fantasy

The Collapsar Directive – It’s almost here!

Twenty one science fiction short stories from authors all around the universe.

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I bring this news with utter excitement! The anthology that I’m going to make my first published debut in is almost here. Pre-orders are already available for the E-book format, with pre-orders coming soon for the paperback editions! Take some time to read the story bios that I’ve posted above and soon you’ll be as excited as I am!

Preorder your ebook here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B071KDJHMF
Preorders for paperbacks available soon.

 

The Woods for the Trees – Chapter 5

Young Treesmith

“The axe is an invaluable tool in one hand, and a deadly weapon in the other.” – Treesmith proverb.

Through tightly squinted eyes Soil searched for Brook in the meadow that spanned beyond the western gate. Poised steadily upon a small fence Soil scanned the green that stretched out in front of him. Looking for even the faintest sign of Monarda’s brother.

Perhaps he had already made his way into the depths of forest? If he had, Soil knew there would be little chance of finding him. Despite his acute awareness of the terrain. You may know a the trails of a maze off by heart, but finding someone deep within it’s many windings, with no ideas of the routes they’ve taken? A rare occurrence.

A heavy hopelessness had almost set in Soil like a stone. However a strand of sunlight gleamed off a boy’s golden hair, who was situated at the edge of the tree line.

Soil had caught only a glimpse of him, before the boy had vanished into the thicket of trees.

Soil jumped down from the fence and raced across the meadow as fast as his legs would carry him, rushing through the tall grass as if he were the midday breeze. Within a moments notice he found himself looking up at the familiar leafless trees that made up Eyre forest during the bleak winters. Whilst panting lightly.

He wasted no time and instantly dived into the forest. Weaving his way through the woods.

To his surprise, his efforts paid off quickly as he came across the young man. He was trudging along slowly, bore down by a multitude of equipment.

Strapped to his back was a large, flat wooden sledge that he carried like a rucksack. Two thick leather straps made their way over both shoulders. Attached loosely to one of the straps hung a rather ominous looking axe, which had a smooth wooden handle, partly wrapped in thin, strips of leather. The head of the axe was extremely large, it had a singular long curved blade that gleamed as sunlight trickled through the dead branches of the trees above. Finally, a small bag was strapped to the sledge also, one containing miscellaneousness items and food.

“Brook!”

The young man awkwardly bumbled round, doing his best to keep his balance as he shifted the heavy load strapped upon his back. He looked at Soil with a wide vacant stare.

“Soil!?” Brook was dumbfounded by the woodling’s sudden appearance, “What are you doing here?!”

Soil reached into his cloak slowly and gently took a hold of the mysterious note.

Brook watched cautiously, his eyes shifted between Soil’s face and cloak, weary of what he might pull out of it.

Soil thought to himself for a moment, and decided asking him about the note in such a blatant manner might arouse unwanted suspicion and worry. So instead Soil pretended to itch the side of his chest, and left the note tucked away within the depths of his cloak. Left thinking of other ways in which he could get his questions answered.

“I wanted to know if I could join you today and do some tree smithing?” Soil asked, “I hear the men and woman of Tachbrook are the best in the world, I wouldn’t mind getting a lesson or two. Plus I am of these woods, so I’m well versed with the surrounds.”

Brook looked Soil up and down before replying, inspecting his slender physique most of which however was buried beneath his thatched straw cloak. “Yeah sure, you can tag along.” Brook replied with a nod, “I could do with the help.” He slid the large sled off his broad sweaty back then proceeded to remove the axe from it’s strap before fastening it to his belt. “First job, carry this lot would ya?” Brook cocked his head to the sled, and bags, that now rested upon the forest floor.

Soil looked at him slightly puzzled.

“Chop chop! I do actually want to get some wood cut today!”

Soil hastily jumped into action, hauling the sled up onto his back. He groaned slightly as the two leather straps dug harshly into his collar bones and shoulders. The weight of the baggage sagged heavily. Soil steadied his feet and adjusted his stance, using the muscles in his legs to keep him firmly upright.

“That’s lesson one completed!” Brook chuckled, both arms folded tightly across his chest. “Lets found ourselves a tree next.”

The pair made there way deeper into the woodland. Brook kept a keen eye open for any potential trees, that might be worth harvesting. He approached several on their journey, inspecting their bark carefully to ensure the tree was not rotten or dead.

“It’s a bit trickier in the winter months,” Brook said aimlessly to Soil as he walked around the circumference of a large dark tree, “For nearly all of the trees are leafless and it’s hard to tell whether a tree is dead or about to die.” As he finished his sentence he looked up at the dark tree. It’s bark was like charcoal as if the tree had been subject to a raging fire. Soil stretched out his hand and ran his fingers along it’s bark, which was coarse to the touch.

“I know what you’re thinking, and no, it isn’t burnt. It’s an Aija tree.” Brook explained, acting as though he was teaching a class of children. However Soil of course knew that the tree wasn’t burnt, having grown up in the forest he had gained a relatively good understanding of trees and plant life that grew there. He decided to say nothing however, not wanting to take away the enjoyment that Brook was having. By believing himself to be the most knowledgeable of the two.

However, Brook proceeded to show Soil something he didn’t know.

“Pass me the bag.” Brook commanded rudely, with an outstretched hand. Whilst staring up at the tree branches above him.

Soil slunk the bag from his shoulder, and placed it in Brook’s open hand. Who instantly began to rummage through it’s contents.

Brook pulled out a long curved hooked, attached to which was a long piece of thick rope. He dumped the bag onto the ground.

Soil watched, and took a few cautious steps back, as Brook began to spin the hook in a large loop beside him. Getting ever faster and wider as he did so. The boy’s stare was fixated upon the branches far above them.

In less than a second, the hook flew upward at an alarming rate and looked as if it were set to fly straight into the heavens themselves. Brook flicked his wrist, pulling at the rope in such a way, that the hooks course altered sharply. Wrapping madly round one of the branches, binding it as venomous snake would bind it’s prey.

Brook tugged the rope so it were taut. He looked to Soil with a satifised smirk.

“What now?” Soil asked.

“Climbing.”

