Fiction logo

Redemption

A Tale From the Wildwood

By Monique NelsonPublished 2 months ago Updated about a month ago 11 min read
Top Story - April 2024
9
Generated using Midjourney

My six-inch, razor-sharp claw was an ineffective tool for unearthing a fragile seed, but it's what I had to work with. With predatorial patience, I took my time digging around the bioluminescent moss cushion, careful to scoop enough earth to avoid puncturing the tiny kernel.

If my sisters caught me in this compromising position, looking ready to pounce attack like a cub, I’d be the laughingstock of the dimension.

Straightening up, I cast a covert glance over my shoulder to make sure I was still alone. I shook the lingering anxiety and muscle tension loose, completing the ritual with a thorough back extension.

Now I just had to find a spot to plant it.

Nudging the miniscule pellet into one of my giant paws, I limped three-legged to an open space in the crowded woods. The thunderous crunch of dry, dead leaves made my fur stand on end. So much for stealth.

I set the precious cargo down, still nested within the glowing moss. The seed itself was dull, grey, and lifeless. I'd expected the legendary Whispering Seed to radiate magic, but I guess that would be too obvious, come to think of it. It wouldn't have taken me three months to find the stupid thing if it was giving off bright and shiny come-hither signals.

A cold, almost electric tingle irritated my nose, already sensitive from the acrid stink of decomposing leaves.

Spring in the Whispering Woods must come late. The rest of The Wildwood was lush and green at this time of year. Glancing around, this section of the Woods bore the bleakness of early winter, a layer of rot carpeting the forest floor so thick I could taste the mold in the air.

Maybe this wasn't the best place to plant my seed.

Lowering to a protective crouch over my new possession, I scanned the forest for a more welcoming location. Not far ahead, the sun filtered through the canopy of ancient trees, illuminating an iridescent scattering of blue and green flowers.

Much more appropriate for growing an Omniscient Oak.

I nudged the kernel back into the relative safety of my paw and began limping my way to the glade.

Whispers on the wind tickled the delicate hairs in my ears. Echoing Blossoms.

They only live within the Whispering Woods, so I'd never come across them before, though I had endured plenty of lectures as a cub about their ability to echo events they witness. Tattletales.

I angled my ears forward to capture the chorus of whispers. The odd symphony was filled with notes of distress, darkness, and unmistakable warning. All senses on high alert, I lowered my belly inches from the dry leaves, relying on my stripes to blend into the shadows.

Poison.

Unnatural cold seeped through my paw pads, chilling my bones.

Run!

I bolted toward the sun-dappled glade as if hot on the heels of my next meal.

Skidding to a stop, the living, sun-warmed soil in the clearing calmed my frazzled nerves, though the warning of the Blossoms still echoed in my eardrums.

A titter of laughter burbled through the air. Whipping around, I directed a warning hiss at the unwelcome spectator. Seeing red, I locked eyes with a Nāga. An impressive serpentine tail lifted its scaled, humanesque torso above the river's surface, steady against the strong current.

One well-aimed swipe of my paw would slice it in two. Not that I would. Nāga are protectors of nature.

Letting out a loud growl, which I tempered by turning it into a yawn, I stood to my full height. Outweighing the river monster by a few hundred pounds was gratifying, even if I had no intention of fighting the creature.

"You really should be more careful about who you play your tricks on. Next time I might dismember first, ask questions later."

"I have no fear of you, Kiran," the river guardian replied. "I imagine one murder charge against you is ruffling your fur enough."

News of my treason had spread far enough to interest the trees and creatures of the Whispering Woods. The Echoing Blossoms might be tattletales, but the trees were downright gossips.

Showing teeth, I gave a warning huff. "I didn't murder anyone, and this seed is going to prove it."

At the mention of the seed, my heart pounded in sudden panic. I lifted my paw and stared at it in horrified disbelief. Empty. The Nāga had spooked me and I dropped it. Searching the soil, I found the tiny grey speck flattened into the mud of a paw print.

"That seed is meant for greater deeds than to clear your sullied name."

Ignoring the creature, I focused on recovering my prize.

A blast of water hit me, sending me flying backwards as if hit by Grandfather Elephant's trunk. Sputtering in rage, I sprung to my feet and let out a roar to shake the birds from the trees. "What is wrong with you," I growled at the Nāga, terrified my salvation would be lost forever.

The river guardian slithered from the water to pick the seed out of the mud with two dainty, dexterous fingers.

"It is corrupted."

Soul-crushing defeat flatted my ears against my head. "Corrupted? What do you mean it's corrupted?"

"I mean exactly that. A great evil is moving through the Whispering Woods, intent on siphoning the omniscience of the trees for their own illusions. As they move, they corrupt everything in their path."

"So the seed is worthless?" It was my only hope for redemption. I had no other way to prove I didn't poison our Elder. I would be an outcast for the rest of my life.

