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The Survivors Tale This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

By , Tiffin, OH

Depending on where you begin our story, it’s a story about Nora Stanton. A simple woman who enjoyed the simple things in life: a steaming cup of sweetened tea in the morning, enjoying a good book next to the crackling fire, and cuddling deep within her covers alongside her husband, Arthur. Nora had spent her entire life in the kingdom of Elfia, in a small and tranquil town known as Gila. Her life was as simple as it was serene, and she loved it. Although she adored her ordinary life together with Arthur, and reveled in the days they spent together, she couldn’t help but feel as if something were missing. I’m sure we can all guess the answer: children. Well, nine months after this realization came their son: Enryn. The boy was healthy and strong, a pride to his father and a most welcomed gift to his mother. Nora adored her son and soon decided she wished to bear more children; she had always wanted a daughter. To the delight of the happy couple, Analise Stanton was born a healthy baby and indeed lovely: her hair the gentle color of the bark of a tree, tucked softly behind her ear and her eyes the color of the leaves on the trees in the spring; and when she turned her face to the sun, her eyes dazzled like emeralds. Analise was the love of her mother’s life.
However, despite the health of her children, Nora was not so lucky. Soon after she had bore her daughter, Nora had fallen ill. She was bedridden for most of her days, never having the strength to get up or to move. The deteriorating health of his true love had caused spite to drip into Arthur’s heart, directed towards the young baby, and had began to spread out like a drop of ink in water: small and concentrated at first but then contaminating every fiber of his being. He blamed Analise for the failing health of his beloved, despite Nora’s disagreement. Analise was shunned by her father and soon her brother as well. She was a lonely child and spent most of her time alongside her mother in bed. She did not try and spend time with her brother, as she knew he felt nervous when she was around, as if their father would shun him as well if he found him in her company.
Two years had passed and Nora's health had finally began to start improving. Things had begun to look up for the Stanton family: it was a happy time, their mother was in good health once again! That is, until she gave birth to young Gilas.
Sweet Gilas was a boy of purity, with a personality so sweet it could make your teeth rot. He would never intentionally cause anyone harm, so maybe it was cruel irony that his existence created an all time low in the health of his mother. Then again, Gilas always did have the worst luck, poor boy.
As Nora’s conditions worsened, the more the family prayed to the divines; hoping that one would answer their prayers. Well, Ibil, the God of Health did not answer, nor did anyone else. The negligence of the divines did not deter the Stantons though. Soon Arthur had gotten it in his mind that he was going to venture into the Forest of Elis Tane, much to the horror of his family. You see, the Forest was a terrible place: the further one advanced the taller the trees became, the less the light shined through, and the magical beings and creatures grew in both height and in malicion. In the heart of the forest stood the Tree of Elis, the bark of which was said to have the ability to heal any affliction when consumed. Now, many people have made the journey into the Forest, but only one woman has walked out and lived to tell the tale. So I’m sure you can begin to see the family’s reluctance to allow their father to travel there.
I remember the day he left so vividly: Enryn had been trying so hard to keep a brave look plastered across his face (though the twitching upper lip gave him away, to be sure), young Analise cradling baby Gilas to her chest as they huddled in the corner of their parent’s bed, and poor Nora sobbing in the arms of her beloved as she refused to let go of him. Nora pleaded one last time for him to stay with them, begged him not to leave. As he tore himself away, he gave his family one last reassuring smile, and began his journey. The Stantons waited many years for the return of Arthur, though he never made the journey from the Forest back home, and to his waiting family.
