Men & Monsters

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Rosy the Rusalka

Finn had asked Eira to accompany him on a morning stroll, to which she obliged. Friendly though he was, there was still something unnerving about walking alongside such a large creature in the foggy forest. She took her chances, however. Otherwise, her only other option was to wait back on the river’s edge, where an equally large but less-friendly dinosaur might happen upon her.

As they walked along, Finn pointed out that the worn path they traveled on was the work of countless beasts over centuries of unchanging migrations. Everything from colossal duckbills to tiny raptors took these highways, and as such, it didn’t surprise Finn to see a pair of ostrich-like gallimimus, their feathers flared from the cool morning air, trot toward them and go about their way.

As the fog seemed to retreat back into the dark crevices of the forest, Eira looked around, making out golden beams of sun beginning to break through the mist and enlighten the emerald forest. Just in time for the birds to begin singing. It suddenly occurred to her that as she listened to the world around her, she could distinctly hear familiar birds like jays chirping, but there were calls quite foreign to her. Ones that she had never heard before.

When she set her sights on the forest canopy, she saw a flying squirrel dart from tree limp to tree limp. Upon more intensive inspection, however, she saw that it was no squirrel. Eira was puzzled until the morning sun shimmered along its jet black feathers. Utilizing its feathered arms and legs, the small dinosaur did just what a flying squirrel might, gliding from one tree to another while snatching up insects in midair.

She must have been a lot farther from home than she could have imagined, now that nearly every animal here was so different, and yet so alike. The grazers, the scavengers, the predators, and now, with even the tiny opportunists, each niche was filled, only the animals that she’d been used to growing up usually had fur, not feathers.

“Can I ask you something Eira?” Finn asked. He had slowed his pace down so as to get a better look at her and that they might walk and talk as equals.

“Of course.”

“Tell me, what are your thoughts on life? Yes, yes, I know. It isn't a question one might ask but to a friend of numerous years, but you’ve had me wondering, puzzling, at everything I ever knew about the world around. I confess that I hardly had any sleep last night over it. To see life through the eyes of something such as yourself. This entire encounter is…simply fascinating.” Finn finally came to a casual halt, his eyes cast heavenward toward the streaks of sunlight. With a smile that emulated the sun’s warm embrace, he looked back down at Eira, awaiting her reply.

To be frank, she was caught a bit off guard by the question. A finger came up and prodded at her chin as she fought to form just the right words in her head. Never the tactful one, such a question as this proved especially troublesome. Finn offered a bit of relief with an apprehensive chuckle and beg for apology over it, but sure enough, Eira looked up.

“I…I dunno. I mean, we’re here.” She gave a weak shrug with her left shoulder. “We grow up, survive, teach our children the same, and we pass on. I don’t mean to say life is that blunt, or, really, that plain.” Her shrug was followed with a smile. “I suppose it’s true what Papa always said, in that life is one big mystery. It’s up to us to find out what it’s about.”

“Your father seems like a wise man.” Finn felt his grin widen as he sighed aloud. “Even in your philosophies you Green Folk seem humble. Such a relief from the radicals preaching this or that ’til their throats are sore. You know Eira, I’d like to hand a piece of my own beliefs unto you, if you’ll let me.”

“Of course, Finn.” The two smiled warmly to one another when the spinosaurus raised his head and looked from the trail into the woods one way, then to another. A moment of silence passed, when he lowered himself down, so that his hands could just barely scratch at the soil. He spoke just above a whisper, as if his words held an especially heavy weight with them, again with that coy grin.

“Look behind you, Eira. What do you see?” Sure enough, Eira gave a darting glance down the path and turned back. “No. Look.” This time, she did was she was told, clasping her hands behind her back as she set her gaze forward, studying every inch of the worn trail before them.

“I see…footprints, yes, and a road that so many beings must have used over the years. Even the trees seem to part ways for this path.”

“Very good. Now, look to your right. What do you see there?”

“Well, there’s a lot of things. There’s an old log over there, a little stream over there, with some rocks beside it. Oh, there’s moss on those rocks…” As she went on describing just about everything she felt would satisfy Finn’s question, the dinosaur slowly stood up, anything but.

“Enough.” He said softly. Eira, knowing she failed, turned slowly back toward him. “Did you get my analogy?”

“I’m afraid not.” She replied, feeling a bit defeated.

“Eira, you described to me this path perfectly. A path that countless before you have trodden down. The grass and trees no longer reside in this tiny little strip of land. And when I asked you looked off into the forest, you described to me everything this path lacks. At some point in time, this path was just as that forest is today: wild, untamed, and full of obstacles. If you want to go through the motions, if you want to live your life as everyone else does, you’d be wise to go down this path before us.

“But you’re different Eira. I know it. You don’t need this path; you've decided to run off in those woods, making your own trail. Others might believe that that they can control you, that they can make you follow them through threats, whether direct or indirect. But it is you, and you alone, who can go off on your own trail. It is there, with their simple will, that others will follow you. How else could we have crossed paths?”

