Wormwood
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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 imperceivably slowly as shadows skittered through the underbrush. This unholy earth was a breeding ground for all types of diseased vermin, like the one at the center of this forest the knight was here to slay. Everything here was miserable and sick. This forest was an infirmed old man, long overdue for death, waiting on his deathbed for a horrible virus to slowly devour him from the inside. His offspring haunted the land, spreading his blight . Even the very sky seemed to be ill, sometimes vomiting up odd bits of vibrant crimson sunset through the grey veil of clouds that clashed with the oncoming night. The moon illuminated a circle in the covered sky, trying to burn through the thick clouds like a child with magnifying glass.

Still, the soldier trudged on. Grotesquities lurked in-between the trees, silhouettes outlined in the mist. The land sloped in odd ways, sometimes up, sometimes down. There was a barely observable path through the wood. Many had walked the road before, and footprints could be seen in the dusty 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, dotted the terrain and trees, awaiting some new carcass to gorge on.

The forest was an enigma to those of the area, but not only for the dreadful inhabitants of the wood. It only appeared when the Wormwood star would shoot 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 lake in its wake. This did not stop creatures from leaking out of it when it did come once every four years to plague the surrounding peoples. 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. But it was not only this area the beast had been tormenting.

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, sitting down on the ground to rest. An owl peeked out of a heart-shaped hollow in one of the mighty upright trunks, pondering the 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 knight 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. 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, with a cowl concealing its facial features. Its hunched back and large shoulders made up most of its mass, its head and lower extremities being disproportionately small. 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 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, to establish some contact, but Wormwood paid its progeny no mind. The deep anger of the Paranatellon had caused the wood to sprout from the earth, and the horrible mutations to occur. The knight approached, sword clutched in both hands, moonlight glinting off polished plates.

A growl came from under the hood, barely passing as language, "A hundred nights I have called out. A thousand I have killed in anger. I am no longer angry, just… Old. Very old."

The monstrosity's words caught in strange places, garbled and broken. It raised both appendages as it stood, calling one last time to its father Wormwood. It awkwardly turned around, lumbering around the stump to face the knight. The Paranatellon stood at least twelve feet in height, towering above the knight. The brave soldier stood brave against the monster. A moment passed between the two, perhaps one of understanding. It shuffled towards the challenger, striking out with a long limb. Its skin was thicker than boar hide, and jotted with teeth protruding out at odd angles. 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 one of the squirming tendrils. The horror staggered, trying to regain some footing. The knight then hacked at the beast's deformed legs. It fell to the earth, face down. The knight leapt on top of it, plunging the blade in-between the shoulder blades.

A bloodcurdling scream echoed through the forest. It was finished. Not because the knight was more skilled than the Paranatellon, no, the knight would have surely died had he tried the same thing years ago, but only because the creature had grown old. Anger had soured it, causing irreversible damage. Even the beast had known it. The knight was simply the straw that broke the camel's back, so to say.

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. With my help, of course!", 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 back to his reward, in stoic, uncelebratory victory.

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

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