Wings of Paper - Chapter 21

Wings of Paper - Chapter 21

A Chapter by A.L.

The Forest of Fallen


Raw fish wasn’t exactly appetizing to me, but it was the only thing I was offered and I didn’t want to decline. Besides, the way Benedict was looking at me reminded me that any wrong move meant that he could turn on me. 

I didn’t want claws on my throat. 

Alex seemed just as disgusted as I was. Kenzie ate without complaint, though I noticed her trying not to sneer at her plate. The masked expression was probably residue from palace life and living with a princess. 

Sadie demanded that she was served a better dish, which caused Sammy to black out into another memory. Sadie refused to eat from then on. 

Benedict didn’t talk much, but he did listen to what we were saying. I didn’t really know what to say, so I let Alex and Kenzie carry the conversation. They mainly talked about strategy and fighting techniques. 

Just as they were beginning a debate over swords versus throwing knives, Benedict stood. “It’s night, I will be going now. I advise you to get some rest.” And then he was gone. 

“He’s right,” Kenzie sighed as the lynx disappeared through the hole in the cave wall. “We should all sleep - nothing can find us in here. We’ll have to travel tomorrow, and we need to keep moving.” 

No one else spoke, we all kind of just lay down on the floor of the cave. I could hear Sadie’s soft snores and Kenzie’s calm breathing. But I simply couldn’t fall asleep. 

“Are you still awake?” Alex whispered after about an hour. I hadn’t realized she was still awake. 

“Yes,” I responded quietly. 

I heard a rustle of movement and next Alex’s voice came from outside the cave. “Luke, meet me outside.” 

I couldn’t see much but the glowing moss gave me enough light to see the others were still fast asleep. Part of me wondered why Alex was waking me up in the middle of the night. But I trusted that she wouldn’t attack me or anything, so I followed her out of the cave. 

The moon was brighter than the sun, but it was still dying as well. The night air seemed thicker with darkness than normal, the shadows deeper. But I followed the movement of Alex anyways, darting up rocks until we made our way up the stream. Alex finally sat down at the top of the waterfall on a rock, her feet dangling over the edge. 

“Won’t the others know we’re gone?” I asked. Kenzie would probably freak out if she found out we left her. 

“We won’t be gone long,” Alex promised. “I just wanted to talk to you about earlier when you accused me of having a secret.” She seemed angry at me and I immediately felt ashamed. I had no right to intrude on her business. 

“So, what’s all this about?” I asked. “You don’t have to tell me what it is - I just want to know why you won’t share it with us.” 

Alex hesitated and I worried I had stepped too far over the line. “I didn’t want to tell you because … well… I have a theory,” she said at last. “It’s just a theory though, and I don’t know if it’s true. It’s way too stupid to be real, I shouldn’t have convinced you to come with me.” 

“What’s the theory?” I asked. I hoped maybe Alex was on to something, maybe something that would help us defeat Dee once and for all. 

Alex’s eyes met mine in the dark forest. “You have to promise you won’t do anything irrational.” Well that sounded wonderful. I hesitated before making any decisions. Maybe it was better if Alex kept to herself. 

What if it helps the others? 

“I promise I won’t do anything crazy,” I said, fully meaning it. 

Alex paused. “And you have to remember that this is just a theory - it doesn’t mean that it’s true. It’s just something I’ve been thinking about.” 

“I’ll remember, just get to the point.” 

“Fine,” she huffed. “I think the Darkness is your fault.” 

“What?!” I practically screamed. 

“You said you wouldn’t do anything irrational!” Alex protested. 

“That was before you blamed this whole thing on me!” I argued back, more hurt and offended than anything. “I don’t think I’m even capable of creating something that powerful.” 

“That’s the thing,” Alex explained. “The Darkness wasn’t created on purpose, it’s your doubt. Think about it - your imagination is influenced by the times at hand. I heard you mumbling when we went up the volcano through the Darkness. You doubt yourself - and I think that the doubt formed into Dee and the Darkness.” 

That … almost made sense. I did doubt myself, especially after Hiro’s death. And the Darkness did seem affected by my mood. When I was happy and optimistic it slowed down, but when I was upset it sped up. 

“I…” I stuttered. “That means I am responsible for all of this.” 

Thunder rumbled in the distance and I shivered. Alex shook her head vigorously beside me. 

“That’s not what I meant,” she told me. “This is why I didn’t tell you earlier. I knew it would make you upset and cause the Darkness to speed up if my theory was correct. Luke, you can stop this easily. Just believe in yourself.” 

I couldn’t believe in myself, not after all that I had done. I had destroyed my own creation. Everyone called me the Creator but in reality I was just as bad as Dee. Dee who I created

I was at a loss for words. Alex’s theory made sense, too much sense. 

“And what about the volcano?” I asked, trying to form a hole in her plan. “Then why would the volcano help against the Darkness?” 

