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Lonely Oak Chapter 76 by LemmyNiscuit

She held her brother's hand with obvious apprehension. The dense woods that they were heading toward made worms crawl beneath her skin. “I doent knowes if diss is such good idea…”

Her brother looked back to her, but did not break his pace. “It'll be alright. You trust me, don't you?”

”It not that I doent truss' you…” She explained, glancing back at the open field behind them, that seemed so peaceful and open and kind. “I just…doent like the look of d'os woods.”

”This place isn't that scary; don't let your imagination run amok.” He pushed some brambles aside and passed the outer barrier of the tree-line. “Nothing's gonna happen to you. I promise.”

She tightened her grip.

The lighting fell drastically as they made their way through the fringes of the forest. The singing of birds was almost overwhelming, their sharp whistles sending the ear tingling and buzzing. Level ground was a luxury; with every step they had to negotiate over bramble, rock, brush or tree root. The duff became unpredictable as, with every step, it either yielded or resisted to varying degrees.

”Ah!” She squealed in distress, as suddenly her leg sank into the brown and black mush up to her mid-calf.

”It's okay,” her brother assured her, and helped to easily free her foot. “Do you need me to carry you?”

”N…no,” she stated.

His proffered hand was taken once again, and they made their way in silence.

As the woods became more and more dense, the light dimmed darker and darker to the point where it felt almost like night time. Even the incessant noise was almost entirely dampened. Above them, a fog appeared to be scudding about just below the canopy—until she realized that wasn't a fog, but a gigantic spiderweb.

”Kvy, I doent likes it here!” She protested. “I wanna leave!”

He stopped, and knelt down in front of her. “I promise, we're almost there; it's just a bit more of a wa—”

”I doent care!” She yelled, tugging away. “I dident want to come here in first place; wherever the heck you talking about isinent worth going through all this!”

Her brother looked dejectedly down and away. “Are you sure?” He asked feebly.

”Yes,” she said, almost breathlessly.

He looked back to her eyes, and then sighed. “Okay, we'll leave. But…” He looked about. “Can I…tinkle first?”

She squinted an eyebrow and raised the other. “I…guess?”

”Thanks,” he said. “I'll be just over there,” he pointed, as if that copse of trees was distinguishable from any other; “I won't be more than a minute.”

”Fine, fine,” she said, turning around. “Just hurry up, so we leaving fast.”

She listened, her ears picking up the sound of his footsteps. He took a dozen or so paces before he stopped. She took in a calming breath at the sound of his zipper, and tried not to think about the next sound she heard.

Eager to get moving, she listened for the reverse order of those noises. A strange wave of relief tickled throughout her veins, mixed with the impatience that was quickly building, metered by the tempo of her tapping foot.

”Hurry up, Kval!” She shouted with frustration, finally turning around. But all she saw were the feint, fuzzy outlines of a score of cluttered trees.


The voice was her brother's, and yet it sounded nothing like it should. It was like an echo, and happened three times in rapid succession, like a musical canon.


She turned again. It was like a wind that came from all directions, swirled about her, and then dispersed away. She couldn't localize it; couldn't tell where it came from. Her ears stiffened along with the fur her body over, and they twitched about independently, as did every muscle in her rigid limbs.

Help, Lyza!

Unable to stand still, she bolted, running in the direction he had walked, calling for him.

”Kvy!” She shouted. “Kvy where you!?”


It was her only response. No matter how many times she asked, all he said was her name or asked for help. She stumbled and fumbled, the ruthless ground offering no purchase for a steady pace. She squeezed between trees, their trunks close together as if huddling from fear of the darkness. She struggled foot after foot, step after step, until abruptly she fell onto a patch of duff that was unusually spacious.

Her knee smarted as she stood up, brushing the decayed earth from her leg. She gazed ahead, unable to see any obstacles in the path. It was just black, like a dark room, save for the beams of light that filtered through the tiny gaps of the canopy hundreds of feet above her head.

She held out her hand to catch some of the light. It was warm on her palm and even warmer on the top as she flipped it over. Her eyes were so used to the darkness that the gleam of her fur made her squint sensitively.

”Kvy?” She asked. He hadn't called her since she had fallen. “Kvy!” There was no answer. She swallowed; her ears beginning to ring. With no sense of direction, she took a step forward. Her legs felt heavy and shook as she took one step after another, as if the ground beneath her would drop away and she would fall into it forever. She followed the light; felt that she could trust the rays.

As she ventured deeper into this darkness, she could not tell if it was vast or narrow. She constantly kept her eyes and ears on every direction, sometimes walking backwards and sideways to make sure she missed nothing that would sneak up behind her.

And then she froze. Several yards ahead, six red orbs glowed against the dark veil. She knew immediately what they were. The most horrifying thing imaginable: eyes. The eyes of demons. The demons that had taken her brother, now come for her.

She could not move, but they did. They approached her slowly, dipping and rising up and down in the darkness, swaying side to side in a menacing cadence. Then, one by one, each demon passed a ray of light, revealing their form.

The leftmost was a lion, his mane and tail beginning to crackle and glow as it lit afire.

The rightmost was a cheetah, his feet making not a sound as he walked. He opened his mouth to hiss, and where the lines drew up his face his cheeks split apart, revealing a freakish maw with hundreds of sharp teeth.

In the center was a wolf, his jaw wide and his tongue slavering. His breath puffed from his mouth in a glowing blue mist, sending a chill across the ground.

