Seeing how utterly dejected that Stone acted, Elissa couldn’t help but laugh lightly, wrap her arms around his massive frame, and hug him. “It’s fine,” she assured him, grinning wildly. “Truth is, you might not have ripped that damn thing at all. As wisp thin as it was, I might have been the one who ‘broked’ it rolling it up and wrapping it around your head.”

“Anyway,” Elissa laughed, “it’s not like it was actually of any use. It was too thin to actually hide anything that clothes are supposed to hide, and if anyone had to rely on it for warmth or protection, they should just give up and go ahead and die. I’m not upset you ripped it,” she assured him gently, slowly unwrapping her arms from Stone to stare directly into his sad eyes. “I was just curious what the heck happened to it, since I hadn’t seen it,” she admitted, honestly.

“It hang from tree,” Stone told her, his deep voice still sounding slow and sad. “Me wash it, but when hang in tree, it not dress not more. Just ribbons.”

Laughing merrily, Elissa stretched on her tiptoes and wrapped her arms around Stone’s massive neck, then kissed him lightly on the tip of his nose again. “It’s fine,” she assured him once again. “As thin as the damn thing was, it probably would’ve fell apart in the wash for anyone. You didn’t do anything bad to it.”

Releasing her grip on his neck, Elissa turned and eased over to where the lanterns hung. Getting one of the larger ones off a hook on the post, she shook it a few times to listen to the oil jostle inside it. Nodding with satisfaction to herself that it was indeed ready to light, she lifted the glass globe and adjusted the wick up slightly. Without exerting any real effort, Elissa called forth a small flame from the tip of her finger with her magic, and used it to light the wick. By the time she had the globe back down and the wick adjusted to a proper height so it didn’t burn too hot or smoke too much, and turned back around, Stone was heading out the entrance of the cavern all alone.

“Wait a minute!” Rushing to catch up, Elissa grabbed hold of Stone’s left arm with her right hand and tugged it gently. “Where are you going? We just got here!”

“Fetch wood,” Stone told Elissa simply, stopping to turn his head and stare at her. “Make fire. Cook soon,” he explained patiently, in his own monosyllabic way.

Frowning slightly, Elissa asked, “Do you want me to go with you?”

Shaking his head from side to side, Stone simply replied, “Back soon. ‘Lissa rest,” in that same deep, dragged out voice of his.

“Fine,” Elissa agreed, letting go of her grip on Stone’s forearm. “I’m not used to wandering around the forest dressed like this anyway,” she admitted, trying to resist the impulse to cover herself up with her arms as she thought about it. “I’ll wait here on you,” she promised, “but you hurry back soon.”

“Stone soon,” he promised, holding up a single thumb in her direction. “Before rain.”

“Rain?” Frowning slightly, Elissa stared out of the cavern entrance and tried to gauge the skies. They were still clear and blue, and she couldn’t see any indication that it was going to rain anytime soon. Puzzled, she had to ask, “You think it’s going to rain soon?”

Stone just nodded and then slowly turned and started walking back out into the forest. “Rain soon,” he promised, then added, “Stone sooner.”

Laughing lightly, Elissa simply nodded in agreement. “Then I’ll be expecting you back before the rain comes,” she told him, as she followed to the entrance and watched him slowly lumber past the bushes and head deeper back into the forest. “Maybe I’m starting to understand him a little better,” Elissa mused, as she watched his broad back disappear out of sight.

Once she was certain Stone was gone, Elissa half giggled and then turned, and holding the lantern up high so it’d illuminate all around her better, she turned and started down into the tunnel to her right to explore the cavern a little better and see where they went.

Elissa didn’t have to wander far down the right tunnel, before it opened up into another large, hewn-out cavern. Various crates and boxes were stacked in tight, neat rows, creating a maze-like path through the cavern floor, and shelves lined the walls, packed tight with cans and stacks of plain gray cloth.