“Well, kidnappings help.” Eira retorted.

“I think you missed my point.” Finn replied with a smirk.

“I…I don’t think so.” The spinosaurus cocked his head. “I understand the path concept, yes, it’s very simple, but, I’ve never heard it put like that before.” Eira’s eyes fell toward the ground as she grabbed at the sides of her cloak. A soft smile appeared on her face as she thought of home. “I’ve lived on this path my whole life, Finn. I’ve let fear deter me from ever leaving it too. It’s why no one notices me back home, it’s how I lost my first love to another, how I’m called ‘dull’ and ‘plain’ by the others. It’s why these past few days have been the most exciting times of my life.” She looked back up, this time with a grin that nearly stretched from ear to ear. “But no more. You couldn’t be more right, Finn. When I get home, I promise I’ll walk in these woods, and not on this stupid path.” She was met with a silent stare, but the dinosaur couldn’t contain himself for but a moment or two before letting out a warm laugh.

“I hadn’t any idea you saw yourself that way. Eira, you’ve answered my question and then some. Come along my friend, let’s get back.”

“That’s it? Is our walk over?”

“I believe walks should be a time of contemplation and enlightenment.” Finn gave a wide, heartfelt grin. “And you, well, you’ve done that spectacularly.” The compliment made Eira’s face glow, putting an extra skip to her step as she and the spinosaurus walked back toward the river.

They passed by a trio of unassuming carnivores, two velociraptors and a much larger beast. Rather sleek and serpentine in appearance, the dark dilophosaurus was distinct for the two thin, brightly colored crests which adorned the top of its long, narrow skull. Finn and Eira thought nothing of them, but as they passed and continued on for a ways, Rogue stopped and narrowed his eyes at the girl.

“Ya think dot…?” He didn’t respond to the velociraptor as his upper lip twitched. Instead, the dark-skinned dinosaur darted off into the woods at a blinding pace, easily leaving his comrades in the dust as they gave chase. Almost as soon as the three dinosaurs disappeared, a heart-stopping shriek filled the air. Eira nearly jumped up from her shoes, and Finn was equally alarmed, his long snout crashing into weak tree limbs as he surveyed their surroundings.

Something caught the corner of Eira’s eye, and when she turned to look at it, she clearly made out a humanoid shape running through the woods. It moved so fast that she could see little more than a blur. A jolt of excitement coursed through her body in the hopes that it was another Green Folk. Cupping her hands together, she called out to it. Alas, the limber being continued to run, leaping over downed logs like nothing as it made its way deeper into the vegetation.

Disregarding Finn or his calls to come back, the girl dashed off into the forest. She ducked beneath a thick, low-reaching branch and was off at full speed, much to Finn’s dismay as he struggled to traverse through the thick brush. Swallowing heavily, the spinosaur watched helplessly as her green cloak disappeared into the woods, when he backed out onto the path and took off toward the river in the hopes of intercepting her.

A sharp sting throbbed in Eira’s left cheek as a wicked branch slashed her, but as she could hear the brush rustling ahead of her, she was determined to find whoever caught her eye. With her hands outstretched to protect her, she could begin to notice the leaves and bushes grow wetter the further she ventured on. At first she dismissed it as morning dew, but after some time, it became obvious that the plants in the being’s path had become sopping wet, so that the brush flicked Eira with grand amounts of water.

Listening only to the sound of her breathing, the Green Folk pushed on, with much of her attire drenched in water when she planted a foot onto loose rocky terrain. She was back on the river’s edge, but not where Finn resided. There was a more clear picture of the snow-capped mountain from here, and the water wasn’t quite as deep as it had become upstream. Her attention quickly snapped toward a lone figure standing some ways away, which had its back to the girl.

It was a woman, her skin pale and sickly-looking as her long, soaked hair hugged her form closely. Eira immediately hesitated at the being, who stood at knee-height in the rolling river, when she began to question her actions in pursuing her. Against her better judgement, she cleared her throat and spoke softly, in an attempt to catch the being’s attention. With a slight sloshing of water, the pale maiden turned, a soft but unnerving grin placed upon her slender face. Eira felt her eyes widen when she met with hers, only to find that the woman had no irises. Just a soulless, milky-white gaze with piercing and small pupils. Still, the maiden’s eyes widened in intrigue just as her smile did.

“Oh, hello.” She possessed a low, soothing voice, almost like a whisper. Streams of water rolled down from the corners of her mouth as she spoke. “I thought you might be a boy.”

“I-I’m afraid not.” Eira asked as she slowly inched toward the forest. “Who are you?” The woman looked heavenward until she fell into the water, playfully splashing and giggling as she sat in the shallow tide. She paused when she looked back at the Green Folk, lazily blinking as she studied every inch of the girl.

