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The Slate in the Caves

Legends of the lands
By: Solstice (2013 Halloween Writing Contest Winner)

Once, long ago, there was a village in the Alasre Mountains. It was small and desolate, almost uninhabitable. It rested on the southern bank of a frigid lake. The northern bank boasted a dark forest and the gaping entrance of a cave hidden somewhere in the trees.
      The residents of the settlement did not enter the woods. It was dangerous, they would tell the treasure hunters who'd stumbled upon their village. But the seekers of fortune would not listen. The wealth in the caves was far too tempting.
      In the summer months, more travelers flocked to the Caves of Nareau. They came in pairs and each time, the villagers would huddle on the southern bank for hours, awaiting their return. Before long, however, it became evident that they would not reappear that day or even the next.
      Just before September began, the treasure hunters would emerge from the forest, lugging sacks filled with spectacular jewels. The villagers were amazed. Not because of the gems, but because the travelers had returned. It wasn't enough to dispel their fears, though, and every year, they tried to discourage future explorers from even stepping on the northern bank.
      One year, long after the arrival of the first adventurers, one of the villagers decided to enter the woods on her own.
      Her name was Emberlyn Slate, but everyone called her Little Emmy. She was the youngest of the village girls and when she told the elders of her plans, they smiled, praising her imagination. They gave her a direcore egg to occupy her young mind. It was a good match, they thought. Emmy was a curious girl and she deserved a creature as adventurous as she was.
      That night in October, true to her word, she stole her father's little rowboat to cross the lake. She pushed it into the water quietly then stepped in. Everyone else slept in their cottages. There was no one to stop her as she rowed to the northern bank. By the time they had awakened, Little Emmy was gone and so was her direcore egg.
      The next year, as the leaves began to change, a male direcore flew out of the forest. He soared across the lake gracefully. Villagers gathered on the southern bank, watching his swift approach. As he landed on the shore in front of them, they noticed he carried an old woman on his back.
      A villager stepped forward, brandishing a pitchfork. The direcore growled and stalked forward, holding his wings up as if to protect his passenger. His dark eyes scanned the crowd of frightened people until he found a woman.
      She stood tall, undaunted by the beast that had suddenly appeared in her village. In fact, she seemed almost comforted by his appearance as if she recognized him as Emberlyn's direcore.
      He folded his crimson wings and strode toward her. When he reached the mother of his master, he lowered his body to the ground. The old woman slid off his back slowly. The onlookers recoiled at the sight of her. The elder's face was like the gnarled roots of a tree and framed with thin silver hair. She was gaunt and hunched over, but her eyes were bright cave-born gems. Her long, dirty fingernails clutched a shriveled leather book marked with the letters "E" and "S". With cracked lips, she smiled at the woman before her, revealing teeth black with rot.
      The villagers' faces went white, but the mother of Emberlyn Slate was unfazed. She smiled back and offered the old woman tea. The elder shook her head, bright eyes fogging over with sorrow. Instead of presenting an excuse for her refusal, she dropped the journal at the younger woman's feet and climbed back onto the direcore.
      He pushed through the throng of people once his master was situated then paused at the shoreline to lap up some of the lake water with a dark red tongue. After a moment, he unfurled his wings and flew back into the dark forest.
      As soon as the direcore and the old woman had disappeared into the woods, the mother of Emberlyn Slate retrieved the diary. She opened it cautiously, peering at the large words written on the first page.
      "The Slate in the Caves
      They were so pretty, mother, just like those travelers said they were. The tunnels sparkled and glowed in the dark. There were gems in the walls and I thought of when the first of the men returned with those jewels. I walked for such a long time before I found a large cavern. It was wonderful. Too wonderful for me to write down. I hope someday you get to see it, but not today. The caves are dangerous in October. I should've listened to you.
      I don't understand what happened to me, but the next time I saw myself, I was so scared. I looked just like one of the elders only my teeth were black. I think the cavern changed me. It must be magic, mother! I miss you all so much, but I can only return on All Hallows' Eve. Until then, I'll have to wander these tunnels and wait for the night I can see you again. That one precious night that I can come back and we can be together."
      The villagers panicked. They left the book on the bank and fled to their houses to pack their belongings. By nightfall, they were all gone. But the mother of Emberlyn Slate stayed.
      She stood on the shoreline, cradling the journal as if it was a baby. There she waited for many years. Finally, as the leaves changed to scarlet and gold a fifth time, a thick mist rolled in from the forest and the mother knew her child had returned.
      The fog swirled around her again and again, one clockwise rotation for each autumn they had been separated. After seven cycles, the mist receded. It floated across the lake and retreated into the forest. The vapor flowed like a river back into the Caves of Nareau.
      On the southern bank, the village buildings had rotted and collapsed, the mother had disappeared, and all that remained was the journal of Emberlyn Slate, resting forever and lonely on the lakeshore.
      Though with time the remains of the village disappeared, treasure hunters still frequented the Caves of Nareau. If they dared to make the journey on All Hallows' Eve, they would meet two old women on the trail. They would be warned of the dangers that awaited them. Those who did not heed the words of the hags were never seen again.
      Even today, Emberlyn Slate and her mother are seen on All Hallows' Eve, haunting the dark forest around the caves.