She stepped back from the three beasts as they closed the distance to her, and she turned to run from them back to the relative safety she believed the trees would give her. But her foot once again sank into the duff up to the calf. She struggled to free it, but in doing so put pressure on the other foot, sinking it to just above her ankle. She tried as hard as she could to get free, but she kept sinking further and further.

The beasts came within five feet of her. She could feel the vibrations of their growls all the way down her spine. She closed her eyes and began to scream, fear crippling and paralyzing her.


Then, she heard a strange yet familiar whistle. She opened her eyes. Just as she did, a missile of light, shaped like a comet, passed just above the bridge of her nose, literally right before her very eyes. It drifted, in slow-motion, letting her see the intricacy of its beauty, and letting its light caste upon the fur of her face for a brief second. It was long and narrow, bright yet not blinding. Its tail split in two and tapered, both strands twirling about in a double-helix as it spiraled fluidly, cutting the air.

Then it sped, and collided with ground, splashing a brief and radiant eruption of brightness. When the intensity faded, she saw a six-pointed star-shaped white flower at the very spot the missile had landed. It illuminated the area around it, revealing the angry beasts in a vivid contrast of light and shadow.

But for a moment her attention was drawn to the direction from which the missile had come. There, calmly walking toward her, was a friend she would never have expected to see here.

”Ket!” She exclaimed, trying to free herself, but still unable to. “Help me, please!” She begged him.

But he seemed to not understand her urgency; his pace was even and never faltered or sped. He was finally near her after a half-dozen seconds more. Standing just out of her reach, he drew attention to an object in his hand. It appeared to be just a normal stick. He offered one end to her.

She grasped it in both hands, and with it she was pulled up from her ensnarement. Just as her feet stepped upon solid ground, the tension in the stick released, and it was exchanged to her hands. She clutched it close to her.

”What's going on?” She questioned the tiger. “Where are we? Where's my brother?”

He remained stoic and silent. Just as she started to ask more assertively, his hand raised, and he calmly pointed behind her.

She glanced behind to see the beasts regaining their conviction, reclaiming the ground they had lost, eyes set upon their prey. “Ket, let's get out of—” She turned back to him, but he was gone.

Whipping about to face the beasts once more, she felt lost again. Panic welled up inside of her, and her grip on the stick tightened. But she noticed, as she clutched the smooth wood, that her grasp felt familiar. She gazed down at it for just a second to see that it was curved in a way that she recognized.

Instinct took over, and she held it up. She reached behind her, as if to grab an arrow, but faltered. She realized that she didn't have an arrow; and furthermore, her bow didn't have a string. Hope slipping away, she stepped back once again as the cheetah came within three feet of her.

He leapt.

Her hands went through the motion of pulling back on the string. Her fingers loosed the open air, and then a blinding beam of light flew from her weapon, catching the gruesome beast at the center of its grotesque maw.

It roared, collapsing on the ground just before her. It tried to stand once again, but as it did the beast dissolved into glowing petals. In just a few seconds it was gone. Where its body had lain, several of the same flower as the one still on its own just ahead, sprouted forth from the earth.

The other two beasts backed away, and then split to either side in the darkness.

She reacted quickly. She gripped the intangible string of her bow with three fingers, pulled it back and released. Just as she had hoped, two luminous arrows burst forth, lighting the shadowed clearing.

The lion was revealed, running sideways along the trunks of several trees, building up incredible speed.

She began to run to keep up with him, her legs light and swift as if she had the skills of a warrior. She watched the lion, studying him. A blaze of fire began to build around him, swirling and glowing, setting the trees alight in his wake. She began to shoot the burning trees, snuffing the fire and replacing it with the flower, that seemed just as able to grow on the side of wood as on the ground.

And then, without warning, the lion burst toward her. He was surrounded by fire now, a roaring imitation of the sun, intent on burning her and baking her to the ground on which she stood.

But she did not run. An arrow burst forth from her bow. It hit the fireball dead-center, and its inexorable force was matched. It floated in the air, competing against the glimmering arrow, the apex of their collision flickering and strobing as one struggled to overcome the other.

Two more arrows joined aside the first, colliding at exactly the same time. Another set hit above and below the center. The infernal orb began to weaken, but it did not relent. Four more arrows were planted between the gaps of the cross. But still the fireball neared, slowly. It could be outrun, she could easily escape. Yet she stood her ground,

The fireball pushed against the arrows, set into its body in a diamond, with one at the center. All of its tension was focused in front of it, so when another arrow grazed off of its side, its balance was broken, and it blasted forward just shy to the left of its target.

She felt the heat pass her on the right as the lion missed, and turned her head to see him skid across the ground, and finally erupt in the same fashion as the cheetah had just before him. The power of his attack was converted into a field of the glowing flowers that began to spread across the ground by the score.

The wolf remained in the darkness, but not forgotten.

She walked toward the small garden of white, starry flowers. Just as she was about to step into their luminance, her feet froze—literally.

She reacted quickly; she shot her left ankle, busting the hold of the ice and pivoted, dodging just as the wolf passed where she would have been. He landed in the garden, and dashed away, narrowly avoiding a bolt of light. The garden flashed as the arrow hit, the glow of each flower pulsing and brightening.

The wolf once again fled to the darkness. But, with the added luminescence of the strengthened garden, he was not fully concealed by the shadows. He rounded the outskirt of the clearing, and breathed a blast of cold breath in front of him. The rabbit freed her other foot, but he was moving fast, skiing along the path of ice he constructed just before his feet.

