The smoke smelled funny. The pallet wood was never quite right. But this was the last of it. I had gathered and burned every scrap of wood I could find from my camp to the edge of the city. I dare not go inside either. Too many monsters there.
I tore open a manila packet, and started sorting the contents in to the pot I was warming.
“You’re going to need a bigger fire.” She said
“You’re awfully demanding for a guest.” I said
It was true though. No two ways about it. It was hardly more than a handful of embers in the makeshift stove. I needed more wood, and soon. Everyday now the trees threatened to turn autumnal red, threatening me with tales of colder weather.
“The water won’t get warm enough to break down the bricks you people make”
“What do you mean?”
“The speckled things you keep in the packets.”
“Is that what you call them?”
“You haven’t been eating them?”
“No, a druid lives with the land, not on it”
“I may be all alone out here, but I still don’t have time for any of your hokey bull shit. I’ve already said you could stay the night, but come sun rise you better be leaving.”
“Okay, I’ll let you be.” She paused for some time “We used to be able to gather wood from the forests.”
“Presumably you asked the monsters not to maul you to death.”
“Pft, they’re not monsters, they’re just spirits.”
“If I go take wood from those trees over there, will you shut up”
“You don’t have to… I can be quiet”
I hesitated for several moments before moving to the fence we’d made around the camp. Just old mesh, but enough to make one feel safe. The fact I was the only one left is testament to the futility of that.
Beyond the fence woods sprawled. A thick underbrush in most of it. I thought it couldn’t hurt to take the sticks from the ground. I knew better than to take from the trees, such could be fatal, or worse, in these parts. But I thought to myself, that surely, off the ground would be fine.
I moved the awkward fence aside so I could pass. Cautiously, I eyed a twig on the ground. I reached towards it. I picked it up. I ran back to the stove and dropped it in.
“You should be care-”
“We take wood from the forest.” I mocked
Once more I skulked back to the woods. I eyed up a bigger stick, a bushy fallen branch, hardly as thick as my wrist, but better than pulling twigs at a time.
I grabbed the branch, pulled it over my shoulder and heaved. The branch began to slug along behind me. Step after step I slammed my feat against the ground. Until they stopped.
“Halt” I whipped around to face to voice. A tree, no what looked like a tree, had grabbed my branch, and it’s garish angular face glared deep into me. “Thats not yours now is it?”
“D-d-druid, I could use your help” I stammered “dumb ass what’s your name?”
“This is between me and you, Nymph and man, Neale and Nero.”
“Nymphs know a lot of things, like that you don’t belong here. Go run back to your nanny before I seal you in a tree”
I dropped the stick and ran.
The druid was still sitting by the stove. She had taken the time to make some kind of tea, and gently sipped from her wooden cup. The stove burned hot with thick strips of wood placed inside.
“What the hell!” I yelled “why didn’t you help me?”
“No with the tree, you idiot, why didn’t you help”
“I can’t solve stupid, and I have a name”
“Where the fuck did you get all this, ask nicely?”
“Names are very important”
“What the fuck is your problem? I got attacked by some tree demon and your concerned about names?”
“The Nymph you angered is named Neale, and I am named Dibǒnā.”
“okay Dee-bone-uh, how do I get fire wood from Nay-lay”
“You start by saying our names correctly.”
* * *
I stormed off last night. When I woke up the druid was gone. She left a note. Spindly vines had carved themselves into the concrete slabs my camp was on.
“If you want to gather safely, you need permission from a powerful spirit. I’ve written his name on a mostone. Walk skyclade from your camp due east. Place the mostone in the basin.
The spirit is old and angry. But I know it can heal. I know about the rot that afflicts it. I know I can help it. And it starts with you.”
Nearby I found a moss covered pebble with a word carved on the back: Acheron.
* * *
I crept skittishly through the woods. There were no paths here, none that I could see. And to be frank I don’t think I would want a path, being as exposed as I was.
I could feel the layers of leaf and vine underfoot. I could feel the breeze on my legs as walked. There wasn’t any wind, just the force of myself though the air. I felt like an animal. No wonder the seed brained druids like it so much.
By sundown I came to a rocky clearing. There was a massive tree in the center, and before it, a puddle in the rocks. As I came closer I saw my reflection staring up at me through the murky liquid.
I placed the mossy stone in the basin. The water was thick and muddy. Clumps of plant life hung on my fingers as I pulled away.
The water rippled, and then hissed and boiled away. Ahead of me, the trunk began to move. Its craggy bark crawled like an army of ants. It’s huge face turned to face me.
“What stirs you?”
“I- I came to ask for permission”
“On who’s request?”
“They said that they were a nymph”
“Did they give you a name?”
“y-yes, it was Neale”
“But I haven’t even said anything.”
“Depart at once.”
“Please, I heard tales of the olden times whe-”
“The olden times are gone.”
“The druid said you would still know”
“The druids name was Dibǒnā. she said you wouldn’t change. She said she still knew you.”
“Why is she here?”
“She said she knew she could help you. She knows about the rot. But she needs your help.”
“What did you come to ask for?”
“At the beginning, what did you want?”
“Oh, I thought I needed more fire wood, but I don’t think I do anymore.”
I watch them as they come and go, the black statures. That’s what I call them. No one else I know has spoken to me after seeing them. If I disappear someday, it will probably be because of them.
But I don’t think they could catch me if they tried. I’m not like the humans, I don’t think. I am a demon, one of the few that are still around.
I haven’t seen much, I remember even less. I’ve been trapped in this cave for as long as I can recall. Yellow mold covers the uneven floor and walls. Fallen rocks have covered all the exits. All except one: the window, out through the shear cliff, overlooking a huge forest. Humans live in the forest.
I assume there’s a lot of them. They get brought up a lot. Or maybe it’s just memorable. I cant see when the sun sets from the window.
I wish I could reach out to the mortals, but they never get close enough for out minds to touch. I would offer them the power to escape the terrible claws of the statues. I would offer them easy terms, I pity them.
I’ve never made a pact before. I’ve been told about it, or at least I can’t remember hearing, I can’t remember who. I hear lots of things, all the time. The cave is full of wise voices.
It sounded easy.
I can see a black statue coming now, but I can’t who it’s carrying. I always look at the people. Some are wearing animal hides, some wear strange cloth, some are injured, some are fine, some are dead, actually, a lot are dead.
But this one is coming closer, much closer, so close to the wall of the mountain that it’s wide dome head completely blocks the window.
It’s so close to cave I can see all of it’s details up close, its big red eye, its dozens of smaller eyes, its many arms and claws, its two skinny horns sticking straight up. I don’t think it has a mortal yet.
It came right up next to the cave. It spun its owl-like head toward me. Its single red eye glowed bright, brighter than the stars. It got very hot. I felt my leathery skin blister and burst and peel, my bones crack and char, my infernal body eventually burning out.
End of psyco-chip® cache. Cache is abnormally small and may indicate malfunction or defect. See NuroNano Corporate Licensee Manual chapter 7: Troubleshooting, and 8: Insurance and Warranty, for more information. Additional info may be available with the error code 246852