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“There were once creatures that dwelled among the trees. They were a happy race, kind to all and utterly carefree. They called them the Forest Dwellers. Though they almost never came out of the forests, they left gifts for the villagers, such as fruits and woven creations. On summer nights, one could hear their joyful celebrations. A bard once called them embodiments of hope and light.
Yet there was one who was not filled with light. Kaytin, the Dark One. He couldn’t laugh with the others, and their games seemed pointless to him. Most of his time was spent in silence, a little ways away from the others. Perhaps he might have simply gone on living so, if he hadn’t had the misfortune of falling in love.
Idella had been chosen as the next queen, and all of the men sought her lovely hand. Kaytin fell completely in love with her, but his love was the sorrowful, watchful kind. It wrapped inside him like a snake, gradually consuming him. Finally, he dared to ask her, and though she was as kind as possible in saying no, it was a fateful blow.
Kaytin ran away and for years, the other Forest Dwellers believed him dead. That proved to be their downfall, for they never once dreamed of what happened next.
He eventually did return, but any remnant of light that may have once dwelled in him was now gone. Dressed entirely in black, riding a horse the color of night, he stormed their dwellings in the dead of winter, when the clouds covered the moon. So much pure blood was spilled that night, and though the smoke of the burning huts warned the villagers, they were too late to help the Forest Dwellers.
Now we don’t dare go into the forest, for no one knows where Kaytin is. His thirst for blood can never be quenched, and it is said that only a Forest Dweller can kill him. And yet, they are all dead, and so we must always be watchful, lest we be taken by surprise as well.”
My mother finished her story with a little bow of her head and then sat back to enjoy the warmth of the fire. The village children still sat around her feet, utterly captivated by the tale she had woven. Finally, after some nudging and whispering, one of them asked her, “Is that story…true?”
A few men, who sat nearby drinking ale, chuckled. “Merely a tale to keep you out of the woods.” Said one, and the children began to discuss this.
I looked at my mother, trying to read her expression. She had told me the tale countless times, growing up, and I had asked the same question several times. For some reason, she had never given me a direct answer, instead insisting it was past my bedtime, or that the cow needed milking.
“Eanna.” I was startled to hear her voice and realized that she was standing up now. “Come, my dear, it’s time we went back to our hut.”
As we slowly walked down the well-worn path from the Great Hall to our hut, I was aware of how my mother limped. Now that I was a young woman, it was all too obvious to me that she was growing old, and it scared me.
Just before we got to our hut, I heard footsteps behind us and smiled, knowing who it was. My mother went inside, saying, “Don’t be too long now.”
“Eanna!” The way he said my name, as though I were a lovely surprise every time, always made my heart patter just a little bit faster. I turned around and was caught in his strong arms.
“Rhys!” I said but his gentle kiss stopped me from saying any more. When we pulled away, I slipped my hand into his and we began to walk slowly.
“Only two more weeks, heart of my heart.” He whispered and I giggled a little, unable to contain my excitement. Other villagers smiled warmly at us as we passed.
We talked for a while and then he brought me back to my home. My mother and I ate a delicious soup and haphazardly discussed wedding plans. Finally, after clearing the dishes and sweeping up, I went to bed.
I was awakened by distant shouts and my mother urgently shaking me. “What? What’s wrong?”
“It’s him.” She said, her voice trembling. “It’s Kaytin!”
“What?” The tendrils of sleep were still wrapped around my mind and I struggled to understand what she meant. “Kaytin, the Dark Rider, that Kaytin?”
She grabbed my arm and pulled me from my bed. Quickly, she began throwing clothing into a small satchel. “Get dressed! Warmly! And wear your winter boots!”
Though I was still a little confused, I did as she said. It was just before dawn, cold and dismal. The shouts I had heard earlier were getting louder now.
My mother shoved the satchel in my hands and pulled me towards the entrance. After peering out, she said, “Eanna, promise me, do not come back here.”
