Poet of the Haunted Woods
Also by chivo
The shrouded veil of sinister mist that clung to the boughs of decaying trees seemed more eerie than ever. Twisting and entwining, it made its way around every structure within the Haunted Woods, disguising all it found in bleak obscurity. Evening had fallen hours ago, though it made little difference. The woods remained dark at all times of day.
This night, however, seemed a little difference. A trembling shimmer of light defied the shadows, stretching and gleaming, its source a run down wooden building, located to the far left of the legendary Brain Tree. And oddly, from this small structure, wild applause could be heard, followed by a hushed silence. If one were to peer through a cobweb laced window, the sight was an interesting one indeed. Scores of pets sat at tables, attentive expressions fixed upon their features.
Before them, a small wooden stage sat, and upon it, a rather striking creature. A Draik, but not just some mere plain type. His scales gleamed luminous silver, an argent gleam that seemed to brighten his sinuous form. A quick glance at the programs, clutched in the eager hands of the audience, identified him as Phobic. It was a name that several within the woods would recognise, a young poet, said to be a rising star, perhaps one that would break the myth that only things of a sinister nature carried the reputation of the woods themselves.
Pho cleared his throat, and read from a tattered piece of paper, held between two claws.
"This is," he announced, "My ode to Nereid, the Water Faerie.
"The waves shall meet the golden shore,
And up the sand, they'll creep.
Rushing back to her they go,
The Faerie of the deep."
The Draik finished, and inhaled, glancing around as the adoring crowd broke into wild applause. He gave a suave grin, ever determined to keep a calm facade, and stepped off stage. Brushing past admiring well wishers, he sought out his friend, a stunning ebony Draik, who sat nearby, looking slightly bemused. With a smirk, Pho flopped into a chair at the table.
"Well?" he demanded. "Pae, tell me! How was I?"
Pae hid a smile, knowing very well that his friend’s ego was a fragile thing.
"Brilliant, Pho. You've got another amazing poem there. Neopia shall have to watch out!"
Phobic looked pleased at this response, the light from the ceiling above creating a brilliant sheen upon his scales. Pae caught this self satisfied expression his friend seemed to carry so often as of late, and seemed concerned.
"You know, Pho..." he ventured softly. "Perhaps it's best to remember to be humble?"
The silvery Draik looked disgusted.
"Humble about what, Pae? I'm the finest poet this disgusting little wood has ever known. Can't you hear the applause? My brilliance astounds them!"
Pae bit back a sharp retort, and attempted to remain tactful.
"Remember when we were young, Pho? The stories we were told, about Vira?"
Phobic waved a clawed hand around impatiently.
"Yes, yes. Stuck up Acara, got turned into a beast. Or something along those lines."
Pae, sensing that the conversation was going nowhere, fell silent. But his concern lingered.
It's ironic, in a way, that so often fame comes to those who least deserve it. If Phobic's attitude and ego were any indication, he should have gained nothing. But his poetic talent was hard to deny, and word of his brilliance spread until pets from lands far away, from Brightvale, and Terror Mountain, would venture to the woods to hear the word of the amazing young poet.
But with this fame, humility did not come. Phobic's poems often now featured long, dramatic odes to himself, his brilliance, and his talent.
One dark evening, on that same little stage, he stood smugly, reciting to an enraptured audience.
"The shadows of this haunted realm,
So rarely produce bliss.
The woods are dank and lacking life,
I'm far too good for this."
The crowd cheered wildly, Phobic accepting their adoration without question, and breezing straight past the table where his old friend Pae sat. After all, poetic masterminds lacked the time to converse with childhood friends, and it had been months since they had spoken. With an arrogant swagger, the silvery Draik headed out into the sinister evening, determined that the serenity of a stroll home would no doubt get the creative juices flowing.
The wind seemed still that night, an odd thing in a woodland realm that so often heard the furious roar of a tempestuous breeze. This silence was eerie, though this didn't occur to the daydreaming Draik, who wandered, lost in admiration of his own skill. This reverie was rudely interrupted however, as a furious roar split the night, reverberating between the barren boughs.
From nowhere, a massive wooden claw swept down, grabbing the Draik, and sweeping him off the ground before he had a chance to protest. Mid-scream, he opened his eyes, to find himself firmly in the grasp of a rather enraged looking Brain Tree. The massive beast's crimson eyes glowed with wrath as they fixated upon the struggling Draik.
"You think you're too good for these woods? Too special to be associated with us?"
Phobic trembled in shock, unable to give much of a reply. His lips parted, but only a tiny whimper emerged, soon lost within the dank night.
The massive tree snorted, and hurled him onto the ground, leaving Pho to stagger to his feet, dizzy and stunned, barely unable to comprehend what his attacker was saying.
"You are a disgrace to our land, Draik. You have forgotten humility, and as such, you'll pay. I forbid you to leave these woods! You shall spend your miserable life wandering here, a shadow of your former self. Perhaps then you'll use your gifts for good, instead of to bolster your own ego!"
The Draik trembled, and glanced down, feeling as if he had stumbled into a nightmare. Those once luminous scales had faded to a tainted, dull jade tone, and his magnificent wings were tattered. Once vivid emerald eyes were now bloodshot and dull, his claws tarnished and chipped. Shocked, he stumbled backwards, shaking his head, refusing to accept the inevitable truth of the Brain Tree's angry curse.
A dreary wind blew through the woods. It was early morning, but it mattered little. The trees still, after decades, obscured the sunlight, and the land remained oppressed by shadow. Beneath the silent presence of the Brain Tree, two small Krawks sat, pouring over a thick, dusty book. The tome was heavy, the leather bound title declaring it to be 'A poetic history of the Haunted Woods'... but no author's name seemed to appear beneath the gilded scrawl. One of the youngsters idly traced a claw over the cover, fascinated.
"Teacher was right, the book is amazing. I wonder why they never discovered who wrote it?"
Her friend shrugged, commenting, "I don't know."
A soft hiss sounded above them, the ancient tree parting its own tattered, dry leaves, and whispering to them.
"It's a story that most believe to be myth. But the day is young, and I lack any other form of entertainment. So I shall tell you."
The two little Krawks lit up eagerly, and gathered around the trees protruding roots to listen. The Brain Tree observed them silently, then begun:
"The shrouded veil of sinister mist that clung to the boughs of decaying trees..."
Note from the Author: Phobic was not bruised in the writing of this story. Just his ego.