(Just a little 1900 word short story I finally typed up. This is essentially a first draft, so feedback is very welcome. I’ll post in three segments, but will also include a PDF version for those who’d like the whole thing in one sitting.)
They got into the woods while I was still looking for tracks near Emiko, I guess; they were gone when I looked up. Emiko didn’t look worried, so I figured she’d seen them.
While I visually scanned for tracks, I trailed my staff in the river. I sent a few of the usual seeker spells, looking for life, water composition, that sort of thing. Every region of the Between is slightly different, so we could compare the results to the regions we knew, see if it was new.
When I had my results, I went to follow McLean and Trinh.
They’d gone a few miles along the riverbank, well into the woods. I figured they were constructing a basic map, something for a future deep explore team to use. We’d talked that over during breakfast.
When I caught up with them, they were on a sand island at a fork in the river. It was narrow, maybe a couple yards wide and twice that long, but it looked like they were setting up for a trail lunch. Not a bad site, really. The river was barely knee deep and lazy at that point.
I was almost in reach of the sand bar when it happened.
Down the south fork, a tree moved.
It had a silvery bark streaked with brown and gold-green leaves, almost like alder. Hadn’t seen anything like it before.
But, it began to walk down the south fork.
Then another joined it.
And another, and another, until there were twelve, sixteen of them.
Now, I’ve been doing this a long time, see a lot of the known Between. I know nymphs. I’ve met dryads and leimenides, meliae and oreads. I’ve seen tree nymphs galore.
These weren’t nymphs at all.
The gathering took maybe a minute or two, really.
Then one turned suddenly. Its maw opened impossibly wide, showing massive square teeth, as it let out a roar the likes of which I’ve never heard. Think of a lion combined with an elephant with a troupe of howler monkeys, funneled through a hollow log. If you can do that, you might get a faint idea of the sound.
Wasn’t really frightening, as such. More a deep bass felt in the chest, and awe inspiring in its raw power as it thrummed through the trees.
As the reverberations died down, half the tree creatures turned and loaded the others on their backs. I didn’t see any rhyme or reason, but they looked like they’d practiced it for years. In seconds, half the group, herd, was mounted and I realized they were running right toward us.
I called out to McLean and Trinh, probably meant to yell, “Duck!” or something. I think it came out more like, “Ahhh!”, as I threw myself to the side.
The tree creatures thundered past us, like a stampede of elephants, but twice as loud and completely synchronized. They turned up the north fork, the ground shaking with their passage. I swear the river rose out of its banks as they went by.
It was all over in seconds.
Trinh, McLean, and me got up, quick as we could.
Soaked and mud covered as we were, we recovered our staves in a heartbeat. One look passed between us before we were off, following the north fork.
I don’t know about the others, but I wanted to see where they were going. They could’ve been intelligent, hard to tell. Possibly they were civilized.
Anyway, we never found out.
After about a mile, they were out of sight.
In three, we lost any spoor they might’ve left.
They just vanished, probably blended into the scenery
. . . . . . . . . .
“And that, kids, is the strangest thing I’ve ever seen in the Between. No, I never saw them again. Yes, we confirmed it was a new region. No, the Hong Kong explorers never told me about seeing any tree creatures afterwards. So far as I know, that’s the only sighting of them ever.”