It was summertime in the Yorga forest. Trees were in full bloom, the grass grew thick, sometimes up to the knees, and birdsong filled the air. Dappled sunlight filtered through the canopy of branches overhead, forming dense areas of cool shade that shielded the ground from the worst of the heat outside. It was also prime hunting season, prompting the elves of the Yorga tribe to come out in droves, armed with bows, arrows, and spears, seeking to stock up on game that would be cured and dried for the winter.
These were the days where Revissa went deeper into the forest. It wasn’t that she disliked the hunters - they were her people, after all. But their footfalls resounded in her ears as they tracked their marks, upsetting the tranquility of her surroundings. Leaves rustled, branches snapped, and bowstrings twanged, the hoots and hollers of successful kills downing out the placid stillness with which she was so familiar.
She did not begrudge the hunters for claiming their quarry, of course - to hunt was to live, and her people had been taught for generations to take only what they needed, to let nothing go to waste. There was simply a discordancy to the movements of people, a measure of randomness that always seemed to upset her rhythm. Animals she could understand, acting according to their nature. But people, people were different. They had goals and ambitions, were subject to pride, prone to deception, willing to do things for reasons she could never fully understand. In short, people were messy. She was never quite sure how to handle them, how to act as an authority when she was so much younger, so much more inexperienced than the people whose livelihood her position was entrusted with.
As the shaman of the tribe she kept herself secluded from the others, living in solitude with nature in a small hut she had inherited from her mother. Despite her importance as a druid, protector of the land and her people, she interacted with the other elves rarely. In the three years since her mother had passed away she’d only had five ‘official’ instances of acting as their shaman, and three of them were just performing the annual Rite of Winter’s End.
Despite this she was still lacking in confidence, ever unsure she could fill the role she was born into. And so on days like these, she delved deeper than she normally would, fording past the stream that marked the boundary of the ‘known woods’, as the tribe often called it, heading into the more densely packed stretches of forest to meditate and be alone with her thoughts. It was both calming and liberating, to lose oneself amongst the earth, beasts, and trees, to become one with the vast circle of birth, growth and death that dictated the lives of all things. Here, at least, she was free, calm and in control, able to be herself without worrying about saying the wrong thing, or not being up to the task her duties demanded. Out here she would never speak a wrong incantation, fail to resolve a conflict between clans, or neglect to check the weather and predict an oncoming drought.
The voice came from above her. She didn’t even notice it at first, losing it among the myriad of sounds a forest teeming with life could produce, but eventually it made its way past her ears and into her mind for processing. Someone was here, up high in the branches of the tree ahead of her. By the time she thought to look up, that someone had already leapt from her perch, landing in front of her with a soft thud that trampled some of the grass around them.
“Been a while, hasn’t it?”
Revissa suddenly found herself staring into the impishly smiling face of a young kemomi woman, probably just out of her teens, the points of her sharp canines protruding just a bit past her lips.
The kemomi were a race of women with animal-like features - this one appeared to have the fluffy ears and swishing tail of a wolf, though her hair was chiefly blond, save for some brown at the tips. Her skin was a rich tan, a sign of spending a lot of time beneath the sun, a contrast from Revissa’s own rather pallid demeanor. Despite being outdoors most of her life, she spent very little of it in direct sunlight.
The elf blinked. “Do I… know you?”
The girl beamed at her with a familiarity that seemed unwarranted; Revissa was slow to interact even with her own people - a kemomi was out of the question.
“Don’t you remember?” The woman pouted, stepping back to lean on a tree. “Though I guess I don’t blame you. Last time I saw you I was about… yay high.”
She pressed a hand against the bark of the tree, indicating a height that was about a foot shorter than she currently stood. A pang of recollection flashed through the elf’s mind.
“Ah… yes. That persistent child.”