Depending on where you begin our story, it’s a story about Emryn Stanton. Emryn was a brave boy, to say the least. He had to be. With his father having disappeared twelve years ago and his mother in a dreadful state of health, he was the next in charge. He worked all day to ensure that the remaining members of his family would survive. Emryn was a pillar of power in the Stanton family and he allowed them all to lean on him and draw strength and reassurance from him. Despite the facade he had worked so hard to maintain, he was still a young man of only nineteen and longed for a better life. He wanted his father alive. He wanted his mother's health back, instead of worrying each day if it would be her last. He wanted to not worry about his siblings and whether he was providing a healthy environment for them to grow within. But most of all, he wanted his stolen childhood back. Our brave knight knew, however, that this would never happen, and so he buried his dreams as soon as they clawed their way to the surface of his mind. Instead of focusing on the things not within his control, Emryn was always thinking of ways to save his mother, but none had worked thus far.
Depending on where you begin our story, it’s about Analise Stanton. She is where our tale really begins. A young and independent girl of sixteen years old, Analise did what she wanted. Our young heroine was reckless, to be sure. So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise when she decided to come up with a plan to sneak out in the middle of the night, and do what her father could not: venture into the Forest and obtain the bark from the Tree of Elis. Say what you will about our girl, but she did love her family more than anything else.
As Analise slung her bow across her chest, she felt a light tug on the olive cloak wrapped across her shoulders, a faded color from the everyday use. She looked down into the eyes of Gilas, her young brother of twelve years, losing herself in his kind eyes that always shown with love and admiration.
“Ana, what are you doing?” Gilas dropped his fistful of cloth and gazed into his sister’s eyes.
“I’m leaving for the Tree of Elis. I can’t continue to sit here and do nothing. We know this will work, we can’t continue to waste time! Don’t try to stop me.” She placed her hands on his shoulders and stared intensely back.
“I wouldn’t dare think of it.” Gilas lightly smiled at his sister  “I was going to ask you to let me tag along. Mom needs our help. When we stand together, who stands a chance against us?”
Analise smiled. Then she grabbed her brother’s hand and interlaced their fingers. They raced out the door and into the night. Oh how very reckless she was indeed.
By the time they had reached the Forest of Elis, sunshine was peaking out between the white clouds in the sky. The edge of the Forest stood in front of them, threatening and ominous. A dark feeling had settled in Analise’s stomach, weighing her gut down as if she had swallowed a pile of stones. She thought of Enryn, always being brave for the sake of his family and drew strength from him once again. With her shoulders squared and her chin held high, Analise grabbed Gilas’ hand once again and marched determinedly into the Forest.
Like most things, once you pass the beginning, the Forest wasn’t so bad. The trees were taller than any they had ever seen; the bark was the deepest brown with shades of green moss and lichen wedged in between the pieces. The air smelled faintly of dirt and rain. Gilas gasped behind her and she whipped around.
“What is it?” she demanded in a hurry.
“Ana, look over there.” Gilas pointed in the distance.
Analise turned around and spotted a tall creature that resembled a deer, though it’s face was painted with colors of blue and gold. The creatures were known as the Alti Cervos; they towered over five-hundred feet. Analise wasn’t intimidated though, the Alti Cervos were known to be docile creatures and spent their days roaming the Forest and sleeping among the trees.
As the girl and her young brother watched the Alti Cervos walk slowly and gracefully among the woods, they were suddenly grabbed from behind and their bodies were roughly slung over someone’s shoulder. The assailant began to run quickly through the forest, the trees seemingly a blur of emerald and pine to the children. Before Analise could fully comprehend the fact that she had been kidnapped, the group abruptly stopped, the siblings thrown to the dirt floor.
“Where are we?” Asked Gilas, dazed. The area they had stopped in was densely filled with trees, far more than the other areas of the Forest.
“This is the Grove of Lutum, my friend,” answered a smiling voice behind the siblings. At the sound of the stranger, Analise whipped around. Before her stood a tall man. His skin was a smooth and warm brown, like a bowl of melted chocolate. His eyes were the brightest green she had ever seen, sparkling with laughter and a glint of trouble. His hair flowed softly down his back, the color of dark, rich soil. His lips were turned up at the corners: a picture of beauty and mischief.