“Mother?” I asked, fear winding around my heart. A scream made me jump and I could hear people running and calling for help. She pushed me outside and then faced me.
“Listen carefully, as there isn’t much time. That story, about Kaytin, it’s all true. Except I never told that Idella had a baby, a few months before Kaytin massacred them.”
“A…a baby?” I asked uncertainly, and half expected a baby to appear out of thin air. She grabbed me by the shoulders and shook me a little.
“Eanna, my precious girl, you are that baby! I found you in a basket by the edge of the forest, and Idella herself lay nearby, having bled to death. I knew that I had to raise you as a human, so Kaytin wouldn’t find you. But now he has and you must flee into the woods!”
It was all just too much to take in. Not only was I adopted, but I wasn’t even a human. For all it mattered, she could have told me I was actually a goblin’s child.
The screams and cries were horribly close now. “Eanna, you must flee!” She hissed. “You are the only one who can kill him, but that battle will not be today. Go!”
Roughly, she pressed a small metal object into my hand, and then she gave me one last hug before shoving me down the path. My feet began to move without my consent and soon I was running full speed towards the dark woods.
All my life, I’d been told to stay out of them, and as soon as I crossed from farmland to tall menacing tress, I understood why. Though the woods may have been beautiful when the Forest Dwellers were alive, they had become tangled and dead. Branches of all kinds stuck out at unexpected angles, tearing at my clothes and pulling my hair. Roots rose where they should have lain flat, and oozing moss was deadly to slip on.
Still, despite the menacing obstacles, I ran as fast as was possible. My lungs began to burn and still I ran, sure that Kaytin must know where I had gone. I didn’t know where I was running to but I just had to keep moving, had to hide, had to breathe.
Inevitably, I tripped over a root and went sprawling across the damp forest floor. A fallen branch sliced my arm open and I lay gasping like a fish. As blood began running into the leaves and moss, I suddenly saw spots, and then I heard an angry shriek, before losing consciousness completely.
“Eanna. Last of our kind.” A voice that seemed to drift around me kept speaking, and I finally opened my eyes. To my surprise, I wasn’t in the woods, or any other place I’d ever seen before. It hardly even seemed to be a place. I felt as though I were floating in a cavern of warm lights.
One of the lights drew nearer to me and then touched my face gently. “My daughter…my sweet little baby.”
My mouth dropped. “Idella?”
Laughter as soft as a cloud reached my ears. “That was my name, in the world of the living.”
I shivered, though this…place… seemed to have no temperature at all. “You’re…a ghost? Are all of these lights ghosts?”
Another light drifted closer to me. “Not quite ghosts. Only a human can become a ghost. The soul of a Forest Dweller is made of pure light, and if a soul of the dead can’t leave the world of the living, then it remains a light.”
The other lights, I noticed, weren’t perfectly still. Some shifted, as if restless. Others swayed only slightly.
“Why are all of you still here?” I asked. This caused all the lights to stir. The light that was once my birth mother quavered a little and said, “The Dark Rider didn’t just massacre us, Eanna. His sword was created with dark magic, and when anyone is struck down with it, it kills the body but chains the soul to this realm.”
“What?” I asked in disbelief, feeling tears well up in my eyes. “You’ve been trapped here all these years?”
“Only Kaytin’s death will free us.” Was the soft reply. The other lights calmed down and seemed to be waiting for me storm off to kill the Dark Rider right this very second. I frowned and wrapped my arms around myself.
“Look, I’m only a young girl! I’ve never had any sort of battle training. I can barely cook soup without it burning, let alone kill the chicken that goes in the soup. The Dark Rider is a grown man, with full experience in fighting. There’s no way I could ever defeat him.”
“He’ll hunt you down.” Said another light. I noticed that this one seemed to be just a shade darker than the rest, and the voice sounded very tired. “He knows there is one Dweller left, and as long as you live, he can’t rest.”
Slowly, this new light drifted towards me. “Who…who were you?” I asked in a whisper. The light shook a little, and then said, “Kaytin’s mother.”