Nearly a decade ago, when going through the gauntlet of her druidic training, she had often been pestered by a young girl trying to play with her. Unlike her own tribe, the kemomi in the area were itinerants - hunters, gatherers, barterers and scroungers who migrated from place to place as the seasons changed. They often camped at the edge of her forest during the summer months to beat the heat, but one adventurous child would often plunge deep into the trees to explore. At the time Revissa had merely regarded her as a nuisance, but now she saw it for what it was - an intrusion.
“You must leave. This is not your forest.”
The woman frowned, batting her deep blue eyes at the elf. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“This is our land. We are the ones who till it and protect it, build our huts here and bury our dead in the soil. It is our home. Those who take from it when it suits them and give nothing back in return are not welcome.”
Revissa may have found dealing with people stressful, but she still knew the difference between those who were welcome and those who were not. She had enough stress handling the former; there was no reason to put up with the latter.
The wolf’s expression softened into an easy-going smile. “So I just need to give something back? Like what?”
“You do not understand!” The elf undid the strap holding the staff she kept slung on her back, clutching it in her palm and pressing the butt down to the ground. She could feel the energy of the land rush up to meet her, a soft, warm embrace that confirmed what she already knew. “This is the home of the Yorga tribe. It is a home for elves.”
The woman’s smiles soured. “And not for kemomi. That’s what you’re saying?”
“Not in so many words… but yes.”
Revissa lifted her staff and pointed it at the blond woman. The distinction was really quite clear. Whereas she was clad in robes of woolen cloth and tanned leather, the kemomi was wearing a mish-mash of materials, including a thin breastplate made of pressed metal. Revissa’s people carved spears from fallen branches, notched their bows with arrowheads carved from flint they foraged themselves, but this intruder had a tempered steel sword at her side. Though she might be part wolf, there was nothing else natural about her - she brought with her tools from the outside, things that were not a part of the harmonious cycle of growth that formed the core of their beliefs.
The wolf woman raised an eyebrow. “Sort of hypocritical, coming from you, no?”
She glanced at Revissa’s face, causing the elf to recoil from the all-too-familiar barb. Unlike her elven brethren, her ears were not entirely smooth and pale. Though they protruded from the sides of her head like normal, they were covered in thick brown fur like a kemomi.
“You have no right to speak to me like that!”
Despite her love for the forest and her people, and her disdain for those that came from the outside, the fact of the matter was Revissa was a quarter kemomi herself. Her mother had had a brief fling with a cross-breed that resulted in her birth. It was an unfortunate truth that always set her apart - her ears being a visual reminder of that fact made it all the more infuriating.
“Like what? You’ve got some of our blood in you, right?” She took a step forward and reached towards Revissa’s face, prompting the elf to recoil and bat the hand away with her staff.
“Do not touch me!”
“Hey, hey, sorry.” The wolf woman raised her hands up in surrender. “But I mean… there’s no need to get so defensive about it. If it’s any consolation, I think the ears are really cute. Especially the way they start twitching whenever you get upset!”
Revissa gritted her teeth.
“My ears do NOT twitch!”
The wolf smirked. “They totally do. See?”
Gently, she reached to the scabbard at her side, removing her sword slowly enough to not provoke any counter. When it was free she held it up for Revissa to see her reflection, distorted on the curved surface of the metal. Her ears were, in fact, twitching.
“That’s… not…” she stammered, her cheeks coloring a deep red against her pale face. “G-get out! Now! You are not welcome here.”
She slammed her staff once more to the ground. This time, she called upon some of her magic, channeling it into the earth around her. Seedlings began to sprout at her feet, vines coiled down the trunks of nearby trees, thorny nettles sprung out from the leaves of branches, all of them pointing ominously at the intruder.
“Get out… or I will remove you by force!”
The blond woman looked around, more impressed than frightened by the display.
“Hey, wow, look at you! You got the hang of it!” She gave the elf a thumbs-up. “I always knew you had it in you. Your mom must be proud.”