Frowning slightly to herself, Elissa tried to puzzle out why the room was packed so full of stuff. “A storeroom of some sort,” she reasoned, heading over to pick up one of the bundles of gray and examine it – a thick, winter cloak. It was several thick winter cloaks stacked into a neat pile, Elissa realized after examining some of the other bundles as well. Moving to the side and rifling through other bundles, Elissa uncovered several thick winter blankets, gloves, scarves, pants, and curtains.

“It’s where they store their winter provisions,” Elissa laughed, suddenly putting all the pieces together. The dark cavern would naturally help keep the cans of food cool in the hot summer months, and the earth would work insulate against the bitter cold of winter and help keep them from freezing and busting. Many families would have a root cellar for storing such things, but apparently Stone’s family had made use of the natural caverns on their land and used them instead.

Picking up one of the cloaks, Elissa fought with temptation for several moments before putting it back down. “It’ll probably be too hot to wear this time of year,” she told herself, shaking her head slightly. “Besides, I’ve got over six more days to serve Stone. I’m not supposed to give in to my own embarrassment. For all I know, he likes me dressed like this,” she giggled.

“Probably does,” Elissa mused, smiling slightly to herself. “Oversized brute, or not, he’s still a man. And,” she reasoned, “I’m certain he knows what’s down here. If he actually wants me to have them to wear, he’ll give them to me. I’m not just some thief to take things that belong to other people,” she reminded herself firmly. “These aren’t mine, and I really don’t have any right to use them.”

“Though,” Elissa giggled lightly to herself, glad nobody was around to hear her talking to her own flickering shadow, “out of all those clothes, the boots are the most tempting to just grab and put on!” Admitting it out loud made her giggle at herself even more, but the truth was the truth. Sure, she didn’t enjoy running around naked and jiggling all over the place, but she knew just how hot and itchy those woolen clothes would be in the summer heat. She could resist the desire to bundle herself up in them fairly easily, but her feet weren’t used to being exposed to the cold stone or the cool grass, and she had to be very careful where she stepped so she didn’t step on thistles, or bees getting nectar from some flower, or anything like that!

Of all the things to tempt her into taking them without permission, it was the shoes which she was having the hardest time pulling her eyes away from – and that revelation about herself amused Elisa to no end. ‘To think,’ she giggled, ‘I care more about keeping my toes warm, dry, and safe, than I do about the rest of my modesty! Mother would be appalled at me!’

Finally forcing herself to pull her gaze away from the diabolical temptation of the shoes, Elissa resolutely turned her back on the shelves and worked her way back up the tunnel to the main cavern and down the other passage to the left.

Elissa had to go a little slower and be a little more cautious, going down the left passage, as the stone floor was slightly damp, causing the loose dust on the ground to congeal into a slick, cool mud which squished between her toes, and threatened to slip beneath each careful footstep she placed. The slop here was also more inclined than the gradual passage down to the right, and thick vines and lush roots drooped longingly from the ceiling and cascaded rampantly along the walls, giving a sense of traversing downward through some dark spider’s web, heading towards the cobwebby center core, where some massive creature of darkness lay in wait to devour an unsuspecting traveler.

Several times, Elissa slowed and glanced back over her shoulder, up towards the entrance, but each time she did, she refused to give in to her fear and continued to work her way ever onward and downward. As long seconds slowly turned into longer minutes, the passageway finally got steep enough and slick enough that Elissa had to lean her weight against the wall and use the clinging vines to help her stay upright and keep her footing as she continued on ever deeper and darker into the earth, feeling as if she was some unwanted invader stealing into a forbidden tomb.

Right as Elissa decided she’d pushed her luck too much and that it was time to turn back, her foot came down on empty air instead of landing on the slick floor, and she suddenly found herself screaming and plunging into darkness. Uncertain what lie beneath her as she fell, Elissa forcibly tossed the lantern she was holding hard to her left side, where it erupted into an explosion of flame and smoke, as she continued to fall ever downward past it.

‘I don’t know what I’m going to hit,’ Elissa’s mind screamed as she plummeted into the depths of the earth, ‘but at least I’m not going to break a lantern and have my corpse burnt to a crisp when I reach the bottom!’


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  • Dark Dream Weaver


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