I am thrilled to announce: Realm of Beasts is LIVE today and holy cow look at that cover!!!
The inspiration for this story came from a mashup of ideas.
1. I love mythical beasts, and while dragons get all the glory (with good reason), I also wanted to call attention to some of the other mythical creatures. One of my favorite books about beasts is The Forgotten Beasts of Eld by Patricia A. McKillip, which features a wizard who collects beasts. Citrine is a faint echo of that wizard and she also collects beasts in a different way.
2. My second inspiration was the movie Fantastic Beasts. I adored the visuals of the movie and the personality of the beasts. I decided to create Ava the dragon with her own sarcastic personality to add a bit of humor to the story. As you read the book, you’ll see an illustration of Ava at the beginning of each chapter.
3. My final inspiration is the TV show Doctor Who. While you won’t see obvious similarities, I tried to replicate the emotions Doctor Who gave me and transport them into a fantasy adventure.
I poured my heart into this fast-paced fantasy tale. It’s short and sweet but there’s more coming! This is only the first of a six book series and you’ll follow the adventures of Citrine the Enchantress and Tor Lir the Nameless One throughout each book.
Well, enough blabbering and freaking out, here are the purchase links.
Grab the ebook (99 cents) or paperback ($12.99) using the links below:
Three questions buzzed around his head like vultures over a fresh kill as he crept toward the gut-wrenching smell. His nose wrinkled. A rotten scent wafted through the air, ruining the pleasant flavors of nature with the stench of death. His pulse pounded as he crawled through the golden-yellow grass waving above his head, his movements silent like the wild cats that stalked the forest and open lands.
If you want to know who you are and where you came from, go to Daygone.
The words rang in his memory as if it were yesterday. Ten years ago, he had said goodbye to the green giantess who raised him and spoke those words. He knew she was not a giant, but that’s how he preferred to think of her, for her true name was a harbinger of death. The word Daygone rang in his head like a bad omen—a place where dreams went to die. A darkness flashed in the giant’s eyes when she said the word. Daygone. He could almost detect the bitter mystery that turned rotten, much like the scent he breathed now.
He twitched his nose as a swarm of gnats rose, droning around his face as if fighting an invisible war with one who dared invade their haven of grass. Pausing on all fours, he took a deep breath, fighting back the sneeze until it erupted out of his throat. Ka-choom!
A guilty cough followed as he glanced around, scanning the green meadow with his dark eyes to see if he had disturbed anyone.
An ear-splitting screech made him jump as a flock of buzzards rose in the air, flapping their dark wings and screaming at each other. Torn bits of flesh hung from their claws and blood covered their beaks. He squinted. Whatever kill they were devouring had been dead for a few days.
“Torrrrrr Lir . . .” A sing-song voice called in warning and a creature pounced on him, knocking him flat on his back. He grunted in annoyance as the creature sat on his torso, pinning him down while pounding on his chest.
“Why did you leave?” she demanded, poking him none too gently. “It took me days to find you. If I wasn’t skilled in tracking, I might not have found you at all.” The liquid-gold eyes of the female Jesnidrain moved with animation as she scolded him and jabbed his ribs with her sharp fingernails.
“Lelia.” He cut her off abruptly as he held up both hands in surrender. He felt peeved she’d been able to find him so quickly. “What are you doing out here? You’re not supposed to leave the forests of Shimla.”
The five-foot-tall creature paused mid-sentence and a swift look of anger came over her heart-shaped face. Her jeweled eyes narrowed and her pointed ears turned red as they quivered. “You can leave, but I can’t?”
“I am not an Iaen.” Tor Lir trailed off as Lelia scowled down at him. Her nose twitched, yet she looked lovely, glaring down at him while smelling of the jasmine gardens of Shimla. Giving into weakness, he let his thoughts drift, inhaling her scent and enjoying the warmth of her body pressed against his. Her pert breasts stood out and if he reached out a hand, he could squeeze them and rub his face between them as he’d done often in the past.
“You are an Iaen,” Lelia insisted, emphasizing her words with one last jab. “Besides, if you can leave Shimla, so can I.”