Brook jumped up and swung on the rope, pulling himself up as he did so. The tree wood above him yawned as it steadily held his weight. Soil found himself impressed with the speed that Brook was to scale the large tree with.

Within moments, he had hoisted himself all the way to the top. Where by he unpinned the large axe from his belt.

Soil watched from the ground below as Brook set up a small, simple platform. Which acted as his makeshift workstation as he begun his work. Cutting at the different arms of the tree. That he threw down carelessly to Soil.

The woodling dived to one side as a branch nearly fell on top of him. “You nearly hit me with that one!” Soil exclaimed.

“Then pay more attention!” Brook yelled back, “Start cutting them into smaller pieces! And load up the sled! There’s a saw in the bag!”

Soil did as he was instructed, cutting down the large pieces once they fell.

The whole time that Brook was in the tree top dancing between it’s branches and hacking parts off, he shouted down to Soil. Explaining the whole wood smithing process to him as he worked tirelessly on the ground below.

“So then after we fill this sled, We take it back to Tachbrook and check to see if there have been any commissions. From there, we decide if it’s best to craft the work, or just sell it as stock.” Brook continued, breaking his sentence up into small bursts as he panted heavily. Hauling the large axe about clumsily.

“That’s quite the system you timber smiths have got!” Soil shouted back up in reply, whilst sawing at a large black branch. “Who was it who taught you how to timber smith then, you seem like a natural!”

Brook stopped in his tracks up high in the tree. Soil looked up to see if the young man was alright, after receiving a short silence in reply. Worried that maybe, he had taken a mis-step or swung to grandly with his axe, and fallen to his doom.

“It was my dad.” Brook replied, before continuing back on his way. Testing the strength of a particular branch with his foot, whilst carefully positioning himself. “He was a great man, tall, strong and well natured.”

Brook swung his axe so that the steel blade sank into dark wood, small chips flew out as the wood cracked. “He died a couple years back though, back when I was 14, in a timber smithing accident.”

Soil stopped what he was doing and looked up at Brook, “I’m sorry to hear that Brook.”

“It’s alright, accidents happen.” Brook replied as he threw a final swing at the base of the branch. A loud crunch cried out from the wood as the branch joint snapped. It crashed heavily onto the floor. “Everything went south after Dad died. My family went through some tough times, and then of course my sister met Phlox.”

“You seem to be one of the only people who doesn’t like Phlox, everyone else seems to adore him…”

Brook snapped his head round at Soil’s reply, and quickly descended from the tree top. Sliding effortlessly down the dangling rope. As soon as his feet were planted down firmly upon the forest floor he turned to Soil and said in a raised voice, “That man is a god damn devil. He manipulated my sister whilst she was still grieving over the death of our father. He keeps her under house arrest and has reduced her to nothing more than just a puppet!” Brook took a few steps away from Soil as his blood began to boil,  pulsating violently through his body.

“He’s a dirty, sneaky manipulator, who puts on a pretty face to fool everyone around him! I seem to be the only one round here who’s able to see what the hell he’s doing!” The frustrated young man kicked a large stone that sat idly on the forest floor. Sending the rock flying, but stubbing his toe in the process. He winced as a sharp shooting pain pierced through his foot and up into the back of his leg. Brook grunted out his frustration, before slowing his breathing to bring back a sense of calmness. He turned to look over his shoulder at Soil who was placing the last pieces of wood upon the sled.

“What do you think of him?” Brook asked the woodling coldly.

Soil looked up and replied “I don’t know what I think of him, but I think there’s something going on… I think your sister might be in danger.”

A heavy scowl came about Brook’s face. His narrow eyes, darkened.

Soil reached for the note in his cloak as he walked over to Brook and handed it to him. Allowing him to unfold the small parchment and read the inked words for himself.

“Where did you get this?”

“It was nailed to a tree in the woodland last night. I managed to see a person hiding in the darkness, but they slipped away from me.”

Brook folded the small note back up and handed it back to Soil, a stern look of anger was chiselled into his face.

“I’m going to stick around for a bit, and make sure that your sister is safe.”

“Why would a stranger want to help someone they’ve only met for a day?”

“Because, it’s the right thing to do.”

Brook looked Soil straight in the eyes. “Thank you Soil.” He placed his hand firmly on Soil’s shoulder and gave it a firm squeeze. Soil smiled in reply.

“Come on Soil bud, lets get these logs back to Tachbrook before the sun sets.” Brook said, slapping him on the arm.

“One more thing Brook.” Soil said quickly, “I understand the point you made earlier… about your sister being under house arrest. Well, I’ve agreed to take her to see the tree of 11 trunks tonight. I just thought you should know, so you’re not alarmed when Phlox finds she’s not there tonight. You know she’s safe.”

Brooks stern face relaxed as Soil finished his sentence, “You’re a good guy Soil.” Brook continued his walk towards the sled and began fastening the logs down with the straps he used to initially carry it

Soil joined him and began helping by clearing up the odd tools that lay strewn over the forest floor. Once the two of them had cleared up they made their way back to the village, both helped in pulling the sled, making use of two additional straps that were fixated onto it’s front.

By the time they had reached the meadow, the sun was sinking into an orange horizon. “I need to get going Brook. Thank you for today.”

“You get going, I can take it from here and no, thank you for all of your help. Please don’t hesitate to come and stay at the Inn if you’re stuck for somewhere to go tonight”

“I don’t want to be a hassle or…”

“Please Soil, I insist, as thanks for your all of your help tonight. Plus if you’re going to keep coming back to Tachbrook you might as well stay there.”

Soil took a moment to think about the offer, “Okay, alright I’ll come by after I’ve taken Monarda to the tree of 11 trunks.”

A half smiled worked its way across Brook’s face, “I’ll see you soon then.”

The two of them said their goodbyes and parted ways. Brook hauled the sled through the meadow, pulling it along like an ox begrudgingly drawing a plough through a field.

Soil stuck to the shadowy tree line and followed it until he caught view of Tachbrook’s northern gate. He glanced up at the blood orange sky, the sun was slowly seeping beneath the eastern line of trees.

Calm and still, he waited among the plants and shrubbery. Keeping an ever watchful eye fixated on the northern gate. Until finally a figure arrived, covered completely, head to toe in a long black cloak. The figure ran through the northern gate and into the meadow.

