Glaciem and Bick moved swiftly and quietly. Though the Village was quiet, they dared not risk the open road leading to the outer gates and choose instead to weave their way through the trees still scattered throughout the roads, crops and near houses. They were not so concerned about Villagers, but rather the enemies they could not see.
The bodies of those fallen from the night before had been successfully removed and taken away, but the musk of the corpses still rose from the ground. Near the House of Meeting, spirals of thin smoke wafted through the air before disappearing into the sky. Glaciem shivered, knowing full well the source of the smoke. It had been burning all day and would most likely burn for the next few weeks to come.
It did not escape her that, as they walked, Bick’s head had turned to the House of Meeting several times, his parents having been set there for their final resting place. The guilt plaguing Glaciem all day came back again in full force, painful spasms shooting through her belly. It made breathing difficult enough for her that she tried to distract herself by counting the number of trees within the Village walls. She gave up when she hit one hundred and fifty.
We haven’t even seen the whole Village. Glaciem thought wretchedly. How many more are here? She wondered if the trees would follow her out of the gate or if they would stay where they rested.
From outside the walls, still larger trees loomed over them, as if attempting to cover the whole of the Village with their branches, the leaves obscuring the moonlight. It seemed to Glaciem that this was more an act of protection, an effort to hide the Village from view, but she also knew she would be the only one to share this opinion.
Bick traveled in silence. There were times when he halted and held out his arm to prevent Glaciem from moving forward, his head bowed to one side, listening intently. She wished she could hear what he heard, but knew his skill would always outweigh hers. Still, the closer they got to the gates and to the Forest, the sharper Glaciem’s senses became. She could not see the roots weaving through the ground as she could before, but her sight, hearing, and smell were all heightened, everything pertaining to the earth vivid and sharp.
When they reached the gate, they found branches had weaved themselves through the locks and hinges so completely that all they could see was the suggestion of the door that once opened to the Forest. The limbs pulsed and groaned as steam curled up from the moss covering their bark. Bick pulled at the door, huffing in frustration when the gesture did little more than cause the branches to huff back.
“This isn’t going to get us anywhere.” He muttered. “Perhaps we can scale the wall instead.”
They both looked up doubtfully. Branches and leaves hung at so many odd angles that, even at Bick’s best, he would not have been able to scale the wall, let alone Glaciem. Besides which, the branches were too far up to reach without the use of water or ladder, something neither was sure the Forest would allow.
“Let me try.” Glaciem moved forward.
She wasn’t so confident as to assume the trees would just outright obey her, but she did think it possible she could reason with them. As she moved her hand toward the doorway she remembered Narratus’ words of caution.
It is possible that some of the trees have become corrupt.
Uncertainty pulsed through her veins. What if these trees were foes instead of friends? Would they attack once they knew it was her? Her fingers hovered just above the knotted trees. She could feel their humming, even inches away.
“We can’t risk staying in one place for too long.” Bick cautioned, seeing her hesitation.
Glaciem argued internally for a moment before taking a deep breath and gently setting her hand down on the wood.
The branches sighed and unwound themselves, slithering away from the door and allowing Glaciem to yank it open. She grinned in relief and looked back at Bick who only shook his head with a small, tired smile. She peered out from the gate. All around them stood tall trees of every variety, all huddled close to one another and all pushed up against the walls of the Village as far as their branches would allow.
As Glaciem observed the surroundings beyond the walls. The roots of the trees had knotted together to form a walkway of sorts. It was small and crude, but clearly a path. Gingerly, she took a step forward.
As her foot touched the ground she was overcome with the hundreds of emotions rising up from the earth to greet her.
Glaciem sucked in sharply as she closed her eyes and tried to understand what they all were. As she did, it occurred to her that the collective sound was the Whispers she had been hearing ever since she woke up.
Could it be the Trees have been speaking to me? Have they been trying to communicate with me all this time?
Another question came to her mind as she untangled the Whispers, trying to catch even the smallest thought.
What of the boy? Who is he?
After a moment, she gave up trying to distinguish the thoughts and simply allowed the sensations rush over her. It was a whirlwind of feelings, like someone had poured them into a pot and was now violently stirring it with a spoon. They weren’t unpleasant, but there were so many infiltrating her mind at once it was impossible to try and understand them at all.
Suddenly, the thoughts collectively bristled and darkened. She opened her eyes, alarmed. She turned around right as Bick stepped out from the gate to join her. Glaciem started and quickly looked around. She touched the first tree within her reach, a willow, and began to think soothing thoughts, trying to convince the trees.
