Tall pines creak in the eeriness of night, blown by a sudden, fierce gale. It tears through the forest like a spectral fox hounded by wild and ghostly dogs, and the darkness feels alive with power and invocation. Two, small boys stop running to catch their breath beneath the wet candles of one immortal tree, its thick trunk spanning almost two feet wide. The smaller boy bends over, his face streaming fear. Then the older one takes him by the hand, features set with determination as they press on into the night, the ground beneath their feet littered with last year’s pinecones.
Everything has gone so wrong. The bottle of wytch’s tears stolen to quench their mother’s thirst, made her sad forever. Now there is a wytch after them, and they can’t go home, abandoned to the World Wood by their own well-intended but horrible choice. Little choice left then but to run until help for their woes finds them. The trees break to reveal cultivated farmlands and houses, their strong lines lit like folk art in midnight blue and the pale yellow of a rising moon. Light can still be seen from a few windows. Behind them a cackle can be heard like a secret, old and mad.
The boys hurry down the unpaved lane that leads to the small town beyond the tree line. Just before they reach the first farmhouse, a large black cat strolls into the middle of their path. His eyes are mercurial in more ways than one, his midnight coat fluffy against the chilled night air. But what freezes the boys in their pell-mell sprint towards the houses is the glow. A bright, luminous light fills his body, making visible every bone, overlain by his thick, dark fur. The cat holds his tail high to show affability, though the faint but sour shimmer of disdain in his eyes says plainly he has no desire to be touched.
He turns and lopes away. The boys follow. They follow for nights and years, until wizened and grey, they stand trembling at his back, their mother’s sadness long forgotten. The cat turns to face them at last, eyes flaring red in the endless gloaming, his face particularly smug.
“I believe we’ve finally lost her.”
Milky eyes look back at him, empty of all but despair. For the wytch is not the only thing that has been lost.
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