Chapter 1

"Please help us! Our little girl went into the forest!" Rain Flower looked up from sweeping the little huts porch at the hysterical parents. That little girl was not the first to go missing. Something about the forest draws children in and they are never seen again.

"When was the last time you saw her? When-" The Chief, Berry Bug, asks the family. But Rain Flower's heard this many times before. "Grandma Pond! I've finished sweeping the porch. I must go help Old Salem with her medicine shop now."

"Hold on just a second Rain. You'll be going nowhere as filthy as you are." Gram demanded. She took Rains hand and hauled her into the bathing room.

"Now get in that tub while I get you some clean clothes." When Gram exited the room Rain turned around and caught a glimpse of herself. Her tan face was made even darker by all the dirt that had accumulated on her face and body. Not to mention all the twigs and leaves stuck in her chestnut colored hair. Even though she was filthy from head to toe, her grey eyes stood out beautifully, just like her mothers. When Rain had finished washing she picked up the dress her Gram picked out for her. Even though Gram had worn the same blue dress when she was Rains age, it still hung off of her in heavy folds. Food hadn't been so hard to come by back when Gram was a child so I had a slightly smaller frame.

"This just won't do!" Rain said exasperated. Marching to her room she pulled on the first things she touched; a pair of loose fitting khaki shorts and a pale pink t-shirt.

"I'm going to Old Salem's now, see you guys when I get back!" Rain called over her shoulder as she ran out of the house to the old medicine shop down the way. Before walking in to the shop, Rain dusts herself off and straightens her clothes. Walking into the old hut was always the worst part. Old Salem was always making potions to cure Blue Toe or rotten teeth and today was no exception. It smells like decomposing plants and animals but you get used to it after a while.

"Ah! Nice of you to finally show up Rain Flower. What kept you so long this time?" Old Salem is always the first to point out your tardiness.

"Were you watching the leaves fall off a tree or trying to catch raindrops?" Salem mocked.

"Gram made me sweep the porch and then take a bath. I couldn't get away from her," Rain says with a smile. Gram and her older brother, Leaf Fire, were the only family she had left since the fire that took her parents and youngest sister away. It has been ten years since the fire and, honestly, she couldn't really remember them.

"Excuses, Excuses," Salem tsked. "Have you chosen what your quest will be for your coming of age?" She must have looked worried because Old Salem said, "Of course you haven't. I'm guessing you haven't thought about it either." Salem said with a scowl.

"I- maybe- yes, I have actually." Rain said, acting as if she knew before she was asked. A thought had hit her in the middle of her stuttering. She has decided to go and find the missing children in the forest.

"Oh? You must tell me what you have in mind dearie," Old Salem glanced over her shoulder at Rain to show her she was listening.

"Well, you know all the missing in the forest? I want to find them and bring them home," Rain mumbled.

"When did you decide this?" Old Salem asked, already knowing the answer.

"Today. Just now actually. Do you think they will allow me to choose this as my quest?" Rain asked, suddenly not so sure she would be able to do it. Several people had chosen this quest but none had ever returned. It is most dangerous.

"Hm. I'm sure they would. It is, after all, your choice is it not? I'd be more worried about your Gram and brother if I were you. They are the ones who won't want you to go," Rain hadn't even thought about how they might react. But Old Salem was right; leaving would probably complicate Rains relationship with her family. Everyone is going to think she won't make it back.

"I don't want to hurt them; they are all I've got. But this is the quest I want and I will go whether they like it or not," said stubbornly.

"Maybe if one of the other kids who are coming of age goes with you, your family won't be as opposed to let you go alone," Salem rasped. The heat from the open fire was causing Salem's shoulder length grey hair to frizz making it hard not to laugh when looking at her. "And I know the perfect person to go with you-"

"Oh no! I am not about to bring anyone along. Especially not Elias," Rain exclaimed. Elias was a childhood friend that she's known all her life. He was a month older than her and had a nicely muscled body under his farmers tan. His short black hair really brought out his almond eyes and high cheek bones. It wasn't that his beauty was intimidating or even the fact that he'd had a crush on her since they were twelve. The reason Rain didn't want to go with him was because for the past couple of years he has been acting different and just looking at him unnerves me.

"You still feel as though he's changed, huh?" Salem asked, not really paying attention since her pet lizard, Rascal, got out of his confines.

"Yes. The last thing I want to do is go into the forest with him by myself. It's best if I just go alone," Rain said quietly while organizing the medicines in alphabetical order. A couple of seconds after Rain had stopped speaking, the door gently banged open and Elias came in with an order of cloth that Old Salem had ordered. The way he looked at me left no doubt that he had heard what I said. As he was leaving the shop he turned my way and smirked, not a nice smirk in any way, at me. It made me want to crawl under a table and I shivered. That look meant trouble and I really didn't want to find out what he had planned.