Deeper

This might become a longer piece or even full-length novel (that’s why the cliffhanger ending)


The wings were translucent, the rippling image of the shadowed white peaks shone through them, insubstantial. Behind the mountains, the moon peeked, but it too seemed subdued. The night was a silent petrichor soup, the aftermath of the slow, lazy sort of rainy day. There had been nothing but books and tea on the couch for hours and hours and hours and-

Well, some amount of time. Anastasia didn’t even own a clock.

She was watching the return of Angel, which was not his name. But he was tall, and always shadowed, as though permanently beneath a cloud. When he left each night to return each morning, he took the form of an enormous bird, with feathers of infinite blues and deep purples and even some that looked dark as night at the tips. Just as the mountains relinquished the light of the moon, just as the trees sighed and the other creatures grew silent in their small stirrings and mutterings, just as the key was turned in the Tower lock; it was then that he emerged.  

She’d peer at him from her golden telescope, pointed out the tiny window, and watch his stooped form shift and change until there was a boy no more but only feathers and talons and a horrifying screech. He’d open his massive wings, caw into the night, and soar away from his home, the skyscraping baobab tree at the center of her forest. Then she’d crawl into bed, hug her pillow, and lie awake until she fell asleep or morning came.

When the sun rose, Angel was ragged and exhausted. He’d plummet from the sky, and crumple into the branches of his tree, slowly shifting back into his human form. Each night, more feathers would fall from his wings. Now, they were barely there, nothing but memories of wings. He still stood strong that night, shoulders back before curling into a ball, emerging once more as a proud but decrepit azure raven.

In Anastasia’s woods, after rainy days, the mist rises above the tops of the trees, trapped by the mountains on either side. The vines beneath it seemed to crawl and slither, almost alive.

Anastasia was sure there were monsters in that wood.

It was the night that Angel missed his tree entirely, the night the feathers ripped from his skeletal violet wings as he was torn by vicious branches, the night his pained caw could be heard throughout the forest…

That was the night Anastasia’s door had forgotten to be locked. That was the night her bare feet first touched forest floor.

 

The ground sloped gently downwards, so that Anastasia’s feet dug into the deep navy blue earth, and small beetles skittered between her toes. The canopy was so thick that her only bearings were away from the Tower, which meant, to her, simply forward.

As she ventured further, the night, trees, and worms beneath her feet became thicker. Birds the size of sheep began to gather in the trees above her, almost chanting in their haunted, cannibalistic voices. Her nightgown, baby blue but growing dirtier by the minute, pressed its laced ruffles against her arm, and gooseflesh crept up her clammy flesh. The darkness was such that her pale skin seemed to glow. Here and there along a near-overgrown path, small green mushrooms shined and hummed.

Where had the mountains gone? The stars that glimmered above her window?
What was Angel doing living in a forest like this one?

The trees were thicker than the entirety of her tower now, and dwarfed her, like huge ominous columns on some giant’s front steps. With a methodical clack, clack, clackclackclack, a monstrous centipede — so big its pincers might have taken her leg — curled slowly around a nearby trunk. Hundreds of small pointed legs tapped against the bark, and the wood beneath it groaned.

She swallowed and opened her mouth, speaking to herself to ward off the shivers.

“I can always just go back to where I came.” She muttered.

Thump.

The canopy, miles above her, shivered. The blue ground shook. She stumbled, knocking her feet into a gnarled root on the ground.

“I think-”

Thump.

She stumbled again. Her voice grew softer.

“I might-”

Thump.

Above her, a great eye appeared between two trees, blinking. The iris was glossy and yellow, the pupil slitted, and a clear eyelid flicked sideways across it. Soon followed a long snout, with a smoldering nose at the end, and two fangs, long and pointed and thick like chimneys made of polished marble.  Smoke curled from the dragon’s nostrils, the scales a deep purple in the trickle of moonlight.

“-be lost.” She gulped, hands scraped and bleeding from tripping into tree branches.

Then, she screamed.

 

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