Stepping quietly over the soft ground, he listened to the whispering wind as it blew through the trees. The echoes of many sounded throughout the land and replaced the buzz of small crickets. He felt a disturbing presence in the forest tonight, sensing a powerful being just beyond his reach. Naturally curious, he traveled silently with the intention of catching a small glimpse. Maybe then, he would be satisfied for a short time. Drawing close to a tree, his claws dug into the loose bark as his arm wrapped around it. He scratched away at the trunk and listened carefully, tuning out the laments of forgotten souls.
He sniffed the air and left the dying oak behind, pursuing the scent for a few paces. The hum of an unnatural voice rung over the sorrow and drew him closer. Stopping for only moments, his eyes laid upon a beautiful woman. She sat on a limb and brought life to the fortunate tree, shining healthy among his brothers. Her purity surprised him and made him feel unworthy of her sweet voice as it created melodies. Crouching down, he hid behind a sickly sentinel and dug his claws into its oak skin. How long would she sing for him? She wove stories through her passion and left him eager for more. One more verse or one more ballad might leave him satisfied. The woman grew quiet after while, and disappointment took hold of him. Did she run out of songs?
His eyes widened in sudden shock upon hearing his name. She knew his name? How? He peeked out from the tree and remained within the foliage. Colla shook his head and felt vaguely sickened at his intentions. “Dear, Kalia…why have you stopped singing for me? Your voice is so graceful. I would have liked to hear more,” he replied, moving from the oak. He watched her tense at receiving a deep answer, wondering if she expected one.
“I had to be certain you came. I suspected you would show, lured by my music. You couldn’t ignore me. It’s so very quiet here. How long have you been listening?” she asked, tracing the tree limb thoughtfully.
“You were telling the tale of a distant land when I approached. It was much different than my home. It sounded like a cheerful kingdom and led fairly by the royals. I could tell it was only a story though even in the way you told it. I don’t believe in such fairy tales,” he replied, becoming more courageous. He stepped out into the open with the dead oak fingers reaching above him. “You’re not surprised that I know your name?”
“It’s a shame that you’re right. The Kingdom of Liran does not exist. You seem to have a mind for these stories. It is difficult to determine between truth and fantasy. How did you become so skilled, or have you heard all the stories to tell? It’d be impossible to remember them all. A master storyteller wouldn’t be able to recall such lore,” she explained, pausing at his next question. “No, I’m not. I know your name as well, yet you were the one surprised. I know your story like many others. Tell me, don’t you get lonely in this forest?” Kalia insisted, glancing over her shoulder.
Colla stiffened and watched Kalia study his form, taking in his sharp horns and demonic wings. His tail shifted anxiously behind him as he froze in place, pondering her thoughts. Kalia knew his story? An eye for an eye as he knew her tale just the same. “You tell me you are not surprised, but I believe otherwise. You were not expecting me, not in this way at least. Were you expecting an evil creature? No, I’m not too different from you. We’re actually alike. I enjoy hearing stories, and I ask visitors to tell me a few. I let them pass through the forest if they can tell me a new tale, yet they think they can fool me. I have lived here for a very long time, and you are right. My mind does fail me on occasion. The forest knows when something is askew. The trees will help the travelers along until my mind recalls little by little another version of the same story. I’m not angry with them because I’m glad they visit. I simply ask them to return when they finish their business and perhaps tell me a new one. Have you come for the same purpose? Do you wish to keep me company?” he drawled, moving his hands to his hips.
Kalia turned back around and stared at the ground, swinging her legs back and forth. “Why do you have to be this way, Colla? That is not what I heard in your story. Are you telling me a different one? I heard the people that enter your forest never return, or they are never the same again. You can’t be the wicked monster that I’ve heard about,” she explained.
Encroaching to the youthful tree, he stopped only a few feet away. “It is their word against mine, but I know the truth. I do grow lonely in this forest for I cannot leave. I fear for my life if I did. As I said, I have lived in this forest for a very long time. My memories have failed me, so I began to replace them with stories outside of the forest. I forgot why I came here, and why I have a fear of leaving. I even forgot my true name. I believe that I was not always Colla. Nobody would ever know different. The only family I have is this forest. You have not answered my question though. What is it you seek?” he inquired, climbing onto the tree limb.
“I heard you were lonely, and I assumed you kept travelers here to keep you company. I realize that I’m wrong. The village is wrong about you. You’re misunderstood. The Forest of Antiquity is very silent. You are the only one here.”
His eyes glanced over her nude form, folding his wings against his back. She could not hear the moans of the lost, and he felt sorry for her. “You have already done enough. Singing so beautifully, I have never heard any of those stories,” he whispered, placing his hand on her shoulder. Scooting closer, Colla saw her exposed dreams, will, and soul. Why did she profess them so openly?
“You don’t have to be here alone. You could come with me. Colla, shed your name. I can help you discover what was once yours,” she pleaded, tilting her head to him.
“My sweet, kiss me then,” he muttered, leaning close. “I want to know if I can trust you, if you wish to help me. I’ve lived in the dark too long. Please, be my shining light,” Colla mused, moving his hand to her dark hair.
“So be it,” Kalia agreed, knowing the risk from the stories. She refused to believe them after speaking to him, seeing him up close. Kissing the demon’s lips, she hugged Colla close to her and yearned for his better future. Nobody deserved such a dismal and horrid fate.
Colla kissed Kalia sweetly, smiling at her love. He pulled away and dipped his head with shame. “I’m sorry. Forgive me,” he begged, hearing the laments louder than before. In this way, he stole her soul, ignoring her pain as she became one of his guests. She had faith in him, but he refused to believe her. Nobody had offered their trust so willingly to him; she must have not believed the real tales. The Forest of Antiquity housed a conniving and persistent demon, seducing his victims into staying forever. He could not pass up her offer and made her welcome in his forest. Joining his family, Kalia was doomed to sing for all of them for Colla was never truly alone.