“I apologize for my rather rough treatment, but I simply couldn’t wait any longer. My name is Arbor,” He placed his hand on the shoulder of Gilas and cast a smile that was a promise of trouble in itself down to the young lad, “we’ve been watching you for quite some time.” As if the words of Arbor had been some sort of que, beings that resembled Arbor began to split from the trees themselves. With a pang of fear, Analise identified what the lovely creatures were: Lignum Desuper. Though, they were more commonly known as the “tree skinned” due to their ability to become one with the trees. The Lignum Desuper were the children of Lutum, Lady of the Earth, and Malum, Lord of Treachery. Many warnings were given against interactions with the Lignum Desuper, as their favorite pastime was that of leading travelers astray for their own amusement. They were not to be trusted. Analise’s hand twitched towards the bow resting across her body, the slight movement not missed by the keen eyes of Arbor.
“Now, now little mouse, do not be afraid. We are here to assist you and your young brother to the Tree. That is what you came for, no?” cooed Arbor, a tone oozing of sickly sweetness.
“Do not take me as a fool Desuper,” Analise spat out, voice dripping with venom, “you will not trick us with your impish ways.” At her harsh words, Arbor feigned a look of hurt.
“Little mouse, I wouldn’t think of it! My family and I wish to help you, as you both are so very young, indeed. We take pity on you my friend. However, the other beings within these woods may not be so kind. Don’t you wish to keep your brother safe?” He walked towards Analise carefully, as if she were a cornered animal that may bite him given the slightest provocation. At his words, a twinge of doubt seized Analise. Her young brother meant more to her than anything in the world, she had been constantly doubting her decision to bring him along from the beginning. Could she keep him safe in the Forest on her own? For Gilas, she would do anything to keep him safe. And giving themselves over to the mercy of these creatures was not keeping him safe in her mind. With her shoulders set in her determined manner she grabbed her brother’s hand.
“My brother and I will be taking our leave. I will protect him, on my own. I will not fall victim to your cruel manipulation,” Analise claimed with a tone of finality, staring into his eyes.
“Good luck Little Mouse,” Arbor smiled faintly down at them, “you will be needing it.”
Our young heroes walked among the Forest, unaware of the eyes that watched them. Analise led the way, confident in her path, a feeling of rightness filling her as she ventured off the path and towards her destination. Gilas ranted excitedly: they were going to save their mother and they’d all be happy once again, it was too good to be true! Oh, how right he was.
Time passed differenlty in the Forest, but eventually Analise and Gilas approached a small wooden cottage. There was moss hanging from the ceiling and gardens containing flowers everywhere, including colors the siblings had never before seen. As they stood in admiration, the children heard a melody through the door. It was a song of a brave hero’s journey, sung in the loveliest of voices, and soon Gilas was trailing towards the door and into the house, as if he were in a trance. Analise called after him, telling him to stop, but it was as if he could not hear her. Warning bells went off in her mind as she rushed in after him. What she saw inside the cabin was horrific: blood splattered on the walls, bones resting in dusty piles along the walls, and two women in the center of it all with their hands on Gilas. Analise took notice of a dagger in the corner of the room, eerily resembling the one her father had carried. The women were breathtaking at first glance, the one still singing her lovely song. However, as Analise stared directly into their faces she saw them for what they were: Filiae, characterized by eyes the color of the deep abyss, no whites to be seen. They were the descendents of Carmis, the Lady of Music, and Noctis, Goddess of Death. They were evil creatures that enticed men to their lairs with their magical music in order to devour them. This cabin was a trap and Analise had to act fast, before something happened to Gilas.
