Eucleia had always liked the Eight. There were eight tribes in Elysia: the ancient tribes and those who had once come from the Impures. Though they could not be more different, they were all connected by the Eight, in the middle of which the lines crossed. Like mom and dad.
The eight, whose lines had no end, just like as the great Infinipede itself. Her father had explained this to her too: the light had only brought him misfortune, so instead he had begun to believe in what was even more powerful than the light. The All-embracing. The Infinipede, whose eyes were the sun and the moon, and whose legs were the stars.
Not that she'd ever seen any of those - until today. Today was her eighth birthday. Her eighth! There was no better time to finally leave the cave. To see everything with her own eyes, all the things her father always told her about when he returned from his flights. The plants and animals, the sky, the sun ... no, not only that. She would hear the birds sing and the grass would tickle her feet, she would feel it, the wind in her hair -
"Well, look who's already awake."
Eucleia sat up in a flash as she heard a familiar voice, and could not suppress her grin when she saw her father standing there. After all these years she had become accustomed to the dim lighting of the cave. In the morning darkness, too, she recognized his small body, covered with feathers she could never imagine on herself. The color of these feathers - dark blue as the night, even though they appeared gray right now - was the only thing she had in common with him, and only in some places. The rest of her body was dark red like her mother's, but she had neither her Fire Elm scales nor the feathers of her father.
No, she was just an Impure, she didn't even have the white lines on her body that all Elmen had. But that didn't bother her: on the contrary, she liked her place in the Eight most of all. It was the point where the lines crossed each other. The point that united them.
"What are you thinking about?" Her father asked, now sitting next to her on the cave floor.
This wasn't hard to answer. "The Eight."
"The Eight?" He repeated, scratching his chin. "Huh, I could swear there was something ..."
She shifted uneasily back and forth on the animal fur she'd slept on. "I'll be eight today! And you know that."
"Could be." His grin betrayed him, but Eucleia felt that he was well aware of that. "So, my little nightingale, what are you wishing for? What do you want me to bring you from my flight? "
"Nothing," she replied, the plan clear in her head. "This time I'll come with you." "Come along?" Her father repeated, horrified. "Eucleia, that's impossible. You know I can't do that. Out there..."
"... it's dangerous, I know." She remembered everything her parents had told her over the years. "The tribes don't like the Impures, so they can't know that I exist. If they find out, they'll take me with them."
Her father nodded and sounded a tad sympathetic now. "Exactly. We would lose you, Eucleia. Do you want that?"
"No." She sighed. Of course she didn't want to lose her parents, never. Still, she couldn't help but protest. "But we can be careful! It's still dark outside. And you know how good I am at hiding."
She recognized by his facial expression that he now seemed to think about her proposal after all.
"You're nightborn," she continued. "Dark blue! Nobody'll notice us. We'll be flying high up and we'll land only when we know there's nobody else down there."
Her father frowned. "What about Chantico?"
"Mom always sleeps long. We'll be back so fast that she won't even realize we were gone."
"She wouldn't like knowing that you were outside. She knows better than any of us how dangerous her tribe can be." Eucleia's father looked at her with a smirk. "So you must not tell her anything."
Eucleia suppressed a shriek. She tried her hardest to keep her voice low so as not to awaken her mother. "I'm allowed to? You'll really take me with you?"
He nodded and laughed softly as she fell around his neck. "It's your birthday, my dove. Your eighth, no less! I can allow it this one time."
"Thank you, Dad, thank you!" She forced herself to let go. "I'll be very quiet, I promise."
"Good." He stood up and pulled Eucleia up with him. "Then come, before Chantico wakes up."
Her father led her into the main part of the cave, where a huge dark blue bearded vulture was already waiting for them. With several bags tied to its sides, it looked as if it could take off at any moment. As Eucleia ran to the bird, it lowered its featherless head to let itself be crawled there.
"Good morning, Starwing," She greeted the female bird, who answered with a hoarse croak. "I know I got to ride on you already, but today we're gonna fly! Isn't that great?"
Starwing spread out her wings, revealing the reason for her name: Like all companions, she bore the characteristic white markings on her body that, in her case, looked like stars on the underside of her wings.
"If I had a companion," Eucleia asked her father as he helped her sit up and prepared for the departure, "What kind of animal would I have?"
"That's hard to say. You can't force the bond, it just happens. You meet, feel attracted to each other ... and before you know, you've found your partner for life."
"Like you and Mom."
He smiled. "That's one way to put it."
Eucleia felt no fear as they took off from the ground. On the contrary, she had to pull herself together again to make sure she didn't scream of joy. At a breathtaking speed, they went up steeply, through the only hole in the top of the cave. Out of the darkness and straight into the world tinted in the red morning light.
As soon as they were out in the open, under the overwhelming endless sky, Eucleia no longer held back and cheered. Even if they were heard, they would never be caught up here. "The sky, Dad! I can see it, the entire sky! There are still a few stars, and over there the sun is rising!" The eye of the Infinipede, she knew. It was watching her, at this historical moment. Maybe she could dare ...
"Can we land?"