Just as she released her foot, she spotted the wolf rushing toward her.

The wolf's eyes bulged as she leapt into the air, flipping up but extending out upside-down. His pupils followed her as she oriented above him, her body a crescent, like the moon; and pointed her bow straight down. She fired, severing his tail half way. The bridge of ice on which he skied burst with a sound akin to breaking glass. The arrow once again punched the ground; the garden flashed and the flowers grew.

The wolf stumbled and snarled. He should have learned from the lion's mistake. He stared at the rabbit standing in her garden as she stared back; waiting, watching, plotting. Time passed by and yet it seemed like only a second before he saw the twitch of her hand as she raised her bow.

She did not expect the wolf to have as much range to his magic as he did. He growled at her, and before she could loose her arrow, a blast of cold wind surrounded her, flash-freezing her entirely, save for her head.

The wolf neared, his slavering jaw opening once again, as if he planned to gobble her whole. He stepped into the garden, caring not for the flowers that he tromped upon. But as he crushed a few, they began to dodge his feet. He glanced down at this with intrigue, and then anger. He lifted his paw to stamp the flower that had dodged him. As his foot pounded the earth the flower dodged once again, and then quickly wrapped about his leg.

Before he could react, his legs and torso were bound by the disgusting, glowing weeds. Still he struggled, determined not to let grass get the better of him. As he struggled, he kept his eye on the frozen rabbit just in front of him. Then, with dread, he witnessed as the flowers surrounding her began to turn toward her. They began to shimmer more brightly. From the center of their stars, beams of light came forth, cutting through the ice and shattering it in a moment.

Now free, she lifted her bow. “Where's my brother?” She demanded.

The wolf sensed the garden weakening. It had used its power to free her, and its hold upon him had loosened. He could free himself; he blew upon the ground, freezing the vines beneath him, and broke them with a violent force. The coils about his body went limp, and he prepared to charge at the girl.

Pain seared in his left forefoot. He winced, looking down to see one of her beams of light embedded through him, pinning his foot down. He tugged, trying to release it, but then his other forefoot was pinned. He struggled, his hind legs moving forward to try and pull with greater force—they, too, were trapped. In a humiliating sit, he was staked to the earth.

”Where's my brother?” She demanded again.

You'll never get him back.

The wolf spoke in the same manner as her brother had when he called to her for help. The voice felt more like it was speaking directly into her mind rather than heard through her ears.

”If you don't think so, it won't hurt to tell me where he is.”

The wolf laughed. He's with the Queen. She'll never let him go.

”The Queen?” She questioned, mostly to herself. “Take me to the Queen.”

I dare you to make me!

As he snarled, another arrow burst forth from her bow. He would meet his end proudly, unlike the lion or the cheetah. He closed his eyes, and lifted his muzzle to the canopy, eager to meet his fate. But as the light began to wane, he felt no different from the moment before. He opened his eyes and, to his greater horror, discovered she did not intend to finish him.

She held the rope of solid light in her right hand, the other end coiled around the wolf's neck. She tugged. “Take me to her,” she commanded.

The wolf bowed its head, and blinked. Well then… fi— He tried to blast her with ice once again, but his magic was canceled just as it left his throat. He clenched his teeth, and tugged at his captured feet. I can't take you if I can't walk.

The arrows in his feet passed through, and the garden once again flourished in strength.

They walked through darkness, guided by ambient rays of the light from above, and the glow of the leash. It felt as though time, distance, or perhaps both, had lapsed. She felt as though she had walked for hours and several miles, yet it had been only a moment since they started, and less than a hundred paces.

Whether sooner or later than what she perceived, she began to see a dim light between the trees several yards away. As soon as she did, the wolf stopped, and sat.

Beyond you will find the Queen. His voice came from behind.

”Then let's go.” She ushered, tugging the leash like a reign.

You will find the Queen. I am not helping any more!

She raised her bow at his sudden movement.

He jutted forward upon the leash, turning to taught what little slack there was, and as he did he lifted his snout high into the air. There was a flash, and he was gone; replaced by a small patch of ethereal-white flowers.

The leash dissipated in her hands. She stepped to the flowers, resting on her knees before them. Gently, she captured a stem between her middle and ring finger, singling out a little star for her nose. The earthly perfume was feint, but it tingled all the way up until it pooled at the center of her forehead, just between the brows of her eyes. It was akin to the scent of fresh drizzle upon the lawn, and fog within the air.

She released the flower, and continued on, circumnavigating the patch. They bent toward her, as if trying to get closer to brush her leg. She felt a little bad for leaving them, but she had to keep going.

Excitement and dread welled inside her as she neared the trees which so tantalizingly allowed just a meager bit of light between them. The small row she had to squeeze through was like a closed gate, for beyond were only a few trunks that framed the edge of the forest navel, and beyond that nothing more.

Except the darkness. Always darkness, fighting with the light. What illuminated her current spot came from so high up above. She raised a hand to her brow and saw the imperceivable distance between the ground and the ceiling above. Cones of light broke through that infinitely high canopy, playing circles across the earth to make the vast clearing into swiss-cheese.

Though vast, the clearing was not at all empty. At what looked like half a mile away was a structure that was small and red. But with each step it came to her at such a rapid pace that she was within a dozen feet faster than she had taken to get to the clearing with the wolf. And as she approached the structure, it grew to such an immense monolith that she had to crane her neck to see it disappear into the darkness up above.

