Very rough, written for use in a War Torn/Rale playtest one-shot (hence the weird, second-person framing). Posting primarily as an excuse to show off Rae’s art.
You feel time drain from your perspective. Where you are is not here, when you are is not now. The trees around grow tall and vast, larger than you have ever seen, and the underbrush grows in kind. From the canopy, birds take flight, and squirrels scamper between the boughs. Amidst it all, you see a stag emerge from the greenery. The creature is tall and proud and weathered by its years in the forest–it knows that even as it is surrounded by life, death is never far.
Even now, it is pursued by a group of men. They carry bows and spears and fire, and eve though the creature flees from them at great speed, they are relentless. Soon, it is tired, and the men reach it. Their blades and arrows pierce its hide, and their flames scorch its face, and though it tries once more to flee, its legs fail it, and it crashes, heavy, to the ground.
The men approach but do not reach it, for suddenly, a wolf leaps from between the branches and bites a man’s throat. Blood flows, and the man’s companions stab the beast, but even in death, it does not forsake its quarry.
The stag, seeing life abandon its would-be salvation, cries out in horror. The sound is feral, animal, real, but you recognize the creature’s voice all the same from the echoes you heard beneath the earth in your own world, outside this strange rift in reality. Abandoned by life, it instead calls out to death, to draw the macabre scene into its warm embrace.
For the first time in the creature’s long memory, death heeds its call. The branches around them, imbued with that deathly force, grow and pierce the men, enshrouding the dead wolf in monument of briar and blood. At once, the stag realizes: To help the world escape death, it must become as death. It must draw the whole world into its embrace.
The stag, galvanized by fear and grief, sets about its task. It devours the wolf, swallowing its tail, its flank, its shoulders. As the stag engulfs the dead beast’s maw, a spark of life, of hunger, awakens inside it, and the beasts, now twinned, begin to eat as one the men, the briar, the earth, and the trees, until the chimera and the forest are one.
Years pass, and the earth shifts, and a Hunter arrives at the forest’s edge. He understands, as the chimera does, the balance of life and death. And just as the chimera has, he has swallowed the strength of the dead, stocked it beneath his skin. For years, the two hunt each other, attempting, as they had before, to pull one more soul into their embrace, but they are tenacious and tireless, and neither does prevail.
The Hunter grows tired of the hunt, but he cannot walk away. He bands with a strange bird and a king among beasts, and the three end the chimera’s advance in a cavern below two burning trees, ensuring, despite the creature’s cries, that the world never will be saved from death.
Top Image: Embrace, by Rae Johnson, commissioned for War Torn/Rale