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welcome to the calliope project

Rhys felt as if he awoke from a deathlike sleep but he didn’t find himself in a cold coffin, or a fever-warmed bed.  He was running through a clearing and then a grove and then splashing across a small stream.  He tried to slow his pace but his legs seemed to be a separate entity from his body.  He looked about in wonderment anyway.  Why was he running?  He couldn’t remember.  Was something chasing him of was he searching for something?  He felt he didn’t have time to ponder.

He dove behind a long that formed a hovel-like space in the ground.  His eyes peered over the top of the rock carefully.  Whatever was after him or whatever he was looking for was out of sight.  He turned back, pressing his back against the log behind him.  He stared at the ground in confusion. 

What was he doing here?  How’d he get here?  Where was he?  He glanced at his hands and legs, looking foreign to him.  He bent his fingers but the motions seemed new.

He shook his head in resignation.  One sometimes feels lost after a dream, he thought to himself.  He used his hands to push himself off the ground and into a standing position.  He glanced around the silent forest and took a few slow steps.  The feeling of frustration overcame him once more as the unnaturally quiet atmosphere befell him.  He grew more and more puzzled by this strange forgetfulness.

Ah, it will pass and I will soon remember, he said, now walking confidently across a fallen log.  He came upon a small, wooden bridge built over a tiny stream.  The bridge was nearly useless.  One could easily leap over the trickling stream or walk through it; the water would reach only up to a child’s knee.

An amused smile crept onto Rhys’ lips as he thought of the silly architect who built the useless bridge that would be used by no one.  Well, architect, I will use your bridge. 

Rhys stepped onto the sturdy planks.  His steps could be heard firmly on the wood; the sound of old, creaking wood was absent.  An odd, hair-raising feeling came over him.  He knew this bridge… but it was new.  Invisible memories surfaced within him.  This bridge, what does it mean.  Overwhelming emotions flooded him.  Anger.  Sadness.  Happiness and Hopelessness.  He felt it all but no images came to him, only emotions.  The surfacing emotions turned into a violent flood.  Suddenly, he was blind, drowning.  Though he stood still, he was flailing roughly for air, sight, comprehension… anything to bring him from the dark, storming void.

Moonlight.  The calm, soft beams of the moon shined down on him.  A pleasant warmth encircled him and he no longer felt alone.  The painful flood subsided and slowly blindness turned into fluttering sight.  Moonlight.

As he was pulled out of the dark void he quickly glanced up at the sky.  There was no moon.  He only stared up at patches of sunlight filtering through a leafy roof.  He slowly looked down at the stream with a hint of disappointment on his face. 

Where was the moon?  And that warmth?  Those images, those feelings…more distinct than the most cherished memories.  Rhys stood up, having fallen, half-hanging on the wooden railing.

“It was real,” he said aloud in a determined tone to anyone who may be staring at him with disbelief.  But no one was there.  The silence seemed scorning, laughing mockingly at his strange antics.

He straightened himself, standing with conviction against the forest’s invisible, silent stares.  He studied the bridge for a moment, hoping it would recall memories from the strange forgetful, void that was his mind.  Nothing again came of the bridge.  It was just a bridge.

Perhaps I’m going mad, Rhys thought.  But I feel quite fine.

For hours, it seemed that Rhys wandered the forest, turning at random directions through the darkening trees, ducking low branches and hopping lightly off partially submerged boulders that had fallen into a calm, narrow river.  Sometimes, he came upon his own footsteps that had laid it imprints, cracking the dry mud of the river’s banks, or leaving unnatural indentations on the leafy forest floor.

He would stare at his imprints on the ground in thought, pondering about the concept of a past.  These footsteps were from the past.  A relatively new past, Rhys though, but a past.  Was it all he had though?

He felt as if he had a past.  Of course, he had to have a past.  Everyone did.  Where was everyone anyway?  Perhaps someone would recognize him, tell him and set him into a direction.  But he saw no one or any sign of anyone.

