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An Encounter in the Dark Forest

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Daring Charming couldn’t sleep, so he stared up at the ceiling and listened to the insects serenading the moon. His roommate, Hopper Croakington III, always left the window open just a bit, in order to let insects into the room so he could have a snack whenever he ended up in frog form, which was actually quite often, what with him being a teenager and Briar existing. Poor Hopper, he could never hide when his thoughts went… dirty.

But it wasn’t Hopper that was keeping him up, it was his destiny and his pride. Daring had failed to wake Apple White, his princess. That honor had fallen on his little sister, Darling Charming. It had been a painful blow, one that had hurt him more than he’d ever thought possible. He stayed up, night after night, trying to figure out what had happened. Of course, the obvious answer was that Apple just didn’t like boys. That would be the only explanation for her not loving him. Every girl loved Daring! But late at night, when the moon was shining down on him through the open window and Hopper snored happily in his own bed, Daring had doubts. It was during these times that the perfect prince allowed a crack in his facade. Perhaps, Apple didn’t like him because he wasn’t perfect.

But tonight, Daring is thinking something a little different. After a few months of fear, shame, and remorse, Daring feels something he hasn’t in quite a while. Hope. Perhaps, in the end, this is exactly what needed to happen. He had to admit that ever since he couldn’t wake Apple the ladies swooned a lot less around him. There were many days where he found himself walking down the hall and not one head turned. At first, this had seemed like the end of the world, but now, it feels a little bit more like freedom. The truth is out. The reason that most of the girls swooned over him was because he was the prince in Apple’s story, not because of who he was. It wasn’t just his charm that made the girls swoon, it was his charm coupled with Apple’s. Now that he didn’t have Apple anymore, he was on his own. Of course, he was still the most charming boy in school, that went without saying, but now he could trust that it was his own charm that made people swoon.

Being kicked out of Apple’s story had another interesting side effect. Now he could write his own destiny. He could make his own happily ever after with whomever he wished. when he looked at it this way, the world seemed to open up. Truth be told, being with Apple White felt a little bit like a death sentence. Sure she was cute, but she was also bossy and somehow her constant kindness felt a little forced.

So now he was free. Moments he’d shared with girls that felt like actual connections, instead of the same old fairy tale posturing, danced through his head. The sun setting behind Lizzie as she kissed him in thanks for a date that was nothing but a bet for him, but had touched her so deeply, A moment, long ago, with Apple White, where her facade slipped and she had held Daring’s hand, but the moment supreme, was, of course, with Cerise Hood. How many times had he played that moment over and over again in his memory? Her eyes so dark they seemed bottomless, but sparkling near the surface, her cheeks rosy from the excitement of winning the game. His hair had been perfect that night. Every strand exactly where it was supposed to be and he had been so smooth. The dance they'd shared was probably the best moment in his life and he tucked it away to keep in his heart forever.

Of course, after that night he’d had to ignore that it ever happened. He was Apple’s prince, so he knew when to put on the brakes. Maybe she understood, because she also backed off, but they could never let each other go entirely. Cerise became a regular bookball player and eventually the team accepted her as one of their own. So now what were they to each other? Friends?

Daring let out a sigh and threw off his covers. The moon was full, filling the room with it’s eerie light, and he was tired of laying around thinking. He might as well use the time to get in some exercise and some hero practice. After suiting up as quietly as he could, he strapped on his sword, and ran out into the open air.

The air was crisp, the perfect temperature for running, and the moon loomed huge above the horizon. He’d never seen a moon this large, or this red, before. It was an enchanting evening. Daring did his warm up stretches and ran towards the forest. At the fork he went to the left, the Dark Forest, no better way to add hero practice to his run!

As always, the trees seemed to bend in on him, their bark taking on human like faces. A lesser hero would’ve run scared in the first ten minutes, but not Daring. For Daring, this was child’s play. It was strange, he noted, that nothing had attacked him yet. usually by this time something had come at him, but tonight the forest was strangely quiet. He ran for at least an hour without any occurrences, and suddenly realized that this was the farthest he’d ever been in the Dark Forest. Up ahead the trail opened up into a clearing, so he decided to turn around there.

As he ran into the clearing he felt his hair stand on end. Something was watching him. He quickly drew his sword and and scanned the forest. The trees around the clearing seemed to work against him, congregating around the clearing in order to make it impossible for him to see anything. His mind went blank as his body took over. The smell of blood was in the air.

