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   Chapter 2

The Woodlands By EJBowman Characters: 15490

Updated: 2017-12-22 12:02


All the other creatures were quite shocked when Neem returned—unharmed—with a strange shell in his hand. Some feared the thing was cursed, but most just liked its beautiful colours.

“Where’s he going?” Fee asked.

Night had fallen and therefore Neem and Fee, along with the other nymphs, had ventured to where they usually slept at night: mossy rocks surrounding a pond.

“It doesn’t matter,” Neem replied bluntly. “Providing he’s going away from here, then he can go wherever he wants.”

The drained female nymph watched in a lulling manner as he carefully dug a hole through the tip of the shell using a sharp rock. She and the others had prodded him to join in the fun earlier, yet he had refused. He had actually moved further from the saturnalia when one nymph had pinched his buttocks teasingly. Feeling bad, she came to sit with him afterwards.

Neem attached it via string to the rest of his neck accessory. He knew it was wrong to wear a shell from a foreign land, but it was just so pretty that he could not resist.

Fee got up onto her arms to get a better look. She stuck out her hand and stroked the shell. It was exciting how it sparkled under the light of the moon and fireflies in the air.

“He said he doesn’t have any food,” Neem finally said with a sigh. “And if it takes about a week to reach the end of the forest then he might not make it out at all. I told him that he couldn’t take any fruit or other food from the Woodlands so I’m not sure what he’ll do.”

The female nymph looked up at the magenta tinted moon as she thought.

“Has the Goddess given you any signs about what to do?” she finally asked.

Neem shook his head.

“She has said nothing.”

“Well, until she gives you a sign, you must go with your gut feeling.”

He sighed—he did not like what his gut feeling was telling him to do.

“I don’t want him to starve to death because of me,” he admitted.

Fee nodded in understanding.

“Then you know what you should do.”

“Yes… I do.”

Neem carried seven pears in his arms as he headed for the Nacta River. He was sure he would be able to find the horned being quite quickly. It was nightfall and he would probably be resting. Yet a part of Neem wished he would not find the man—he was still quite afraid of him.

The nymph’s blood boiled when he saw an orange light flickering through the trees.

He’s made a fire, he thought. He cut down a tree and burned it!

“What did I say about taking from the forest?” he growled as he pushed through the bush and to the river bank.

Much to his surprise, no wood was being burned. The flame was right in the palm of the foreigner’s hand as he leaned against tree. In his lap were thin white sheets bound together by a dark cover—it was something Neem had never seen before.

The little nymph gasped when he witnessed the magical fire. It was unquestionably the product of dark magic. Upon seeing the nymph’s reaction, the man closed his fist, snuffing the flame instantly.

“I…” Neem squeaked before his words drifted off.

The foreigner’s dark eyes met with his, but then drifted down to the pears he carried in his arms and then back up to the shell that was now attached to his neck accessory. He smiled upon seeing this.

“Good evening,” he said calmly while closing the case with strange white sheets in it.

Neem just stood there for a few moments. He felt so conflicted about his decision to give the foreigner food. Was this man evil? The fact he could create fire in his hand would suggest so.

“Are you all right?” the foreigner asked, sitting up properly.

“Um,” was all the little nymph could get out.

Unable to form words, he merely gestured to the pears in his arms and then looked back to the foreigner.

“Are those for me?” he asked to try and help the smaller being along.

Neem thought for a moment and then nodded. He cautiously took a step towards the other man.

“How very kind of you,” the foreigner said sincerely while standing up.

Neem froze. He forgot that the other man over-towered him. Without proper lighting, he was just a giant shadow with horns.

“Thank you very much,” the foreigner said as Neem dropped the pears into his sack. “I find this sort of hospitality incredibly rare.”

“Why?” Neem asked before he even thought about his question in his head.

The foreigner laughed and pointed at his horns.

“What’s wrong with your horns?”

The foreigner took a seat again, Neem cautiously copied his movement and sat cross-legged on the river bank.

“You really don’t know what I am, do you?” the foreigner asked.

“You’re a man with horns,” the nymph stated simply.

“True. Say, do you know what fauns are?”

Neem shook his head.

The foreigner leaned closer to him, causing Neem to lean back.

“Part man, part goat, all powerful. You’re fortunate to not know of fauns.”

“You’re ‘all powerful’?” the nymph asked before swallowing fearfully.

“No,” he assured him. “I’m a mongrel: half-faun and half-man.”

“So you are a human!”

“Half-human, yes… but that’s not human enough for humans.”

“Why not?”

