She was abandoned by her family and friends forced to be on her own. She fought hard for nine months. She would have their baby.
She worked hard and found a home near the forest away from the prying eyes of the town.
After nine long hard months she felt the stirrings in her back and belly. Soon her sweet baby would be here. The midwife lived in the town on the other side of the forest. She had told the woman walking would move the baby's progress along. So she brought her bag that she had made for this day and set off through the forest.
Her pains became worse the farther into the forest she went. The pain made her dizzy and soon she was lost and unable to move. Her baby was coming and she was alone and lost. The pain was blinding but she held on and found a place to stay as she birthed. It was against a large oak tree that she pushed and screamed and fought her baby into the world.
She reached under her skirt between her legs and brought out her child. Something was wrong though. She felt her head swim at the first cry of her baby. She knew that she would not get to raise her baby. She would die and her baby would starve. She took her first look at her baby. A girl. She was beautiful, plump and perf... she realized her beloved had one more lie for her to find out. He wasn't human.
The baby's eyes held the night skies within them. Swirling darkness with stars. As the blood drained out of the woman's body she wrapped her baby in a warm blanket and told her daughter that she loved her anyway. She gave her daughter her last meal as she died.
Hours later the forest heard the hungry scream of a baby. The scream echoed through a cave and into the ears of a creature. This creature was made darkness and poison. The creature made its way through the forest to the anguished screams of the baby.
The night sky in the child's eyes called to the darkness in the creature and it took the baby to the cave and raised it as its own.
The child grew in beauty and strength surrounded by the creatures who loved her until she reached her sixteenth summer.
"I haven't seen her since this morning." I call down from the tree branch I'm laying on. "Have you checked her cave?"
"I am going there now. Would you like to come with me?" He smiles showing his sharp teeth. I jump down from the tree to stand beside him.
"Come on!" I say and we wander to the cave that I grew up in. Rin found me when I was a baby in the arms of the woman who gave birth to me. She told me that my soul called to hers and she knew I was her child. Rin isn't exactly like me. Rin has the body of a massive spider and the chest and head of a woman. Our human parts look similar with our pale skin and dark hair but thats about it. I have no interesting body parts like my family.
Even Ira has a skull on his head I think it brings out his sharp teeth nicely. I have my eyes but thats about it. I wish I had something special about me. Rin says my special parts are inside me. She might be right I can do special things but I just wished I fit in a bit more. I don't seem to fit in anywhere. Bael brought me into the human town with him when I was younger but I didn't seem to fit there either. At least here in the forest I'm wanted and safe.
I see Bael up ahead of us smiling as he flits from tree to tree. He is constantly moving even when he's standing still his darkness moves. I always loved watching his darkness its so fluid and calming like ink in water.
"And just where are you off to this evening?" Bael asks.
"Trying to find Rin. Have you seen her?" Ira asks.
"Well she's actually looking for you, Echo. It seems there are some humans in the forest." My eyes go wide. No. Not again.
"I'll go hide." I say before running off to my home.
I don't live in Rin's cave anymore, last summer my family helped me make a house in the trees. Its nothing like the houses in the town but its mine and its perfect for me. Its made of stone and wood. Ira even put a protection on it to keep me safe.
I huddle up into the corner of my home. I can't be found again. Those humans can be ruthless. The last time one found me they assembled a 'search party' and when a few of them saw me they tried to kill me and Pym. I won't let them hurt us again. I eventually fall asleep with the sunset.
I wake to a noise outside my door. It's full night now. The stars are shinning calling to me. I step out of my home and into the night air. The Hidden are playing outside.
Pym, a sweet little thing with insect wings flies up to my shoulder.
"Have you heard about the human in the forest?" She asks.
"Yes. Are they still here?" I worry.
"Bael is apparently talking to them now." Pym says looking at me. I know she's trying to see if I'm ok. I'm not.
"Where?" I ask.
"By the falls." I nod and rush through the trees waving at my family as I go. I never understood how humans can have such small families. Do they not love as much? My family is huge and spread far. Sometimes we even get family from outside the forest. Koa, is from the ocean beside the forest. He saved my life a few times as a child from the water and taught me to swim.
I hear voices as I come closer to the falls I climb a tree and find Ira in the one beside me. He puts a finger up to his jagged mouth. Quiet.
"I'm just passing through. I got lost on my way to the town." The human says. Lie. I see the dark tendril seep from his mouth as he speaks it. He is older but not old. He has black hair and dark skin. Not cream like mine more of a brown. I've never seen a human like him. Maybe he has special insides too. I look at Ira but he's growling quietly. Then I see why. There are two more humans trying to sneak up on Bael.
Ira nods to me and we descend. Landing on the ground behind the two other men. I am strong and fast but I have no special on the outside so I have blades. Bael got them for me.
Ira however has long deadly claws to match his teeth and antlers on his skull. He's so handsome, Fon is lucky to have him.
We reach the two sneaky humans and I draw my blades. One in each hand like Bog taught me.
"Please keep to the path next time. We don't want to hurt anyone." Bael says kindly. Last chance, humans.
"Who is we?" The human asks but I know he knows.