He continued to walk on, amused as his thoughts.  Of course, I have a past.  I just can’t remember it at the moment.  He continued in this light amusement until he came upon a path that split into two separate trails, obliging Rhys to make a decision.

The paths looked strangely identical.  Both bore the same admittance of the sun’s light, the same calm but vibrant trees and of course the familiar silence.  Neither bore any features that would persuade a traveler to choose one over the other. 

He couldn’t turn back.  He would only run into his confusing footsteps and that overwhelming bridge.

Without much more than a mere thought, Rhys chose a path, or at least convinced himself that he chose a path.  A gravity seemed to pull at him, urging him into a certain direction. 

Rhys could not resist even if he tried to.  The gravity, the impulse that pulled him in the direction of one of the identical paths was not beckoning but very strong.  The pull was gentle but resolute.  Rhys instantly deferred himself for the feeling of direction in this unknown forest.

As he passed through the grove beyond the split of the path, the sense of nagging directing departed as if it were never there.  One of the madness’ tricks.  The pull, the guide was gone but he didn’t feel entirely lost.  He was in a new territory of the forest.  Something had to be found here.

This region of the forest seemed to familiar but he found not footsteps nor the stream or any sign of the bridge.  He successfully convinced himself that he was would be lost not much longer.

The moon slyly crept onto the sky without notice.  Suddenly, it was night and the moon’s light guided him through a vast valley.  Rhys had walked the remainder of the day without stop for anything; rest, food, water or even contemplation.  He glanced up at the moon with surprise, unaware of it’s arrival and entertained by the fact that he felt no exhaustion.

The gentle valley slowly evolved into a rocky terrace, forcing Rhys on his hands and knees to prevail over the jagged rocks.

As he progressed further, the moonlight seemed to have dimmed.  He pulled himself onto a high ledge, struggling for breath, his limbs quickly becoming victim to fatigue.  Conquering this ledge, his eyes peered over the rugged surface of the rocky shelf.  His eyes widened at the sight of a towering precipice, hindering the moon’s guiding light.  The precipice soared like a giant, carved tower, one of Nature’s most unstoppable climbing toward the sky.

For a moment, Rhys stared at what seemed like a vertical wall in dismay.  Had he come all this way only to turn back?  Perhaps, he chose the wrong path. 

But how could that be possible?  Something pulled him here.  He shook his head.  No, he wouldn’t turn back.  He had grown terribly unfavorable to aimlessness.  He couldn’t bear to lose direction again.  He wanted that strange gravity pulling at him.  Even if it had to drag him up a colossal vertical wall.

With newfound determination, he set out for the base of the cliff.  The climb over the rocky terrace gradually became steeper and finally be began the climb of the precipice.

Rhys felt no worry for his life nor did he realize the risk in the climb.  He did not even know his frustration over his forgotten memories, or his hopelessness.

He climbed on, placing his hands on the smooth marble-like ledges; each was placed, it seemed, especially for him.  No shelf was too high to reach no was any too far to leap to.  No rocks were too jagged to hang from and there were never any holds that were too far.  He never had to turn back.

As he hung from a bold, his foot carefully reaching for the ledge next to him he glanced down at the earth beneath him in amazement.  Had he really climbed this high?  He placed his fixed his feet on the ledge and walked his hands over until he stood securely on the ledge.  He gazed down at the humbled boulders which were now like mere snowflakes tainting the blackness of the ground.

Rhys was in disbelief.  He had not climbed his far.  He did not feel as if he did.  He felt no fatigue or exhaustion.  He stared at his hands, untainted by the cuts and scrapes which usually decorated veteran and inexperienced climbers.

He decided not to question his achievement any longer.  He realized that each time he stooped and though, he fell into a pit of frustration.  He was emerging from the pit now.  He could not fall.

Rhys resumed his clinging hold on the wall, craning his neck slightly to see the top of the precipice.  He was almost there.  It will take time though, Rhys thought as he silently calculated his final steps and holds toward the top.

Each hold seemed to become ridiculously easy.  The rest of the way up the climb would be hasty.  The cliff favored hi, and reorganized itself so Rhys would reach the top as soon as possible.

