this is an original story and I own all copyrights

City of Rivers

I was led down a set of makeshift stairs made from intertwining branches and sparsely laid gravel. My hiking boots forcefully crunched the gravel and twigs under my feet. Without my boots, I would have surely stumbled into the dark, thorny underbrush that threatened to overtake the narrow walkway. Even with my over exaggerated bravado, I was careful to stay clear of the forest at night.

In the cold light of the moon I could make out the strange form of my guide. She was like no other creature I had ever seen. Her lithe body was humanoid, but that's where the similarities ended. The darkness that surrounded the forest accentuated the vibrant hues of her skin. Pale green fingers and limbs faded to a deep blue across her bare back and face. Her hair fell to her feet in a cascading waterfall of raven colored silk. She crept along the path in front of me, her jade, webbed toes never missing a step on the treacherous path. Like all of her kind, she was the essence of grace and predation. She was leading me into the heart of her city, where there would be thousands of others just like her. The thought both exhilarated and terrified me. I was an outsider, only accepted on this planet on the weakest of terms, but here I was following her into the very heart of her city.

The slow rumble of the nearby river began to shake the earth beneath my feet. I knew we had to be close. She hesitated before an exceptionally thick wall of leaves that blocked our path like an ominous warning to what lay ahead. In the daylight the leaves where a rich, hunter, green, but at night the shadows clung to their shapes turning them an inky black. I knew from experience that the night here changed the beautiful and fertile landscape into a maze of poisons and traps.

She motioned for me to remove my boots and I did so quickly not wanting to risk her anger. I fought back a grimace as the wet moss squished under my toes. The exhaustion that had been playing in my limbs for months dissipated as my curiosity surged to the forefront of my mind. This was it. I would finally look upon the city that so many had only dreamed of for decades. I could be the first and last of my kind to ever see the renowned City of Rivers. It was an honor that had never been given to my kind. It was given to me as a final parting gift, never to be given again.

When my guide was content with my appearance she turned back to the wall of leaves and brushed them aside easily. Her thick skin absorbed the toxins as fast as the vicious plants could expel them. My feet hesitated for one second before propelling myself into the world so unlike my own.

The first thing I noticed was the hundreds of people just like her bustling about. For months, she had been the only one I had seen. Now I was surrounded by a sea of blue and green skin. Their wide lavender eyes stared up at me. I had months to get used to the foreign appearance of my guide, but to her people my strange form was merely a rumor. Their crescent shaped pupils stared back at me with unabashed wonder. My breath hitched as I noticed the vivid mosaic their multihued skin made. Before this I had only been exposed to her green and blue skin. Now staring at a city of her people I noticed that the males had the same emerald limbs and fingers as the women, but their torso turned into a hundred of shades of yellow. The strongest and tallest of the males had an almost virulent orange tinge to their torsos. They stared down at me until I had to look away for fear of provoking their infamous rage. Most were a few inches taller than me, and their bodies were lithe and slender. These people were borne of the forest. It had been their mother, their attacker, their victim, until it wrought them into fierce and proud hunters that not only survived the atrocities of the forest, but flourished.

My gaze flickered to the children, stilled under their protective mothers' touch. Their wide eyed faces mimicked their parents' expressions of fear and curiosity. Small, curly heads poked out eagerly at me, their skin color a fascinating mix of yellowish greens and blues. It was their most effective form of protection. They need only stand still and they would fade into the background of the forest. Only the eldest children showed the beginning tinges of violet and yellow.

My guide's eyes turned back to me, wariness drawing at the edge of her eyes. I sucked in my breath and waited for her people's reaction to my presence. Finally, their eyes softened and I let out the breathe I had been holding. The rest of the people seemed to follow her guidance and one by one the curious eyes turned from me. I was still the outsider, but I had been cautiously accepted for the moment.

She took a firm hold of my wrist and we pushed our way forward into the city. We followed a cobbled pathway that ran directly alongside the river. Every part of the city blended into the forest until it wasn't really a city, but just another unexplainable feature of this far away world. The glowing blue water of the river lapped playfully at my bare feet as I blindly followed her deeper into the city. With the light of the moon blocked out by a canopy of trees, the luminescence of the river was all that lit our path. The crowd of people had thinned slightly. Most had faded back into the forest or returned to the refugee of their homes.