Soil let out a sharp ear splitting whistle to gain the unknown figures attention. They looked up in shock, hidden within the hood was Monarda’s pale slender face. She began scanning the edge of the forest for the source of the noise, desperately searching for Soil.

He stepped out of his place of hiding and ushered her to him. She bounded over as quickly as she could, her cloak flapping madly.

When the two met Monarda frantically grabbed a hold of Soil’s hand and hissed at him, “Come on lets go! Quick!!” She sped off, dragging Soil along with her. He took a final glance over his shoulder, on the slight chance that she was followed. Before the two of them delved deep into the darkness of the Eyre woodland, as the night fell upon them.

 

The Wood for the Trees – Chapter 4

Return to Tachbrook

“It is said in Tachbrook folk tales, that those who wear a crown fashioned from the wood of the Aija tree, can pass freely between the worlds of the living and the dead.”

 

Stillness, quiet and focus. Soil sat upon the brook bank. His nimble legs folded neatly beneath him and both eyes were gently closed. Deep breaths filled his lungs, as he fought to bring a stillness to a mind that swirled violently with thoughts. As if it were a vicious typhoon.

Every time Soil’s mind wandered, he brought concentration back to the breath. Hoping that through meditation, he could refine the information within his conscience and find an understanding to the events that had occurred the preceding day.

However, despite his efforts, he did little to quell the storm that raged within him. Flashes of the ghostly apparition came to the forefront of his mind before melting away and twisting into visions of Monarda. Behind her stretched a towering pair of black silhouetted hands. Unnaturally long fingers crept around the frail girl, she stood seemingly unaware with a smile adorning her face. Then she was snatched at. The monsterious hands gripped her hair tightly and pulled her down into a deep well of nothingness.

Her shrill screams struck his conscience as if they were solid punches. Each delivered a heavy, hard hitting blow. With every strike, a single inked letter flew out of Soils self perceived body. One by one, they spelt out the harrowing message left to him the night before.

“D.O.N.T L.E.A.V.E”

“Come back!!” Monarda’s voice echoed through the depths of his mind.

“S.H.E.S N.O.T S.A.F.E”

“Help me!!”

Soil’s eyes shot open. The boy clutched at his chest as he began gasping frantically for air. A single bead of sweat rolled down his forehead.

He looked down at his lap. There, rested gently between his hands, was the mysterious note. The sudden tightness across his chest began to fade, as a calming rhythm of breath returned to him. Bird song soothed his mind and river waters calmed his soul. He looked up and across at the lonely crimson tree. The bright morning sunlight caused it’s delicate leaves to shimmer like precious rubies.

“One must not get lost in vision’s of the past, present or future.” Soil’s whispered to himself, as he drew a long deep breath, “One must stay focused on present moment as it exists now. As it is the only true reality.”

The crisp crunch of footsteps, treading harshly on frosted leaves, could be heard coming from beyond the clearings tree line. Soil buried the note within the depths of his cloak. Warily watching as a figure made it’s way out into view. Cast in the glow of morning sun.

“Soil?” A soft voice called out.

“Monarda!” Soil got up onto his feet. Eagerly making his way across the brook water. “I had a feeling you’d come back.”

She replied back, “And I had a feeling you’d be waiting for me.” As she stepped further into the clearing her shining silhouette faded.

The two met one another by the crimson tree and Soil extended his hand as a gesture to sit beneath the small tree’s arching branches. Monarda bowed her knees slightly. “Thank you.” She planted herself down, pulling her hood from head. Revealing her golden, silk like hair.

“So why is it you thought I would return?” Monarda asked, being the first of the two to strike up a conversation.

Soil sat down beside her, before saying “Monarda, I believe I’m supposed to help you.”

“Help me?” Monarda replied in bewilderment, “I don’t need any help, I’m fine.” Ending her sentence with a sweet smile.

The note flashed back violently in Soils mind, followed by the vision of Monarda. Her screams and shrieks pierced his soul just as a wasp sting pierces flesh. The pain that remained, showed no signs of fading soon.

“Then why are you here?” Soil asked, “What are you trying to run from?”

“I’m not running away from anything…? I’m just- It’s just…. good to get some fresh air every once in a while.” Monarda’s tongue tripped up her words as they tried to escape her mouth.

“I think you’re searching for answers.” Soil said to her calmly, turning his head to look at her, “Answers to questions that you don’t even know to ask yet.”

Monarda stared into Soil’s bright, bottle green eyes. Her face began twitching and her jaw trembled as a conflict stirred within her.

Soil continued, not waiting on a reply, “Which flowers is it you want to see and why haven’t you gone to see them yet?”

Try as she might, Monarda found herself unable to keep her composure. Her face melted as a bitter sorrow swept in. She turned away from Soil. Gentle tears rolled down her cheeks. The sparkling drops of sadness splashed against the earth.

A silence set in as Monarda wept. Soil was about to break the silence with an apology, thinking that perhaps he had pushed the poor girl too far. But just as he opened his mouth, Monarda spoke out softly. Wiping the tears from her face.

“When I was a young girl growing up, I would talk with the various travellers who passed through Tachbrook at my mother’s inn.” Monarda sniffed, “They would tell me stories of adventures they’d had in far off lands, tales of monsters, beasts, different cultures and races that made up this world. I knew that I would never see any of the things these travellers spoke of. I knew the world was too big for someone so small and insignificant, like me.”

She turned back round to face Soil, a new light came about her face, “But then there were the travellers who had returned from Eyre woodlands. They’d bring back stories also, tales of the magnificent life that bloomed within the forest. Wondrous tree’s and animals, and accounts of a boy and his humble allotment deep within the woods.”

A grin grew across Soils face as he continued to listen.

“One of the various travellers told me about a tree that he had stumbled across whilst venturing in the woodland. He said that this great tree was unlike that of any he had ever seen. It’s body had split into 11 separate trunks, each of them twisted and wound about the area of the forest in which the tree resided, as if they were mighty branches. Beneath the tree, he told me, grew the most splendid red flowers. At night when the moon climbed into the sky above they glowed a dazzling red and illuminated the forest around them in a bright light. The traveller even showed me one that he had collected, his tale captured my young heart. Since then I had always dreamed of going for myself. But it was just a dream, nothing more.”