The organization of the cliff though simple confused Rhys.  How could a climb so high be so effortless.  He placed a hand on the uppermost flat and pulled himself up.  Perhaps his driving determination hindered his mind so he did not notice any difficulties.  Yes, that’s it.

He pulled his flailing legs after him and onto the cliff top.  He smiled proudly to himself as he looked at the world he left below him.

He tore his gaze away from the earth and turned at his feel, finding himself immersed in the moon’s gentle light.  For a moment, he celebrated in humble triumph then wonder and questions flooded his mind once again.  What was he to do now?

Rhys looked around, studying his new surroundings.  He stood on the vast marble, floors of a grand exquisite palace but there were no surrounding walls, no columns that barred the area… nothing.  He stood on a marble plain that stretched out to eternity.  As he continued to superficially study his new plain of wandering, his eye caught a glimpse of a girl… a young woman…

Rhys blinked several times, not remember the last meeting he had with another person.  He studied the woman silently, curiously as if forgetting what another person looked like.

Rhys smiled faintly, believe he had attained his prize.  Surely, this person had answers.

“Excuse me,” he said aloud, his voice weak and foreign from disuse.  “Excuse me,” he repeated when the woman did not respond.  His absent smile twisted into a light frown.

The frown etched itself deeper into Rhys’ face as he approached the woman, hearing the light but truly painful sobs.  Though her face was unobstructed she took no notice of him.  She only proceeded to weep and sob, staring at the immediate nothingness before her. 

A deep sadness overcame Rhys as he watched the woman.  He felt a mysterious yet familiar connection to this stranger…

She stood, the only major movement she made and step by step inched her way toward the edge of the cliff.  Rhys tilted his head curiously and then suddenly leapt in panic.  She was going to jump.  The woman stared down the drop intently.

“No!” Rhys screamed in horror, reaching out for her.  He did not see his arm in front of him.  He was frozen.  Not in fright or panic.  He was just frozen, immobile and mute. “Miss?” He pleaded.  She only continued to study the drop.  She took another step.  Rhys cringed.  In a moment she wouldn’t be standing there.

His arm touched her shoulder.  He did not know how he came to be next to her but suddenly he was behind her, placing a hesitant hand on her shoulder.  She seemed to sink in the warm comfort that exuded from Rhys’ touch.

She jerked a frightened face at him, scrambling away from him but also from the edge of the cliff.  Large, frightened eyes glistening with tears and moonlight gleamed fiercely at him.  Startled, too, Rhys took a few retreating steps as he studied at her.  An intangible sense of familiarity overcame him as he was immersed in the world of her bright but tear-stricken eyes.  Her elegant face exuded sadness and sophistication, a product of torment and saddening revelation.  Despite her radiating sorrow, Rhys envied her.  Her sadness came from her past.  She had a past and he didn’t.

As she watched him, her fright eased away as her defensive hands fell to her sides and onto the smooth marble ground.  Her face, still miserably sad, looked up at him with curious, questioning eyes.

“I’m… I’m sorry.  I didn’t mean to frighten you, “ Rhys said with nervous attempts at reassuring smiles.  He took a few reluctant steps towar her.

Her face twisted into startled realization.  Her eyes widened into surprised, a surprise born from anxious expectation.

“How… did you get here?” she rasped in a little voice, furiously drying her tears.

“I climbed, “ he replied with a friendly smile.  He did not want to scare her away.  He had many questions, and this woman, being the only one around, sure had to have answers.

The woman blinked, her face twisting into scrutiny.  She glanced down again the edge of the vertical drop.

“All the way up?” she turned back to him; the frightened, little voice was now a tone of disbelief.

“All the way up,” he repeated, nodding with a hint of pride of the accomplishment he wanted to believe was truly his.

“But… how?” she whispered, more to herself.  “Where are you from?”

“The forest,” he replied quickly, panicked at thought of her rushing away when learning that he was a possible madman.

“The- the forest?  No one lives in the forest, “ she replied.  They stared at each other with blatant scrutiny.  She couldn’t have possibly known every inch of the forest to know whether or not anyone lived in it.

