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Denae walked among the trees, feeling their bark shift under her fingers. They spoke to her, whispering their secrets freely to one of the few who could hear. The sunlight played through the forest, and the dripping water and the rustling of leaves did nothing to break the perfect silence. Denae smiled, and knew peace. Such peace was not to be. Soon she heard an echo of pain shiver through the woods, screaming through her veins like molten acid lodged in her heart.
The forest cried to her, and the nymph listened in horror as the trees that she was caretaker to spoke coherently just long enough to let her know of the source of their pain. She ran on until she felt she could run no more, and then ran further, not stopping until she reached the edge of the great forest of Amunral. What she saw made her exhausted legs give out from under.
“No,” she whispered as the tears began to fall. Spread out in front of her was the bent skeletons of trees twisted in unimaginable agony.
“Hail Denae!” her name was called by a weak voice. Lying there was a nymph that looked as tortured as the trees she was taking care of.
“Mizanane,” the Danae whispered to her dying friend. “What is happening?”
“I wish I knew,” Mizanane said. “I’ve spent myself trying to save them.” She paused to let out a sob for the fate of her trees. “I have seen much. I went to the borders of death, where all mysteries are laid bare. Something evil moves against our forest, something that I cannot understand. Though I couldn’t discover what this evil is, I did not fail completely. In a land far from this one the realm of the Dark One borders on the land of humans. Residing in that border is a creature that was once the steed of a great demon. It is possessed of great powers. If any creature rides it as it runs through Hell itself, it will grant the rider its greatest desire. You must go and ride it, Danae! You are strong enough.”
“I’ve never even been out of the wood,” Danae protested. “I can’t do what you ask!”
“You have to,” Danae said, “or it’s finished for all of us.”
Denae avoided her friend’s eyes while trying to think of another answer. If Mezanane couldn’t find one then Denae knew that what the seer told her was their only option.
“I will go,” Denae promised.
“Take my food for supplies. You must hurry!”
Denae slipped and fell into the mud, completely covering herself with the stuff. She’d had to cross another human road, and in the rainy weather of a new spring they where rivers of muck. She had long left the forest to come in a land filled with rolling hills and covered with weeds and bushes. She felt at a loss without trees, for the first time in her life she was alone in her own mind. The sensation left her off balance. She looked up and saw a dark fog ahead. It did not move with the wind, giving off a foul scent. Danae grimaced, that must be what I’m looking for.
A creature with four legs and two head raced towards her. She looked closer. It was two creatures, one riding the other. The one on top was covered in some kind of shell and waving a stick at her. She shied away; the violent movement made the beast jump and lunge.
“Kysner mal bredoran!” The man said.
Whatever that meant.
He repeated himself, shouting louder. Danae huddled up into a ball, watching him and hoping that the horse wouldn’t step on her. When she tried to move past, the man reined the horse around to cut her off. When she realized that he was never going to move, Danae took matters into her own hands. She reached out to the scrub brush covering the ground. The bushes being not much more intelligent then the grass. She was unsure if they would respond, but finally they did.
Help me! She cried. The scrub reached up to the horses legs, and began to wrap around them. The terrified horse bucked and reared, but it was not enough to free itself. Soon it could stand the alien sensation no more, and ran to the road. The man leaned back into the seat and did something with the straps in his hands and the horse was turning back to her. She got to her feet and began to run, but she knew it was hopeless. She could run any horse into the ground over the long run, but it could soon overtake her. Whimpering prayers to the forest god, she doubled her speed.
“Traveler, come this way!” a small person, most likely male, was suddenly ahead of her. She followed him into a marsh that bordered the fog. A voice in the back of her head was telling her that this wasn’t a good idea, but she pushed it away. Right now what she needed the most was to escape the human.
Her foot landed in a hole and she fell, twisting around so that her ankle shrieked with pain. She tried to get up but it was stuck. When she tried to reach her hands down into the hole a voice stopped her.
“I wouldn’t do that if I where you,” it was the little man that she had followed. From this direction it was obvious that he was nothing human. That didn’t bother her, seeing as she wasn’t human herself. What did bother was the grin that played around his lips like the slime on top of a rotten pond.
“What have you done to me?”
“Well, I saved you from the human.”
“You are worse then the human.”
“Really? How so?” The mist clung to him like a cloak. In its swirls she could finally see his true form.
“Demon.” She whispered.
He laughed. A tear escaped her. She knew that this must be her end. Then the memory of her forest, of her people, and of her tree came back to her. She must keep fighting. They needed her to save them, and if she couldn’t escape this thing then they would all die. With that realization her wits came back to her and she began to think of how she might escape.
“Release me,” she commanded. She might as well start at the basics.
“Now why should I do that? Now that I’ve caught you I get to play with you.”
“So you enter minds?” she asked.
“Of course. Any good demon does. What is the use of playing with your body when you can do the same thing to the mind?”
She nodded to concede the point. “Then you will know that my mind is impervious.”
“What?” she wasn’t sure whether she was lying or not, but she could make it seem like she wasn’t.
“I’m a nymph. I’m first melded to my trees, from my trees to others of my kind, then to their trees, and from that to my forest. Possibly, even from there to the world. That is far too great of a network for you to influence.”
She flinched as he reached into her mind, but instead of trying to discover if she was impervious to his manipulations he looked to verify if what she said was true.
He let out a sigh. “Oh well. I suppose I’ll just have to break your body instead. What a waste.”
