Darkness seemed to dwell deep in the forest, amongst the damp cool air, sheltered by dozens and hundreds of conifer branches, as if it had a den in the land from where it could spread out into the world upon nightfall.

Unswayed by spring and summer smells, untouched by masses of snow and layers of dead leaves, eternally cool, damp and dark. Tophan slowly slendered into the depths of the darkness, his saturated green hair was combed nicely. Although the occupation was over, there still roamed a few groups of fungal guards the land, the darkness in the part of the wokds he was in seemed perfect for an ambush, but he came prepared.

Once he and his brother had taken the weapons if a guard that they had ambushed and killed, while his brother had no luck with the looted sword, the dagger he had taken from the guard had served him well. Reassured by the hard handle of the small weapon Tophan paced further into the darkness. Restless moans from the trees around kept him on his toes, twitching to and from the directions of the moaning wood.

“It is said that the first of our kind retreated into the forest and became the very trees they sat down beneath to return to the soil.” his fathers voice echoed through his mind, spoken unto him and his brother as they returned their grandmother to the soil underneath a tall fir. Other villages had a willow, an oak tree or a bush of pixie berries as their tree of tge dead, but in the mountainous south center of Both’anah broadleaves were scarce.

Again wood mourned, turning his attention to his surroundings.

A body.

Black like tar, but lifeless, the body was lying at the base of a tall, ancient fir tree. Tophan jumped towards it, uttering a fierce cry of hatred, the dagger drawn, ready to strike he held it tightly. But his opponent did not move a muscle, not a sinew twitched at the outcry of hostility directed towards it. Weary he might be walking into a trap, Tophan stepped closer with care.

The insignia of the fungal guards in full display the body lying at the base if the fir was indeed lifeless. A root was wrapped around the mans throat, clearly it had choked the kife out if the intruder.

More wooden moans around the surreal scene caused Tophan to look around. Other guards were in the dark woods, strangled by roots and branches, leaned against trees, lying at their base, hanging from them like macabre fruits of doom.

“We ought not be here.” the sudden display of life caused the terrified Floral man to hurl around, the dagger ready to blow. A female fungal guard stood next to the strangled comrade of hers. She was missing an eye, had it patched up with some cloth from her garments. The display of scratches and bruises on her skin and the places her uniform was torn and missing showed Tophan that she was a cunning survivor. “I won’t fight you.” she nodded to his dagger.

Still he did not lower his weapon.