They say that there’s a monster in these woods; Hadrian’s heard it all his life. But it's only a myth, a warning given to children by exasperated parents. The fog-choked woods behind the village are vast and empty. There are nothing but animals beneath the trees.
Then, a villager is found dead, and life takes an unexpected turn. The woods are suddenly much more sinister. To prove himself and his courage, Hadrian must venture there alone.
Only to discover that a monster is indeed very real. And it takes a very familiar form.
~ Excerpt ~
Hadrian watched his breath puff out in front of him, a grayish mist in the biting air. The breeze flowed down from the mountains looming over his village and seemed to carry a chill year-round. It only worsened after the sun set. His thick cloak did well to combat against the cold, but his lips were freezing. As were his ears. Hadrian loosed his hair from its low ponytail and let the long strands settle over his ears. There, one problem solved.
He stomped his booted feet to warm them and his dark eyes again searched the depths of the forest. He saw nothing. The torches could only pierce so far into the moss-streaked trees, and he was loath to admit that he didn't like peering into the unknown. He held half-imaginings of things lunging at him from the black, with claws and teeth aimed for the vulnerable skin of his throat.
It was all Omi's fault. If he hadn't spent their entire childhood filling Hadrian's mind with all sorts of dark tales, Hadrian wouldn’t have such an active imagination. But here he was, pretending the darkness had eyes and the moss had limbs with which to grab him.
Hadrian shivered and his hand fell to the hilt of his sword for comfort. His mum had often accused him of having too strong an imagination. It served to worsen his fear, and now was no exception. But as his fingers traced over the symbols etched into the pommel of his sword, he felt comforted. The familial glyphs of bravery and honor were a reminder of the vows he would soon take.
He lifted his eyes to the sky and peered through skeletal branches to catch sight of the moon. It was a pale orb crawling higher in the sky, marking the continuation of another cycle. Only a couple hours left in his shift. Then, he could return home to a warm bowl of vegetable stew accompanied by thick bread, crusty around the edges. Hadrian's mouth watered at the thought. His stomach growled. His mid-shift snack seemed forever ago.
Hadrian paced to keep the blood flowing, and made certain to keep track of the low fence which surrounded his village. He kept one eye on the forest at all times. The bare, bony trunks of the trees gleamed white in the darkness, only their upper regions full of leaves thick enough to blot out all light. He imagined beady eyes glowed back at him and shivered again.
The worst of creatures in the forest were wolves and the occasional cougar. Both occasionally ventured down from the surrounding mountains, drawn by the scent of human life. Sometimes even a bear would wander out of its lengthy hibernation. Those were the existing dangers, in any case. But few spoke aloud of the mythical monster that haunted the woods: the Troblin and its terrible hunger.
The Troblin's existence had long been legend. A tale to scare children into behaving. Something to keep them from venturing into the forest on their own.
Don't be late for supper or the Troblin will get you.
Foolish youngsters are dinner for the Troblin. He'll be crunching on your bones before long!
Or, Hadrian's personal favorite, Listen to your parents, or face the wrath of the Troblin!
Hadrian didn't believe in the Troblin, but sometimes, looking into the forest as he did now, he could imagine a lumbering beast amongst the scattered trees. He could see hairy hands reaching out of the dark. He could hear the plop-plop of thick saliva dripping from pointed fangs and a slurping tongue.
Hadrian jerked his eyes away from the forest and skimmed the fence line. He was here as sentry, after all, to protect those within the village and warn them in case of attack. The nearest settlement was a week's ride away, across ever-expanding plains that were baked by an unforgiving sun. Hadrian's people didn't worry about other humans. It was the wild animals they feared.
Well, the wild animals and the mythical Troblin.