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.
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