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Kia Arnold knelt in a forest clearing, her eyes closed against the sight she knew surrounded her. Tall trees with their dark trunks, thick and strong and dying. Leafless branches, wilted shrubs, sickly vines hanging limp and lifeless.

She sat amid silence and decay, and knew it was all her fault.

She should be able to fix this. There had to be a way. But even when she spent days in toil, nothing she tried had any impact on the eternal dying of her forest.

Once, the trees might have been reaching for the sky, grasping toward new heights. Once, the underbrush may have provided sanctuary and concealment for moving stealthily through the forest.

If it ever had, Kia didn’t remember it.

One hand rested upon the sandy dust of the ground, inscribing slow spirals in the lifeless dirt that lay dry and vacant of value.

Kia felt as though she should weep. There was a great tragedy here, one whose full meaning escaped her grasp and fled her mind.

Something bumped against her hand. She instinctively jerked back, eyes snapping open to stare down at the source of the unaccustomed intrusion.

A grey lizard skittered backward, its large unblinking eyes watching her warily. It was the first living creature she’d seen, and Kia reached out slowly and gently toward it. “You don’t have to be afraid,” she said softly. “I love lizards. If I were a pet person, which I decidedly am not, a lizard would be my first choice.”

It flicked its tongue in the air, then hesitantly stepped toward her hand.

“Hut shah,” she whispered, and the lizard seemed to respond to her voice. It stared up at her face, silvery back glistening, black spots clearly visible along its sides as she leaned closer.

She gingerly picked it up. It was beautiful, fragile-looking and lighter than she'd expected, smooth and soft as though it were made of smoke and glass instead of flesh and scales.

Sound, faint and rhythmic.

Footsteps?

Kia spun, startled, but no one stood behind her. There was no sign of anyone nearby at all.

She carefully slipped the lizard in her pocket, where it curled up contentedly, and crossed to the nearest tree. She selected a sturdy branch and threw her weight against it until it came free with a resounding crack. She froze a moment, listening, but her action hadn’t attracted any obvious notice. Hastily snapping off the narrow end and any protruding sub-branches, she turned it into a passable weapon. Its comfortable weight felt good in her hands.

Now armed, Kia gripped her branch and crept forward, softly moving with the agility and grace that had once made her a master thief. She needed to know who was intruding in her forest. As she crept toward where she thought the footsteps had sounded, she heard them start up again, pattering toward the clearing. She broke into a run, leaping out behind the intruder, branch raised—

It was a girl, maybe seven or eight years old, wearing a pale tattered dress and a pink backpack.

She smiled up at Kia, seemingly unafraid. “Can you help me? I’m lost.”

“Me too,” Kia replied curtly. “Can’t help you.”

"It's okay. I have a map. I just don't know how to use it." The girl rummaged in her backpack, then offered Kia a piece of paper. She grinned as though this were a great treasure.

Kia took it, feeling oddly irritated. The map was drawn in a sloppy style, with crude stick-figure style drawings is the only indicators.

"Who are you?" Kia asked, while she examined the terrible map.

"Ivy!" The girl smiled mischievously, as though this were the greatest joke ever devised.

"Just Ivy? No titles, no surname?"

"Nope! Just Ivy."

"Well. It's nice to meet you Ivy. I'm Kia."

"Oh, I know who you are, Miss Arnold. You are my guest and my responsibility. I know everything about you."

Kia nodded, not doubting the girl’s word. Ivy somehow seemed like the sort of person who knew everything.

She came to the conclusion that they were currently in the area depicting a single cactus-like tree, since none of the other images on the map fitted. In the middle was clearly a house; above it was a lumpy circle which could either be a lake or a sheep. It did seem to have legs, though those might've been pond weed or cattails. Opposite Kia’s forest-cactus scribble, a dark squiggly spiral dominated the left half of the map.

"What's over here?" Kia pointed at the squiggle.

"I don't know. Can you show me?"

"I don't know if I want to."

The girl made a pouting face.

Kia shrugged. "I'm going to check out this sheep/pond thing. If you want to tag along, I'm not stopping you, but I need food and water."

The girl giggled. "No you don't. Silly."

Kia immediately knew she was right.

Something was wrong here. Why had she thought she needed food? Hadn't she always needed food though? Why wouldn't…

How long had it been since she’d last eaten? A month? A year? How had she forgotten?

"Don't worry about it,” the girl said confidently. “Follow me. We need to go."

"Where? Why?"

"There's someone you need to meet."


 

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About the author

Asviloka

  • Just Add Magic!

Bio: I've been writing longer than I can remember, but only started taking it seriously around '08 when I discovered nanowrimo and started attending conferences. Since then I've written several million words of practice stories leading up to posting here starting in '19.

My goal is to continue to perfect my craft and find a way to make writing my fulltime occupation rather than an obsession pushed aside by the necessity of working to support myself. Whether that means traditional or independent publication, building a strong patreon following, or something else entirely, I have yet to discover.

I always welcome suggestions for improvement and gladly accept all feedback, positive or negative. Don't hesitate to let me know what you think, and please consider leaving a rating or review! :)

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