At first, she could not think of what this thing could be, until she rested her hand upon the lowered platform between two high walls. It felt pliable, yet sturdy; neither hot nor cold. It was dimpled like a reptile's skin, and made a hollow thump as she tapped it with her knuckle.

Plastic. A red, plastic slide.

She lifted her right foot to stand upon the very edge of the slide. She waited for only just a moment before fully committing herself. Climbing a slide could be easy, or hard, depending on one's skill and size. When she did it in her younger grades, she had to use the sides like rails, and that slide was rather narrow in width.

The width of this slide was enormous. Nearly three of her could fit comfortably enough to have a race. But the plastic made for a good surface to clamber up; it held onto her just as much as she held onto it.

The slide was relatively flat for several yards before it began to incline and ascend. As she transitioned from an upright walk, to being hunched, to a mountain-climb, to crawling fully on hands and knees, she began to feel a tingling vertigo steadily climb within her.

The incline became steeper and steeper, until it felt more like she was climbing a wall rather than a ramp. The bow in her left hand began to impede her ascent, and as the angle of her climb neared sixty degrees, she had to stop. Not only was it too steep to climb with the weapon in her hands, it would quickly reach a straight ninety degrees, and there she saw ladder-rungs which she would need every limb to scale.

At a loss for just a moment, she absently thought that if maybe the string was invisible, she had an invisible holster as well. Even though the idea was ludicrous, she still worked the bow behind her with a great deal of effort. She held it from below across her back, and when she brought it to her shirt she felt it cling to her like a magnet. Hesitantly, she let it go for just a second; there was no sign that gravity had taken it away from her.

She released it fully, and placed her hand back onto the slide. She waited for a moment, wary of the bow falling as soon as she started again. But she could feel its stability against her shoulder and waist, as if its curves were a pair of arms holding onto her securely.

With a huff, she began to climb once more, unburdened. It was much easier now, despite the world steadily turning sideways on her. She felt like she shouldn't be where she was; wouldn't she have fallen off this slide long before now? There was no sign she would slip as long as she was careful, so she tried not to think about it. Like a spider, she used the corner along one side of the slide to crawl up, lifting one foot or hand at a time.

Carefully she made her way farther and farther up, until at last she was just out of reach of the first rung. But she quickly discovered it was not such a simple thing to get to. The ladder, which was blue and visible only because of a beam of light shining aslant her view, was separated from the slide. A foot-wide rift was exposed between them, which she clung on to for stability.

She looked at the rung, so close and yet so far, and felt her fingers quiver. There was only one way to get to the rung, and she would likely only have one chance. She closed her eyes, tempted to look behind her and gauge the extent to which she would fall if she missed.

But she didn't have to. She could make her way back down. But then, what about her brother? Wherever this ladder took her, perhaps it would be high enough for her to see the layout of the land. Perhaps she wouldn't even need to climb all the way up; she just needed to get her bearings.

She took in a deep breath, and before her brain had a chance to rationalize her thoughts, she pulled up with her arms and pushed off with her toes, releasing from the smooth slide into open air. Reaching out with both hands, she inched closer and closer to the bar.

She realized, to her dread, she might be just a little bit off. The ladder's color made it difficult to see exactly where everything was, and as it turned out, it was a little bit forward from the slide. Even if she had enough height, she may not have enough of a forward arc to make it.

As she neared, she closed her eyes, and pulled her elbows back. She pushed forward, snapping her arms out, and when her fingers closed around the bar she gripped it so tightly her fingers ached.

She swayed back and forth upon the rung for several seconds; the entire ladder swung with her. Collecting her nerves, she lost the desire to survey the landscape below. She wanted only to get a better, stable vantage. She would have to climb this ladder, wherever it took her. She couldn't bear the way it swayed, the thought of it breaking at a hinge made her blood chill. Somehow the thought of falling attached onto this thing was scarier than just falling on her own.

She reached up and grasped the next rung, and then matched her other hand to it. She had to gather her strength to do that again. Just once more, and she had enough ladder behind her so that her feet could stabilize her. Now she felt the full momentum of the swinging structure, which had calmed down quite a bit. But there was another problem facing her: the ladder was quickly heading into darkness.

There was no choice. She would have to brave it.

One by one she climbed the rungs, moving slowly and carefully. She made sure to let go with only one hand or foot at a time, so that the other three were always touching the structure. She had to reach up and feel for where the next rung was, and always she tugged it just to be sure it was stable. She was wary that in this type of situation, the moment she wasn't careful something bad would happen.

As she progressed ever further into the dizzying heights, she felt something she realized she had not felt until now: the wind. A gentle breeze blew across her face, and only her face. It tickled her whiskers and made her nose twitch.

But she didn't have time or courage to take solace in the feeling. All she wanted was to end this terrible climb. Thankfully, the swaying lessened. That made sense; as she neared the attachment of the ladder she wouldn't feel it as drastically. And though she was tempted and desperate to look down, she did not. To do so would be a terrible mistake.

Again distance or time lapsed; she could swear she had been on the ladder for longer and farther but soon, she came upon a change. She reached up for the next rung, but did not find one there.

Panic swept over her. This was not a good change at all. Then she realized that she must have reached the top, and that it probably leveled out just above her. She reached to feel the wall behind the rung, tracing it upwards, but found her assumption to be far from the truth. She felt a corner, that she traced with her hand all the way until her arm was touching it above her head.

