THE WHITE FOREST
Upon first glance, the tall and imposing trees adorned with colorless leaves that danced to the rhythm of the howling night gave off an illusory warmth of welcome. One that slowly turned cold as the pathless and claustrophobic nature of the White Forest crawled across the skin of anyone that dared approach its entrance. The surreal and hypnotic sounds that oozed from its depths would stir the mind to their whims, as it was nearly impossible to tell whether they were real or mere illusions. Giving way to raw fear, fueled by the utter uncertainty of the forest’s true intentions.
Saffron, stood motionless under the gleaming moonlight that gently illuminated her ebony face with honey tinted eyes and dark curly hair. Hidden under her ragged green cloak, which served as little to no protection from the unrelenting cold that reigned over the long autumn nights. She starred deep into the colorless woods with great fear as she could feel them staring back with desires beyond her own understanding. Digging deep into the depths of her frail mind with the sole intention of uncovering all of her deepest secrets and fears in order to fuel them with life. A macabre and enigmatic gaze that proved to be strong enough to turn her own mind against her with deceitful thoughts that dragged her through literal hell on earth. Forcing her body to instinctively walk away as far as possible from that wretched place filled with the unknown. The thoughts of her beloved son were the only source of courage capable of stirring her mind away from the dark corner of imagination the forest had forced her into, so in midst of such profound distress, Saffron, decided to close her eyes while gripping at her son’s wooden necklace with all the strength a mother could find in the vastness of her heart to finally walk forward into the woods, for it was the last thread of hope left for them. Thus the long and terrifying venture into the White Forest commenced as its trunks and branches twisted in a sign of welcome for her long awaited arrival.
* * *
That forenoon, the entire town had been under the siege of a relentless storm, accompanied by countless growling thunders that shook the skies and illuminated the small and bleak houses scattered across the slums of Antiff. The calming smell of wet soil and the oddly calming sound of the rain had managed to soothe Saffron into finally getting some sleep. Several weeks had passed since she last enjoyed a peaceful night of rest. Sadly, this long sought peacefulness was cut short when she once again woke up at the strike of midnight. Unable to scream in a profound state of shock as her fatigued body trembled profusely due to the ghastly nightmares that flooded her mind with flashing images of the moonlight going through the small gaps found between the trees and dense foliage of the dreaded White Forest. These nightmares gave her small glimpses of what lied inside the mysterious depths of the forbidden woods, and would at times be companioned by a strangely familiar yet unrecognizable voice that called for her in a rhythmic manner that floated alongside the singing wind of the night. Her nights had been this way ever since she lost her parents to the unforgiving velvet fever that roamed throughout the entire north of the country. Throughout most of Saffron’s life her parents had been the only source of enduring support, since being a single mother in Antiff was a rare and frowned upon occurrence. The sight of a courageous and resilient mother scared both men and women alike, thus Saffron only enjoyed the company of her parents and her twelve year old son, Favian. His dark green eyes that perfectly contrast with his light brown skin and dark brown hair are a mixture of traits between his ebony mother and his caucasian father, who left many summers ago without leaving a single petty letter behind. His name hasn’t been mentioned in their home for years and it would continue to be that way.
Through a small window in her room, Saffron, wearily observed the few pigs, chickens, and sheep that strolled around her modest patch of land, where she also grew most of their sustenance in the form of rye and parsnip. The rain had already ceased at that point, and the slightest gleams of sunlight were enough to trigger the animal’s insatiable hunger, but the rain washed away the acorns that she and Favian had scattered across the soil the night prior. She saw this as an opportunity to distract herself from the tormented state her mind was in, so without the slightest hint of hesitation she decided to go out in order to take care of her chores, but not without first fixing the piece of cloth that served as an awkward patch over a small hole that breached the lower corner of the wooden wall right beside their fire pit. Once the cloth was in place it was time to head out and start the day with the right foot. She normally took care of the animals and crops with Favian, but he was still asleep with his red blanket tightly clutched in his arms, so she decided to leave him unbothered for a while and proceeded to grab the bag of acorns mixed with seeds to scatter them across the wet soil. The day breezed with very light rain and lingering traces of the unrelenting cold that had reigned during the night, providing an utterly serene sensation for a change. While inspecting the crops, she noticed a large portion of the rye was finally ready for harvest, which meant a fresh badge of bread was on its way. On top of that, the glimmering sight of a shiny pair of brown eggs caught the attention of her eye while collecting the harvest. They were lying on the ground beside the parsnips, and the only reason she noticed them was due to the rising sunlight that began to bless the land with its comforting warmth, something that livened her dire need of something to smile about.
* * *
Nearly an hour had passed by the time Saffron was finally done with her chores. The sheep took most of her time since they were the most valuable due to their wool and milk, although recently they hadn’t been producing any of the latter. Once she came back into the house, she was surprised to find Favian still asleep. The thought of waking him up entertained her mind for a short while, but instead she decided to head for town in order to buy some milk, since there was nothing Favian enjoyed more than bread and milk for breakfast. The town was approximately thirty minutes away by foot, a significant stride but she did it willingly in order to surprise her son with some fresh milk. She used to ride a small donkey whenever the need of visiting town came by, but she decided to sell it in order to buy a pig since winter was rapidly approaching and her crops wouldn’t be enough to feed them throughout the entire unforgiving season. Most of her neighbors were already taking care of their own patches of land by the time she decided to head out. She waved at them whenever eye contact was made, even though they would always respond in a demeaning and condescending manner since their wives frowned upon any interaction they had with a single mother who was supposed to be looking for a husband, when in reality she had no interest in bringing anyone else into her life with Favian. The petty antics of the people around her had stopped bothering her a long time ago, so she remained unbothered as her attention was now fixed on the beautiful blue sky that brought peace to her mind and body.