"You're not from the town are you?" Bael asks as we stalk closer following the humans.
"I'm afraid not. We were hired by the town."
"Who is we?" Bael asks as the human smiles. Ira and I cut down the approaching humans with ease as I drink in the darkness of our kills. I drag them forward to the human and Bael while Ira sneaks around behind the last one.
"There is no we." I say tossing the bodies toward the horrified human.
"Oh, this is what you were hired for? To kill us?" Bael asks. "They might want to send someone more suited to the task next." The human looks at me with hunger.
I know I don't look like the women in the town. It is not practical to dress that way. I have a skirt but it is split down the sides so I can move through the forest. My shirts always get torn so I end up tying fabric around my sensitive breasts. They started getting in the way when they were growing so I put them away. His gaze takes in my body with a dangerous hunger but turns to terror when he meets my eyes and blood covered face. I'm used to that response. I prefer fear to hunger. It's safer.
"I will tell the village." The human says in a shaking voice as he steps back and into Ira's waiting bloody claws and I drink it all in.
We go about our usual clean up, feeding the bodies to the sea so that Koa and the others from the sea can use the meat and putting up another sign on the path.
"Keep to the path".
"I heard you had an eventful night." He says resting his chin on his webbed fist.
"Yes. Eventful is one word for it." I admit.
"What word would you use?" He asks.
"Frightening." I whisper. "Why do they come here? We don't hurt anyone who doesn't want to hurt us. I just don't understand."
"Its because we're different." He shrugs.
"We're all different." I argue.
"That is true. But humans are different. If we look or act or need different things than they do they get scared and act out." He explains. I sigh not knowing how to respond.
The sun is up now, its time for bed.
"Have a good day Koa. I'm going to go to sleep." I say standing up.
"Have a good sleep Echo." He says as he slips his sleek green body into the sea. I turn and walk to my house and fall asleep in my nest of blankets and soft things.
"Echo, my heart! Echo!" I hear Rin call from outside my door. I get up and stretch before heading out into the evening air.
"Good evening Rin, you're up early." I say smiling up at her beautiful red eyes. She smiles down at me kindly.
"We are going hunting, Bog and I. Would you like to join us?" She offers.
"Yes! Let me get my blades and a basket." I say heading back inside and fastening them to my hips.
I love hunting with my family. We all seem to eat different things in different ways but Bog, Rin and I make a good team. Rin makes traps with her webs. Bog is an excellent shot for bigger game. I know my use as bait for predators and I know my plants so I find berries and nuts for me and the rest of the family. Apparently I do not have the appetite of my human mother. I rarely have to eat food. Rin found out that if I eat a few berries about once a week I thrive along with my less human hungers. I eat deaths. Every berry I pick from the bush is a death, every kill Rin and Bog make I drink it all in and it keeps me strong.
We wander through our forest and find Bog standing proud near a copse of redwoods. I can practically hear Rin sigh at the sight of him. They love eachother but seem to be unable to talk about it. Bael told me not to meddle but it gets frustrating to watch.
Bog trots over to us with his great hooves. He pushes away some of the moss hanging from his antlers that is hangs down in his eyes. I see him admire Rin as he walks over.
"Good evening Rin." He breathes. "Oh and Echo." So frustrating.
"Good evening Bog. Are you ready?" She asks. This whole situation started years ago when Rin asked Bog to help me learn reading and writing. He brought us books and taught me other things too. He's friends with a witch in town and she helps get us things like that. Bael can look almost human too but it takes a lot out of him. But the witch doesn't like me. Apparently I'm an abomination. But Rin and Bog taught me about books and stories and counting. Rin says I could be a highly educated lady as a human. The way I see it that even if I was welcomed among the humans I wouldn't be there. I am not human on the inside.
"Yes, let's go." Bog smiles. We watch as Rin spins a giant web across the trees. I wander to a big bramble of black berries and start feeding as I pick each berry to put in the basket.
After a while I feel death approaching me. A predator has me in its sights and I know Bog has my back. Even if he didn't I could probably take care of myself. I hear a growl from behind me and turn towards it as an arrow shoots through the air and into its side. A mountain lion. That will feed everyone. I finish picking the berries and drink my fill of the death around me. We see Rin has three rabbits caught in her web. We head back home to our family but something is wrong.
I feel death. Too much of it. I turn to tell Rin when I see her red eyes looking at me with fear. I notice red on her bare chest too. Her beautiful deadly body crumples to the forest floor her long thin legs curling under her.
Bog throws me behind him and raises his bow and arrow. I see the black smoke of death from Rin's death make its way to me. No. I don't want her death. I try to run but it catches me and pours into my skin. My sob breaks through the air. Rin is gone. My mother is gone. The being who loved and cared and raised me is dead. I look up and see dozens of humans with weapons raised at us.
"Run, Echo!" Bog screams as he falls to all four of his knees. I let out a cry for him. "I need you to run my child! Find Koa! Warn him!" I nod and run as Bog takes aim at another assailant. I run past my house filled with more humans and feel the sting of an arrow hit the back of my shoulder. I stumble forward and hear cruel laughter. They are laughing as they slaughter my family. I reach behind me and pull the arrow out of my shoulder and drink in the death of my family around me healing my flesh but breaking my heart.
