People: characters, gods
Places: world, kingdoms, empires, cultures
Stories: history, mythology, adventures
long-ass stories
Language: alphabet, grammar, dictionary, symbols
CALDORA: Chapter 9: Into the Woods


            Blooming trees rimmed the shores of a secluded woodland lake. Lakai sat on a grassy knoll at its banks, watching the ripples made by vivacious undines engaged in their aquatic games. They waved to him enticingly as they swam by. A content unicorn lay by his side, lapping up the sparkling water, its golden horn and hooves glistening in the open daylight. Lakai ran his fingers through its white mane absently, deep in thought.

            Two tiny sprites zipped across the lake.

            “Play with us!” Starbright squeaked in a high-pitched voice, pulling Lakai’s hair.

            “Come play! Come play!” Moonflower echoed, tugging on his sleeve.

            “I don’t want to play right now,” Lakai mumbled most uncharacteristically. They whizzed around him playfully.

            “Maybe not now,” teased Starbright.

            “But surely you will when we get back to Acrela!” Moonflower finished off.

            They began to circle him faster. The unicorn looked up, neighing at them grouchily.

            Lakai shook his head and smiled. “I think I will go back to Acrela, but not to play.”

            The sprites exchanged puzzled glances, “What is there to do besides play?”

            “I’m going to talk to the Queen!” he grinned haughtily.

            “Queen Ginzandi?” Starbright sniggered.

            “What do you want to talk with her about?” Moonflower asked.

            “You’ll see,” Lakai got up and started walking towards the faery city.

*          *            *

            Acrela was the capital of the East Forest, but an outsider would easily mistake it for just another part of the woods. This city consisted of the oldest trees in the forest. The denizens of the faery realm lived in their hollows, at their roots, and in their leafy bowers. Those with the gift of faery sight would see spectacular astral structures branching out from the bark, intertwining with each other in beautiful patterns that served as scenic boulevards, spacious plazas, and ordinary roads. All paths led to the central grove where the Faery Queen Ginzandi made her home.

            Lakai walked briskly between the ancient trees. Starbright, Moonflower, and an accumulating number of curious faeries tagged along behind. He reverently entered Ginzandi’s sacred grove and bowed to her in admiration. She sat swinging in a garland of primroses suspended from the lofty branches.

            “Blessed be, mother,” he smiled at her.

            “Blessed be, my child,” she smiled back.

            The crowd of faeries fluttered about the grove, seating themselves in the foliage and shining from within the leaves in twinkling rainbow lights.

            “I have been doing a lot of thinking lately,” Lakai sighed.

            Ginzandi nodded encouragingly.

            “I know that I live in Faeryland as one of you,” he went on, “And yet at the same time I know that I am not one of you. Your kind is born when a seed first sinks its roots into the ground, you exist where the moonbeams dance upon the waters, and you emerge from unfolding flowers.

            “While I was traveling with Lynn… When we…” Lakai caught himself, recalling that the Acora told him to not talk about it, “I know that I have parents. I appreciate everything you all have done for me, and am sure that it is more than my real parents ever could have. But still I must know, who are my parents?”

            The onlooker faeries whispered to each other quietly.

            Queen Ginzandi frowned in thought, then shook her head. “We don’t know anything about your human parents, dear,” she told him, “You were given to us as a gift from the faeries of the Enchanted Forest. If anybody knows anything about your blood parents it would be them.”

            Lakai nodded in acknowledgement, “Then I must go ask them.”

            The hushed whispering turned to an outburst of astounded chatter.

            “If you do not leave today, you will leave tomorrow, who would stop you?” the Queen smiled sympathetically, “The Enchanted Forest is not a place we know much about, for we rarely go there. It is said that there is constant war there between the faeries and the tricksters, the Seelie and the Unseelie Courts.

“If you choose to go, the only advice I can give you is this: remember to always stay on the faery paths – those that shine silver by starlight. They will take you to the Underworld city of Elfame, realm of the Sidhe, and home to the Faery Queen Erunei. Do not stray off these paths, for danger lurks in the woods even for the faery favored.

“Go with my blessings, child,” Ginzandi traced the glowing design of a seven-pointed star on his forehead and watched it fade away, “Stay safe!”

