In retrospect, she should've become suspicious the minute Weavile told her that the trip through the forest would be a short one. He would say that; she should've known better. He'd smiled at her, given her a quick pat on the shell and then disappeared into the foliage with a rustling of leaves and clattering of branches, his promises to meet her on the other side quickly fading into the distance.

She had no idea how long ago that was now. One hour, two hours, twelve hours? Her mind insisted on "days", even though she was pretty sure that that was ridiculous. She hoped it was ridiculous. Was it ridiculous? The tension rising in her chest didn't seem to think it was ridiculous. She snorted, allowing thick, black smoke to roll out of her nostrils and drift back across her body, wrapping her scales and shell in its familiar warmth and releasing just a bit of the pressure building up inside. Of course it was ridiculous.

The sky was precious little help in determining how long she'd been lost in this maze of trees; even if her vision were better in environments like this, the tangled boughs high overhead made it difficult to see anything other than an impenetrable cage of brown and green. There was no telling whether the sun was rising, setting, at its zenith or lurking behind the clouds. All she knew was that it was dark, very dark, whether due to nightfall or to the blanket of shadows cast by the vaults of foliage.

Exhaust billowed out of her nostrils and the large port on her shell, curling lazily around her legs and neck and face and momentarily shrouding everything in a grayish haze. Every smoky exhalation took just a little of the edge off of the tension climbing higher and higher inside of her—just a little. This darkness she liked. Heady black coal smoke was preferable to trees crowding in around her any day.

The fork in the little path, barely visible through the haze, was still mocking her just as nastily as it had when she'd first stumbled across it hours (days?) ago. For a few sweet seconds after her discovery the rising panic within had dropped a stage or two, but her unease was quick to return when she glanced up and down the line of trampled leaves and to the two diverging roads beyond. The entire path, if it could even be called that, was still overrun by thick underbrush, irritating scratchy thorns and branches that clawed at her legs and shell and that had made traversing even this far a massive undertaking; she couldn't see more than a few yards ahead in any direction. Weavile hadn't said anything about any paths, presumably because he didn't need them. Without a better idea of how far they went, or even better light to see by, they were of no use to her at all. She didn't know which fork to take or whether to take the path away from them or head back the way she came.

She heard Weavile snickering with every snapping twig, saw him bounding off and leaving her in his dust with every rustling branch. Smoke poured out of her nose and mouth and every orifice in her shell, running down her body like a swirling black waterfall, but it wasn't enough anymore. Days (weeks?) of pressure and panic finally refused to be tamped back down, and they heaved relentlessly against her back and chest and sides. She was lost. She was trapped. There was no getting around it. He'd left her behind and she was lost, paralyzed by two dusty, leaf-choked little roads that lead to nowhere.

She opened her mouth and let out a scream of fire that cut through the smog and caught the underbrush around her. Instantly the overgrown paths before her changed from brown and green to orange and black, and the brilliant glow clawed its way up the trees in a matter of moments with her screams egging them on. The snaps and crackles and roars of hungry flames tearing through dry litter and creaking trunks drowned out Weavile's laughter.

She sat down, closed her mouth and smiled, the smoke flowing from her nostrils mingling with that which rose from the rapidly disintegrating wood. Now she could wait, though, now that all the pressure was gone and the only darkness that surrounded her was that created by her burning coal. Soon, she knew, there would only be one road.