This forest is different. It thrums with sounds and movement that put my nerves on edge. A heavy mist hangs in the air and the stout trees cast a thick canopy overhead that turns daylight to dusk. Anya grips my hand as she guides us deeper into the ancient trees. I pine for any contact with her, but at this moment, I wish for something more familiar—the worn handle of my axe. I left it in a body somewhere back in that awful town, and a bit of the courage I promised Anya is back there with it.
A fox follows us. It darts through shrubs and winds through the trees, but I catch flashes of its fire-like tail in the corners of my eye. Its presence eases my nerves. I know it’s here to help, though I can’t guess why.
The mood of the forest turns darker still. In the gloom, I almost don’t notice that Anya has stopped walking. She kneels, graceful, but urgent. She tugs at my arm. I mimic her gesture. A figure moves out of the mist. It stands like a man—much taller than me—but it is more goat than human. Black horns spiral out from its head and piercing rectangular eyes appraise me through the dark.
Anya produces a knife from her cloak and slides the black-glass blade across her palm. Blood wells in her hand. She passes the knife to me. I repeat her gesture. The blade is the sharpest I’ve ever known. I don’t even feel the cut. We join hands. Our blood mixes and I shiver as a cold flame flows through my body.
“We are one now,” she says. “I am yours. You are mine.”
“I always was,” I murmur.
The goat figure disappears into the mist before our eyes. With it gone, the mood of the forest changes suddenly. Night approaches, but the birds sing like it is morning. Squirrels for chitter overhead. Anya and I rise and unclasp our hands. I run my thumb along my palm expecting to feel the sting of a deep wound, but it is already closing. We meet each other’s gaze, and my desire consumes me. I kiss her with a parlous hunger of so many moments denied between us. Her lips are the bread she once gave me.
She presses her back to a tree. I close in. Her hips move against mine and tongues entwine. Her legs wrap around my waist while my hands blindly work through the clasps and buttons on her clothes. The outer layers of her dress fall free. I step back and she slips her undergarments down to her ankles. She stands before me, fully naked, a sight too perfect for my eyes. Soft skin traces powerful curves against the dark forest behind her. She’s more muscular than I expected. My hunger redoubles as I see her strength laid bare. I shed my clothes too and leave a careless trail of shirt and pants as she beckons me to a soft patch of earth. We curl into each other and kiss again, somehow deeper and more fervent than before. I roll to my back. She straddles me, squeezing her thighs in tight against my hips as she guides me inside her. I enter her and ecstasy stupefies me. Flashes of her moaning while she grasps her breasts occupy the spaces between my euphoria. We gain momentum as our bodies rock together and then a wonderful agony racks my body. My hips rise. She arches her back. We crescendo into pleasing exhaustion. She lays by me with her face tucked into the crook under my jaw. Blood rushes through her veins in time with my own pulse.
Night settles into the forest as our bodies relax. Beads of condensation rise on our bodies and our breath puffs clouds into the air. I know that we should feel cold, but even fully exposed like this, an impenetrable warmth envelops me. I am different now. Her magic is in me.
“Was that Lucifer?” I ask.
She giggles. “You met the spirit of the forest. That is the furthest being from a demon.”
“The bible says that the devil takes the form of a goat,” I say.
“Does it not also say that The Creator made the forest?”
“It does,” I answer.
“Then God also created the spirit that watches over it.”
I roll over and raise my head on an elbow. She raises an eyebrow at me while her lips curl in a playful smile. I search, but I cannot find a counter to this.
Anya’s expression changes. “There is something evil in this forest, though. That’s why we are here.”
“If not that creature we just met, then what?” I ask.
“You’ve met one, in the creek, when you were searching for me,” she says.
"Those tendrils in the water?" I ask.
"What are they?"
“They take many forms,” she says.
Creases form in my forehead as I look up at the stars and search for the source of a splinter in my brain.
“How do you know about that—about what happened to me in Lilliput?”
“Oh, is that what you call it? Lilliput. I like that.”
I don’t want to spoil the moment, but I’m sure my irritation shows in my ragged voice. “How do you know what happened to me in the water? I was alone then.”
She frowns. “You were not.”
I raise an eyebrow at her now.
"He told me," she says as she nods to the forest over my shoulder.
I crank me neck and search the night until a catch a flash of orange fox-fur in a shrub. I smile. “Where do they come from?”
"Men let them in with their industry, their greed,” she says. “I’ll need your help to close that door.”
“You have it, always.”
“I know,” she says. “But you aren’t going to like where it takes us.”
I wait. She continues, “We’re going to a city. The biggest city. New York.”