The large Christian cross that stood on top of the town’s arched wooden entrance casted a large shadow over its visitors, which Saffron used as aid from the now unrelenting sun that had been straining her for the last couple of minutes. After resting for a few seconds she then proceeded to walk through the unguarded gates of the town, to then make her way towards the market without letting any sort of distraction get in her way. Antiff, was usually filled with sleazy salesmen, drunken men and people going on about their business, but ever since the velvet fever struck it went from a vivid and busy market place to nearly resembling a ghost town. The commoners that had some sort of wealth to their name moved to the outskirts while the rich abandoned the north entirely once the wrath of the velvet fever killed hundreds of its inhabitants. Its most famous victim being the high priest of the church, who died in a haunting scene of seizures merely a week after contracting it. Only the poor that had nowhere else to go and a few members of the church stayed, since most thought it was a matter of time before the disease took them all and wiped the entire north off its life.
By the time she arrived at the market cow milk had been completely sold out, leaving the more expensive goat milk as her only option. Saffron, counted her coins and realized she didn’t have enough, so she begged the salesman to just take all of her coins for the milk, but he refused time and time again. He was well aware that in times of such need and uncertainty someone was bound to buy his milk at an elevated price. Their discussion was suddenly interrupted by the smell of burning wood, accompanied by the unwelcome bustle of a large group of people slurring at the top of their lungs. The salesman’s attention was drifted towards the loud slurs that seemed to be coming from the parish, a carelessness Saffron took to her advantage as she swiftly grabbed a bottle of goat milk from the stand and rapidly made her way out of the market, but not without first leaving her coins on the stand, for she was not to be taken as a petty thief. In just a few strides, she found herself out of the market and about to cross the main street of the town but she then noticed groups of people running towards the center of the town, where a large cloud of smoke could be seen from the distance. She was not curious by nature, but for some unknown reason she felt compelled to follow them and see with her own eyes what it was that drew everyone’s attention at such an odd time in the morning. Without even noticing it she was already on her way towards the big center of attention. The crowd’s noise and the smell of burning wood grew prominent as the source of all the fuss was just around the corner. Her mind boggled with anticipation, but nothing could prepare her for what she was about to witness. She reached the turn and saw a large fire behind a small wooden podium, where a conglomeration of people slurred at a woman dressed in a white gown as she sheepishly stood on the podium right beside a very heated priest.
“Filthy witch! Scum of the earth! Burn in hell!” Were some of the shameless slurs thrown at her as Saffron quickly realized she was about to witness the burning of a supposed witch. The proximity of the infamous White Forest to Antiff has been the cause of a cruel witch hunt that has tormented and persecuted the lives of hundreds of poor men and women for over a decade. Tales about the dreaded forest and the witch that lives in its depths are endless, and whoever approaches it is accused of witchcraft and consequently burned alive. Not a single one of those tales could explain the mysterious origins of The White Forest, as it had stood in its colorless and daunting self for centuries, long before Antiff was first built over a hundred years ago. The town was originally built in the vicinities of the forest for the use of its rich soil in the growth of numerous crops, and at plain sight the colorlessness of its nature was unlike anything human eyes had ever witnessed, thus making it worthy of veneration. For a long time, the inhabitants of old Antiff lived normal and sedentary lives with the presence of the forest, until a terrifying event took place thirteen years ago during the rise of a full lunar eclipse on an infamous winter night. Those who wanted the best view of the eclipse were reunited in the forest, since according to the tales the phenomenon could be perfectly seen from a small treeless spot in its interior. Everything about that night was peaceful and magical as it had always been, until it suddenly wasn’t. Once the eclipse ended, Antiff, was suddenly haunted by the screams and shrieks of its deranged inhabitants, who ceaselessly ran through the streets while clamoring for some sort of divine mercy to come to their aid in a whimsical spectacle of unimaginable madness. By sunrise, nearly half the population of Antiff had committed mass suicide. Many of the deceased were scattered throughout the town, while others could be seen hanging from the forest’s branches that were tightly tied around their necks like a wooden rope. That very same day the people of Antiff moved farther away from the now forbidden and cursed woods, and have tried to burn down the wretched place ever since, but a mere fire proved to be useless against such an imposing presence, for every single time the forest would vanish the fire in a magical explosion of colors. Ever since that day the inhabitants of Antiff have blamed the forest for all of their miseries, and some even claim the velvet fever to be a byproduct of its dark and corruptive nature.
* * *
“Alya Corth! You have been charged of befriending the witch of the forbidden forest. Numerous witnesses account to this, thus the church has found you guilty of witchcraft and treason to god...may he in all his benevolence have mercy on your soul as the fire will cleanse you off all sin,” the priest preached with great passion. The woman denied all accusations and begged for her life in a heartbreaking display of emotions. The priest began to firmly tie her hands and feet, for her wailful fate now lied in the scorching flames, where she would lament her entire life in the span of a few minutes. Her gown was then removed, leaving her completely naked for the people to shame her as rocks and rotten food were thrown at her. Saffron, had never seen a burning in her entire life because she had always lived in the outskirts of the city, only visiting it on rare occasions. All of her instincts were telling her to run away as far as possible when a sudden urge to vomit struck her senses, but even then her eyes were still fixated on the poor woman that now stood at the edge of the podium with her eyes closed in order to make her imminent death all the more bearable while bitter tears ran down her dirty and mistreated face.
