It was a small village in the mountains. It was warm in the summer and especially cold in the winter. A wide forest circled the village, making it hard to leave but the towering trees made the perfect ambience for a murder scene.
That thought always passed Keith's mind, but he didn't think it will actually be the case with him.
He knew he wasn't the villagers favourite, maybe they even scorned him behind his back, not that they made any precations to hide it even when he was around . But they never actively sought to harm him.
That mindset had long crashed when he was ambushed in his own little home. They came in the early morning when the sun had yet to rise. Men with half their faces covered, like Keith couldn't be able to discern their identity by their eyes and the ruthless determination lurking in their depths.
They drugged and tied his whole body, not even giving him the chance to fight back more than a few moves.
The village head's son gave him an extra hard punch to the stomach for the hit Keith managed to land on his face.
"Guh! Ox! You bastard!" Keith sputtered while being hit.
Ox widened his eyes at being recognized but didn't stop in tying him down.
"Quiet! We need to hurry up." A man with a brown cloth covering his mouth shouted.
Judging by the scar near his eyebrow, that one was Feddin. He didn't look Keith in the face while hauling him on his shoulder.
Whatever they gave him made his body numb, so his words were his only weapon.
"Hei! Where are you taking me?" Keith said a little louder than a whisper. "Going to beat me up?" He admits that he threw punches at this guys more than once (credit to his temper and the shitty morality of the villagers) but-
"You cowards, ganging up on a single person. Bastards! At least fight like a man!" He sneered at all the people present, five in total. Not a single one looked at him.
It was weird. Keith couldn't feel anger from them, proved by the fact that he could still curse at them freely.
Their ever-changing expressions in their eyes were more of pity and resolution.
The more they advanced towards the woods, the more dread raised in his gut.
"All of you! Look at me!" Their avoidance only ascertained his assumptions.
It was as if his whole body was thrown into a basin with cold water. He would rather face a beating than face what was ahead of him.
They went down a ravine, putting Keith on the stone altar near the ravine's wall.
Feeling started to come back to his limbs.
Keith bid his time and when the ropes were undone by two minions, he started thrashing madly, striking them as best as he could with half-operating arms. He managed to tumble down from the altar.
Keith gathered his strength and ordered his legs to move, to run, to get him far away from here.
Ox straight up grabbed him by the neck. His chances of escaping dissipating like sand in the wind.
They tied his wrists and ankles by the altar.
With a crooked knife at the handle, Feddin cut thin slashes on his arm. Fat droplets of crimson blood dotted his skin, falling in rows before silently hitting cold stone.
Keith could do nothing but stop the whimpers from leaving his chest.
"You should be grateful. As a mixed-blood without fate, drifting in life, you now have a noble purpose" Feddin announced in a righteous voice which did not align at all with his words.
"Fate my ass. If this is such a noble purpose why don't you take my place?!" Keith barked back. "I am not a sacrifice and the fact that I’m of mixer blood doesn't change that!"
"Pei! What you are is an offering to the great forest god! You should be happy for all we did for you and repay us tenfold!" Ox said with disgruntled tone.
"Watch me wipe tears of gratitude! Even saying that you are as ridiculous as the animal you were named after is an insult for the animal!” Keith had nothing left to lose anymore. Before he met his dad, he would at least rip off the masks of these people he 'should be grateful' to.
He turned his eyes towards Feddin "Hah- you say that I am taking-, forced to take such a grand role, but you, yourself are standing down! What a show of hypocrisy!" Keith pronounced every word clear and loud for them to hear.
"And you!" He looked past Ox and Feddin, "Just in what world do you think a human can be traded as an 'offering'. Merely because you stayed at the back won't clean my blood off your hands! That's right-, I-I-I-, No. The other 'gods' you are worshipping will definitely let my ghost come back for revenge! Their followers killing one of their own! I'm sure that's a good enough reason!" If looks could kill, Keith would have incinerated the people before him.
The 'minions' took more steps back, while Ox prepared to strike him. Feddin grabbed his fist and said "Don't damage the offering"
It reminded him of when he still worked in the vegetable stall and the owner always reminded him to 'not damage the merchandise'.
