[I.I.] Home Again

echoing's picture

Art by Echosong.
Other images from pexels.

One might say that the deeper parts of the forest are stunning. The weather is nothing but sunshine and intoxicatingly gentle breezes. It is unchanging, frozen in an infinite perfect day. Some say it’s an extension of the forest itself, reserved for those whom the Gods favor with a special sort of ‘sight’. Some have even called it a paradise. Those who have ventured there find swiftly that this is untrue.

I have never met someone who returned for another night, except myself. All I know is that to do so is immensely dangerous.

Home again, home again, jiggery jig.

The first step always knocked her off her hooves. Hlín was used to the feeling by now: the sense of missing a step and tumbling into the darkness, only to open her eyes safe and sound somewhere else. She hadn’t always wound up here in the deeper reaches of the forest; sometimes she found herself somewhere much worse. But today she had. She smiled.

The amulet buried in her chest was imperfect, she knew, but it granted her an escape. Not a home, no, but somewhere to hide. It was enough to be safe and alone here, enclosed by the reaches’ barrier. The Reaches. It was a fine name for a place out of reach for so many.

But she had discovered more in her paradise than peace and safety. She had discovered a purpose.

The deeper parts of the forest are alien territory. From the moment one steps foot into this strange place, one knows they are no longer at home. The air is too clear, the trees too vibrant a green. Their beauty is hostile. I suspect that perhaps instead of a paradise—it may be a prison. That theory is the one that interests me the most.

The Reaches were magic. Everything from the grass to the trees pulsed with it. Even the forest proper’s magic wasn’t this strong. If she knew what a siren was, Hlín would have called this place one’s song. It enchanted her. It had drawn her further and further in until she was not inclined to leave. When she was compelled to leave, she crept from its bower reluctant and sullen.

Who would leave a sanctuary unless they were forced?

Hlín got to her hooves, lifting her face to the setting summer sun. The barrier of magic rippled closed behind her as the chill of an oncoming evening made her shiver. This time, she had found herself in a clearing edged by trees. They waved slightly in a breeze she couldn’t feel, the grass rippling beneath them. At the field’s center was a massive oak. She tilted her head back, trying to catch sight of its top. Its branches scratched the sky.

Incredible, she thought. Even the Old Oak was smaller.

The Reaches were never the same twice. This place, like the others, was entirely new. What should have made her afraid instead made her curious and bold.

She headed for the tree.

Up close, the tree was even more immense than it had seemed from a distance. It wasn’t an oak, not at all. Hlín was no tree expert, but that much was clear to anyone with any number of senses. Its bark was dark, nearly black and ridged as though it had burned in a fire. The air around it seemed tinged with a hint of smoke. She inhaled and immediately began to cough.

Like the Oak, a soothing hum emanated from somewhere within it. Perhaps she had found an older oak. The Old Oak’s parent? Hlín’s eyes lit up and she stepped forward in excitement, pressing her ears against the rough bark. If she couldn’t escape the forest, then she would understand it.
Hlín closed her eyes.

The soft thud-thud-thud was unmistakable up close. It was not a hum.

It was a heartbeat.

Hlín recoiled and scrambled backwards, her eyes widening in shock. The Old Oak hummed. This tree—
This tree was alive in the way she was.

Something instinct deep inside her told her this was wrong. This was not magic. This was something


Hlín left quickly, making sure to check over her shoulders. The Tree remained sedentary and silent behind her. She didn’t run, no, but she did move much faster leaving. The barrier rippled and accepted her back with no fuss.

Behind her, the tree waved gently in the Reach’s non-existent wind.

The reaches of this forest are not a safe place for those like us.

That said, those who linger for longer than a night are bound to see more than they wish. None that I’ve spoken to have ever pinned down precisely what discomfits them so. Some cite the trees and the way they sway in a wind that does not exist. Some say it is the air, preternaturally clear and beautiful even during the worst storms in the forest. I wonder if it is not something else altogether, a sense that all of us share but cannot name. Only the most desperate or foolish ignore this sense and return for another night.

Lovely, haunting. Oh Hlín...

Lovely, haunting.
Oh Hlín...
Apeldille's picture

!!! Am Intrigued and I love

!!! Am Intrigued

and I love your writing so much!

!! Gorgeous writing, Wurm,

!! Gorgeous writing, Wurm, and beautiful companion art piece as well...
Kaoori's picture

I don't really have words.

I don't really have words. That part about the tree being alive is haunting,..