What Can Be Found in the Woods
Weary, the traveler stopped to catch his breath. How long had he been in these woods? Days? Weeks? The moon seemed to shine forever, its cruel gleams being the only light that passed through the canopy of twisted trees. The Haunted Woods lived up to its name.
Like claws, the branches reached out as if to grab him. Like a maze, the path remained unknown as if to trap him. Like a grave, the soil sank under his feet as if to invite him.
He wept until his eyes burned, so much so that he had no choice but to close them when he finally saw firelight. When he finally awoke, he found himself traveling once more. Only, this time, he was certain that he wasn’t moving on his own accord. From what he could tell, he was on the back of a Uni. Facing the wrong way, too. He could see the path in front of him changing, as if he were walking backwards. When he tried to turn, a wing would gently nudge him back into place.
The woods felt much smaller, much more navigable. His anxieties vanished, and a sense of relief swept over him. The chilly night air felt welcoming now, and the moon was far more beautiful than he had thought before.
“Have you come to save me? Oh, thank you. Thank you, kind stranger!” He would throw himself at the Uni's feet if those wings allowed him. He didn't even care that he was put on backwards, he had been given sanctuary! His quivering voice was met with silence.
“I want to repay you! Please, stranger. Won’t you tell me who you are?” The Uni did not respond. All that could be heard was the crunching of hooves on the ground and the faint sound of flames crackling.
How odd, the traveler thought to himself. How odd that there is the sound of fire. And where was that dim glow coming from? He couldn't find its source.
“Where are you taking me?” Somewhere, something howled in the distance. The night air was cold, and the traveler shivered. Were those trees growing? He gulped.
“Please, stranger, I beg of you. Won’t you say something?” His heart beat faster as his imagination ran wild.
He would like to think that this stranger had helped him out of the kindness of their heart. The Haunted Woods was full of ghosts and ghouls, but certainly not all of its residents were monsters. Right? The people of Neovia were not dead or undead or anything like that. To think that one of them was helping him, it wasn't a stretch. Right?
The more he thought about the likelihood of being picked up by someone normal, especially in these parts, the less he thought that was the case. He looked at the wings, and though he could only see the tips of the feathers it was obvious that they were dirty and ragged.
Where was he going, anyways? No. Where was he being taken?
He struggled, being put into place by those wings once more.
“Where are you taking me? Why are you doing this? Please, oh please! Answer me!” He wailed, voice echoing through the woods.
Another howl could be heard. This time, it was much closer than the last. It was accompanied by other howls, all of them wild and terrifying and coming from all directions. He shouldn't have screamed.
The Uni picked up their pace, going into a full gallop. Somehow, the traveler didn't fall off. Bumpy as the ride was, something kept him in place. Not that he would want to fall off now, though. Not with the panicked howls and growling getting closer by the second. He could have sworn that he saw a set of wild eyes glowing in the shadows.
The Uni ran, the sound of hooves clashing with the howling and creating a cacophony of horror. The traveler's heart beat fast, head crashing against the Uni's wings, arms wrapped around himself in fear, the bump and jolt of the Uni jumping over a small creek and landing roughly. Faster, faster, there was smoke surrounding him now. The path was gone. The Uni darted through the trees, clambering over rocks and fallen logs and gravestones.
“Stranger! Please!” He cried out. Then, he looked down. No teeth, no claws, no red, no ground. Instead, a ravine. Water rushed below. Jagged rocks promised death. Far, it was so far below. They were flying.
The Uni landed on the other side of the ravine, out of eyesight of the beasts that had been pursing them. The sound of angry howls filled the air, louder than the traveler had ever thought possible. So loud it was almost deafening. Then, they stopped. Once more, there was nothing but the sound of hooves crunching on the ground below and a fire crackling.
The smoke was gone. Wings nudged him gently back into place. It was wrong, too wrong. After all of that, it was still far too quiet. No. No, it was far too loud. The hoofsteps. The fire crackling. So faint but still far too loud. The chilly breeze shook him to the bone.
He trembled. Then, he thrashed from side to side in a desperate attempt to get off of the Uni. His violent movements did nothing, however. Those cursed wings, and some force he couldn't understand, kept him in place. This went on for quite some time before he gave up. Tearfully, he resigned to his fate.
He watched the trees thin out, then thicken. He listened to the sound of the crokabeks cawing in the trees. He smelled fire and dust and the night. His eyelids grew heavy. There was no point in struggling. No chance of escape. No point in crying about it, for he couldn't seem to produce any tears. He closed his eyes.
Eventually, the Uni came to a stop. The traveler couldn't help but open his eyes, if only to see exactly how he would perish. To his surprise, there was no great horror before him. It was cobblestone. Cobblestone and buildings and the far away sound of civilization. Streetlights lit up for the nighttime. The scent of baked goods. It took him a few moments to realize he had been brought to the outskirts of a town. He jumped off of the back of the Uni, surprised that he wasn't being put back but far too grateful to ask why. He scrambled to his feet, joy rushing through him.
He turned, intending to thank his savior and apologize for his distrust. He gasped in horror.
Before him stood the uni, bandaged and with flaming hooves. Bones protruded from the protective wings. The creature could not speak, for it had no head. Smoke rose from its neck.
It turned, walking away without waiting for a response. Fiery footsteps brought it to the forest once more, where it seemed to almost phase through the trees. Once it was gone, there was no indication that it had ever existed. No burn marks on the ground. No hoof prints. No wayward feather.
The traveler never spoke of his encounter. He only nodded knowingly when hushed voices spoke of the many mysterious things that could be found in the woods.