He propped his upper body on his elbows, slightly dislodging the Jesnidrain. Keeping his expression calm, he attempted to explain. “But you cannot come with me. It could be dangerous.”
“You lie.” Her anger dissolved into laughter. “What could be dangerous in this world? There is nothing to fear.” She wriggled her hips, clutching his body with her thighs as if he were a horse.
“You don’t know and neither do I,” he disagreed, ignoring her attempt at foreplay. He was strong enough to leave the seduction of the Iaens of Shimla once, and he would do so again. “It’s our first time leaving the shelter of Shimla, a world within worlds. We don’t know what it’s like out here in the realm of mortals.”
“Why are you out here in the realm of mortals?” She crossed her arms over her chest, her ruby lips drawn down into a frown.
He sat up, sliding her further off his body. He moved his face closer until their noses were mere inches apart. “You know why I have to go. I am the balancer of good and evil. The past twenty years were calm, but I sense the seeds of unrest have sprouted. Where there is mischief, I must restore the balance. Where there is need, it is unsafe. You cannot come with me. You are not strong enough.”
“But you are.” All the same, the Jesnidrain’s words came out sullen as she met his gaze and tilted her head, begging for a kiss. “You can protect me.”
“Not if the balance calls for death. It’s best to stay away. If peace comes and I can return, I will.” He kept his tone solemn as he looked her in the eye, neither moving nor blinking.
After a moment, Lelia shivered and stood. Backing away from him, she rubbed her hands over her bare arms. Her straight black hair swished around her waist and the intoxicating scent of jasmine faded.
He studied her, examining her lithe form as he waited for the truth to sink into her mind. When he was young, he’d noted the uncanny vibe he gave off. It was an aura of cool aloofness. When he slowed down his words and stared into someone’s eyes, they felt cold like the breath of an icy winter coming for them. The first time he’d used the odd power was on the green giantess, and occasionally he used it when the minor annoyances of the Iaens—the immortal creatures of Shimla—grew too alluring. He already regretted trysting with Lelia the Jesnidrain. In the future, he would control his urges lest a flock of unwanted females followed wherever he went.
“I will walk with you until nightfall,” Lelia decided, her steady voice leaving no room for questions.
He shrugged, torn between conflicting feelings. Lelia was a slight seductress in her own way, but she was smart and her company was not completely unwelcome. Turning his back to her, he took a few steps forward. “Do you smell that?”
The corners of Lelia’s mouth turned down and the perfect skin in between her brows creased into wrinkles. “It smells foul . . .” She trailed off and strode forward while the grasses parted for her muscular calves.
He eyed her and followed a few paces behind.
She slowed down as she reached the spot where the buzzards had flown. Tilting his head, Tor Lir spotted the birds circling above, waiting for peace so they could return to their interrupted meal.
A high-pitched shriek jerked his head back down. Lelia stood rigid, frozen in terror as she screamed. Tor Lir watched her with lidded eyes, keeping the smirk from crossing his face while the words I warned you danced on the edge of his lips. Genuine horror made Lelia’s face red as the beets that grew on the outskirts of Shimla while her round eyes looked as if they would pop.
When her first fright had passed, she spun around. Eyes blazing, she stalked back to him with her hands on her hips. Scorn was written across her face and her jaw tightened as she glared up at him. Before he could react, she lifted a hand with lightning speed and slapped his cheek. The sound rang out, echoing across the quiet meadow. His hand flew to his face, more surprised than hurt at her reaction.
“I’ve always known you were full of tricks!” She spewed her words at him. “You play with power and make sure everything that happens is according to your desires, but this is too far! I am done with you, Tor Lir of Shimla. You are no longer welcome in my Jasmine Gardens and I’ll make sure every Jesnidrain knows to stay away from you.”
Tor Lir snorted as she marched away, spreading the thin wings on her back, gaining speed. Although she had wings, she couldn’t fly. Her kind lived with a misfortune. Some of them had the ability of flight while others did not. He supposed she meant her words to be damaging, but he felt grateful the danger in the realm of mortals turned out to be true. No longer would he be saddled with her delicious yet annoying company. He made a note to be careful who he had sex with, for beauty and pleasure were fleeting.
