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the beast itself

The star of Wormwood was in the sky.

The Knight had walked through a horrifying collection of locations, but none moreso than this one. Great carrion vultures, standing on mounds of flesh and bones, argued over who should get the armored wanderer's meat. Gnarled branches, as if pained, reached out for the Knight slowly as shadows skittered through the underbrush. This unholy earth was a breeding ground for all types of diseased vermin, like the one the Knight was here to slay. This forest was an infirmed old man, long overdue for death, waiting for a horrible virus to slowly devour him. Even the very sky seemed to be ill, sometimes vomiting up odd bits of vibrant crimson sunset through the grey veil of clouds, all to spite the coming nighttime. The moon illuminated a circle in the thick cloud, trying to burn through like a child with a magnifying glass.

Still, the soldier trudged on. Grotesqueries lurked in-between the trees, silhouettes outlined in the mist. The land sloped in odd ways, sometimes up, sometimes down. There was barely an observable trial through the wood, mainly just a dehydrated footpath. Many had walked the road before, and footprints could be seen in the dry earth. The soil here was parched by blood and lack of rain, the little moisture that did exist greedily guzzled by the trees. Patches of what could easily be mistaken for grass or moss were actually thick patches of Bloodworms, which dotted the terrain and trees, awaiting some new carcass to gorge on.

The forest was an enigma to those of the surrounding area, and not only because of its dreadful inhabitants. It would only appear when the Wormwood star shot across the night, and only for a brief window of time. Then, as if it had not been there at all, would leave nothing but a placid field and small pond in its wake. This did not stop creatures from leaking out. Many a would-be savior had trekked into the woodland to find a cure for its appearance, but not many survived. It was believed that if one was to slay the beast at the center of the wood, the appearances would stop. The people of the area were bent on receiving vindication from their plight, and promised high honors to any who could kill the monster. The Knight did not care for this, but did know why the woods appeared.

Put bluntly, by this point, the Knight was tired. It was an exhausting journey, and there was no space to set up a proper camp. The Knight fell to a knee, then laid down on the ground to rest. An owl peeked out of a heart-shaped hollow in one of the mighty upright trunks, pondering the stranger's glimmering form. It had seen many soldiers pass through here, and had seen most of them die. It was folly to enter this place, even the animals knew. After an hour or two of rest, the Knight stood again to continue the journey. Perseverance would see this forest to its end.

The walker came eventually to a clearing, where there lay a large grey stump. Night had wrapped the forest in shade and gloom, but this clearing was half-illuminated by the moon, now cowardly reflecting light from behind a cloud, as if afraid of its own cousin Earth. There, with moonlight half-heartedly lighting the monster's decrepit body; the Paranatellon of Wormwood sat on the stump with its great crooked back to the Knight, tinkering with something yet unseen. It wore only a thin cloak over its strange form, which was hunched back and supporting large shoulders. Its head and lower extremities were disproportionately small, and its loose skin was hairless. It had no arms, only two long and toothy appendages that resembled maggots. The whole beast was a sickly pale cream color, like the small grubs that crawled along in the night. It suddenly seemed to hear the Knight, turning its hooded head to see the warrior.

This creature tethered the forest to reality, walking the realms in the wake of the Star. The forest had visited other realities, all in a continuously flowing circle. It tried to reach out to the star on its journey across the universe, perhaps to establish some contact. But Wormwood paid its progeny no mind. The deep anger and sadness of the Paranatellon had caused the wood to sprout from the earth, and the horrible mutations to occur. The Knight approached, sparkling sword drawn, moonlight glinting off polished plate armor.

It spoke, startling birds from their trees. Its voice was like pus oozing from an infected wound, like long-curdled blood on rough linen, "You have come," it says, beady eyes turned to the Knight, though still on the log, "to end my abandonment. "

The monstrosity's words caught in strange places, garbled and broken. After this, it said no more. Instead, raising both appendages as it stood, it called out one last time to its father Wormwood. It awkwardly turned around, lumbering around the stump to face the paladin. The Paranatellon stood at tall as an oak, towering above the Knight. The soldier stood firm. A moment passed between the two, perhaps one of understanding. It shuffled within range of the challenger, rather awkwardly striking out with a long limb. Its skin was thicker than boar hide, and jotted with teeth protruding out at odd angles out of the skin. The Knight stepped to the side, thrusting the sword into the lower back of the Paranatellon. It pierced the skin, causing a hot yellow liquid to spill on the path. The creature screamed, and fell to a knee. The Knight followed up with another thrust, but it was blocked by the other squirming tendril. The horror staggered to its feet, trying to regain some footing. Then, with honed reflex, the armored champion deftly slashed the beast's deformed legs. It fell to the earth, face down.

The Knight leapt on top of it, and, unhesitating, plunged the blade in-between the shoulder blades.

There was no scream, just a grunt and release of breath. It was finished. Anger had soured it, causing irreversible damage. Perhaps once it would have bested the Knight. Even the beast had known it was finished, but refused to let itself go out of pure resentment. The Knight was simply the straw that broke the leviathan's back. It was mercy.

But death is never satisfying. Not the death of a monster, not the death of a man. Now out of its hiding place, and as if to arrogantly say, "Why yes, we really did slay the beast," the moon illuminated much more of the misty wood. Without the Paranatellon of Wormwood's festering rage, the wood could not grow. It would slowly crumble and decay, replaced by field and fertile soil once again. A small price to pay for the death of the scourge for those of the surrounding towns. The Knight walked away, not even towards the rewards and accolades, in stoic, uncelebratory victory.

Wormwood roamed on through the sky, undisturbed by the demise of its son.
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