Warnings and promises to the side, Delrin did then venture into the Great Forest that night with Elum, the dashing young woodsman, and Lux, his owl companion. Somehow, miraculously, the three Best Men of her father — who were supposed to be guarding her — did not wake up, and were not aware of her disappearance until the next morning.

Meanwhile, Delrin slipped away into the woods with Elum, and Lux fluttering by occasionally, sweeping out ahead, disappearing, and re-appearing later from the sides, the rear, in silent reconnaissance. Neither spoke. And though it was dark, Delrin’s eyes adjusted readily. It was like the forests outside Abdazon down in the Cleft, for the most part, but everything was older, huger, filled with mystery and silence. Despite herself, without realizing, Delrin began humming.

Elum stopped ahead, turning, smiled, and held a finger to his lips, and pointed upward. Delrin was aware then of a myriad of eyes in the dark, looking down at her from the canopy. She stopped humming. Lux appeared, hooted twice, and flew off again.

After a time, they came out into a slight clearing, open to the night sky. Delrin looked up, and was surprised to find, mingled among the familiar constellations she knew, others which she’d never seen before — which… shouldn’t be there.

She was about to remark on this to Elum, who cut her off, saying softly, “Almost there.”

They crossed the clearing, and plunged back into the wood. After not long, Delrin began to notice a peculiar phenomenon. Sometimes she swore she saw a spot, line, or even edge of light issuing forth from the base of trees. Were they glowing from within?

As they went deeper into the wood, she saw it more clearly. Tiny doors into the base of trees. From which, occasionally light issued forth. And then one with a window, into which Delrin peered into, trying not to intrude on whoever — or whatever — might be lurking inside. Tiny people! An old man and a woman. She felt giddy.

At last, Elum lead her into a what would be a clearing, but for the thick canopy which arced across from all sides, covering most of the sky, with its strange constellations hidden from easy view.

Round wooden, hide, and thatch structures were nestled in amongst the trees, many of which themselves had little doors and inhabitants.

“The Forest Villages!” Delrin exclaimed.

Elum smiled, “Only one of many! And welcome!”

Though night still reigned where Delrin had withdrawn to deep within the Great Forest, her father’s men camped in the meadow were rising to the first rays of dawn, and the chorus of bird songs it brought.

Each awoke groggily, looking slowly one to the other, counting, with sudden awareness they were missing the fourth member of their party. Delrin!

Being trackers of some skill themselves, they easily found her trail out of the meadow, to the edge of the Great Forest, and — to their credit, as well as their foolhardiness — readily plunged without a moment’s hesitation into that dark wood.

And though no man could best their skill in their home forests within the Cleft, they were not on familiar turf, and were soon lost. What they perceived was Delrin’s trail (their craft was not subtle enough to detect the passing of Elum), wound deeply into the forest, lightened by stages, and abruptly dropped off. When they could not pick up further traces, they tried to press back the way they’d come following their own trail, and in spurts and stages, that disappeared too, swallowed by the forest floor.

At that same time, not so far away, the Assenzju the Betrayer passed the Traitor’s Gate in the Ederren mountains, above the Hypogeum, putting him a few days march from the outer edge of the Great Forest on the other side.