“Burn!” both the priest and the crowd said in unison. Saffron’s ears were then sieged by the raw shrieks of the woman in all her pain and agony, causing her to fall down on her knees and weep her horrible death.
“Don’t you dare cremate me when I die….my body may be lifeless but my soul will suffer those flames, so promise me you won’t.” Were the dear words from Saffron’s father that came to her mind at that haunting moment. She truly regretted being unable to fulfill that promise to him since all those who died due to the velvet fever were cremated in order to avoid further contagion. Overwhelming dizziness took over Saffron’s head when trying to get back on her feet as the voice of her nightmares began to slowly crawl out of the darkest depths of her mind, releasing a strong feeling of coldness and desolation along with it. She managed to overpower the dizziness and without preamble ran towards the gate without looking back once; escaping from all the horrible emotions that place had made her feel.
Her mind was in such a lost state that the walk back home felt eternal. Every single sound along the way would startle her as paranoia began to eat her from the inside out. The sight of her home proved to be a source of relief since she couldn’t help herself from running towards it once it came into sight. Once in the naive safety of her home, she decided to light a fire in order to start cooking, which was yet another attempt at calming her distraught mind. In the process of lighting the fire she noticed Favian was still asleep. A truly strange occurrence since he had always been a very diligent child, who was eager to aid his mother with the daily chores of the house. Saffron, called for him several times but he remained totally unbothered, so she sat on the edge of his bed and tried to wake him up. An abrupt sense of crippling terror struck her heart when she gently caressed his hair and felt the burning fever that spread across his entire body. She exclaimed for him while shaking his body across the bed in pure desperation but Favian remained unconscious, with the only sign of life left in him being the slow beat of his heart. Without wasting a single second, Saffron, grabbed a piece of cloth, soaked it on cold water and placed it over Favian’s forehead. Unsure of what to do next and unable to stop her feeble legs from shaking as she felt like they could give up on her at any second, she decided to look for her neighbor, Anselmus, who was an animal doctor. His skills poorly translated to human anatomy but Saffron naively thought he would have a better idea of what to do. She reached his home and called for him for several minutes but he refused to come out. Saffron, even offered to repay his help with one of her animals, but he kept saying there was nothing he or any doctor could do to save her son. The rest of the neighbors began to gather outside their homes to meddle with Saffron’s affairs while she argued with the old man. In just a matter of minutes their venomous tongues were loose with hateful words about her and Favian. Desperation along with the feeling of everyone’s eyes viciously judging her every move destroyed all the naive hopes she had of receiving some sort of help, so she decided to sprint back home in order to place more soaked cloths on Favian’s forehead since there was nothing else she could do. The agonizing passage of time and the terrifying sight of her dying son made her feel utterly helpless. She had no options left and was being forced to face the death of the most beloved person in her entire life; something she couldn’t simply come to grips with. It was in midst of that despairing moment that her eyes noticed a dark wooden pendant on Favian’s neck. She felt thoroughly confused when staring at it because she felt like Favian had been wearing that very same pendant for as long as she could remember, but at the same time it seemed to be something completely new; a truly odd and confusing mixture of feelings. The sight of the strange looking garment stirred her mind towards the voice once again, but this time desperation made her ponder the possibility of searching for its source because the paranormal nature of it provided a sense of fantastical hope in a truly peculiar way. Saffron, continued to ponder on that thought after reminiscing the day prior to this tragedy. Favian woke up early in the morning to help with the crops and animals, shared breakfast with her and went on about his day. In the afternoons he would frequent the lake of the late King Arthur Klass, where Favian would fish for hours on end with the northern mountain range that had stopped numerous foreign invasion in the past as background. During the night he would often use the small hole on the wooden wall to secretly go in and out of the house without Saffron ever noticing so he could steal a few eggs from their hateful neighbors. The thought of him enjoying a normal and mundane day to then wake up with the breathe of death on his neck both angered and scared Saffron. A clash of emotions that gave her a newfound understanding on the unforgiving nature of death. Those thoughts were interrupted when she saw the sun was about to set and that nightfall was rapidly approaching, the perfect time for her to head out without the neighbors sticking their dirty noses into her affairs. Her mind was already made up on the idea that she would forever regret not giving it all to prevent death from taking the last piece of love and affection left in her life, so she grabbed her green cloak, carefully took off the pendant from Favian’s neck and placed it on herself simply because it exuded small glimpses of hope and courage into her heart. One last kiss on Favian’s forehead and she disposed herself to finally venture east towards the dreaded forest that patiently awaited her arrival.