Feeling anxious she returned to the ladder, clutching it with as much of a grip as she could, but of course it felt like she was going to fall any moment. How could she have nowhere to go? Was the ladder false? Had she made a wrong choice?

All she wanted now was to see. She could maybe calm herself if she could look at light and maybe catch a glimpse of the color of her fur. But as she looked about, there was no light she could see. And she dare not look too far, for down was such an easy way to look, and a way she should not look.

But then, she had an idea. Her bow caste light with its arrows. She reached behind her with her right hand, tracing up the curve of the bow. She had placed it on her back such that the string would be on the underside, and so she found where it would be. She used her fingers, imagining she was pulling it downward, and released it.

Suddenly her eyes flinched as the light hit them, and then it softened. Just as she had hoped, a luminescent flower sprouted just above her head. Its star-shaped petals opened widely like a gentle feather-duster. It began to stretch a little upon its stem, like it was going to give her an encouraging pat upon the head.

Most comforting was the gentle glow. She could see all about her now, and that eased her spirit. The ladder she clung to looked black like obsidian, and above her was dirt and soil, surrounding a lane of metal embedded into it. This lane of metal was yellow, she could tell. It reflected brightly, as if caste in ultraviolet light. From the lane, rungs sprouted forth just like the ladder, but they were much wider and thicker.


One rung of the monkey-bars was almost directly above her head, just a little bit back behind her. She carefully reached up to grasp it, and committed both hands. The bar was wide enough that two of her could dangle side-by-side, and so she easily turned around, pivoting her toes on the ladder so she did not have to let go. Half-hanging and facing toward the openness, she could not prevent her wandering eyes from looking out upon the landscape.

She could see the circles of light upon the ground, like spotlights searching for an escaped criminal. Almost directly below her was the red slide, which was cut by darkness halfway down. The vertigo she felt came back again, this time more powerful than ever before.

She swallowed, and looked ahead. She could see up to the third monkey-bar out, and beyond that it was swallowed once again by darkness. There was clearly no other way to go.

The metal hummed as her feet slipped free. She dangled for a moment, and then reached forward for the next bar. She grasped it, her fingers beginning to feel distant and detached, like her arms were not really a part of her body. The other hand followed, and she was on the second bar.

The third was easier, her feet swayed less and she felt less anxious for she was so focused upon the bar she did not feel the need to look down. But as she went for the fourth bar, the last which she could see and even then just barely, she felt that crawling creep beneath her skin as she looked into the darkness once again.

There was no way to tell exactly where the next bar was; and beyond that if there even was a bar. She could very well miss, and slip. The thought made her fingers numb.

And then, over the next second or so of thought, she could see it. The bar was in front of her, just as the last had been. Had her eyes adjusted to the darkness? She reached and traded bars, once again at the brim between sight and shadow.

Behind her, she heard a rustling like that of a bug crawling through grass. She managed to turn her head and gaze just out of the corner of her eye. Now, where she had left only one, four flowers had bloomed, almost in a straight line along the side of the monkey-bars. Even as she gazed on, a fifth flower literally popped from the dirt, bursting open with a spray of, she could only imagine, pixie-dust. It seemed to flex its petals, stretching from a long slumber, and then it slowly turned its face toward her.

They all looked to her, as if watching to see what she would do next.

Able to see the next bar, she quickly wrapped her hands around it. Expectantly, she looked back, to see that another flower had already sprouted. She smiled with newfound understanding. Bravely, she shimmied her way to the side the flowers were growing on, and released one hand from the bar. She patted the soil; Come here.

The flowers stared at her for just a moment, before they slowly straightened, gazing directly down upon the world, and began to quiver as if straining. Then, in a near-instant, their glow dominated the darkness as a vivid green line dashed forth along the edge of the metal.

Her head flicked back round to see the vine shoot across her inch-close sky, tracing the side of the monkey-bars for her. But it did not stop there; along this line flowers began to erupt in sparkling dust, and as each one did similar vines splayed forth in the far directions about them outward and away. In just moments, the single little flower she had planted for solace and comfort, had turned into a vast upside-down garden, taking up all but the farthest fringes of the darkness to her left.

”Thanks,” was all she managed to say as she looked back at the garden. The flowers, all of which faced her, bobbed their heads ever-so-subtly in approval.

With her floral companions she had no trouble nor fear navigating the monkey-bars. But she did begin to grow concerned; what she thought at first was a property of depth quickly became a reality: the length of the bars was gradually lessening. Soon, she could barely fit both hands upon the same bar.

At the end, she saw her goal. What she could tell was the bottom of a cork-screw protruded from above the ceiling. The monkey-bars tapered to the winding bar of metal, and as she neared it she had to swing hand-over-hand in order to progress.

Almost to the final monkey-bar, she realized that just as before between the slide and the ladder, between the last bar and the cork-screw, there was another gap. One-and-a-half feet away, with nothing to help aide her reach, the bottom of the cork-screw hung forth. She paused at the antepenultimate bar. The prospect of what she would need to do began to come to her, and she did not like it at all.

Her arms were beginning to tingle, her fingers were numb and her shoulders were beginning to ache. This little stretch was going to take a lot of effort and momentum, and she would literally only have one chance; and then what lied beyond? Another leap of faith somewhere? She wouldn't be able to take one more.

But the flowers to her right bobbed their heads again, ushering her. They had confidence in her; hope and aspiration. They believed in her; after all, they had shown her the way.

One. Two. Three!