“First of all, you came up with the whole ‘light beats the Darkness’ thing,” Alex pointed. “But the volcano and the lava represent your pride. Self-esteem beats doubt, so in theory your idea would still work. Look, Luke, the point is that the Darkness is able to be stopped.” 

No, not by me. I created the Darkness along with everything else. 

For some reason, I just couldn’t accept Alex’s words. I wanted to prove them wrong, to prove that this wasn’t my fault. 

“Please don’t make a bad decision,” Alex pleaded. 

“I’m not making any decisions,” I lied. “We should head back before the others start to worry about us.” 

And with that I left Alex alone at the top of the waterfall. She ran after me, stumbling over the uneven ground. “Luke, come back!” she called loudly. I kept my head down, trying to block her out. 

“Luke,” Alex cried, grabbing my arm and holding me back. I pulled out of her grasp. Her eyes were wild. “If you can’t believe in yourself then I will do it for you. I know you can do this. You can’t give up hope, we can still kill Dee and make our way back to the portal before the Darkness consumes everything.” 

I had forgotten about the portal. Alex had awoken a fresh beast of fear. 

“I don’t need you to believe in me,” I spat before storming away. I really wasn’t in the mood to talk to her, especially after finding out all of this was my fault. My responsibility. 

Which meant that in a way, I had been the one to kill Hiro. If the others found out they would never forgive me - not that I was ever going to forgive myself in the first place. But they didn’t need to know. 

“I didn’t come here to be ignored,” Alex said from behind me. 

“You don’t have to be here,” I reminded her. “You could go home now and spare yourself this journey.” 

Alex scoffed. “That’s signing my own death wish. Nah, I think I’ll stay with you guys. Luke, I came here to help you so stop pushing me away. This is exactly why I was afraid to share my theory. Remember, it’s not necessarily true.” 

“But it probably is,” I said. “And I’m not pushing you away, I’m trying to keep you safe.” 

“Sending me away will get me killed too, you know.” 

“At this point I don’t really care,” I said and immediately regretted it. Alex had been nothing but helpful and here I was rejecting her help because I was angry. 

Mad at myself for a theory that wasn’t necessarily true. 

But my dignity couldn’t handle much more, especially not apologizing. Not yet, not now. I sighed. “I’m sorry, but I just can’t think right now,” I whispered at last. “Please don’t hate me.” 

Alex laughed bitterly. “I could never hate you.” 

Oh. I didn’t really know what to say. The confession sounded soft and… I didn’t want to think about that so I just stayed silent and tried to ignore the blush rising to my cheeks. 

“So you’ll forgive my little outburst?” I asked at last, a bit sheepishly. 

Alex shrugged. “Probably, eventually. Though an apology and a present wouldn’t hurt.” She was right beside me. Really close. I could feel her heat beside me. Why was she always a fire to my ice? 

“A present?” I asked. “The apology doesn’t count as the gift?” 

“Nope,” Alex said happily. 

“So what kind of a present do you want then?” I asked, feeling stupid. Why were girls so complicated? 

Alex didn’t respond, but I could feel her shifting closer to me. Just at the moment the moon passed behind a thick cloud, plunging us into dark shadows. I heard movement and I felt something graze my cheek. I thought I was going to explode. 

Then there was Alex’s voice. “I’m sure you’ll think of something. You always do.” 

And then she was gone, leaving me alone in the middle of a forest somewhere. Yeah, real nice of her there. 

I took my time getting back to the cave. Alex had gone ahead, although I wasn’t sure how she managed to see so well in the dark. I stumbled over so many rocks I was sure my knees were probably scraped and bleeding. 

Sammy was awake when I finally climbed through the hole. He was watching the three girls sleep - though not in a creepy way, more lost in thought. 

“A nightly stroll?” Sammy raised an eyebrow as I sat down beside him. 

I shrugged. 

“You and Alex had a similar idea, then,” Sammy noted. I inwardly groaned. He had probably woken up when she came back in. 

I shrugged again. “Pleasant dreams?” It wasn’t a topic I thought he would be open about, so I hoped he would quickly shut the conversation down. No such luck, apparently. He seemed more open now. More carefree. 

“Just some memories of my mother and I, Sadie and I, and one about the guard academy,” Sammy replied. He didn’t sound upset, though I could tell he didn’t like being forced to relive his past. “I didn’t realize how much I had forgotten until I remembered, you know?” 

“I can’t imagine what it must be like for Sadie,” I said before regretting yet another statement. Curse my stupidity and no filter. 

Sammy curled away from me. “She’s changing, I can tell. Without her memories she’s becoming a different person.” We all were, really, but Sammy didn’t mention that. Sadie was changing faster than the rest of us, which really worried me with the Darkness. How fast was it spreading? 

And worse: how long until the portal closed and we were stuck here? 

“We should both get some sleep,” I said after a while. “Benedict will be kicking us out at sunset.” 

