Once upon a time there was a tree. It was big, much much than other tree around. In fact, it was the only one of its kind. It had grown so tall, it held the sky and the clouds between the branches of its crown. The earth was held tightly between its roots. The limbs were broad and sturdy enough to allow entire cities to be built on them, and entire forests grew from the bark and countless flowers painted it with more colours than any rainbow could contain. The tree was home to many creatures of all sizes and shapes. They could live on the tree for generations without any of them ever touching anything beneath their various feet than wood.
One day, something strange happened in the tree. Hidden deep in the green twilight, sheltered by a firm web of branches, was a secret portal. It had been asleep for eternities, but now it awoke and two people came through it to the tree. One was tall knight, wearing a metallic armor over dark leather and black fur as a cloak around his shoulders. His dark attire and eyes contrasted with his pale skin and short, orange hair. He carried with him a long sword and a buckle shield, both showing the signs of age and excellent care. The other person had to be a young princess from a far away land. Her skin was fair and purple and her pink hair almost white. Her layered dress had the colours of the setting sun and shining gems adorned her hair and her neck. When the looked around, her eyes glistened with the innocence of youth. The knight was observing their surroundings as well, but with far more caution, relying on the instincts of a skilled warrior.
"Be careful", he muttered and bent the branches apart to allow them to step out of the hiding. All around them, trees seemed to grow from the bark that formed the ground. The busy noises of a gigantic forest filled the air around them, drowning their step over the ground covered in fallen leaves. Due to the lack of light and only limited humidity, there was no undergrowth between parasitic trees and tree-sized branches. Insects hummed through the air, but none took any interest in the knight and the princess.
They followed the course of the limb they were on, indicated by the slight curvature of the surface. Eventually, they reached a junction, where another limb joint their path, both merging smoothly and with the natural elegance of joining rivers. In the center of it was a small clearing and there stood a strange figure. The creature was of a humanoid shape, dressed in what appeared to be a robe made from leaves. The skin was of the same colour and structure of old bark, even with tiny specks of moss on it. The eyes looked like two black beetles resting inside of two knot holes. There was no nose in the face and the mouth was barely more than a deep running gash in the face. Treemoss grew on the creature's head like thin hair. All across the body, twigs grew out for the skin, and two thicker branches formed two impressive antlers. When the princess and the warrior approached, the figure turned around, narrowing the tar black eyes.
"Who goes there?", he demanded to know with a shrieking voice,
"We're from a far away place and mean no harm to you", the princess answered. Carefully, the creature approached her and the tall knight, eyeing them with mistrust.
"You have to be careful around here", the gnarled creature said.
"Why is that?"
The creature's eyes widened so far, the black orbs were at risk of falling out.
"Evil invaded the tree! A great plague spreading, infesting the tree and everything that lives on it. It poisons the sap and the water running beneath the bark, taints the fruits growing from the branches, infesting every nest and home built between the leaves."
The princess shuddered at the creature's words, but the knight remained unimpressed.
"Where is it?", he asked and took a step down the path before them.
"Noo, don't go there!", the creature shrieked in terror.
"You cannot fight it, you will be lost. Flee, go back where you came from. Flee this place and never return."
The knight shook his red haired head and the princess followed his example.
"No. We go there. We see what's what. We fight."
"You're walking into your doom! Don't do it!", the creature begged him.
"Let's go", the knight simply replied and without hesitation, the young woman followed him deeper into the woods. The shrieking screams of the creature echoing after them as they proceeded down the trodden path before them.
As they continued their way through the forest, they noticed how their surroundings began to change. Instead of the chirping of singing birds, the caws of crows and ravens filled the air. The trees became darker and began losing their leaves, which had lost all their colours and formed a grey carpet on the ground, which crumbled to dust under their steps.
"What's that?", the princess suddenly asked and pointed ahead of them. Between the desolate black and grey scenery around them, there was a speck of brown colour. As they came closer, they reached a strange clearing. The black trees were all gone and instead natural coloured ones grew out of the still grey ground. The bark was paler than usual, coming close to beige, and the leaves were all of a dark crimson colour.
"Strange", knight muttered and the duo began investigating. Suddenly the princess screamed out, and the warrior quickly rushed to her side. She was covering her face with both hands, turning away from the strange trees. The knight only needed to take a short glance to see what had scared her. All of the trees had life-like faces carved into them, every single one of them twisted with agony. A closer look revealed realistic hands and clothes worked into the wooden surface. A light breeze swept through the leaves but instead of a gentle rustle, he heard mourning.
"I told you to stay away!", a familiar, angry voice shouted at them and the strange creature from before stepped out of a nearby, tar-black stem.
"What happened here?", the knight demanded to know and drew his impressive sword.
"A great evil befell this place! I told you!"
"Wh- why are you here?", the princess asked, slowly lowering her hands from her face. Her voice was trembling slightly, but she did her best to pull herself together and to be brave.
"To rescue you! Go, we must go. Leave before it's too late!" The creature urged them, waving the thin and gnarly arms as he spoke.
"I'm not leaving", the knight stated and the princess nodded, although her face was still paler than usual.
"Why must you be so stubborn! Just go! This has nothing to do with you!"
"You know what happened here." The voice of the knight made it clear that he was not asking a question.
"What happened?" The knight's tone shifted, becoming cool and unfriendly.
"A great evil. I already told you!" the tree being snapped at him.
"Did... did you do this?", the young woman asked. Even though her voice was barely more than a whisper, the accusation came down like thunder.
