The journey was long. It felt like he had been walking for a month. Although months aren't that long. Or was it weeks that were the long ones? Were months the short ones? They might be, but Papa never told him much about them. That doesn't matter so much though. Basically he had been walking for quite a while. He could survive in the woods for a long time. But these woods in particular were very dangerous. There could be any number of dangerous things just waiting for him. A territorial dragon wouldn't even let him explain themselves before tearing him apart. If there were any humans in the area, they were probably dangerous wandering mercenaries that'll kill anything for money. A dragon head alone was probably worth a fortune, let alone what the entire fresh carcass was. He might as well have been a walking coin purse. He had to hurry.
That alone was enough to put some life back into his legs. His slow walk changed into a steady trot. He was eager to get out of this forest. Even without the thought of hunters, the scenery around him would have effectively persuaded him that these woods were not a pleasant place to be. The luscious green forest teeming with life had been left behind long ago as he moved into the deeper forest. The sky had been almost completely obscured by the thick growth of the leaves and branches overhead. In any given place, only a few slivers of light had pierced through this shield of dense vegetation. Even for a large dragon such as himself, the trees towered to dizzying height. Only dead branches hung at his height necessitating an occasion duck of his head or breaking through them. He avoided the later choice, because whenever he did break a limb, it made a loud snap that was so loud it was almost as if the trees were screaming at him. That was probably because the woods were disturbingly quiet. The only sounds he heard were the thud of his own footsteps and the crackle of the occasional pile of dead plant matter that followed. What quality stuck out the most was how empty it felt. All the lay before him were trees. Flowers, birds, and even grass were all absent.
With nothing better to do during the walk, he looked around at the trees. They had clearly ruled over this forest for a very long time. Their monstrously large forms did nothing to help their appearance. The very surface of the trees were ugly. The outside of each tree looked twisted and mangled. Centuries of growth had been continually adding layers of bark that had inexplicably magnified deformities rather than concealing them. Sometimes it even looked like the trees had grown around things trapping them within. Some had shapes like people had been imprisoned in the growth of the tree with only a thick mask of scaley bark to suggest their existence. Marco shook such thoughts from his head and increased his walking pace.
While the forest was unpleasant due to its vast emptiness, the trees were unpleasant due to their ugliness. Each had its own terrible quality. Perhaps he was mistaking the forest for the trees like Papa would sometimes say. But now he really didn't want to look at either. But idle thoughts were not enough to distract him from the trees. As time passed the twisted forms bulging from their trunks only became more and more prominent. The shapes of men, women, and children covered the trees. Their faces were frozen with a look of horror. Marco started running. He had to get out of this place.
The faces zoomed by as he rushed through the woods. He could almost hear them crying out in fear. And once he thought he could hear the voices, there was no stopping them. From every tree he passed, he could hear a cry of anguish. There was no exit in sight, only more trees. It was an endless path of trees that seemed to loop. He shut his eyes, but he could still hear the voices surrounding him. That collective whaling was growing louder. Charging forward with his eyes shut wasn’t a good way to handle this. It only took a few moments for him to run directly into a tree. A strong pain popped into his head from the collision. He could only hear the throbbing in his head as he picked himself back up. He looked up to glare at his sedentary attacker. What he had run into wasn’t just a tree, it was the tree. In a forest that had been composed of twisted, gnarled trees, this one definitely stood out. Even without leaves the colossal tree blocked out the sun. Its trunk was covered in twisted knots and bulges as if its every growth was an attempt to smother out its own life. The towering presence of this giant alone gave the impression that the geometry of the shadow itself was slowly bending to consume him with darkness.
Seams and edges of the tree’s deformities revealed a face more horrifying than all the others. One of the tree’s protrusions, had the exact appearance of a dragon that the this tree must have encased. Its jagged facial scales were now made of bark, and it’s horns were branches twisted into spiral cones. He had forgotten about the forest’s sounds for a brief moment, but now they returned acting like an orchestra for the appearance of the the horrid visage. Although it wasn’t quite an appearance. It was just him coming to realize this frozen thing that had been watching his approach. But frozen it remained no longer, for as soon as Marco was preparing to flee, bark cracked loudly and crumbled away as the face turned turned towards him. It opened its eyes revealing only two apertures to the blackness of an infinite abyss. Marco was now the petrified one. He wanted to move, but he remained fixed in the gaze of this monster. amidst the sound of the screaming trees behind him, there was that of wood creaking as the monster grinned. It was clearly amused by striking fear into Marco. Marco tried to squirm, but this just made the monster laugh, opening it’s mouth of black thorn teeth and letting out a deep terrifying noise that echoed from inside the tree’s deep wooden caverns. The face now grew larger and it stared down at Marco.
The wailing of the other trees was now loud enough to hurt his ears. But it didn’t mask the monster’s deep voice that shook his entire body when it spoke. “YOU CAN’T CHANGE WHO YOU ARE.”
Marco shut his eyes refusing to look at the monster’s face. “No no no!” He shook his head looking down. This had to be the end for him, but he still wanted it to finish as it was too much for him to handle. He could still see face of that monster in his mind. He opened his eyes and it was still there!
Except… it wasn’t. Marco was no longer looking up at the tree, he was looking down at his reflection in a pool of water between the tree’s exposed roots. Everything was silent once again. He looked around still trembling. The trees were all still there, but they were all different as if in a split second, they had all been replaced by normal trees of the exact same size. There were no faces or bodies formed by warped bark. They were just tall silent trees awaiting the end of the growing season. Even the giant tree he had hit had gained a new look. The gnarled torn up surface of the trunk was now just normal bark patterns with a couple of small bumps. It was if it all hadn’t been there at all. His heart was still pounding, but he continued walking only after catching his breath. It wasn’t long before he left the forest with his destination waiting on the horizon.