Feet ached, and mouths gasped. The two travellers, weary from a long day with few breaks, collapsed together and began to crawl. steadily forward.
The man looked at the woman beside him. They came a long way from the capital. As they crested the hill and slid down the rain-dampened grass, Richard pulled Dawn close and held her tightly.
“Got any more miles in those feet, Dawn?” the man asked after a few moments.
“None for today. Maybe not tomorrow, either.” Dawn forced a smile. “Let’s just crawl somewhere dark and rest for the night.” She paused to pant for a few moments. “Are you sure we can’t use our cells to just call my aunt?”
“Positive. If they have control over the capital,” he started before he paused to take a deep breath. “If they have control over the capital, they have control over the cell towers.” He shook his head and took another deep breath. “They’ll find us without a doubt if we use our phones. Better to just show up as a surprise.” Richard forced a smile as he looked around for a hidden place they could sleep.
Finally, they found a large, hollow log and crawled inside. It was cramped, but the two soon fell into deep, dreamless sleep. They woke to gentle sunlight, and Richard slowly crawled forward to look out. His jaw dropped open, and he could only stare in awe at the land in front of him.
Dawn crawled forward on her elbows and peered out with worried eyes. As she saw the land outside the tree trunk, she gasped. “So pretty.” her murmur stirred Richard from his reverie, and he managed to nod silently.
Before them, the valley they stumbled upon was filled with strange plants and animals. There were flowers that were clear and shaped like macarons with a single rounded point at the top. They blew in the gentle breeze, and insects covered in fur landed on them. As a flower was landed on, it popped and sparkling rain blew down from its remains.
Here and there, the spray caught on a spider’s web, and the silken threads became beaded with the finest opals in the morning light.
Tiny birds with sequin-like scales darted past, duck bills trilling a sweet song as they moved in perfectly synchronized patterns. They formed many shapes during their dancing flight, and reflected the rainbow’s every hue. The birds darted past a giant creature that looked like a spine-covered kiwi bird, stretching its head slowly forward as it gazed at something hidden from sight by tall grass and flowers.
The two humans felt completely alien in this unusual world they stumbled into. Everything around them was somehow fantastic, but very familiar. Dawn looked down, as though ready to pull herself from their hiding place, only to stop. A tiny army of crabs, each the size of a cherry, was marching by.
The wings on the back of each crab looked oversized and delicate, and the crabs flitted them occasionally. Eventually, all of the crabs began to buzz as their wings started to move all at once, and Dawn could hear their wings buzzing, as though they were bees.
The warm sunlight and the cool breeze seemed at odds as they fought to wake all in the valley. Some flowers bloomed, and more birds began to sing from a forest not far from the trunk. The wind swayed each bell-like flower, and the blooms began to fall. A few drifted and sashayed over Richard and Dawn’s heads, and the pair looked up in time to see a colorful bird head within each blossom. Each bird sang with all of its energy.
Dawn slowly held out her hands, and as one of the flower-birds landed, she realized the thing was as large as a canteloupe at the dome of the bell, and flared out to twice that at the rim. The bird inside paused its singing to regard her with eyes like a goat and began to sing again, as though it was not unnatural.
Neither human could speak as they both looked at the flower-bird. They looked at each other briefly, then again at the creature in Dawn’s hands.
Richard tried to speak, but his words died as he opened his dry mouth. Again, the humans looked at each other. Dawn carefully released the flower-bird, and the pair simply watched as, once it landed, the petals drew back and became a colorful bird’s body for the singing head.
The pair remained where they were for several hours before Dawn finally pulled herself out during the quiet heat of the day. Richard followed shortly after, and the pair gripped each others’ hands. Slowly, quietly, as though they thought they would break the peace in the valley if they spoke or snapped a twig, or touched anything more than they already had.
As they exited the valley, Dawn looked back. Everything looked normal and boring. Dandelions released their seeds into the wind as bees flitted about, and birds sang. Richard looked back and frowned. “Where did everything go?”
“I have no idea.” Dawn shook her head. “Everything was just…” She trailed off and looked up at him. “I can’t even explain it.”
“I don’t think I can, either.” Richard scratched the back of his head. His short hair prickled at his fingers, and he paused as he felt something sticky. He pulled his hand back and stared at the red blood on his fingers for a moment before he fell.
“Richard!” Dawn cried as she knelt beside him. She desperately looked around for any sign of what felled him, but saw nothing. “Richard, get up!” She shook him by his shoulders, but he only groaned.
An itch formed on the back of Dawn’s head, and she became tense. Slowly, she reached back and touched it. Sticky. She pulled Richard close to herself and shakily stood. If she could just get him to that strange valley, they might be safe!
Before she could make it, she fell. Fully awake, she could neither move, nor speak.
Heavy boots approached, and a hot wind whipped about the pair. Someone flipped her onto her back, and she stared up at the dragon-rider and the grey-coat. A dragon’s head snaked into view and snorted at the pair. Richard and Dawn were caught by the invaders.
The dragon rider raised his sword and thrust it downward.