“A man who dreams of seizing the stars never will if he refuses to look up to the nights sky.” Soil replied, “Why haven’t you gone out and tried to fulfil this dream? All these wonders surround your village and lay only a short distance beyond your door.”

“I couldn’t,” Monarda replied, she brought both her legs up to her chest. Wrapping her arms around them tightly, “I don’t know. I’ve got duties to do at home now that I’ve grown up, I’ve got a life to be dealing with. The woods are dangerous… and Phlox would be really angry with me. He’d even be angry if he found out that I came here.”

Monarda leaned her head forward resting it heavily upon her knees. She glumly looked down at her feet and let out a low hum.

“We’re all born as free people. Free to make our own choices about our own lives.” Soil said, in a calm cool tone. Monarda’s expression remained unmoved, her eyes cast low.

“Look, If you want…” Soil continued, in an attempt to cheer her up, “I can take you to this ‘Tree of eleven trunks’.”

Monarda shot up instantly and a look of pure elation came about her face. Accompanied by a wide joyous smile. “You can?!” She replied gleefully, clapping her hands together in utter delight. “Oh that would be wonderful!”

“If you really want to see it, then meet me by the eastern edge of the Eyre forest that surrounds Tachbrook, be there tonight, just before the twilight hours.”

“I will, I will! I’ll be there!”

Monarda’s intoxicating rush of excitement was short lived. As she caught a glimpse of the sun stretching out above them. It had continued with it’s slow, inevitable, trek across the sky. Striving to provide the folks of the world beneath it with their accustomed hours of daylight.

“Oh my! I’ve been gone too long, Phlox will be waking up soon!”

Monarda dashed up onto her feet, being careful not to strike her head against the low tree branches.

“I must be heading back,” She said, brushing a thin layer dirt from her thick coat. “I’ll see you tonight.” Monarda turned to leave hastily, but darted back round when Soil suddenly called out to her.

“I’ll escort you back, like I did yesterday.” He said, rising to his feet from beneath the small tree. “There’s some business I wish to attend to in Tachbrook today, so I may as well join you.”

Monarda smiled at the woodling, “Okay, yeah sure, that would be nice, thank you.”

The pair set off together, in similar fashion to the morning of the previous day. Monarda led the way this time however, ducking and weaving her way through the bare, low hanging branches.

Thoughts of the shadowy silhouette from the previous night came to Soil’s mind as he effortlessly followed Monarda’s footsteps through the forest. Numerous questions sprang up in his mind, questions whose answers, he was sure, laid hidden away somewhere in one of Tachbrook’s quaint homesteads.

“So what business do you have in Tachbrook today Soil?” Monarda asked, turning her head slightly as she did so. Her sudden question pulled Soil’s mind from its festering abstractions.

Soil looked across at her, wide eyed as all thoughts instantly flushed from his mind. Desperately he scrambled to grasp at some reasoning to explain his sudden interest to return to the small village. He knew he couldn’t tell her about the ominous note that now lurked within the depths of his cloak. Her knowledge of it could potentially cast her into more danger, if of cause there was any. A change Soil was not willing to take.

Just before the silence had been dragged to an uncomfortable length, Soil’s mind presented him with an idea!

“I wish to visit your brother.”

“My brother?!” Monarda exclaimed.

“Yes, I want to… get some wood smithing advice from him. As to better aid my own creations.”

“Well my brothers an idiot, but if it’s one thing he’s good it’s carving wood. I’m sure he’d be able to help you out. I wouldn’t quiz him on anything else though, he’s mediocre at everything else.”

The two continued their journey back to Tachbrook with hast, the sun reached up ever higher into the white skies that blanketed above them. Pouring it’s cool golden rays over the huddle of tightly knit homesteads.

After walking through the tall grassy meadow that separated Tachbrook from the forest, the pair parted ways at the village’s northern gate.

Soil made his way down the winding pathways, narrowly dodging village folk as they slowly began to stir from their early morning slumber. Begrudgingly answering the call of their long daily routines. He eventually found himself arriving outside Ivy’s humble Inn. Soil walked up to the entrance but allowed himself to become distracted by an arrangement of flower pots.

They sat humbly outside, lined against the outer dark wood wall of the inn. Each was filled to the brim with dirt, and noticeably absent of flowers.

“Soil!” A loud gleeful voice cried out behind him.

The young man jumped in his skin, switching round quickly on his heels to see who it was that had called to him. But as he did he was greeted by a pair of large soft arms that muffled around him tightly. He began gasping for air as he was smothered intensely within an unknown bosom. When the clenched grip was finally alleviated Soil fell backwards heavily, red faced. Landing awkwardly on his palms whilst panting desperately for air to fill his squashed, empty lungs.

“So good to see you again! I didn’t think you’d be returning so soon!”
Soil looked up to see Monarda’s mother standing before him, her blonde hair carelessly bundled into a bun on her head. The short chubby woman beamed a delighted homely smile towards Soil, before leaning over to pick up a small watering can she had brought outside with her.

“Good to, see you again, also.” Soil stammered, doing his best to recover from the unsuspecting, and unintentional, winding she dealt him.

“Looking at my plant pots were you?” She said cheerily, walking over to them and gently showering each one with a sprinkle of clear sparkling water. “I know they’re not much yet but, like most things in life, if you devote enough love, care and-” Ivy leaned over one of the red clay pots and pulled a tiny green sprout from the dirt, “And make sure you keep the weeds out, then eventually they’ll blossom into beauty when spring arrives.” The short stocky woman turned round once more to Soil, who was now back on his feet. A healthy hue of colour had returned to his face.

“How was the meal yesterday?” Ivy asked, as she continued to tend to the collection of plant pots, “I was sad to miss it, Phlox’s cooking is always so delightful.”

“It was good!” Soil replied as he walked over, watching as she carefully tended the dirt held within the clay jars. “Although the atmosphere got a bit tense.”

“How so?”

“I mentioned about some flowers within the Eyre woodland that Monarda wanted to see…. Phlox isn’t very keen on the idea of Monarda venturing far from home is he?”

Ivy stood up straight, a loud crack eminent from her straightened spine. She let out a long exhale.