The answer affected me more than it should have and I had to turn away from the light. “I’m sorry. But…I just can’t do it.”
All the lights began to float away from me then, farther and farther until darkness replaced them and I suddenly found myself back in the woods. It was late afternoon, birds singing all too cheerfully. Stiffly, I sat up and winced at the ache in my legs and the dull pain in my arm.
To my surprise though, the gash in my arm had be healed, with only a thin scar to show where it had been. Any other small cuts that I had received from my mad race through the woods were also healed. Slowly, I stood and stretched. As I did, I heard something fall and looked down.
It was the small metal item that my mother had given to me. I reached down and picked it up, examining it closely. It was an intricately detailed amulet with a chain running through it. The pictures etched into the surface showed what I assumed was a Forest Dweller, dressed in armor and carrying a spear. This surprised me, for I had never heard of the Forest Dwellers being warriors.
Shrugging, I slipped it over my head and began to look for something to eat. In bright daylight, the forest didn’t look as terrifying, but it certainly wasn’t welcoming either. Finally, after nearly an hour of searching, I found some berries and a mushroom that I really hoped wasn’t poisonous.
My stomach filled, I could think clearly again and I began to ponder my next movement. Surely once Kaytin had realized I wasn’t in the village, he had moved on and would be somewhere else now. So it had to be safe to go back to my home, if only for a little while.
It took me all day to find my way back. The woods were wild and unforgiving, with only a few indicators of where I had come from. The sun was just beginning to set when I crashed out of the trees and made my way to my village.
As soon as I reached the edge of it, I knew all was not well. The silence lay heavy like fog, and as I moved closer, a sudden stench hit my nose and I gagged.
I began to run deeper into the village and was horrified by the sight.
Everywhere I looked, blood stained the ground. Animals and people alike lay slaughtered and strewn about in a disorganized fashion. People I had known all my life now lay lifeless, eyes glazed over. In a daze, I walked among them all, hoping to find just one still breathing.
I reached my hut and cried out. In front of the entrance lay Rhys, a deep wound in his chest. I rushed to his side. My tears mingled with the blood as I held him gently, hoping against all logic that he wasn’t really dead. Memories flitted through my head, how we first met as children, the laughter, the wondering, and then falling in love with him. All my dreams of our marriage, of the children we would have, all lay dead with him now.
Trembling violently, I let go of him and stood, gazing at my hut. I knew who lay dead within, and I wasn’t sure I was strong enough to see her. After several minutes, I finally summoned enough courage and stepped inside my home.
It had been torn apart and one side had been badly burned. My mother’s bed lay in ruins, a few downy feathers still drifting through the air. Slowly, I walked around until I saw her still form, lying behind the curtain that separated my room from hers. Her throat had been slit, the dry blood having puddled all around her.
I don’t know how long I stood there, gazing at her fallen form. Memories barraged my mind until I felt completely numb and had to leave.
They were all dead, down to the last chicken, and it was because of me. One way or another, I had to avenge them; my village and the Forest Dwellers. Kaytin had to die.
The harsh cry of a raven startled me out of my raging thoughts and I looked around. Clouds were swiftly forming above me, threatening to let loose at any moment. Taking one last look at the destruction, I turned and began running back into the forest.
It didn’t take me too long to locate the remains of the Forest Dweller’s camp. Though the plants had grown over the ruins quickly, the coming of winter had caused many of the plants to wither back into themselves, revealing the charred remains of a once great camp.
Bones, picked clean, gleamed in the dying light, giving the entire place a horribly eerie feeling. Knowing that the spirits of those bones still remained in this life made me shiver violently and I tried to put it from my mind. A few dolls made of rags lay abandoned, as well as baskets of long ago rotten food. I could almost hear the screams of terror.
After some searching, I found what I was seeking. Weapons, most of them near piles of bones, lay ready to be used once more. Carefully, I ended up choosing a long, slim blade that had beautiful designs carved into it. A little awkwardly, I began practicing with it. I had often watched the boys in my village learning how to fight, but seeing and doing were two very different things, as I soon discovered.
