By: Aaron E. Smith

The outskirts of Ignall's Grounding were cold and lifeless. As Simeon was ushered toward the heart of the grove, he noticed that the lush grasses and soil of the woods gave way to a blackish sludge. It clung to his feet as he walked, gathering weight until he became so annoyed that he stopped to scrape it away. Simeon placed his hand upon a nearby tree to steady himself but recoiled at its touch. The thin black tree was as cold as stone, its trunk twisted and gnarled as an old crone's neck.

"Keep moving humanissad," Voraphet commanded from somewhere ahead. "You may as well get used to the sensation."

Simeon traced his hand across the surface of the tree once more before he continued on. He thought he saw something just beneath its surface, something familiar.

"Have you discovered your Fey-sight yet?" Chendrelle whispered into his ear.

"No," Simeon admitted.

Chendrelle empathically offered to merge her awareness with Simeon's, which he quickly agreed to. He was becoming more comfortable with the sensation now, understanding that it was a link with Chendrelle that they collectively controlled somehow.

"Trace the pattern I make in your mind now, and mouth the cadence of the words that I speak through you." she explained.

Simeon complied as best he could, but it felt awkward at first. The images that appeared in his mind were unfamiliar but they soon became easy to trace.

"Good," she said. "Now echo my words."

The words that Simeon heard in his mind were completely foreign, but through his connection with Chendrelle, he knew them to be the language of the Fey. He repeated them as best he could, emphasizing the more difficult syllables until he was able to speak them verbatim. As he did, the world Simeon saw before him changed forever.

The surface of the gnarled tree before him began to fade, revealing an entirely different reality beneath. The tree was actually a human woman, whose body was unnaturally stretched skyward, her rotting arms pulled aloft by thin, elongated fingers. The woman's face was gaunt and weathered, her mouth stretched wider than possible in a frozen, inaudible scream to the heavens. Her empty eyes seemed to lock upon his own, never moving yet always upon him. He became sickened and pulled his hands away from her, nauseous from the feel of the woman's hollow, half-rotten body.

As Simeon retreated from her, he noticed that her legs had been cleft at the knee, the lower remnants becoming the roots that bound her to the earth. Below the surface, all the life-giving particles of the woman's mind, body, and Qelltalis were violently drained from her, leaving nothing behind save the blackish sludge that bled onto the forest floor.

Simeon fell to his knees retching, as some of the larger Dark-Fey pulled him the final few feet to the center of the grove.

"Now he understands, sisters," Voraphet snickered.

As Simeon scanned the grove, he saw dozens and dozens of humans interred in the same manner; men, women, and children all stretching skyward like dark, garish statues.

Simeon felt Chendrelle offer her awareness to him but he refused, turning away from her and the haunting grove that surrounded him.

"Simeon" you must allow me in," Chendrelle pleaded.

Voraphet and the surrounding Dark-Fey mocked her, making rude threatening sounds as she tried to convince him.

"He now realizes the extent of your deception sister," Voraphet whispered. "Such is the consequence of trusting the Fey. He will be interred here, beside the withering husk of Ignall may their sorrows endure forever."

When Simeon looked upon the form that stood slumping in the center of the grove, his revulsion grew. The putrid remains of Ignall hung over him like a frail shadow. The extent of his body was catacombed with decay. Thousands of tiny white grubs burrowed through his remaining flesh, crawling occasionally to the surface to regurgitate the blackish sludge upon him.

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About the Author

Born and raised in Indiana, Aaron has long enjoyed the craft of writing and, with the constant support of family and friends, hopes to pass that joy to those that read his stories.
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