“We’ve all got to make sacrifices I suppose. Phlox has provided my daughter with a stable and comfortable life. She never goes hungry or cold and most importantly he keeps her safe. He’s concerned for her is all.”

Soil pondered the thought for a moment, he didn’t entirely agree but decided it was best to hold back his tongue. Not wanting to cause any upset or arguments between them.

“What brings you back here anyway? I didn’t think I’d see you again so quickly.” Ivy asked as she finished watering the plant pots. The woman turned to head back inside the Inn, cocking her head as an invitation for Soil to join her. The two filed in through the door and into the main reception room of the Inn.

Upon his entry, Soil saw an elderly man sat at one of the tables to his left. He had tanned leather like skin and a collection of strange, black tattoo’s that ran down the sides of his bald head. They appeared to continue down his back, but Soil was unsure. The elderly fellow was tucking into some early morning breakfast. A small collection of which had been laid out by Ivy, for her inn guests.

Soil’s stomach growled slightly as his own eyes caught a glimpse of the small breakfast buffet. Black rye bread, cheese and fruits made up the colourful collection that sung out to him.

“Soil?” Ivy asked, who was still waiting on a reply.

“Oh sorry! I’m here to see Brook, I thought he could give me some wood smithing advice.”

“Well you’ve picked a good day for it!” Ivy replied, “The little sod set out a short while ago, he’s heading for the western edge of the woodland,  if you hurry you might catch him.”

“Thank you!” Soil bowed slightly, before turning to leave. He had placed a hand on the wooden door handle when Ivy called to him.

“Soil. Catch!”

He turned round to see 2 rolls of rye bread fly through the air towards him. Soil managed to pluck a rye bread roll from out of the air, however the remaining one hit him softly on forehead. He scrambled quickly to swipe the remaining roll from  the clean swept Inn floor.

Soil went to lean forward again out of thanks, but before he could Ivy said to him cheerfully “Don’t worry about bloody bowing again, go on! Get out of here you!”

Soil sheepishly made his way out of the Inn, tucking one of the rye bread rolls into his cloak before taking a large bite out of the one that still remained in his hand. Instantly a strength spread throughout his muscles as the rye bread reached his empty stomach.

He looked up into the milky, winter sky. Taking into account the position of the slow rolling sun in order to find his bearings. ‘West …’ he thought to himself, ‘west.’

Once Soil had demolished the bread roll he held in his hand, he set off to look for Brook. But more importantly, to look for answers.

 

The Twin Tail and the Willow

The following is a small excerpt from an unnamed story that I am currently working on! This particular section is very much inspired by the works of Hans Christen Andersen, the fairy tale writer who wrote the Little Mermaid, the Snow Queen, the Ugly Duckling and many more. 

“I used to go there with my brother a lot and we would make up stories for why the fire lilies only appeared in that one pond and no where else, to our knowledge anyway.”

“Do tell me the story!” Monarda chirped, a half smile spread across her face.

Soil smiled too, as he thought back to his younger days with his older brother, “Okay, So once upon a time there stood a willow tree in the forest and she stood alone and apart from the rest of the trees. For she was the only willow tree for miles. The other trees would laugh at her and call her names, for she was different from her tall proud brothers. The trees would comment on her slouching posture and mock her for the way her branches drooped and bent.

She was very sad, until a blue breasted twin tail rested upon her bark one day. “Why are you so sad?” The twin tail asked.

“The other trees keep calling me names for I am not like them. I am hunched and bent over and ugly.”

“You are not ugly!” The twin tail exclaimed, “Why I think you’re the most splendid tree in all of the forest.”

“You think so?!” The willow glowed with glee.

“Of course. I see a million trees like the ones that pick on you, but I only see a handful of willows like yourself. You are as beautiful and as precious as any shining gem stone.”

The willow and the twin tail became the closest of friends and spent the entirety of the summer together. However the leaves of the forest began to turn gold and bronze , and the twin tail had some heartbreaking news to tell the lonely willow.

“My friend, it hurts me to say this. But we must part.” The twin tail sung sorrowfully.

“Why?! Why must you go?!” The willow replied, sad that maybe the twin tail had grown tired of her company.

“This forests golden period is setting in, and it signals the coming of the icy winds and snow. If I stay here I shall surely die, for there will be no food for me to eat, and no shelter warm enough to protect me from the ice’s bite. I must depart to warmer lands till the spring rolls round again.”

“I shall see you when the spring comes back though won’t I?” The willow asked sadly.

“I wish that was the case my dear friend, but the woodland is so large and so vast I doubt I would be able to find you again.”

The pair of them wept as they spent their final days together. But on the day that the twin tail was due to leave the willow came up with a plan! “Twin tail!” She cried, “I have devised a way for you to find your way back to me when spring comes round once again.”

The willow tree dipped her branches into the cool pond water beside her, and the twin tail watched as an assortment of small green buds materialised out of the calm pond water.

“In the spring, these lilies will blossom bright yellow and orange, and it shall seem as if the pond is doused in a blanket of fire. This is my signal to you my friend, so we can be reunited when the icy chill as left this land.”

“Thank you my friend,” The twin tail exclaimed, “This is the most precious gift anyone has ever given me. I shall look out for the fire lilies when I return. Goodbye miss Willow.” With that the twin tail took to the skies and flew far away to warmer lands, whilst the willow waited in silence as coldness gripped the forest.

The twin tail would look out for that pond every time spring came back to the forest, and would spend the summer times with his fellow friend the willow tree. He did so till the end of his days. The willow tree looked at her lilies with sadness now that her friend was gone. However she decided to keep beautiful little flowers, as an ever lasting memory of their eternal friendship.”

“That was a lovely story Soil.” Monarda said cheerfully.

Soil humbly laughed to himself, “Thank you.” He replied graciously.

 

River and Soil

By J.A Scarrott

Deep within a vast green woodland, that lay in the heart of England, resided two brothers. River and Soil. River was the taller of the two boys, brown scruffy hair sat upon his head and a had pair of bright blue eyes. He was large, strong, and enjoyed venturing out on frequent hunts into the forest. He equally enjoyed eating the spoils gained through this pass time.

