The woods were riddled with them. Gods, slowly whittled out of their temples and shrines, their mark on the world bleached by countless rotations of the sun. Their names slipped out of mouths and into pages if they were lucky, into obscurity if they weren’t. Many vanished altogether, but the ones that didn’t retreated to the woods, demoted to mythology. It’s a long fall, the one from prayers to stories. Amongst the trees, fragments of faith, long orphaned, found new land to call home.
She sunk her pale bones into the soil, and turned her eyes towards the sun. Time was kept at bay here. She could sense it on the outskirts, circling, prying, a rat seeking ingress through the smallest gap. Occasionally it would break through - a song carried in a pocket, metal and fuel overhead, words in a tongue so estranged from its roots that it was new and ugly and unintelligible to the ear - but mostly time kept its distance and left the old gods to fade in peace. The language of the leaves hadn’t changed. She was grateful for that. The wind rustled lullabies from them, and for brief moments, sometimes years, She could dream. They were comforting, her dreams. They tasted of blood and ash, of soaring and crushing, tearing and mending. Waking caused grief as sharp as briar.
Sometimes She caught glimpses of the others. Odd shapes at the back of her sight, a sensation pressing on her like the weight of a storm, but the old ones didn’t like to share, not even in their dotage. Not worshippers, and not space. It suited her. She loomed tall, ivy tethered, fingers weaving the branches above, trying to stir old dead magic from the skies but time even began to trespass in the rain; it tasted like burnt hair and the lurid toys that children would sometimes leave in the woods.
They were frequent visitors, humans. They wandered through the trees, oblivious to the company they kept. Perhaps a splinter of understanding remained. Their voices became hushed in the forest, their steps more thoughtful; they seemed at least partially aware that the world was more brittle here, and liable to break. Perhaps they could sense the old gods’ breath on them as they passed, feel the lidless eyes that watched. Some days they came so close that She could smell them, taste the scent of them on the air, and She would twist her bones so the branches above her murmured with appetite
And they would shudder, and turn back.
This was her now. This was the shape She filled. She was a small warning that snaked up your spine like a tongue. The feeling of being watched. She was the instinctive muffle of your voice in her presence. Her name, once howled in grief, wielded in rage, carved into stone and flesh and trees alike, was now a story for round the fire; a whisper you weren’t sure you heard.
Furious, She would watch them walk away, teeth sharp in her mouth.
She screamed, and it sounded like the breeze.