MoboReader> Horror > The Woodlands

   Chapter 3

The Woodlands By EJBowman Characters: 12860

Updated: 2017-12-22 12:02


Neem awoke as droplets of water began to speckle his body. It was spring so morning showers were expected. He was usually quite sheltered from storms when he was deep within the Woodlands, but the foliage began to dissipate near the Nacta River so he lay exposed.

He was surprised when a heavy garment was draped over his small frame. The material was nice and warm, but more importantly, it protected him from the rain.

The little nymph lifted the edge of the garment slightly so he could see what Dacen was doing. The foreigner sat back down, his cloak now absent, and took a bite out of one of the pears Neem had given him.

“You’ll get wet,” Neem mumbled.

Dacen looked at him.

“I thought you were asleep. Didn’t want the rain to wake you.”

Neem sat up, allowing the cloak to slide down his body.

“Did the rain wake you?”

Dacen shook his head.

“I’ve been up for an hour or so.”

The nymph squinted one of his eyes suspiciously.

Just been watching me sleep and planning my death, have you?

Neem did not actually say this. The last thing he wanted was to antagonise the strange man.

“Can’t you just make the rain stop with your dark magic powers?” he asked in a joking manner.

Dacen wore a smug smile as he cocked an eyebrow.

“Do you want me to use my powers to stop the rain?”

“No. The Goddess wouldn’t like that. Rain is good.”

The horned man nodded. He knew very little about the Nature Goddess and questioned if she was a mythical deity or actually real, yet that was not something he was about to bring up with Neem.

The nymph threw the cloak in Dacen’s direction, but it was so heavy that it landed halfway between them.

“We should get moving,” he then stated. “I want you to reach the end of the Woodlands within a week.”

“Understood,” Dacen replied as he reached for his cloak. “Are you sure you’ll be all right walking out in the rain? Perhaps we should move a little deeper into the forest so that our journey is more sheltered.”

“No. The rain is fine.”

The foreigner was not convinced. Already the water had darkened Neem’s hair. Dacen assumed his kind were slightly more adapted to the cold atmosphere seeing as the nymph had not even developed goose bumps. Still, being wet and cold was not very fun for anyone, regardless of species.

* * *

The rain continued to fall as the pair trudged on. Again Dacen offered the little nymph his cloak, but Neem refused. For all he knew the cloak had an evil charm on it.

“So now you know that I am part man and part faun,” Dacen finally said. They had been walking in silence and he wanted to pierce the dead air with his words, “however, you haven’t told me what you are. You are perhaps some sort of elf?”

Neem stopped hopping across the rocks on the bank and gave the foreigner a confused look. He had no idea what an elf was, but he certainly did not like being confused with one.

“I’m a nymph: one of the two breeds of forest spirits designed by the Nature Goddess.”

“A nymph, you say? Funny. The other nymphs I’ve seen are quite different.”

“What ‘other nymphs’?”

“Ones from other places. The nymphs from the far west are shorter, dark skinned, and have sharp teeth like wolves.”

“Whoever they are, they are not nymphs. The Goddess designed only one type of nymph and they’re only here in the Woodlands!” Neem boldly stated while crossing his arms.

Dacen laughed, irritating Neem more due to the patronising manner. Dacen was young as his looks told. He would not be patronised by someone younger than him.

“And why can’t the Goddess design more types of nymphs to watch over all the major forests of Efenta? Surely the Nature Goddess desires to maintain more than just one forest,” the foreigner queried.

Neem opened his mouth and raised his finger as if he was going to object, but he could not think of a just argument with which to combat Dacen

“The Woodlands is special,” he replied in a childish manner.

“Perhaps your supposed Goddess loves all her forests equally.”

Neem glared at him.

“What do you mean by ‘supposed’? Do you doubt her existence?”

“Look, I’m not saying your beliefs are wrong nor that the Goddess isn’t real, I’m simply saying that I personally don’t believe in your deity.”

“That’s not okay,” Neem squeaked. Nobody in the Woodlands had ever questioned the Nature Goddess’ existence. “I pray the Goddess has heard you and strikes you down!”

Dacen looked up at the sky before letting out an agitating laugh.

“I suppose there is a chance of lightning,”

Neem continued his death glare.

“Oh, I wish you could see the world I“ve seen,” Dacen sighed.

“Why?”

“Because what lies beyond your sanctuary is a cold, cruel reality that will destroy your faith and make you wonder who’s really in charge of Efenta.”

“I think it would prove that the Goddess does truly only care about the Woodlands,” Neem stated smugly as he strode. Dacen’s walking pace was much quicker than his own.

“And what kind of deity pampers a few while letting an endless amount of others suffer? How heartless must one be to have no care about who lives and who dies beyond their domain?”

“Why should foreigners concern her? Her duty is to her children in the Woodlands and no one else.”

“And that is why she can never be a Goddess of mine,” Dacen stated coldly.

He doubts the Goddess, Neem thought. I knew I was right to be his escort. He could try to taint the minds of other creatures with his faithless beliefs.

“I was raised by nox elves in a forest very similar to this one,” the foreigner stated, his tone still grim. “It was burned to the ground.”

“By whom?” Neem asked. He couldn’t imagine anything acting so cruel.

“Humans.”

“But why?”

“Because of me–the horned demon that the nox elves were harbouring.”

What if the humans come to burn down the Woodlands because of you? Neem thought fearfully.

“You have nothing to fear,” Dacen said, reading the boy’s mind. “No other foreigners are aware of my presence in the Woodlands. I made sure of that.”

“How?”

“By travelling off the beaten path and avoiding villages,” he stated simply. “The warlock made it very clear that I couldn’t be followed or it could lead to his exposure as well.”

Neem thought for a second.