“Please, I need him with me.” She said to the willow, feeling awkward.
How does one make conversation with a tree?
“I need him with me.” She repeated quietly.
The Whispers were reluctant at first, but they calmed and subsided to a slight, albeit distinctly irritated, buzzing in her mind. Though less hostile, it was clear the trees were unhappy. Bick joined her and looked at her quizzically.
“They don’t like you.” Glaciem said impishly and turned to keep walking.
“What do you mean, they?” He asked, an eyebrow lifting.
She pointed up at the Trees.
“The Trees don’t like me?”
“Can’t say they do.”
Bick glanced around him uncomfortably, “Should I be worried?”
“I don’t think so. They’re listening to me. I think you’re safe so long as you don’t wander off or try anything stupid.”
“You think too harshly of me, Icicle.”
“I’m praising you for the things in which you excel. You can hardly call that harsh.”
As they walked, Glaciem noted the Forest had not come to the edge of the Village in Its entirety. Large trees of every kind circled the walls, but about fifty feet away from the gate, there was still the large space of field between the Village and the Forest. The field, while much smaller, looked as it always had. The Border Tree still stood alone and unaccompanied by its brothers. She turned to its right to enter the Forest as she had in her vision. It seemed fitting somehow.
Stopping just outside the Forest border, she peered through the tall trunks. The trees were swaying gently from an unseen breeze as the low humming of the Whispers’ song wafted through their branches. Their bark was warmly colored and creaked and groaned from the movement. Leaves fluttered of their own accord and even with the moon rising above the horizon, the Forest showed no signs of slumber.
Glaciem turned back to look at Bick. “This is your last chance to change your mind. I fear once we enter we will not be permitted to go back until we’ve completed what we set out to do.” Even as she said it, she already knew what his answer would be.
Bick lifted his chin and stood tall, unmoving. Glaciem nodded her head in acknowledgment before taking a deep breath. She lifted her foot and purposefully set it down within the border.
Glaciem opened her eyes, not realizing she had shut them. She was immediately accosted by color as it flooded into her vision, warm light enveloping her every sense. Everything was as she had seen in her vision and yet it seemed so much more so. The noises were sharper, the colors brighter, and the trees larger, the moonlight doing nothing to subdue their movements. Even with her boots on, she could feel the ground shift, wriggling beneath her feet. The humming of the trees rumbled deep in her chest.
“It’s incredible,” Bick said, his mouth hung open in wonder. “I never imagined the Forest would be like this.”
She nodded her head in agreement and turned to face him. Before she fully realized it, a large branch burst through the surrounding trees and wrapped itself tightly around Bick’s waist. Both Bick and Glaciem shouted in alarm as he was flung sideways, landing heavily on the ground.
Panicked, she watched in horror as the tree the branch belonged to rumbled into a view. It was a giant oak and the large branch it used to fling Bick swelled and bulged as its trunk shook with unmistakable rage.
“Bick, move!” She cried as the tree raised the branch high, intent on crashing down on him.
Bick rolled away with mere moments to spare before the massive branch plummeted into the ground, the force shaking the trees around them. It raised itself again and swung towards Bick, catching his shoulder as he tried to jump away.
Glaciem raced forward and jumped high into the air, her bone dagger already in her hand. As she made to drive it down, the branch twisted unnaturally and hit her square in the chest. The wind rushed from her lungs, leaving her breathless. She landed against a small bush which had hurriedly shifted over in order to catch her.
“Thank you,” She gasped as she looked around wildly for Bick.
“Glaciem!” Bick called as he ran past her, turning to aim his dagger at the trunk of the tree.
His throw was successful and as the knife sank deep into the body of the tree. It roared, consumed with anger and pain.
Bick grabbed Glaciem and pulled her to her feet. The tree ripped the knife out of its center and threw it wildly back in their direction. They ducked, the blade missing them and slicing into the branches of the tree that had caught Glaciem. She could hear it whimpering in pain.
“You said they didn’t like me, not that they wanted to kill me!” Bick snapped at her angrily, digging through the tree’s leaves to retrieve the dagger.
“They didn’t sound this angry back at the gate!” She protested as she called the water from her skin.
Bick stopped searching to point at the Tree. “That thing is not going to stop attacking me unless you make it stop!”
“How on earth am I supposed to stop a feral Oak?”
Before he could answer, Bick’s feet went out from under him, his back slamming into the ground as tree roots pulled themselves out of the soil to twist around his legs.