"The seed can be saved. It must be purified by the oasis at the Heart of the Woods."

Cautious, renewed hope warmed my blood and perked my ears. "I can still use it?"

"You can. I will take you to the oasis."

Stalking toward the water guardian, I tried to hide my impatience. "Just point me in the right direction. I travel alone."

Faster than a serpentine creature of that size had any right to be, it invaded my personal space, inches from my face.

The Nāga with a death wish booped my nose.

Primal rage flaring, my lips pulled back to display canines designed to rip and tear the flesh off impudent lesser beings.

Unfazed and impossibly quick, it dropped the seed into my mouth and wrapped its hands around my snout. "Careful now, don't swallow!"

Terrified by that potential outcome, I squashed my desire to rip the river guardian to shreds and instead focused on using my tongue as a barrier between the miniscule grain and the back of my throat.

In a blink, the creature was back in the river, leaving me anxious and frozen in place.

"You carry the seed. I will lead the way." Settling the matter with a clap, it added, "You may call me Serai."

My lips retracted, releasing a guttural growl. The rumble chased the Nāga though I had no choice but to follow the obnoxious creature.

Taking a few steps at a time, hugging the earth, I eased my pride and honed my skills by stalking the river guardian. Tail twitching, I waited for sounds of the forest to mask the faint snap and crackle of debris beneath my feet. Every now and then I'd pounce on a startled water lizard that just happened to be inches away from Sarai.

Intent on my game, I heard the rhino's approach from a mile away. I ignored it, at first.

But when the heavy, thudding footsteps picked up speed I paused to assess for other signs of danger. It doesn't take much to trigger aggression in a Rhino, but I hadn't passed anything that would have provoked a charge, so something must have spooked it.

I tested the air, detecting a sharp, metallic edge to the typical rich musk of sun-baked hide. Blood. Crashing through the dense foliage, the massive bulk of an armoured giant was coming straight for me.

My playful attacks on Serai long forgotten, a surge of adrenaline coursed through my veins. Muscle-memory fueled my instinctual leap toward the behemoth, claws extended to pierce even the toughest skin.

A viscous slick added a surprise layer of protection to the rhino's armored skin. Unable to find purchase, my paws slid off, leaving the beast unscathed. Jaw straining, my teeth were only seconds behind, aiming for the jugular. Before I could latch on, a sulfurous odor caught in my throat, choking me.

Without missing a beat, the Rhino's massive head knocked me off course. It's sinister horn tore through my side as I was tossed like a kitten into the raging river.

Shock and ice cold water numbed my body. Serai's serpentine body disappearing under the waves were the last thing I saw before my world faded to black.

***

Sputtering awake, I heaved my heavy body off the riverbed where I lay, doing my best to hack out the algae-infested water from my lungs. A sharp twitch radiated through my side where the horn had sliced clean through to my organs. Gasping for breath, I shuddered violently, trying to still my coughing.

Coming to the painful realization that I should be dead, but wasn't, I stretched my senses beyond the agony. The scent of river stones and ylang-ylang told me Sarai was near. The warm air and cheerful chorus of cicadas reassured me the danger was past, at least in terms of the possessed Rhino.

Vertigo challenged my balance when I realized my seed was gone. Lost to the river, taking my only chance at redemption with it. I pressed my eyes closed hard enough to see spots, pressure building in my chest as I forgot to breathe.

I transformed my personal failure into a sonic attack directed toward the river monster. "Why did you save me?"

My full-throated roar vibrated through the forest and left me deflated. "It would have been better to drown in the river than to live with this disgrace."

"The river does not keep what is not hers." Sarai's unfazed melodic voice swirled in my anguished mind. "The seed journeys to the oasis at the forest's heart."

The bitterness of hope was more painful than the throbbing in my side but I set my jaw, determined to follow even the slightest of odds. Expelling a sigh, I shook the remaining water from my fur. The tear in my side was rapidly repairing, thanks to the healing properties of the river water. Planting my feet solidly in the mud, I turned to Sarai, ready to swallow my pride and follow its lead.

A sinister sheen broke the river's surface as a monstrous head emerged. A wicked grin split its maw, revealing a glowing seed nestled between the dagger-like teeth of a crocodile. Recognizing the scent of sulfur and metal, my instincts confirmed this was a shapeshifter. The same evil that had attacked as a Rhino.

Taunting me with guttural rumblings, it closed its mouth around my salvation and slipped beneath the surface to disappear in the dark waters.

My heart palpitated, and I fought against a desire to dive in after the beast. I was no match against a crocodile in the water. Frantic, I prepared to run, ready to chase it to the river's end.

"Listen!" The sharp command broke through my one-track plans and flattened my ears to my head.

Echoing Blossoms.

This way.

Without hesitating, I followed their directions, tearing through the forest at a dead sprint.

