The sun colored the skies, the soil felt damp to the touch when he came to his senses. His sweaty palms pressed against the dirt. He sat straight, trying to compile the events of the night before. The glare from the light reflected off the lake blinded him. With a faint déjà vu, he used one hand to shield his eyes and extended the other to search the dirt around him. He couldn’t remember what it is he was searching for but instinctually something was missing.
Besides, he could feel the shape it carved on the inside of his palms, maybe from clenching too tightly. The cold kiss of steel greeted his fingertips and memory seeped back as his fingers found and curled around the wooden handle. He held his sword, put its tip to the ground, driving it into the earth and in turn pushing himself to his full height. He groaned as his pupils narrowed in protest of the violet light. His vision blurred as his mind began replaying the happenings that led him here.
The army had sent a small unit of soldiers to investigate and put an end to the rumors of a witch haunting and reigning over the forest. Hunters were disappearing and never heard from again. Hunting parties shied away gradually until they stopped coming completely; and with them stopped a considerable supply of wood, nourishing animal carcasses, and hides.
Rumors dictated that the witch talked to trees and convinced them to disobey, to challenge the circle of death and to rise and defend themselves. That the trees had begun feeding on hunters; to supplement themselves at the witch’s behest.
The military expedition was armed and fully expectant to encounter vicious bears or other forms of feral, wild animals. However, the hunt for the origins of the rumor continued for hours with no clues, traces, remains, or any plausible explanation that this forest wasn’t as peaceful as it so unnaturally seemed. If anything, the trees here were unflustered and statuesque, their fruit, ripe and well rounded. Frustration overpowered one of the soldiers and he yelled despite himself.
“Nothing dwells here, nothing but these haughty trees.”
As his mouth uttered the words his weapon was raised, cutting a wide curve through the air and landing a mighty blow. The blade sank a few inches into the hardwood and hard as he pulled, it would not budge. The edge of the blade sunken in the tree seemed to darken and he leered at it only to see a distinct black oozing out of the tree. The blade seemed to decompose and it fell to the ground missing the part that had fallen in the tree as if the tree had bitten through it. Confused they stared at the still bleeding tree with a troubled frown drawn on their faces.
A loud shriek rendered them deaf. They reached to cover their ears before the noise pierced through their heads. The voice stopped, the pain lingered for seconds longer. Slowly they unclenched their eyelids only to shield their eyes with their hands from the intensity of the light that attacked them. With difficulty, they discerned the shape of a woman that seemed like a reversed silhouette in their light-struck vision.
“Vile creatures leave
Forsook by gods of stone
By fallen branch, by
blood of tree
Lush is revenge upon ye”
Light gradually dimmed and the demanding figure seemed clearer; they saw a strongly built woman with searing eyes, the color of white-hot metal. Her face was wrinkled but sharp features marked it, she was withered but radiated with strength. Skin the color of the moon of the clearest of nights. She whispered in their heads; her voice breaking yet daunting like bristlecone pine. “I am… ancient…as leaves…depart…or…nourish trees… as you… bluntly nourished…upon them.”
The tone struck him more authoritative than any of his generals. It had an ancient tone that filled him with serenity and willing obedience. It was like the earth itself was giving him a command the only choice was to comply. He stood still, sheathed his blade and nodded; but all around him, he heard a rising distant uproar, bellows, war cries, and orders to attack. The last thing he remembered was seeing trees unearthing in a threatening manner and a bright light that preceded an overwhelming black.