“You’re a Daughter of the Forest!” Bick shouted, clawing at the roots as they snaked their way up his torso. “Act like one!”
Glaciem turned to the tree, eyes wide and heart pounding. The tree had turned to face them, trembling with terrible strength.
You are a Daughter of the Forest.
Glaciem breathed out slowly. “Now act like one.” She growled to herself.
The tree charged towards Bick and as it did she ran to intercept it, the water she wielded now thinning and snaking around her arms. She cried out with effort as she whipped the water through the air, the thin stream slicing deep into the face of the trunk. The tree shrieked and its branches immediately turned towards Its face, pawing wildly at the source of its pain.
“That is enough!” She commanded, poised to strike again. “He is with me, and I need him to stay with me!” She hoped her voice sounded strong and decisive. “I have no doubt in my mind you witnessed his actions on my behalf the night before. You should not dare to attack the friends of your keeper without expecting such repercussions as these!”
The tree stopped crying and stood silent. Glaciem felt as if she was being scrutinized. She knew, even with having gotten its attention with the water, she was still a far cry from the one the trees had been called to aid less than a day before. Here, she was only her small self, with only a single element to aid her. Still, she refused to avert her eyes, knowing this moment would decide whether she would continue farther into the Forest alone or with Bick.
Finally, the tree relaxed and though it did not move, the large branch it had used as a weapon curled gracefully around its body, signaling its surrender. Glaciem felt her insides unwind, though she didn’t dare show her relief outwardly. She did not want the tree to know how terrified she had actually been.
They have been without a shepherd for far too long. She thought. It’s going to take a while before they learn to respect me once more.
As she turned to help Bick, he shot her a dark look. She held her hands up in surrender.
“Your trees have gone completely wild.” He snarled from the ground.
He hand went to the shoulder that had been hit. He felt the bone for injury as the roots around him now sank back into the ground.
“They are not my trees.” Glaciem protested.
The large tree behind her rumbled, clearly disagreeing with her.
She sighed and spoke to it directly, “Oh, don’t argue with me. I don’t know the first thing about leading trees, much less how to properly command one!”
The tree’s rumbling subsided slightly as it gently lowered a branch to help Bick back to his feet.
“Thank-” He was cut off as the branch swatted him in the face with a bunch of leaves. “-you.”
“Well, we’ve been in the Forest for only a moment and so many exciting things have already come to pass. I can only wait in anticipation for what might happen next.” Glaciem said sarcastically, looking around for a clue as to which direction they should head.
Bick joined her, “It looks like the largest trees are here, guarding the borders.” He said, pointing. “Maybe if we move inward we’ll be greeted with less opposition?”
“We might as well. At the very least, we could head in that direction until we have a better idea of what we’re up against. Remember, we don’t know which trees are our allies or enemies.” Glaciem said, stepping forward cautiously. “I’m not even sure they really remember who I am. I certainly can’t recognize them.”
“I can only hope if this is how your allies behave towards a friend, they’ll be even more hostile towards your foes.” Bick said gesturing towards the Oak, which growled at his outstretched finger.
The remainder of the night was spent quietly moving in what they hoped was the direction of the center of the Forest. Bick’s theory proved correct, which was fortunate; their altercation with the tree had turned them around and away from the path created by the roots from before.
While the trees did indeed grow smaller the farther they walked, they were no less suspicious of him. Occasionally, Glaciem was obliged to argue with them, sometimes with water, sometimes with words alone. None of them were as formidable as the Oak had been, something for which Glaciem was eternally grateful. As the night continued she grew more tired and irritable and the threes less willing to listen to what Bick called “the voice of Elemental reason”.
Eventually, the two were forced to stop from exhaustion and lack of progress. They found a huge knotted tree so ancient it barely registered their presence as they circled it to look for a decent place to rest.
I recognize you. Glaciem thought as they collapsed underneath the behemoth.
It was the tree she had seen in her vision, though it was not near as fierce now. The only similarity now between it and the tree in her vision was its immense size, a fact that, under normal circumstances, would have Glaciem relief. Now, in her weariness, she could only muster a half-hearted mental acknowledgment of their good fortune.
They would not risk a fire, not that they needed it. The warmth of the Forest was almost enough to force them to shed their cloaks and the moonlight provided enough light for them to make themselves as comfortable as they could manage without disturbing the ground too much.