The trees turned and twisted as a sign of welcome for Saffron to walk into the seemingly pathless and ever changing forest. Entering the source of endless tales felt like going into a place completely detached from reality. Her body felt like a feather floating through the air without a single burden to hinder her while her mind clouded with oneness once the nightmarish thoughts and images ceased and began to slowly merge into a melodic vibrance of both sound and color. The icy-cold and refreshing air of the forest cleansed her lungs and soul off all impurities with just a single breathe, as she then prepared to open her eyes to the jaw-dropping sight of an ethereal picture consisting of heavenly white gigantic trees that rose all the way up to what could only be described as heaven itself. These ancient trees shone with pure magical allure while perfectly contrasting with the dense and grayish foliage that filled the forest with vivid and captivating life. The external colorlessness of the forest proved to merely be the shallow surface of something truly ethereal in the middle of a seemingly mundane valley. The carvings on the wooden pendant began to shine with vivid colors and urged Saffron to keep on moving through the majestic woods, although walking felt utterly strange since it was nearly impossible to tell whether she was moving extremely fast or if her surroundings were in constant movement. While making her way across the soft and rich soil of the forest she saw and heard many things that submerged her into a completely surrealistic state of mind. Colorful humming birds, deers and foxes peacefully roaming through the woods along with glowing entities resembling human beings that walked and floated across the dense foliage, extending as far as the eye could possibly reach. Their laughs, murmurs and energy left colorful trails that remained long after they disappeared into the trees and bushes. A truly contrasting image reached her eyes when she raised her head and saw that many of the tree branches served as wooden looking ropes for many of those spirits to hang with odd grins across their faces. Saffron, was naturally frightened by such an unnerving picture, but at the same time she somehow couldn’t help but think that perhaps they found happiness in death, since they all carried colorful auras around them that alluded to warm feelings of serenity. Every single emotion could be humanly felt and seen in this magical place, but not everything was completely rosy because the more she traveled through the forest, the more questions emerged, and so far not a single answer could be reached. The seemingly endless questions equally represented the equally endless pristine woods as Saffron began to lose all sense of time and direction. Completely Unable to tell whether she had been traveling for a few minutes, an hour, or an eternity. Even her memories were being affected after feeling like all she ever knew had been rooted down to the forest itself. No matter how hard she tried to track down each and every single one of her memories they all ended up having one common origin: The White Forest. This bizarre effect compelled her to question her own reality down to the smallest detail, and in midst of such ambivalence, Saffron, reached a large clearing, where the moonlight graced the rich soil with no trees to stand between them. She took a moment to ease her mind with hopes that the clearing and the peaceful moonlight would give her a much needed break from the forest’s intense nature in order to continue following the pendant’s guidance, but at that point she had merely experienced the beginning of what the forest had in store for her. When she raised her head to look at the sky her eyes were surprised by the image of a fully eclipsed moon reigning over the night sky, filled with endless shining stars that only added to the surrealistic beauty of a truly mesmerizing and bizarre view. Saffron, was frozen in place as she found herself grasping for a sense of reality that would ground her back into her own mind, but reality had been distorted to the extent of being completely unrecognizable. Her perception of the world had been so thoroughly altered that the only option left was to continue traveling through the forest without the slightest sense of direction to aid her. The thought of Favian was the only thing keeping her from breaking down into a messy puddle of uncontrollable tears. So much was happening at once that she barely had the chance to properly process any of the things her body and mind were experiencing, only adding to the utterly distorted passage of time. Fortunately, she reach a second clearing, where she wearily fell on her knees at the loss of all her strength. This time she found herself on top of what seemed to be a very old grave covered in a large variety of colorful flowers. She quickly stood up in order to leave the tomb undisturbed and stumbled on the edge of a small pond surrounded with hundreds of beautiful white flowers that contained gleaming black pearls as center pieces. The water in the pond was pitch black and filled with small shining objects that resembled celestial bodies. Saffron, slowly reached her hand towards the marvelous pond and submerged it in the dark substance. It certainly did not feel like water whatsoever for it was slightly denser and heavier. She could not help herself from marveling at the liquid and its luminaries that flowed down from her hand and back into the pond. Child-like intrigue took control over her to the point she didn’t even notice the night sky was now longer being illuminated by a full lunar eclipse, but a crescent moon. She would’ve continued to interact with the pond but her amusement was suddenly cut short by the arrival of a stranger.
“The universe in a pond,” a masculine voice calmly said from behind, startling Saffron into hastily turning around to face it. The voice came from a relatively tall man wearing a dark blue cloak that reflected the moon light when exposed to it. He seemed to be paying tribute to the grave and gave off quite the impression since every single tale mentioned a witch, but not a sorcerer, so naturally Saffron was thoroughly surprised to find a man roaming in the heart of the forest, although he most certainly looked mysterious and oddly alluring.
“I did not mean to disturb it, I’m very sorry,” she said with clear embarrassment on her face. “I-I’ve come for help...my son needs aid, he’s-.”
“The velvet fever, I am well aware,” he snapped without conveying the slightest trace of emotion.
“You must be a sorcerer then, please help him...I will do whatever it takes, no matter the toll,” she implored.
“I know you would, but all I can do now is guide you towards a better understanding of it all, for you are the only one that can save him.” Carrying himself with a calm demeanor as he slowly walked towards Saffron, who contemplated him with every step he took.
“There is nothing I can do,” Saffron stated as her voice carried a cruel sense of honesty, “that is why I have come to this damned place….it has been calling for me night after night.”
“It has, and that is why you must listen.” He got closer to Saffron and crouched by her side. “There is much you can do once you embrace and understand the forest,” he insisted as Saffron took a slight step back, unsure of what to make of his words and intentions, even though she was well aware that all her hopes revolved around him, and Favian was most certainly running out of time.
“Why can’t you just help me?! He’s weak and on the verge of death...I beg you.” Tears began to run down her cheeks once Favian’s cruel fate seemed inevitable due to the man’s unwillingness to help.