“They’re sort of like the Woodland creatures: my abilities scare them. Fauns are dangerous–they love to cause chaos with their powers. Let’s just say the horns don’t help prove my innocence given their association with fauns.”

Neem shifted back.

“Are you dangerous?”

“No. I can promise you that.”

The nymph nodded even though he was not reassured. Realising this, the foreigner quickly changed the topic: “May I ask what your name is?”

Should I tell him? The nymph thought. Will he send his faun friends here to kill me?

To break the silence that followed, the foreigner spoke first.

“My name is Dacen.”

He politely stuck out his hand to Neem—a gesture the nymph did not understand.

“Could you read my mind to find my name?” Neem asked. He wanted to know exactly how much power this supposed ‘mongrel’ had.

Dacen laughed.

“Probably not, but I wouldn’t anyways.”

“Why not?”

“Because it’s not right for me to know your name if you don’t want to tell it to me.”

Are you being so charming just to break down my defence, Neem thought sceptically.

“My name is Neem,” he finally muttered.

I better not regret this, he thought.

Dacen smiled, revealing his pearly white teeth… some of which looked rather sharp.

“What a lovely name.”

More dead air spread between the two. However, the nymph was beginning to feel more comfortable around the foreigner. Dacen did not appear to have malevolent intentions.

He“s definitely better than a human…even if he is human,

“Dacen,” Neem said, trying to taste the name. He said it wrong–pronouncing the ‘e’ as ‘i’—but Dacen did not correct him. “Why are you travelling through the Woodlands in the first place?”

The foreigner tapped the strange thing in his hands.

“Months ago, a raven brought this book to me along with a letter. A warlock had learned of my existence… and my power. The letter read that he was looking for an apprentice, and that he“d be happy to take me under his wing.” Neem now imagined that this so-called ‘warlock’ had massive wings. “He lives somewhere beyond the Woodlands in what’s called the ‘Ivy Mountains’, so that is where I’m heading.”

“You’d leave your home and all your friends just because of some warlock guy?” Neem asked, utterly repulsed. He could never leave the Woodlands—why would anybody ever leave home?

Dacen laughed again, but this time there was sadness in his eyes.

“Well, I had no home or friends to leave behind in the first place,” he explained with a solemn manner. “You see, I’m a nomad.”

“A what?”

“A wanderer. Someone who never rests anywhere too long. Always travelli

ng.”

“That sounds like a terrible life!”

The foreigner shrugged.

“Well, it’s my life. Hopefully I’ll have a much longer stay with the warlock.”

Another silence followed. Neem wanted to know so much but he was not sure where to start. He began simple.

“What’s that?” he said while gesturing to what was in Dacen’s lap.

The taller man looked down before making an ‘ah’ sound. He held the strange thing up.

“It’s a book.”

“What’s it do?”

“Well, it makes words last longer. It’s like having a conversation with someone else, even if they’re not with you or died in former times.”

Dacen turned the book around and opened it up so Neem could see. The nymph could not understand what all the strange, tiny symbols were, but the picture on one of the pages intrigued him. It appeared to be a drawing of a creature, with many horns, eating humans.

“What are the words in this book about?” Neem asked, slightly concerned.

“Spells, alchemy, things that will enhance my magical abilities.”

“Dark magic,” the nymph said more to himself than to the stranger.

“Misunderstood magic,” Dacen objected while still retaining a calm tone. “Magic that could be incredibly dangerous in the wrong hands.”

“Is it in good hands with you?”

“I hope so.”

That’s not very reassuring, Neem thought while furrowing his brow.

He crawled closer to the foreigner and rested his shoulder against the tree so that they could continue to look at the book together.

“What’s being talked about here?” he asked while pointing to the tiny symbols underneath a picture of a beast he had never seen before.

“The blood of a winged serpent,” he explained. “Very rare and hard to get, but invaluable.”

Neem’s stomach felt funny. The idea of using a creature’s blood for dark magic disturbed him.

“I don’t get how you understand all those tiny drawings,” he said while gesturing to the symbols on the page.

“That’s the written word. Here, let me show you.”

Neem flipped to the end of the book before pulling a feather and bottle filled with black liquid out of his pack.

“Neem, that’s your name,” he said while dipping the tip of the feather in the tiny vial. “N-E-E-M,” he enunciated while writing the coinciding letter in the book. “See? That’s your name. I’ve taken the word out of the air and put it in this book.”

Neem cocked his head from side to side as he examined the funny symbols that made up his name.

“Write your name,” he demanded.

The foreigner laughed and did as he was told.

“D-A-C-E-N… oh, blast,” he grumbled when an ink drop splattered on his breeches. Yes, they were black as well, but the stain would still be noticeable to those who looked closely.