Bick arched his back and stretched. Mild cuts and bruises covered his arms and the gash in his cheek had opened slightly. He absentmindedly wiped away the blood beginning to drip down his chin with his thumb before holding out his bandaged hand to study it. Even with the amount of damage that had been caused, the salve Narratus had applied was working well, which was surprising considering how short a time it had been since he had sustained the injury.
“I must have offended them in another life.” Bick muttered, sore and irritated.
This was the first time he had sat down to rest since the Great Hall.
“Perhaps they simply don’t take well to strangers.” Glaciem replied sympathetically as she offered Bick water.
He took it gratefully. She watched him take a long swallow.
“Are you sure it was a good idea coming with me?” She asked as she leaned forward to wipe away a drop of blood he had missed from his cheek. “Perhaps you should turn back.”
“No.” He replied without hesitation. “I will fight every single one of your damned trees while I’m here if it means peace for my mother and father.”
Glaciem stared into the dark trees around them, the Whispers now an ever constant in her mind, the intensity ranging from a mild buzz to a rumbling hum she could feel in her chest. She turned back to face Bick.
“I’ve not had a chance to speak with you privately about everything yet. Now that we’re alone I feel there’s so much to talk about, but I don’t even know where to begin.”
Bick’s gaze lowered to the ground. “Much to talk about.” He mumbled softly as he stared at nothing.
“Do you not think so?” She asked hesitantly.
“I suppose I do have my own questions about things, yes.”
“As do I.”
She was undecided as to whether or not she should bring up what Bick’s father had revealed to her. The First had forbidden her from speaking, but now that everything had changed, she wasn’t quite sure if such a command still applied, neither was she convinced that it mattered at this point.
“Much to talk about and yet no words from you.” Bick chuckled quietly, teasing. “Very well, I shall begin. Why do you suppose the Elders refused to discuss the things my mother said to us? Why have they not mentioned the sound that came from the coffin?”
Even as he spoke, Bick’s voice cracked slightly at the mention of the strange death of his mother. The sound cut through Glaciem.
“Would you prefer we not talk?” She asked.
Bick shrugged. “Perhaps not with anyone else, but I think you’re right. Now that we’re alone, we should take some time to discuss things. Presently, I trust you more than I trust the Elders. In truth, I’ve always trusted you more and now, knowing they lied to us for so long…”
Bick trailed off as he considered everything.
“In any case, I would hear what you have to say on the matter.” He finished.
Glaciem thought about it for a moment. “I don’t know. Perhaps they didn’t mention it because they didn’t know and were unwilling to venture a guess?”
“Or perhaps they do know and don’t want to tell us the truth.” Bick countered. “We’ve been wrongfully, purposefully, led to believe the Shadow was no longer a threat and yet we now know very differently.”
He paused for a moment before looking up, his eyes searching the heavens.
“We did not know.” He murmured to himself.
I did not know.
“Your father said the same thing before he passed.” Glaciem replied, the First Elder’s words ringing clearly in her mind.
Bick looked at her. “He did.” He said finally, his eyes clouding over.
“Bick,” Glaciem said softly, reaching out to touch his shoulder, “I am deeply sorry.”
She felt his hand reach up to hold hers. They were silent for a moment, choosing to listen to the creaking trees and the invisible things chirping and whistling in the night.
Bick squeezed her hand before letting it drop. “I’ve already told you. You were not to blame.” He bent forward to lightly kiss her on the forehead.
Glaciem was not convinced. “But I am. This would not have come to pass had I not been found.”
“It would have happened.” Bick retorted, his voice clipped and tight as he leaned back against the oak. “It might have happened another time, with another Village, or to another Elder perhaps, but it still would have happened. As long as the Shadow is alive, these things will happen. As long as you go on without fully understanding who you are, particularly to the Shadow, then these things will happen. There’s no point in arguing about this, Glaciem. It happened when it happened and I would choose to believe it happened when it was meant to happen. Please don’t lessen the death of my parents simply to ease your own conscience.”
“That wasn’t what I was trying to do.” She said, wounded by his words.
“The reason why I am not angry with you is because I recognize that we have all been living a lie. These past ten years could have been put to far better use preparing you adequately for a threat whose existence should not have been hidden from the Valley in the first place. We’ve all been made out to be who we are because of the lies we’ve been told and not one of us is who we ought to be. Because of that, we’ve acted as we ought not have acted.
“My father did nothing without first considering and weighing the costs of every possible outcome and I know he chose to act in the manner he believed was in the best interest of his family and the Valley. But even for all of that, he chose the wrong path. Now, we must all live with the consequences and do the best we can to make it right.”