“Believe me, I know what he is going through better than anyone, but only you and the forest can save him now, so you must begin to understand its nature, because the White Forest acts in mysterious ways, and only shows itself to those willing to understand.” He then extended his hands and submerged them in the dark pond. Revealing the numerous ink patterns scattered across his arms while Saffron tried her hardest to read between his words since she struggled to figure out the reason why something about his demeanor made him come across as utterly familiar and well-intended. A feeling well beyond her own understanding, but she decided to trust her gut and listen in order to understand. The man took her silence as a sign of consent in order to go on, and so he did.
“This small pond is the living heart of the forest, and the whole universe can be found roaming in its depths.” Shortly after those words his tattoos illuminated in a large array of colors that gracefully combined with the whiteness of the forest and the extensive variety of beautiful plants and flowers scattered across the meadow.
“How can it possibly hold everything?” Saffron then glanced over the pond in order to get a closer look.
“It doesn’t just hold it all, since this is where everything was born…from every single truth and lie to all the kings and peasants that ever lived, that is why the peace of spirit found in these woods is truly unmatched.” The respect and admiration he had for everything around him was evident, but Saffron didn’t fully share his view of the forest just yet.
“Then why is it so horribly tormenting and hellish from the outside?” she naturally asked as the memories of the haunting aura the forest conveyed in the outside were still fresh in her mind.
“It is a way to banish the weak of spirit,” he preached the same way a priest would. “The forest can be truly overwhelming for the human soul due to the raw energy bound to its core. Energy that you would normally call magic or witchcraft, but it goes beyond any human given concept, because magic is not born from a mundane set of spells and enchantments as it is commonly misunderstood…no, magic is an invisible force well above the natural perception of our senses, so we are only able to witness it once it is combined with nature itself. This force is so pure that nature attaches itself to it and thus become one, giving birth to The White Forest and what we call magic.” He then took his cupped hands out of the pond and slowly raised them towards the sky, but the pond’s essence refused to naturally pour down and remained on his hands. In a matter of seconds the colors that flowed through his tattoos doubled in intensity and the essence on his hands began to levitate in a circular manner until it formed a floating ring of black matter. Saffron’s undivided attention was now fixed on the extraordinary levitating ring as she simply could not believe her eyes; even after all the extraordinary things she had witnessed so far the sight of man wielded magic was something to behold.
“How can you wield this magic if it is not born from humans or spells?” she asked with great enthusiasm and curiosity.
“Your mind, body, and soul must enter-twine with the universe for you to wield this energy, and that is only achieved when you understand all aspects of its nature.” Manipulating the ring with the sole movement of his hands. “That understanding can be difficult to achieve since magic’s effect is not limited to the realm of the observable, for even time is manipulated by it.” Followed by a long pause for Saffron to process everything he was saying as the wind brushed the meadow and the trees that surrounded the clearing. “Why do you think you have witnessed two completely different night skies? One with a full lunar eclipse and another with a crescent moon. It is not an illusion, both are real and they are both occurring during two completely separate points in time, yet you perceived both of them during the same night. Our sense and understanding of time is entirely dismantled here because magic disrupts and reveals its true nature. Just like the spirits you saw before, time can also be found wandering in all directions throughout this entire forest.” Saffron, took a few seconds to ponder on the mind-bending idea that the forest had no definite past, present or future while staring at both the levitating ring and the crescent moon that could be perfectly seen through the middle of the ring from her angle. The inside of the strange dark substance contained stars, moons and planets that inherently flowed with it, and if she focused long enough she would at times be able to see small glimpses of her own life scattered among the magnificent celestial bodies, as if she and everything around her was deeply embedded to the pond itself; maybe this small pond indeed held the entire universe along with all its secrets and mysteries.
“How can this place remain pure after being stained by so many deaths?” Saffron asked after reflecting on his words and remembering those victims of the mass suicide thirteen years ago and that continue to hang from the trees to this day. A question that brought palpable tension to their conversation, as the man’s body language suggested those words had bothered or at the very least disappointed him.
“We are brought into a mysterious world where death is the only certain outcome, and yet people refer to it as sorrowful and forbidden, when in reality it is part of a natural cycle,” he said in an oddly condescending manner, followed by a long pause in which he seemed to be carefully thinking about what he was about to say next. “The forest’s influence is at its peak during celestial alignment on a full eclipse, and that influence more often than not proves to be far too powerful for the human soul, because it momentarily fulfills our essential longing for inner peace and happiness, submerging us into a serenity so absolute that life after it becomes dull and meaningless, thus encouraging the obsessive pursuit of its lasting trail and inevitably converts that very same peace into a burden that most cannot bear to carry.” Words that emphatically conveyed his condescending view on human mortality.
“So it is a never ending cycle of being so close that you can savor it, yet so far from actually obtaining it....there is nothing crueler than such a miserable and illusory fate,” she said with sad and lost eyes as she couldn’t possibly think of a worse way to die.
“Most prefer to die in midst of such profound happiness than going back to their former lives, and the forest heeds their wishes....for what it’s worth, I truly regret it came to that.” His words were followed by a shooting star that could be seen traveling through the night sky, although Saffron paid no attention to it due to the sadness that now encumbered her as the secrets of the forest continued to unravel.
