Zebra, Mule, and I stood abreast, as always, and studied the newcomer. Sea Horse reared up from his pale green tentacle of a tail. His upper half resembled the cavalry horses behind us, complete... [+]
The grass was once a feathery green ocean, rippling waves back and forth in the humid summer breeze. I loved this wind, with the air so thick it turned your lungs into a comforting, energizing flame. Your nostrils would burn with each exhale, as if there was something clawing to escape. The vibrant poppies littering the ground, the narrow creek that flowed nearby, the vague aroma of the coming rain; all of it vanished. As the orange sky faded slowly into a deep purple, and then black, the beauty that once blessed the land disappeared.
The fragile moon hung in the sky as if it would suddenly fall. The stars that normally speckled the expanse chose not to arrive that night. Without them, the horizon line blurred, melting the sky and ground into one.
An unsettling, unwelcoming cold hung in the air and seemed as if the oxygen supply would simply run out. I blinked once, slowly. The next time I opened my eyes I no longer felt the blades of spidery grass brush against my bare legs. All was still. Not even the gusts of wind from before could be salvaged. I couldn't see anything at all, as if Night himself had blindfolded me. Where am I? I wondered.
Then I heard something.
It was very low, almost inaudible. As far away as it sounded I let my keen ears wander, search for its owner. I took a step forward but realized what I stood on was not the soft dirt I was accustomed to, but something harder. I bent over and ran my hand against the surface. It was very rough and cold to the touch. I began walking in the direction of the noise, my heart pounding erratically under my thin white dress. Every few feet I would bump into a rock, causing it to echo as it clattered against the ground. The ebony environment around me encroached on my personal space until I was choking on it. The darkness slunk around my raw, dirty toes, molded around my chilled legs and twisted around my long locks of hair. Without light, the world seemed deprived of the very life it was just teeming with. My breath came out in quick, fearful gasps. The dark seemed to surround me from all sides, overwhelming me with the might of it all. I could feel it squeezing my lungs, constricting my throat.
The whistling sound from before was now just a vague murmur far off in the distance, and I felt my hope crumble as my knees buckled. I fell to the rough earth, not knowing where to go. Everywhere I looked the darkness was there, following me like a stalker. The world pushed in on me and I folded forward, protecting myself. I tried to blink my nightmare away, but the void flowed onto my eyelids, denying me of a reprieve. I crouched there, feeling terror bubble up in the pit of my stomach. It overflowed in the form of hot tears on my frozen cheeks, and as I wiped them away, the enchanting lullaby from before returned.
Gasping in relief, the change briefly distracted me from my own fear. Now that it was louder I could distinguish more detail. It was a mix of a deep groaning, like a person in pain, accompanied by strange metallic whispers. Both sounds mingled to form a steady, morbid song. Whenever the noises overlapped at the same pitch, a sharp pop would ring through my head. I winced as a pulsating pain erupted in my ears. My feeling of foreboding multiplied, but I thought, what else can I do? I am not just sitting in the darkness forever.
Finally, with a clear direction to travel in, I picked myself up and cautiously shuffled through the rocky terrain. The blackness tried to reach out to me, but I blocked it from my mind, focusing on the guidance of the sound. As I walked towards it, my outright distress dulled to a general unease. My trembling hands regained their composure, my tearing eyes dried, and my hope built with each step.
However, as I got closer to the noise, the pain grew, causing me to hold my hands over my ears. I felt a warm liquid run down my neck, which I guessed was blood, but something compelled me to continue forward.
Suddenly, two lights appeared in front of me, pointing straight at me. I flinched away from the brightness at first, but once my eyes adjusted I carefully continued. I could see the form of a human-like creature crouching on the ground, and I realized it was the origin of the sound.
It kept reverberating throughout the space, piercing me like a knife each time. I cried out as I felt my eardrums burst. My scream was cut off suddenly, and the being's harmful song decreased to a muffled buzz. My head spun with dizziness, and I would have fallen if the creature had not grabbed my arm. It steadied me as the world spun in lazy circles around me, my balance completely thrown off. The sides of my head felt like fire, and I cried silently.
Soon enough, the vertigo diminished, leaving me to peer at the beast in front of me. Its once radiant eyes dimmed, and I could finally see it in detail. Its large hand let go of my arm, and a warm feeling emanated from its touch. It was dark and lanky, with deep gashes from its stretched arms to its toeless feet. Its face seemed slightly human, with a pointed nose and straight, thin lips. Instead of two it had multiple nostrils, all scattered along the bridge of its nose. The deep holes quivered as if it was smelling me. Its eyes, however, were so human I briefly thought it was a person. The whites of its eyes glowed, and its iris was an earthy green, the same hue as mine. The whites of its eyes grew in its light, until they were as bright as lanterns in the darkness. The only thing I could see past the creature's eyes was its protruding ribcage, rising and falling with each breath.
Then, one of its hands abruptly jabbed out at me; before it settled in my flesh I witnessed the flash of its sharp glasslike nails. It pierced my chest, and I felt my heart contract as it ripped it out. My legs went limp and I fell to the cold stone. The monster looked down at me, its beam illuminating my face and the environment around.
The beast dropped my heart onto the lifeless grey stone in front of me. A deep, dreadful agony seeped through my body before everything went numb. My heart, still beating, spewed an inky black blood as it struggled to regain power. Through blurry vision I saw my vital organ turn black and disintegrate into a pile of ashes. I could smell smoke. As I gaped down at the wide hole in my chest I saw the edges were on fire, and from it a tiny, emerald dragon emerged. It turned to me and grinned, revealing razor-sharp teeth. Its bumpy scales rippled as it took off into the black sky, reminding me of the grass I loved in my home village.
For some reason, fate had spared me from death. The creature's eyes faded of its light, as if in celebration. The world was dark once again but then exploded with a fiery brilliance. The baby dragon illuminated the entire area, revealing a tall, rounded cave. Rocks littered the ground in random piles, and stalactites hung from the ceiling like icicles.
As I gazed in awe at the majestic animal, my ears no longer hurt. All the sensation returned to my body, but I felt no pain. In confusion, I peered to the other life form. It stared at me intently, then, as if reading my thoughts, answered, "You are alive. You have been reborn into this world, and with it you have brought a protector." Its voice was surprisingly soothing. "Never take for granted your light. It will help you walk through the darkness without fear."
Unable to stop myself, I opened my mouth to ask it another question, and I blinked. When I opened my eyes again, I stood in the flowing meadow from before, the morning sun slowly peeking through the tall grass. The world seemed brighter, more vivid, and finally I noticed something.
My green eyes glowed.