Chapter 1

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When the sun came up the whole valley was illuminated. The previous night had been colder than usual, and darker. The morning air was crisp, stinging the lungs of all who inhaled it. The forest, so foreboding in the night, gained new life as the small creatures began to stir. Birds sang from hidden branches high in the ancient oak trees, and small mice rustled in the undergrowth below. Larger things also moved in the undergrowth. A silent lynx slunk along a fallen trunk seeking its next meal and a lone wolf prowled to his den. A single dirt path wound its way through the mossy trunks, its surface undisturbed by human steps. A variety of animal prints covered the clear space. Paw prints, both canine and feline, mixed with cervine imprints.

The forest, in the new day's light, looked peaceful. A haven on Earth, however the placid facade of the forest masks a hidden danger. Around the edge of the currently golden wood, warnings were placed to keep the ignorant away. Deep in the center of the woods there slept a beast. A great monster that terrorized the surrounding villages. It stood taller than three men, and had the breadth of five. Its head was that of a giant golden eagle with red eyes. The body was that of a striped lion with a tail of a scorpion. Its two front feet were the padded paws of a large cat, and its hind feet were the talons of an eagle. It fed on many meats, but its favorite was that of a sheep, especially that of young lambs. As such it was feared and hated by the nomadic tribes who lived in the region.

It was the member of one such tribe who stood at the edge of the forest when the sun came up. She had been caught stealing bread from the tribes store. No one cared that she had no father or mother to care for her, nor that she was only eight years old. They merely followed the custom and cast the girl from their midst. She wandered for days following and drinking from a clear stream, looking for a food more satisfying than the occasional berry. It was on the third day that this girl encountered the forest. Robin's Chirp, for that was her name, did not want to pass the strange weathered sign by the path, but she was sure there was food beyond. So she waited through the night, watching for the light of the first sun. And as it rose she began her first steps into the trees.

The path she followed was smooth and soft, the cool dust coating her small feet. If she was not so hungry Robin might have run and danced along the path, singing like the bird she was named for. But she was hungry, so instead Robin adopted a slow tread watching for food hoping her next meal would come before the next night. In her search for sustenance Robin ignored the other signs of the forest, she did not listen, nor did she look up from the small bushes through which she searched. However Fate was with her and she encountered nothing other than a small patch of wild onions, which she ate with great relish.

The sun began to fall again and the path through the forest had yet to end, so Robin began to look for a place to spend the night. As dusk fell a large oak tree appeared along the path. Its bark was old and there were many knots along the trunk. Strengthened by the onions she had eaten earlier Robin reached up and grasped the first knot. She pulled herself up slowly, as slow as the descending sun. When at last Robin reached a branch on which she could sleep the forest had fallen from its golden life to a dark gloom. Trying to ignore both the growls in her stomach and the strange sounds around her Robin drifted off to sleep.

That was the night change began, no human had ever slept in the forest. Even in ancient times when it was a grove of trees it had been avoided. Now a small girl slept in the arms of one of the most ancient oaks, seemingly without fear. Branches began to sway and twist pulling Robin into the depth of the forest, leaving the path behind.

When the morning came Robin did not wake to sun, instead she awoke to a dark surface. Unable to see what it was she reached forward and pressed her hand against it, dirt. Frightened she looked around, she was no longer in the tree that she slept in, instead she appeared to be at the bottom of a dark pit. Around her roots reached through the dirt grasping at her arms like fingers. With a small cry Robin pulled back, wondering if she had fallen from the tree. With one last look around her surroundings she began to claw her way up the sides. She made it only a few feet before her foot tangled with a root, the resistance brought Robin's accent to a sudden halt. Her ankle hurting Robin looked up again considering an alternate route, but before she could proceed a face appeared above her.

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