Walking into an earthen glade, the first thing you notice is the symphony of birds fluttering about, each singing their songs of joy. Here beams of light flood in unlike the rest of the damp dark forest. The light was warm; comforting. You sighed happily as you swung your backpack off your shoulder and made your way over to a fallen log. And that was when you spotted it. A bird skeleton lay just past the log, held eternally in place by roots and vines.

Glancing upwards, you were confused to hear that the birds had changed their joyous songs to those of fear and alarm. A pit formed in the bottom of your stomach, unfurling it's claws as the feeling of comfort you once had was tainted by the presence of death. But when you glanced back down at the bones, they were gone.

Hello there, a melodic voice calls out from behind you. Wheeling around, you are faced with a very small woman. The first thing you notice is the uncanny grace she holds within herself; it's as if her wrists and ankles are held by wire, keeping them light and fluid as she gestures towards your backpack. Have you been traveling long? she smiles warmly, sweeping her hands outwards behind her. Here, follow me, she continues, stepping carefully through the glade and into the woods and consequently leading you away from the protection of the sunshine.

Unsure of what to do, you look over your shoulder into the twisting paths you had just escaped from and decide to follow the strange woman. As she leads you through the forest, you try your best to stay upright but your heavy boots are no match for the woman's nimble walking and you find yourself continually stumbling forward. No matter, you suddenly had a direction to follow and you were grateful for the help.


Silly thing, Hymn thought to herself, glancing discreetly behind her at the fumbling individual that trailed her feet. They always trust so easily, she mused, throwing waves of mouse brown hair over her shoulder and smiling widely at her passenger. We're almost there! she called out behind her, keeping her voice light and airy.

Gaily leaping over a protruding root, Hymn rounded one final corner and walked into a much cooler, dense clearing. Here the light took on hues of purple and blue, and moisture clung to the air thick like butter. Rotting flora bordered the thicket and mushrooms sprouted up in hundreds, their tops dewy and varying in colours.

It was if you had entered another forest entirely, but while the other one was flourishing, this one was dying.

This was where Hymn thrived.

Now don't be shy darling, she called to you, leaving you with the image of her swaying back as she melted into the shadows. Oh and don't mind my pets, they won't harm you! The contrast between her song-like voice and your new found environment sent your head spinning. Or was that just from the fog? It had swept in from no where, grasping at your clothes and clogging your throat. You struggled to breath, heaving in big breaths of what seemed to be water. W-wait, you thought to yourself, pets? You made the mistake of looking up, eyes landing on rows upon rows of blackbirds. Each and every one had their eyes trained on you. And that was when you fainted.

          an introduction

Don't be fooled by Hymn's warm welcome, she only appears to prey on lives. Her very existence relies on what her birds are able to feed on, as they are individual particles of herself. Not immortal per say, as she is not guaranteed to live past the fortnight if she does not find wandering individuals, but she does remain trapped in a young body by doing so.

When she tore her soul apart to manifest herself into hundreds of tiny blackbirds she also gained a feathery addition behind her right ear. Most times she keeps this hidden from visitors until it is too late. She dwells solely in the forest and only dares to wander into the local villages in emergencies. The villagers, in turn, have grown quite wary of newcomers or anyone they don't recognize.

          characteristics

Hymn is also incredibly vain and arrogant. She believes she is more intelligent, physically fit and generally better than anyone she happens upon. A few times this has led to sticky situations in which her victims have almost escaped, an incident she cannot afford to let happen as villagers would surely come rampaging through her forest before nightfall.

She is highly competitive, and has become obsessed with beating death. Her "pets" as she calls them are actually red-winged black birds, a small songbird that are native to the area she lives in. They can be recognized by their red-feathered shoulder and bordering yellow feathered bar on each of their wings.

chapter one | the preposition

     The candlelight from the small tavern glowed warm, spilling into the cobblestone street. A small wooden sign hung loosely on rusty nails above a doorway reading Du'Raven but the locals paid it no mind - they knew this was the only place left to relax in the tiny town. Rounds of laughter burst through the thin walls; after all, tonight was one of celebration. Inside the hut villagers clustered around a man. His hands swung back and forth in gesture, bubbles frothing over from his drink and dribbling down his forearm. Everyone listened on enamored.      

     I've heard he climbed to the tallest peak in the Talkean shield, one boy whispered to another.

     I've heard he destroyed all the monsters in the Edisare Sea, the second replied in turn.

     And all the while maintaining my ruggedly good looks and perfect hair, the man winked at the boys. Laughter filled the room once more, paired with a few sighs from the females lingering on the edge of the crowd.

     At that moment, a shadow crept forth from the corner. Shuffling towards tonight's celebrity, he wasted no time in admitting his doubts. Prove it. A silence suddenly swathed the room in tension.

     Freuden turned his head slowly towards the demand. And how, good sir, do you suggest I would go about something like that? The crowd shuffled nervously, all knowing the answer yet not wanting to admit so.

     You destroy The Beast, the man answered, not missing a beat. Clearly, Freuden mused to himself, this outburst was well-thought out.

     Alright I'll bite, Freuden replied out loud. What is this beast you speak of?

