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An Unspoken Promise (Rewritten)

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An arrow whizzed through the trees, narrowly avoiding a long hanging vine and sinking deep into the middle of a propped up target.  A childish shout of victory echoed through the forest and a young elf scrambled after the projectile, pulling it out and flourishing it victoriously.

 

“See!  Fifty across the forest in one minute.  I beat you!” The elfling crowed, gleefully lording her first victory over her brother.

 

The other elfling, slightly bigger but still a child, rolled his eyes. “You beat me by one, and it took you how long?”

 

The younger one pouted, “Yes, but I’m younger than you, and better already.”

 

A gust of air tinted with fresh ozone swept through the clearing before the brother could counter his sister's words, and the argument was forgotten as both their faces lit up.

 

“Ada!” The older elfling cried out in excitement, waiting only long enough for his sister to get to the bottom of the tree before taking off through the dense forest.

 

The two of them ran almost in sync, leaping over and ducking under thick crawling vines, sliding around giant fungi, and scaling vast elder trees to fling themselves over deep dips and shaded hollows in the mossy floor.  Above them birds sang cheerily, and from the depths of the trees large cats growled, the air of the forest teeming with life though neither hide nor hair could be seen.

 

As the children ran they collected more arrows such as the one that'd placed the girl's latest temporary triumph, barely stopping to pull them out, their motions so practiced that not a single one broke in their haste.  Upon reaching a giant tree split down the middle as if struck by lightning, the two broke away from each other, each sprinting in a separate direction.  The younger to the left, following a stream that trickled under dead leaves and passed by slowly unfurling ferns.  Neither were spared a glance as she passed by, still more arrows finding their way into the quiver on her back.  Having gone to the right, the boy followed a short ravine for a little ways before running up the side of a mound to where vines grew thick, tangling together like snakes.  Hissing could indeed be heard, but again there were no signs of the animals, and the elfling showed no wariness in his light steps among them.

 

The two met up again shortly, converging to a hollowed out tree in which the full quivers were deposited for the next time they came to play.  Another few steps and the forest gave way to a large expanse of grass, dotted here and there by thin white trees and grey wind smoothed rocks.  Here they picked up speed, racing each other across the plain to where two adult elves walked side by side, engaged in light conversation.

 

“Ada! Naneth!” The elflings cried, their chorusing voices all but swallowed up by the sounds of the nearby surf.

 

Indeed behind the two elves the ocean beat at a pebbly beach as they greeted their children, its constant roll-in roll-out rhythm smooth and unending in the background.  The only thing it ceased for was a great mass of stone situated orthogonal to the ocean, the half un-eroded by the water jutting out proudly into the seam between grassland and forest.  On the far side of the stone the depths were calm, walled in by rock to create an almost peaceful inlet where reeds grew, springing up and waving lazily at the edge of the water.  A rarely changing dichotomy, one that had existed for many years, and would continue to do so for many more.

 

The older elves met the younger ones happily, the daughter practically bursting with great delight at the accomplishment she'd passed that evening, chattering away and nearly tripping over herself with her own words.  Sharing in her joy, the girl's ada responded with a broad smile that stretched at the deep scars on the side of his face, while her naneth laughed delightedly at her excitement, joining in on the celebration with praise of her own.  The son pouted and teased, but when his sister wasn’t looking he grinned just as broadly as she did, pride clear in his gaze.

 

Crossing the prairie, the elven family settled down against one of the windswept rocks, listening happily as the daughter recounted her tale, the son all too happy to butt in with his own embellishments.

 

The dreamscape, for that was indeed what it was, was filled with joy, laughter ringing through the air and bright sunlight shining down from the clear blue sky.

 

 

 

~*~

 

 

 

Many years later and back in the same dreamscape, the two elflings had grown into fine young elves, and another elfling had been added to the family, his presence in the dreamscape showing in red berried plants on the prairie and the cries of birds of prey overhead.  Here and there long grasses had sprung up with his birth, ever reaching upwards in the pursuit of the sky.

 

Beyond the ocean's edge and below the horizon line stars twinkled merrily, unchanging whether dawn, dusk, high noon, or twilight painted the sky above.  They were rarely visible to the newest elfling, bound by gravity as he was, but they watched over him all the same, surrounding and stretching out far below the island of the dreamscape.  They shone all the brighter when the elfling strayed too close to the island's edge, where dirt and roots were exposed to the air as if some greater being had torn the small dreamscape from a land mass far larger.  The plants certainly didn't seem to mind their purposed relocation, growing out into the nothingness with the single-minded drive that only roots ever searching for more water and minerals could possess. 

 

Though the dreamscape watched over the new elfling, his ada followed him closely as he ran down the pebbled beach, nearly as tireless as the roots were in his own quest for the perfect rock or shiny object.  Whenever he found one it was presented with a quiet solemnity to his ada, after which they would both gravely consider the object, debating whether it was enough to present to his naneth.  For while all the stones he found were perfect, his naneth was beyond perfect, and though his ada assured him she would love whichever one he found for her, he knew he must find the one, if he wanted to gift it to her.

 

Merrily oblivious to the severe search going on only a few handfuls of meters away, the elfling's naneth spoke with her other children, discussing border patrol with her daughter and politics with her son.

 

Joy lingered here.

 

 

 

~*~

 

 

Not so many years later and there was a darkness that now spread, a fog over the entire dreamscape.  For instead of five elves running and playing and living contentedly, there were only four.  Three children, one younger than the others, and their ada. 

 

A light had been taken from the oldest elf, and even had they the early thought to act, the others wouldn't have known how to bring it back.  Time passed like this, and even when the ada woke enough to look around he still didn't know how to reach out as he should've, the children too consumed by their own grief to know themselves.  Instead of binding together on their island, they began to slowly separate, pulling further and further away, clinging to things other than each other.  It wasn't a sudden change, for the lives of elves are rarely sudden, but eventually, when drought-filled days grew longer, the oldest boy left.

 

Years passed, and he did not come back.  As plants died around the oldest elf, as the soil dried up and the ocean pulled back, he did not come back.  When the vines and ferns withered to match the dead trees the daughter left too, and so it was just the elf and his youngest, desperate to have his ada back, for he had already lost his naneth.  Desperate, and without any idea of what to do to fix his family when he had nary an idea of what to do for himself.

 

When the ocean completely disappeared, when the forest turned to a mausoleum of dried husks, and the last of the reads was broken and snapped by the elf’s pacing, the elfling who was an elfling no longer finally stepped back.  He'd tried to reach his ada, and in his more hopeful moments he thought his ada had tried to reach back, but even with the long lives of the elves there came a time when there was nothing more one could do.

 

His grip on his ada's dreamscape had already become fragile, thinning all the more as the other distanced himself from the world and from his children.  It was a simple and painful thing to break, but it broke none the less, slipping from him like the memory of an elflings laughter on the air.  The boy let go, and the chasm between the dreamer and the elves he ruled over grew deeper.

 

 

 

~*~

 

 

 

Years later, the older elf looked at the husk of what had once been a lively green forest, the desert that used to be wild untamed prairies, the smooth sand that used to be an ocean, and he wept.