Bick paused and lightly tapped Glaciem’s forehead. “That means you need to stop trying to bear all of our sins by yourself and it also means you need to focus on what is to come and what we must do. There is a deadly evil in these woods. We do not know where it is and we do not know how powerful it is. We’ve seen only hints and whispers of what the Shadow is capable of.
“I don’t know why my mother said what she said, nor do I know why that sound came from the coffin, but I’m willing to accept, unfair as it might be, that we are operating with far less understanding than what we are up against. We need to remember that and strive to do our best to figure out whatever we can. I’ve a feeling that, in due time, everything will come to light if we continue to strive for the truth.”
Bick stopped abruptly, his entire body sagging from fatigue. He held a hand up to his head. He paused for a moment.
“I can’t remember what I meant to say next.” He looked at her, frustration evident in his eyes. “I’m sorry if I was prattling.”
Glaciem shook her head, “You’ve nothing to apologize for. And you’re right. Everything you said was right.”
She turned her back and stretched out on the mossy ground. “I’m going to sleep. We haven’t slept in days now. I suggest you do the same. If the trees continue in their distrust of you, we’re in for a weary day tomorrow and every day after.”
She listened to Bick as he quietly settled beside her, his back pushed against hers. Though she was exhausted, she stayed awake long past him, listening to the sounds of his breathing lengthen and grow deeper as he drifted off. It wasn’t until she was convinced he wouldn’t wake that she allowed herself to close her eyes, her dreams full of trees breaking through the walls of buildings, dying men, and a column of fire that spiraled out of her mouth, singeing the faces of those she loved.
She is in a room. The room is tall and brightly lit with candles. The sun is shining through the tall windows, bathing every corner with its warmth. She is standing beside two coffins. They are fashioned from wood stained a deep red. The coffins are closed. She runs her fingertips across the top and can feel the knots and grain against her skin. There is laughter behind her. She turns around. Across the room is a man. His hair is black and his skin is pale. He is tall and well built and exceedingly handsome. His eyes are entirely unique; golden irises bearing an inner light from the heavens itself. They are bright and intelligent and flash as they hone in on her. His eyes are a stark contrast to the black cloak resting across his broad shoulders. He opens his arms wide to greet her.
“You have returned home at last, sweet one.” He says to her. His voice is deep and it rumbles in her chest as he speaks. “You do not know how I have yearned to see you and here you finally are, at long last. You are home, within the Forest. I have missed you so.” He smiles brightly, his teeth are white and straight.
Everything about him is clean and perfect, wholly pleasing.
She cannot answer, but this does not alarm her. It does not seem to her that she should speak, even if she could. Instead, she walks towards him, towards his arms, desperately wishing to be embraced by him, a feeling from deep within her aching with the longing.
As she walks towards him and away from the coffins, the room grows colder and darker. The sun has been covered by clouds. She stops to see the candles blowing themselves out one by one. The once pleasant silence becomes uncomfortable and stifling and as she looks, the coffins both unhinge themselves and the lids fall heavily to the floor.
“Do you wish to see?” The man asks.
His voice is still warm and inviting and the sun briefly breaks through the clouds. She nods and he strides casually towards her, fondly placing a hand against her back to guide her back to the coffins.
As they draw closer to the coffins, the room grows darker still and she can see her breath leaving her mouth in cloudy puffs that waft into nothingness. She slows her pace, but the man’s hand on her back is unyielding as it pushes her forward. In the coffins, she sees two men, one young with chestnut brown hair, and one old with a white beard that covers the better part of his chest.
She stands between the two coffins peering curiously at their contents. The men are both dressed in black, both with a single stone around their necks. The young man’s stone is bright blue. The old man’s stone is pure white and almost impossible to see amidst his beard. It takes her a moment to realize they are both submerged in water, their chins tipped upwards to the surface, the position allowing them the smallest amount of air.
“Do you know these two?” The man behind her asks, his voice honeyed and soothing.
She begins to shake her head, but stops. She does know them, but she cannot remember how or why. She leans towards the coffin with the old man and gingerly picks up the white stone. She holds it and studies it intently, trying to remember. She looks down briefly. The water ripples in the coffin and she realizes the man is breathing. She drops the stone and backs away, bumping into the coffin behind her, water sloshing over the sides. She turns abruptly towards the young man and feels a start in her stomach as his eyes open and lock with hers. His eyes are a rich brown, with flecks of gold, but his pupils are so wide with fear she can barely see the color. She backs away and glances at the other coffin, the old man’s bright blue eyes are also open, also full of fear, also paralyzed and unmoving.