As the Filiae that was not singing stretched her mouth open to eat, Analise took advantage of the fact she had not been noticed yet; the monsters too focused on their meal. Analise drew her bow off her shoulders. Then, she took got out an arrow. She notched it and let it fly. The arrow landed itself in the desired target: the creature’s open mouth. With a horrible screech, the Filiae vanished in a puff of black smoke. Before the songstress could react, Analise had notched her bow again and put an end to the lovely voice.  She checked Gilas over for any damage. Found none. Then hugged him to her. Gilas was safe and alive and all was well. Together they ran from the cabin, hoping to get the bark from the Tree as quickly as possible, they wished to go home.
Depending on where you begin our story, it’s a story about Gilas Stanton. A young boy pure of heart, he was the sunshine in his family’s life. Despite his innocence, Gilas always found himself in trouble, as if the divines themselves had granted him the curse of bad luck. Gilas loved pretty things, so maybe it was a cruel joke when our boy spotted a beautiful object among the decay of a fallen tree; the mushrooms concealing an object of shimmering colors. Despite his brain telling him to stay away, Gilas approached the object, his protector distracted. And wouldn't you have guessed that it was a small Anguis Dragon, well known for their lethal venom. The startled creature, upon seeing a possible threat, had lunged, constricting its small body around the boy’s neck and burying its fangs deep within his throat. Gilas cried out and as his sister took notice, her reflexes kicked in and she shot the dragon dead. But it was too late: Gilas was dying. He thrashed about, clawing at the bite, as if he could somehow remove the venom from his system. But to no avail. As Analise clutched her young brother’s body, Gilas attempted to say one last thing.
“Ana, I’m sorry. It was so beautiful,” his voice trembled with effort and his cloudy stare was directed to the sky, unseeing.
“Gilas it’s okay. Everything’s going to be okay,” promised Analise. The words were weak, even to her own ears.
“Tell mom I’m sorry for sneaking out. I never meant for this to happen,” he murmured. With his last words, our hero was gone; his goal unfinished and his wish of returning home unfulfilled. A pure and naive boy, he loved beautiful things. He just wanted to inch a little closer.
Arbor, always watching, had pulled away from his hiding place and offered to take Gilas home, it was the least he could do for the brave young boy. As he parted, he wished Analise good luck. Who knows how long our girl wandered through the forest? You nor I could make a guess. Analise wandered around, not living, only surviving. Eventually she came to what the Stanton’s had lost so much seeking: the Tree of Elis. It was enormous and so magnificent, it was beyond words. However, she did not expect a young man to be sitting in front of the Tree, blocking her from her path.
Depending on where you begin our story, it’s a story about Elis Tane. A man who had lived in a time long ago, had earned the favor of Lady Lutum. Their love was irreproachable. Malum, the God of Treachery, grew jealous of their intimacy, as he wanted Lutum for himself.
He struck Elis down in spite, and Lady Lutum made the decision to preserve her beloved by turning his body and soul into a tree, so he would never truly die. Eventually the Forest of Elis Tane grew as the Tree of Elis gives life to all and in return, all life returns to the Tree. Lutum bore a child with Amare, the God of Love, and appointed their son Puer to guard the Tree for eternity, only allowing those with pure intentions and love in their hearts to take from the Tree. 
Puer rested against the Tree. His eyes were closed and Analise could not decide whether he was meditating or sleeping. In an attempt to avoid confrontation, she crept silently forward to the tree, ready to pluck a strip of bark. As she reached out, her wrist was abruptly grabbed and she was pulled to the ground.
“Sit child. My name is Puer, I am the guardian of this place.” he opened his eyes and peered down at her with kind eyes. “Only one has made it as far as you have. Tell me child, why are you here?” And so she told him her tale of love and loss. Puer laid his hand on her shoulder as she finished and they sat in each other's company for quite some time.
Eventually he pulled a piece of bark off the tree and placed it in her palm, he told her he’d escort her out of the Forest himself. When asked why he would waste his time, he said: “Your love for your family is stronger than any, brave one. You have suffered a great loss, and still you carry on. I am honored to do this for you, as you are most worthy.”
Depending on where you being our story, it’s a story about love.  






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