Abella tripped and crashed hard into the ground, smacking her chin on a rock. Half-dazed and bleeding, she flailed like a dying jackrabbit as the malevolent forest stabbed at her with wooden talons.
Soaked in blood and desperate for breath, she managed to find footing and stumbled forward. The thick brambles tore at her skin and hair as she barreled through them. The wicked trees only seemed to thicken as she attempted her escape. She trudged with all her might to gain precious ground.
Like a fly in a web, she was captured in the tangled claws of this possessed forest. Constricting her like a snake, all hope escaped with her last breaths. She spat her last words, addled with frantic nuance only the dying can muster. “I… found you,” she gasped as the knotted limbs constricted an inch further. “…Palyngrae.” One more inch, then Abella exhaled for the last time.
Roman stared in disbelief. The innocence of his young age spoiled at the sight of it: Twisted, inhuman, and puppet-like, red liquid flowed through its cracks and joints and ran down the petrified flesh of its spindly twig legs. Its eyes glistened wet with the fading sunlight.
He knew those eyes. He had found his beloved big sister. Roman wept as he tried to free her from her coffin of twisted green limbs. Fluid gushed as he clawed at the bark and vines that tethered Abella, spraying his face with an acrid mixture of sap and blood.
Screaming in fear and defeat, Roman fell to her rooted feet, his own hands bleeding from the futile struggle. Tears rained from his eyes, realizing that he couldn't save her.
"I'll get help Abella, I'll be back, I promise!" Roman spun on his heels and bolted forward. A crackling sound erupted as the forest exploded around him, pelting him with wooden shrapnel. Dazed, he lifted his head and turned to see his once-sister standing fiercely over him, her green eyes flickering in the dark. A dozen broken, jagged tree limbs aimed at him, poised like scorpions ready to strike.
"DAAAAAD!" Roman screamed before he was skewered by the slithering limbs of his former sister.
Bill crashed onto the scene, saw Roman on the ground, and the impossible thing on top of him. He instinctively opened fire with his hunting rifle, striking the Wych Elm twice in the chest and head. Whip-like vines lashed out from the foliage around him, ripping Bill to pieces. The forest came alive and massacred the remaining fifteen members of the search party, painting the trees a glistening red.
The forgotten forest god Palyngrae was delighted by this centennial's tribute. The acting, the script, the screams, all were excellent. He had laid the seeds, and the drama had blossomed beautifully. The pact was completed, though the benefactors had been long forgotten. Palyngrae was no longer called upon it seemed, but he was still eager to collect. To him, a contract was a contract.
Satisfied, his normal sacrifice of ten (one for each decade of the hundred), had been exceed by eight, almost double. The elms lavished in the blood spilled, and their thirst was tamed. For now. This new prey looked and tasted different, but was to his liking. Feeling lazy and sated, Palyngrae dozed and dreamt dark, autumnal dreams.