Days went by. Kaytin either couldn’t find me, or was taking his time, which I was fine with. I foraged for late berries and cooked small animals that I trapped. I practiced with my sword, very clumsily at first but gradually learning. I still didn’t know how I could defeat a master like the Dark Rider, but something was certainly better than nothing.
I woke up that morning feeling tense and jumpy. A squirrel that scurried past me almost ended up getting sliced in half before I realized what it was. I knew that today was the day where I would most likely die.
Crows flew overhead, harshly calling out warnings. Slowly, I began to walk towards a clearing near the middle of the forest. A giant oak tree stood at one end, and I leaned against this, waiting for Kaytin to show up. Thoughts of my family, both birth and adopted, flitted through my mind. Though these thoughts made me sad for a moment, I took them and used them to strengthen my resolve.
Suddenly, without the slightest warning, he stood about ten feet away from me. With cold fear, I gazed at the one who had slaughtered everyone I loved. I was surprised by how human he still looked. No sign of guilt or grief showed on his face, which was flat and dead. His eyes were obsidian black, drawing the light out of all they saw, instead of reflecting it.
His hair, black as a raven’s wing, was pulled back in a low ponytail. All his clothes were black, down to the leather riding boots. Everything, except the paleness of his skin, which was white like a corpse.
“Last of the Forest Dwellers.” He hissed, the words coming through his closed teeth as though he was beyond speaking normally. “Child of the Queen.”
Only slightly, I nodded my head, standing up straight with my sword drawn and ready. “Kaytin, the Dark Rider, murderer of my family.”
One corner of his mouth raised in the mockery of a grin and he nodded. “All of them, dead, blood flowing into the ground like rainwater.”
“I’m going to avenge them.” I said, taking a step towards him. At this, he gave a low chuckle and raised the dark sword that I felt as if I knew well. It began to glow a faint dark color and I knew that it was pure evil.
The battle was a desperate one, his experience becoming quickly apparent against my few days of training. What made it worse was the way he laughed every time I slipped in the mud or barely managed to deflect his blows. Still, the rage I felt inside, the desire to free the souls of the Forest Dwellers, burned inside me, aiding me in my weakness.
Our fight lasted a long time. Rain began to fall at one point, making the ground even more slippery and harder to fight on. Kaytin dealt me many slight blows, individually insignificant but all together making me slow down in pain.
My strength was beginning to flag, yet Kaytin showed no sign of weariness. With a vicious laugh, he tripped me and I fell over, whirling around as fast as I could. My sword raised and as Kaytin reached for me, I sliced through his sword arm. With an animal like cry, he fell, holding the injured limb.
I scooted away from him and raised my sword again, bringing it down into his chest. This time, though, he didn’t cry out. To my horror, his sword arm somehow raised and passed through me.
As I felt the sword pass through my body, I looked right into his eyes and was completely shocked to see a tear running down his face. Even as I tried to understand what this meant, I felt something deep within me beg to be released, and with a cry, some sort of power flew out of me.
Suddenly, we weren’t in the woods anymore. We weren’t anywhere anymore. My body was gone, leaving me floating. Across from me was a dark form, and from it I could sense the deepest of sorrow.
“Please.” It whispered, moaning like a wounded animal. “I can’t…can’t go on.”
“Kaytin?” I asked, floating towards him a little. As I got closer, I could see that the form wasn’t actually all dark; only the outside was covered in darkness. Inside, at the core, was a weak light.
The dark form turned to me and tried to come closer, but it could hardly move. It appeared to be weighed down and in pain. “The sword….” It rasped. “I never wanted…to kill them all. I never wanted to kill….Idella. Oh, Idella, my sweet one.”
A sob came from the dark form, a sob that carried the most heartbreaking sorrow. “Kaytin…has the sword been controlling you?”
