Tonight Jake joined us and picked the inspiration from my Pinterest board. This was a strange one for all of us: we all went short and...maybe not sweet, but short anyway. Enjoy!
The trees rise around me; the ground freezes.
And I burn.
The Frost creeps slowly along the forest floor, and I wonder -
Will the ashes be mindful of me? Of me, who gave them life by burning?
The glowing embers are inside me: I feel their life throbbing through me, and it comforts me.
We chased it here, but where is it now?
We ran through the swamp and to the middle of a forest, crashing through undergrowth, slamming into tree trunks, batting away branches that came at our skulls with a vengeance. And now what? It’s vanished.
What will we tell our wives and babies at home? What will we tell the mayor?
Sorry, Mr. Mayor, but the creature has escaped once more. No, we don’t know when it will come again to terrorize our village. Yes, we hope to be prepared. Yes, we’re very sorry indeed. We’re sorry, Mr. Mayor; I’m sorry, darling. We’ll do better next time?
No, we must continue searching. Surely we just overlooked its cursed shape as we crashed by.
The Frost rises from the ground and makes its way gently through my hands.
I feel nothing.
The forest is quiet here, but I sense they are coming.
On our way back now, with shoulders hung low, and heads down.
Ah! That cave! We didn’t see it before: that means there is an area we missed. We’ll go check there. Grip your torches tighter, boys, and put a wary look on!
The sounds of Men retreated earlier. Now they fill my ears once more.
I sigh deeply and feel the embers burn brighter with their coming.
The Frost climbs too slowly to stop the embers, though my hands are white with its effort. I breathe in its cold, feeling my mind slip.
Where is the cursed beast? Not under the cave lip, nor in the copse of trees just past. Nor in the stream just past that. Frost demon take it! We cannot go home without it destroyed!
We shudder in the dark, hoping not to feel its hand upon our shoulders. Only Evil can look that dark, Evil that neither sleeps nor walks natural. Evil that drifts and glows in the eyes when you light it on fire with your torch. Only Evil looks that way and walks that way. We must purge it - so where is it?
Somehow, I wake to find myself still here. The Frost has done what I could not hope: it has halted the fire, chilled the embers, stilled the anger of the flame. I rise slowly, feeling new life in myself.
But now I know they are very close.
Their torches burn bright: the embers will return.
Why do they come for me? Why do they hunt me?
I drift through their dwelling, pushing away the nightmares. I am the only Being that can scare the nightmares away from their children so that only the dreams remain in their innocent minds. I must go through their dwelling to do this, must walk among them - they who wish to light me with their torches and make the embers burn inside again until I am dust and their children only see darkness and fear at night.
Do they not love their offspring? What kind of beings are they, to wish darkness and terror on their small ones?
There it is!
It stands by the tall oak! It glows white in the full moon, as if the frozen ground has coated it and cooled our fire.
We’ll put our torches together! It cannot escape the full torrent of fire! We will not return to our families in disgrace tonight!
And they come. Their faces are full of darkness. I would that I could purge the waking nightmares from their minds right now, but they will not let me.
What kind of being wishes darkness and terror on their children?
Roar, men, roar! Now’s our chance! Let it burn! Save our village!
I sweep away the nightmares and the darkness. That is who I am.
A different kind of ember lights in my mind.
I will protect their children, though they will not.
I will remove the darkness that would keep the nightmares in the houses of their women and children.
I pull back my arm.
It is my time to purge.
What was it they used to say...
It’s been so long since I’ve heard them. They left so long ago...I can’t remember when. Left me here to rot.
There was a time when things were good between us. I gave them what they needed, and they took care of me. I could, for the most part, take care of myself, but it was nice to know they cared. But that was so long ago.
Eventually they thought they could do things by themselves. They started to forget what I had given them. I did not resent them, but it hurt. It hurt to feel an emptiness where there had once been friendship, and it hurt what they did to me. They didn’t understand until it was too late.
It bothers me I cannot remember their phrase. Something about scorn...