“Where are you really from?” she asked, this time in a dire tone.

Rhys did not sense her urgent desire to know of his origins but tried to smile off her question charmingly. 

“A far off land,” he said.  “Do you know where I am?  I’m terribly lost.”

She smiled a mysteriously empathetic and knowing smile.  “I know you are lost.  Everyone that comes here is lost.”

“Do many come here?” Rhys asked.

She continued speaking as if never hearing his question.  “But here does not have a name and if it did it would not matter,” she spoke in a sad, hopeless tone and angered and annoyed Rhys.  He did not like being lost.

“How do I get out of here?” he said sharply.

“Why don’t you stay a while?” she said, a hand gesturing to an airy, open mansion in the immediate distance.  It was a regal structure, the crown of the cliff.  Regal domes with pointed tops scraped against the sky, yearning to be free.  Simple but elegant columns seemed to hold the intangible, floating structure down to the earth rather than supported. What seemed to set this mansion off the ground was the pool of water around it.  The reflection of the mansion was a glowing white and its image, obscured by the water transformed into beams of energy ready to launch the structure to the moon.

Rhys stared at the elegant, dreamlike structure in bemusement.  He did not notice this before.  I must be growing mad.  Or very tired.  He desperately hoped he only tired. 

“The sun will be more help than the moon ever will.  Stay awhile.  No harm will come of it.”  As she stood and walked away, cool and confident, Rhys only watched in perplexity.  Was she not ready to fling herself to death moments ago?

Seeing that he could do little else, he fell into stride next to her.  They crossed a decaying, stone bridge over the pool of water. 

“You’ve lived here a long while?” Rhys asked.

“Yes, ever since I could remember,” she replied.

“And before you could remember?”

She took a mere glance at him and took a few hasty but planned steps down a stairway leading into the garden, dim and peaceful, that guarded the mansion.  She gave an amused laugh, almost forced, Rhys thought.  He stopped at the top of the stairway and merely looked at her.

“Does it matter?  Before I could remember.”

“Of course,” Rhys said.  He took a surveying glance around the garden.  “It is your past, isn’t it?”

“True, but knowing it or not will not affect me.”

Rhys smiled slightly at her response.  “What is your name?” He places his hand on the cold railing, preparing to amble down the steps when she dashed up the steps.

“Reala.”

“Reala?  That’s pretty,” Rhys gave a genuine smile.  “I’m Rhys.”  She only nodded, quickly, like she knew his name already.

“I wish I could remember my past right now.  Then I would tell you about me.”

“You… cannot remember?” She asked with the same tone of feared expectation.  “How can that be?” She seemed to force her question and her concern.

“I really don’t remember.  It was as if I was just put here,” Rhys said with absent thought.  He grinned.  “Silly, isn’t it?  How can I just not remember?”

Reala seemed to stare at him in sorrow. “Maybe, you’re a madman.”

“I do not feel mad.  I feel quite sane, actually.”

“Many madmen probably feel sane,” she said.  Rhys felt her eyes glance at him.  “Maybe,” she said, “feel sane spares them anguish.”  Rhys did not understand, not remembering if he knew any madmen.  He stared at her with curiosity.

“Perhaps,” she continued when she saw his clueless face, “if a madman knows that he is mad, he would feel pain and anguish by knowing.  If a madman prances around feeling what he believes is sanity then he has nothing to grieve over.”

Rhys thought for a moment.  “That makes sense.  So I am either a madman who thinks his sane or a plain, ordinary man.”

“Perhaps, or nothing at all,” she mumbled under her breath.

“I’m sorry, I did not hear.”

Reala only smiled.  Rhys frowned.  This girl certainly was perplexing.

“Did you know any madmen?”

She gave a shrug.  “Everyone is a little mad.  Some more than others.  What about you?  Do you remember any madmen?”

“I feel as if I did know one or two,” Rhys said with a smile, hoping his memories were beginning to come back to him.

Reala’s mysterious, saucy smile seemed to be startles away by his answer.

