We didn't rest in the afternoon and just rode on to a little before sunset. There was a small ruin next to the path where we camped. It looked like an old house, but partly build by stone. Perhaps, the more north we rode, the more common stone houses would become. It looked like it collapsed, for some reason, and was abandoned. Part of the roof was still up and made it a very good place for the night. The clouds had been a bit more present today, the few times we could see the sky, and we were glad for some minor shelter.
Curiously enough, we hadn't seen anyone else in the forest yet, which was a little unexpected. As far as I knew, trading still went on between the cities, and these were the fastest paths. There was the option of caravans to skirt the outside of the forest, choosing security over speed. But there must be people going this direction. Deirdre remarked upon it as well, but of course I couldn't provide her with an answer. She knew as much as I did.
Deirdre also wanted me to show her much more of Light than I did the day before. It was only fair, obviously, as she had been showing and teaching me quite a bit of Dark. But it did make me wonder why she wanted to see it so badly? Perhaps it was important for her to find out how it worked, to know it's not a bad thing and just like Dark with a twist.
It was almost unfair, almost everything Deirdre did made me like her even more. Her curiosity, her elegance, her stubbornness and definitely her playfulness. She was good at teasing too, much better than I was, actually. It was very difficult trying to get revenge on her teases as she usually outdid me. Fortunately, it wasn't all the time. After we let go of the Nymph subject, I was mostly safe for the rest of the day. Fortunately, there was never any malice in it, in fact, it felt like we'd been together for months, years perhaps. Everything felt so natural.
I was afraid it wouldn't last. But it was a thought that was of no use. I wasn't without fear, far from it, but I tried not to linger on it for too long.
All of this had went through my head after we ate and we went to sleep. I kept my sword nearby though, this place didn't feel as safe as the Dark Heart, even though it looked quite a bit happier. So we both slept with our hands on the handle, the crystals nearby. I wondered if they were affecting my dreams.
I dreamed again.
_A desert, a large barren desert with hardly any slopes. The sun was shining fiercely down on the sand, burning. There was wind as well, my skin feeling the sand in the air rasping against it. The tips of dunes faded as the sand streaked out on them. There were almost no scents in the air, as if the cooked sand had been cleaned of them. Yellow ground, blue sky, the horizon blurred with the hot air. Barren... except for a small patch of green in the distance.
It felt like taking forever to get there. Distances in the desert are so confusing. Perhaps it was the boiling air, or the light playing tricks, but what appeared to be a patch of green not too far away, was the same patch of green that stayed near the horizon for minutes... hours. Step after step, the sand hardly solid enough and dragging me down, I got closer. I had no idea how much time I passed when I finally stood in front of it.
There wasn't even that much green, just some low bushes, nothing else. Besides the bushes there was no visible water, though the ground was a little darker here, and no creatures that I could see. Until I saw the child. It was a girl, reminiscent of Alice, the fire girl. She sat on the ground in the middle of the bushes, obscured by them from every direction until you were almost on top of her. when I got closer, after I saw her, I realized she was humming. It sounded oddly familiar, unrecognisable though it was.
Had I dreamed this before? Was this a dream?
The girl looked at me as I came closer. "Hello, dreamer. You don't look very surprised."
I blinked, perhaps I wasn't. "It's like I've seen this before, in another flavor or something... I'm Taran, what is your name?"
She pouted playfully. "A name? I never needed one." She shrugged a little, plucking a leaf from the bush and playing with it. "I guess Zoe will do."
I wondered. "Do you know Alice?"
She looked up at me curiously. "Alice? Who's she?"
I shrugged. "It doesn't matter, what are you doing out here?"
She smiled. "Helping the desert." Her voice was almost proud.
"By making things grow, the desert likes new flowers, and trees, and bushes and everything."
I looked around. "But there's no water."
She looked surprised again. "Why do you need water?"
I'd been standing still all this time, so only when I wanted to turn around I noticed that my feet were stuck. When I looked down it was like bushes, weeds and vines had enveloped my feet and lower legs. I tried to break free, but it was too strong, much too strong. It was as if I was enveloped by soft concrete, not scathing but too strong to resist. Still, I didn't want to stay trapped. There was no knife or sword nearby, so I tried to remove the plants with my fingers. But for every vine I removed, two appeared to take it's place.
The girl looked at me with a gentle, friendly smile. "You're helping the desert."
The overgrowth was already at my waist and kept going higher. The plants were cold, much cooler than the hot sand or the sun. When they got to my stomach I realized that they weren't cold, just colder. They were, in fact, almost pleasantly warm. If they hadn't been constricting me completely, it would almost have been a pleasurable sensation. They were creeping up, my chest, my shoulders, getting harder and harder to breath. My neck, my head, my arms, I couldn't move anything anymore, just perhaps blink.
They were so tight, I was in a cocoon of plants that surrounded me completely. My whole body was almost relaxed as it couldn't resist anymore. Each time I breathed out, it pressed stronger against me though until I had hardly any room anymore to breathe. I felt lightheaded with the lack of oxygen spreading through my body, pulling me away slowly from the coils of life.
There no sound, no air, no room, impossible to move. Captured, life squeezed from me slowly, as if I was a grape. My consciousness faded when I couldn't hold on any longer, I fell into that darkness._