Mother of the Fellwood Kelven
The nightmare was immense, and still rising from the frothing depths of the churning lake. Kelven knew of barns that would have been dwarfed by the monstrous, serpent-shaped body. Each of its sleek black scales was the size of a footman’s shield. Crowned with eight crimson eyes, its head was shaped like that of a spider, complete with hideously serrated mandibles that appeared more than strong enough to crush a titan’s skull. As the creature opened its mouth and released a terrible sound that was half roar, half shriek, it unfolded its great, battish wings and six insect-like legs.
Its great, front feet touched the ground and the whole Fellwood seemed to groan and tremble beneath its enormous weight. Lowering its head, it shook its sleek, black body, like a dog drying itself. Droplets of icy water flew in every direction and for one brief moment, it felt as though it were raining. Then the beast raised its hideous visage, slowly moving it back and forth, pausing now and again to stretch its mandibles in what resembled a terrible yawn.
Great Guardian, Kelven prayed, silently calling on the protection of the Nine. The creature was looking for something, and he had the horrible suspicion that that something was him. What is that thing? In all the tales he had ever heard or told, there was no mention of anything remotely resembling the horror he was now looking upon.
“Stop staring,” snapped that strange voice again. This time, he could have sword he felt a faint breeze brush past him as it spoke. “If there’s any part of you that wants to live, get up and run!”
“Who are you?” cried Kelven, looking in vain for the unseen speaker. Abruptly, the entire forest went quiet, as though the creature of the lake had simply vanished—or gone incredibly still. Fool! he thought. It’s heard me.
“Someone who wants to see you keep your skin,” said the voice ever so quietly. “Now, get to your feet and run!”
Considering his situation, it seemed to Kelven that was unlikely to receive any better advice at that particular moment. Taking a deep, not-so-calming breath, he pushed himself into a low crouch and burst into a full sprint. An instant later, the creature shrieked again and Kelven knew that it had spotted him. He heard it come crashing up the hill, rushing after him with all the force of an earthquake. More than once, Kelven had to leap out of the way of falling branches. On those massive legs, there was little chance that he would be able to outrun the creature. Desperately, he cast his eyes in every direction, looking for somewhere to hide.
“Don’t stop!” hissed the voice on the wind.
“What’s going on?” Kelven screamed. He no longer cared if the monster could hear him. The chase was on, and his only focus now was to escape. Like a hunted animal, he could think only of evading capture, of finding any possible way of surviving for another day.
“You drank from Saarhen Deyr, the Silent Pool, and awoke the Urophex from her slumber.”
“I did what?”
“Do you humans not know anything? The Urophex! Terror of the Stone and Mother of the Fellwood.”
“Mother? Ashes and embers! What are you talking about?” Kelven screamed, darting around the trunk of one of the large trees that kept appearing in his path. His foot struck a patch of loose stone, and for a moment he slid across the forest floor. Somehow, he regained his footing and pressed on in his impossible flight.
“Let me put it this way,” the voice on the wind replied, a bit more testily than Kelven thought was necessary. “The Urophex is that big ugly brute that you so carelessly awoke by drinking from her pool. She’s been sleeping for a long time and I can assure you that she now has every intention of catching you and turning your flesh to stone with her venomous sting before grinding you to dust. Understand?”
“Not in the slightest.”
“Nevermind. Just keep moving!” The monstrous beast was gaining on him, and gaining quickly. He could already feel its shadow creeping over him, like the slow, cold hand of death itself.
“I can’t outrun that thing!” he cried. He was a storyteller, not some athlete whose entire life was dedicated to training and running the races in the Arena of Tor. Until recently, he had spent most of his life sitting on old rickety stools or standing on a raised platform, weaving his yarns with nothing but the strength of his voice. He was not used to running so hard and his lungs were already searing with the pain of the effort.
“You don’t have to,” said the voice.
“You only need to outrun me.” From the corner of his left eye, Kelven caught a flickering glimpse of something moving nearby. When he looked in that direction, he saw what first looked like a deer prancing gracefully between the trees. On closer inspection, however, he realized that it was not a deer at all, but rather something that looked like a deer. Its hide was white and in place of antlers, it had long, ridged horns that curved backward over its ears. When the animal—which appeared to be keeping perfect pace with Kelven—turned its gaze to look at him, it seemed to shimmer and flicker beneath the shadows of the trees. I’m going mad, he told himself. I’m seeing things and hearing voices. For a moment, he wondered if the creature of the lake was also just a symptom of his failing mind.
Looking up over his shoulder, he saw the beast weaving back and forth through the stone tress and quickly decided that it did not matter. If his mind was mad enough to imagine such a horror, he did not want to know what would happen if he allowed himself to be caught.
So he just kept pushing on, praying that the strange voice was right, and that his running would somehow save him. He glanced again to where he had seen the strange looking deer. It was gone. No, not quite gone. He caught a glimpse of it beyond the trees, running in a different direction. The pursuing monster—the Urophex, as the voice had called it—seemed to hesitate, as though unable to decide which query to pursue. Then it began to turn away from Kelven, towards the other, strange animal. For one euphoric moment, his heart leapt with a faint ray of hope. He might actually escape.
Then the ground itself betrayed him.