There is little talk of legends these days. Myths are contained to children books, and the fantastical creatures they speak of are regarded as passing fancies, archetypes of fiction. There is no fear of dragons, of demons, of witches, of sirens. There is no quest for fairies, for centaurs, for elves, for magic. Any notions of such things are squashed out like innocence, with the aging and social indoctrination of youth. Imagination is killed, and so is any real hope for the fantastic.
Except for in a few rural towns, bordering a gigantic forest – the last untouched bit of wilderness.
There is a reason that no one hunts in The Woods. There is a reason that no one logs in The Woods. There is a reason that no one so much as sets foot near The Woods. And it is a simple reason, to any wise child: magic.
The natural inhabitants of the area are familiar with this fact; they are comfortable with it. They live their lives comfortably outside of the limit of the forest, always wondering about its inhabitants, always speculating about its nature, but never setting foot within it. Opportunistic skeptics have attempted to chart the area, to steal its resources, to no avail. There is no end to The Woods. Satellite images cannot even agree on the dimensions of The Woods. Sometimes it is a mere speck of trees, and at others; it is as expansive as a continent. There is no documenting it on foot, either. Even equipped with the most up to date technology, none that enter ever come out again.
Perplexed by this anomaly, knowledge of The Woods was hidden from the government, and the locals were given a certain amount of land, including The Woods, for them to remain isolated upon. This practice has worked fairly well, although information leaks are always inevitable. No one dares come near enough to investigate, though. The Woods are the true Bermuda Triangle, and everyone knows not to go in, around, or over it.
Except, that is, for the Sevenths.
I was destined to become a witch. There was never any questioning of the matter. I was the seventh child, and the seventh child of any family was always gifted with magic. The deal was set when my mother deposited my bawling newborn being, still red from my birth, into the arms of the local medicine woman.
There was one older child with her at the time of my arrival, him being four years of age. It was fairly uncommon for families to have more than five children, especially by the same set of parents, so in our small village of three hundred modest men and women only three Sevenths had been born in the last decade. One of them, being ten years my superior, had already left for The Woods.
We lived humbly. The medicine woman, who we were taught, along with the other village children, to call Granny, was in her sixties and earned her food and keep by doing favors for the other villagers. She would make them medicines, and find little magical remedies for all their tiniest tribulations. She was a Seventh herself, but she had not gone into The Woods and completed her Task. Her parents had rebelled against her going, as none ever returned from The Woods.
To clarify, our village was situated alongside a river, which provided us with all our freshwater and fish-related needs. We lived in a field that people farmed on. Around us were patches of trees and forest, where wild game could be hunted, but they were different from The Woods. Young children of the village were taught never to enter The Woods, as great and mysterious creatures of magic dwelled beneath those darkened canopies. No one went in The Woods. Only the Sevenths. Occasionally Granny would go to the outskirts to pick herbs of a more enchanted variety, but even she did not dare to set foot beneath those great trees.
She taught us well, the boy and I. His name was Edmund, if I remember correctly. He was never the most talented magician, and I remember clearly one day when I was four or five, and I did a spell he had been struggling with just to tease him. Granny opted to favor me for my gifts, which she seemed to be more aware of than I was. I simply did as she instructed to, read the spell books she gave to me, and practiced whenever I could. I was quite fond of these arts.
Then one day, Edmund was gone. He left when he was twelve, and I but eight. There's never a set year for when they go, they simply go, usually between the years of ten and thirteen. There's never any warning, any ceremony. Just one day a Seventh leaves for The Woods, and never returns.
I believe Granny worried for him. His skills may have been sufficient to keep him alive those first years, but I do not doubt that he was incapable of completing the Task.
It was in my tenth year that Granny explained the Task to me. Every Seventh had to complete it in order to become a full-fledged magician. Not long before the changes to adulthood began, every Seventh who wished to reach their full potential had to leave for The Woods. There, they would spend several years learning to survive on their own. Then, before their transformation to adulthood was complete, they had to fuse with a magical creature and absorb its power through the capture of its soul as it departs in death.
