I kept my gaze lowered on the forest floor, desperately trying not to trip again. It was still dark, despite the time. Squinting, I glanced up at the canopy overhead, and saw shafts of brilliant amber light begin to spill through the gaps in the branches. That lack of concentration earned me sodden feet as I stumbled into a large pond. Weeds swayed in the rippling water and I groaned. I didn't know where I was. I grappled with the vines hanging from the arms of the trees and lowered myself to the ground surrounding the water. Something sharp scraped my ankle, and pain erupted, colours flashing behind my eyes. In the dim light, I managed to discover shards of amethyst protruding from the leaf-strewn ground. I began to sweat, and not from the heat. My head was throbbing; from the pain, from the heat, from the exhaustion. Through the haze in my mind I tore through all the information I had gathered about this forest. Enchanted pools surrounded by dazzling yet poisonous rocks and gems. And healing leaves.
I spun my head around, trying to spot a sign of the red spotted leaves that would be my salvation. The wretched poison had already entered my system, slowing down my movements. I could hear my heart beating sluggishly in my ears. Heat was rising, vision was fading, and all the while the elusive leaves were refusing to reveal themselves. My heart seemed to be straining to pump. I tasted bile in my throat; no doubt my stomach beginning to revolt. But it would do no good. The toxic concoction was in my blood, not my belly. I was living out what I thought were my final minutes, when I heard a splash.
Despite my situation, despite my terror, I craned my neck to find the source of the noise. The hair on the back of my neck stood up as I saw an ethereal, glowing creature enter the pool. Splashing softly, somehow barely making a ripple with its powerful legs, a bright, pulsing horse approached. Almost transparent, the horse emitted an eerie blue light, coming ever closer. Time itself had slowed to a stand-still. My eyes rose to its face. Large, empty eyes lay either side of a mottled muzzle, and a pale mane flowed from its head. As I studied it more carefully, I noted that it wasn't exactly a horse. It was a creature of myth, of legend. Fine, arching, bird-like wings dipped into the water and trailed behind the beast. The feathers were opalescent, not quite any colour. In the light spilling through the canopy they looked golden, yet when the wings shifted, pinks, greens and purples shimmered.
What a wonderful way to die, I thought, smiling softly when the angel lowered its muzzle to my hand. It licked my fingers tentatively, and then moved to my ankle. Don't bother, I tried to say. But it came out as a gurgle, and blood filled my mouth. As the world titled and dimmed even further, I was slightly aware of the horse tending to my ankle. I could no longer breathe; the blood that filled my mouth was preventing me from accessing air, and I inhaled it into my lungs. Spluttering, my body convulsed. I tried to resist death. As I kicked out, my injured ankle made contact with the angel's strong neck, and knives made of molten lava carved through my leg, turning it inside out. I stripped my throat clean with a scream that echoed through the trees.
The creatures in the branches mimicked me, peering at me with curious yellow eyes. My head was no longer pounding, and I couldn't feel the pain anymore. Is this death? I dared to lift my head. There, lying on my chest was a bundle of red speckled leaves. It was only then when I noticed the sour taste lingering in my mouth. Not the blood that I had choked on moments before, but the zingy aftertaste of the leaves. I sat up with a jolt, my stomach clenching as I looked wildly around. Where was the horse? Had it healed me? No. It hadn't left me with leaves; it had tried to heal my ankle. Yet as I fingered the swollen skin at the top of my boot, I found no trace of the cut that has ailed me so. I might've thought it all a dream, if I had not spotted a glint in the corner of my eye.
The clearing containing the pool of water had lightened considerably, and the breaking dawn showered the forest in rays of blinding light. Had I not seen the glint of its feathers, I might never have seen the angel's wing tip vanish behind the oak tree.