The tree’s leaves move gently in the breeze, creating playful shadows on the ground. A few slowly float towards the ground, catching the rays of sunlight as they fall.
Ari raises her hand and catches one of the rogue leaves. She holds it in front of her face, her eyes tracing the veins creating exquisite patterns. She rests her hand on her chest and stares at the tree above her.
Beyond the branches and leaves she sees the sky, cut in half by the overhang of the canyon wall. A shadow crosses the sky, a large bird flying freely.
“Ari,” a voice calls.
Sitting up, Air turns to see her mother standing in a doorway. She smiles and raises her hand to show the leaf still held between her fingers.
But the leaf is gone, replaced by the silk bracelet her mother always wore dyed dark with blood.
She screams and drops the bracelet. Where it lands a fire erupts, quickly engulfing the courtyard and tree. She looks to her mother, seeing a shadow looming behind her. She tries to scream to warn her mother, but no sound comes out.
A blade stabs through her mother’s front, but her smile never falters as the flames engulf her as well.
Ari covers her face with her arms, preparing for the feeling of burning. It never comes and she opens her eyes.
“It is the Source’s will.”
A shadow stands before her, staring at her with pale, empty eyes. It raises a hand to grab her, but she falls back away from its reach. She falls far, the shadow rapidly disappearing above her. She turns and stares down seeing a forest rising quickly towards her.
She sees a camp, many people sleeping around dead campfires. She sees her own body, sleeping between Crofton and Vico and realizes she’s going to land on herself. She screams, knowing she’s falling too fast to survive the landing.
Jolting upright, Ari gasps as sweat rolls down her face. She places her head in her hands, fighting the tears threatening to overwhelm her.
Movement makes her jump, but she realizes it’s only Crofton rolling onto his side. She calms her breathing and stares at his sleeping form. His brows are furrowed and a small frown on his lips show he’s not having pleasant dreams either.
She looks to the other man sleeping beside her, Vico. Unlike Crofton, his face is neutral. Her sudden waking didn’t disturb him.
Soft laughter from behind sends chills up her spine. She carefully maneuvers her way to her knees and turns around. She sees figures running through the trees and strange lights.
Standing, she steps around the two sleeping men and heads off into the forest. She follows the figures and lights, unable to get any closer. The laughter grows as she ventures further from the camp.
The trees open to reveal a small clearing. Lights dance through the air, different colors and sizes. The figures stay running through the trees, only blurs.
She steps into the clearing cautiously, unsure what to make of the sight before her. The lights move close to her and around her. She tries to catch one, but they’re too fast. A large light moves towards her and she can almost make out something inside it. A cavern filled with molten rock and a cage hanging above the deadly boiling earth.
The light flies away, but a second light replaces it. She steps closer to it, trying to make out the image inside. She sees a floating city, flying beasts circling it, above a lake of steaming water. The light moves away. She only catches brief glances into other lights, spying different lands in each.
She walks to the center of the clearing, following the lights. Movement out of the corner of her eye stops her. A figure stands at the edge of the clearing, watching her. The other figures continue to run through the trees, but the lone figure standing has her full attention.
Chains slither over the figure, as though living. Blood drips from the metal, darkening the ground beneath it.
“It is the Source’s will.”
The ground beneath her becomes soft and she slowly sinks into the earth. She grabs at the ground, trying desperately to escape. She feels the cold earth swallow her faster the harder she struggles.
The figure steps into the clearing, the chains falling from him. His face distorts almost becoming recognizable, but before it does, she slips beneath the earth.
Hands grab her, skeletal hands digging through the earth. She feels endless numbers of hands wrap around her arms, legs, and body. They pull her deeper and deeper into the earth, burying her far from anyone who can save her. Two hands wrap around her throat and squeeze. She screams, but soon her voice fades to nothing.