His brother, Soil, was a small timid fellow with a set of dark earth green eyes. He found pleasure in the simpler things that life had to offer and only ate produce that he grew from the land. Many a time whilst River was out hunting the wild life, Soil could be found tending a small garden that he cultivated within the centre of the wood. Despite their difference, the brothers were good friends.

The two of them had lived together in isolation for many years and they knew nothing of the world that lay beyond it. The wood was their home and it was their life.

As the years went by Soil grew and found himself questioning his brothers actions. Watching him return home from the hunt each day with more and more animals slung over his shoulder. Until one day, when the two of them were sat by an roaring camp fire, he finally decided to ask his brother about it.

Soil was slowing roasting a potato over the naked flame sitting before him, whilst watching River sink his teeth into a fat steaming chicken leg. Soil cringed as River slurped up the skin off the cooked leg in a single swift motion.

“River, May I ask you a question?” Soil asked quietly, looking up through the crackling flames.

River licked his lips, not wanting to waste the wet chicken fat that dripped from his mouth.

“Of course younger brother, what troubles you?”

“Why do you eat the flesh of the animals?” Soil withdrew his potato from the flames and poked it’s black crispy skin.

“Well that’s because I am a man!” River bellowed, waving the leg of chicken in his hand. “And men eat animals! It is the way of the world.” Instantly he returned his attention to the meat he was holding and began to gnaw away at it once again.

Soil looked down blankly at the potato in his hand, thinking about his older brothers words. He cracked open the tough outer skin and steam bellowed out as it revealed a soft yellow centre.

“In that case, Am I less of a man for not eating meat?”

River pondered the thought, “Well, no. You are my brother and as much as a man as I…”

“So why is it that you eat the flesh of the animals and why do you increasingly eat more than you need?” Soil persisted, not satisfied with the answers that his brother had given him. “I do not understand.”

River lifted up a dead fox that lay beside him, which he had caught whilst hunting previously that morning. “These are just mindless animals.” He shook the limp creature violently, “We are human. These animals were put here for the sole purpose of feeding us. What other reason would they have to exist?” He threw the fox to the floor, it’s body let out a loud crack.

“But say that you weren’t here in the forest. Would these animals still exist?”

“Of course.”

“Then how can you say their existence is depended on you? If you weren’t here the animals of this forest would still go on living, which would imply that they have a difference purpose, that isn’t feeding humans, one which you have failed to see.”

“Please tell me then what purpose a measly mouse serves.” River scoffed, folding his well muscled arms across his chest.

“I do not know, But I never professed to know.”

“Look Soil, Animals eat other animals all of the time, what’s the difference?”

“That is true, however they have no knowledge of farming. A fox cannot grow crops and the owl cannot sew seeds. But we have been gifted with this knowledge, if we’re able to grow food enough to feed us, then killing animals to eat is just unnecessary, and avoidable, death.” Soil looked over sadly at the limp fox that was slumped next to his brother, it’s orange fur flickered in the light of the fire.

River was getting annoyed at his brothers constant questioning and blurted out in retaliation, “Why are you so bothered about them anyway!?”

“I don’t know… I suppose it’s because, we’re different to animals. We know more and are in a better position to help them. So we should act upon that and help those, who cannot help themselves.”

River leaped up onto his feet, towering above the roaring fire, much like an angered demon raising from the depths of hell. “I’ve had enough of your questions! I don’t care for your reasoning. I’m not going to stop eating the flesh of the animals, for one reason alone, I enjoy it!” He snatched the limp fox off of the floor and stormed off, fading into the darkness of the woods.

Soil watched as his brother disappeared. He calmly picked up another potato from the pile that lay next to him, skewed it onto a sharpened stick and placed it in the camp fire. He spent the rest of the night alone, listening to the friendly chirp of crickets that sung an evening song around him.

The days passed by and Soil saw no sign of his brother. He continued to tend to his garden and assured himself that his brother was in no danger and would soon return.

Weeks passed by and there was still no sign of River. Soil paced around the woods, looking for any faint trail or hint of his where a bouts. But Soil found nothing. He returned once again to his garden and gingerly cared for his crops, leaving his brother to continue with his escapade.

The plants in his garden grew taller, his vegetables grew larger, his bean sprouts eventually weaved and spun their way around the fixings that he had made for them. However the forest was growing quiet and that unnerved him greatly.

It had been many months since Soil had last seen his brother at the camp fire and in the passing time he had seen much less of the colourful and vibrant fauna that once made the forest come to life. Until eventually the woodland became completely still and silent.

The bird song had completely vanished from the early morning air and the cricket’s lullabies had faded from the day’s twilight hour. The only sound in the forest now, was the crunching of autumn leaves beneath Soil’s bare feet. He wandered the woodland… Alone, completely alone. As the sun rose the following morning, Soil packed a small bark woven bag with food and prepared himself for the walk ahead. He knew something detrimental must have happened to the woods and his brother was still missing. He felt that now was a time that brothers should stick together, not fade apart. So he ventured out into the boundless, noiseless woods in hopes of finding his older sibling, River.

The sun and moon danced across the skies for three days, the whole time Soil trudged onward. He followed a shallow stream that, if traced back, meandered all the way to his precious humble garden. For three days however, Soil found nothing.

He took a break when the sun was at it’s highest on the fourth day, cupping some fresh water from the stream within his hands, sipping at it carefully. Out of nowhere a voice called out to him.

“Soil… Is that you?” It was an unearthly calling, in a harsh, guttural tone.

Soil looked up startled, as he hadn’t heard a sound from something other than himself in days. “Hello..?” he asked timidly, “Is there someone there?”

“It’s me Soil. Your brother.” The voice replied, the barer of which was hidden from sight on the other side of the small brook.

Soil clambered to his feet, his mossy green eyes searched for any possible signs of movement. “River? Where are you?! I’ve been looking for you for days! Something bad has happened to the forest, come home River. Please!”

“I cannot.” The husky voice replied. “You would not be safe.”

“Not be safe? But you are my brother, you would never harm me!”

“That’s true, but I’m afraid that I am no longer myself, Dear brother.”

“What are you saying..? What’s happened?” Soil stood passive, staring aimlessly over the river.