Lakai kneeled, kissing her hand courteously, then got up and stepped out of the grove. He passed under the towering treetops and fantastic etheric metropolis of Acrela, savoring what little time he had left to enjoy the comforts of his home. Saying goodbye to his friends, he packed a pouch of food, trusting in the woodland faeries to provide him with more if he needed it.

*          *            *

For several days Lakai walked blithely across the sun-dappled floor of the East Forest, his knapsack tossed over his shoulder and bouncing behind him. It was a leisurely pace, bolstered by the chirping of songbirds from high in the canopy. Trees spoke to him through the rustling of leaves and he heard the whisperings of the airy sylphs on the breeze. Many a unipeg or unicorn would gladly give him a ride to the South Forest, but he preferred to go on foot, soaking in the scenery as he went.

Lakai left behind the last remnants of familiar woodland on the seventh day, passing into the primordial jungle of the South Forest. It was a vibrant place, perpetually damp with fresh rain due to its position on a thin strip of land bordered by the ocean on either side. Multicolored birds flew overhead, and the distant grunts of forest dragons were audible to the perceptive ear. The capital of this forest was Callibra, a city overrun by jungle and home to the lesser dragons – the tamunid, a mysterious humanoid race that could alter its skin tone to match its surroundings. Lakai did not encounter any of them along the way, but he knew they vigilantly monitored his every move from the underbrush.

The South Forest merged smoothly into the Enchanted Forest, for the tip of the Earth Dragon’s tail overlapped with the Lossi mainland at this very spot. Lakai entered the Enchanted Forest by day, feeling the change in energy fields as definitely as one wading into water from dry land. Physically, the tropical flora had turned notably more temperate.

He quickly detected the glint of silver in the grass that he knew to signify a faery path and followed the trail, surveying his surroundings in wonder at their unearthly beauty. Though Caldora’s landscape was cozier, this was more elegant and downright teeming with magic. Truly the forest lived up to its name. It beckoned for him to come and explore its captivating depths. Soon he could not resist the temptation any longer and, telling himself that he can always find the way back before nightfall, carelessly strayed off the path.

Consumed by an insatiable curiosity, Lakai wandered deeper and deeper into the wilderness. He existed in the present moment, living only for the knowledge of what lay beyond the next copse of trees. While this kind of behavior was typical and encouraged in the East Forest – indeed characteristic of any healthy living being – it was utterly dangerous in the Haunted Forest. He did not notice the sky growing darker.

When Lakai finally realized it was twilight, he scampered about the woods in panic until it became too dim to see his own hands. The darkness of the forest was blacker than pitch and so thick that he could almost feel it closing in around him. His gift of faery sight did not give him the benefits of night vision, and though he hoped his eyes would eventually adjust, they never did.

Lakai found it impossible to sleep, feeling like a blind rabbit in a forest of wolves. Eerie noises resounded from the gloom, some distinguishable as the sounds of wild animals while others were clearly not. Fantasizing about their source made his stomach turn, and he did his best to keep from hallucinating.

He heard a faint hissing around him before a pair of shining yellow eyes lit up in the darkness. Two other pairs slid down from above. He believed himself to be imagining them until he felt a stiff, bony hand latch onto his wrist. Instinctively he tried to tear away, frantically kicking and scraping at the creature, but more hands closed about his arms and legs to hold him in place – more hands than three creatures normally had. The waves of cold chills that Lakai felt flowing through his body seized him in a grip of paralyzing fear.

“What have we here?” one of the creatures said, its dripping saliva burning into his shirt like acid.

“A human child!” another grinned eagerly, its pointy fangs illuminated by its glowing orbs.

“A tasty human child,” the third whispered from behind, its icy breath brushing against his neck. Lakai shut his eyes, trying to block out their presence with the sound of his own racing heartbeat.

“Wh-who…who are you?” he asked through the paralysis spell.

“We are the Spider Sisters,” they answered in unison.

“Do you know what we do to pretty faery pets like you?” one hissed.

“We wrap you in our web and slowly drink you dry, letting our children eat the flesh off your bones until you are no more than a polished white skeleton.”

“P-please don’t kill me,” Lakai sniffled pitifully, frost forming on his eyelashes in place of tears.