I watched as a few of the strange creatures waded into the water. With each step they took into the river, their body changed from vaguely humanistic to a neon fishlike version of themselves. The webs in their fingers spread into opaque fins and their smooth skin morphed into a rough pattern of fish scales.

I watched in awe as a particular male drifted into the welcoming river. His yellow tinged skin changed to a blood orange. The black braid of his hair danced behind him until it fell across his back and formed an intricate tattoo of vines. The luminescent water enveloped his nimble body willingly. The churning waves instantly hide where he submerged.

My guide whispered something in her own language, but all I heard was the melodic pitch of her voice. She had to be careful to speak as little as possible around me. Her voice had an unexpected, calming effect on me. After only a few minutes of listening to her, I would find myself drifting off into an unwilling and undeniable sleep.

A particularly large wave rushed up and startled me back to the present. I nodded my head in understanding, hoping I could hold off the exhaustion just a few more minutes. She tugged on my arm gently. Her fingers felt tepid and too smooth against the rough calluses of my hands. The sensation her skin caused had always reminded me of snake skin. A thin layer of eerie softness covered a wall of muscle.

The further I was led into their city the more mesmerized I became. I was the first and I would be the last of my kind to be granted access to such an exotic place. I gaped in surprise as I stared up at the canopy of the magnificent city. The entire infrastructure was made of the forest. Every house, every building, even the staircases were made up from the trees and shrubbery. What was deadly to my kind was their main source of comfort and shelter. I halted when she led me to a bridge that draped gracefully over the river. Two trees had intertwined their branches forming a delicately curved half moon bridge.

I shuddered as I reached out to touch the rough bark of the trees. I gasped as another small dose of poison flitted through my nearly destroyed veins. She noticed my small gasp and pried my hand from the bridge. Flickers of pain flittered through me, but it paled against the beauty before me.

"Not much farther," she signaled me with her hands.

The city was unusually quiet. Unlike the cities I had been subjected to most of my life, the soft trickle of the river was the only sound to be heard. I knew we neared the center of the city when the lights blinded me. We both paused a moment to blink and let our eyes adjust to the assault of light. When I looked back I saw that they weren't lights, but yet another part of the mysterious forest. Surrounding the city were giant balls of gooey light that floated up and down aimlessly. The gelatinous forms were nearly two feet wide and glowed yellow. They reminded me of the jellyfish from my homeland as they swayed easily in and out of our path. Gentle warmth exuded from them and reached my already heated skin. I longed to reach out and touch one, but pure fear held me back. It was often the most docile looking things that held the most vicious bite.

As if to demonstrate, a neon, green, skinned child ran into one of the lower hanging blobs. The child shrieked in pain and jerked back from the mysterious substance. My companion grimaced at the high pitched howl, but to me even the child's cries had a hypnotic tune. The mother scooped the tearful child in her arms and ducked out of the gathering orbs.

We moved past the lights and under an overhanging tree. The heavy leaves of the tree blocked out the majority of the light, only letting in a faint glow. I looked at my guide. For what must have been the hundredth time, I was struck by just how beautiful she was. The glow of the lights reflected on her skin so her whole body radiated life. Her eyes, a richer shade of violet than I could have ever imagined, stared at me intently. This world had so easily stripped me of life, yet at the same time created a being so perfectly fitted to it. I vaguely wondered if I had fit into my own world in the same easy way. It didn't matter now. Outsider or not, this forest was my home.

"This is it," she whispered.

I swayed under the lull of her voice, only remembering to nod at the last second. I reached up to touch the black leaves of the tree above us. Despite the painful sting of the initial touch, the thick leaf felt like cool ice against my sweaty skin. When even that movement became too much for my abused body, I let my hand fall back to my side. Her fingers wrapped around my shoulders and gently lowered me to the ground. The moist soil was the only thing on this planet that could offer me comfort. It wasn't my earth, but I felt an obligation to it anyways. For all it had taken from me, I had stolen so much more. I didn't belong in this world and like a body fighting off a virus; this world had fought me off at every turn until I was a shadow of what I once was.

Her lilting voice wormed back into my thoughts, and the last of my resistance to this world faded. Sleep nudged at the corners of my mind. It was a comfort that had been denied me for far too long. I relaxed against mossy dirt and began to drift into the never ending melody of her voice. All too soon, rest won and my eyelids drifted closed. I was released from the world that was never mine.