Hand-over-hand she quickly dashed forward upon the last few bars, gaining as much speed and momentum as she could. She whipped her legs back and then forward, putting an extra bit of push behind her movements. She reached for the final bar with her left hand, and took a deep breath.

She felt empty as she let go. Drifting in the limbo between structures, she suddenly felt alone and afraid. Reaching outward, she could not bear to think how it would feel to not grasp the cold metal that set just within or out of reach.

Her entire body lurched as the momentum of her feet passed that of her torso. It was almost enough to break the loose grip she had upon the cork-screw: she held on only by her pinkie and ring finger.

With great effort she wrapped the middle upon the bar, and then the pointer. She managed to grip her thumb, and then with a weary breath she shot her left hand up to stabilize the hold.

Eager for her feet to finally feel support once again, she shimmed her grip along the thread of the screw. It was slow and tedious, all the while forced to look at the outward sky, save only for the brief view of the lush flower patch.

Even as her belly still hung below the bottom of the thread, she managed to worm her right toe into the empty space, followed by her left. With the steady foothold, she could climb the rest of the way.

She looked up at last, to see a shaft of light nearly just above her head. The top of the cork-screw was defined by a bar that jutted out from the center, and then went at a right angle toward the wall, disappearing behind the surface of whatever she had been scaling this whole time.

As she neared that hopeful top, she began to see where she had been led to. Shimmying across the long bar, she dangled for a moment just above solid ground, and relished in its feeling beneath her feet as she dropped.

A floating island.

High above the world, all on its own. It even hogged a few beams of light from the heavens still higher above. It had wonderfully green grass, soft to the touch of her knees and hands, especially since her fingers were getting their feeling back.

Before her was a hill. It started steep, but appeared to shallow as it crowned. She had no doubt that what she had been searching for all along would be at the very top of that hill.

She absentmindedly took her bow, almost having forgotten about it up until now. She pulled back on the invisible string, and shot an arrow into the ground. It felt proper for her to grow the little flowers wherever she could. But the one that sprouted forth was a bit…smaller than any other. Perhaps it was just because of the light that was already shining.

With great haste, she began the final leg of her trek.

The steepness of the hill was nothing compared to the slide. She raced up the slope at a full dash, practically climbing it with her toes alone, and her nose barely rubbing the grass. As she surmounted the crest, she saw nothing like she had expected to see.

A sole ray of a light cast down upon the ground, like a spotlight on a stage; bearing witness to an audience of only one. Where the chains came from, she could not tell, but they supported a swing that rested idly but for an inch or so of motion. Within the swing sat;

”Rini.” she declared, and stepped forward, almost into the light. “What are you doing here?”

The girl's eyes were in shadow, even as she appeared to look up at the rabbit. As soon as the doe's foot stepped into the threshold of the light, a furious hiss resounded across the sky like steam erupting from closed pipes. It mixed with a high-pitched shrill, and two feline heads sprouted from the darkness behind the rat-girl, swaying about like those of a hydra's.

”You will not—”

”Challenge the Queen!”

The heads abruptly rushed forward, a dark shadow blocking the beam of light as the body of the creature served as a buffer between the intruder and the Queen.

”You will not—”

”Save your brother!”

She readied her bow, but the beast surprised her with a heavy stomp upon the ground with its left fore-foot. She fell backward, as if someone had tripped her from behind. But she recovered quickly, rolling into a one-kneed kneel, aimed her bow and fired.

The arrow planted cleanly into the beast's left head. It hissed and squealed in pain, twitching about and slinking back to the stem of the body. As it did, the light of the arrow faded, and the sounds of pain quieted.

The head then snapped forth, glaring at the rabbit with all the abundance of its hate. The beast itself reared up, and then slammed its fore-feet upon the ground; its back legs ripped into the air, and they too shook the floating island.

Amidst the groan and grunt of metal, the island began to tilt up like a sinking ship. She felt her weight shift as she began to slide downward, back from whence she came. In her fleeting gaze, the beast and Rini began to recede, and for a second her last bits of hope did as well.

The gravity was overwhelming, and it numbed her mind as she skidded down the slope she had just so easily scaled.

But an ounce of courage took hold of her arm. She lifted the bow in her hand, the larger portion of it sticking out from direction of her pinkie, and shouted with might as she thrust it into the ground. It sank into the lush soil with such ease, that she almost didn't expect it to hold her as the rest of her body passed, and then caught with a bit of recoil.

She bounced a few times upon the bow, nestled deeply into the sideways ground with just enough length for her to grasp with both hands. Her feet dangled in open air, and she glanced down. The familiar sight of the distant world far below met her, those beams of searchlights scouring the ground. She must have been hundreds of miles high.

She pushed her legs forward just a little, managing to rest her feet upon the ground that slanted away from her. She was hanging nearly upside-down, but for the foot-and-a-quarter sky she could see way above her head.

But the sky was blocked by the beast. It barreled toward her across the surface of the ground as if it did not know nor obey it was sideways.

She gripped tightly about her bow, able to do nothing as she felt the beast's flank bash into her. Both she and the beast began to fall, the rush of the wind overtaking her as she was forced to let go of the bow.

An immense of fear and despair overtook her. She had come so close. She wished she could hear her brother's voice one more time, for she hadn't heard it in so long—not since before she started this dark journey.

As she stared up into the sky, though, she also felt a small streak of content. A strange, surrealistic peace of mind brought about by a dash of light across the sky. Then another. Then several more. She could almost see them, the little ferries, as they carried wishes with them to wherever their destination was. She wished that her brother was on one of them, traveling to safety.