“Well, you said everyone must be a little mad,” Rhys said, seeing her growing frown.

Reala tried to smile.  “Look at us.  We speak of lost memories and madmen.”

“What should we speak of then?” Rhys’ attention suddenly came upon a tree with bluish leaves falling like discouraged tears.  The leaves draped over the body of tree as if to hide the mourner, too proud to show tears.  “That tree is rather strange.  What kind is it?”

Reala took a hesitant glance at the eerie but mysterious and alluring tree.  “Just any other tree,” she replied casually.  “Are you hungry?” she took a couple steps up the stairway toward him.  “Why don’t we go in to eat?”

“It’s a kind offer, but I do now wish to intrude your home.”

She gave an playful, indignant smile.  “Intrude into this lonely prison?  I’d be pleased if you joined me.”

           

After what was a few hours which seemed like twenty years, Rhys realized that he had not one moment alone since he met the strange girl, Reala.  She constantly beckoned him to follow her, showed him around the deserted mansion or just simply talked and talked, occasionally and quickly changing subjects that she was hesitant of.  She always displayed a face of horror each time Rhys tried to wander off.  Her frightened face agitated Rhys into staying with her, unable to leave her afraid and beginning to grow fearful himself of being alone.

Rhys did not mind her constant presence though.  He enjoyed her presence.  She gave him a sense of familiarity, though a false familiarity.

The mansion was not as he imagined old, eery mansions.  He had expected furniture of the distant past with distinctive styles, grim portraits of regal ancestors and dark, barely used halls with stale air.  None of that was there.

The furnishings of the mansion said nothing of whatever time it was created.  They were elaborate but looked as if they were distinctive of no time, no place or no one.  And any paintings that decorated the walls were of sunsets or starry skies or dreamy havens.  Rhys realized that there was not one single portrait of any person.  There was no crowned king, framed and frozen, or the gleaming armor of an ancestor knight.  There was no one to silently tell him the past.

What bothered Rhys more was the air.  It was fragrant of the perfume of fresh flower and strangely but pleasantly warm.  Rhys saw not one wilting stem, fallen leaf or neglected path.  And there were countless flowers.  Reala’s mansion was a scattered garden with infinite beds of roses. 

Reala had no servant.  It was this that puzzled Rhys.  Reala was able to tend to each and every flower in the mansion all on her own.  Not one of the flowers showed any sign of the slightest neglect.

“Why are you all alone?” They were standing on a balcony overlooking Reala’s peaceful garden. Rhys bit his lower lip, wondering at her silence, hoping he had not offended her and soon regretting he asked the question.

“No one ever stays,” she said at last. 

“But there must be a town nearby.  Surely you must have friends from town.”

Reala only smiled. 

It seemed they were silent for a long while but the moon held the same position.  Rhys took occasional glances at Reala, in an attempt to pervade her mysterious air.  She took no notice of him.  With languid grace, she ambled about the large balcony studying her flowers in the garden below as if he were not there.

He began to grasp what forever was – that infinite span behind him and in front of him – just watching the mysterious girl.  Just waiting.  Watching.  But he stood there patiently.  For a moment he felt quite odd.  Anybody else would grow annoyed just waiting but a pleasing feeling warmed him as he waited.  No one liked just standing around, being ignored and just waiting.  But he did.  He felt an invisible, inward smile on his lips. 

“Everyone always leaves,” she said sighing miserably.  She looked up at him with idle curiosity.  “Would you stay?” she asked suddenly.

“Would I stay?”

“Yes, would you stay?  Here with me?”  Her cool tone suddenly faltered into a desperate plea.

“Yes.”

Reala laughed in disbelief then smiled as a mother would smile at a silly, naïve child.  Rhys was frightened.  She was a very strange creature.

“Why do you laugh?” Rhys asked with genuine innocence.

“You all are so silly,” she replied with a giggle.

“What?” Rhys’ eyes shot around, assuming there were others now in the room.  There was no one else but themselves and the carefully tended flowers.  He looked back at Reala but she was not watching him.  Her eyes fluttered about the room, silently addressing an invisible audience.  Was she speaking to the flowers?