He heard something move behind one of the trees that stood on the opposite him. He watched as an enormous bat like wing slowly folded out from behind a large tree trunk. Another wing stretched out from the opposite side, however this time it was a large feathered wing of an owl.

Soil took a few steps back, as a bout of trembles set within his body.

The hulking beast proceeded to reveal itself fully to Soil, stepping out into the open. It was a hair raising sight. The beast was a horrific mis-mash of different woodland animals, fused together in a seamless manner. Yet it maintained an unnatural and unnerving air about itself.

It’s head was unmistakeably that of a fox and it’s large giant body was that of a badger. It retained the badgers striking facial patterns, black and white stripes adorn it’s sleek and slender fox like face like war paint. It stood proudly upon four large claws which adorned each of it’s large paws. A pair of twisted, grisly stag horns protruded from it’s brow which was covered in sharp black quills, which ran from the top of it’s head and ran all the way down it’s spine. It’s two wings slowly folded back neatly on either side of the beast’s massive body. A set of crystal blue eyes looked across at Soil. The beasts frothing jaws opened, “Soil… It’s me. It’s River.”

“What’s happened to you..? …What have you done?!” Soil asked in horror.

“I’ve eaten it all Soil, every bird, insect, fish, fox and deer. I’ve consumed every pathetic life form in this woodland. Now the forest is silent and the only beings left is you and I.”

“Why.. Why have you done this?”

“Because I can and nothing can compare to my grandiose or my  Vigor. I am apex.”

“You’ve let your greed consume you River.” Soil replied, staring deeply into the creatures blue eyes, “It’s tainted you and turned you into a monster… Just look at yourself! You’re no brother of mine.”

Soil turned on his heels and fled, running as fast as his legs could carry him, away from the nightmare. He followed the winding river all the way back to his precious garden, making the trip back home before the moon had finished dancing across the sky.

He crashed to his knees next to his garden and threw his head into his hands. Sobbing uncontrollably. The animals were gone and now his brother was gone. For the first time in his life, he felt truly isolated.

Soil curled up onto the floor and cried himself into an uneasy and restless sleep.

Warm morning rays struck softly against his face. He stood up as he woke, stretching out the knots and kinks in his back as he did so, before turning to face his garden. Weeds had already began to sprout out of the soft turned earth. However something peculiar caught his eye. He leaned in closer to see, a tiny green caterpillar slowly making its way up a bean stalk.

 Soil’s heart leapt with joy. “So River hasn’t consumed everything!” He cried, scooping up the little green bug in his hands lovingly. “I’m going to look after you! So that when you grow into a butterfly, you can go and tell the other forests about what has happened here. Warn them of my brother.”

Soil carried out his promise and tended to the young caterpillar with the same affection and love that he gave his crops. To him, any and all life was worth cherishing.

It was not a view shared by both brothers and it wasn’t long before River had caught wind of the small bugs existence and followed it’s scent to Soil’s small allotment.

Soil knew his brother would have come eventually, however River arrived sooner than he anticipated. He stood up as the great beast emerged from the depths of the forest, heavily grinding to a hault as spotted Soil, standing defiantly. The blue had nearly completely faded from his Rivers unruly eyes and his quills flared upwards.

“Soil! I have come for the puny creature that you are keeping hidden from me.” River snarled, baring his large sharp teeth. “I am apex and I am famished. Give the bug to me and be gone.”

“You are not famished brother. You have allowed your greed to overcome you. You’ve succumb to your selfish desires and oh how it has changed you.”

“Silence! I shall not be lectured by you Soil! Give me the pathetic creature and go.”

“We’re all life River, We’re all parts of this world, nor more lesser or greater than any other part that makes the whole. Why can’t you see that!?”

“If you consider yourself equal to these lesser animals, then I shall consume you as if you are one!” The remaining droplets of blue faded in Rivers wild eyes and they became a solid wash of black.

In a flash Soil was pinned underneath one of the monsters heavy claws. He writhed and struggled, but was unable to shift the beast that bore down about him. He felt the heat of his brothers breath bare down on him and watched on helplessly as his brothers mighty foaming jaws descended upon him.

Then suddenly the beast stopped and snapped his mighty fangs shut, inches away from Soils face,  turning it’s attention towards the small allotment that sat several yards away. Spotting the tiny fragile caterpillar that it had come for, revealing itself from behind a small green pea pod.

Within seconds the ravenous horror was upon the allotment, trampling and crushing all the crops that grew upon it. Soil watched hopelessly as his former brother grabbed the tiny caterpillar between his mighty claws. A wild manic grin spread across his, now fox like, face. Revealing the rows of razor sharp teeth once more.

“You’re mine. All mine!” He howled proudly.

His celebration ended moments later however, and the delighted smile faded from his face. “What’s this?”

A sticking webbing was secreting from the tiny bug and slowly began covering Rivers claw, binding its talons together tightly. The webbing continued to spread up his leg and within moments, it had engulfed his entire body. The beast began to wrestle with it’s constraints, although the more it did, the tighter they became.

“Soil! Help me! Please!” River begged.

Soil stood and watched as the nightmarish beast was slowly enveloped in white webbing, which pulled and bonded all six of his limbs together. He beat his massive wings, in an attempt to break free of the with-strains. But the harder he struggled, the tighter the webbing bound him. River’s cries for help became muffled and inaudible as a giant chrysalis formed, and solidified, around him.

One last cry rang out “Help!” Then silence.

Soil walked over slowly to the giant white cocoon that stood where his small simple garden had once been. Tenderly, he brought his hand onto the hard tough exterior before placing his ear against the tough chrysalis wall. Inside a faint heartbeat called be heard. Pounding slowly. Soil left out a deep sigh of relief as he stepped away.

He waited by the cocoon for several weeks. Keeping himself busy by building himself a new garden. Soil continued to bide his time, waiting for whatever was inside the cocoon to mature. Then one day out of the blue, as he was turning the earth in a new patch of his allotment, he heard a loud crack.

Instantly Soil span around, dropped his makeshift pitchfork and ran across to the cocoon. A large split ran down it’s side. Another appeared, then another! Soil took a few step backwards, unsure of what he felt within him. Was it fear or excitement? Or both!