And that was the last straw, as she directed the earth to crack beneath the kemomi’s feet, sending her to the ground with splayed limbs.
“My mother… died three years ago. I am the shaman now. I am the guardian of this forest. And… I… am… telling… you… to… leave!”
Her voice came out in short, controlled bursts as more and more plant life began creeping towards the tumbled wolf woman. Finally, a look of something other than smugness crossed her face as she scrambled to her feet.
“H-hey… I didn’t know. I’m sorry, okay?” She took a tentative step forwards. Her face seemed to be a mix of worry and sympathy, but Revissa just continued to glare at her until she backed away. “Look… I’ll leave, alright? Really… I just wanted to see you again… it had been so long. But I’ll… I’ll just go. Okay?”
“So long as your people stay at the edge of the forest, I will tolerate your presence. But no further.” Revissa creased her forehead in what she hoped was a stern look of disapproval.
“Am I understood?”
The kemomi gave her one final pleading look, but could tell it wasn’t going to work. Eventually she sheathed her sword and turned around, plodding softly back the way she had come. Only when she was finally out of sight did Revissa let out a relieved sigh, leaning against a tree and sliding into a sitting position.
Well, that could have gone better. But it also could have gone much worse. The intruder didn’t seem to fear her as much as she had hoped, but at least she had understood her position. This is the Yorga forest, and it is home to elves.
Revissa still had much to learn, but she was confident with enough time she would become a true shaman like her mother. Because if she didn’t protect it, who would? Where once there were many bloodlines of powerful druids among her people, now it had dwindled down just to hers. It was her sole responsibility to find the strength and the internal fortitude to carry out her duties, and she was not going to let some lackadaisical kemomi divert her from her path.
Once she had taken some time to rest and regain her nerves, she decided to keep heading deeper into the forest. Her plan from the start had been to clear her mind from distractions and insecurities, something she needed now more than ever. She pushed forward, the summer air suddenly irksome as it hung thick and humid around her, causing her to work up a sweat as she plunged through the brush. After another few hours of travel she reached it, her favorite place, a little clearing just beyond a tangle of thorny brambles, nestled against a thick copse of trees that seemed almost impenetrable. Past that was the Far Woods, where the trees were too tangled to let light through, the foliage a twisted mass of branches, fronds, roots and vines, all struggling for some share of the solar real estate above.
Her people whispered that the Far Woods were to be feared and avoided, that the creatures beyond it were vicious and depraved, monstrosities more than animals. Revissa knew better than to judge it like that - life is life, and animals are animals. Shamans like herself were tasked with understanding everything about the forest, even the dangerous parts. Despite this, it was the one place here she had never been to herself. Generations ago shamans of her tribe had constructed magic wards to prevent the more pernicious parts of the forest from spilling out. Her mother had taught her how to maintain them, and how to track down and eliminate those few unsavory bits that sometimes slipped past the seal.
But that was not why she was here now. As a result of the druidic energy gathered by the wards, the area just outside the Far Woods became a haven for the plants and animals of the forest. The grass here grew more thick and lush, the bushes were ripe with brightly colored berries filled with flavor, the trees towered high, massive and ancient, and the soil was rich and fertile, filling the grove with a deep earthy scent. Birds and beasts also came out in droves, gathering to drink from a small pool of springwater welling up from an underground reservoir. A sort of glamour washed over the area, lulling the various creatures into nonaggression, allowing predator and prey to share a drink without turning towards violence. The effect was magnified with the presence of a shaman, such that after a few hours a veritable zoo of wildlife had congregated around her. She chose a tree nestled in the back to settle in against, allowing herself to finally relax as the forest stirred lazily around her.
This was her favorite place in the world. The energy of her ancestors permeated the land, and pleasant memories of her childhood welled up in her mind as her eyes drifted closed. This was where her mother had taught her the ways of her forebears, of shamans from generations past, where she had learned to walk and to speak, memorizing both the words of their language and the druidic symbols of power that formed the foundation of their more potent spells. She hadn’t mastered all of them yet, and with her mother passed on she would never be taught them directly.