As she closed her eyes, feeling both weightless and heavy, she heard a roar. It was not a roar of fury or malice; it was exactly the opposite. It echoed across the sky like a thunder-boom; a harbinger of defiance. One of the streaks of light redirected, and in her unfocused eyes she saw another feline creature dashing toward her. But this one was not threatening like the beast that she was still so close to. The animal's shoulders were bent with urgency and care, its head lowered with determination and focus, its eyes narrowed with confidence and strength.

The Sphinx's eyes were so strikingly yellow. They were refreshingly familiar; the eyes of a friend.

”Tutty.” She murmured, as the Sphinx passed her. She closed her eyes, and spread her arms and legs to catch the wind. She turned over, facing toward the ground, her ears flicking wildly against the turbulent wind. Then, beneath her, she could feel the warmth of the Sphinx as it leveled just underneath her, his velocity just slightly faster than hers. He slowed, and she was able to gently latch onto him in a tight embrace.

As soon as she was securely upon him, Tutty curled about himself, facing from three to nine on a face-clock. He flew upside-down for a brief moment, and her ears skirted the ground, whistling against the sonic-boom they were creating. Then, the Sphinx performed an Aileron, and launched toward the island. He traced the path she originally took, flying just a few yards away from the slide.

She looked up at the now-sideways island. She could see Rini standing upon the hill, defying gravity just as she defied everything else. The rabbit gritted her teeth. “Tutty, watch out.” She spoke calmly, sensing the other beast nearby.

He must have sensed it too, for as it tried to attack him from behind he half barrel-rolled to dodge.

She held on just like the bow had held onto her as she climbed up the ladder; not so much as with a tight grip, but magnetically.

The beast did not relent. It curled back upon itself in a tight Immelmann, after distancing from its target. The heads splayed at the jointed neck, facing one another. From between their open maws a red beam formed, and the beast dashed downward toward the girl.

She bit onto her lip. The beam reminded her of a light-saber; no doubt if she touched it she was toast. She poised against Tutty, her arms and legs coiled like springs, counting the heartbeats before the beast would cross them.

As the beam passed over Tutty's flattened ears, she pushed off with her hands. She felt the heat of the beam against her belly as it cut the empty space between her shirt and the Sphinx. Her hands latched onto Tutty's hide once more, and her feet sprang off. Her toes felt the cold wind as the laser cut across the excess room of her shoe.

She took in a deep breath as she latched fully back on to the flying feline, and “below” her the grass of the floating island consumed her vision. She braced herself as Tutty neared the top of the upturned island, and then abruptly did a somersault. Just as they were at the peak of the arc, she felt a sharp tingle in her spine. She split her ears across; and, just after, the red beam traveled across the ground of the island, charring a line in the dirt, and barely missing her scalp.

As they landed, the island shook with the force of Tutty's weight, and it was righted to its natural state.

At the bottom end of the island, just as it was corrected, the infernal beast was struck by the edge, and tossed in an arc, only to land on the ground, sending a quiver about the grass. It gathered its bearings rather quickly, and dashed toward the girl and the Sphinx once again.

Tutty reared up, forcing her to leap from his back, gracefully flipping to land on her feet. She watched as he slammed his fore-feet down, using them to literally pull himself forward. He became a golden blur, and slammed into the two-headed monster before it had any chance to dodge.

They collided and, for a moment, remained still. Just as her arrows had done with the lion's fireball, they fought for control of momentum. Over the course of a few moments, Tutty eventually won; they both growled as he carried the monster up into the air. They formed the liking of a comet, its golden tail twitching about as they hurdled toward the heavens. They disappeared one more moment later, going across all of the streaks of light from whence Tutty had come.

She closed her eyes, silently thanking her friend. Then she opened them, glaring at the girl before her, separated by little more than a yard-and-a-half.

Rini was frowning, her posture prim and her gaze filled with contempt. Then, she smiled in a condescending way.

The rabbit transitioned into a bow-stance in the blink of an eye, reached behind and readied her bo—Her left eye pulsed.

Her hands were empty.

”Looking for this?” Rini questioned, holding the curved stick in her hand. “It's so fragile; I almost broke it pulling it out of the ground.” She gripped it on either end and started to bend it to demonstrate her point.

”Give it back!” The doe growled.

”Why?” The rat questioned, shrugging and waving the weapon about in one hand idly, flaunting that it was in her possession; “This thing is a toy. It doesn't even have a string. It's worthless. Just. Like…” She pointed the bow, giving a condescending giggle: “You.”

Lyza shook her head, her anger fading. “You're wrong. I can prove it.”

Rini laughed. “Fine. Prove it. And if you do, you can have your stupid brother back!”

The bow was thrown, but Lyza caught it with a small hop into the air. Her ears twirled about limply, but straightened like curved battle-horns as she poised into her fighting stance once again. She raised the edge of the bow, intent on shooting the arrow directly between Rini's eyes. She pulled back on the invisible string, her fingers sure and her eyes focused.

She leased the arrow.

A second passed, and then another.

Rini began to cackle. She had her chin turned up as she did, and then abruptly she glared at the impudent rabbit, the rat's eyes swirling with a blood-red mist. Her voice took on a demonic inflection: “You're worthless,” she repeated.

