It would be impossible to describe the event in the woods beyond the point of the boys abrupt and terrifying departure and the moment in which Rose found himself sitting atop the ancient willow, next to his friend, Leaf, gazing vacantly over the swelling, vibrant landscape. It would be impossible, for it was a time that Rose, himself, would never recount.
“Terrified, you say? He just jumped up and ran away?” the wizard pondered to the vacant sky. He spoke slowly, as if focused on each word individually. It was rare, indeed, that he even spoke at all. He turned in close to Rose. “You touched his mind? This was today?”
“I tell you, I don’t know, my friend. I fear this brings haunted dreams. I feel as if a shadow follows me. How did I make this madness,” Rose asked unto his knees.
The wizard looked gently upon his desperate friend.
“Your stone, you fool. You know the rule. You left it behind. You found a mind not meant to find. I felt it, too. I’m sure that I need not remind you how we set right a thing of this kind?” the wizard said with a stern eye.
“Set it right. Yes. I know. We must set it right. Right away. How? You know? I beg of you, Leaf, help me think. I’m quite frighteningly mad. Quite delirious, yes, and I must fix this nightmare. You know! Yes, I knew you would.” Rose babbled desperately.
“What you must do, you won’t forget. You won’t enjoy. Afraid you’ll have to kill the boy,” said the wizard, staring off into the pulsating blue sky.
It really was quite a beautiful day. The sky was rich and deep, and the air was soft and scented with a moist sweetness. The birds and creatures and aether chattered, quiet and serene. The dense, infinite blanket of the forest spanned to every horizon, and waved rhythmically to the dancing breeze. In any other time, Rose and Leaf would’ve been soaring through the pulse of the day, swept away by brilliant visions of inconceivable reality and life singing in their minds. In another path of time, it would’ve been a remarkable day. Rose had decided that they should return to his home for the stone. He was hoping to find an answer, or something there. Leaf insisted that the only thing they need find was the boy.
The fog had long since sunk into the earth, and the sun was beginning to hang low in the western sky, casting the depths of the forest into shadows and faint whispers. Rose and Leaf moved swiftly and soundlessly along unknown, invisible paths; weaving through a vast army of tremendous boles, and gnarled thickets of vine and scattered bushes, as if they’d taken that exact path a thousand times before.
It can be said that dreamweavers followed no paths, but rather, followed that which they sought to reach – thus, in fact, making paths, not following. Of course, many things can be said that bear no resemblance to any form of truth, in any case; so, I won’t bother to attempt to convince you of a fact that I, in fact, have no true knowledge of. Either way, when Rose and Leaf had reached the greatest depths of the elder wood, paths would’ve been utterly useless.
The trees here were thick and old, and their canopies stretched and mingled in a never ending embrace that formed a dark blanket that closed off the sky from the earth. Underneath, upon the forest floor, was forever night. The scent in the air was potent and bewitching. It lured you into the darkness – deeper, richer, so softly, it pulled, darkening, thickening. No bushes or small trees were there here. Only strange sprawling ferns and scattered clusters of dark flowers, and thick patches of damp moss clinging to the earth.
And the dark.
Ancient shadows, undisturbed for ages, lingering beyond every shape, every motion, gathering the dark into one, all the ages like a flowing stream of midnight dreams into a formless pool of blackness. It’s said that these very shadows hide the mysteries of the night sky in the thickest swells of the bellies. This, of course, is only nonsense, though widely believed. If mortals knew the truth about darkness, they wouldn’t dare say such things aloud. They would also know that the shadows in the heart of Shadow Wood were but mere infants in light of the true ancient shadows that have grown since the first beginnings, and whom do, in fact, hide the doors to the universe.
They traveled deep into the midnight heart of Shadow Wood, until the ground dropped suddenly into a large bowl, both wide and quite deep, rimmed roughly with the great trees of the forest. Within the bowl grew only three massive trees, which formed a nearly perfect equilateral triangle, with sprawling branches that filled the entire bowl with their giant crowns and kept the sky closed out. Nestled at the bottom of the bowl, between the three trees was a large, oddly shaped mound. This was the home of Rose.