Free of distractions, he strutted over to gaze at the dead creature the buzzards had been eating. The sight made his blood run cold, and he took a step backward, almost tripping over his own feet.
A male lay headlong in the grass. Dark sockets where his eyes used to be gazed at the cloudless sky while clotted blood covered his body. His flesh was in various stages of decay due to the warmth and new blood that spurted from the holes where the buzzards pecked away.
Death was a word he knew yet had never seen, and revulsion shook his body. It was clear something killed the male in a ruthless and painful manner and then left him to rot. His soul would have trouble passing to the Beyond without a proper burial. Thoughts swirled through Tor Lir’s mind.
Three days later I limped out of the dark forest. Brilliant sunshine streamed into my eyes, making me squint as moisture rolled down my smudged cheeks. I looked like a sight to scare any creature to death or drive them mad, running in circles of surprise. Reaching up, I placed a hand on a stunted tree trunk, leaning against it for support as a new vibe raced through my veins. Glancing north and south I saw nothing but rolling green hills, with vibrant grass waving over them as if in worship. The sun reached down its rays to bless them and a captivating song murmured past my ears in the breeze.
I left my creatures behind, to run in freedom through the eerie, wild, woods, yet their spirits were close to me as I stepped into the light. The bitter aftertaste of dark and hollow memories faded as my instructions to my monsters in the dark forest. Whatever fog of gloom and despair the boundary line forest had cast over me melted away in the light like ice in the sunshine. Closing my eyes I lifted one hand, leaving the other for balance, and drank in the purity, letting it wash away my sins and the bitterness I held tight to. His dark chocolate eyes rose before mine, a final reminder of what I had lost. Hansel. I suppose it was never meant to be for very long. We were happy for a time, and although I do not forgive you, I can forget.
Cheerful birdsong drifted to my ears, and I stood up straight, sniffing the sweet air, captivated by its kindness. Hobbling forward I walked into pure light and breathed in, while the last of the dew droplets kissed my feet, cleansing me from my journey through the forest.
“Who owns this land?” I mused aloud for I could hear a voice, calling, shouting, telling me over and over, yet it was not in a language I understand. “I know this cannot be the legendary land of the immortals. Nay,”I shook my head. “Who owns this land?”
Suddenly the wind fell to a hush, and the grass stood up straight in attendance. I shivered, but not from fear, merely from anticipation, for I felt as if my request was granted. A few moments later, over the rolling hills, with a jolly grin smacked on his face, a bearded giant walked towards me. His hair was chestnut brown and his skin tanned from what I supposed was hours in the sunlight. His bushy beard hid his thick neck, but it was his eyes that paused my breath. They twinkled at me, as good and kind as the boundary line forest had been dark and evil. He carried an ax over one shoulder and when he saw me, standing in my dirty shift with my wild hair, he threw back his head and a deep genuine laugh roared out of his belly.
“You called?” he bellowed when he finished laughing, his eyes dancing merrily at me.
I gaped in astonishment. He was brash and strong, bold and kind, and I sensed nothing but goodness in him, purity without wickedness, mischief without sin. There was something else, something that made me take another step towards him. It was the lure of power. Anticipation beat at my breast as ideas rose in my mind and words spewed out of my mouth. “This is your land?”
“Aye!” he roared, slapping his knee. “You must be new here.”
“Eh,” I pointed back at the forest. “I came through this morning. Who are you?”
“Welcome,” he nodded at me, eyes winking. “I am Novor Tur-Woodberry.”
Despite myself, I winked back at him, a sure feeling of safety gripping me. “Hello,” I held out a hand as a riot of mischievous thoughts collided in my mind. “I am Citrine.”
Citrine’s Monsters: Chapter Eight | Master of the Forest
Morag led the way down the shining river, glowing with a green luminosity in the dim lights of night. Beasts growled in the underbrush but dared not approach us. I followed, my beasts and I leaving odd tracks in the mud which pooled with moisture and melted back into the bank, as if the river were cleaning up after us. I watched the scales of the water monster as an aura of grimness settled on my shoulders. Heated anger rose in waves combined with a deep curiosity.
