Somewhere, an unseen bird chirped to welcome a pale blue light of the morning that had only just begun rising to light up the world outside of the forest with a new day. But there, down on the forest floor, the long dark shadows still had a few moments as the leaves of the ageless woods lent their canopy to delay the approach of dawn. Only the earliest creatures of the day were beginning to rise up, but remained cautious and quiet in their nightly retreats. They could sense that the last few things of the night had yet to crawl into their everdark corners in the depths of the roots and earth, and these things they showed utmost fear and respect. Only the birds up high on their branches and small insectoid creepers knew they would run into none that would bother them. Everywhere, as if by command of the first note of the morning bird, the undulating slither and chitter of the night was slowly getting outshadowed by the calm melodic rippling of the forest stream, until eventually utterly disappearing.
More birds began cautiously testing their voices, disturbing the slumber of Astrid - a young girl - who had huddled up in a natureís own shelter formed in the crevice between a large moss topped boulder and thick roots. The stone was cold against the skin the moss on which she had slept had overnight shared its moistness with some of her clothes.
The awakening was alien compared the mornings she had lived in the village, and it was not just because the warmth of home was missing. Even in the woods around the village, there would have been that distant chatter coming from where the houses were and the ever present roar of the sacred waterfall that cut itís path between the cabins of the chief and the seer. But there was no laughter of people here and the trickle running through these woods was but a tiny fledgling compared to the stream back home. This was not home, and there was no one else, just the lonely girl with back her against untouched nature.
If the morning was like a dream, then the last night had been a nightmare.
Like so many other times, the games of that night had started as just an innocent game of dare between Astrid and her childhood friend Calden. When challenged, he had boldly ventured into the forbidden cave behind the last water curtain of the sacred waterfallís last step downhill. His grin and words had made light of the warnings of the moldy elders and legends as they had treaded into the narrow descending tunnel of wet slippery stones. The smile he had shown her before turning his back to her and heading in first could have been the last grin Astrid would see on his face.
Something had happened in that cave when Calden jumped on the stone slab that had been the only thing in the room which lied at the end of that tunnel. One moment he had been Calden, then suddenly a strangeness had descended upon the children. The cold air of the waterfall cave had become a musky breath of warmth in an instant without either of the children casting a spell on it. A wind that could not be felt by skin had made the light of the sphere hovering on Astridís palm flicker like it was a small candle flame facing a tempest. The shadows that the waxing light of the orb made had revealed flashes of a silhouette of some enormous creature, and with each flicker it had crept closer to Calden. In vain he had hopped off of the stone table and backed towards a corner, begging the shadow to halt. It took him nonetheless, jumping right from the walls into air where it was sucked into the boy's eyes and mouth. His screams had filled the cave, but before the whole shadow was gone inside Calden, a small part of it slapped Astrid's shoulder at the same moment that Calden fell silent and they both fell unconscious.
Astrid had awoken on the rock bed of the cave with intense pain on her shoulder, just to see Calden slowly walk outside the range of her light, out of the cave. When the boy stopped at the edge, the face that had glanced behind at her certainly certainly belonged to him, but the bright hopeful gleam of Caldenís eyes had been replaced with a chilling otherness. With perfectly smooth motion, the boy's head had turned away from Astrid. He ran.
They had went straight through the waterfall. Caldenís body hopped right along the river from one boulder to another like his body was a feather. Into the woods and straight for the forest the chase had led, blowing through a prickle thicket that had retarded Astridís advance, but seemed only to embrace and aid whatever it was that directed the boyís escape. She could still see his dark long hair flash between the trees when they had crossed the village border, running right past a knee high arrangement of stones with old marks carved in them. The wall that they had for so long respected for keeping danger out of the village went dismissed in the heat of the chase. She had ran, probably for hours, but he could not be caught.
When Astrid first had stopped in exhaustion the forest had swirled around her. Strange lights on the branches were as blurred as the darkness between the trees. The constant throbbing pain on her right shoulder had only gotten more agonizing.
The rest seemed to have taken the pain away. There were no signs of Calden now. Only more moss covered trunks of thick trees spread around in each direction for as long as the eye could see. Suddenly, a familiar voice interrupted the morning choir of birds and stream right below Astridís ear, as if someone was whispering from behind her. It was Calden! It returned louder with each word, with clear panic mixed in the still boyish tone of her friend. ďWhere am IÖ itís dark, I canít see anything!? Where is this? I canít move!! Astrid! Where are you? Help! Help!!! Someone help me! Astrid! HELP ME PLEASE I CANíT MOVE! Whatís happening?!Ē