But it wasn’t a problem. Here, the voices of the past flowed through the leylines beneath the earth. She might not be able to hear them all just yet, but with wisdom and maturity she someday would. That is why the loss of her mother hadn’t struck her as hard as it could have - though she was dead, she was not truly gone. Her body now rested in the earth, her spirit had joined with the forest, and her memories would persist through generations.
As she sat, drinking in the ambient sounds of the nature around her, she heard soft footsteps, and then a pressure against her cheek. Opening her eyes, she discovered a baby deer had walked up to her, nuzzling her with its cold wet nose. Its mother was watering itself at the pool, apparently entirely comfortable lettings its child mingle with the elven woman. Revissa smiled brightly, reaching out to scritch the animal between the ears, allowing it to kneel down beside her and rest its face in her lap.
“Such a beautiful creature”, she mused to herself, glancing towards the pool as she saw the mother step aside to allow a wolf to drink beside it.
There would be no violence here, not while she was present, so she closed her eyes again and let herself gently drift off to sleep. As the hours passed, the sun shifted between the branches of the trees, shedding its warm rays in a striped pattern over her contented face until it gently began to recede past the horizon.
It was cold when she woke up.
Not just because the light of the day was gone. If anything, it was warm for a summer evening, the heat still not fully dissipated from the soft earth beneath her. No, it was cold because of the shiver running down her spine. Something was wrong.
Her eyes fluttered open as she tried to rise to her feet, disturbing the fawn that was still pressed against her lap.
Where were the other animals?
When she had drifted off there were dozens of them, lazily loitering about her hidden grove, drinking from the spring and plucking ripe berries from the bushes. But now it was quiet, deathly so, the song of nocturnal birds absent, the chattering chorus of crickets nowhere to be heard. There was a stillness to the air, a feeling of tension, unease, an absence of the warm aura of life that permeated the forest even in the dead of night. Aside from the fawn curled up beside her, it felt like there was nothing truly alive nearby. Even the mother deer had left, abandoning its child in a way that was simply unthinkable. What had happened?
Nervously, Revissa planted her feet on the earth, pressing the butt of her staff to the ground and closing her eyes to meditate. Something was terribly wrong, and she was going to find it.
Trying to push away the nausea welling up in the pit of her stomach, she extended her senses through the leylines of the earth beneath her, radiating her awareness out into the forest. She took deep, controlled breaths, just as her mother taught her, slowing their pace until her spirit disassociated from her body. She wasn’t sure what, exactly, she was searching for, but she was certain she would know it when she found it.
She was right.
After a few minutes she felt it, sharp and painful, like a dagger had pierced her lung. There was something cold out there, twisted and malformed, an overwhelming feeling of wrongness welling up in a thick inky cluster in the forefront of her mind. Her initial instinct was to recoil, to snap herself out of her trance, to save herself from the horror an intricate examination of it would produce. But she persevered. As the Yorga tribe shaman, as the guardian of this forest, as the inheritor of her mother’s legacy and all those who came before her, she had to quell this unease. And so she concentrated, pushed past her revulsion, allowed her meditative outreach to peel away the inky exterior of her sensation to try to understand what it was she was dealing with. Slowly, a vague impression imprinted itself on her mind.
Whatever it was, it was alive. A single entity - a predator. She felt a hunger from within it, but not the normal sort of hunger of an animal just looking for a meal. There was a… a consciousness to this thing, a willpower, an overwhelming desire to consume and destroy. The sensation was utterly foreign to Revissa. She had certainly felt negative emotions in the minds of other people before - greed, hatred, jealousy, lust, pride and arrogance. But this was something more, something alien and wrong, ancient and primal yet somehow still possessing a keen intelligence. It was razor-focussed on its task, moving with a singleness of purpose that was terrifying to the young elf.
