I don’t have one song in particular that I’d call my favorite, so I chose the first song that came to mind, and I don’t know if it could have been more perfect even if I’d dug through a hundred other songs.
“Storytime” by Nightwish
Line: A writer by a fire.
Flames illuminated the sparse trees surrounding the small camp, and the chill winter wind made the bare branches rattle together ominously. Though the noise was not a perfect match, it forced a memory to breach her consciousness. Bloated, swaying corpses side-by-side with skeletons clacking together in a gentle breeze, all of them across multiples gallows. The vision overlay the reality of the forest surrounding them.
“Tell me,” the voice whispered, and beckoned from across the fire. Not even the light from the flames could penetrate the deep shadows created by his hood, even though he sat so very close. A shiver coursed down her spine like a sudden pouring of ice water. The darkness inside the cowl held substance, in the same way the nighttime that crept up from the Spirit Wood at dusk was more than empty space. In fact, it felt alive and aware of all things within its boundaries, and a cold sweat broke out across her forehead.
Should she have come here to him? When Zanna had first laid eyes on the forest, her resolve merely wobbled a touch, as it was difficult to be intimated by trees under a noon sun. Despite the stories and warnings from the locals, she’d pressed on. This was her only chance. However, as the day progressed toward twilight while she made her way through the Spirit Wood–said to be inhabited by all manner of evil creatures–and the darkness pooled up from the forest floor toward the sky, she hesitated.
“Tell me,” he said again, the lyrical quality of his voice easing a knot of worry between her shoulders, but only just.
“Who are you?” she asked, as her voice and hands trembled like the ground during a quake.
He considered her for a moment, his head tilted somewhat to the side.
“What do they say I am?” His question neither curious or demanding, and still she bit the inside of her lip, considering the answer.
“They say you are the Keeper of Tales, a writer, storyteller, but also a messenger…for vengeance,” she finished, the final word barely audible to her.
“Just so,” he said, a smile in his voice.
“What am I today, child? Am I collecting a new tale, writing something down in the history books of the world, or telling you a story?” he asked, and she pursed her lips. The knuckles of her hands were white as she clasped them together, tears stung her lavender eyes before she closed them, and the droplets left frigid trails down her pale, freckled cheeks.
A sudden gust of wind blew a tiny cyclone of leaves around them, and their cracked and dead edges stung along her exposed skin. Once it died down she opened her eyes. The curly strands of her hair that could match the deepest of colors in a fire, had moved across her face to tickle her nose. She tucked them behind her ears, and with a deep breath leveled a grim look toward the man. If that is what he truly was.
His interest sharpened, like that knife’s edge of hunger when you’ve gone so incredibly long without food or water, and the smile turned from light and easy toward something far more vicious. He changed, her mind scrambled at the revelation. It may be the same body, but it wasn’t necessarily the same person. What is he? she wondered again. Does it matter if he can help? a stronger voice queried from the deepest depths of her determination. No, it didn’t.
“Then tell me, Zanna. Tell me your story and have your vengeance–for a price,” he hissed, his voice eager and ravenous. The fire flared, and since he’d leaned forward as he spoke, it briefly lit up the cracked darkness that was his eyes. They were a black marble with veins of abyssal flames, though any marble known to man could never match the illimitable, dark depths of his eyes.
She swallowed hard against the shriek clawing its way up her throat, because if she let it out her sanity would soon follow. There were few things such a creature would want. Her family was dead, the entire kingdom in ruins, and her appearance branded her as an outcast in other societies–even among the dregs. In light of all that, her body, mind, and soul would be small prices to pay for vengeance. She could die knowing she’d done her best to make the invaders suffer to the fullest extent within reach to her. Yes, a small price indeed.
“Yes,” she said, and the heat of her anger sizzled along the word. The man’s smile widened, though she didn’t know how she knew.
“Then, Zanna, it is time–tell me,” he crooned, his voice now a cocoon of comfort, wrapping around her like a blanket made from the warm, summer sun.
A dreamy smile spread across her face, as her mind and body became hazy. As the fire crackled she gave the heartbreaking account of what happened, with only the silent woods and a demon to listen. But when you’re looking for revenge, there truly is no better audience, she mused, and then thought nothing else as the darkness carried her away.