He stared at her, dumbfounded.  What is wrong with her?  Such bitter loneliness perhaps had finally overwhelmed her.  Her eyes focused on him with disbelief and sad pity. 

Rhys took an involuntarily stepped back.

“I would stay,” he cried pleadingly.

“Do you promise?” Reala’s mysterious but sweet aura returned.  She canted her head to the side slightly as she waited in silence for his answer.

“Yes, of course.  I promise,” Rhys said.  “I promise.”

Reala continued to smile and took a few steps toward him. 

“It would not matter,” she began slowly.  “In the end, promises never matter.  It never did matter here.”

Rhys was puzzled.  What is she talking about?

“I always feared promises,” she continued.  “Destructive little demons.  You promise you will stay?  I do not think I would like to be alone anymore.”

“Yes, I promise,” was all that Rhys could say.  He thought himself to be insane.  This girl was just a stranger.  A very odd stranger.  No one would make promises to strangers, especially odd ones, but he felt so desperate.  He wanted direction, purpose, meaning.  Reala gave him a pleasant sense of belonging and direction.  Their conversation, their silences, their furtive glances at each other; it all seemed so natural, so fitting, destined.  And she was so alone.  So sad.  Rhys had to stay with her.  Take care of her.  At that moment, he wanted nothing more than to be with her.  He promised.  He would say anything to take the fear from her face, to assure her for one moment that he would never leave.

“Forever?”

“Forever.”

Again, she smiled as a knowing adult would at a naïve child.  “You are the truest one.  I almost believed you.  Perhaps, promises will be kept this time.  I do not know what I will do.  I cannot bear another broken promise.”

Rhys opened his mouth to say something, persuade her that he would keep his vow, but she only took his hand and held him closely, shushing him gently.  Their arms embraced each other a long silence.  Nothing else mattered.  His promise.  The past.  The future.  Only that moment mattered, believing each other to be real, true. Only that moment mattered. 

 

* * *

 

Rhys felt as if he awoke from a deathlike sleep but he didn’t find himself in a cold coffin, or a fever-warmed bed.  He was running.  He was running, and now he knew why.  

He forced himself to stop, realizing the nightmare was his reality.  Where was Reala?!

He glanced around, turning violently every which way.  He was back in the forest.  So far from Reala.  So far.  So far.

He dropped to his knees and clutched his head in a panic.  Rhys didn’t bother asking what had happened, why he was back in the forest, why he was not with Reala.  He had to get to her, quickly.  There was no other way but to take every step of the journey again.  But it was so far.

I do not know what I will do.  I cannot bear another broken promise.

The forest, the bridge, the valley, the cliff.  The cliff!  Reala would be on the cliff.  He would never get to her in time. I cannot bear another broken promise.

“Reala!  Wait for me!” Rhys screamed at the top of his lungs, hoping the wind would carry his plea to her.  “Wait for me!”  But there was no wind, no echo.  The forest was fooling with him again.  The silent invisible stares laughed at him in amusement.  Madman. 

“Reala!”  The prevailing silence roared in laughter in severe amusement and mockery.  Boiling with anger and frustration, Rhys took his feet, slipping back down to the ground as he began running across the thick carpet of fallen leaves. 

Rhys did not want to wonder if he was heading the right direction or if he was heading any direction at all.  He instinctively turned at random directions, stopped to backtrack a few feet and then began running furiously with determination.  All the while the haunting forest gave him its viscous smiles, watching him, waiting for him to fall and then attack him with its mute, maddening laughter.

I cannot bear another broken promise.

The sun disappeared over the canopy of the forest, the roof no longer leaking anything but darkness.  After feeling blood flow into his eyes from falling in the darkness numerous times, Rhys was reduced to a hopeless, slow stumbling with his arms reached out to guide him away from the trees, and boulders and mounds of earth that he collided into. The forest seemed to grow more extensive in the darkness and he had not come across one clearing to provide him with a moment of moonlight.