“Life is too precious for people to be stripped from it in such a cruel way and still be called natural....and the only reason you say that is because you don’t esteem humanity.” Saffron said, showing her clear disagreement with the man’s view on mortality. Her morals encouraged her to believe death ought to be viewed as the final stroke of a beautifully crafted painting, for no artwork should be left unfinished. The man then removed his hood in order to finally show his face to Saffron. Revealing his battle scarred, light skinned face with light grey eyes that seemed to have lost their vision a long time ago. Something that surprised Saffron since he moved around without the slightest sign of difficulty. If it weren’t for his numerous scars Saffron would think he was in his mid-twenties, but they made him appear to be much older.
“You shouldn’t esteem it any higher than me,” he hissed, followed by a small pause to adjust the sleeves of his cloak. “I may not know much about the outside world anymore, but I’ve witnessed just enough to become wary, and I know perfectly well who I was before all this and who I am now.”
“Who are you then?” Saffron asked without taking her eyes off his face while he took a deep breathe before answering, as it seemed to be quite a especial question for him.
“I was a poor boy from Antiff, a loving son and a survivor in virtue, but now before you stands a man that has lived many lives and witnessed the beauty of the forest’s magic along with humanities most despicable face, so when time came to decide where I stood, I chose the forest and will always do so.” Those final words managed to frighten Saffron since it was the first time throughout their entire exchange in which she felt palpable animosity coming from him, but she had to keep on digging for answers. “I promise everything will make sense eventually, but now it’s time for you to embrace the forest, and when you do just know that it will be willing to help...at a price, but it won’t be anything that you’re not willing to pay, of that I am sure.” He told Saffron before she had the chance to ask another question and proceeded to pluck one of the white flowers that surrounded the pond to then hand it to her, who stared at him with utter confusion. “Eat it and drink the pond’s essence,” he said in a gentle manner. Saffron, was hesitant at first as her mind pondered on the bizarre request she had just been given, but she stopped herself from overthinking and did as she was told. To her surprise, the petals tasted like honey fresh out of a beehive while the black pearl in the middle of the flower contained a tasteful mixture of herbs that mixed perfectly well with the sweetness of the petals; by far the most exquisite fusion of flavors she had ever tasted. The man then told her to cup her hands, so she heeded his words and cupped them in the air without any idea of what to expect. Just a few seconds later the ring of levitating matter began to pour back into the pond, leaving just a small piece of levitating matter that slowly levitated into Saffron’s hands. She contemplated the dark substance for a few seconds, trying to figure out what was about to happen, along with the repercussions that could come from drinking such a strange thing, but if this strange ritual gave her a chance at saving Favian then that was the only thing that truly mattered to her. The taste of it in no way resembled its strange appearance, although she couldn’t relate the taste to any known flavor, but it felt like drinking fresh water after a long and exhausting day. After finishing off the last drop she could sense a cold feeling coming from her chest that eventually expanded throughout her entire body and made her feel one with the forest and everything it encapsulated. Her mind was finally at ease as her thoughts and consciousness began to slowly fade away to the slow rhythm of the howling wind. It was a matter of seconds before completely falling unconscious, but then she laid her eyes on the wooden pendant.
“The pendant...what is it?” she asked after laying her back on the soft meadow, giving her the chance to have a last look at the night sky before losing all trace of consciousness.
“One of the three symbols of guidance...you already consumed the other two.” Were the last words she heard before everything turned pitch black.
Saffron, felt at the whim of the forest’s influence after opening her eyes to a void of total darkness, where the only source of light came from a translucent orb the size of a human head. The carvings on the surface of the pendant were now filled with multiple flowing colors as it reached for the orb that seemed to have a great power of attraction over it. Saffron, took it off her neck and saw that it had a small inscription on the back that was now visible due to the colors that flowed through the carvings. ‘I am, therefore I was and will always be,’ the inscription read. Words that resonated with what the man said about the nature of time in the forest, and that clearly held a deep connection to everything around her since the orb began to rotate in a speeding and clockwise manner after she read it aloud. Her eyes were fixated on the inside of the magical orb as it started to show blurry figures that only got clearer the faster it rotated. Just a few moments later, the nearly indistinguishable figures turned into detailed moving illustrations that showed Saffron during different stages of her life. From her own birth to the very same day she entered the forest, along with many more glimpses of events that didn’t make much sense without proper context because they appeared to be in her future. Mind blowing displays that were also accompanied by the sound of her voice during seemingly random points in time as it echoed across the infinite void of darkness. For once, everything began to slowly gain thin strings of sense, for enlightenment is often found in the strangest and most extreme of situations. The illustrations then turned into displays of Favian’s wondrous and perplexing future, along with small glimpses of her long forgotten husband’s unforeseen destiny. Breathtaking imagery and events she could’ve never magined reflected on her wide open, watery eyes that could finally see the whole picture in front of them with the newfound knowledge of what the forest asked from her in order to save Favian.
“Do you accept this offing?” an ancient voice whispered in her ears.
“I do,” she firmly answered while reminiscing on her life and that of everyone she ever came across, for now everything she had lived could be seen under a completely different light that managed to bring out all the little details she ever missed. After accepting her offing the orb’s rotation accelerated to the point its core grew exponentially, barely giving Saffron any time to prepare for the massive implosion of energy and light that disintegrated her in an instant and continued to expand throughout the emptiness of the void as her memories were scattered across the endless space with the birth of light.
The familiar smell of burning wood and cooked fish welcomed Saffron back to the safety of her home. She tried to open her eyes but they were still sensitive to the light and needed some seconds to adjust, but she was able to spot the silhouette of someone walking around the house in front of a red hue that couldn’t be anything other than their fire pit.