We followed the bank until it closed upon a deep hedge, and there the waters dived into a steep waterfall, leaving us stranded on the shore.
“Here is where I leave you,” Morag spoke, his deep voice almost blending into the velvet wisps of night. “Follow the path up the bank. There he will wait for you.”
I took a step, my beasts following at my heels.
“They will not be welcome,” Morag arched his neck high in the air. “They must stay here with me.”
Words of protest rose on my lips, but instead of speaking I glared at the water monster. “I thought you belong to me.”
“Aye. But the Master of the Forest must speak to you alone. We await your return.”
I climbed the hill, the pitch making it difficult to see until I noticed the lights under my feet. Glow worms stood out in the mud, forming a path upward, among dead brown branches and broken bracken brush until I could no longer hear the roaring shout of the falls.
A sanctuary of interlocking branches rose before me, difficult to see with only the cast of the glow worms. I held up a hand as I entered, taking a step back as the monster on the throne stood to his feet.
He had the body of a tree, clothes in garments of black ivy and blood dusted feathers. A long white bone was held in one clawed hand, three fingers curving around it. The creature’s head was only a skull, yet not that of a mortal, but of an animal. It seemed to belong to a deer whose head was looped off and rotten to the core while antlers stuck out from the skull. Black slots for eyes turned in my direction and the head reared up, acknowledging my presence.
“Hello Enchantress.” The creature greeted me, staring in a way that made my blood run cold.
“Are you the Master of the Forest?” I focused my eyes on the creature’s snout. Looking into those dark eyes made me think it was dead.
“You know who I am. What do you want with me?”
“I will give you safe passage through my forest in exchange.” The creature tapped its bone against the forest floor, a hush of fear stealing the air away. I smelled something dead and rotten, a deep huskiness rising up from the buried dirt.
“Exchange for what?” I dared ask, confusion mounting.
“You must do something for me.”
“Must I?” I wanted to laugh but the oddness of the situation kept my emotions in check. “What do you want?”
“Death and destruction.” The creature turned its head, the dark eyes moving closer to me. I shivered as it continued. “The world rejoices. Peace is too much. I need riots and chaos and confusion. Wherever you go, there must be an imbalance. You must cause it.”
“Chaos happens wherever I go, regardless,” I admitted, shrugging my shoulders.
“Then you accept?” The creature leaned forward in a semblance of eagerness.
“I do,” I added hastily, since I had nothing to lose.
“Then the paths of the wood will open before you and lead you to paradise. There you shall begin.”
“What of my beasts?”
“What of them?”
“I need a home, a haven for them?”
“Then you will need to fight for it.”
“Will I win?”
“The future is not mine to see, only yours to create.”
“Is there anything else?”
“What if I need to find you again?”
“If the time comes, perhaps. Now go. Before the ghosts of the night capture your soul.”
I backed away, unwilling to turn my back on such a strange creature as I left. When it disappeared from my vision I turned and fled back to the river bank, back to my monsters.
“Where have you been?” I asked them, weaving my way between them, my fingers stroking fur, sliding over scales, rubbing wet noses, and touching feathers. I checked for burns, my concerned eyes examining them one by one. “I worried the fire had captured you in its wrath while you slept. This is my fault, I will never talk about you again, I will never open my mouth, even if it is to one I think I can trust. He betrayed us all.”
I murmured and cooed as the beasts danced around me, seeking attention, staring at me with their reproachful eyes. They never said a word, just stood, letting me know they were there.
My pets were not full grown yet, which gave me reason to fear for their survival. I bent down to stroke Zaul, a lizard-like creature with green scales and a row of long teeth like a crocodile. He’d come from the river, the first beast in my collection.
I touched the thick, sharp fins of Ava, my fingertips sliding off her slick scales. She had a neck like a serpent and a face like a wyvern while the rest of her body curved into a mix of scales and feathers like an eel. She had four clawed legs and stared at me with large reproachful eyes.
