Shade of the Forest by R.E. Durbin
Hot wind crackled the bare tree limbs, the ancient giants swaying in a groaning dance. The scent of dried leaves and decaying flesh permeated the dark undergrowth. Tiny twigs snapped under Vioke’s boots. He stroked a passing dragon-bird’s wing, the red feathers shimmering to gold at his touch. The creature snapped at him before slithering off through the air.
“It’s affecting the animals now,” Grandmaster Erian said, stepping to Vioke’s side. A thin eyebrow rose as the older elf looked around. “Nothing looks different, yet you can sense, can you not?”
“Yes, sir.” Vioke rubbed his the middle of his chest, where his heart lay. A deathlike cold had settled there. It’d started the moment he entered the forest and only grew stronger. Even now, it worked up into his throat; each breath harder than the last.
“Mayhap…” he avoided a large root that rose to trip him. “Mayhap this will not help”
“Perhaps it shall.”
Whispers, thick as moss, glided across the wind.
We hurt. We starve.
Vioke’s body jerked at the soft rustles, his baser instincts begging him to leave. The whispers heightened their pleas. Stretching out with invisible fingers, they clawed at him for help.
Save us, young one. Help us. Give us light.
His vision swam to grey. Something grabbed ahold of him and he swung out at it, just as Grandmaster Erian taught. But the thing caught his wrist. He struggled against it, his attempts becoming weaker with each passing moment. Panic flew up.
“No…” he whispered past the darkness gathering in his eyes. “Leave me.”
Vioke tugged, flailed, and finally murmured a spell of protection.
A new kind of fear entered. Was this his fate? To not even have a chance to aid his people?
Suddenly, a burst of raw magick cracked through the shadows. His vision came back in vivid detail. He gasped, sliding to his knees. Grandmaster Erian knelt beside him, his long fingers curled around Vioke’s wrists. Those steel eyes peered deep into Vioke’s soul. “Come back, child. Feel my hold. Take its strength.”
Vioke did as he said.
Slowly, everything faded back to normal. He swallowed. “You said to use such force upon a person was dangerous, Master.”
Grandmaster Erian ignored his question, instead inclining his head to the left. “We are not alone.”
Vioke stilled and snuck a glance over.
There, by a crumbling oak tree, swayed an aluvanar. Once Guardians of the woods, now they only endured as a twisted version of themselves. They harmed anyone, seeming to find even the attempts to cure the forest an attack against themselves.
Vioke shivered at the black look she leveled at them.
A sapphire dress hung in tatters over her shoulders. Her white hair, matted by dirt and blood, blew in the breezes. A translucent arm lift to point at them. “You’re not welcome.”
Grandmaster Erian let go of him and stood. His sword rang as he slid it out. “Forgive me, but we must insist.”
“Then die.” She darted forth, leaves not even disturbed at her passage. “Your blood will satisfy them.”
Grandmaster Erian’s sword swung low, reversing at the last moment to go for her stomach. She flew back.
“Clever.” She touched a root. The maple groaned in pain. Its branches whipped out. Grandmaster Erian just missed being decapitated. Even so, his hair caught in some of the smaller limbs. The tree straightened, wrenching Grandmaster Erian up with it. A vine wrapped around his neck. His sword dropped to the ground.
Vioke caught it.
His fingers slipped around the worn hilt, hot metal warming his cold hand. “Release him.”
“No,” she giggled.
Vioke tightened his grip. “Ilath would not condone this.”
Her long nails slashed for his eyes. “Leave us!”
A silver rope coiled around her body, snapping tight. She tried to run at him, but the rope held her to the spot. She screamed, thrashing around. The rope held. Something thudded behind Vioke. He whirled, sword at the ready. Grandmaster Erian pushed out of the tree limbs, even as they scratched his arms.
“There’s not much time,” he said. “Come. Her companions will arrive soon.”
Vioke started forward, paused, and handed him back his sword. Grandmaster Erian stared at it before he accept it back. Then he marched deeper into the forest. Vioke scrambled to follow him.
“You’ll not win!” the aluvanar shouted.
Vioke blocked out her other threats.
The closer they came to the center of the wood, the sweeter it smelled. Yet, this sweetness came across as somehow sickening. The type of charm that rang fake, an imitation. Harmonious at first sight, but cheap once looked at closer.
Grandmaster Erian stopped in front of a giant willow tree. Most of the branches lay scattered in pieces on the forest floor. Here and there, Vioke could see shapes of previous elves melded into the bark. Previous failures.
The Grandmaster turned. “It’s time.”
Vioke took a breath and placed a hand against the bark. He opened himself and poured all he had into his spell. Slowly, he felt the hilt of a sword push up against his palm. He grasped it, drew it out. But then it became too heavy for him.
It fell with a clang.
He went to pick it up. But he couldn’t move. Couldn’t see. Couldn’t even breathe. Too late, Vioke realized he’d opened too much of himself. The forest had dragged him to it. He could feel the rough bark of the willow digging into his skin. Soon he would be like all the others.
Trapped in the bark.
He felt, rather than saw, Grandmaster Erian pick up the sword. A sigh ghosted out of other elf. “Saved us all. You’ll not be forgotten. Once we win, we’ll come back to free you all.”
Vioke wanted to tell him he trusted him. But the words that left his mouth sent a shiver down his roots.
We hurt. We starve.
R.E Durbin learned to read at the age of five, and thus began her sojourn into the realm of writing. Her favorite authors are Tolkien (may Gandalf forever reign!) and C.S Lewis, Charles Dickens, and Arthur Conan Doyle. Her blog, Ink Dabblings, is on Google and updated as regularly as she can make it. Her other writings are on Figment.com.
R.E. Durbin was featured in Rituals (White Ash Literary Magazine). It can be found on Amazon.