Carpeting the northwestern edge of the free-floating island state of Haize Hiria was a dark and mysterious forest. On the outside, it looked no different from the other ancient forests down below, and its size was rather modest compared to Haize Hiria. However, should anyone be courageous enough to enter this forest, they would soon notice a number of increasingly strange things. The climate always stayed the same here, even in the driest of times. Perpetual saturation of winter rain and summer fog kept this emerald portion cool and wet. It also appeared to be much bigger on the inside than on the outside, growing larger, older and more menacing as one walked deeper into the wood. Wildly exotic fauna and flora exist in numbers uncountable, nearly all of them marked with mysterious glyph-like symbols. Here one should always watch their back and tread very lightly as bad things often happen to those who don't obey the rules.

Sunlight pierced the mist shrouding great towering conifers and broad-leaves. As the flickering rays slanted down into this shadowy realm, the forest slowly awoke. Layers of heavy, fan-shaped branches unfolded leaves the size of dinner plates or extended umbrella crowns tipped with thousands of tiny needle-like tendrils. Reaching out to touch the diffused light, numerous branches swung and crisscrossed to align themselves for maximum energy capture.

Awakened by the lengthening sun, insects emerged in overwhelming numbers. They were shortly followed by a myriad of small avians attracted by this seasonal feast. The air soon filled with the shrill buzzes and trills of songsters both scaly and feathered.

Numerous beasts moved easily though the interwoven maze of branches and thick forest litter. A striped squirrel scolded intruders while far below a hexapodal owl bear plied the remains of a log for tasty white grubs. Elsewhere, herds of tusked deer and spiral horn nibbled lichen and leafy shrubs.

Wandering through this vast green expanse, one might get the impression that it was a forest primeval, untouched by civilization. Yet if one were to look more closely, shadowed traces of a lost era would appear. Barely distinguishable from the moss and lichen-draped trunks and logs are heaps of tumbled stone—remnants of cottages and town houses. Thatched and shingled roofs have long given way to ferns and ivy, gables have tumbled and small birds nest in the shattered walls and chimneys. Trees slowly straddled fallen room beams using them as nurse logs, while gardens once tended with loving pride ran wild and overgrown.

The people who built these structures were long gone now, driven out when the entire "Woods" arose overnight from a single piece of Taulukko lumber. Rapidly spreading, it engulfed nearly half of Haize Hiria before the Artisans finally brought its growth to an eventual standstill.

Kirjan, the beginner mage responsible for this catastrophic event, hadn't intended any trouble. All he wanted to prove his worthiness to the Artisan Academy by making an impressive piece of tableware. Unfortunately, due to youthful overeagerness and bumbling ineptitude, he used glyphs not meant for a mere novice. What was meant to be a school project inadvertently became a marvelous science experiment.

The inscriptions did more than resurrect an entire forest; it also caused the miniature ecosystem nestled within the grain to undergo an unusual chemical reaction. Evolving at a rapid rate, the organisms accelerated through the various stages in seconds, eventually leading to even more complex forms--some more advanced than current humanity.

Since its creation, the Taulukko Woods was a forbidden place, unwelcome to all but a few who wisely followed a strict policy of non-interference. One thing was certain: this was the true forest, a place that existed well before the dawn of humankind. It was a place where the old gods still walked, where the old magic still clung, where time marched to a different rhythm to that of the human world. In the lands touched by enchantment, evolution often followed more bizarre routes.

Not every city inhabitant left when the Taulukko Woods overwhelmed the region. Not just the hundred of dead whose bones now serve as enriching fertilizer. There were hundreds more who choose to escape into the burgeoning forest.

Descendants of the defeated "Folk" forced into indentured and bound servitude, they vowed to never again to be lowly domestics toiling away in the sculleries and barnyards. Never again will they be servile, downtrodden beings like so many of their brethren across the human world. Humanity? They said to themselves, what good are they? Nothing but stinking, vermin-infested Hiiet who bring about disorder and destruction. Our destruction. At least here in the New Forest, we'll be safe from their poisonous ways. So turning their backs on their former haunts, they went further into the tangled bulk of the trees hearkening back to an age before the coming of the City and the Rule of Thieves.

--your turn--
Meeting Place by mmpratt99

The Ones Who Stayed Illustration by mmpratt99