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“And what of these trees?” the young man inquired, pointing to the ink stained
map.

“Ah, that be the Fengrim Forest” the old man responded, sipping from his pint,
“You’ve got no business going there.”

“Well that’s where you’re wrong, sir. You see I have a good friend waiting for me
here,” he moved his clean hands upwards to a marking, “I’d really like to take the fastest
way possible.”

“Fengrim is far from fast, lad,” his eyes glazed over, “Far from it indeed…”

The young man frowned, glancing up at his elder’s hardened face. A spell had
come over his eyes, and there was little but dark pupil left. The pub seemed to quiet
slightly in his solemn absence, and the same shadow that passed over his face threatened
the room.

“You’d be much better off going around.”

“Please, sir,” continued the boy, “I’m well armed. What’s the fastest way through
this forest?”

“Ah!” the man took a deep breath, trying to regain his earlier drunken happiness,
“the fastest way through, eh?”

“Yes sir, the very fastest”

“Well ol’ Fengrim there ain’t been populated since the days o’ the Narrows”

“…And?” the boy enquired, a hint of annoyance

“Well, that ol’ Hastings was never in the business of buildin’ roads, was ee?”,
mocked the old man, “Ye’d be hard-pressed to find a simple trail in them woods.”

“Sir, you said you could help me with this map” the boy changed his tone, “Are
you wasting my time?”

The man blinked out of his daze and looked up at the boy. His stare was more
than comprehension, it was supernatural. The contrast between wrinkled scarred features
and young blue eyes was fantastic, and the young boy felt compelled to look away, even
in his moment of arrogant confidence.

“Boy,” the man began, not a hint of alcohol in his voice, “would you like to hear a
story?”
The young one hesitated, split between deathly curiosity and infantile
recklessness, “Actually, no. Thanks for your time.” Deciding to retain his youth, he
pushed out his wooden stool with a creak and made to leave.

“It was forty-four years ago, I was last in Fengrim,” began the old man with a
loud start, “I was with me father.”

The young man stood for a moment in a half-standing position, deciding whether
or not manners were worth the effort. He appeased the old man and sat back down.
Taking a mouthful of poison, the man continued.

“Me father needed lumber for something’ er other, and like you he didn’t think
much o’ Fengrim” He slurred his words together slightly, as if they were getting
progressively more difficult. “We took a short trip down the hills right to the edge of thee
forest. He’d been warned by some locals to at least bring some protection, so there I was,
not only eleven, with a hatchet in my hand and the world in me eyes”

What was before a banging tavern was now dead silent, and though the other
regulars kept their eyes everywhere but this table, their ears were performing the
complete opposite. The stools were as packed usual on a half-moon night, and as eerie as
one too.

“Now let me tell you about the forest isself,” continued the man, “You ain’t never
seen a place so terrible. These trees, if yeh could call ‘em that, are black as night. Don’t
ask me why my father took us to this place fer lumber, as the trees wouldn’t come down
for fifty men, let alone one and a half. All we could get out of em was some thick red
tree sap which came running out of the bark with each attempt at timber. Y’aint never
seen a tree look so gruesome, with its gory bleedin’ trunk soakin’ the wet dirt, and its
stringy sharp branches clingin’ to the misty blue sky. It’s like a thousand black fingers
clawing upwards at something they jus’ can’t reach.”

The man paused, looking back towards the map at the spidery scrawl marking
Fengrim. His gaze steadily grew more intent, shadowy finders dancing in his eye’s
reflection.

“ -- and what happened?” the young one brought him back to present.

He was slow to start, and his voice had redefined itself in the short intermission,
“Them bloody trees be the least of your worries out there in Fengrim.”

The respectful silence returned, and dozens of people waited for this man to finish
his gulp of liquor.

“We were headin back empty handed when we came across it, right on the barrier
or the forrest, the tree’s end.” his look was more painful than ever, “a terrific creature, jet
black, but whiter than any other where it wanted to be. It’s teeth…it’s teeth were the
only thing whiter than it’s pale curdled eyes.”

“What was it?” the recklessness asked.

“Well we started to run, never havin’ even heard of such a creature, and when it
noticed us breaking for the clearing, it copied.” He paused. “I remember the way it ran,
human-like, but on all fours. Like it was pulling the ground out from beneath isself.”

“Was it a -”

“ - It caught Pop a dozen feet from the clearing, breaking his legs with jus’ one
swipe. I didn’ notice until I made it out of the forest, and he wasn’t beside me anymore.
I turned around to see this thing mauling my old man, those bright teeth around is’ neck.”
The old man’s eyes took a sparkle in the candlelight, making his blue younger than
before, “That thing tore is’ limbs off, carried is’ chest off to the woods, barely taking any
notice of me.”

He took a dramatic sniff, an even more dramatic swig.

“An’ I remember,” the drunken old man continued, “en’ I looked past the
twitching remains, the forever staring face of my dad, I could see the scarlet red trunk of
the tree we tried to chop, still dripping down isself.”

The man ended his tale teary eyed, slumped back in his chair. He stared out past
the boy, past the customers, and past the tavern. He stared across Fengrim to where
blood still dribbled down the tree-trunk.

The man fingered through his trousers and slammed some coin on the table,
“Thas’ enough fer me, I think, I’ll be seeing you.”

“Sir!” the boy jumped up, “Did you ever find out? …You know, what it was?”

The man stopped and turned towards the boy with that same piercing blue eyed
stare, “it was Fengrim Forest that killed me father, boy.”

The tavern took its final pause, “And it be no short cut.”

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