Something evil had awoken, and it was in her forest.
Revissa tried to learn more about it, to get a fuller sense of what she was dealing with, but already she had been in a trance for longer than she ever had before. Her body was straining to keep up, barely able to maintain its grasp on her spirit as she spread it over the earth. Eventually her mind peeled away from the forest, retracting like stretched elastic to pull her consciousness back to her physical form. But just as she started to regain awareness, something hooked itself into her mind’s eye - something cold and unnatural, a fragmentary bit of willpower that dug into her, latched into her brain like a pair of claws. It dissipated the moment she fully reconnected with her body, but for that brief instant, it had been there.
The monster had seen her.
Its mind, if it even could be called that, had sensed her presence and connected with her. It was only for a moment, not enough for her to really learn anything, to unravel the jumble of sensation associated with the link, but it was enough to send a wave of terror down her spine. Her legs turned to jelly, dropping her to the ground as tears streamed past her cheeks. The thing, whatever it was, was so far outside her experience, so twisted and incomprehensible that it shook her to her core. There could only be one explanation - it was something from the Far Woods, from beyond the seal. Her mother had always told her of the dangers past the barrier, but she had never understood the magnitude of what she had meant. None of the legends or lore had prepared her for this.
She was broken from her fearful reverie by a soft warmth against her cheek, and she turned to find the baby deer still dutifully standing beside her.
“Stay here, little one. The forest is ill at ease. Something evil has intruded on our land.” She stood up, centering her balance, clutching her staff tightly and trying to draw on the wisdom of her ancestors. “But I will remove it. It is my duty.”
The fawn stood patiently where she left it, watching as she strode out of the clearing and into her forest. She had met minds with the intruding creature for an instant, and it had seen her. But she had also seen it. Now its dreadful presence shone like a beacon in her mind, guiding her through the trees and bramble to where it had taken up root. The darkness posed no difficulty for her elven eyes, which were keenly able to pick out shapes and shadows amidst the gloom of night. And she had no fear of getting lost, not here in her home, not on the lands she had trod on throughout the entire half-century of her life. She could find the way with her eyes closed, if she wanted to.
Before long she came across a ravine, a deep trench in the ground that had been a river many years before she was born. The natural fluctuations of the terrain over the centuries had diverted its path, leaving only a gully behind to remind future generations of its existence. Thick, leafy shrubs grew along the sides of the divet, their fronds forming a canopy over the gap that made it into a natural tunnel. Revissa had walked the entire length of it once several years ago, spending several days simply mapping its contours with her footsteps. She wanted no part of her forest to be unfamiliar to her, but right now, an alien sense of dread tingled at the back of her neck.
The intruder was in here.
She wasted no time, sofly hopping down to the surface of the ravine with barely a sound. As her staff touched the ground she extended her senses into the path ahead of her, concentrating for only an instant to pinpoint the source of her unease. The sensation seemed strongest roughly half a mile away, concentrated at a bend in the former river. Her feet were moving that way before she even opened her eyes.
The tunnel was not particularly wide, ten feet from end to end at its thickest, barely thin enough for her to squeeze through at its most narrow. Down here it was damp and humid, the air heavy with the spores of moss and lichen clinging to the walls and floor. Little sunlight would reach the river bottom on the best of days, but here in the moonlight it was nearly pitch black.
It looked like she would have to put her conceit of eyeless navigation to the test. She strode swiftly through the tunnel, taking frequent breaks to open her perception through the land and regain her bearings, making good progress until she collided with something wet and sticky strung across the path.
Her eyes swept open in surprise, though it made little difference considering the gloom. Whatever she had struck was taut and slightly elastic, stretching then returning to equilibrium to absorb the impact from her body. She tried to pull back but found the material highly adhesive, resisting her pressure and keeping her in place. Several points of her body were stuck by whatever it was, points of tension tugging at her shoulders, waist, thighs, ankles, and wrists. Any attempt to free herself was met with more springy force, getting her more tangled up in what appeared to be sticky filaments pulled between the sides of the river bank.