“Do you know anything about this warlock fellow? Do you even know his name?”

Dacen shook his head.

“A very secretive man. He

couldn’t risk his information finding its way into the hands of an enemy, say, if I were killed and the letter and book stolen.”

“Then how can you be sure he’s not evil or, let alone, even real?” Neem asked. If Dacen did not even believe in the Goddess then how could he be sure that anything was real?

“Faith,” he replied simply. “Utterly blind faith.”

“Why? Why travel so far and have faith in this mystery warlock?”

“You guard the forest, the river provides the creatures with water and a place to bathe, some of these trees offer fruit while others offer a place for birds to build their nests. All have a purpose and that’s exactly what I desire—a purpose. The warlock may be able to give me a purpose by taking me under his wing. I can absorb all his knowledge and carry on his legacy when the next wayward being with dark magic abilities comes along.”

“And what will you do if he doesn’t give you a purpose?”

Dacen chuckled again. Neem began to realise this laughing was the foreigner’s response to feeling uncomfortable rather than amused.

“I have no idea. I haven’t planned for that.”

“Then, for your sake, I hope this warlock is real.”

“Thank you.”

For the following hours, the pair walked in silence. Getting too in-depth would challenge their different philosophies and only cause more arguments. They only spoke again when they stopped to drink from the river.

“What are nox elves?” Neem asked. Dacen had mentioned being raised by them—yet he was not an elf himself.

“Nocturnal beings of the Dark Forest, but now they reside elsewhere,” he stated simply. “Their skin is a dark blue like the night sky, while their eyes are shining stars. Truly a beautiful race.”

“Why did you live with them?” the nymph asked before lapping up more water. He drank like an animal, while Dacen used a small bowl-like device to retrieve water.

“Well, they found me when I was a baby.”

“Where did your parents go?”

The horned man laughed.

“I’ve made some strong assumptions about who my parents were and what happened. I’m not sure you’d like to hear my hypothesis about them, though.”

“Oh, but I would.”

Dacen ran a hand through his hair. He stopped when a horn bumped his fingers.

“I believe my human mother was raped by a faun.”

Neem started coughing. The water had gone down the wrong pipe upon hearing Dacen’s explanation.

“I’m aware that’s a bold assumption, but there has never been a happy union between human and faun, and I doubt my parents were the one exception. Anyhow, it makes sense that my mother would want to get rid of the unwanted abomination she created with said faun, so she left me alone in the forest before the elves discovered me.”

“Did the elves not care that you were a mongrel?” the nymph, before biting his lips, he sounded a bit insensitive.

“They didn’t know that I was a mongrel when they discovered me,” Dacen said simply. “Only during adolescence, when my horns started to grow, did they realise.”

“Were they scared of you?”

“More or less scared of what I would become or how outsiders would react to me.” He stood up. “Shall we continue walking?”

Neem arise and trotted along beside him.

“There was a council meeting to decide my fate after a human saw me. In the end, they decided banishment was the best option for their own safety. However, news of my banishment didn’t reach the nearby human kingdom in time, and they set fire to the Dark Forest—I watched this all happen from a distance as I was already exiled.”

“That’s so awful,” Neem said sympathetically. “I don’t see why the humans reacted so poorly to your discovery. I mean, killing a bunch of elves over a horned child? That’s ridiculous.”

“My appearance is associated with something greater that they fear—a deity in their religion.”

“Eh?”

“There is a trinity of higher power in their religion. Bakadeus: Father of Man and all those who stand on two feet, Lahirca: Mother of Animals, and Daemonis: their offspring. Daemonis takes traits from both his parents and appears to be half man and half goat. He is the Father of Fauns and all things that dwell in the darkness. Therefore, they naturally see me as evil and a threat to them based on my faun horns.”

“I don’t like humans,” Neem simply stated. “I never have.”

Dacen, unsurprisingly, laughed.

“We’ve talked too much about me. Tell me about yourself, Neem. What is a day in the life of a nymph like?”

Neem had to think for a few seconds.

“I’m lazy,” he said while giggling. “I like taking naps and just relaxing. My life’s not interesting.”

“But it sounds wonderful. Many would be envious of your life.”

“Why? I don’t do anything too exciting.”

“It’s hard for people to have carefree and relaxed lifestyles beyond the Woodlands. Always feel fortunate.”

“Do you feel fortunate?”

“There’s always somebody worse off, so I suppose I do.”

There was a pause before Dacen laughed. He had to digest his own response.

“Tell me, do all beings in the Woodlands get along?” he asked in a surprise redirect.

“The Goddess ensures harmony most of the time. Foreigners are the main disturbers the peace.”

“Sorry,” Dacen said with an insincere smile.

“Not just you,” Neem assured him even though the foreigner did not actually have any remorse. “Wolves come into the Woodlands and try to steal creatures. Sometimes they also drain the life essence of the smaller beings. Jaiya, and the other dryads, can generally scare them off, but they can cause a lot of damage.”

“What kinds of wolves are these?”

“They’re the size of a centaur and have red eyes, but what’s really scary is their long fangs that can chomp through anything.”

“Blood wolves,” Dacen said. His mind seemed to be elsewhere. “Very dangerous.”

“Blood wolves?” Neem asked.

“Doesn’t matter,” he said while waving away the question. The fact his face had become slightly paler suggested that was a lie. “Let us hope we don’t encounter any during our adventure.”

“Agreed.”

“On an unrelated note: have you ever seen any beings with pale blue skin, black hair, red eyes, and fangs pass through the Woodlands?”

Neem had to think for a moment.

“No, why?”

Again, Dacen waved away the question.

“Just trying to get a sense of what creatures lay beyond the Woodlands.”

The foreigner ignored Neem’s sceptical glare.

You’re not telling me something, the nymph thought.

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