The Spider Hags laughed cynically in his face, “Kill you? What would be the fun in that? We slowly eat you alive bit by bit. You’ll be begging for death before we’re through!”

He shivered and closed his eyes tighter.

“But we’ll give you a sporting chance,” they sneered, “If you can outrun us and hide so we don’t find you, we’ll leave you be.”

Immediately their metallic grips came free and Lakai collapsed to the forest floor. He hastily scrambled up and dashed the other way, promptly crashing into a tree. Staggering away from the tree, he barely evaded the swipe of a readied talon. Ecstatic cackling infused the air as he stumbled blindly through the darkness, narrowly avoiding the nails that clawed at him from all sides while being repeatedly cut by low branches. Tripping over a rock, he tumbled down the incline of a hill and landed face-first in the earth.

Lakai did not have the courage to move, knowing his doom to be close at hand. He waited for a while, but nothing happened. Cautiously raising his head, he saw that he was laying in a circle of silvery-blue fire which he instantly recognized to be a faery ring. The elvenstar shone brightly on his brow. Still dazed, he wiped the blood from his cheek and stared blankly at the smeared crimson stains on his hands. In the soft light, Lakai saw the deformed silhouettes of the Spider Hags hissing at him from the forest shadows, their limbs twitching hungrily but not daring to approach.

A luminous faery being hovered above him, smiling. “My name is Fearn,” she introduced herself, “And I am here to take you to Elfame.” With the wave of her hand, a shimmering gossamer road etched into the ground, illuminating the woods with otherworldly light.

“Many things you will see all around, but pay no heed and stay on the path,” Fearn motioned for him to follow. Lakai went after the faery, and though he heard ghastly noises coming from beyond the trail, he never took his eyes off her.

*          *            *

They walked and walked, he did not know for how long, but the forest was getting brighter. The faery path joined with a major faery road, and the horrors of the deep woods were left to the wilds.

The air was filled with scents of wildflowers mingling with sounds of spirited panpipes. Stars twinkled in the night sky. Shafts of moonlight filtered through the foliage, coating each leaf, branch, and blade of grass in silver.

Soon they were nearing a magnificent faery mound encircled by a crystal fence – the Surfaceworld entrance to Elfame. The ornate double-door gates opened to a delicate harp-strung melody played by two imperial sentries. Lakai climbed with Fearn down to the underground, through dazzling crystalline caverns that led to a vast opening lit by the brilliant Underworld sun.

The majestic city of Elfame spread out before him, above him, and around him. Ethereal architecture grew out of the cave walls, floor, and ceiling, glowing with faery fire. Countless faery beings flew in the midst of the buildings. Fearn gestured for Lakai to follow her through the main street, to the iridescent faery palace at the heart of the metropolis.

Upon entering the castle, he felt an intense nostalgia engulf him, recalling the carefree days he spent in these luminous halls, pampered in the lap of the Faery Queen herself. As they approached her regal throne and he saw her radiant visage, he was overcome with joy and couldn’t help running into her arms. She enfolded him in a warm embrace that made Lakai forget his purpose here, certain that he had already found his true mother. Erunei healed his scratches and eased his worries.

Fearn bowed to her Queen and exited the palace.

“Mother,” he whispered into her flower-adorned hair.

“No, darling,” she cooed tenderly, “As much as I would love it to be otherwise I am not your blood mother.”

Lakai blinked and leaned a bit away. “Erunei,” he smiled, then took a step back and bowed, “Beautiful Queen Erunei. You were the first mother that I can remember, and a wonderful one at that.”

“And you were always my favorite human,” she returned his smile and raised him to his feet, “I won’t have you bowing to me, child! Know that as long as you live you are always welcome in these halls, and shall be treated with the highest regard by all the Seelie Court. But if you came here solely to find your human parents, then you have come in vain.”

Lakai looked to her inquisitively.

“You did not wind up in Faeryland by chance,” Erunei elaborated, “Your human parents had been banished to the Enchanted Forest by Queen Onedia. When they realized they were doomed, your mother prayed with all her heart for you to be saved. Kirune, one of my patrolling faeries, heard her plea. She stole you away to Faeryland while your parents were lured to their deaths by tricksters.”

