“Here.” Jayden pushed open the heavy oaken door, gazing out at the sight of an overgrown forest. He could smell the sickly sweet aroma of the
undergrowth, could taste the breeze that blew in the doorway. Behind him, Beth, or Bones as Jayden had recently come to learn, leaned against a
scorched table, her arms folded across her chest.
“I’m telling you now. It won’t work.” Jayden shrugged. Beth rolled her eyes. Ever the stubborn one, her person was. Finally she threw her arms
in frustration. Jayden smiled, striding through the door, out into the wilderness with a victorious smirk...
The cry could be heard far above Beth and she moved at the last moment, Jayden falling through an open skylight, with a dull thud onto the table.
Rolling to the floor, he rubbed his shoulder, grimacing.
“Ow,” he moaned. Beth stood over him, a victorious smirk upon her face.
“You know, for a cat, you seem to know a lot,” he said with a grin, climbing slowly to his feet.
Beth looked around, first at the skylight, then at the open door.
“I keep telling you, I’m not a cat. I’m a Familiar. For a Magus, Jayden, you sure know little about heavenly creatures.” She ran a hand around
the door, pulling it shut a moment after, much to Jayden’s protests.
“Hey! Do you know how long it took me to break that lock?” Beth silenced him with a slender finger to her lips.
“Go up to the skylight again,” she instructed, “when I say, climb through.”
Jayden made to protest, but something in Beth’s leonine green eyes stopped him in his tracks. He wandered away, muttering quiet words about who was
supposed to be in charge, disappearing up a rickety flight of stairs.
“I can still hear you,” Beth called out, focusing on the door. The handle, an elaborate brass knob, rattled as she turned it slightly, cocking her
head so she could hear Jayden a flight above.
“Are you ready?” A muffled yes resounded from above. Whispering arcane words, the Familiar rattled the doorknob, as she could hear Jayden
struggling to climb through the open hole in the ceiling. Slowly the knob turned, and then moved, ever so slowly through the wood. Beth smiled as she
kept spinning the brass handle, first to the centre, then to the right. Finally the door clicked, and Beth pulled, holding her breath.
“Outside,” she finished, feeling the coolness of a breeze waft past her face. Taking one step out, she was rewarded by the softness of forest
undergrowth. Turning backwards, she took in the darkened Askion Keep, somehow twisted and unrecognisable in this place. Atop the closest spire, Jayden
perched, scanning the horizon.
“What do you see?” she called out, startling several crows from their hidden roost.
“Not much,” he replied, “the canopy seems to go on to the horizon. I think I can make out the Dragon’s Spine Ridge.”
“Good. Let’s get going then. Lorralie should be a few hours to the east.” After a moment of no response, Beth looked up, Jayden still perched
upon the keep’s roof.
“Uh Bones? Some help maybe?” Beth shook her head, waving her hands in reply. Like a rag doll he was plucked from the roof, then dropped, rather
quickly to the ground, his face stopped mere inches from the forest floor. He stood, embarrassed, pushing past his Familiar, with a reddened face.
“Forgot my spellbook today,” he muttered, Beth nodding sarcastically.
The pair travelled for what seemed hours against the path of the sun, hoping the road to Lorralie would open up before them. A few times they had to
push their way through the dense undergrowth, only to find more trees, more shrubs, and few animals.
“Are you sure we’re headed in the right direction?” Jayden asked after what seemed like hours. Beth grasped the branch of a nearby tree, pushing
“Lorralie should just be no more than a hour away. We are headed in the right direction.” The branch she was holding she let go of, pushing past.
As she moved, snake like tendrils of vines wormed their way around her waist, pinning her tight against the tree. The branch she had just had hold of
a few moments ago, ensnared her arm, while another pinned her hands back. The tendrils wrapped their way around her mouth, and she fought, helpless,
trapped against the large tree, that now sported a large mouth and two black eyes. Jayden rushed forth to help her, but found his own legs wrapped
tightly. Falling uncontrollably forward, the tendrils pinned his arms back, lifting him high into the air, another tree monster shambling forward to
grasp him. Another two joined the first, then another three, until it seemed like they were surrounded by these living beings of wood and rot. Jayden
could feel the vines growing tighter, squeezing the life slowly out of him. With his mouth wrapped, he could not summon any magic. He gazed at Beth
hopelessly, fearing this was his end.
“Oi! What’s this then?” The squeezing paused, Jayden’s eyes darting around for the source of the voice. Striding into view, a great red deer,
at least seven feet from ground to stunning antlers filled his vision. Atop the great creature, an armoured figure rode comfortably, a large mace of
wood and rock rested comfortably in his hands.
“Seems like we got us a couple of intruders hey?” He dismounted, throwing back his metal helm. Jayden could not hide his shock at the newcomer.
Like his captors, the creature was a living tree, albeit much smaller than his comrades. His hair was a mess of leaves and purple flowers, and his
hands and arms were roped with vines and leaves, ending in three stout fingers. His eyes were bright stones, one red and one green, that were lit
brightly with intelligence. Much of his body was covered in obsidian armour, plated with numerous gemstones, yet between the plates, small green
leaves stuck out.
He moved close to Jayden, then Beth, eyeing them curiously. He prodded Beth with a wooden finger, then Jayden for good measure. Then he waved his
hands, and the vines dispersed. The tree creature took a few steps away, then turned.
“You both alive?” he offered. Beth and Jayden both looked confused.
“I believe so,” Jayden replied, “Who, and without being rude, what are you?” The creature seemed to suddenly remember his manners, offering a
“Oh. Yes, of course. I am Lord Jacarandah, guardian of the Darkwood. And, young man, I am a Treant Knight. This is my valiant steed Robeyr.” He
motioned to the giant buck now grazing nearby.
“Why did you ask if we’re alive Lord Jacarandah? Are there others here like us?” Beth asked, freeing the last of her former prison.
“Oh, not like you. Most are, well, not quite as alive. Tell you what, how about I take you to them. Then you can decide for yourselves.”
Beth and Jayden exchanged worried looks.