I left at eleven years old. It just so happened that that one morning I woke with a profound itch in my legs, and a feeling of total oppression. Fearing for my freedom – nay, my life – I hastily gathered up a small bag of provisions and left before even half of the sun had emerged from beneath the horizon. I practically ran to The Woods, plagued by a sensation of being chased by a ferocious predator, and I only managed to achieve a sense of safety after I had stumbled into the darkness of those trees.
Only was it that when my heart rate slowed to anything resembling normality, did I fully began to realize the alien nature of my surroundings. The forest was utterly quiet, and yet the silence was louder than any noise I had ever heard. The trees jutted up from the ground like so many giant statues, the mysterious kind that were a relic of some long-dead civilization. I quaked under their fearsome majesty.
I wandered aimlessly for days, until finally I found myself a nice clearing alongside a cheerful little brook. I set up a camp of some sort there, collecting leaves to be my bed, and using the blanket I had packed to cover myself in the nights. There was no use for a tent, as I detected no weather and no animals within The Woods. This was reassuring, while at the same time puzzling. I had found a few berries that while unfamiliar to me I found satisfactory for eating, however, there was no food of substance to be found aside from my meager provisions. My belly began to hunger for meat, and it was thus that my first task of any industrial use was to weave a net out of the long grasses that grew alongside the steam. Eventually I came to string it against a narrow part of the brook, and I lay on my stomach in wait until finally, a fish was caught, writhing against the reeds. I greedily snatched the creature out of the water, only to let out a yell and hastily drop it. The fish was of no color I had ever seen before, nonetheless on a fish, and it was covered in tiny little spines that had pricked my finger. Discouraged, I returned to my camp.
It took me several more days before I was able to hold on to any fish, and then I made myself a little fire and feasted quite happily. Fish from The Woods just so happened to taste better than any that lived outside of it.
There was more to this forest than had initially revealed itself to me. After a week and a half I began to see peculiar birds flitting about in the canopies, and in another week I managed to shoot one down. I made a crown of its feathers, which I was quite pleased with. It was yet another week before I saw my first animal of any size. It was a great lumbering bear-like creature, except that its face was quite more squashed, and it had three pairs of legs, instead of two. I watched it amble by from where I crouched behind a tree some distance away. I remember trembling quite terribly from fear, but the creature did not seem to notice me.
Eventually, I grew more accustomed to the woods. As I grew bigger and stronger, I began to hunt the smaller animals of the forest, and once felled a large hoofed animal, then used its pelt to make myself a marvelous cloak. I fashioned myself all sorts of items from what The Woods provided me with. She was a generous caretaker, and did not deserve the fearful connotations her name held with my people.
I explored. I learned that The Woods were more expansive than I had initially imagined. I followed my brook in for a month; it seemed, until I came to its source at a giant lake, so vast I had to squint to see the other shore. I did not stop to investigate the contents of the lake, as I imagine they would be the sort that would be dangerous to me. I left before nightfall, which was all very well, because I did later discover that sirens made their home in those waters.
It was when I was nearing fifteen years of age that I discovered the mountains. A game trail I had been following led me up to higher and higher elevations, until I finally came upon a small clearing atop a hill, at the center of which was a gigantic tree. I climbed up into it, finding handholds in its deep grooves. I sat myself on one of the branches, and observed, for the first time, a jagged row of claws jutting from the forest. They extended infinitely upward – or so it seemed – and were cragged and ominous. As I was observing, a fairy alighted beside me. The feathered creature told me an interesting story. She told me that a dragon lived up there, in one of the caves. He was old and spiteful and sick with the power of his species. I nodded halfheartedly, and proceeded to forget about this tidbit of information, although I took to living in that tree for another two months.
I had developed a rather transient lifestyle, though. Feeling no need to create a permanent shelter, I wandered the forests, pursuing game and my own whims with all the aimlessness of youth. I would settle in one place I found pleasing for any portion of time, and then I would move on when the itch became great enough. All the while I practiced magic, and fighting. As I grew older, the aggressive tendencies became greater and greater. Still, I had left those mountains, only to return to them at sixteen years old.
