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The boy had unwittingly wandered into a forbidden sector of the forest, hoping against hope that he would be able to find a way home. The hours had ticked by and the sun had just ended its cycle, the twilight eating through its remaining diffused light. Through the few gaps between the trees, the boy spotted a darkened clearing a distance away. He walked faster and faster, a spring in his step and hope blooming its bright flower in his heart. At this point he was running, tripping, and almost falling, but at last, he burst through the trees, to find―
Nothing. Nothing but a plot of grass his school’s soccer field scoffed at, surrounded by a circle of trees.
His blossom of hope withered just as quickly as it had bloomed, leaving nothing but a blackened, empty hole, a hole that quickly filled with despair and worry and fear. The forest that had seemed so welcoming and bright just hours ago looked ominous as if monsters were hiding within them, ready to launch themselves at his cowering figure, as if the trees themselves would eat him alive.
Tears filled his eyes. They filled and filled until fat drops spilled out of them and carved their way through the dirt on his face and joined together below his chin, until they dropped soundlessly to the ground, until the boy himself fell to the cold earth with them, sobbing.
Until he felt rumbling beneath his legs, curled under him.
Skeleton hands and spines shot up from the ground, wrapping themselves around his small silhouette as they pulled the voiceless boy down into the dirt. Their separate voices overlapped each other as they whispered unintelligible words in his ears, as he felt the earth close up around his head, as terror, raw terror, replaced that hole of despair in his heart.
As they dragged him farther and farther into the dirt, as he felt the earth fill his ears and his nose and his mind, the ghostly whispers finally blended into a single voice.
They were to take him to the Kzeltor.
The skeletons repeated their words incessantly like drums pounding out a death toll. Through his eyelids, he saw only darkness until he seemed to be a part of that darkness, until he felt unconsciousness creeping around the edges of his mind.
Finally, his feet burst through the soil and the rest of his body followed. He fell from his earthen captor and onto the cold, wet cobblestones on his filthy hands and knees, dirt raining down around him, the skeletons retreating into the earth above. Before he could stand, a thundering voice boomed to his left.
He turned toward it, only to find a creature wearing half the face of his dead father and half that of a skull, two enormous horns originating from mirror spots on his forehead. He sat on a throne of bones with a skeleton's crown atop his bloodied head.
"They said you would bring about my demise. But before then, I will bring about yours."
The boy, despite knowing words would not come out, opened his mouth anyway, his lips open in an empty scream, eyes wide with terror and questions as the skeletons reemerged to drag him away behind bars of bone to rot, as the creature who was his father, eyes filled with sorrow, mouthed,
"I'm sorry, my son."