“Why were they banished?” Lakai swallowed, “Did they do something bad?”

“No, child,” she told him, “All they did was speak the truth.”

He hesitated, “Then… Then why–?”

“Queen Onedia is not who she proclaims to be,” Erunei explained, “She is the Mistress of Illusions, both terrible and beautiful. Though she is a powerful goddess, something has clouded her mind and twisted her heart. She has cursed this forest and it now serves as a dungeon for all who disobey her. Your father tried to expose her, but Onedia’s grip over her subjects was so strong that they refused to listen to facts and supported her verdict.”

Lakai paused in thought. He knew he should have been sad or outraged, but he didn’t know his parents long enough to have such poignant reactions. He didn’t even remember their names. But that very guilt about his ignorance made him feel all the more determined to avenge them. Lakai knew Onedia was Aloquin’s ally, and weakening her authority would also help his Caldorian friends. “Then I must go to the Forestside Kingdom and finish what my parents started. I owe them my life and existence, this would be the least I can do to honor their memory.”

“If that is your wish,” the Queen conceded, “But half the challenge is getting out of the Haunted Forest itself. Onedia’s curse allows only those born or reborn here to leave.”

Lakai’s determination became notably deflated.

“Though you are not born here, you still can be reborn,” she went on, “Laurel, the Lady of the Forest, has been so twisted by Onedia’s spell that she has forgotten her divinity and now lives in an old cottage in the eastern part of the woods. She invites weary travelers inside and feeds them an enchanted stew that transforms them into wild beasts befitting their character.

“This stew has two magical ingredients: one which carries the essence of beast, and another which functions as a catalyst for transformation. Here in Faeryland we grow foxglove that is an antidote to the essence of beast. Though it is poisonous to mortals when taken by itself, essence of beast negates its harmful affects.”

Lakai hung on her every word.

“Follow the faery paths to the east and find Laurel’s cottage,” Erunei conjured up a pouch of foxglove and offered it to Lakai, “Accept her invitation and consume this herb while she is not looking. Once inside, eat the stew she gives you. When she seems impatient for you to turn into some feral creature, claim to be a powerful sorcerer who is furious that she would dare try cast such a petty spell on you. Tell her that you will not harm her if she lets you leave in peace. If that works, keep to the faery paths and go south to get out of the forest.”

He nodded and accepted the foxglove, fingering it tentatively in his hands.

“That is the plan,” she concluded, “But Laurel is a powerful Enchantress and not to be underestimated or anticipated. We will not be able to help you if something goes wrong, for we still revere her as the Lady of the Forest and abide by her will.”

Lakai stared at the pouch ambivalently; the thought of going back into the Haunted Forest filled him with sheer dread.

“If I had it my way, you would never leave my side,” Erunei prompted him, “You are one of us! There is no place for you outside of Faeryland. Stay here in happiness and peace, where there is no aging or death. Leave mortal cares behind and become one with the Sidhe. Let the rest of the world worry about their own problems.”

Torn between what he wanted and what he should do, Lakai sensed tears welling up from within. “I want to,” he looked up at her bleary-eyed, “And I will come back! But first I need to make amends to my mortal family and friends.”

“Very well,” she sighed, “But do spend the rest of the night here, where it is safe. I had a bed prepared for you – stuffed with flowers and herbs, and softened with pixie dust. Sweet dreams, my child. Maybe you will change your mind in the morning.”

*          *            *

Lakai did not reconsider his decision the next day. For the first time in his life he felt a sense of purpose more potent than faery glamour. Queen Erunei tried tempting him with delicious faery foods and encouraged him to join in the nighttime revels, but he refused, knowing he would be charmed into never wanting to leave. She sadly bid him farewell as he set upon a faery path in the morning.

Lakai began his trek eastwards at the first light of dawn. Though the forest still held many dangers, its nocturnal hazards have subsided considerably, and those protected by the Sidhe could tread the faery roads without fear. Birds sang sweetly in the trees and the fragrant aroma of herbs wafted on the breeze. He walked warily through the greenery, it was well past noon and he knew that evening was fast approaching.