Moonlight.  The sound of sturdy wood under his stumbling feet startled him.  He pressed his hands on the firm planks of wood like a blind man fallen on the ground.  The bridge.  He reached the bridge.  At least now he knew he was in the right direction.  He quickly sprang to his feet to continue but the strange sensation that flooded him before returned.  He fell into a hazy, spinning drop that he struggled to pull himself out of.  He didn’t have time for this.  I don’t want my memories!  But the emotional, breathtaking feeling did not yield.

Vaguely, he felt his feet set on doubtful ground.  His eyes opened and he saw memories playing before him simultaneously.  An abandoned crying child held its outstretched arms towards him, seeking comfort.  The child’s face was hazy, vague.  Rhys could not tell if it was a boy or girl but he could see the tears and the painful face.  He could feel it.  Then the child disappeared.  A dying man lay somewhere, his hands hanging from his side waiting for another hand to hold it.  Rhys could not see the man, but he knew he was there, waiting.  A rapid, falling sensation with gravity’s invisible demons pulling at no one.  Jagged rocks.  Aghast, Rhys felt himself take a step back Whose memories were these?  So horrid.  They cannot be mine.  I do not understand.

He forced himself back into the world his body occupied.  Stop it!  He could not linger in this dream world any longer.  He did not have time to spare.

Rhys forced himself to stand.  In a defiant calmness he faced the forests’ invisible laughter around him.  I am not mad.  He walked off the bridge, forcing himself to forget the strange experience again and as soon as he felt out of sight of the watching eyes he quickened his pace and finally broke into a long sprint.    

Rhys began to grow tired, feeling his exhaustion from his first journey and his present travelling were finally taking its toll on him. I cannot bear another broken promise.  He could not stop.  His fear for Reala and his determination to keep his promise fueled him, while the silent laughter of the forest attempted to discourage him. 

When a slight sense of hope seemed to grow within Rhys, he reached the fork in the path.  He slowed to a dead stop before the split in the path.  Which way was it?  He felt that it was neither way.  It looked so different in the dark.  Which way was it?  He remembered that he did not have to chose the last time.  Something pulled him through one.  But that gravity was now absent, leaving him hopelessly alone. 

Rhys gave a faint sob when he realized that Reala’s fate would rely on the decision he made that very moment.  Which way was it?  No one will help me.  He closed his eyes and thought of Reala, imagining her sobbing at the edge of the deadly high cliff, ready to plunge to her death at his broken promise.

This way, he imagined someone to whisper into his ear.  He calmly nodded and proceeded through the suggested direction.  Then, he began to throw himself into a frenzied scurry.

He reached the valley in what seemed like many painful days but he was exhausted like a man exhausted by months of starvation.  He collapsed into a muddy puddle but he held his head up, searching for the cliff.  It was so far.  No longer was it Nature’s proud creation.  Distance had reduced it to nothing but a mere speck in the horizon.  He forced himself up and toward the horizon.

His legs longed for rest, his mouth dry with thirst and his stomach grumbled for food but his heart suppressed those needs with furious determination.  Another broken promise.  Reala’s words constantly lingered in his mind, pushing him past his physical limit, urging him to move faster.

The tiny speck that was the cliff grew, very slow, as he stumbled across the valley.  Slowly, he came upon the jagged rocks at the bottom of the cliff.  He continued hesitantly, fearing that he was too late and expecting a prone, dead body mangled on the earth. 

Rhys, thankfully, found no body.  He continued to climb, his hopes rising inch by inch as he rose.  Reala, I’m coming…

He met no more obstacles; no more mocking laughs, impenetrable darkness, lost woods.  The ledges and holds were all where he had left them.  The cliff had not rearranged itself to work against him.  He was nearly at the top when he felt drops of water fall.  Was this water?  Tears.  Tears fell on him from above.  Reala was still there. Despite his fatigue and exhaustion he quickened his pace and pulled himself onto the top of the cliff. 

Reala sat a few feet away from him, legs dangling dangerously in front of her.  In spite of her situation, Rhys sighed in relief.  She was still there.

Another broken promise.