A harsh sigh was released. “I only wanted to be…be worthy of her hand. Be great and strong…but the sword was evil. It changed me, lived through me. I don’t want…revenge. I want to die. That’s been my only desire for years now.”
All at once, in my mind’s eye, I saw not the Dark Rider, the evil slayer, but a sorrowful young man only seeking love. I saw the pain when he realized what he had done, killing his family. I saw the tormented soul that longed to be free of this world, just like the other Forest Dweller spirits. And then I saw the sword, pulsing with the darkest power and viciously keeping Kaytin alive for its own bloodthirsty purposes.
The sword, though it was no longer in my body, was still somehow connected to me and I could feel it pulling my life from me. Yet somehow, my soul’s light was pulsing brightly, stronger with every beat. It began to take over the darkness that was emanating from the evil sword. Reaching out, I took the dark instrument in my ‘hands’, strands of light more than anything, and I lifted it up.
When I made complete contact with it, the darkness began to shrink away from my light. Though I was dying, the life force that I was losing seemed to ebb into the dark sword, changing its properties, cleansing it.
Kaytin was starting to fade away, becoming chained to the world he so dearly sought to leave. I raised the sword and came towards him. He whimpered and pulled away. “Please, no, if you kill me with that, it will keep me here forever!”
“Trust me.” I whispered, and then I stabbed him through the heart. He cried out and then the sword flashed brightly, blinding me.
When I next opened my eyes, I was lying in the clearing, my wound completely healed. I had expected pain as I sat up but there was nothing. The sun was shining, and though the forest didn’t visibly look different, it felt different to me. A sort of peace had settled over the dark woods, and I knew that the souls of the Forest Dwellers had been finally released.
Next to me lay Kaytin’s sword, only now it was pure white instead of black. The faintest glow emanated from it, and I could have sworn that I heard it humming too. Along the blade was an inscription.
From death to life, broken to beauty, restoring what was lost.
Death to life. If the inscription meant what I thought it meant, then this was the greatest thing that could happen. Picking it up, I began to run towards my village.
The corpses were mostly frozen in the mud, so the stench wasn’t so bad. I found a dead dog and after a moment’s hesitation, I stabbed it with the white sword.
Light covered the dead creature and suddenly it blinked, looking up at me in curiosity. I removed the sword and it stood up, stretching and shaking itself. Then it barked at me and began to pant, red tongue lolling out to the side.
With a cry of happiness, I began to work on every corpse I found and soon the air was full of sounds of laughter. Parents found their children and comforted them, though they themselves didn’t quite understand what was going on.
I had left two people for last, scared of the possibility of them not awakening. I went to Rhys first, kneeling down at his side. The wound in his chest made me shudder and I quickly stabbed the sword into him. Light covered him and his eyes, staring dead only a moment before, suddenly lit up and looked at me.
“Rhys!” I cried out and he sat up, the wound sealing as he did. I dropped the sword and wrapped my arms around him. He did the same and we held each other tightly, saying nothing for a few moments. Then he kissed me, softly, as though it was for the first time.
“You’re going to have to explain everything to me.” He said when I pulled away and stood up. I nodded, smiling happily.
“I will, don’t worry. But there’s one more thing I need to do.” Picking up the glowing sword once more, I made my way inside the hut to where my mother lay. Quickly, I brought her back and she sat up slowly, amazement on her face.
“Eanna, child. How…how am I alive?” She listened for a moment and then said, “The entire village, I can hear them. How is everyone alive?”
Carefully, I explained all that had happened. She remained silent the entire time, tears slowly running down her face as I concluded the story. Shaking a little, she took my hand and held it tightly. “My dear daughter, I’m so proud of you.”
Eanna the brave married Rhys, and they moved into the old home of the Forest Dwellers, determined to honor those that had gone before. Their children were raised in the old ways, for the blood of the Dwellers ran through their veins.
Life was brought back to that forest, and from that time on, the story tellers told the tragic tale of Kaytin the Broken, of how he had been controlled by evil, and how a brave maiden named Eanna saved him and her entire family.