Danielle lay still for a moment. She realized she was in that fuzzy state of mind between dreaming and waking. Slowly, she opened her eyes, expecting to see her mobile of clouds gently bobbing above her head. Even though she’d had the mobile since she was little, because it came from her grandmother, she hadn’t been able to put it away. So she gasped a little when—instead of a mobile dangling from her bedroom ceiling—she saw real, crimson-tinted clouds drifting high above. They floated above a ring of treetops. Was she still dreaming? Even as she thought it, she realized that, no, this wasn’t a dream.
“Where are we now?” she asked, not even bothering to look for Ercen or Kimar.
“In a different place,” replied the deep, grumbling voice of Kimar.
“Well, that isn’t especially helpful, now is it?” quipped Danielle.
“Child, we needed to part from the cavern of Osberg the Great. We were being followed.” Ercen spoke quietly, looking intently at Danielle with her large amber eyes.
“OK, fine. We had to leave in a hurry, I get it. You took me from the cul-de-sac I was collecting on for my newspaper route, because I had been ‘foretold’ to you. And you waited two months to snatch me, right? What’s that all about, then?” Danielle’s voice sounded jittery. She realized her hands were shaking noticeably, so she sat on them.
Kimar, who had been standing, sat down on the ground. The tops of the huge firs were glowing red from the setting sun. Aimlessly, Kimar pulled a fallen tree branch to his lap and began peeling the bark off of it, like Danielle had seen her father do many times on their family camping trips. The difference was that her father’s branches were twigs, and he used a pocketknife. Kimar’s was the size of the branches her father cut for firewood to bring home, and instead of a knife, Kimar used the talon above his first finger. First, he drew his talon the length of the branch, angling it into the bark so that, as it cut away from the branch, it curled tightly. When he reached the end, his talon twisted in such a way that the angle was perfectly reversed. A moment later, another curled ribbon of bark dropped from the opposite end of the branch.
Ercen paced nearby. Her movement reminded Danielle of the motion of herons she’d watched near her school. Slow. Elegant. A bit awkward.
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