At one point he noticed well-tended wildflowers and grasses growing on the borders of the trail. Walking further, he saw the figure of a blond, middle-aged woman dressed in a simple earth-colored gown crouched amid the shrubbery, picking the herbs to create a lovely bouquet. Clutching the pouch of foxglove tensely in his fist, Lakai gathered the courage to come near her.

She peeked out at him from behind stalks of lavender and rosemary. “Why hello, traveler,” her lips spread into a mysterious smile, “Welcome to my gardens.” She stood up and looked him over, “How tired you must be! Come spend the night in my humble cottage. I may not have much, but I can offer you some good food and a warm bed.”

“You are too kind, ma’am,” Lakai smiled back meekly.

“Come, come!” the woman stretched her free hand out to him and he timidly took it.

He followed Laurel outside the safety of the faery path, into a clearing. The sun was setting beyond the treetops and the glade was aglow with softening hues of twilight. The odd thing was that there were two scaly chicken legs positioned right in the middle. Following their length up, Lakai saw a rickety hut resting on top of them. Laurel stepped forward and shouted:


Cottage, cottage,

Standing on chicken legs,

Turn your back to the forest,

And your front to me!


            The chicken legs came alive to the sound of her voice, stomping in place and rotating so that the front of the hut faced its owner. A wooden ladder grew magically out of the door’s base, down to the ground. Laurel put her foot on a rung and beckoned for Lakai to follow.

            “It’s perfectly safe,” she assured him before climbing higher.

            He took a deep breath and placed his hands on the railings. Taking care not to drop his pouch, he climbed after her. Looking down, Lakai observed that though it was not terribly high, a fall from such an altitude was potentially fatal. They easily reached the top, and the ladder disappeared behind them as they stepped across the threshold.

            “Come, come!” Laurel pulled back a chair, “Make yourself comfortable, sit! I’ll go to the back and cook us some food.”

            “Thank you,” Lakai said shyly as he sat down, “I really appreciate the hospitality.” But she giddily scurried into the kitchen before he finished the sentence. Taking advantage of her absence, he quickly stuffed the powdered foxglove into his mouth, and instantly cringed in revulsion. It tasted dry and bitter, but he forced himself to swallow.

Though he hoped the stew would wash out the acrid taste, for now all he could do was look around the room. The inside of the house was rather cozy, lit by several candles and decked with wreaths and festoons of flowers. Appetizing smells drifted in from the kitchen.

Laurel returned shortly with a bowl of soup in each hand, setting one dish next to Lakai. Taking a seat in the chair opposite him, she placed the second dish in front of herself.

“All-natural stew made from hand-picked forest herbs!” she got a spoon out of her apron pocket and handed it to him, “Here.”

Not having eaten for the entire day, he grabbed the spoon and dug into the soup, gulping it down in large portions. Laurel smiled and stirred her own stew, sipping it periodically. Upon scouring the bowl clean, Lakai asked for seconds and she was more than happy to provide them.

“So what brings you to this part of the woods?” Laurel asked after he had finished.

“Oh,” Lakai laughed, leaning back in the chair, “I’m just passing through.” He wanted to get on with the rest of Erunei’s plan, but something was amiss. He had expected Laurel to stare at him intently, look about restlessly, or at least show some sign of anticipation. But instead, she was casually engaging him in small talk.

“Passing through?” Laurel smirked, still stirring the stew, “Then you have a long road ahead of you. This is no ordinary forest.”

“I’m guessing so,” Lakai nodded, sensing a headache coming on.

“Strange things you will see in these woods after sundown,” Laurel went on, “Many creatures lie in wait for hapless travelers in the dark; fantastic monstrosities both real and imagined. Terrible beings who delight in the sadistic slaughter of their victims. The forest is cloaked in illusions, and nothing is as it seems.”

Lakai was certain something went wrong when he began to feel sickeningly nauseous. His vision blurred and objects in the room turned tints of yellow, then green. He hunched over as the nausea in his stomach changed into sharp, burning pain.

“You best spend the night in my cottage,” she grinned, believing he was reacting to her words.

“I… probably should…” Lakai heard himself say before collapsing senseless on the floor.

Laurel was all over him in moments, checking for vital signs and searching for any previously unseen wounds. She unclasped his hand and found the empty pouch in his palm.