I cannot fully describe the sensation that drew me back to them. It was similar to the feeling that had brought me into the forest. That same feeling of pursuit, and that same earnest, oppressive sensation, dogged my every step. I could not sleep for days because it consumed me so.
I cannot tell you how long it took for me to reach the range, because all the days melded with the nights which melded with the time in between, until my existence became some muddled soup that had no defining character. It simply happened, and it continued happening, until I had arrived. And then, the feeling stopped.
For a week, I remained at the foot of the mountain. I hunted animals, and gained strength. I fashioned myself weapons of a quality unlike any that I had made before. I made myself a sort of makeshift armor, and I sharpened blades and tools. When I finally set about to climbing the rocky precipice, I traveled light.
I climbed all morning and into the afternoon, taking breaks only to drink from my flask, and to eat some dried meat I had packed with me. I was fully prepared, though, when I set foot upon the level ground before the open chasm of the cave. Its huge maw could have easily swallowed a dozen of me with no difficulty, but I felt no fear. I know, with a complete and total conviction, that this was my Task.
The steps up to the entrance passed with little time at all, until I had rooted myself at the entrance of the cave. At the top of my lungs, I called out to the beast within. "Oh! Great dragon of this mountain, do reveal yourself to me!"
My voice echoed momentarily, then all was silent. I stood there, heart racing to get as many pumps in before its predicted termination, as I waited for a response. Then, there was a low shuffling sound, and a slithering. Before me, from the depths of the shadows, appeared a giant, crimson dragon.
He stared at me for a long time, breathing in the deep manner that dragons breathe in. Finally, he spoke. "Ah, little Seventh, your time is near. Do you wish to end me?"
Unfazed, I stared up at him. "Precisely," I breathed.
The dragon laughed. "Foolish girl! Have you no idea who I am? What I am? I am a dragon! I have ruled over these mountains for the last three hundred years! Why do you not act sensible like the rest of your kind, and steal the skin of a siren or snake?"
I shook my head violently. Then, without thinking about it, I lunged foreword and managed to nick the side of his foot, in his unguarded state.
This act against him enraged him, and caused him to engage in a struggle with me, each for our own lives. I sustained many injuries in the course of the battle, but he was old, and he was complacent. I caught him off guard with a spell, and then struck one of his fatal points with my spear. I then stood back, and watched as his life seeped out from him.
Then, I saw it; the bright flash as his soul struggled to free itself from the pain of this body. I caught it, roped it in from the heavens, and cupped it in my hands. Then I pressed the glowing orb into my chest, and fell over in a swoon.
I awoke several minutes later to find a new vigor in me, and my wounds healed. Except for one peculiarity…my hands no longer resembled that of a human. Instead, they were a rusty color, and my fingers were long, spindly and pointed, ending in claws. They were encased in hard scales, which extended up my forearm. I knew to expect some change of this sort from my teachings, but never this drastic. I knew I could not dwell on this, though, as I had a task to do. Carefully, meticulously, I took the old dragon's skin for my cloak, in the act that would complete my Task.
Sub-species: Dragon, human
Phase one: Eleven
Phase two: Sixteen
Power: 76% matured
Element: Fire, then air
Rank: 5th in The Woods, 1st in the Kingdom of Kartha
Territory: South eastern (Kartha)
Physique: Slim, atheletic
Height: Approximately 5'7
Hair: Black, straight
Skin: Red dragon
Footnote: It has been a century since Serraona first entered The Woods. Now, due to seniority, talent, and the power of her merged animal, she has distinguished herself as one of the top witches in The Woods. Kartha took a particular interest to her and now she is bound by a loose allegiance of her choosing to that kingdom. It has its perks, being royally sponsored, that is, but at the same time it does have its restrictions.
It took me years to acquaint myself with my new form. I was no longer a human, not even a Seventh. I was a witch, and whatever magical abilities I had had as a Seventh were nothing in comparison to the powers that were now seeping from me. I quickly learned of my element, fire, as I more than once set the forest aflame. I thus also had to quickly learn to control it, or risk serious injury to myself. It is not to be said that I didn't burn my self once or twice in the process…but I survived.