Once again she reached for the forest around her, but this time the entire marsh answered her. Everything in it revolted against what the demons had been doing inside its boundaries, and the marsh wanted them gone. She allowed herself to become the eyes and ears of the foliage, and thus directed it against the demon. The water stirred and surged as underneath the water plants came to her, becoming a part of her and grabbed the unlucky demon, pulling it under. As soon as the demon disappeared underneath the water
She was not sure when the human would be back. They seemed to be a disturbingly determined bunch, and she would be surprised if he gave up so easily. She ran toward the fog, and far too soon, she reached it. She panted and tried to remember how to summon a demon.
It was far easier for Denae to get the attention of a demon then it would be for a true mortal, but that didn’t mean it was easy. She cut into her arm and let the blood flow from her wound to the ground. She whispered the name of Degorio as it fell so that the demon’s essence would be intertwined with the smell of the blood.
She waited at the edge of the mists high in the first tree that she saw in this blighted plain. Degorio came to the blood, and mercifully his form was shrouded for a few more moments. It looked like the creature that she’d seen earlier in shape. It had four legs and a long back, but that was as close as the similarity came. Where the animal had been covered in soft fur, the demons skin was hard like the outside of a bug. Raised spines covered its back, and its face was a sucking hole. She saw the ridge along its back underneath the spines and winced, knowing that it could easily saw through her bones. As if it saw her watching the ridge was folded back into the flesh, until nothing could be seen. The demon turned away from her she knew that it was now or never. She jumped.
Degorio screamed and reared, then shook itself. She held onto a ruff that grew out of its neck. It felt like stinging nettles and burned her hands, but she gritted her teeth and held on. Degorio stopped it’s fighting abruptly, leaving Denae tensely waiting for its next move.
“You dare to ride Degorio?” the creature that had trapped her climbed out of the pond covered in mud. The only thing that could be seen of it was its eyes that shown like green lights.
Obviously, she thought, but all she said was “I do.”
“Then know the price. Degorio may do whatever it desires to be rid of you. If you remain on its back till the sun sets in this place then it will give you power to answer one desire.”
“That sounds like a good bargain to me,” Denae said with a shrug.
“It does now. I swore that I would have revenge on you when the water pulled me under. Now I don’t even have to wait,” the little demon smiled at her then disappeared into the swamp. Degorio let out another scream and they were off.
The seemed to be traveling the border but when she looked down she saw that they where running along a bridge only a few feet wide. That was when the demon began to shake. She held on tight as it swerved and stopped, swayed and jumped. She knew this was only the very beginning, and yet she could barely keep her seat. She clung to the things mane, but was horrified to see that the hair was shrinking back into Degorio’s body. The spines were also growing, cutting into her body. She felt ineffectual tears well up into her eyes, but it was no use. The next time the horse changed course she shifted course another inch to the left. It was almost over.
Just when she was beginning to give up time slowed. She heard a voice from behind her, but she couldn’t turn around to see who it is.
“It seems that you’re failing, from the very beginning too. How tragic and pointless.”
“If you have a suggestion I would be pleased to hear it,” Danae growled.
“Oh, I do. You see, I can help you.” With those words Degorio gave a buck and Danae nearly lost her tongue.
“Stupid beast. It should know by now that it can’t be rid of me. It won’t be able to get rid of you either, if you agree to my arrangement.”
“Who are you?” Danae asked.
“Gedorick, at my service and ready with an offer for you.”
“What do you want from me? As you can see, I’m not in much of a position to offer you anything.”
“That’s the point. I want to give something to you, and in exchange you can’t get knocked off this idiot creature,” Degorio growled at its unwanted passenger, and the unseen demon laughed.
“That seems ridiculous,” She was trying to concentrate on the conversation while getting an excellent view of Degorio’s knees. “As enticing as your offer is, I don’t want to exchange one horrible fate for another.”
“I just want to give you the knowledge of my choice,” his condescending tone was annoying.
“I could choose what I did with it?” Annoying as he was, she was about to fall of Degorio.
“Fine!” she yelled as her legs slipped and she tilted headlong into the abyss. Just before she lost contact with the animal completely she was sitting on top of it again. Degorio growled in frustration and started running harder.
“Try not to die,” the demon behind her said, and by the time she turned around it was gone.
Degorio stopped trying to throw her and Denae steeled herself for whatever came next. She didn’t have long to wait. They had gone far away from the world that she knew and deeper into the world of the demons. The chasm on either side began to shimmer and suddenly she was looking into a war. She had never seen anything like the carnage that was shown. She retched over the side of Degorio and tried to close her eyes but couldn’t.
The images continued to flash in front of her so she gritted her teeth and focused her mind on her trees and Mizanane. She had to make it through this to save them.
Then it was over. She took a breath of cool clean air and slipped off the back of Degorio. The demon disappeared with one last image imparted to her mind. Her trees were healthy and strong and the forest was clean of toxins. Where she’d left Mizanane was a hillock with a small elm growing from it. Denae smiled and flexed sore muscles. It didn’t matter how tired she was, she needed to go home. The trees would soak some of what she’d seen from her mind and help ease the pain of the rest.
She’s been so distracted by what she’d just gone through that she wasn’t paying attention.
“What are you doing here?” a voice called out.
“Just leaving,” she said with a groan, thinking it was another demon trying to slow her down. “I’ve gotten what I came for.”
“I’m glad, witch, that will make the King’s justice even more sweet.” She looked up in horror to see the creatures that had attacked her earlier. The one on top had taken off part of his shell, and face that looked like hers was staring back at her. She had time to hear Gedorick laughing as she was slung across the front of his mount and carried away.
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