“Rosy. I like that name. Rosy. Yes, that is my name. What is your name?” Rosy? Eira blinked once. From her appearance, she was anything but.

“Eira. My name is Eira.” Rosy smiled and cocked her head sickly to one side, which only discouraged Eira when having to look into her piercing eyes again.

“Eira? What brings you here in such peculiar times?”

“I’m trying to find my way home.”

“Home?”

“It-it’s here in the woods. Somewhere.”

“Are you sure it’s in these woods?” Rosy asked as she began to swim toward the deeper into the river.

“What do you mean?”

“For many nights I’ve gone without seeing another human. Only these monstrous beasts. With long snouts and sharp claws, like the great dragons of myth. One keeps trying to eat me. It’s this fog that brings them here and us there.” Rosy’s head slumped down as she sulked for a moment, when she looked up with a sickly crack of her joints. A wide, crooked grin lined her lips again as she pointed to Eira. “Wait a moment. I do know you.”

“You do?”

“Yes I remember now. I remember your village, and the strong young man who took me in his arms. Ah…he likes you doesn’t he?”

“Who? Z-Zaines?”

“What a lovely name.” Rosy cooed as she spun around in the water, gushing over the image of the burly Green Folk in her mind when she began to swim back toward the bank. “Yes, Zaines returned me to the water before I could hold him. Yes. Before I could cradle him in my arms forever and always.” Eira began to feel her heart race again.

“W-what are you? I don’t remember you.” She asked. Rosy looked at her, this time in a much less friendly light.

“I’ve had some wicked old men call me a Rusalka, so I suppose that’s what I am. Cursed am I to find my true love from the water. 'Tis why I went up on land this morning, in search of my dear Zaines, and take the form of a fish to better catch my man as he catches me. But who will fall for me in these woods? Woods where men no longer travel and monsters dot the land.” The sickly-looking maiden began to display a darker tone with her words, which only worked to strike fear further into Eira’s heart.

“Rosy the Rusalka. O-okay. It’s been very nice to meet you, but I should get going.”

“Wait! I haven’t told you about how to get home.” Eira cursed under her breath. Feeling trapped by her words, but nonetheless having little to no other option than to listen.

“How?”

“Come closer. It’s a secret.”

“I’m quite fine here thank you.”

“But it’s a secret.”

“What kind of secret can’t you tell me from over there?”

“A secret kind of secret.” Rosy giggled just above a whisper, much to Eira’s apprehension. Swallowing the lump in her throat, she inched toward the water’s edge, just as the Rusalka swam up toward the shallows. With just her head above the water and her body opaque beneath, it reminded Eira of a crocodile, or Blade for that matter, ready to snap at her should she get too close.

“O-okay, this should be close enough right?” Rosy just shook her head.

“Closer.”

“I-I don’t care to…”

“You don’t want to know about the fog? About how it works? About why it’s been dense these past few days…?”

“Wh-what about it?”

“Then come closer, Eira.” Shaking with fear, Eira reluctantly did as she was told as she dropped to her knees, just so that the water touched her outfit.

“Okay, tell me.” Rosy slipped away, until the water came just below her nose, when she shook her head. “Why not? Tell me!” Eira followed the Rusalka’s gaze toward the other edge of the river some ways away. A pack of dinosaurs appeared from the forest, most notably a legion of velociraptors that seized the moment for a quick drink. Among them was a towering being that immediately caught the Green Folk’s eye. “Giant?” As soon as she uttered his name Rosy’s long spindly arms shot up and grabbed hold of her clothes and dragged her into the river depths.

Struggling and fighting to escape, Eira found herself bound in the Rusalka’s strong hold. Bubbles rippled and erupted to the surface in their skirmish, but the aquatic woman simply overpowered the girl here, where she soon found that the harder she fought, the faster she’d drown. Finally she opened her eyes in the clear waters, only to come face-to-face with Rosy, a sight that simply terrified her. She wriggled and squirmed once more, but Rosy seemed quite complacent now.

“One of those beasts is familiar, yes? Yes. There is one among his numbers who is hunting me. He’s quite fun, and powerful now thanks to me. Before I go, know this. The fog in the early morning will bring you home…eventually. It joins our worlds…but it might just bring about the end to both of them as well.” And with that, Rosy released Eira from her crushing grip and winked at her. Her long hair, so elegant and wavy underwater, wrapped around her and consumed her. It constricted and tightened until a fat catfish slithered free from it all. It looked at Eira before darting down river.

Putting her intrigue aside, the Green Folk rushed for the surface for a mouthful of fresh air. With a deep, satisfying inhale and water splashing about, Eira found her soaked hood coming down over her face as she raced along in the river’s surprisingly strong current. Free though she was from Rosy’s grip, she was now in the river’s clutches. Water splashed into her gaping mouth, forcing her to cough it all out and simply fight to keep her head above water, when she was pulled under the churning current once more, this time unable to surface.

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