They used to write down so many things. They learned how to use what I gave them to pass on knowledge from one to another, but even that they ruined. The knowledge they passed became less and less useful. Eventually they found new ways of learning and nearly abandoned my gifts altogether. And what did they do with the old gifts? They lost them, buried them, burned them. They burned them!
They burned many things. They took and destroyed faster than I could give back. They burned themselves almost into extinction. But at the brink, what did they do?
I was still there. I did not abandon them. I was more than willing to help them recover, but they burned all the more. They came together for one great burn. They gathered all they could and left me behind. The damage they did in the process...
They took, and took, and took. What they took they burned. What they burned, they built. What they built, they lived in. And when the time had come, they burned again.
They thought they had ruined me. They thought I was a lost cause. They took what they could and left me to die.
But I did not die. I survived.
They will not.
They will see there is nothing for them without me. They are my children and they are foolish to think they could continue without me. One day they will be forced to return from the stars and they will beg for a second chance.
Ah, now I remember...
One of their own kind once wrote, “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.”
“Mother Earth” they once called me.
And this is how they treated me.
Well then, my children, do what you feel you must, but when you return, you will find no solace here. You left me to rot and burn in this inferno you created.
When you return, you will reap what you have sewn. And if any of you remain, you may try again. But know this: I will not be as kind this time.
“It is an abomination!” Travaran shouted, the base of his pointed ears turning red. His memory returned to the figure he and his clan had come upon in the northwestern depths of Serenity’s woodlands. It was gaunt, made of wood charred black, wisps of shadow radiated off its shoulders and head, and eyes glowing gold that seemed to peer into the depths of his soul. He suppressed a shiver at the thought of the creature. A corrupted dryad, what was once supposed to be a protector of nature and her tree had become a dark beast of ill omen.
“She is still one with the forest within, Travaran,” chimed in Aleratha, one of Travaran’s fellow elders. “Perhaps she could still be saved.” Travaran looked at her indignantly.
“Saved? She has become polluted! There is no saving her now.”
“We don’t even know how it happened to her, Travaran,” Elder Vulas pointed out, his catlike eyes shifting between Travaran and Aleratha.
“What is there to know, Vulas? She is no longer a spirit of protection, but a beast of destruction,” the last and youngest of the elders, Lyndis argued.
“We only assumed she was destructive,” Aleratha responded. “We came upon what I assume to have been her grove, her tree and she became hostile, but as soon as we retreated, she ceased her hostilities. She did not pursue us. If she is truly the ‘beast of destruction’ you tailor her as, we wouldn’t be standing here.” She could’ve done us in, Aleratha thought. Summoned vines to restrain us, even strangle us if she didn’t want to dirty her own hands. She could’ve sent us to the Earthmother’s side, but she relented.
Travaran looked to be stuck in thought. “Perhaps she didn’t want to anger us further, perhaps she’s watching us from the trees, dryads can be tricky, tricky creatures,” Lyndis said, her own goatlike eyes moving between the trees that surrounded the quartet of elven elders.
“Then she could’ve easily snatched any one of us, pulled us right in and encased us in the bark never to be free again,” Vulas responded.
“Enough!” Aleratha spat. “We are going to argue in circles here. Let us get back to the clan and lead them further inward. Hopefully they will not ask too many questions about our sudden stop and rerouting,” she finished, pushing her way past Travaran, stepping carefully over roots and small, still-growing flowers on her way to their clan. Lyndis huffed and made her way to follow.
Vulas looked over to Travaran who didn’t even seem to budge from Aleratha’s departure right through him. “Travaran. We must depart.” Travaran jolted and shook the proverbial cobwebs out of his mind. “Eyes to the skies, Elder,” Vulas whispered and made his way towards the clan.
“Earthmother help the poor soul who has become tainted. May you heal her being so that she returns to the protector she must be,” Travaran prayed.
As he turned and began making his way behind the other elders, behind a nearby tree, a bleached wooden hand faded into the charring dug into the wood of the tree, the same charring beginning on its own wood, centering on the palm of her hand before slowly growing to cover up more, golden eyes following the leafy cloak of the final elder that exited her vision.