After a few moments, which seemed to stretch into eternity, Daring spotted shining eyes watching him from the tree line. The reflective eyes of a beast. Daring squared himself in the beast’s direction and waited. Now that he had spotted it, it would have to decide whether to attack, or run. It chose to attack.

The first thing Daring realized, as he felt claws rip across his shoulder, was that he was outclassed. This beast was fast. The second thing he realized, is that it was humanoid, not low to the ground as he’d initially thought. The wounds were superficial, his armor taking the brunt of the blow, so he flipped around and held up his sword, knowing that a beast this fast would attack again and most likely from behind. He flipped around fast enough to block the attack, but he felt himself slipping from the impact and in a moment of terror he realized he was falling. The beast’s third attack would find him vulnerable.

Luckily for Daring the beast was not expecting him to block the second attack and was also thrown off balance. Both of them fell.

Neither of them were on the ground for more than a second. Daring sprang back up with his sword raised only to find the beast had beat him to it. He pulled his sword back and made ready to strike.

“Daring?” The beast spoke in an incredibly familiar voice. “Oh hex!” The beast reached back and put on a hood, but not before Daring caught a glimpse of extremely pointy ears.

“Cerise?” Daring stared into the near dark just as the beast’s golden eyes faded to grey.

“Yes, It’s me.” Cerise plodded down on the grass in front of him and let out a sigh.

“Cerise, what are you doing out here? I could’ve killed you!” Daring plopped down in front of her.

Cerise let out a laugh. “Not with that sluggish speed, you were the one in danger. What the hex are you doing out here?”

“I was exercising… and practicing being a hero. So… um… I noticed some things…”

“Daring, please, you can’t tell anyone, promise me you’ll keep my secret.” Cerise scooted forward on her knees and put her hands on Daring’s shoulders. “Promise me, Daring.”

“You have my word, Cerise, as a hero. I will never speak a word. I wouldn’t do that to one of my… friends. But this is amazing! And it explains so much!”

“Gods, if this keeps going eventually everyone in the school will know my secret.” Cerise brought her hand up to her head.

“Ummm. Cerise? Can I see your ears?” Daring looked down at his lap, unable to meet her glance. Cerise’s caught his eyes and her face filled with indignation. A small growl escaped her throat. Daring didn’t retreat.

“Fine!” Cerise dropped her hood and stared at Daring.

Daring took all of her in for the first time. Her ears were pointy and covered in a light down that was actually quite adorable. She was biting her bottom lip, obviously uncomfortable and suddenly everything seemed to make perfect sense to Daring. He loved Cerise. Simple, yet so complex. That is why he continuously played that night over and over in his mind. It was the moment he’d subconsciously realized he loved her. And now he consciously realized it. His heart beat out a panicked march as his training screamed ‘smile at her, use you charming power’ over and over again in his head, but he clamped down on those thoughts. Now was not the time to fall back on his training, not with her. She meant more to him than that. He reached out, tentatively, his heart beating fast. Cerise watched his hand with a look that Daring couldn’t read. Perhaps she was trying to decide whether or not to let him touch her, or to bite him. Apparently she decided to let him. He rubbed one of her ears gently and Cerise leaned in to the touch, her eyes fluttered shut.

“You’re perfect.” Daring leaned in and kissed her.

Kissing Cerise was beyond what he’d imagined it would be. He must have caught her off guard, because she drew a startled breath when his lips touched her’s. She tasted of the Dark Forest and he wanted to stay there with her forever. At first Cerise’s lips were guarded, but they soon softened and he felt a longing in her that was similar to the one in him. After a few moments he pulled away and looked into her eyes. Cerise put her hand on his cheek, then climbed into his lap.

“What took you so long, Daring?”

“I’m sorry, Cerise, a lot of things had to happen to make me realize how I felt about you.” Daring put his arms around her and pulled her close. She was as light as a kitten, a simile she probably wouldn’t appreciate.

“But Daring, are you ready for this? All the things people will say? Why would the most eligible prince in the land want to be with a girl like me?”

“They can say what they want. You are the best thing that has ever happened to me and I will never let you go.” Daring rubbed his cheek against her’s, amazed at the softness.

“You promise?”

“Of course. You have my word. As a hero.”