Their eyes were all the same color as mine. Lemon yellow. I didn’t know what brought them to me, but our similar eyes bound us together and allowed me to ask them to serve my wishes. Never harm another was the motto I taught them, and as anger boiled through my veins, I realized that motto failed me. Do no harm, but allow yourself to be burned and broken, driven out into a nasty forest with a temper bigger than my own.
Reaching up I patted the fur of Grift who stood as tall as a horse with the body of a lion, and the face of a great eagle-like bird, the Xctas. He had great wings folded on his back. I cursed myself to restricting my pets to my garden. Perhaps with freedom and plenty of pasture, they could roam free. A fierce determination to protect almost overcame me and a lump in my throat made my eyes prick with tears which would never be shed.
Ava, who was the smallest, slunk around my legs, giving off a sweet keening sound, her grumpy thoughts filtering through mine. You could have warned us. What happened?
“Hansel,” I whispered, the red-hot anger of betrayal vibrated through my body. “Never you fear,” I told them, locking my gaze on each of them. “I have a plan. I do not forgive the villagers for what they did. You should never fear what others will do to you. From now on, you will wreak havoc in my name.”
Grift pawed the soft dirt near the riverbank, causing streaks of mud to flicker out behind him. Swishing his white tail back and forth he bent his head toward mine. “Is this forest our home now?”
“No, I will find you a home,” I whispered.
The lull of the river and the sound of splashing made me turn back to the bank.
Zaul, Ava, and Grift growled, readying themselves for combat.
“Wait,” I held up a hand, watching the waters flicker. “It might be a friend.”
Morag rose out of the water, droplets dancing around his scales as his long neck hung over the water.
“Where were you?” I demanded. “A panther attacked me, something a quarter of your size. Where is your bravery?”
“It was a test,” Morag hummed, his great voice coming from the depths of his being, like a hypnotic song on a breeze.
My anger did not recede, but I took a deep breath before I explored. “My pets came to my aid, no thanks to you!”
“Nay,” Morag slung his long neck back and forth like a lullaby rocking a child to sleep. “It was a test to help you find your beasts, which you have, and to prove who you are.”
“What do you know of who I am,” I snapped, accidentally biting my tongue and cursing as the sudden jolt of pain swept through my mouth.
“You are the one who tames the beasts, we come when we feel you are in great need.”
“We…” I trailed off as my anger receded and I examined Morag.
He leaned down, bringing his monstrous face closer to mine, and I saw the sheen of his wide eyes, bright as the Green Light in the sky.
“If you will have me, I will join your collection. I heard you call my name in your heart, I have been searching.”
“Searching for me?”
“Aye. Will you have me?”
My limbs trembled as I lifted a hand, reaching up to touch the great snout of the beast. When my hand reached his nostrils, I felt a familiar stir and click within my body, the alliance I swore to each one of my pets. My beasts. “Morag.”
My heart was thumping when I turned to my beasts. “This is my promise to you. I will find us a home, and we will add others to our number. In the meantime, go through this wicked forest, look for others, and wherever you go, wreak havoc.”
“Wait,” Morag cautioned. “I must take you to the Master of the Forest. Follow me.”
Studying his eyes, I nodded in agreement to the odd request.
A hiss. A growl. A roar. My beasts scattered into the underbrush, the forest shaking under their movement.
A bird squawked in the darkness and the sudden hoot of an owl made the hairs on my bare arms stand on end. Hungry, thirsty and sore, I limped to a stop beside a grove of crooked trees, noting the way the weeping willows hung their long hair over their wooded faces. It seemed as if they hid their faces from the nocturnal activity of the murderous creatures of the night.
“Water.” I whispered to the listening air, for it seemed as if it cared about my plight. “I need water before I perish in the dark and gloom.”
A glimmer of white light appeared, and I lifted my hands, palm up to catch them. The lights came to rest in my hands and I saw them for what they were, tiny seedlings of the willow trees, blowing off to find a new grove. Each seed looked like a glossy teardrop and the inside pulsed with a white light, the soul of the tree. They were an answer to my plight, for the seeds generally landed around water. I followed them, ignoring the constant pain in my complaining foot.