“Reala,” he whispered.

“I cannot bear it anymore,” she sobbed to no one.

“Reala, I’m here.”  He pressed a hand against her shoulder but she screamed and violently shook her shoulder away from him.

“Reala…”

“I almost believed you.  So silly of me.  But you would never understand.”

He, silently, watched her in dismay.

“I shouldn’t even bother explaining… speaking… it will not matter,” she mumbled, taking a surveying glance down the drop.

“No, Reala, no!” Rhys cried, but she didn’t appear to hear him. “Reala, I’m here.  I kept my promise.”

“Perhaps, but you see, you can’t.  You never can.  I’ll never allow it,” Reala said.  “It cannot be.  I know. It cannot be because I know!  I know.  I know.  I know.

Reala glanced at him, bathing him with her bright eyes.  He was instantly lost in the familiar, haunting madness.  He became a bodiless entity, floating, spinning in a colorless haze.  The memories came to him.  This time one by one. 

The dying man died.  He stared at Rhys in the last moments of his life expecting a comforting hand but he simply died alone.  Rhys gaped in horror at the quickness of the death.  He scurried toward the dead man in hopes that he was still alive that he could hold his hand during his last moment but the body disappeared as he reached it. 

The abandoned child came, running toward him with open arms.  Rhys, this time, was quick to react and ran for the child ready to sweep it into his arms and away from the horrors that chased it but disappeared just like the man.  Rhys cried out in the muted cloud.

Rapid falling.  He felt himself falling.  Suddenly he was blind.  A sickening feeling came over him as he tried to flail his limbs but they responded like mush.  What is going on?  Where is Reala?

Moonlight.  He was standing on the silly architect’s bridge, looking up at the pale moon.  Memories flooded his head as he stared at the moon.  Bloody battles.  Drunk laughter in a crowded room.  A squalling baby in his arms.  He looked down at the baby, holding it tenderly.  He could feel the child’s every movement, its displeased kicking, angry gasps of air and the characteristic, faint cries of a baby.

You’re just as silly as your father, said a young woman who approached him and took the baby from his arms.  Rhys tried to hold the baby away, wanting to clutch a little while longer but the young woman took no notice of his reluctance, took the baby and disappeared. 

I am going mad.  Are these even my memories?  He clasped his head, trying to shake away the visions.  One nightmare after another.

He opened his eyes to see Reala standing before him with a sweet, genuine smile.  Rhys thought he had never saw her smile so brightly.  She approached him and whispered something warmly into his ear.  Rhys only smiled in return, unable to hear what she said.  Her voice was like a vague, fading echo but he smiled.  It felt natural to smile.  She continued to smile at him with such genuine happiness.  She said so many things, laughed, smiled.  Rhys was dismayed that he could not hear her but at least she was there.

She stared up at the moon for a while and then pulled him into her arms.  He could hear her breathing, feel her heartbeat.  All his struggles seemed to come to an end as she kissed him.  All the nightmares, the madness.  It was all over. 

Another broken promise.

Rhys snapped awake, the kiss still lingering on his lips.  The dark sky had blackened and rain began to fall.  Reala was before him, continuing to hold him and breaking the kiss.  It was real.  She stared at him for a moment and suddenly was overcome with tears.  She tore herself away from him and dashed for the edge.

She no longer was there.  Rhys screamed in panic and hurried toward the edge, reaching down toward the earth as if he could pluck her out of the peril she tossed herself into.  But he was too late.  She plunged deeper and deeper down to the earth.         

A jolt of pain surged throughout Rhys’ body as the snap of Reala’s spine echoed throughout the valley.  His chest seemed dead, unable to take in air.  But he did not seem to need air.  Reala. 

He jumped after her, figuring he could do nothing else.  Instead of plunging down rapidly to his death, he began to float and fade.  He glanced at his hands, which flickered strangely before him.  Everything became obscure.  Was the world fading away? Or was he?

As he descended, Reala’s mangled body became visible.  He began to understand, but it wouldn’t matter.

He laughed at himself, like the silent forest laughed at him.