She let out a sharp grunt. Her natural reaction was to pitch and buck, to pull at whatever was trapping her and overcome it with force. But she knew better than to act so hastily. Taking a deep breath, she relaxed the tension in her body, unclasping her fingers to let her staff slide down a few inches and rest on the ground. Channeling her druidic energy through it and into the soil, she called out to the fronds above her at the top of the tunnel, beckoning the leaves to bend aside and let in a few errant rays of moonlight. As the tunnel lit up, she could see a glimmering refraction in the air, revealing dozens of long, gossamer strands criss-crossing the walls of tunnel.
Indeed, that seemed to be what it was, a tangle of wiry silk arranged in a pattern to ensnare any unsuspecting creature that ventured through the tunnel. And she had walked right into it.
But it wouldn’t stop her. Tightening her knuckles on her staff, she extended her mind deep into the soil, awakening sprouts and seedlings that lay dormant beneath the the earth. Coils of green vines began to emerge from beneath her, curling around the sticky strands like fingers, adhering themselves to the silken trap. And then, with a twitch of her wrist, the vines grew thorny brambles along their surface, rubbing against the webbing like the teeth of a saw, trying to snap them apart. A moment passed, and then another, as Revissa watched the brambles dig into the silk… but the strands did not snap. If anything, the vines just got as tangled up as she was. Why weren’t they breaking?
She closed her eyes again, this time extending her awareness into the silk bindings, and immediately recoiled in shock. Within the silk she could feel trace amounts of the same horrific force that had drawn her here in the first place. The webbing was the work of her prey!
...or was she now the prey?
For a while she just stood there in confusion and frustration, unsure of what to do next. Cutting the webbing didn’t seem to work, and struggling would just tangle her up further. She surely couldn’t just wait, as spiders don’t usually set traps for the fun of it. The longer she stood here, the more risk she put herself in. But then what could she do? None of her training had ever prepared her for this.
“Spirits… please guide me.”
Her voice came in a low whisper, pleading for assistance. Was the guardian of the forest going to be lost, just like this? Caught by a monster and devoured? Would her blood spill from her body and stain the sacred earth of her home?
Wait… that was it! The earth!
Closing her eyes, she took a long, deep breath, then opened her awareness once more. This time, she didn’t call out to the plants, but to the ground itself. Her senses extended to the walls of the riverbank, where she directed the earth to shift and contort. One by one, little chunks of packed dirt were expelled from the sides of the tunnel, each of them attached to the strands of webbing adhered to them. If she couldn’t free herself from the snares, she would detach the snares from the wall!
Dozens of sticky threads were mired to her body, but now they were hanging loosely in the air, swaying pendulously from her limbs. Carefully, she spread the tethers out then sat down, holding up an arm to inspect the tightly woven thread that had done such a good job at holding her. She closed her eyes and focussed on the material, sensing that while it resembled the filaments of a spider, there was something alien about its construction. It seemed to possess some fragment of the voracious, senseless hunger she had felt in the creature that had produced it, clinging to anything with life within it. Her body, her clothing, the vines she had summoned, all of it was made from natural materials… and it seemed this silk thrived on all things organic.
As an experiment, she focussed her mind to the earth once more, bidding some of the dirt to form into a tightly compacted spear of soil, then jabbed it at the silk bindings. This time it snapped apart with minimal effort. So she could free combat these threads if needed, but it wouldn’t be easy. Molding the land like this was difficult - her expertise was in manipulating plants.
More troubling, however, was the fact the webbing seemed to possess some sort of unearthly resilience. If she got tangled again she would need to rely on her magic to get out, but having access to that magic in a critical situation was no guarantee. She wasn’t an experienced enough druid yet to command the forces of earth and nature with her mind alone. Her magic required a conduit for her to focus through, which is why she used a staff. If she lost it… it meant no amount of struggle or resistance would save her.
