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CH 5 | The Monster (Part 1)

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  1. They were running low on supplies again.

    Asha was again in the Great Forest gathering as many herbs as she could possibly carry for her mother. The remedies and potions were being used up almost as soon as they were made. The sick were many and the numbers were only growing as people from nearby villages were now coming to her home seeking her mother's help. She was solemn as she carefully dug and gathered bundles before putting them in her satchel. The atmosphere of the Great Forest was no better, almost sympathetic to the worsening situation. Asha thought not much of anything else beyond the list of herbs Sirona had her memorize.

    However, as villagers began dying the numbers of ravens and crows grew. They made it impossible for Asha to not think of Darrah every time she saw or heard one.

    After a moment Asha realized that she had stopped in mid-motion of putting more herbs into her satchel. She took in a deep breath, exhaled slowly, and put the herbs in her satchel. Before she was able to resume collecting herbs, however, she spotted a flash of red and white in some bushes only a few feet away from her. Asha stared at the bushes until eventually a fox gracefully stepped out from them. Its fur was a striking scarlet red and its eyes... Asha found she couldn't look away from the hypnotic yellow eyes that met hers unwaveringly.

    She found herself standing up from her knees, abandoning her work as she felt the strange need to follow the fox - and follow she did. The fox led her deeper into the Great Forest, but Asha did not truly notice. She only saw the compelling eyes and scarlet fur. Deeper and deeper they traveled until, suddenly, Asha was aware of her surroundings. The Great Forest was dark as though a dreaded shadow loomed over the world. But the worst of it was, in fact, looming over her with its great height.

    It looked wrong, as though it had tried to become something it was not: vaguely human, its most basic form suggesting it, but twisted into something Asha could not name. It bled from several gaping wounds, but that blood was gold streaked with red and flowed thickly. Bone protruded from all joints and even as it barely shifted they creaked and cracked.

    Its jaws dripped with hunger as it stared at her with a blind gaze.

    Asha felt trapped, unable to move as it continued to stare at her, only mere inches away. She didn't dare to breathe, hoping that perhaps it would not notice her presence and leave. That hope was dashed when it sniffed the air and a strangled growl left its throat. Before she could react, it lunged at her with hands tipped with talons like thin daggers. Next Asha knew she shoved to the ground, her eyes had closed at some point, but as she waited with bated breath what she heard next was not her own screams.

    Daring to open eyes, she was met with the sight and sounds of the creature in great pain. There was more distance between her and it, but was shocked her was that Darrah stood between them. His back was to her, but she could tell that he was staring down the creature as it cried at the fresh wounds dealt to it. However, soon it was staring down the Crow Lord as well, that strangled growl far more prominent as it did so. Darrah did not move, but now Asha noticed a strange staff in his hand. Sharpened to a rough point, Asha saw that it was made of three different types of wood and recognized each one: Oak, Ash, and Hawthorne. It was simple, undecorated, and overall roughly carved.

    Darrah's grip tightened on it when the creature charged at him. He swung it with such a speed it was a blur and when it stopped it had pierced through the creature's chest, right where the heart was in any human. The creature looked as shocked as Asha was, and it thrashed, trying to free itself from the spear but Darrah would not be moved. It then bit the Crow Lord and Asha gasped as she covered her mouth with her hands when she saw him flinch. Still, he did not move and only thrust the spear deeper into the creature. Slowly, it let go of him, Darrah's own golden blood staining his cloak as it collapsed to the ground with the spear still lodged through it. The creature's dying breath was a pained gasp before it stilled, all life permanently spent.

    There was silence as Darrah stared down at the creature and Asha stared at him and his injury. He sighed and Asha swallowed thickly before asking him, "What is that?"

    He looked over his shoulder slightly, Asha only seeing his dark-amber eye, and he replied quietly, "That is what happens when a forest lord tries to create another like himself. A creature that is stuck between mortality and immortality, neither human or god. A monster."

    Asha picked herself up from the ground and carefully approached Darrah. However, when she reached out to try and inspect his wound he shied away from her touch. She frowned and said, "Darrah, I have herbs that can-"

    "It will heal fine," he interrupted, facing her now, "But what are you doing this deep in the forest?"

    Asha, for the first time, really looked at her surroundings and paled. She didn't know where she was in the Great Forest - too far from anything familiar. Asha began to panic, her breathing becoming more strained-

    "Asha."

    The panic stopped, and she was seeing him again. He was still maintaining the distance between them, and her heart sank when he asked again, "Why are you here?"

    "I... I remember seeing a fox," Asha told him softly, looking confused as she spoke, "I had been gathering more herbs for my mother when it appeared and it... it was so pretty I couldn't look away. Next thing I knew I was here and the creature was too." She looked at Darrah, really looked at him, and said, "Thank you."

    He gave her a subtle nod, but Asha could tell that he was deeply angry and for a moment thought it was directed at her. She was glad to be wrong.

    "Wyl will face the Winter Court for this. He will be punished, I promise you that."

    Asha nodded, but as the silence stretched between them, making that short distance feel longer, she had to break it and did so by asking, "Can you guide me back to the village? I don't know what time of day it anymore but I'm sure my mother is worried."

    "I can," Darrah agreed, "Just follow me closely."

    And she did, though remained a few steps behind him and not at his side. He made no comment on it, instead favoring the silence and they walked. The silence remained the entire time, not a word spoken to the other much less really looking at each other. Asha couldn't find any words to say, unsure of any reaction from him, and the Crow Lord was trapped by the same thing. When the forest lightened, however, and her village could be seen beyond the treeline, Asha spoke up, making to look up at him.

    "Darrah, I-"

    He was already looking at her, a torn and incredibly sad expression looking back at her. Her words were caught in her throat, wanting to be spoken. Asha then reached out to him, wanting to hold him and tell him, but then he was gone. Feathers drifted in the air where he once stood, glinting in the winter sun. Her arm fell to her side, defeated in her heart's pain.

    "... Darrah?"

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