Hephestia stepped from the clock's insides and stared out at the land before her. She stood atop a knoll overlooking a field of purple flowers. They tilted and leaned, ducking in and out of sunlight, trying to steal the shade of one another. Her bare toes wiggled into the yellow-green grass, dirt sticking beneath her nails. It moved around her feet, holding her where she stood. Picking her feet up high she watched the grass ripping away as it tried to root her to the ground.
A roar and crash came from behind her. She eyes snapped around just as a large shadow spilled from the clock, its claws tore at a shiny light wrapped around it.
Hephestia shattered through the roar with one of her own. Not even the sticky grass could hold her here. She ran for the flowers, trying to land her little feet in between them and not disturb their shade-dance. The little flower faces started for her ankles, bending towards her as she passed. They started up a song, trilling behind her and getting closer. It grew to a shriek. She panted and held her arms close to her chest.
She fancied she could hear the big shadow at her heels.
Down another hill, she ran for the woods just yards away. There she could find a place to hide. The flowers' shriek was all around her now and they were biting at her bony ankles. They pricked her like little needles but she kept running. The monster behind her was scarier than sharp flowers.
Hephestia pushed back big willow branches and stumbled in to the deep blue forest. Everything fell still around her. She kept running, throwing her arms out about her when she felt she was going to lose her balance and fall. Hephestia didn't think she could hear the monster anymore, but he was just a shadow and maybe you couldn't hear one. Maybe he had gotten lost in the other shadows and couldn't get back out…
Something white loomed in the dark of the forest and Hephestia tucked her head and ran for it faster. She tripped on a branch, but didn't fall. Her shins hurt. Her feet were blistering. Her throat was dry and scratchy. She kept going.
The white thing was a bench. Hephestia stopped and climbed atop it, sitting down and wrapping her arms around her knees. She looked back the way she'd come, nothing was there. Her lips fish-oh'd. Nothing moved. Hephestia sat and cried into her arms.
D'gaar stood on the hill watching his little ward take off through the Dragon Snaps. He was out of breath. He grabbed at the gash on his arm with a shudder. It had taken so much to fight his way through the clock's boundaries. Hephestia's fear pulled at him, sucked him through as he felt it like it was his own. His heart was slowing steadily.
He could not pass through the flowers - they would do more than nip at his heels. They could devour the soul of a Hider like him. D'gaar would find another way around. To his right was a valley wrapped around a river. To his left was a jagged mountain. Sniffing in irritation, D'gaar chose the river valley.
He stepped down the hill carefully in case any Dragon Snaps hid among the tall grass. His shoulders stooped as he walked, his hulking form caving in.
Tall oaky trees with blinking faces watched him pass by. They whispered to him, begging him to let them go. He didn't look at them. He kept his eyes forward. Any distraction could mean the destruction of his precious Hephestia. They spoke louder, pushing their voices in his ears. "Help us. Let us go. Get us out of here." It put a shiver down his spine.
D'gaar ran. He didn't stop until his feet splashed in the river's water. They slid on the flat rocks at the water's edge. He fell backwards, wings flapping twice before he smacked into the shallow water. The current stirred, picking up his wings and rising to push him to the shore. D'gaar climbed to his feet once more, his back claws hooking down into the ground to steady him. The water retreated. "Thank you," he muttered.
In the middle of the river rose a feminine shape. It shifted and swirled, forming arms, forming a head, and bared long legs. It moved as if walking, coming for the shore. "You're looking for the new one. She will be called to him. She cannot help herself." Her voice was drowned.
Taking a few safe steps back, D'gaar looked at the Sprite. "How do I get there first?"
A watery trill of a laugh. "You do not, Watcher-Beast, little Hider. The child belongs to us now."
"Not yet. She is still mine, and I shall make sure it stays that way. Now, where can I find him?"
She guttered and twisted in on herself, a mocking geyser bubbling up from the river. "You know not for what you hunt," she said, "and you shall only find demise and sadness when you find him. Give it up, remain here…with me." She settled back into the flowing womanly shape.
D'gaar scoffed, "So you can pour yourself into my lungs and drain my life?"
"I would offer you life, not death. You're not like the other visitors." Her hands flowed across something half-buried in the muddy bank, white as bone."You would suit me alive, not dead." She reached out to him, her finger tips falling into droplets. She started to cascade into a waterfall, losing all shape as she passed the rocky edge. She lunged as fast and far as she could, trying to form her hands to grab at him. He stumbled back and her body fell apart as she hit the shore.
With a grimace, D'gaar knew the river was closed to him. He turned towards the mountains; this way he would be able see the obstacles ahead. Across the valley he would find Hephestia and the Weaver of Dreams and Nightmares, the Sleeping Man.