Fire knitted its way through logs and tinder. Robyn Hode kept his journal close to the flames so that he could see what he was writing. But not too close—he didn’t want to burn the book.
Not until he filled its pages, at least.
He sat on a tree stump. He’d a wooden bowl filled with crushed berries at his side. The outlaw dipped a thin stick into the juice and scratched his story into his journal.
It occurs to me that I should write about the origins as to how I came to know about things like wyverns and other nighttime terrors that have made their way into the waking world. What follows is an account of my first encounter with such creatures, recalling my original journal entries and all.
* * *
I thank God that most of my men are illiterate, for if they knew what demons fill these pages my cause would surely be abandoned. My men are superstitious—and it would not do to tell them what lurks in the shadows.
Robyn paused, his stick poised to strike the parchment. He took a breath and forced himself to write the words that would seal the fact of his belief.
Last night I learned that monsters are real.
* * *
I journeyed to Nottingham by the light of a full moon. I donned a hooded cloak—small purses, or trinkets, stuffed within its manifold pouches. The Sheriff had collected their coin unduly and it was intent to return it to them.
I had instructed the townsfolk to leave a mark on their door–a scrap of wool, or paint–anything subtle to indicate that they wanted to chance a meeting with me. I resolved to return the coin to those it truly belonged to. If they did not wish to risk being seen with me, their coin would be put forward to King Richard’s ransom from the Roman Emperor in the East.
I had almost completed my cycle through the town, most doors shut tight as a promise when I came to a home with strange markings. It belonged to a local miller on the edge of town.
ENTER, the door said, the words by what looks to be an unsteady hand. Rivulets ran down each letter.
I knew I could be walking into a trap. None save the Sheriff and his lackeys would make such an obvious bid to capture me. All the same, the miller in that home was innocent. in that home and I could not leave their lives in jeopardy.
Fool that I am, I entered.
* * *
Robyn felt his heartbeat in his fingertips. His hands shook with such ferocity that for a fraction of a second he worried he might drop his journal into the flames.
The outlaw took a breath and mastered his resolve. He steadied his thoughts and scratched them into the pages.
* * *
Trepidation laced my hand as I reached for the door. I threw it ajar, moonlight streaming through the doorway and windows.
The walls were splattered with blood. This was no home, I thought. This was a butchery. All possessions were gone, save for something near the back corner.
I crept closer to inspect it, and soon realized it it not as a thing, but a man. Fat black flies settles on his eyes and his face, and rose up in a cloud as I approached.
His throat had been turned inside out and dried blood had wept down his chest and turned brown. But his chest, too, had been rent. The cuts were to jagged to have come from a sword, so what could have done this?
My answer came in the form of an inhuman voice, like that of a man gargling saltwater.
“Welcome, welcome, Locksley man, he who fights for a greater good. Welcome, welcome to this land. Welcome, welcome, Robyn Hode.”
Upon hearing these words, I unsheathed my dirk and spun to face the speaker. I was prepared for an enemy like Sir Guy or the Sheriff Yet what awaited me was nothing human in the slightest.
Its skin was graying as if it were on the verge of decay. Veins spiderwebbed across its body. The creature was covered in a latticework of scars. Mangled hair rested matted like a carpet atop its head.
When it smiled, I saw fangs.
“So you know my name,” said I, brandishing my blade. This was some trick, I knew. Some strange illusion that the Sheriff had conjured to trick me.
But I would not fall prey to its trap. “Yet I know not who you are. Be a gentleman and enlighten me.”
“You would like that, wouldn’t you, outlaw?” the creature said. “To know my name and all the secrets that come with it. But names are powerful things. And power is not freely given.”
I made no move to retort, rather I lunged for the thing’s heart with such surety I knew my aim to be as true as an arrow’s flight.
Yet my dirk pierced only air.
When I recovered, the beast stood behind me. It snarled and lashed at me with taloned fingers. And yet it missed. How could this be—for this creature to miss such a sure strike?
Then a bite of pain sank into my cheek. Warm blood trickled down my face.
It hadn’t missed.
The monster moved almost lazily, the way a man swats a fly. It was toying with me, I realized. Like the cat that lets the mouse run away with its injuries.
“You thought you could fight me, Robyn Hode?” the creature asked. “You are only human. Your kind knows nothing of the Old Ways.”
I did not remember him hitting me, and I had lost all sense of where I was. Perhaps on the floor, drooling red saliva down my chin, or perhaps resting against a wall, blood weeping down my chest and face.
I only recovered from my confusion when I felt the taloned hand on the back of my head, pressing me into the floorboards. Its breath misted on my cheek like cobwebs. It smelled of dust and bones. “They said you would make good sport for me. No…perhaps not. Better to end this now, wouldn’t you agree?”
I said nothing. For something strange had begun. It was as if my foot had fallen asleep, and the feeling reached up to my ears. The world around me melted like metal in a forge-fire. I felt suddenly hot and heard a crackling like a fire inside my head. My eyes and ears burned. And I suspected every breath might bring smoke, though none came.
For a fleeting moment I wondered if I was dying.
The monster’s cry assured me I was not. “Damn you, old one! Leave him to me! This is not your battle! Stay out of it!” The beast spat and cursed, it tried to strike me, but as its talons descended, I closed my eyes, heard a crunch and scrape of wood. A damp cold overtook me, and the monster and the home were both gone.
I struggled with consciousness, unable to open my eyes. Darkness took me, and I strayed out of thought and time.