They slid silently into the bowl, like shadows hiding within the shadows, until they came to a perfectly symmetrical wall of many coloured stones, built flat into the large mound. Some of the stones seemed to strangely glitter in the impenetrable darkness. In the exact center of the wall was a triangle made of solid stone. Within it was carved a strange fountain. Spouting from it’s great mouth was not water, but daggers, and next to it knelt a woman with the head of a sharply cut diamond gem. Her hands were cupped and reaching out to drink of this deadly thirst.
Rose made a noise and pushed his arms forward, as if moving a tremendous weight. Instantly, the sound of grinding stone filled the air, and a wide door, with the triangular stone being its center, began to open – turning slowly, as if on an invisible axis. Slowly it turned, ninety degrees, and revealing the full strength of its width – three solid feet. They slipped through the entrance, and the door continued to turn until it was once again locked into the wall and invisible. Upon its new face was carved a grand smiling eye with a flowering pupil, and an iris into which was woven a thousand phantom spirits.
Inside, the symmetry of the front wall disintegrated into a large room of exaggerated angles, with walls that appeared as if they were bending. To the right, the room seemed to stretch at least forty paces to the far wall, if not more; but to the left the room had only a span of ten to fifteen paces. The far wall seemed, quite strangely, to be infinite in length. Though the walls stood, in form, far from straight, they reached the same height of about ten paces. The ceiling was a dome of tightly woven branches. So tight, in fact, that there were no gaps, whatsoever.
On the left side of the room were seven small trees in large clay bowls. Each of the bowls bore the carved symbol of the phantasmal eye that watched at the door. Strange fruit ripened on the branches of the trees – round, perhaps the size of a plum, with long hairs that dangled as the fruit hung upon the branches. The hairs glistened with sweet droplets of nectar. These were the fruits of the dream trees, whose syrup could open your mind to the impossible fathoms beyond the known universe. These very trees are believed, unanimously, to be nothing more than myth. If a human did encounter one of these ethereal trees, they would surely claim it to be poisonous and quite dangerous. Humans do funny things with truth. God knows why. They don’t.
To the right of the room, before the walls seemed to fall away to infinity, stood a long table of a strange, blue, marble-like stone, that nearly appeared transparent – with a phosphorescent glow that seemed to come from within, but could not be traced. Twelve seats sat around the table. This was the table of the council, which was once the heart of the divine plan. It was here where the map of paradise had been laid out. Council was held more seldom in recent days.
Rose didn’t even glance at the table as he soared past it and through an archway that split the back wall in two. The archway led into a short hall that seemed blocked at the end by a huge, bulbous stone. The stone was carved into the head of a lion, frozen in a threatening, silent roar. Within the wide, gaping mouth was impenetrable darkness. Rose sped through the orifice heedlessly, with Leaf trailing behind like a glowing tale. They dropped into the earth, turning, winding, weaving a carved stairway of stone, leading them forever downward into a cavernous abyss of black – into the unknown depths of the world.
They came, at last, to a small landing, hidden away, just to the side of the still descending stairs. Upon the wall before them was carved a small image of the haunting eye. Rose touched the flower pupil with an ethereal finger. Rumbling echoed through the sleeping tunnel as the stone wall slid away from them to reveal a dark catacomb. They slipped through the opening. The room was narrow and rather long, and at the far end a soft, glowing light fired pastel beams of colour across the cold walls. Rose approached the light with the slow anticipation of an unknown dread. Something felt different. Leaf followed on his heels like a shadow.
Standing within the glow, the source of the light became visible. It was a flower, made of clear, coloured glass that stood about three feet high. The light appeared to be coming from inside the glass, but, like the table, could not be traced to a definite source. In the center of the delicate folds of the petals was a very small platform in the form of a perfect triangle. Held suspended inside this transparent podium was an eye. It was an animated vision of the silent patience of the spirit watcher. The pupil was a flower in perpetual bloom, always opening layers within layers within layers, yet never growing or shrinking. The iris swam in the hypnotic dance of ghostly spirits fusing and separating and swimming in a many-minded state of oneness. And it was here where the light began, for a thousand colours seeped from the eye, into the stunning glass flower.