I didn't even attempt transformation until I had the fire under control, but once I did, an entire new realm of possibilities was opened to me. As a dragon, I possessed strength the likes of which I had never known before. This was a trivial matter, though, in comparison to what I have always considered to be the true prize: flight. I cannot possibly begin to describe that first sensation of flight. I dragged myself to an open hill, and ran, spreading my wings wide, flapping once, twice, heart racing with the doubt of success, and then launching my borrowed body into the sky, to remain there, with nothing between me and the ground but air.
Up until I was twenty, I was a nomadic student of the magical arts, with no other teacher than myself and the wisdom imbedded within the old dragon's soul. It was in this fourth year, though, that I caught the attention of a powerful forest spirit. To this day I am not sure what it is about me in particular that caught my eye, but she appeared before me once and offered to tutor me in the arts. I admit that in my years of solitude I had often longed for companionship and tutelage, so I eagerly accepted her invitation.
I lived with Sai – that was her name, Sai – for a good span of years. I cannot recall how many, for as soon as I reached full maturity, the years slipped away quite quickly. I know it must have been at least forty, although I did not age to reflect it. We kept no permanent residence, yet moved through the canopies at will. This suited us both fine, as I was adept with the element of air, and she was an earthen spirit, tied to the trees. We would set up camp, often for months at a time, but we were in no hurry. There was no pressing need for anything, no oppressive goal in life. I only desired to improve my magic, and she was a patient and capable teacher.
This manner of life, of course, did not persist indefinitely. We split under peculiar circumstances. There was no falling out; there was no anger. I simply felt that I had learned all that I wished to be taught, and that I would like to set off on my own. She was agreeable to this, and we went our separate ways.
For the first time since I was a child, I decided upon a sedentary lifestyle. I found a nice, large lake for me to build a modest dwelling nearby. It only had one room, with a bed, table, fireplace, and compartments for storage, and thus it suited me just fine. I kept a small garden where I raised the magical plants I had learned to grow for various spells. I saw Sai every now and then, but I also saw various other magical creatures and entities. I set up a business in spell-working, and beings would come from the surrounding forest to seek my services.
Of course, I faced my challenges as well. I was not – am not – the only witch in the woods. At that time, my powers were around sixty percent mature, and I would often chance upon witches who sought my instruction, or to defeat me. I met many of different ages, from younglings fresh from completing their task, to witches my age, male and female, who fought and befriended me.
It really was only chance that I remained undefeated, and kept my powers with their progress unhindered. More than one powerful witch nearly managed to defeat me, and more than one tried to rob me through less than honorable means. I made it through these years whole and myself, as I practiced and gained power.
Over time, I developed a bit of a reputation. It was this reputation that caught the interest of the kingdom of Kartha. I had never paid much heed to the politics of The Woods, as I never felt myself a part of any of the kingdoms, simply a visitor onto their lands. However, when the king sent his men to ask for my service, I was tempted. I knew of royal patronage for witches, and the idea intrigued me, not to mention I was honored to be thought highly enough of to be considered for this position.
I was nearing a century in age when I met with the king. He was an imposing figure, but I was not one to be intimidated. He tested my strength against his court witches, and, finding me far superior to them in capabilities, was willing to sign to nearly anything that would put me under his employment.
I chose quite simply. I would have a home, a new one, and I would remain undisturbed by trivial things. I was not to be bothered by lesser witches trying to pick a fight, and I would have the resources I desired. In exchange, I would be able to provide my opinion in matters of state and war, as well as my services. I would assist him with medicine, and help defend the kingdom and its inhabitants.
A big task, no?
One that I thought little of, as it has called upon me rarely to assist with it. As it is, I have now moved to reside within a gigantic tree (of course it has agreed to me living there, I offered it magical sustenance in exchange for its shelter) a short flight but a long walk from the capitol. I have whatever resources I may desire, and I have command over the king's other witches. All is agreeable, aside from the fact that I am now bound to this sedentary lifestyle. And I admit, with the chains in place, I feel the call to wander more and more. But I know it is simply a passing fancy.
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