So she wouldn’t lose it. Furrowing her brow in concentration, she created several more earthen spears to cut herself free, leaving only a few stubborn strands still plastered to her robe. She’d suffered an embarrassing setback with this trap, but in exchange had learned a valuable lesson about her foe. Unfortunately, as she looked forward through the clustered network of tangled filaments, she suspected that her struggles had alerted the monster to her position. The element of surprise was lost.
In that case, there was no more need for subtlety. She slammed her staff to the ground and channeled a great deal of druidic energy into the soil, causing the walls of the river bank to buckle and heave. Bit by bit, the remaining tethers fell from their position and laid flat on the floor, giving her easy passage forward. Her breath was heavy from the exertion, and she knew she wouldn’t be able to keep up that level of unfamiliar magic forever. It meant she would have to aim for a quick and decisive victory over the monster rather than a drawn out fight. Steeling her nerves, she walked further down the tunnel, careful not to trip over any of the bits of silk strewn on the ground around her.
She advanced as quickly as the webbing would allow, spearing through some spots and shaking the earth with others. Once she learned the trick, it became easy to simply duck and weave past most of them without expending more of her limited stamina, bolstering her confidence. Soon she reached the spot she had perceived earlier, a sharp bend in the river that formed a sort of “V” shape. Here the webbing was thicker, not stretched into single strands but formed into entire sheets that hung like curled hammocks tethered to the sides of the walls. And some of them seemed bulkier than others.
Hand trembling, Revissa summoned a vine to curl towards one of the heavier sheets, gently rocking it to the side to reveal what was entombed within. She heard a sickening, fleshy lurch as the dessicated corpse of a deer came into view, its head lolling to the side. It was an animal familiar to Revissa - the mother of the fawn she had seen back in the grove.
“Unforgivable,” she whispered grimly.
Her stomach churned as she examined the body, withered and shriveled and unmistakably dead. But it wasn’t dead in the way one might expect a spider to eat, a collapsed outer husk with the liquified insides sucked out. Rather, it was almost as if the poor deer’s life force itself had been drained, the flesh necrotized and blackened in a manner reminiscent of death magic.
Walking carefully through the hanging graveyard of silken nets, she discovered several more corpses of large creatures strung up in the air, each of them as dead as the deer. It was baffling to her, that something she had detected the presence of so recently could have consumed so much, and so quickly. Nothing could need to eat this much. It only confirmed what she already knew, that this monster was not a mere beast, but something much worse. The creature was a blight on her forest, and she had to remove it.
Pushing past the bodies, she came to the far wall of the tunnel, the deepest part of the bend in the river. The earth buckled inwards here, forming a sort of cave that was outside the reach of the pale moonbeams filtering through the foliage. This was clearly the heart of its lair, but as of yet she had seen no sign of the monster itself. Her eyes darted around the area, scanning the thick shadows, but she was barely able to see anything this far in. The little cavern was not particularly large, maybe five feet wide and ten deep, so there didn’t seem to be much reason to stay. The creature was probably elsewhere, hunting for more prey in her forest.
She turned to leave, contemplating her next move, but as she did she noticed a shifting in the shadows behind her. Wheeling around, she realized the entire back wall was making a billowing motion, like a curtain flapping in the breeze - what she thought was the back of the cave was actually a long sheet of webbing. Was there a hidden alcove beyond it?
Cautiously, she stepped further in, preparing to form another earthen spear to cut away the silken curtain. But as soon as she passed the lip of the cave, everything went dark.
She spun around once more, facing the way she had come, but it didn’t improve her vision. It was like the moonlight had suddenly been snuffed out behind her. How could this happen?
