Deep within the Forest of Whim, very near to its heart, rests a lake surrounded by one of the very few clearings where light from the sun and moon may shine in full. Lush, vibrant vegetation blooms in any weather—wildflowers of brilliant orange and yellow and red in summer, succulent fruits from branches and vines in spring, a rare white lotus in winter, grown from the very ice. Creatures of every kind gather around its life-giving waters to slake their thirsts. The lake is held as sacred to all who take breath. It is in this place where Whim herself drinks and nourishes her tangled roots. Never here is blood spilt – not even by the starving predator – except in a ritual of cleansing, where it is willingly given; Whim drinks the blood, takes it as her own, and the forest fades from black to red as the tainted wounds of the soul are purified.

And so it was one late night when the wind blew softly through the Forest and the shadows of the leaves and the trees danced with wispy clouds—all except one. The unnaturally dark shadow flickered in the waning moonlight and pulled the legs from insects unfortunate enough to be cast under it, crushed them and spread their innards like paste. It cackled wickedly as it did these things for it was an irreverent devil, one that thrived on the suffering of those possessed of kind and loving souls. The Shadow's girl shivered and convulsed, though the air was warm and she was wrapped in soft furs of blue fringed with yellow. Tears streamed from her eyes. They sparkled and shone as she turned to look at her companion who sat so far from her. She saw him and his eyes, too, shone with tears through his mask of painted sorrow.

Her eyes pleaded to him and she yelped as the Shadow tore at her hair. The boy started forward but caught himself as he leaned in. He sat at the very edge of the grass which still lived—the Shadow's fell umbra stole the life from everything it could reach and he could only be so close before he endangered himself. Still the girl wept, never with bitterness, but now with a desperation and urgency he couldn't ignore. A fear he had never seen danced across the girl's chocolate brown eyes and in that moment the boy made his decision. He rose from his knees and stepped across the threshold without hesitation. Instantly the flesh of his feet was burnt away, exposing raw muscle and sinew and bone. The boy did naught but take another step towards his love. The Shadow raked across his cheek like a knife but still he did not flinch. Another step, another footprint sodden red upon the blackened brambles. The Shadow loosed a shriek that pierced his ears. Another step he took and still another as he stretched his hand towards the girl.

Her fear gave way to shock and gratitude and she smiled through her worry. She took the boy's hand in hers as the Shadow trailed gashes along the boy's wrist. His determination held fast and he pushed through the pain. With agonizing slowness he pulled the girl towards him. Strips of crimson-soaked flesh peeled away from his face like ribbons. He wrapped the girl in a tight embrace, reveled in her warmth. The Shadow wailed, tearing at the boy's back in its frenzy. The girl nuzzled his neck and looked up at him with eyes that held both thrilling joy and knowing sadness. She kissed her savior's tattered lips and her Shadow retched at the sight. It made to pierce the boy's neck with a fatal blow, claws like needles, but found it could no longer touch him, and it passed through like the intangible thing it was.

For the first time in an eternity the girl laughed freely, her tears now of joy as she lead her love into the waters of the lake. The Shadow boiled and its scream was drowned as it was pulled into the earth. The waters washed the blood from the boy's wounds and that too was taken by the Forest. They held each other and kissed as the flowers turned black, as the shade's moan faded to nothing. They relished in each other's touch as the ichors drained from the world around them and the grass grew tall and beautiful again. Crimson wildflowers bloomed all around the couple. They smiled and laughed as the birds sang and the boy's body was restored, leaving not a trace of the wicked ordeal. They were free.

Written February the 20th, 2008Ed. November the 2st, 2009