Before long I heard the soothing trickle of water and picked up speed, moving out of the thick forest into a river. My heart rose in my throat and I gasped in astonishment, surprised such a deadly forest could hold such beauty. The moonlight revealed what looked like a glass stream, pouring down a riverbank towards a tiny waterfall that trickled into a pond. I stood at the base of the pond among the rocks, staring down at the cold waters that splashed up on the bank. The white seeds floated down and settled onto the rich dark mud near the bank, disappearing with a poof into the ground. I imagined they were like squirrels, tunneling into the ground, seeking mature ground to grow upon. A new grove of weeping willows would rise and start the cycle all over again.
Threading my way through the thick bulrushes I flung myself to my knees in front of the shimmering mirror of water, unashamed of the thick mud accumulating on my bare legs. It felt cold and sucked at me, sliding me closer to the riverbank. Cupping my hands, I lapped at the cool waters like an animal, slaking my thirst. The fog of exhaustion disappeared from my mind and sitting back on my heels I thought about what I would do, where I would go. “I have no home,” I mused aloud to the waters, watching as another batch of white seeds disappeared into the mud. “They treated me like an outcast… I’m not sure where to go. I need to lie low, but I need to be safe, and more than anything, I need to find my pets.”
A roar shattered the calm surface of the lake and a beast rose from the depths. A gray head with sharp white horns appeared, and I froze as a massive head, twice my size, reared up. Vines hung out of the beast’s mouth as if it had been chewing whatever lay beneath the lake. A long graceful neck, like a swan, but thick as a tree trunk swung toward me and I saw its eyes. A blend of lemon, yellow and gold, the same color as my eyes, like dancing orbs in the moonlight. The lake shook as it walked toward me and surprise forsook my body as I stood.
Fear. That’s what one should feel when a monster rises from the lake… yet fear wasn’t something I felt, only admiration and respect. I held out a hand, a sign of reverence as the monster bent its graceful neck over me.
“I am Morag,” it whispered, and even the whisper shook the waters and a wave lapped up near my feet. “I heard your request and have come to give you counsel.”
I watched the water slide off Morag’s scales, dancing back to the waters like the seeds to the mud. “What counsel do you give me?” I leaned closer, captivated by its size and strength, like a wave of doubt through my mind as I wondered what a creature of the water could tell me. How much knowledge did it understand, there under the waves in a dark forest. My feet squelched in the mud and I took a step closer to the bank until my toes touched the cool water and I slid under the surface to be near the monster.
“You have the eye…” Morag began and then paused. In one sudden movement the beautiful monster dived, and a wall of water rose high into the air, watering the mud where the seeds planted themselves.
A sudden feeling of terror swept over me and I crouched in the mud, shaking fingers moving to grip the handle of the knife. A beast slammed into my back with a snarl, toppling me over. Despite my hard demeanor I let loose a shriek of surprise and kicked out, struggling to free myself. Sharp claws swiped near my face and the pale moonlight reflecting off the waters allowed me to see sharp fangs, a pink tongue and snarling dark eyes as the panther leaped over me, mouth wide open for a bite.
I swiped out with the knife, forcing the beast to dodge away at the last moment, although I knew it would not scare it. Snarling and snapping the panther backed away, its tail twitching as its sleek black body disappeared into the darkness. I cocked the knife, ready for its advance, standing firm even though I wished to flee. Turning my back on such an adversary would sign my death warrant. I’d been lucky to escape already today, I did not want to press my luck anymore.
The panther returned on muted feet and leaped, claws scraping my shoulder as it toppled me over on my back. I lashed out with the knife, gritting my teeth, forcing myself not to cry out in fear and egg it on. I kicked at the tough body of the panther in vain, for it was bigger and stronger than me, and if one of its teeth locked around my neck, I would be dead. The panther dodged away from my knife and pinned my arm down. I waved my wrist while griping the fur of its neck as hard as I could with my free hand, yanking the snapping teeth away from my soft flesh. The mud pulled at me, attempting to bury me as I struggled in vain, my eyes flashing in fury, I would not go down this way. I refused.