“Foxglove?” she whispered, smelling it. Laurel threw Lakai’s hand over her shoulder and raised him up. Not willing to attempt hauling him down the ladder, she bid the cottage to descend to the forest floor. The chicken legs responded by stooping down in a low crouch, and she easily stepped to the ground with him.

*          *            *

Laurel hastened through the dark woods as fast as she could, the creatures of the night letting their Goddess pass undisturbed. She hurried to a cabin not too far from her own – that of her daughter’s. It was an isolated cabin, located in the shade of several ancient trees and framed by a cultivated herbal garden. Wind chimes tinkled softly by the door, and the warm light of the hearthfire shone through the windows.

“Saillie!” Laurel stormed through the door and dropped Lakai to her feet.

The woman by the fire stared at her, startled.

“Fix him!” Laurel pointed down.

“Another one?” Saillie blinked in confusion.

Her mother marched over and handed her the pouch, “I think he ate foxglove.”

Saillie sniffed at the bag and shook her head somberly, “This is not just foxglove, this is faery foxglove, they’re different.” She walked over to Lakai to check his pulse, noting that it was rather slow and uneven, “Normal foxglove is often not fatal because you usually vomit it before it can do serious damage.

“But faery foxglove is more potent,” Saillie moved back to the cauldron over the fire, “It is more concentrated, it acts quicker, it is not thrown up.” She almost mentioned that it is also used as a remedy for essence of beast, but restrained herself, throwing some herbs into the cauldron instead, “Though it is a delicacy among the Sidhe, it is very lethal to mortals. It only grows in faery territory – he must have trespassed and was given it as a curse.”

“What are you going to do?” Laurel watched her daughter bustle about the room gathering various herbs.

Saillie tossed some more herbs in, “I am going to make him vomit it.”

“B-But won’t that flush out my spell?” her mother asked fidgeting her fingers anxiously.

“No,” Saillie sighed, whishing it did, “Your spell has already taken effect,” she turned to Laurel, “Go home, and come back in the morning. I should have him cured by then.”

Laurel glared at her contemptuously, annoyed that her daughter would have the nerve to give her orders, but left quietly.

When the door shut, Saillie dipped a cup into the cauldron and scooped up some of the herbal liquid. Glancing back at Lakai, she hesitated, wondering if it would be better to let the poison kill him. But then she supposed he would want to live. After all, he came prepared with an antidote from the Sidhe themselves – who don’t grant their favors lightly. Pity it was for the wrong spell. And besides, Saillie blushed, she couldn’t let such a pretty thing die.

She knelt down and set him in her lap. Tilting his head back, she carefully poured the contents of the cup into his throat. Saillie stayed with him all night while he retched and gagged as the potion took effect, forcing the poison back out of his system. He spat and vomited the foxglove, mixed with soup, into a bucket she provided.

All Lakai perceived through his hazy consciousness was the angelic face of an indigo-haired girl gazing down at him from above, a waxing crescent moon shining brightly on her brow. After the last of the foxglove was expelled, she gently rocked him to sleep to the sound of a soothing lullaby.

*          *            *

Lakai stirred, feeling at the mossy ground under him and sensing the warmth of the sun against his body. Slowly, he opened his eyes, squinting reflexively from the glare of light flooding through the open canopy. A shadow moved into view overhead, obstructing the daylight. He peered at the form and recognized it to be a woman. She smiled, brushing away the hair from his face and raising him to a sitting position. It took a few minutes for Lakai’s traumatized eyes to fully adjust to his surroundings. He was sitting by a tree, on the grassy floor of a picturesque clearing. However, he did not remember where he was, why he was here, or much of anything for that matter.

“Who are you?” he inquired of the woman.

“I am Laurel,” she replied, “Lady of the Forest.”

“Where am I?”

“You are in the Enchanted Forest,” Laurel told him.

Lakai looked around the clearing once more. “Who am I?” he asked after a long pause.

“You are Pan,” her smile widened into a complacent grin, “Lord of the Forest.”



Copyright © 2003 by Yumeni www.twilightvisions.com. All rights reserved.
Revised: 27 Jan 2013 22:58:19 -0700 .



Sign the Guestbook!