Sammy laughed without humor. “I have no doubt about it, but I’m starving. You can go to bed and I’ll eat some food before getting some rest. Don’t worry, Luke, Uncle Sammy has got your back.” 

“Uncle Sammy?” 

“It sounded better in my head - like something you and Alex would say,” Sammy smiled in the dim, bluish light. “You know, after all of this is over I think I’d like to visit your world again.” 

“I’m sure I can arrange that,” I lied. Sammy nodded to himself and I laid down on the floor, letting sleep take me away. 

Sunlight streamed through the crack in the waterfall, but not nearly as much as it should have. There was a noticeable chill in the air like autumn was arriving even though Kenzie assured me it was summer. 

Sadie woke with a start, forgetting entirely who I was and Alex. Sammy and Kenzie seemed worried, something that I shared. 

I remembered what Alex had sad about me stopping the Darkness, which could have been my doubt. But she had never really told me her plans for making me optimistic and I definitely wasn’t feeling cheerful. 

Benedict arrived not long after, a plate of steaming rolls in his hands. “It took Trelasa the entire night to bake these.” 

“Tell her thanks,” I said, forcing a smile. I was truly glad not to eat raw fish. The bread was warm and buttery, it reminded me of home. I felt a pang in my stomach when I remembered that I might not make it home. 

You and Alex will live through this, a voice in my head told me. 

Great, now I could add hallucinations to my list of issues. I shook my head, clearing my thoughts. Benedict explained that he couldn’t lead us out of the forest but gave Kenzie a detailed explanation of how to leave the forest. 

Benedict called it the Forest of the Fallen, but I preferred to ignore that. 

He said that the shapeshifters could feel when someone died and they planted a tree for every person until they had a forest. There was some sort of ceremony that the shifters performed so the tree would take on the burden of carrying the dead person’s soul in its branches. Each tree had a nameplate. 

I didn’t want to walk through the Forest of the Fallen, but Benedict informed us it was the quickest way. 

We gathered our supplies and prepared to leave. Benedict scampered away without a goodbye, leaving the rest of us to shoulder the bags. Sadie was still a bit upset over the amnesia predicament so we let her go without burden for the morning.

The entrance to the actual Forest of the Fallen was a stone arch painted with flowers and vines. It was a beautiful yet eerie mural when I realized that each of the flowers was centered around a screaming face. 

The Forest was silent, and creepily so. I thought that the trees were watching us. Judging us. Maybe it wasn’t the tree - maybe it was something else. 

Sammy was tense and Kenzie’s fingers didn’t leave the hilt of her dagger. 

Each tree was labelled with a name plate, the silver tarnishing. Virginia Arrowhead. Al Woo. King Bartholomew. Princess Ash. Kenzie choked up at the last one. 

All of the trees were different as well. Some were weeping willows, their branches falling towards the ground under the weight of the world. Others stretched towards the sky. Ash’s tree was small like it had been recently planted. The gray bark was smooth and the silvery-blue leaves were shaped like hearts. 

Kenzie’s fingers grazed one of the leaves. “This is the exact shade of her eyes.” 

I could tell she was trying not to cry. But it was like the trees had absorbed parts of the people they were meant to represent. As much as I appreciated the memorial, it made me feel terrible. Like I was intruding in the land of the dead. 

I stopped looking at the names, it was too depressing. Apparently the others didn’t. Kenzie found her siblings’ and parents’ names engraved into some of the tials. Sammy found his mother’s tree, which made a singular tear trickle down his cheek. Sadie found her brother’s tree, which she didn’t recognize but knelt before anyways. 

There was also a smell. It was a natural smell, but also not natural in a way. I know that doesn’t make any sense. But it was like the smell came from nature; it just didn’t belong here. I couldn’t describe it in any other way.

I could tell we were reaching the edge of the forest when the trees grew smaller. Some were just saplings now, not old at all. I wondered how many of these people had been consumed by the Darkness and how the trees represented their souls when their souls were in the moths. 

We almost made it out of the forest without stopping for an extended amount of time. 

Until I saw a slightly familiar looking tree. Curse my curious brain, but I had to check it out. The dark leaves were almost star shaped and the bark was a deep black. The tree was a sapling still but it sank below the others, branches drooping towards the ground before curling back upwards. 

I saw the nameplate and my heart skipped a beat. Kenzie dropped to the ground beside me. I reminded myself to breathe, but the nameplate kept forcing a scene into my head. No

The name was Hiro.

© 2020 A.L.

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Added on September 20, 2020
Last Updated on September 20, 2020
Tags: quest, fiction, adventure, fantasy, young adult, teen, short stories, doubt, imagination, kingdom, castle, heroes, darkness, confidence



I've been writing for a little over two years now - just short stories and occasionally a book (by word count alone). My main works are sci-fi and fantasy, aimed at a teen audience. I'm still in high .. more..