Her heart began racing, forcing her to take deep, controlled breaths to calm herself. She closed her eyes, meaningless though it was in the darkness, about to pour her senses into the earth when the sound of something in front of her made her stop. It was a sort of fluttering noise, like a sheet on a laundry line flapping in the wind, followed by a tensing and twisting of a rope being pulled taut.
The sound was coming from ahead of her. She felt a shift in the texture of the air, and a growing claustrophobic feeling in the pit of her stomach. Was the cave somehow getting smaller? And why couldn’t she see outside anymore? Was something blocking the entrance?
Gripping her staff, she formed another earthen spear from the soil beneath her, thrusting it towards where the exit should have been. The spear struck something ahead of it and made a tearing sound, and a small ring of light formed around the point of impact. What in the world? It was as if a curtain had been pulled shut around the cave.
And then it finally hit her. There was a curtain there - one made of thickly woven silk. As soon as she stepped into the cave it had been pulled over the entrance, and now, by some mechanism, it was being pulled taut, causing it to tense up and contract. Wait, and hadn’t there been a curtain at the back wall too? Suddenly, it all made sense. The two sheets of webbing were being dragged to meet each other in the center of the cave, and Revissa was struck right in the middle of them!
There was only one conclusion - the monster had laid a trap for her. Another tensing sound, and the wall pulled in closer. She took a step back, but stopped when she realized the back curtain had also drawn nearer. Bit by bit, the ends of the cave were closing in, and if she didn’t do something, she’d be hopelessly plastered between two sheets of webbing.
She created more spears of earth, poking another hole in the curtain, then another. Given enough time, she’d be able to punch her way out, but time was not something she had. Already there were only about three feet of space on either side of her, and it was drawing closer by the second. Was this all planned? Did the monster lure her here like a rabbit into a hunter’s snare? It must have been watching her this entire time, since the moment she stepped into the river tunnel, perhaps even before that, patiently taking stock of her abilities and planning a way to capture her without a direct confrontation. It suggested a fearsome intelligence… but also meant that it was afraid it would die if it fought her head on.
Well, then she would just have to show it what she was really capable of. Jamming her staff to the ground, she called upon the earth to aid her. The ground rumbled, and a sphere of packed dirt formed itself around her, just in time before the sheets of webbing compressed completely. She heard the sound of tightening tethers as the silk fully glued itself to her barrier, trapping her in a sealed ball between the layers of webbing. Not exactly the best place to be, but it was better than having her own body caught in the snares.
Luckily, she had a plan.
The monster must be right outside the cave, pulling the sheets shut around her through some sort of pulley. It had drawn her in here to capture her, and might even think she was now at its mercy. Well, she would prove to it just how wrong it was. Grunting in exertion, she called on the earth once more, bucking the ground beneath her while opening a hole in the ceiling above. Her sphere erupted into sharp spikes, the shaking around it helping to tear at the webbing holding it in place, freeing it enough for the ground to give one last heave and send Revissa up into the air, out through the top of the cave then landing roughly back outside on the ground of the forest.
It was more magic than she’d ever used at one time before, and her head ached from the exertion, but she didn’t have time to worry about it. Quickly, she pulled herself back to her feet, running to the edge of the river to try to get a glimpse of her attacker. She was rewarded with a thick glob of viscous silk buzzing past her cheek as she reached the edge, missing her by less than an inch. Something down in the pit obscured by shadows made a horrific gurgling sound, and a multitude of skittering feet threw up dust as the monster tried to make its escape.
She wouldn’t let it.
Slamming down her staff, she called for help from every plant in the area. A tree above the river uprooted itself, falling across the path and forcing the monster to leap backwards. Roots erupted from the dirt beneath it, coiling around the spindly legs it carried itself on and miring it in place. Strands of ivy crept down from above, entwining to form a trellis-like mesh on top of it to pin it to the ground. Branches bent in the air, parting the verdant canopy to allow the full light of the moon shine upon the monstrous thing that had wrongfully thought it could intrude upon her home.