The wind blowing through the canyon moves Ari’s hair into her face. She ignores the tickling against her skin, staring after the group of Hoks circling the canyon. A few Hoks without owners fly below, using the air currents dancing through the canyon to make death-defying drops to hunt the fish in the river.
Climbing the stairs to the top of the canyon, Ari wonders what her mother wouldn’t tell her. Something else is going on, she could tell from the worry and fear in Meah’s eyes, but what was it? Did it have something to do with her father?
She stops at the top of the canyon and stands at the wall blocking the edge. Her eyes search the immense city below, tracing the bridges connecting the two sides, following the river until it disappears around a corner of rock. Eventually her eyes rise to stare at the distant mountains.
She grew up listening to her mother’s stories about her journey from her home in a distant forest valley to the Bloodfall Arena and eventually here to Kellahn. She’s visited Raspil when her mother has to visit with its ruler, Gaeren Banish, but still she wonders what else is beyond the lands she can see.
She wonders where her father is. Is he even still alive or trapped somewhere in need of help?
Shaking her head of thoughts of her father in danger, Ari turns her back to the canyon and catches sight of the tops of trees among the buildings. Taking a deep breath, she walks into the collection of buildings. She finds a pile of boxes against a building and quickly climbs up to the roof. Emerging into the fresh air, she holds her hands out at her sides, feeling the wind flow over her skin. She plays with it, allowing her magic to shape the wind into small cyclones in the palms of her hands.
Smiling, she breaks out into a run, using the wind to move her faster and to help with jumps from rooftop to rooftop. Those below glance up at her overhead, but most ignore her. The buildings end at the opening to an immense forest. That’s where Ari’s heading.
The forest, as many in the city claim through rumors, magically grew over the span of a few years. As forest go it wasn’t large, but it provided protection to many in the city and an escape for others. Its sudden appearance was credited to Ari’s parents, but even they couldn’t truly explain its origins.
Reaching the end of the buildings, Ari leaps from the final rooftop. She uses her magic to give her an additional boost to reach the first tree, landing on one of its thick branches. She still runs into the trunk a little harder than she intends and pauses to catch her breath.
Glancing behind her, Ari stares at the city she grew up in. From the forest it appears as a wall of stone and wood, the great canyon and the legendary city blocked from view. She remembers hearing stories from older citizens about what the city looked like before so many moved to it, the vast plains stretching for miles with only the old towers breaking up the skyline then the sudden appearance of the canyon as though the gods carved it themselves.
There are times when she wishes she’d been alive before the city’s expansion, but those were the times before the forest grew.
Leaping from the branch of the tree, Ari uses her wind to help her land softly on the hard ground. She heads further into the forest, away from the city.
The life of the forest surrounds her. Birds sing and fly overhead and the plants welcome the sunlight streaming through the breaks in the treetops. Ari follows the sound of running water until she finds a stream racing through the trees. She walks along the side of the stream watching the clear water and catching sight of small fish swimming.
Moving deeper into the forest, the stream widens and deepens, creating large pools where the ground has been swept away. A fallen tree creates a makeshift bridge over a particularly deep segment of the stream and Ari climbs onto it. She crosses to the other side of the stream and heads away from the flowing water.
She walks to the center of the forest where the tallest tree is located. It’s the same white tree that grows at her home, but older. The roots are so large they raise the tree from the earth, creating small hideaways for small animals to nest. Jumping onto the roots, Ari is able to find hand holds in the trunk and begins climbing.
She reaches a collection of thick branches tangled around each other to create a natural platform. Sitting with her back against the trunk of the tree, Ari takes a deep breath, closing her eyes.
She can feel the magic that created it pulsating through the tree trunk from the earth. The magic is a lifeline to the ones who made the forest. When she was younger, Ari tried to follow the line, but it continued beyond the forest out into the lands beyond. Whoever created the forest was long gone.
Still, Ari enjoys the feeling of the magic still feeding the trees around her. She wishes she could reach out and take the magic into her, but it remains its own. The owners, though no longer near the city, were powerful mages to continue feeding life into the forest from great distances.
Raising her hand in front of her, Ari concentrates. She feels the wind gather in her palm and her magic fill her blood. Flexing her palm, the gathered wind expands until it encircles the area around Ari and the tree. Breathing deeply, Ari senses everything around her, the wind acting as an extension of her. She can feel the movement of each leaf against the air and each insect moving on or inside the tree.
She sends the wind down to the ground below and senses a small animal emerging slowly from its den among the roots. Its shallow breaths join the air and Ari can hear the tiny heartbeat pounding quickly.
A sudden break in the wind breaks Ari’s concentration and her magic fades. She opens her eyes, but the familiar green of the leaves is tinted a strange blue and a small shadow sits in front of her. Blinking, the blue returns to green and the shadow disappears.
A bird lands on Ari’s leg and stares at her with one round eye. Attached to its leg is a flower tied with a long piece of grass. The bird tugs on Ari’s shorts before hopping down to a tree branch below. Ari sits up and stares down after the bird. It flies to another branch before looking up at her and chirping.
Smiling, Ari makes her way down the tree to the ground. The bird flies to another tree, perching on the lowest branch to wait for her. She follows and the bird leads her deeper into the forest.
Leading her to another stream, the bird flies quickly, dodging the trees easily. Ari is able to keep up with little trouble, already knowing where the bird is leading her. In the distance a natural stone bridge appears over the stream as it curves into a bank of hills. Beneath the bridge the stream narrows to allow one to stand beneath the bridge without having their feet submerged in the cool water.
The bird flies beneath the bridge, landing on top of a small pile of food wrapped in cloth. As Ari reaches the bird, it chirps happily. She holds her hand out so the small creature can hop onto her fingers. She removes the flower from its leg.
“Thank you,” she says to the bird.
It ruffles its feathers, scratching the area of its leg where the flower had been before flying up to the top of the bridge to the figure waiting patiently.