II.

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The tree stood in ruin, the thick viscous sap was as hard and sharp spikes like knives as it cemented the base and prevented the hollow tree from falling a part completely.

Like an ore of black jewels, it glinted darkly, reflecting the shards of orange-red light powered down from the setting sun, winking at the two boys in an almost evil way.

The two halves of the tree laid open, and the inside were starkly white and fleshy like an empty womb. A womb that had been scraped clean, wrung wet and dry, and left for barren. Except something was different about it, Micca recalled.

It no longer pulsed.

And the frigid air was hushed and silent as death.

Aelyn comforted Micca who fell to his knees and sobbed into his stained hands. The tree was dead and whatever had once spoken to him, begged him to 'return what he stole', had gone.

In the few moment they spent in the strangling silence, the two boys knelt in front of the grave and could not speak. Aelyn tried to comfort Micca, but the boy was beside himself. "What have you done?" the eldest brother asked gently.

"I do not know." Micca despaired but grew angry with each tear he shed. "Do we not deserve to eat?!" He stood and gripping a stone from the grave that once stood blankly under the tree he approached it.

"Micca!" Aelyn warned his brother, but his heart had already hardened with rage and so Micca slapped his brother's hand away.

"You rather us starve in front of you than live!?" Micca spoke up so loudly that the silence that had surrounded them seemed to recoil. Making Aelyn feel more and more exposed... More like they were being watched... He turned but only saw the sharp bright eyes of a lone wolf.

It was battered and bruised, and old... Already close to death more in years than in injury, and yet it stood at the edge of the forest and watched them intently. Aelyn, the eldest brother, felt his skin crawl and turned to his brother to force him to leave. "Micca!" He reasoned, "You are talking to a tree! We need to leave." He hissed in a loud whisper.

But his brother was enraged... Mad, almost...

Micca threw the rocks of the rubble that was once the grey stone grave and screamed, "You greedy MONSTER!" He cried, "You watched us be abandoned, you watched us grow up, and you'd watch us starve to death?!"

Aeyln, surprised at Micca, ran up to his younger brother and wrestled him away from the tree. "Micca, we have to leave!" He held his small hand, the same stained hand that looked nearly identically to his own... The same pale small hand that had fed him that damned fruit.

"Aelyn, can't you see it?" Micca's eyes swiveled wildly in his head and his body shook violently as his breathing labored, "She rather us die than eat that stupid fruit! What good is a fruit to that which is dead?!" He screamed at the split tree, pointing to the rubble of a grave that laid pathetically behind him, and his brother struggled to control him.

"Who, Micca? Who is 'She'?!" Aelyn watched in horror as his young brother pointed to the point where the tree's bark had split open. There, vapor similar to that of frozen breath, rose and the bark of the tree crackled and popped loudly, splinters that burned like acid when it landed on their skin flew everywhere. And in that vapor, a body appeared.

First the bare naked feet, then the legs, the torso and its sleekness, and then the chest which was covered by crossed hands, and there staring at them with such a hollowing gaze, were the eyes. "What good is a fruit to that which is dead..." the lips of this strange mist-woman did not move, instead the remainder of the tree creaked and moaned for her.

Micca had long stopped struggling, he shook instead in fear in his brother's arms. And seeing that he refused to answer, Aelyn responded for him, "There is no use for food nor drink, nor sleep nor dream, love nor hate to that which is dead."

The silence was chilling and pressed against the brothers. Crushing them into a submission that they refused to give in to. But their struggle didn't last long for a terrible and grieved wailing filled the air. It was so loud the ground shook.

The brothers covered their ears and fell to their knees, their eyes locked to the rageful gaze of the strange woman by some unknown power. They watched in horror as the woman screamed and screamed and screamed until the visage of her face's jaw stretched to ripped hinges.

"M U R D E R E R S !   M U R D E R E R S !   m U r D E r e R S !" She wailed and cried whilst pounding her naked chest.

When she finally stopped wailing, the forest was filled with the sound of her pounding her hollow chest.

Boom, boom, boom! 

The shrill call still seemed to buzz in the air, but the heavy reverb of her hitting her chest echoed even in the marrow of the boys' bones... And it was this wailing naked woman standing in a split tree, the kneeling in unforgiving snow, peering at the remains of the sole grave that laid crumbled before them that made the two boys know of their sins.

They had stolen a plum-- a fruit-- from a tree that grew over a little girl's grave. A little girl named...

"Emelia...?" Micca spoke the name softly, "Her name was not there before..."

Hearing the name, the strange transparent woman wailed again, "EMELIA!" This time, her hoarse voice screeched and rose in such a high scream that the boys yelled in pain. They slapped their hands over their ears, but nothing could stop the realization of what they had done from dawning up them.

They had eaten the fruit that lasted through the seasons-- for who knows how long ... maybe it lasted for years after the girl's death...-- they never ever once paid any respects to that girl's grave since they had been here, and worst of all Micca had the audacity to call this strange woman-- the one to watch over the grave-- greedy and unfair.

Before Aelyn could apologise the strange woman spoke to them in a painfully haorse voice, "You have brought on my anger." Her ghostly blue eyes glowed bright white as she outstretched her hand over the boys' heads where they knelt, and spoke with an unearthly authority.

She spoke, and they were forced to listen, "Like the dogs of the earth, thou shalt feel the spurning of my wrath. Thou shalt steal to eat, hide thy faces from the world whom will hunt after thy pelts and thy heads, and through thy mischief thou shalt bear the pains of a mother in labor as thy turn from man to scavaging wolf!"

As her curses progressed, her voice grew fainter and fainter, until it was but a whisper. Her body disappearing slowly, she bent over, clutching her chest with one arm, and reaching out with another. Her finger pierced the backs of the two brothers who, seeing the woman reach for them, began to scamper away frantically.

And in the dying light of the blood red evening, two brothers screamed their throats raw as an angel's hand reached into their backs, and with merciless precision, removed a vertebrae bone from each whimpering boy, and with it drew into their pale flesh, the petals of the plum blossom, across the nape of their nexks.

Through their tears they watched the moon's ghost stare bleakly above them, a seperate and isolated entity that would now control the very pains, the very essence of their meagre lives.  

And almost as if it was suddenly responsive to its new role, the pale light filtered into the two brothers' eyes and seemed to pour into their shivering veins. Micca was the first to scream, but Aeyln was the

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