He blinked once. Twice. Thrice. In Dane's mind something was terribly wrong: gnarled husks of trees littered his surroundings as he recently got up from the jagged, moss-encrusted floor just a few minutes ago when he awoke with a violent jolt. The air smelled sickly, the pungent stench of rotting garbage and decay tortured his nostrils causing the teen to pinch his index and thumb over his nose. His auburn eyes scanned the place around him, but the gripping darkness made sight almost impossible. The sun appeared to have been blotted out by thick clouds of dark mist which flashed with an eerie emerald light whenever a green bolt of forked lightning arched through the dying skies. The tendrils of shadows unnerved the young lad as he tried shambling his way through the myriad of forsaken trees whose visages depicted that of unbearable tortures and scarred wounds. Different flora had always piqued Dane's interest as he believed that there is more to plants that what meets the eye. They spoke of different tales from the green of their leaves, to the brown, to the dead. And, for some reason, he couldn't help but wonder what kind of language these dead trees spoke. Did they scream for help? Did anyone hear them fall?
His sneakers thumped on the uneven earth, stumbling upon a dried patch of dead weeds which cushioned his fall. "Where am I?" Dane whimpered, not quite prepared for his seventeen-year old life to come to an abrupt end in no-man's land. He remembered anything a few hours ago, but as he wracked his brain for any fragments of memories that he could piece together, he found only himself succumbing to a head-splitting throbbing ache across his skull. "Fuck!" He cursed upon the winds before he decided to keep moving. In any place like this, it was always better to keep moving.
As he trudged through the dark forest which only seemed to keep extending indefinitely, Dane couldn't stifle the thoughts of kidnapping that ran through his mind. "I swear, Mark's behind this abduction!" He whispered in angry hisses. "He's always been jealous that I beat him time and time again in League of Legends, and I even made his girlfriend Carla swoon for me when I reached Diamond before he did!" His fingers tightened their grip on his rather skinny arms. The cold frigid winds bit at his skin which never came as a surprise as he never really got to wear anything decent other than a plain, short-sleeved gray shirt which were pulled over faded jeans. Soon, frosty breaths fogged out of his lips and nose whenever he breathed, and moving became increasingly difficult as his joints began to throb with a dull ache.
He was going to die. He was going to fucking die! Dane gritted his teeth at the thought, but what made him angrier was how defenseless he had been. He couldn't even put up a fight (not that he could actually put one up, but he at least wanted to die trying). He had always tried to keep out of the radar, live his life as normal as possible, and probably become a priest just so he could have an excuse as to why he didn't get a girlfriend. People always seemed to accept that no matter how ugly one was. They were certainly watching him now, laughing as he suffers slowly until his bones freeze to death. Dane growled his loathing, clawing at his shoulders before, finally, his fury broke loose in the form of a pathetic scream which echoed out through the forest around him. His erratic breathing steadied, and he thought about how much of a boring life had lived anyway. Average grades, few friends, virgin since birth, musically disabled, nerdy, and a right hand that's seen more action than his bed. If he died, no one would miss him at home. His genius of a brother would probably sigh in relief at his demise, he'd speak a 'heartfelt' speech at his funeral but secretly wished he could jeer instead. He could see his sister jumping in joy, because she can finally take his room as an extension of hers. His hardworking, single mother would finally have a burden lifted off of her shoulders.
"No one's gonna miss me." Dane mumbled under his breath as he fell to the cold ground, rolling on his back which allowed him to see the dark skies once more. "Yeah." He huffed with a sad smile. "If anything, me dying would make more people happy than me being alive." He resigned his fate, closed his eyes, and waited for Death's gentle caress to cradle him to the eternal sleep where the pain would all end.
Well, that was until he heard a rushing sound, like how water stampedes from a cliff, coming toward him from the far end of the dim trees. His body drew strength from a locus even Dane was not aware of, causing him to bolt up just in time to see a wall of deathly mist heading straight for him. All thoughts of death, and surrender expunged out of him as the teen drew to his feet before dashing away from the onslaught of shadows. "Holy shit! Is this the Shadow Isles?!" He panted as his underdeveloped physique threatened to give up as he swerved and veered from the trees that threatened to slam against him as he sprinted past them. The fog continued with unabated speed, threatening to devour the lad in its black maw. His sides ached from fatigue, and all hope seemed to have been drained out of him as his eyes landed on a mound of earth that walled him off from the elevated land above. He reached a dead end, and the fog showed no signs of stopping. The wall was only about three or five meters, but at his moment, it seemed like Hadrian's. However, as the mist reached for him, Dane jumped towards the wall anyway. He grabbed on any rock, crevice, or whatever thing he could hold on, and began to climb fast. His arms threatened to tear itself apart as he ascended the wall. And, finally, just when the fog reached for his feet, he hoisted himself up before rolling around in the relatively safe arms of the elevated earth.
Dane scampered away, immediately standing up as he saw how the fog thrashed upon the lower ground like a sea of nightmares. It ebbed and flowed like the waves just as he saw his left sneaker slowly dissolving in the fog. "I lost it." He mumbled to himself, not really sure how to feel amidst the torrent of fatigue, relief, and euphoria surging within his veins. As his eyes observed the sea of black that loomed beneath him, a sudden wave of memories invaded his mind.
He remembered how he rushed towards his room just as his family finished grilling him on why he wanted to join a flower planting club. It was a useless affair, his brother said. Why should he concern himself with the ephemeral, his sister chimed in. None of them understood. No one really did. Flowers and plants spoke their own language as far as Dane was concerned. Orchids, tulips, roses. All of them spoke of meaning; he understood the meaning in every petal. But, of course, why would a future doctor and lawyer find anything important with things that can't really help them become rich?
So, he slammed his door closed before throwing himself on his bed. He covered his eyes with his hands, trying to force back the tears which threatened to stab at his eyes. No one ever understood his interests, no one but them. Dane was the type of child who created imaginary friends and an imaginary world. They were the only ones who understood him, and at this thought, the boy darted for the dusty box which sat beneath his bed. He pulled it out, lifting the lid open as he saw a small notebook which he knew contained the drawings of his world. He opened the notebooks, seeing a lean-looking maiden with rich, blonde hair tied in a ponytail. Her striking blue eyes always stared at him whenever they would go on adventures together. Cadence, he used to call her. Cadence always had her deck of cards which she used to bring Dane's imagination to life. Whatever Dane imagined, Cadence would use the cards to bring it to reality. Once on their adventures, Dane wanted a river because he wanted the mermaids to have another home, so, Cadence threw a card into the air which sprang forth a rich, crystalline river which flowed on and on.
He also remembered the Promise Stone which he and Cadence carved together, hiding it in a wreath of orange blossoms as a symbol of a vow that Dane will never forsake the kingdom he had created in the Imagined World.
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