“Favian?” she muttered while trying to get up from bed with a heavy and drowsy mind, heavily burdened by the knowledge she now possessed. It was at that moment that she was met by a set of little arms that gave her a tight and lasting hug. She was immediately filled with the purest form of relief and happiness as the sight of his endearing young face with short messy hair and big green eyes compelled her to jump out of bed while holding him in her arms.
“Please don’t leave me ever again,” Favian cried.
“I’m here now,” Saffron whispered into his ear with a heavy heart.
“I fed the animals and watered the crops...I also made cooked some food,” he said as Saffron kissed his forehead nd handed the pendant back to him for it would play a crucial role in his life.
They both enjoyed the eggs and fish with some leftover bread while Favian told her about the dream he had before waking up from the fever that nearly took his life. He could not remember every single detail but at first he was swimming around a dark and bottomless ocean filled with luminary stars and planets, until an imploding star dragged him into a dark void, and subsequently woke up in front of a colossal white tree with leaves of every single color imaginable. Its trunk had three strange sigils along with the words, ‘I am, therefore I was and will always be,’ engraved on its surface, and one of the three sigils reminded him of the wooden pendant. Saffron, instantly recognized the dark ocean as the universe in a pond, and the sigils could very well be the three symbols of guidance, but the massive tree with colorful leaves thoroughly vexed her since she saw nothing like it in the forest, which only proved that even after being completely overwhelmed by the experience she had merely grasped the shallow surface of the forest’s secrets. The memory of it all was still fresh in her mind so she wanted to share everything with Favian, but decided to give it a rest in order to enjoy the moment they were having. Favian, then confessed he had been terrified ever since he woke up to a completely empty house where his mother was nowhere to be found. Reminding him of the day his father simply vanished into thin air, but he refused to think Saffron would do that to him as well, so after tending to the plants and animals he decided to head out in order to look for her. He even asked the neighbors for help, but all they did was stare at him with scornful eyes from the inside of their homes, refusing to answer any of his questions or even come out of their houses as if Favian were some sort of abomination. Even after such a discouraging day he managed to fill his own mind with fantastical hopes of seeing her back home once he opened the door, but his nerves prevented him from even going in, so he remained in front of the door for several minutes. Those hopes were instantly shattered once he entered the house and was received by a terrifying sense of emptiness that instantly watered his eyes at the thought of being abandoned by the last loved one in his life as he slowly made his way towards the fire pit, when his eye suddenly caught the glimpse of a figure lying on Saffron’s bed. He instantly turned to face it and there she was, lying on her bed facing upwards with the only sign of life being her steady breathing, and she would remain in this state for several hours to come. Dusk arrived and she still refused to wake up from her deep slumber while Favian anxiously walked back and forth without the slightest idea of what to do, but then as the lasting trail of a shooting star could be seen across the red sky the sound of her feeble voice finally graced his ears, lifting off the turmoil of emotions that had managed to drown his spirits.
They were almost done with their supper when a sudden knock on the door startled them. It was already dark outside so no one ought to be looking for them at that time, but Saffron stood up and opened the door.
“So-sorry to bother you at this time....we just wanted to see if you were both alright.” The neighbor stumbled through his words while trying to get a proper look of the house’s interior. Saffron, was most definitely confused by the newfound concern her neighbors had for their wellbeing since they all refused to even spare a mundane greeting for them, and now he went through the trouble of coming to check on them. Something about it all definitely felt off.
“No need to be concerned about us, we’re fine...good night.” She shut the door close and immediately told Favian it was time to get some sleep. Easier said than done since a whole hour of lying in bed had past by and she was still unable to get the neighbor off her mind. She couldn’t help but think there had to be a hidden and ill tended reason for such action, especially because the orb showed her the outcome of her offing, but it did not show her how it all go down. These thoughts prevented her from finding any sort of peace and allowed a primal feeling of dread into her subconscious that slowly devoured her mind until she couldn’t take it anymore. They had to get as far away as possible from that house, for she couldn’t bear to spend another second in that place. It was at that moment of heightened perception that the dead silence of the night was interrupted by the sounds of steps on mud, along with the unnerving company of malicious murmurs. Saffron, quickly grabbed their cloaks and when she turned around to see through her window, the shilling sight of multiple shadows trying to get over the fence froze her blood.
“We have to go!” she told Favian, who got up in an instant while being both frightened and thoroughly bewildered.