     The man struggled to wrap his cloak tighter around his bony frame. The Beast has plagued our tiny town for as long as people have dwelled here. Beginning since the first settler could remember, it feeds on souls deep within the forest. At first, it was only once every generation. Lately however, the disappearances have been getting more frequent. We have tried letting our sheep stray into the woods, but it does not accept the animal's offerings. It thirsts only for human flesh. A lockdown occurs every night in the village, and yet people continue to disappear, every fortnight.

     The man pauses, blinks once, twice, as if to gather his bearings. Looking up, his scarred face catches the light from under the hood as he asks quietly, Will you accept this challenge, fearless one? Many have tried to defeat it. None have returned. You may be the only one left in Proëlium able to.

     Freuden looked around at the faces staring at him with admiration. The silence created a deafening buzz in his ears until he couldn't take it any longer. Alright, why not? he shrugged, a grin plastered on his face. His heart pumped wildly beneath his garments however, with a weight growing in the pit of his stomach. Something was off here.

chapter two | the discovery

     Freuden swatted at a bug biting the back of his neck. How far could it possibly be he questioned, impatience growing. It would take any curious wanderer days to find this so-called nest of The Beast.

     The air dripped with moisture, mosses creating a plush bedding beneath his feet and ferns dampening his pants and he trudged forth. Light filtered through here and there but overall it was nothing spectacular, if not humid. At least the journey gave him time to reflect on pressing matters. His heart felt a million miles away. A lump formed in his throat as he thought of his mother; he wondered if she was doing well. Drifting in and out of boxes stored at the back of his mind he tried not to hope for the impossible. Happiness would come for him, eventually. Just not here. Slapping away another bug that landed on his exposed arm, he tensed as a twig snapped a few yards ahead of him.

     He reprimanded himself for getting too caught up in the realm of dreams. Eyes focusing on his surroundings, he suddenly noticed the change in environments. Whereas the forest was dewy and rich of flora before, now it was sparse, dry and rotting. Ducking into a crouch Freuden prepared for the worst.

     A girl abruptly burst through the darkness, her eyes wild and hair streaming out behind her. You must help me! she screeched to Freuden. Taken aback, Freuden faltered for a split second before chivalry took over.

     What is the problem miss?

     My baby brother is trapped, you must come! Quick! She clawed at Freuden's arm, terror ringing outwards. Taking her hand he sprinted behind her.

     Stumbling into a new clearing, the girl suddenly stopped dead in her tracks.

     What, what is it? Freuden asked, whipping his head around. Were they too late?

     If I do say so myself, the girl replied, turning slowly, that was the best acting I've done to date. She smiled wickedly, eyes now gleaming red. As if in response, the birds seemed to laugh above them. He took this opportunity to glance upwards. In doing so, Freuden was met with a thousand beady eyes. I think it's safe to say I've found The Beast's lair, Freuden thought to himself.

     These are my pets, she cooed, circling him. Once they are done with you you will no longer be. It's a shame too, as you are quite handsome. She drew her hand slowly across his cheek. Her eyes showed no sign of mercy. Freuden's heart once again began beating to a wild symphony. It was not from fear however. It was adrenaline.

chapter three | the capturing

     Hymn laughed to herself. What a foolish man wandering so far into her territory. She knew the villagers were smart enough not to cross her path, so she concluded he must be a traveler. Cute too, she thought to herself as she tilted her head. Oh well. Turning her back to the clearing, she meant to walk back to her home, a tree located a hundred paces from here. Instead she met the ground as she fainted.

     Regaining consciousness to a pounding head, Hymn grabbed at the ground and pushed upwards.

     Woah there, I'd take it easy if I were you, a voice suggested. Hissing, she doubled her efforts but was met with weak arms and a desire to sleep for an extended period of time.

     What have you done to me?! she spit out. Looking over her shoulder she saw him resting against a tree picking dirt from underneath his nails. Nonchalance enveloped the man.

     I did what any person should have done awhile ago, he drawled. I found your weakness, and took advantage of it. Count yourself down a few minions.

     Hymn gasped. How could he have bested her pets? No one had done that before. A feeling of uneasiness shook her to her bones as she looked skywards - her birds had a look of defeat on their faces as they huddled together, mourning the loss of their other. She had clearly underestimated this man. Anger began coursing through her veins. How dare he! Snarling, Hymn finally gathered her wits about her and launched her body upright.

     Well you've proved yourself against a couple measly avians then, Hymn retorted, voice dripping with venom. But you shall be no match for me.

     Laughing softly to himself, Freuden slowly pushed himself up from the cradle of protruding roots he had rested upon. Alright my feathery-friend, he replied, let us find out who is the true victor.

She bent her knees, preparing for physical combat. When she swung at him however, the man merely skirted away. You can't win if you don't fight, she sneered. Going after him again, this time her nails made contact with his skin causing droplets of blood to form. Hymn grinned wickedly. Why, this man doesn't even know how to fight! But how in the world was he able to beat her pets by merely taking the defensive.

     Grunting, Freuden stumbled backwards, wiping his mouth. This woman clearly meant business. Well, he didn't intend to die. Crouching low, he closed his eyes against the tearing of skin and stretching of muscles.

     What-what is going on? Hymn

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