All around them there was a high-pitched squeal, and a turbulent wind shook Lyza, coaxing her to fall to her knees. She let go of the bow, and it was taken away from her by the swirling gale, headed toward the rat. Her blackened claw reached out and snatched the weapon from the air as it whipped about, and she squeezed it between her fingers. It shattered like glass.

Just admit it. Rini growled, as black, bony wings erupted from her back. In the end, you don't amount to anything. She opened her mouth in a banshee call as she flew into the air, growing in size.

You stumble every step. You stutter every word. You slam into a wall at every turn. The demon form grew to such size that only her head and neck could be seen above the island. Her eyes closed and sealed shut with a layer of leathery skin. She slammed her webbed hands onto the island, causing it to shake.

Once more, she screamed at the rabbit: You. Just. Fail.

The rabbit quivered on her knees. The words began to seep into her mind, numbing her thoughts. They swam about, poisoning her. The bow was just a toy; a stick. She was playing pretend while the real world looked at her and laughed. Defective, without a string; it couldn't do what it needed to when she needed it to most.

It had failed.

She had failed.

She managed to open her eyes. She didn't cry; what was the point? There was no more running, no more hiding from the truth. Nothing to do but look Rini in the blind eye and accept it.

She took in a breath, and faced the grotesque rat. But she could only stare at the face of the demon for a second; not because of fear or shame. Something else caught her attention. Something big, and round, and white; just above the monster's shoulder.

The moon.

A smile crossed her face. She began to laugh. A tear beaded within each eye.

Stop laughing you moron!

She shook her head.

What's wrong with you?—besides everything else!

She moved her posture, setting one foot upon the ground. “Nothing's wrong with me.” She said, rather quietly, before standing fully. She brushed off her knees, and then rolled her neck a few times.

And just why do you think you get to act smug?

”Because,” the rabbit declared, raising her right hand palm-up in front of her; “I don't need a bow.”

The monster snarled in confusion, before sensing something amiss in the air. It raised its hand, and made to smash the rabbit right where she stood.

Lyza closed her eyes, and heard the demon grunt and hiss. Its clawed, webbed hand pressing against the invisible bubble surrounding her, trying desperately to break through.

The demon yowled as its arm was thrown upward, but it was determined. It spread its arms wide, and then brought its hands crashing together upon the rabbit, sending a shock-wave through the air that distorted the very fabric of reality, like ripples in a pond.

Smiling, the demon began to laugh.

Between the small places where its hands and fingers touched, an intense light burst forth. The hands were forced to recede, and the blind monster hissed at the brightness.

Lyza remained in a calm stance, hand raised and palm facing up as if ready to catch rain. Every strand of her fur was lit up, like she was made of fiber-optic cilia. Where her shoe had been cut, a focused beam of light cast upon the ground. Her eyes were aglow, the lack of pupils and iris giving her a ghostly, ethereal appearance.

In a last, frustrated effort to snub the rabbit's light, the demon raised its hands and curled its webbed fingers into fists. With a mighty roar, the demon brought them down upon either side of the island. The island emitted an awful, grating noise as its earth tore and a fissure sliced through the rock, bisecting the ground right between the rabbit's feet.

Slowly, and with the whimper of scraping metal and warble of warping plastic, the island and the structures under it began to crumble and sink. The island began to fall, destined to crash upon the ground.

Lyza was not destined to fall with it.

She remained where she was, as she was. The only difference was that her feet were now slack, as she floated in the air. Light began to bounce back and forth between her ears, much like electricity around a Tesla Coil.

The demon shielded its eyes from the focused light that began to appear from between the rabbit's brows. Left with no force and filled only with fear, the vile Queen turned away and began to flee, scurrying away upon meager gusts of wind.

”No you don't.”

Quickly, a marble-sized ball of light formed in her hand. She rolled it atop her curled fist, resting it upon her thumb, and flicked it toward the Queen. It flew with awesome speed, and grew to immense size and brightness.

The entire world rang with the screech of the Queen's terrified scream.

”I. Am not. Worthless.”


Lyza reached up with her numb hand, grasping at a solid thing. She pushed it away, and the source of the aggravating light disappeared.

”Finally!” Her brother said with relief.

”What are you doing?” She grumbled at him, sitting up and shoving the covers away. “It's not nice to shine lights at people's eyes. Now I can't see!”

”Sorry, sis,” he genuinely said, resting his hand on her shoulder. “But…I tried everything I could. You just wouldn't wake up. That was my second-to-last-resort. If that didn't work, I was afraid I might have to go Prince Charming on you. And I don't think anyone wants that to happen.”

”Blegh.” She shrugged his hand away. “Did you scream in my ear too? It's ringing like crazy.”

He shook his head. “Nope. But I did try shouting your name really loud.” He helped her get down from the bed by holding her hands. “How late did you stay up last night?” He questioned.

”Not that late.” She said, still finding her balance as she shook the pins and needles out of her arms and legs.

”Well you better get back on a schedule. You can't be staying up that late on school nights.”

Her ears fell. “It's Monday.”

”Yup,” he said, his smile so big he had to close his eyes to show it. “And I can't wait for Ms. Hupp to ask what you all did over the break.” He made his way to her door, “So hurry up and get dressed, or else you might actually be late!”

”All right,” she said wearily as he left her room. She yawned, and paused for a moment, looking at her bed.

She could swear she had the strangest dream, but all she could remember was something about a flower.

Lonely Oak Chapter 76


The Woods

Note: This is an excerpt from a larger series. If you enjoyed it, you may find the rest on SoFurry or InkBunny.