Her sing-song lilt warms me inside, though a cool autumn fog gathers around my squatting form. I like it when she says my name like there is no one she’d rather play with, but it’s probably not that. My sister Chay probably sent her after me. And Mother no doubt sent Chay. Supper time or something or other.
But right now I don’t care about supper, for I have discovered the most delicious secret just inside the Jade Forest, by the valley. I peer under the hollowed space beneath the gnarled tree roots that make me think of monster arms; no—dragon arms. I smile, letting my own breath-cloud envelop my face. I am scrunching so low that the tops of my thighs press tight against my chest. I shuffle forward just a few centimeters, rustling the golden leaves that have gathered on the forest floor.
“Crighton?” Her voice is closer now, just… I rub my forehead as I calculate the distance based on her vocal cues…three and a half meters behind me on my left, at a fifty-seven degree angle. I’ve always been astonishingly accurate with numbers and estimations. “What have you found, you loon?” Lily asks.
“Wait!” I put up my hand for her to stop. Two point seventy-five meters. I continue to squint into the dark, cavernous space. “There may be a beast in here,” I whisper.
“Then why don’t you get away from it? Are you daft?”
I swallow the dry air in my throat. It’s true—this isn’t like me. It’s usually Caydren or even Lily herself who discovers all the finest mysteries or incites the grandest adventures. But this—this could be mine. “No, I’m not daft. This could be a fort, Lil. Or a cave. Or…or…”
“A new hiding place for Hide-and-Find?” she finishes for me. I turn around, furrow my brow as she crosses her arms. “Let me see,” she says, and walks towards and then past me, straight to the mouth of the yawning tree. My eyes widen as she gets down on hands and knees and crawls right inside.
Her feet are still protruding from the opening when she screams.
I scramble through the leaves, my limbs flailing helplessly as I attempt to get them to work. “Lily?” I yell, grabbing her right ankle. Her head pops out and she laughs.
“See, you can’t always predict me, can you?” she teases, cocking her head down to one shoulder. I don’t know what it is, but I can’t hate her when her blue-green eyes sparkle like that.
“So?” I press.
“So…what?” She scoots back out, pulls a leaf from her dark hair.
“Was there anything in there?”
“Only a dragon. Why?” She crosses her arms again, and I fight the urge to pull her cloak over them, goosefleshed as they are.
“Who’s the half-wit now?” Her mouth drops open at my boldness.
“How dare you, Cright!” She lunges for me. I laugh, get my feet under me and dart away, back up the hill that led me to this lair. I’m almost to the top when I anticipate she’s going to grab my hood at any moment. She’s nearly close enough to reach it. My head falls back and I wrench my body to the side when she finally gets a hold of it. Then I fall to the ground and begin sliding down the leafy incline while Lily still clutches my hood, pulling it over my shoulder. We laugh and struggle to get our footing, but the laughing makes our efforts null. We’re like spiders on ice, all limbs and no traction.
Finally, we’re back to the bottom of the hill.
“I’ll beat you to it!” she squeals, then dives toward my discovery and ducks inside. I nearly trip over my own boots as I chase after her, follow her inside. We catch our breath together. Lily lets out chuckled sighs and I lean my head back against the inside of the tree cave and allow my eyes to adjust.
“I’ve come up with a new game,” she giggles.
“And what’s that?” I smile, thoroughly satisfied with what I’ve unearthed.