My hand cramped in agony from keeping the panther away from my face. Its spittle drooled onto my neck as it growled deep in its throat, frustrated with my resistance. Perhaps it was as hungry as I, exhausted after a day of hunting, in need of a tasty morsel to give it energy. My stomach would have growled if I hadn’t been so exhausted, and I could feel tears of distress gathering in my eyes. If I threw back my head and screamed, more of them would come. As I struggled my eyes glimpsed royal blue, a bright feather and then a hurricane of wind.
Something struck the panther from above and it gave a shriek of pain, wiggling off me as it turned to attack whatever had struck it. The same strike came again, a dark blur in the air and I sat up, brushing blood and mud off my filthy clothes as I stood, dropping the knife at my feet. The panther turned tail and dashed into the thicket while my eyes peeled towards the sky, daring to hope when I knew I should not. Please. The whispered prayer left my lips. Is it you? Another flash of blue and there they were, crawling, slithering, and trotting towards me. I opened my arms, and a sob shook my heart. My pets.
“We should use her,” a whispered voice, soft as velvet woke me.
I squinted in the dark, lifting my head from the crook of my arm. Earlier that evening I’d dragged my weary feet to a halt and crawled into a mossy, hollow log to hide. My restless wandering through the woods was not helping, and I needed to think. Now, lifting my heart-shaped face I peered out, hoping to glimpse the voices, yet they remained hidden.
“She has suffered but is she sorry, will it be enough?” a second voice asked out loud, not bothering to whisper like the first.
“Aye, if we send her to him, he will help shape her future,” the whispered voice continued in a sing-song manner, as if words of poetry were not far behind those words.
“Careful,” a third voice, thick and scratchy, added. “We decided not to meddle in the four worlds long ago. The mortals never listen to us.”
“This is not meddling,” the loud voice reassured the scratchy voice. “There is an imbalance between good and evil, her actions will help keep the balance.”
“What about him?” the scratchy voice sounded agitated. “His purpose is to keep the balance.”
“Aye,” the sing-song voice danced across the night air like a dream. “What if he diverts from the plan? All beings have free will. Nay, we will use her to keep him in check, lest the four worlds fall into folly again.”
“We are not usually in disagreement,” the loud voice seemed to frown. “I think we should set a test and leave it to the mortals.”
Holding my breath, I crawled forward, straining my neck to see who was speaking. They continued to speak, weighing their thoughts as if consulting a great scale for what choice they should make.
My right eye could see outside, a mere blur of darkness. I could faintly make out a grove of weeping willow trees in the distance, and a wave of hunger and thirst passed over me. From the blending of shadows, I assumed it was the midnight hour.
A white tentacle caught my eye. My hand flew to my mouth before I gasped aloud, afraid the movement would scare the creatures away.Three white beings, unlike any mortal, stood a few paces from the log where I slept. It seemed as if white light clothed them while the beings stood with their backs to me. Their height was impossible to tell, for they floated in the air, and I saw nothing more than their long hair which looked like the bodies of snakes, waving in an invisible breeze. So, there were monsters in the wood.
“Quiet!” the scratchy voice ordered. A white hand went up and slowly the faces turned.
A numb horror sat on my chest, making it difficult to draw breath. I ducked down, burying my head in my arms as fear made its way through every fiber of my being. My fingers locked around the handle of the knife I’d stolen, and I squeezed, as if it would protect me. A pause followed, so long and deep I wondered if the beings had gone. Just as I was relaxing, the whisper came again.
“Well… our work here is done. Let’s go.”
I heard a click as if a door had been opened and closed again. When my heart beat slowed, and I dared poke my head out, they were gone like a nightmare.
I wormed my way out of the log and stood, eyeing the woods with uncertainty, knowing I had to press on. It was not safe to stay in a place where the monsters dwelt, and a cry rose within me. Save me from the monsters. Turning my back on my temporary haven I made my way deeper into the woods, searching for sustenance.