I dove through the dense tree cover after the strange noises, dodging branches and twigs that threatened to tear at my delicate wings. Thick foliage blocked out the sun, turning the world to a hazy green, until I burst out into a small clearing, and light poured down onto a circle of thick green grass. At its edge stood a tall tree, its thick branches reaching up to the sky, and beneath its guarding arms sat the source of the sounds. The tiny pink being appeared to be some sort of fledgling or perhaps a deformed dryad wandering too far from its mother tree. It was sitting in the middle of a mud puddle, burying its tiny claws up to the elbows in soft soil. Both the simple garment it was wearing and its rosy skin were coated with dark splatters and stains. A merry string of nonsense streamed from it as it squished chubby fingers in the mud, oblivious to my presence. Arms flailed wildly for a moment, slapping at the slick dirt, and gurgling laughter gushed out as mud sprayed into the tiny braids twisted around her head. She, for I now guessed it to be some kind of nymph though what kind I had no idea, was barely larger than I.
There was nothing particularly threatening about her, and I knew nymphs and fiends coexisted peacefully, so it was with little hesitation that I glided down from the tree I had been perched in and settled in front of the puddle. She looked up then, pausing from her strange toils in the mud, and stared back at me with big eyes. Having never encountered a nymph before, I was curious about her work and was peering intently at the mud when a mass of the very same stuff slammed into me, coating my face. I scrambled backward, trying desperately to get the infernal mess off. A branch grabbed at my feet, and I toppled into the grass in a disgruntled heap of limbs and wings. Realizing I must have gravely misstepped and was not welcome here, I shook the mud off my wings and was about to make a hasty retreat when bubbling laughter rose up behind me. The little creature had toppled over into the mud and was laughing furiously.
It was with some horror that I realized I had fallen victim to the same chaos I was supposed to be dealing out, though I would have tried to be more elegant about it. Not only that, I had willingly invited it by revealing myself. My pride was more than a little wounded, and determined not to be outdone by this creature, I leapt off the ground and retreated into a nearby tree to await my chance at retribution. I reassured myself that I was still new at this, and there was no reason for shame about the inevitable mistakes that would be made.
The little creature noticed my departure. She struggled to her feet and, after tumbling into the mud a few times, managed to fight her way out of the puddle. I watched captivated. From my mother’s descriptions, I had expected nymphs to be graceful and aloof, not clumsy and uncoordinated, collapsing with a splash and a giggle into their waters. Still, I couldn’t deny the effectiveness of her approach as I scraped drying mud off my skin. Finally on dry land and as if for the first time noticing the state of her garment, she stared down at it.
“Uh oh….” a tiny voice mumbled, and she started clumsily wiping at it with equally dirty hands.
Her lack of wings or pointy ears, characteristic of the various beings my mother had described, and her completely incoherent speech and behavior led me to believe I had found some strange creature, so rare then even my mother had not known to tell me of it. Apparently satisfied with the state of her garment, which was significantly messier now, the mud-coated being made her way on unsteady feet to the base of the tree in which I had taken refuge and, bracing a chubby hand on its great trunk, stared up into the branches, calling unintelligibly up at me.
I knew she didn’t have wings, but I had underestimated her before and paid for it, so I quickly fluttered further into the forest to another tree. Noticing my movement, she stumbled after me. I was amazed at the complete lack of coordination with which this creature moved. How she managed to get anywhere was beyond me, but she reached the trunk and again stared up into the tree after me. Agitated, I dove off the branch to alight in the next tree. I was determined to get my revenge, to avenge my wounded pride, but I needed the advantage of secrecy. Alas, she saw me and tried to follow once again.
I was about to retreat still further away when she stumbled and crashed to the forest floor, landing with a flutter of fallen leaves. She struggled upright and pulled back her garment to reveal two chubby knees, now reddened and bloodied. A finger prodded at them, and her lower lip protruded itself, beginning to tremble violently as large crystalline orbs spilled onto her round cheeks. Her tiny mouth opened and from it poured a screech so loud and emphatic that I clamped my claws over my delicate ears. I was given only a brief moment of respite as she stopped to take a breath before the wailing resumed and continued until I was desperate to stop it.
My first instinct was to flee, to get as far away from this horrible situation as I could, but I couldn’t deny that once again she had managed to cause me significant discomfort even at a distance. This creature, whatever she might be, was the embodiment of chaos. Facing my own failure and naivety, I decided to study her and learn what I could.
With a flurry of wings, I alighted on a fallen log next to her. To my relief, this was sufficient to silence her, and she stared at me, wiping at her wet nose with a muddy hand.
“Ow…” she mumbled, once again poking at her knee.
Feeling like this was some type of directive aimed at me — she was watching me expectantly — I looked around helplessly. With a sigh of annoyance, she leaned forward and placed a clumsy kiss on each knee before struggling to her feet again. A curious hand reached out for me, but I frantically fluttered away, alighting a few feet away from her. She laughed again and chattered wildly at me though I was completely clueless as to what she was trying to communicate. A tiny hand rubbed agitatedly at her stomach, and she sadly mouthed at the air. That I understood.
Fiends subsist on bugs and small mammals, so I dove away into the forest, lifting rocks and rotting hunks of wood to search for food. My mother was a skillful hunter and had taught me well. It wasn’t long before I had the small limp body of a mouse clutched in my claws. I didn’t mind hunting for her. I hoped it would win her favor, and she would share her secrets.
The little creature had followed me, and I found her trying unsuccessfully to clamber over a fallen log. I proudly proffered the mouse, dropping it on the rough bark in front of her. Horror filled her face, and she poked at it with a chubby finger. Her lip began to tremble again, and realizing I had gravely erred, I flung it away into the forest. Her lip continued to tremble, and I braced myself for her punishment, but she just looked at me with big glassy eyes. With a sigh, I realized I had one option if she didn’t like my food: the village. That was where the humans collected and stored edible objects from across the countryside. I wasn’t willing to risk her wrath again, so I leapt into the air and motioned for her to follow. We slowly made our way through the trees — I had to stop and wait for her as she struggled to keep up, persistent but eternally clumsy — until we finally reached the edge of the forest, and the land of the humans stretched out before us.
Part 3 will be released next week.
Happy Friday! I hope everyone has a relaxing & healthy weekend!