Rose, however, stood before this magnificent scene horrified, staring nauseously at the empty platform and the watching phantasmal eye. Leaf paid no attention to the enchanted flower. He stared deeply and solemnly into his friend’s ghostly face. Rose felt the stare and looked up at Leaf. Leaf watched the eyes of his friend, which were burning and terrified.
“I don’t understand, Leaf,” he whispered. “What’s happening!”
Leaf watched him carefully. “It seems we have some trouble. It seems to me you’ve made a double. Now he has your eye. He’s broken the mortal tie. He knows now where his makers lie. I tell you, friend, as I have said, it’s time for this young boy to die.”
The horror flamed to a feverish pitch in Rose’s eyes.
“What have I done? This can’t be, Leaf. Really? You think I brought him into the one? No. He did. He did see me, Leaf. He looked right at me – right into me. I let him in. I did! Oh no, Leaf.”
Rose’s face was sinking into solid form. He was crumbling.
“I know not what lies in store. I know not any mortal that can pass in through your door. This boy you’ve found is something more.”
“He is! He is me!”
“I say, my friend, before this days end, he came for your eye. He should have been hiding and hoping to die. So I ask you why. What drove the boy to seek the eye.”
Rose fell to silence. He didn’t know. If it were really true – if he’d opened the boy to the channels of power, to every extension of all existence, then his human mind had experienced the knowledge of god. A human mind had stood upon the pedestal in the center of chaos.
That would be noticed.
Panic tickled his thoughts. The human mind in the throngs of an omniscient power beyond intelligent conception tends to be drawn to quite nasty things. And there are hordes of very nasty things. Things, I’m sure, that you would beg not to be true, and wish you’d never known until the end of your days.
The boy would be noticed. So would Rose.
He was already quite convinced that this would be his end. The boy already had his stone, and his great wealth of mysterious powers. But why had he taken the stone? Could he use its power to call up spirits? That could be perilous. What drove the boy to seek the eye? Suddenly he looked to Leaf. He stared at him with a piercing gleam.
“Who, Leaf. You said you felt the drain when it happened. Who else!”
The wizard stared with long refrain. “Who felt the pull of that one drain? So close we are to brother Cain. Who didn’t feel would save me pain, if I really must explain.” He bowed his head and stared vacantly into the luminous flower.
Rose watched him with wide eyes. He could see very clearly what Leaf was thinking.
“The Others? Oh no, Leaf. Then there’s no hope. Not for me. Not for any of us. Have I lost us paradise in just a single, blind moment? No, Leaf.” His aura began to scream violently. “Oh no. Is that why he came for the stone? Did they send him here? If they were to…”
His chest swelled in a violent spray of colours, shooting out, like a cross between blinding light and flakes of snow, and falling over him, fading and smoldering to darkness. He watched with vacant despair. The black spread over him like a blanket of liquid wind, until he stood in an oddly glimmering, silken gown that stretched to the ground. He was taking the form of his fault. It would not be temporary.
Leaf stood silent.
There was nothing to be said. He could only watch his friend fall through endless realms of existence, and finally into the heavy pit of his own guilt. He sunk into the river of time and found himself prisoner of the inescapable present. He was one again, and its weight bore down upon him like a hundred thousand years. Leaf watched the chaos of this union in his eyes. His iris pulsated in bursts of unstable colours, leaving his view blind and churning, until, from the unknown depths rose a final, nearly colourless green. The breath of air that was his hair darkened into thick tangible strands, then suddenly seemed to burst into flame and settle into a long mane of fiery orange.
Rose accepted the transformation with a weak smile.
His black gown glimmered in the light of the glass flower.
“It’s been so long since I’ve known flesh,” he said sadly.
The wizard smiled painfully. “Judgment passed. Now we should go. We must be fast.” He gazed upon Rose’s form for a moment, then sighed. “A pretty young girl would have been swell. Oh well, it’s time to find the boy at last.”