Sentient trees obeying the Blossoms tilted out of my way, lining a path easy to follow. I surged forward, the jungle nothing more than a blur.

The surrounding air hummed guidance, the Woods itself willing me to succeed.

A glint of turqoise caught my attention.

The oasis at the Heart of the Woods.

I picked up speed as the spiny body waddled out of the river. My sight trained on the abomination, I covered the last few feet and emerged from the woods into the botanical garden surrounding the pool.

The waters that healed my side had also restored life to the seed, now sparkling between the lethal fangs of the giant reptile. Mind racing, I searched for a way to retrieve it without damage. As I plotted, the creature's shape began to waver, scales morphing to feathers and a hook-tipped, razor sharp beak. An enormous oil-slick grey shoebill displayed its wingspan, the length of my body at least.

Eyes glinting malevolently, it clattered its bill and swallowed. Flapping its powerful wings, the creature lifted into the sky, my precious seed decaying in its gullet.

A primal impulse released spring-loaded muscles in a gravity-defying leap. Leading with my outstretched foreleg, one extended claw caught the underside of the bloated bill. Swiping with all my might as my heavy body slammed back to the earth, I ripped the underside of its beak open, releasing river water in a gush.

Before I had even landed, Sarai darted from the depths of the Woods to retrieve the dot glowing in the sludge. Lunging forward again, it stopped near the oasis edge.

"Plant it here, at the oasis's heart. Quickly!"

Springing into action, I dug my claws into the moist soil and swiped out a hole. Sarai dropped in the seed and I backfilled it with earth, patting it flat.

The earth split open, a sprout growing to a magnificent giant of a tree at a speed that knocked me off my feet and sent me rolling, tail over head.

A breeze whispering relief and gratitude tickled my ears and the Woods surrounding me hummed with ancient, sentient magic.

Rising to my feet again, Sarai beamed at me from its position wrapped around the mighty trunk.

"The Omniscient Oak bears a gift of choice, Kiran." My guide's voice was carefully balanced, offering no hint or clue.

"It will either unveil the truth of your mistaken judgement, washing away the shadows from your name, or it will bind the darkness attacking the Woods, stripping it of its magic, forever trapping it in the defenceless form of a Shoebill. The choice is yours "

My stomach plummeted as the clacking of a hollow bill echoed like a threat retreating into the jungle.

I couldn't allow the dark evil to continue contaminating the Whispering Woods, but without the truth, I could never return to my home. I'd be an exile forever.

Selfish desire flared hot within my heart, but only for a split second. "Trap the bird," I intoned.

The forest erupted in a frenzy of activity, twigs and branches snapping at the torn avian, forcing it back to the oasis. A powerful gust of wind propelled the feathered raptor forward, depositing it without mercy into the depths of the pond.

Tittering with laughter, this time not at my expense, Sarai unwound from the mighty oak and undulated toward me.

"Your journey doesn't end here, Kiran."

My stomach clenched, the weight of my failed mission slumping my shoulders. I could search for another seed, but it might take all nine of my lives to come across another.

The Whispering Woods thrummed with a lively energy, lifting my spirits marginally. I suppose this was a worthy territory to rule over in the meantime.

Huffing in resignation, I padded over to the far edge of the oasis, just behind my Omniscient Oak. Lifting my leg, I marked the first signpost of my new domain.

Fantasy
9

About the Creator

Monique Nelson

Life is made up of stories. Stories I want to read. Stories I need to write.

Stories aren't better than real life - they are what make real life better.

Reader insights

Be the first to share your insights about this piece.

How does it work?

Add your insights

Comments (7)

Sign in to comment
  • The Writer about a month ago

    beautiful!!!

  • ROCK about a month ago

    Just discovering your writing thanks to Top Story! Subscribed and Congratulations 🎉

  • Christy Munsonabout a month ago

    Congratulations on Top Story. I enjoyed it! I could be mistaken, but you might have a typo near the end of the piece: "The Whispering Woods thrummed with a lively energy, living my spirits marginally." Do you mean "living" or perhaps "lifting"? Either way, great story!

  • Ameer Bibiabout a month ago

    Congratulations 🎉🎉 for top story wonderfull amazing excellent story

  • Esala Gunathilakeabout a month ago

    Wonderful top story. congratulations.

  • Andrea Corwin about a month ago

    Wonderful story. "I limped three-legged to an open space in the crowded woods." - showing injury from evil, maybe the evil in the forest or men. The protection of the forest won out and the Tiger rules and will help protect it. I loved your story.

  • Kyle Simmons2 months ago

    Great conflict. I like that you show inner workings of the woods and not just the woods themself. You bring purpose to the woods and the journey of Kiran.

Find us on social media

Miscellaneous links

  • Explore
  • Contact
  • Privacy Policy
  • Terms of Use
  • Support

© 2024 Creatd, Inc. All Rights Reserved.