“Do you still not remember, Daughter of Trees?” The man behind her asks.
He places his hand heavily on her shoulder and she jumps at the touch. She looks down at his hands and sees his skin is no longer pale, but has shifted to an ashen grey. His nails are as black as his hair and pointed. They begin to dig into her skin.
She ducks and slowly backs away from him. He is no longer smiling, but rather sneers in her direction. His white teeth slowly lengthen into pointed fangs. His golden eyes still flash with heavenly power, but now there is menace in them. His cloak swirls from winds she cannot see and dark shadows dance at his feet, jumping and spinning, growing larger and more wild with each movement.
“Perhaps a hint will help you to remember.” The man whispers and raises his palm to her, revealing the marking of the Elements, the lines glowing.
Fire billows from his hand and spirals towards her. She gasps and holds her arms in front of her for protection, but it does little to stop the blast of heat from hitting her full on. She flies across the room and is thrown rudely into the windows behind her, the impact causing them to shatter all around her, bits of glass cutting deep into her skin.
She has little time to look up as another blast of fire shoots towards her. Frantically she leaps to the side, but the man is too quick and the fire singes her feet. As pain shoots through her legs, her eyes open wide and her memories come to her in full. She knows who the men in the coffin are, and she knows who the man in the dark cloak is.
The word floats through her mind, and though she cannot speak it, the man before her looks pleased. She stands and Umbra folds his arms in satisfaction when he sees the recognition coursing through her eyes.
“Very good, Lilium.” He purrs.
She still cannot speak, but she does not want to. She will not play his games. She opens her palms and two strings of fire from the now burning walls behind her shoot into her hands. She poises herself, ready to pounce at him. Umbra chuckles and waves away the fire in her hands and on the walls. The flames disappear in black rolls of smoke.
“You never did know when you were up against your betters. In any case, you and I are not here to fight.” He steps casually towards the coffins. He glances down at the men. “I came here to give you a choice.” Umbra looks back at her, his grin sinister. “Which one of these men shall I kill?”
Her breath catches in her throat and she moves to call the water out from the coffins. Umbra sees this and with a quick flip of his wrist binds her hands behind her back with a band of ice. He clucks his tongue disapprovingly.
“If you do not behave, I shall be forced to choose for you, dearest one.”
He continues walking towards her, his cloak billowing behind him, snapping against the stands holding the coffins. As he reaches her, he bends down so their eyes are level with one another.
“I shall ask you one last time. Which one of these men shall I kill?”
This time, she does open her mouth to protest, but no sound emits. Umbra gives her a pitying look.
“Very well.” He says, standing to his full height. “Let us see now.” He glances at the two coffins. “Maybe I should just kill them both?” He asks, grinning as he looks at her, “That way you will not be disappointed if I choose the wrong one? I do so hate to disappoint you.”
She tries to leap at him, but he pushes her back with a single hand, the force buckles her knees and she falls to the ground.
“No…” Umbra muses. “It’s not so much fun when both are dead. Why end the suffering so quickly when we have so much time left to play?”
Umbra stands for a moment, pondering before he abruptly and suddenly turns to the coffin with the old man. With his large hand, he covers the man’s face entirely and forces his head under the water.
She struggles and opens her mouth in a silent scream, watching the old man struggle and flail in the coffin, water splashing in all directions, the sounds of his screams muffled by Umbra’s hand and the water he has been submerged under.
Umbra’s smile widens in full as he watches the man slowly die. He pushes his hand further down into the water and turns to glare at her, his expression triumphant.
“What is most delicious about this, dear sweet Daughter of Trees,” he says, his arm shaking from the struggle in the coffin, “is the fact that, so long as you remain in my Forest, I will be free to haunt you. From the moment you close your eyes to sleep, to the moment you open them back up, I will be there to greet you. And when you and I are together, I will kill your loved ones in front of you every single night, in terrible ways. I will make them suffer and you will be powerless to stop me. I will chip away at your strength, break you down, bit by bit, night by night, and I will do it without you even remembering. You will wake and will not remember. During the day you will continue your pathetic little journey, but during the night, in the light of the moon, you are mine. You will sleep and I will come to you, and I will bestow on you one terror filled memory at a time.”
All she sees now is Umbra’s eyes burning into her. All she hears is his laugh and the coffin rocking on its stand. All she feels is the blood of the old man as it pours over her, choking her, bathing everything in red.