I throw one of my blades at the human prowling towards me. It hits the center of his chest sinking deep. He falls to the ground with a cry. I run to the shore and dive in to the waters where I am hit with more death. No.
Koa is sobbing on the ocean floor with his mate, Lya. They look up and see me. I am immediately brought into a hug. Lya motions me to follow them so I do. They bring me to a cave where I can breathe.
"What happened?" I whisper as I break through the surface of the water.
"We don't know. They were everywhere. We were watching the sunset and we just started getting hit." Lya says. I hear screams of pain from the shore. "Stay here. We need to help how we can. We will be back with others. Stay safe Echo."
No one came back. The only thing that came for me was a mass of black smoke. The death of my family and the burning of my home.
I cry for a long time on the shore my chest is tight as I walk seeing the tiny bodies of Pym and the other Hidden. I see Fon the charred husk of the mighty oak tree he once was.
I make my way past my crumbled house that my family built me there is a shattered antlered sull on the ground of my door way. Ira.
Tears stream down my face as I see Bog's massive form wrapped around Rin. A broken sound leaves my body as I crumple to the ground beside them. I can't find Bael. Maybe he made it out. I know I'm lying to myself but I need to know someone but me made it. I can't be alone.
The charred and butchered bodies of my family and my home surround me. I hear a rasping breath come from beside me. I look down and see Kray, a giant of a man with a soft heart. The man who taught me the animals and how to fight has been made a bloody mess of cuts and burns. He won't make it. I can feel his death pushing down on him.
"Echo." He rasps.
"I'm here Kray. I'm here. I won't leave you." I assure him holding his bloody hand.
"You got away." He gives me a shakey smile.
"Barely. Koa and Lya helped. They're not with us anymore." I say tears blurring my vision.
"But my girl made it." He says wiping my tears with his hand. "I'm so proud of you...You are the best... thing I had in my life. You need to go... be careful. Hide among the humans... be safe for me. For all of us." He shudders out. I look down into his warm brown eyes.
"I will. I love you. I love you all." I cry.
"We know. We love you... with everything we have... You are our daughter. Don't forget... that." He gasps a rattling breath and I watch him leave his body and the black smoke of death flows into mine.
I stay there until my tears have abandoned me and I can't shed anymore. I stand up and stumble my way through my massacred home and make my way back to the ocean I clean the blood and ash and death off of me. I make my way to the edge of town to the witch that Bog used to visit.
I know before I see the cottage that the humans murdered her too. I can't cry anymore. I wish I could. She deserves someone to mourn her as well. The death in the air finds me and my heart breaks even more.
Still, I make my way to the cottage and I find clothes that the witch had hung to dry before she was killed. I know she didn't like me but she always helped us and we always helped her. I thank her as I take the skirt and blouse and shoes. I've only ever worn shoes in the winter. I also find a strip of bandage to cover my eyes just like Bael did when we went to town. I wrap it so I can still see out of it but others will not be able to see the night in my eyes.
I check my appearance in the mirror. My hair. I will have to put it up. Human women always have their hair up. I wrap it up into the ball that Rin showed me once. It doesnt look great but people will think I'm blind so it will have to do. I take a bag, some money and another dress from the cottage and leave. I will do as Kray asked but I will not be in this town living amongst my family's killers.
I walk to the road heading south out of town and start walking as the sun rises. Humans are awake during the day.
I walk until my feet give out after sunset. I make my way to the shelter of the trees.
"Welcome. Do you need a place to stay my sweet?" I hear a whispering voice say. I look around and see a great weeping willow tree. The tree is like Fon.
"If you have room." I reply. I take the bandage off my eyes so he can see me.
"You are Fon's girl. Aren't you?" I hear him smile.
"I was. He died." I say my voice cracking.
"Oh my sweet girl come here and rest. You are still his wether he is with us or not." He whispers. I curl up among his roots and he he covers me with his branches protectively just like Fon had when I was younger.
"My name is Echo. What's your name?" I whisper.
"I'm called Elm." He chuckles. A willow named Elm.
"Thank you Elm."
"You are most welcome Echo. Now rest my sweet." And I do. I sleep and I dream of fire and death and humans.
When I wake up its still dark but I know dawn is not far away. I stand up and wrap my bandage around my eyes.
"Good morning my sweet Echo. Did you sleep well?" Elm asks.
"As well as I could. Thank you."
"We heard what happened to your home. I'm so sorry."
"How did you hear?"
"Trees talk my sweet. We're terrible gossips." He chuckles.
"Fon was quite the chatterbox." I admit.
"Where are you going?"
"I'm not sure. Somewhere I can hide." I smile sadly.
"That is smart. I take it you are planning on staying with the humans?" He asks.
"Unfortunately. Kray said it was my best option before he died." I confess.
"It probably is. Just be careful and keep in touch."
"I will. Thank you." He moves his branches to let me leave.
"Remember Echo. You're not alone." Elm says. "Be safe."
"You too Elm." I say praying that he will. I head to the road again.
It took four more days for me to find humans but I made it.