<—Previous ChapterBy the time the group had arrived in the Sprite’s Country, the Fox’s corpse had become much lighter. It was a gentler, brighter area of the forest, where magic seemed to be at every corner. Melora felt a slight touch of enchantment at the sight of hundreds of sprites flying towards her, but the feeling of dread was still in her, and for the first time, she began to cough.
The Sprite led them to the center of the glen where they placed the corpse gently on the ground. She did not have to say a word, for immediately the other sprites got to work. They flew all around the Fox, creating an enormous green glow. Melora, the Killer Goose, and even Green Eyes stared, as their Sprite joined in with the others. She could sense something was wrong, and she continued coughing.
Finally, the glow evaporated and the sprites dispersed, leaving the Fox alone. He was still dead.
“It’s too late,” the Sprite said, out of breath, “We couldn’t save him. And I’ve–used up all my magic.”
“No!” Melora screamed.
“Melora, please,” the Sprite said, “I don’t have much energy left, so listen to me. You have to the City. I don’t have the strength to take you myself anymore, but you have our other two friends. If you leave now, you can get there before the end of today. I’m sorry things worked out the way they did. But you have to leave now. I’m sorry.”
The Sprite was nearly out of energy, and her light was fading. Melora tried to process this, but the Killer Goose was already leading her away.
“C’mon, pal. We gotta run. Make up for lost time.”
And so, with a quick goodbye to the Sprite and the late Fox, Melora picked up Green Eyes, took the Killer Goose’s wing, and the three were off.
“What’s going to happen to the Sprite?” she asked when they were out of earshot.
“She’s used up all her energy. She’ll die,” the Killer Goose said, nonchalantly. Melora took this in and tried not to think about it.
Over the next few hours, they made their way through the shrubbery, and her hacking cough grew worse.
I have the Plague, she thought, The same one that killed my parents. And now it got me. But she didn’t have to say this out loud. All three were thinking it.
By mid-afternoon, they finally exited the Black Forest and found themselves at the edge of the City.
“We’re here,” Melora said, “And I can see the Castle! The royal courtyard must be right there!”
“This is where we must leave you,” Green Eyes said, “We can’t leave the Black Forest.”
“Yeah, sorry, sugar,” the Killer Goose said, “But I guess we’ll fly back to Lessie’s.”
They said a quick goodbye, and the Killer Goose flew back into the Black Forest, carrying Green Eyes in is claws, while Melora ran into the City as fast as her legs could take her, and finally arrived at the royal courtyard by dusk. A large crowd of people was exiting the courtyard, and soon Melora found herself going against traffic: the sole person trying to enter the courtyard that everyone else was exiting.
“Excuse me,” she finally asked a passerby, “What’s going on?”
“All the orphans in the kingdom were gathered here today. The king and queen have picked one to be their new surrogate daughter.”
“What?” Melora asked, and began coughing, “No, they’ll pick more orphans, right?”
“No, the show’s over,” the passerby said, “It started an hour ago. There were many sad orphans, but the king and queen picked a very lonely little girl. They crowned her Princess Mary and she sang for us. And now it’s back to the daily grind for us all.”
Melora stood there alone, crushed.
What a fool she’d been. What an absolute fool! The quest had been one large failure. She had gotten the Fox killed, the Sprite to sacrifice everything on a failed attempt to revive him, and nothing to show for it but a sick body. She walked through the City, trying to find a place to stay for the night, but she had no money and no friends. As she slowly made her way back to the edge of the City, she replayed every failure over and over in her head. It had been stupid to waste so much time at the cantina. It had been stupid to insist on continuing the journey in the dead of night. The detour to the Sprite’s Country had been misguided, and resulted in nothing but more wasted time and the loss of the Sprite.
Upon reaching the Black Forest once more, she had to decide what to do. She would of course have to return to Bushwick, where she could look forward to her snowy-haired stepmother punishing her for her truancy with more housework. But she also knew she was sick with the Plague. Then again, with no more companions to guide her, she wasn’t quite sure how to get to Bushwick. And still then again, if she were to begin the journey through the Black Forest now, it was doubtful she’d make it alive. But there was no place to stay in the City.
Confused and with a hacking cough, she entered the Black Forest.
Exactly where Melora died is not known; it’s simply known that the Forest killed her. Wandering aimlessly through the woods in the dead of night with no will to live, it’s quite likely she was killed by one of the Black Forest’s many dangers. Or perhaps she simply became lost. Or perhaps her body succumbed to the Plague. But somewhere on her nighttime journey, she met with death. In truth, she was looking for it.
Where am I? Melora’s soul asked, What am I?
She felt strange, no longer occupying the body she always had. She had branches and a trunk.
We are a tree, a warm energy answered her, We are all here. And we love you so much.
And Melora recognized the presence she had long missed. Her father’s soul was there, and so was her mother’s, and so was the Fox’s.
“Hello, Melora,” a voice said. It was the Sprite, young as ever. She flew up to the tree, a great big Oak, and spoke to it.
“Your family was very good to the Forest. You took care of it, and now it has taken pity on you. So it has saved your lifeforce, so that the three of you may all be together in the spirit of the tree. And the Fox, of course, for he loved you too. But you see, there was a little bit of your lifeforce left over, and the Forest gave it to me. I am you, Melora. I was always you. My job was to be your guide in life. And now I will be the Sprite of this tree, and watch it for many years, and keep it from being cut down.”
And the centuries passed, and things changed in the world, but Black Forest remained, and the tree was never cut down. There lived the spirit of Melora and her family, finally together in death.