"That would be too dangerous, you know." Her father's gentle voice behind her reached her ears. "Isn't it enough for you to be up here? In the sky?"
"I don't just want to see things, Dad. I want to hear them. Feel them! We can't do that when we're up here."
He sighed and let Starwing lose a little height. "First, let's see if we're really alone."
The vulture flew over rough terrain where there was absolutely nothing to see for Eucleia when she looked down like her father. No one who could attack them - but nothing that interested her either. "We have this ground in the cave, too," she murmured before something attracted her attention. "There's a forest over there! Can we take a look?"
"For you." Her father directed Starwing in the right direction, and Eucleia could hardly conceal her happiness when they landed on the edge of the woods. Real trees! Real animals she could spot! Real -
"You'll wait here."
She froze. "What?"
Her father looked at her sympathetically, but stern, too, was in his voice. "We don't know if anyone else is in this area. From above we couldn't see that because of the trees. I have to see if it's safe for you here. You understand that, don't you? "
Eucleia sighed. "Yes, Dad." She crouched on the ground like Starwing had already done. "But hurry up!"
Her father nodded to her before disappearing into the forest.
Just a few seconds later, Eucleia had enough of sitting idly. She did not mean to follow her father, but the forest called for her. She got up and went to the trees, running her hands over the rough bark. She felt the earth under her bare feet. As much as she enjoyed it, she felt that something was wrong. What was going on?
Eucleia paused and listened to everything that might be the reason for her worries. Suddenly she realized that this was exactly what made her insecure.
She heard nothing.
Her father had often raved about the various bird species, of their magnificent plumage and beautiful singing. It was still early in the morning, normally the birds would have to sing the loudest right now. But they didn't.
But why? The only reason Eucleia could think of was that they were afraid. Scared of something that was lurking in this forest. And her father was in there.
"Come on," she said to Starwing before she ventured into the forest. She followed the path her father had taken and heard the vulture behind her louder than she liked. The bird was just too big to move silently through the woods. But Starwing had to accompany her so that her father could use his magic if necessary.
"Wait," she told the vulture, who surely only stood still because she did. She had heard something. Voices! Close by. Was her father there too?
As quietly as possible, she approached the action, Starwing behind her, quieter this time. Surely she felt Eucleia's sudden tension.
"I'm just passing through," she heard her father say. He, too, sounded nervous.
"And your companion?" Eucleia winced. This voice was deep, rough, and threatening. "Where are your wings, bird?"
No Sky Elm, then. But who was her father talking to then? She sneaked closer.
"My companion is waiting outside. The forest is too tight for her."
A roar was the answer, so striking and frightening that Eucleia had to concentrate hard not to scream.
Starwing however instantly panicked ... and her cries couldn't be missed.
"Are those your wings?" Eucleia heard footsteps and looked frantically for a hiding place - but it was too late. An arm lay around her neck and dragged her into the field of view of at least five red and orange Fire Elmen and their reptile companions. "There's also a bird," said the man holding her. "But I found her more interesting."
"Understandable," grinned source of the threatening voice, a muscular dark red Elm. He glared back at her father, who looked at her anxiously. "Dogoda, right? Do you know this creature?"
"No," he replied, trying to hide his fear. "No, I've never seen this Impure before."
"If that's the case..." A lightning-fast blow and her father sagged to the ground.
A scream escaped Eucleia before she could prevent it. "Dad!"
The Fire Elm grimaced at her, then at her father with the same expression. "Disgusting," he said. "Simply disgusting." A flame began to dance on his palm.
And her father burned.
Eucleia screamed as the fire touched his clothes and then the rest of his body. She screamed louder than ever before. Louder than her father.
Desperately, she tried to break free, but her opponent was too strong for her. His arm around her neck didn't move an inch. "Let me go!", she cried, but without success. The Fire Elmen didn't care about her pain or that her father...
She repressed the thought. His screams as well. Withheld the tears in her face with all her might.
"Take her." The words reached her ears just as her father fell completely silent and only a charred body remained. With him, every urge to defend herself died as well.
Her father was dead. Dead. And only because she hadn't listened to him. Because she'd absolutely wanted to leave the cave. Her father was dead, and it was only her fault.
Eucleia glanced at the sky one last time before she gave up her last resistance. Up there, a gigantic bird flew south as fast as its wings could carry it. Find Mom, she pleaded in Starwing's direction without saying it aloud. Save her from her tribe.
Save her from me.
|Forest of Flames Chapters|
|One: Fire||1: Into the Unknown • 2: The Gift • 3: Travel by Snake • 4: Scorch Lines • 5: Wars to Be Won • 6: Impure Business • 7: Dark Fire|
|Two: Forest||8: Smoke and Feathers • 9: Midnight • 10: Heart of the Forest • 11: The Ones We Love • 12: Shadow Dance • 13: Makeshift Solution • 14: A New Beginning • 15: Eye of the Storm • 16: Traitors • 17: The Return • 18: Wildfire Hill|
|Three: Water||19: Answers • 20: Ancamna Falls • 21: Against the Flow • 22: Starry Night|