“Burn these preachers of the Devil!” a familiar voice yelled from the outside, followed by dozens of blazing torches being thrown into and on top of the house. In a matter of seconds the place they once called home looked like nothing short of a hellish nightmare. “What a sin to use witchcraft to cure your ill son!” The priest continued to preach as the house began to collapse in a twisted spectacle of self-righteousness, and soon only the dark and lifeless ashes would remain. Desperation took over Saffron once she realized there was no way out of that crumbling house as it became harder to breathe in midst of all the fire and smoke, but she then felt her hand being pulled by Favian, who guided her towards the wooden wall right beside their fire pit. He pointed at the hole in the wall which Saffron had covered with a small piece of cloth. It was big enough for Favian to crawl thorough but quite the impossible feat for Saffron so they both began to repeatedly kick the wall until the wooden planks broke apart. Allowing them both to crawl underneath and escape the scorching fire, but not unscathed since the flames caught onto the wooden wall and were able to burn Saffron’s right leg. The cold night quickly rendered their cloaks useless as they ran east towards the only place Saffron thought to be safe, and it didn’t take long for the revolt to follow them with their spine-chilling torches and weapons. “You cannot escape divine judgement!” the priest shouted from the distance as Saffron and Favian ran without glancing back, in hopes that they would be able to reach the forest before their persecutors caught up to them. The idea of the forest being the only place where they could be safe truly concerned Saffron, but it seemed that it would come to that since the revolt was restless in their intent to hunt them down in order to cast a heavenly punishment upon them. Favian, couldn’t help but be far more concerned for his mother’s wellbeing than his own, since it was apparent she wouldn’t be able keep on running for much longer due to her injured leg as the pain would slowly begin to settle. The truth was that the pain had been unbearable ever since the flames burned her flesh, but she had to keep on going, not for her own sake but for Favian’s. In her mind nothing else other than his survival mattered, and that drive grew stronger once the dreadful forest was finally in sight. She could feel her soul and mind trying to tear her body apart in order to finally reach their destination that promised to soothe her pains for once and for all. It was at that despairing moment that she felt a stinging and visceral pain on her back that forced her legs to give up right in front of the tall and imposing trees. Favian’s heart skipped for a second once she saw an arrow pierced on the middle right side of her back. He quickly got down to his knees and tended her wound.
“We are so close!” he shouted in desperation, as time the revolt was just a few hundred meters away.
“I am so sorry Favian...but have you have to go,” Saffron muttered in tears, but there was no chance he would ever leave her behind. Favian wasted no time and broke the arrow’s shaft so it was easier for him to drag her into the forest, where he laid his back on a tree trunk while Saffron laid on his torso. He couldn’t help himself from crying in midst of it all as he gently caressed her hair with tears falling down his cheeks and onto her face. “You have to go....I know it is not easy but nothing in this life ever is, so you have to get used to it because great things await you my son,” Saffron said while clutching onto Favian’s hands as he continued to hold her tight in hopes that their persecutors would not dare enter the forest.
“Do not let them avoid god’s judgement! What would that make of us? As his loyal servants we cannot allow those who dance with the Devil to go unpunished.” The priest told the rioters who thought twice before entering the dreaded White Forest. “Do not fear my fellow brothers and sisters! We will most certainly go unscathed by the evils that dwell in this unholy place for we are carrying out god’s deeds!” he insisted. Those words managed to spur three men into blindly entering the forest, whereas the others decided to remain on the outside. Favian, saw the three approaching men as reapers coming to take her beloved mother away from him.
“No! Get away from her!” he pleaded in the most heartbreaking and sincere tone as he saw the three approaching men as reapers coming to take her beloved mother away from him. “Do not dare lay a finger on her!” He could feel a cold and strange feeling gripping at his heart, one that escalated in intensity the closer they got to them. “She is going to die anyway...you killed her,” he whispered in such a low tone that only the forest could hear him...and oh did it listen. The pendant suddenly lit up in a large spectacle of colors that stunned the men in place as Favian’s eyes turned icy white before casting them asunder. “You all killed her!” Were the last words they heard, for what followed were nothing but deafening shrieks of the most vivid and agonizing pain imaginable. The hearts of the three men spontaneously combusted into a ball of blue flames that scorched them from the inside out. The flames could even be seen coming out of their mouths as their eye balls began to melt and pour down their petrified faces. It didn’t take long for them to die, but for how shortly they suffered they sure suffered greatly, while the rest of the revolt ran back to Antiff as fast as they possibly could. Favian, was then left with the cold company of the forest, his eyes still fixated on the incinerated corpses that laid in front of him as they slowly dimmed down to their original dark green iris. “We are safe,” he sobbed while naively expecting Saffron to answer back. “Mother, we are safe now...we are safe now,” he insisted once he found himself both physically and emotionally incapable of laying his eyes on his already cold mother, hugging her as hard as he possibly could, as if doing so would prevent her from abandoning him. “Please....please!” With bitter tears running down his terrified and mournful little face. He remained there with Saffron in his arms for so long that he lost track of time. Long enough for the moon to be replaced with the rising sun of the morning that hugged him with its gentle and soothing warmth. And with the rise of the sun also came a familiar figure dressed in a dark blue cloak. Favian recognized him as the man that gave him the pendant, so he took it off and handed it back to him, but he refused.
“Yours or mine...it makes no difference.” He then grabbed Favian’s hand and held it with sincere and heartwarming compassion. “Come, help me bury our beloved mother.” Favian pulled his hand back and stared at him.
“Our?” he asked as he was still too young to fully understand who it was that stood in front of him. The man answered with a simple nod and then proceeded to place his hands beneath Saffron’s lifeless body in order to gently pick her up from the soft soil of the forest, but he wouldn’t do it without first having Favian’s consent, which was given with a single nod back. The man then stood up with Saffron on his arms as Favian followed close by.
“Where will we bury her?” Favian asked.
“In a very special place right beside the universe itself.” Favian didn’t fully understand what he meant but his intentions sounded pure, so he couldn’t help but have half a smile after hearing those reassuring words, even though he could still feel his heart aching in loss and lusting for revenge. “Do not worry...they will all pay, for that vengeful fire that burns deep in your heart will cast the world asunder.” Vindictive words of forthcoming, accompanied by the shrilling wind of The White Forest that carried the ancient whispers of creation, ‘I am, therefore I was and will always be.’