"You don't understand!"
"Explain it then", the warrior said, reading his sword.
"They", the creature began, waving at the oddly coloured trees, "don't belong here. They came here like parasites, infesting the great one and she... she allowed it! She did nothing to drive them away! I had to do something! So I did and she cursed me for it! But she will pay, like those did! The plague I unleashed will bring her down and make her see how wrong she was!"
"Undo it!", the knight demanded.
"Never! You stupid humans can't make me!"
The knight let out a battle cry and charged the creature to attack. With a surprising agility, it managed to dodge the sharp blade. The knight quickly spun around, determined to give his opponent no chance to attack himself. Yet while he was focused to smother the evil creature with incoming attacks, he failed to notice he was following him into the black woods. Suddenly his enemy was gone and only then the knight noticed how far away he was from the princess. Yet he didn't just turn and blindly flee. the creature could still be nearby, so he raised his shield and tried to pick up any sign of the creature. He heard a crack behind him, yet while he was still turning, he already felt pressure on his left leg and heard the high pitched noise of metal scraping over metal. The upper body of the wood creature stuck out from a nearby black tree and had tried to attack him from the ground. Sharp claws now grew out of his twig-like fingers. The knight attempted to kick the monster, but the creature quickly retreated, producing a cracking sound in the process, and the knight's metal enhanced boot only hit black bark.
"Coward!", the knight screamed and one again heard a crack behind him. Now the creature attempted to go for this back, but this time the knight was quick enough to block the attack with his shield. Once again he attacked with his sword and because the claws of the creature's right hand still stuck to his shield, it was unable to evade. A screech of pure agony filled the forest and big drops of dark sap fell onto the dusty ground, followed by the creature's hand. The knight looked around, expecting another attack at any moment now. It was most likely the creature would go for his head next, since it was the only part of him which was not protected by metal.
A shriek reached his ears, but it wasn't near him or caused by the creature. The princess!
The knight hurried out of this part of the forest to reach her as quickly as he could. How far away had he been lured? It seemed to take him ages to reach his destination!
When he finally arrived, he saw the mutilated creature fighting. But he was not facing the girl in the elaborate dress. Instead, there was a tall woman wearing a gold and silver armor and wielding a sword with a blade made from flaming light. Her skin, face, and hair looked like the princess's, but it was clear that she wasn't her. The expression on this warrior's face was much colder than the girl could ever be. The wooden monster was no longer attempting to attack from behind. Instead, he was eager to bring distance between himself and the woman. It looked like he was fleeing and falling over, but the knight could see from his position that the creature was preparing something in his remaining hand. The warrior however was unable to notice that and moved towards her enemy.
"Hold it!", the knight shouted and although she was surprised, the shining warrior nodded and even fell back.
"You ruined it!", the monster shouted and whatever it was that he had prepared, he hurled it towards the knight. It was a cloud of black thorns, growing into the size of arrows as they flew through the air. The knight quickly ducked behind a tree, narrowly avoiding to get hurt. Several arrows hit the ground, others drilled themselves into the bark of trees. The knight noticed how the ground around the impacted area turned black, as if ink was spilled out. The hit trees shivered and collapsed into a cloud of black smoke.
Carefully the knight peeked out from his cover. The creature was facing the woman and laughing.
"Your friend is dead and you will soon join him!"
The knight was tempted to correct this false claim, but he also knew how valuable the unexpected advantage was. He left his current position and carefully approached the two fighters, looking to catch the woman's glance without the monster noticing. It was only a small sign of recognition, but it was enough.
"What do you want to do? Turn me into a tree?", the golden warrior asked, her voice making it obvious that she doubted the creature could do something like that.
"I will and then you'll have to watch how I kill the precious humans you wanted to save!"
"I bet you can't", the woman teased. The knight knew she was buying him time. It was a risky plan, seeing as the creature was surely also plotting his next move. As silently as he possibly could, the knight positioned himself behind the creature and gave the warrior a sign that he was ready.
"You will regret this!", the creature screamed out and the knight used this opportunity to reveal himself.
"No., you will", he announced. He could see the monster wince ever so slightly and then he slowly turned around.
"You-!", he exclaimed and raised his remaining hand. then, everything happened within the blink of an eye. His gash of a mouth opened, but no words escaped his throat. A soft glow rose on his chest and then gave way to the tip of the blade made from light. A spray of dark, sticky sap covered teh knight and the warrior as the creature sunk to the ground.
The knight turned the lifeless body around with his boot.
"Dead", he confirmed and looked around. The eerie trees made from people were still there and so was the black and grey forest surrounding them. He let out an unsatisfied grunt and gave the corpse another kick. The wooden chest gave in and revealed a hollow underneath it. Inside of it, he discovered a bulb, covered in the dark sap and connected to the hollow by a thin net or organic tissue, similar to roots. With a swift and dauntless move, he plucked the bulb and showed it to the woman.
"What do you think?"
"Could be the evil", she suggested. The knight agreed and placed the bulb on the ground. He raised his boot and stomped on the strange thing. It was much less resistant than he had expected, any pumpkin was sturdier. Colours streamed out of the remains, towards its rightful owners. The human trees shrunk and within minutes, the warrior and the knight found themselves in the middle of a humble village and surrounded by grateful and relieved townsfolk. While they could not offer any riches, they insisted of a feast to honour the two heroes who had saved them. The knight and the princess celebrated with the villagers until sunrise and tired, yet happy they returned to the portal and to their own home.