“You over-estimate my ability to help.” Adriala’s tone was flat, but Kalshen thought he detected a note of regret.
He remained crouched in front of the emerald pond, lightly touching a few lotus sprouts. They grew further, unfurling coral petals at a lazy pace that made him sigh. I’m useless as a druid. He stood and turned his full attention to Adriala’s hazy form.
“…Losing you.” She stood tense, hands clasped firmly together, and grew translucent.
“Don’t wake yet.” Kalshen grabbed her fists with both of his hands and she solidified.
“And if your sister needs me?” She looked down at their hands, long and elegant eyebrows knitting together. He brought a hand up, compelled to caress the edge of her stubborn frown.
“She doesn’t. Not right now. Protecting her is important, but that’s not all I care about.”
She smiled soft and slid one hand over his, holding it to her cheek. “Only in dreams.” She pulled his hand down and kissed his palm before releasing it.
“You’re more than a weapon.” He felt keen irritation sharpen his features.
She shrugged, keeping hold of his hand and turned to lead them down the forested path ahead. “That world is in waking. The rules say nothing of dreams, do they?” She looked over her shoulder at him, mischief tilting one corner of her smile more than the other. “Show me more of the dream?” She led the way, however, and he let her.
They weaved through large and colourful flowers with vibrant green stalks, swirling into the air like vines twisting around invisible columns. Some drooped, hanging over head with blossoms and leaves bigger than their heads. The path she took was thick with growth, more like a barely defined deer trail than a cultured pathway through the dream. “What does Ysera have you do in here?” She tapped a thick and waxy leaf, shaking droplets of dew from the blossom and on their heads.
“Hey!” They both chuckled as they moved out of the impromptu rainfall. His toe caught on a root hidden in the lush grasses and he fell fast enough that he dragged her down with him in a giggling heap. A blush warmed his cheeks and he stumbled an apology. Her throaty laugh encouraged a smile, however. Pushing away from him, she sat on her knees as he rolled over, but caught his elbow before he could sit up as well.
“You’re handsome.” She brushed the pale white hair from his vision and he felt his blush deepen under the stare of her pale silver eyes. She leaned forward and kissed the tip of his nose. “But you can’t walk worth a drunken owl…even in a dream.” She grinned down at him.
“A drunk owl?” He yanked on her arm, planning to bring her down with him again, but she barely budged, grinning further at his attempt.
“Too much sleep’s made you weak already,” she teased, getting to her feet and helped pull him to his. They continued their trek, Adriala walking ahead with renewed spirit in her step, her eyes all over the unique vegetation and hazy emerald mist ahead.
The thirst for exploration grabbed hold of him as well, keeping easy step behind her. She reminded him of the Emerald Dream’s wonder, something he never appreciated, too preoccupied with its role as punishment and exile; too concerned for his sister. He bumped into her when she stopped, ears flicking about for sounds.
He followed her instincts and swiveled his own ears about, but heard nothing.
“Traveler, identify yourself.” A clipped and high-pitched command. It was also heavily accented.
Adriala took on a ready stance and initially resisted Kalshen’s attempts to slide around her. “We mean no harm, dryad.” Kalshen called out, finally being allowed past. Adriala returned to stiff and formal vigilance.
“Druid, you are escorting the traveler?” The vague outlines of an elven face appeared in the bushes straight ahead, losing transparency as she stepped away from her concealment, the deer’s body attached to her torso danced nervously.
She eyed him before flicking a look behind her, the vines of her hair falling over her shoulder. “You are fresh. Turn back now, there is danger ahead.”
“I can help…” Kalshen stepped forward.
The dryad held out a hand. “No travelers, and no, thank you druid, the danger is under control, but it is no place for you.” Her hooves had stilled, but her body held far more tension than Adriala on guard and she kept glancing obsessively around.
Kalshen finally nodded. “Shall I report in?”
“It is already done.” The dryad smiled, fading back in with the brush. “Thank you, druid, but stay on the path behind you.”
Kalshen stood for a few minutes after, knowing she likely watched from the vegetation, unmoving. Nonetheless, he tried to spot any signs of danger beyond, but even his ears failed to pick up anything. Silence persisted. Danger waited in silence. He nodded once more at the last spot he saw the dryad and turned around, meeting Adriala’s eyes and the concerned knit of her brows.
“We should help.”
“No. You’re an outsider here. Besides, dryads don’t lie, we’d only be in the way. It’s nothing you can hack at with steel.” He grinned at her. “They’ll be fine.”
She kept a stubborn stance for a few minutes before relenting. She turned and trudged forward, entirely too quiet for his liking now.
“I’m a terrible druid.” He admitted.
“You’re ‘fresh.’” She chuckled.
Kalshen felt tension leaking from each step at the cheerful sound. “It’s more than that. My father told me once…my mother almost gave me to the goddess.”
Adriala paused. “Shadowsworn?”
He saw her face in profile and nodded.
She continued walking, her pace slowing. “I’m not sure I understand your meaning?”
“My mother arranged for this…well, this exile. She made a mistake allowing my father his wish to keep me. I proved a thorn in her side over Lesara. The druids teach me what they can, but I’m fairly useless here. Part of why I have so much more time on my hands left alone here. I do what I can, but…”
“Would you rather be shadowsworn?”
“No.” He knew that much for certain. “I hate that you’re a glaive, the sworn have it worse, don’t they?”
“They do. The priestesses must scour their memories regularly. They see far too much and our immortality proves a burden in torture. The business of secrets is…dark.”
The pond they left earlier came into view, the lotus blossoms still small and new where a more powerful druids touch would see them large and blooming overhead like pink lantern shades.
“Don’t hate who I am.” She turned to look at him and reached for his hand.
“Never. I only hate that they won’t let you be all you are. I’d sooner call you traveler than glaive.”
“A spirit traveling through the dream, uninvited. Some do it on purpose, others, rarely stumble in by accident during a more mundane dream.” He brushed a strand of her violet hair behind her ear.
“I always dream here, always this pond and this forest. I find peace in it…I found you in it.” She leaned into him and he felt the slightest brush of her lips on his just before his hands fell through hers and she vanished to the waking world.