Neem’s eyes darted between the two names.

“Wait, those symbols are the same!” he squeaked while gesturing to the E’s in their names.

“Yes. That’s ‘E’.”

“But shouldn’t each name be unique? We can’t share symbols.”

“Names are unique, but it’s not the letters that make them that way—it’s the way the letters are arranged to represent sounds. If I turned the letters in your name around we’d have ‘Meen’. M-E-E-N. It’s the exact same letters that are in your name, but the arrangement makes it a different name.”

“That’s stupid,” Neem said, followed by huffing.

Dacen chuckled again. He found Neem’s bluntness amusing.

They continued to talk for the next hour. The nymph no longer felt uncomfortable around the foreigner. He did not seem threatening. In fact, he was quite friendly. More importantly, though, he was interesting. He had seen many things beyond the Woodlands.

“How can there be so many places?” Neem asked with a sigh after Dacen explained how many other forests he had ventured through.

“Efenta is very large,” the foreigner agreed.

“What’s that? Another place?”

“Efenta is this world. It encompasses all other places.”

The nymph stared at him for a few seconds before flopping down and staring up at the stars through the trees.

“You’ve made my head hurt. Stop telling me crazy things.”

Dacen followed his lead and laid on his back next to him.

“Hey, you asked.”

Silence followed.

“Does hearing about all these places make you want to leave the Woodlands and explore?” the foreigner asked curiously.

Neem furiously shook his head.

“No, there’s too much.”

“And there’s even more that I haven’t explored—imagine that.”

“Hush!” the nymph snapped. He wanted to sound threatening, but he could see that Dacen was suppressing a laugh.

“Well, I –”

“Hush!” he repeated, but this time it was for a different reason; he had heard rustling in the bushes.

“Stay put,” he warned Dacen as he rose to a crouch and crept in the direction of the sound.

To his surprise, he found Fee sitting high up in a tree.

“What are you doing here?” he whispered as he climbed the tree to meet her.

She met him halfway down the trunk. Her expression suggested she was concerned.

“You were gone quite a while. I thought maybe the alien had killed you or something.”

Neem snorted, but he was also honoured that Fee cared enough for his safety that she would come and check on him.

“I’m fine, don’t worry.”

“He did not try to hurt you?”

“Certainly not,” he quickly objected.

“Do you think he will try to?”

Neem’s mouth twitched—he was not sure how to answer that, yet.

“I haven’t known him very long. He’s acting very friendly, but he could be faking it. I’ve seen the pictures in his ‘book.’ They are pictures of blood and pain.”

“So when our backs are turned he could burn down the whole Woodlands,” Fee added.

“Which means, yes. He’s still a potential threat.”

“Then what are you going to do?”

Neem thought for a few seconds.

“I’m going to be his escort to the edge of the Woodlands… to make sure he doesn’t do anything evil.”

Fee did not like that idea: “You want to be near this threat?”

“Yes, because I don’t want him being near anyone else and hurting them.”

“This sounds very dangerous.”

“Then I hope that he remains permanently friendly.”

“I don’t want you to do this, Neem.”

“I know, but it’s for the best.”

They both climbed down from the tree.

“He acts friendly,” Neem muttered once they were both on the ground, “but when I saw him tonight he had a flame in his hand.”

“Was he burning a stick?”

“No. He had conjured fire with his dark magic.”

Fee’s ears perked up upon hearing this.

“And that’s why I have to escort him through the forest: to make sure he doesn’t do things like that.”

The female nymph hugged him.

“Please be careful.”

“The Goddess will protect me.”

Fee nodded, although there was doubt in her eyes.

“Get back to the other nymphs and tell them I’ll be back two weeks or so.”

“Two weeks? That’s a very long time.”

“I’m going to the edge of the forest and back. That’s about a week each way.”

With one last hug, she was gone.

Neem re-joined Dacen shortly after his friend’s departure.

“What was the noise?” the foreigner asked while continuing to stare at the stars.

“Just a curious creature,” Neem stated simply.

He lay down a safe distance from Dacen. The leaves underneath him were not as comfortable as grass or moss, but that did not bother him.

“Rest now, we’re going to be nonstop walking tomorrow,” the nymph said as he rolled over to face the foreigner.

Dacen raised an eyebrow.

“We?”

“Yes. I’m escorting you to the edge of the Woodlands so I can ensure you don’t cause any havoc.”

The man laughed. Obviously he had not been expecting that answer.

“All right, then,” he said with an amused smile. “Sleep well, Neem.”

Neem said nothing more. He was exhausted seeing as his usual bedtime was hours ago.

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