we have to go back. Maybe he can help us. He might be able to help her," he relented, looking in the girl's direction.
Cas and Kane gave each other concerned looks, but followed Weston nonetheless. He hurried forward through the trees, aching to get back to Aero.
"It's just through here," Weston instructed, pointing through the trees.
When they got to the stream they were alone. There was no sign of the Elf anywhere.
After a few moments Cas turned to him. "Maybe you thought you saw it," he offered.
Weston shook his head, crinkling his eyebrows. "No. No, I talked to him. He was right here."
Kane shifted his weight, picking up Tinker. "How long has it been since you've had some water?"
"No," Weston protested. "I know he was here, I'm not making this up, I--"
"Are these your half-blood friends?" came a voice from behind them.
The three of them turned to find Aero standing between two trees. Moon was perched perfectly on his arm as the top of her head was stroked rhythmically.
Weston smiled as the cat jumped down from the Elf's arms. She rubbed up against the soldier's legs affectionately.
"No," Weston answered. "Just me."
"Half-blood?" Kane wondered out loud. "What does that mean?"
The Elf ignored his question and eyed the both of them curiously. He lifted his sharp chin and rubbed it idly, attempting to make sense of their small band.
Cas looked at the Elf up and down, then settled on his face. "You... You're an Elf!"
Aero lifted an eyebrow and then grinned in amusement, revealing a set of perfectly white teeth. "I am. And you are men..." he trailed off, his eyes now fixed on the soldier riding on the large pony. "Except this one."
Aero glided over to her, touching her unconscious face with the tips of his fingers. He examined her wound softly and then turned to them.
"How long has she been like this?"
Weston stepped forward, taking her limp hand in his. "Almost three days now."
Aero shook his head. "She won't last the night."
"Can't you help her?" Weston pleaded, locking eyes with the ones that mirrored his own.
"Not here," the Elf confessed.
He walked away from them in the direction of a deeper part of the forest.
The soldier's faces were contorted with disappointment and hopelessness as he walked away. But then the Elf turned around and cocked his head to the side, gazing at them expectantly.
"Come," he said, holding a hand out to them. "If you want to help your friend, we need to keep moving."
With feelings of pure relief they followed Aero deeper into the forest, the sun's rays no longer peaking in from above the trees. It now had a green, almost blue tint the farther in they traveled.
Weston held back with the pony, keeping an eye on the girl's breathing. He watched as Cas conversed with Aero, the amusement on both of their faces evident.
There were so many things Weston wanted to ask the Elf. Maybe he'd known his father. Perhaps he'd find out more than his mother was willing to tell him.
They traveled only a short time before they came upon a large cliff. Aero led them to the left and they walked along it for awhile.
Weston peered up at the strange carvings that covered the cliff. The farther they walked, the carvings began to grow in number until they seemed to cover every inch of it.
That was when Aero stopped, signalling a halt.
Slowly, the Elf raised his hands and placed them on the side of the cliff. With his eyes closed he began to whisper something in a language they couldn't understand.
"Hela doe mareem ka na..."
Suddenly the cliff began to shake. The stones in front of them began to move until a large hole revealed itself. It was completely dark inside but Aero walked in confidently, motioning them after him.
The pathway was smooth as they walked along, only lit by the opening behind them. Eventually they saw a light in front of them just as the stone behind them began to block up the entrance.
They moved forward, following the Elf until they reached the end of the tunnel.
He turned to face them and then extended his hand to all that lied before them.
"Welcome to the Hidden City," Aero said, his pale blue eyes twinkling with pride. "The Realm of all Elves."