Chapter One

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     From the shrouded darkness of the forest Meruself watched the men lift the mangled body onto the shield. Another noble son of Saga carried away by death, his dark hair made darker still by the deep crimson of his life's blood. The group of soldiers were silent and nervous, looking behind them and scanning the trees for any whisper of danger. They did not want to end up like the fallen knight had, torn and bleeding and carried home upon their own shields. And these were no meek men; they were roughly hewn by many battles fought and won, yet they feared the great Beast of Hella.

      And they were right to be frightened. She was frightened. The monster of Hella Wood was no myth or legend invented to scare wayward children. The dead young man on the shield was proof enough that a true monster hunted in these woods every night.

      Meruself continued to watch the men until they were out of sight and she could no longer hear the chink of chain mail or the muffled sound of their horses' hooves. Only then did she begin the trek back to her small cottage, her head lowered in sadness. She thought of the wailing of the women, mothers, sisters, daughters, wives. Their tears weighed heavy on her heart.

      The people called Hella the Haunted Forest, Meruself called it home. And it was haunted; haunted by shades and specters of all sorts. Haunted by monsters and a living shadow, a living shadow that was just a shell of the girl she had once been. She was the pale wraith that roamed within the hush of trees. She was the living ghost that shared the æther of the forest with the wood nymphs and ær sylphs, the water deities and spirits of the earth. Meruself existed here, and perhaps when her penance was over the Mother Norns would let her die here. Perhaps, but that fate was still uncertain.

     Dawn had just passed and she longed for the comfort of her small home on the other side of the forest

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     Dawn had just passed and she longed for the comfort of her small home on the other side of the forest. She knew this forest; she had lived here for as long as she could remember. Long before man had come and chopped down trees to build their town and homesteads she had dwelled in this woodland. She knew the secret pathways and the hidden trails so it did not take long for her to find her way back to the safety and solace of her hearth.

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