All of a sudden, the shell of the great cocoon exploded and a bright light burst outward. A multitude of woodland animals spewed out from it’s centre. Owls, Wood peckers, Blackbirds, Sparrows and Buzzards all took the air, spreading across the clear midday skies. Badgers, Foxes, Rabbits, Mice, Voles and Deer ran across the land and faded away between the trees. Butterflies, Woodlice, Snails, Moths, beetles and crickets populated the plants and tree bark once again.

The animals brought back with them all the songs of forest that Soil had so dearly missed. He turned his attention to the shattered remains of the cocoon. There was no sign of his brother. He walked over and noticed a tiny plant sprouting from floor where the cocoon had once stood. Sitting proudly upon the dainty flower was a tiny caterpillar. Two bright blue circles, that looked like eyes, sat on either side of the caterpillar’s head. Soil smiled, a tiny tear ran down his cheek. He picked up the small bug and rested it on his finger.

“Greed is an ugly thing. It can consume a man. Infect a man. Change a man. Twist a man. Until he is barely himself any more. It is a poison that resides within us all. But the power of change lies within us as well. All you have to do is grasp that power, break free of the chains that you have locked yourself up in and make that transformation for the better.”

The tiny caterpillar began crawling up his hand. Soil just laughed happily to himself, taking the small bug over to his little garden.

Over the years, travellers from far off lands made more frequent trips through Soil’s woods and often stumbled across him and his garden. They would exchange stories, food and laughter. But without fail, one question travellers asked the ageing Soil before departure was “Don’t you ever get lonely out here all by yourself?”

“I am not alone, You are not alone. Life surrounds us, no matter who we are, or where we are. All you need to do, is look up from day to day and breathe it, feel it, see it and hear it.” Soil smiled warmly, looking up towards the trees above him. “No one is ever truly alone.”

The Rose

He pushed open a small wooden gate and made his way into the rich blooming garden. An archway of green vines extended before him, sea blue flowers blossomed all around. Bringing with them the sweet smell of an ocean breeze. He closed his eyes drew a deep breath through his nose. It felt as if he was back on the shoreline, bare feet in wet sand and the yearning for a sea-faring adventure.

The man continued to walk down the white stone walkway, till he reached a cross junction. He cocked his head and looked down each of the pathways. Colour beamed from every direction, the entirety of the garden was in flower and it truly was a spectacle to behold.

A range of plant life had been gathered there, from all reaches of the globe. Curiosity got the better of him as he turned to his left and followed the humble pathway deeper into the diverse nursery of flora. Spanning above him now was an abundance of small yellow saplings, secreting a sweet smell that pleased the senses. Once again he closed his eyes and took a deep breath, this time he found himself standing in a shallow meadow. A sea of green and yellow span out from under him, shimmering gently in the cool mid-morning breeze.

“Bast!” A soft voice called out.

He opened his eyes and found himself back in the garden, he turned to see a young sprightly woman walking elegantly towards him. She was adorned with a toga, made of flowing white silk. A black belt was strapped around her waist. Silver blonde hair adorned her head, an elegant plait ran from the girls forehead and followed all the way down to her lower back.

“Daisy. Its an honour.” He bowed slightly as she approached him.

“You do not need to bow to me, just because I am lord protectorate now. You helped me remember, I wouldn’t have this without you.” She lunged forward, bringing Bast in tightly for a hug. “So great to see you again.”

Bast smiled warmly, “You have a beautiful garden Daisy. It’s truly incredible.”

She knelt down, smelling a small blue flower that sat in the garden bed at their feet. “Thank you Bast, However I suppose its nothing akin to the underwater gardens of Aurelia. It must be a breath taking place to see.”

“It is. However Bokung is refusing entry to the reef at the moment. On account of the hostilities.”

“The Argapods are a wise race.”

“I shall take you when the next opportunity arises.” Bast replied, whilst taking Daisy’s delicate hand and helping her onto her feet. “Can I ask why it is that you have summoned me here?”

“Certainly, I wanted to show you something.” She took his hand and led him down a series of winding pathways, leading ever deeper into the thick green of the garden.

They reached a large circular clearing of lush green grass. In the centre of this clearing stood a circular stone building, Which had a large set of steel doors facing towards them. The two of them made their way across and Daisy pulled a small key from her pocket, slowly opening one of the large white doors.

They made their way inside. The room was almost in complete darkness. Only one solid beam of light pierced its way into the room, highlighting a small black and red rose that sat in the middle of it.

“This is what you wanted to show me?” Bast asked confused, kneeling down to look at the singular flower.

“Do you know what that is? It’s a blood rose.” Daisy replied.

“I’ve never heard of one of those before… It certainly is beautiful.”

“They’re extremely rare, many people thought they were just myths. Want to guess why they call it a blood rose Bast?”

He stood up and watched as Daisy circled the room. Dipping in and out of shadow as she went. She came full circle and stood behind him, draped in darkness.

“It’s because they feed off blood.”

In a flash, Daisy brought her foot into the back of Bast leg causing him to crash to his knees. Before he had a chance to react she already had a blade poised at his throat. He stared down at the small timid rose beneath him.

“I’ve heard about your little revolt Bast. I know about your secret meetings with Bokung and the Muskove council. You helped me free this land from a tyrant. Don’t ruin everything we’ve achieved by trying to start a civil war.”

“The Argapods don’t want war, they want independence, as does Muskove. That’s all.”

Daisy brought the sharp blade closer to his throat. He closed his eyes and prepared for the end. But it never came. She withdrew her blade, but not before slashing it quickly across his cheek.

A small stream of blood poured out, a small droplet of which fell onto the rose beneath him. It soaked up the blood like a sponge and grew a little larger.

Daisy tucked the blade neatly away within her toga. She took a step back and faded completely into the darkness that surrounded the room. Her voice echoed.

“If I find out you’re making trouble for me again Bast, that rose is going to get a lot bigger. Now leave.”

Bast got to his feet, took a deep breath and composed himself. He touched the small cut upon his cheek. He glanced around the room and could see nothing but darkness. Only the small blood rose stood, flooded in a single beam of sunlight, he stared at it. Let out a heavy sigh of frustration, turned and left. Ready to return home, to Muskove.