Pyrric Love

There was once a verdant forest. It was so vibrant that the name, "Emerald Forest" was granted due to the sheer lushness of its vegetation. Many good beings made this forest their home, and their love and belief in their home granted a great deal of power to the very foundations of the forest—it was said that this projected aura made the forest even more beautiful, and all agreed that few things in either the mortal or immortal realms could match it.

But not all those who turned their eyes on the forest were well-intentioned. An equal number of greedy, violent, and outright evil beings saw the forest, and wanted. Be it possession or destruction, or sinister purposes: it mattered little. To such creatures, all that mattered was fulfilling their desires. Yet one thing stood in their way—the goddess Kyona.

Kyona was powerful beyond compare, and she guarded her forest well. Nothing with a mind for malicious acts could set foot in the forest she guarded over without feeling sick, for such was her power. Those seeking enjoyment through the pain and suffering of others were rebuffed handily, or if they dared to return again, were transformed into pale, twisted trees the moment the goddess' radiance touched them. It was in this manner that the legend began, that perhaps the goddess' origins were not that of a simple guardian deity, but that she had begun as one of the bright spirits of creation which had bound itself to the most marvelous work it had visited upon the worlds.

Then, one day, a stranger came. His hair was the gold of the sweet corns silk in sunlight, and his skin was the palest silver to match it, far unlike the dusky bronze of the local peoples. Despite the fierceness of the heat and light, he was not burning. His purpose was clear as he moved to enter the forest, and yet another met him there at the edge.

The other was a woman, clearly a resident of the forest by the elaborate braid pinned up with golden vines, and luminous green eyes that stood out like the emeralds the forest was named for beneath the shade of the young saplings; she had stopped the stranger before he even drew to the beginning of the towering trees. A sword belt was clasped around her waist, the naked blade leveled menacingly. Who was this man, to be met with such aggression on the first visit?

"Away with you, stranger!" She called in clear distain, the echoing bell-tones of the goddess clear in her voice. "Though my magic might think you a lamb, I know you for what you truly are! Begone, Wolf!"

The stranger merely smiled, and replied, "You are being needlessly cruel, Goddess. Everyone here knows your magic is much too strong for such a thing." Those with sharp ears would have clearly heard the murmurs of assent from those watching, far off.

"Magic can be fooled," came the admission, but a savage show of white teeth cut through the humility. "My instincts, however, are not so dull. Leave now, Wolf, and never return." So, with a respectful incline of his head to the Goddess who had appeared before him, the stranger left.

It appeared the command had been heeded…for a day, when the man returned. Again, the goddess blocked his path. "I told you. You will find no welcome here, Wolf."

She was answered with a laugh. "I must be very lucky indeed, to have Kyona of the Emerald Forest appear twice before me."

"Leave, Wolf. And I bade you: do not return." So the stranger left once again. Was that the last to be seen of him, the people wondered. Yet, the very next day, he was back. The goddess and the stranger exchanged words, and once more did the stranger leave. The following day was the same, and the day after that, and the day after that. Each day, the goddess confronted the stranger, and each day they exchanged words before he was sent away again.

Eventually, the exchanges graduated to simple chats, and from there to full-on conversations. Continuing from there, they grew longer, and then longer still, until half a day or more was lost in talk. And then, she asked him to state his name—for he, it seemed, had known hers from the very start. A strange trait, but not unknown to have.

The question was met with a smile, and a proud exclamation of "Aw, so you do consider us to be friends!"

"Don't push it," she growled back, but didn't bother reaching for her blade (as she had been wont to do in the first days of their acquaintance).

"Denial isn't just a river, Kyona," he teased back, before departing for the day.

It was their habit now, to meet at the edge of the forest, in rain or snow, sun or storm. Except, sometime after that mild debate, the stranger didn't show. The goddess waited there for him, all day—perhaps he was sick? But the bright man never appeared. Looking even as the sunlight faded, Kyona decided that she might best be suited giving up hope. But still she waited. Finally, just as the moon spread its first silver rays of reflected light over the horizon, he arrived, typical smile in place. Save, Kyona noticed with mild apprehension, there was an edge to it.

"A year and a day," the stranger said, and she was startled to realize that she had no name by which to call him by. "A year and a day, since you have first stood before me. My brother cannot oppose me while his sun is down; no more waiting left."

And then Kyona screamed, in pain and rage, and confusion: she was a goddess of growing things, she was the caretaker of her forest—so what was happening to it? As the void yawned widely, the flickering shapes of flames caught her vision. The shapes—but not the light, as the black flames which leapt and burned and devoured her beloved forest swallowed even the light of the sky overhead, what little that could be seen through the heavy ash falling like snow. Attempting to rise, to go help those trapped and fulfill her duty, the goddess found herself trapped firmly in the stranger's arms.

"Why, Wolf?" Kyona asked, her voice reduced to a raspy whisper. "Is this your trap, to make me think differently when such destruction was really all you cared for? Who are you, to command such power and breach my most intense of wards?"

"Not Wolf," the stranger corrected mildly, unconcerned by the accusations. "Anguis, the Dragon. And you, my dear Kyona, are the innocent lamb to be eaten—or would you prefer the maiden to be sacrificed? As for burning the forest—I'm sure you'd much rather it to be destroyed than to see it defiled without its protector. You'll still be seeing the residents, of course; I thought you'd like a little familiarity, my Queen of the Underworld."