Feddin turned to him and continued "Accept your fate. Don't anger the forest god"
They left after a few more seconds, not looking back however many insults Keith hurled at them.
Being left alone with only his thoughts was worse than being cursed at. It made him extra aware of everything in his surroundings. His heart pounded like a drum inside of his chest, distorting his hearing.
Keith didn’t know if the weakness in his limbs was caused by the drugs or by the loss of blood. Squirming his arms a little, he could feel the pain from the cuts. It was not as bad as he thought. Looking at them seemed scary only because of the blood but they were actually shallow. Meant to draw blood before it coagulated back.
A strong wind made the trees shake. Keith Trembled in unison with their branches. He was, after all, only wearing a thin shirt and pair of pants meant for sleep, in a house, under the blanket, not for standing in the forest awaiting your death as an offering.
Ox didn’t skimp on tying the rope very tightly. It practically cut into his skin. It didn’t stop Keith from pulling with all the strength he could muster. It didn’t budge until he broke his thumb.
Blue bruises and grazes smeared with a few drops of blood covered his left wrist.
The wind kept becoming stronger and so were Keith’s movements. He knew that it wasn’t a good sign. He bit at the rope tying his right hand and using his left hand he untied his legs were the rope was looser. A thin layer of sweat covered his forehead.
He looked up only for a moment. His eyes constricted. The movement of his hands became more erratic. His teeth scraped skin when he tore apart the rope.
Yellow eyes glowed in the darkness between the trees not far from the altar, staring straight at Keith.
The eyes advanced. From under the shadows peeked two sets of antlers, but it wasn’t a stag that was coming closer because the antlers were worn by a humane figure, a very big one.
Keith’s whole body jerked, lunging behind the altar. His face reunited with the ground since he didn’t manage to completely lose the rope from one of his legs, anchoring it down to the altar.
He didn’t know if that ‘person’ was near since he was behind the altar.
The stone altar was corroding from the rain and harsh nature, slates peeling off its sides.
Keith grabbed the sharpest one he saw. It helped him free himself and left him with a weapon.
Leaning with his arms on the back of the altar, he slowly got up.
In front of him was the fully shown body of the forest god, he believes, no , he knows.
The two sets of antlers were only the tip of the iceberg. His face was the skull of a dear, hollow circles bordering the sharp, yellow glow of his eyes. He was at least two feet taller than Keith. He couldn’t see the muscle hidden behind the mantle made from tangled roots cascading down his wide shoulders, but the little material looking like moss covering his arms outlined them enough to know he could die if he made the wrong move.
He stepped towards the wall of the ravine, going along it. He winced when he made the first steps. The effects of the drug and his grazed ankles made him take a sharp intake of air.
A strong gust of wind blew through the ravine, signalling the approach of the ‘man’. In his hand was a staff with splinters sticking out. On top of it was a sharp, glistening rock.
It all screamed at Keith that his death will be caused by the poke of a god’s spear.
He didn’t need other ques before he made a run for it.
Keith expected to hear his persecutor trailing after him. When he didn’t hear anything apart from the drum of his own heart and strengthening of the wind, he thought ‘ was that to low for a god’
In reality, Keith knew that being caught was inevitable, but to hell if he was just going to wait for it.
If I die today, I have the right to a last struggle, a last fight!
Keith was hot on the inside and shivering on the outside. Ragged breathes came from his parched throat. It felt like his chest was on fire.
He kept running,
Small twigs and rocks pricked his feet, a constant reminder that he was supposed to be sleeping right now.
He kept running.
The clenched hand around the grey slate gave him comfort. The moon above, his guiding light among the trees. He had better eyesight at night than most of his peers, but it wasn’t superhuman. Getting branches stuck in his clothes, ripping them and leaves in his hair was proof of it.
He kept ru-
He crashed, being cushioned by the leaves. He didn’t know if he was pushed by the wind or if he tripped. He heard the crunch of leaves under the god’s feet.
He didn’t stop for a reason. Now he didn’t have the power to get up. The slate flew from his hand somewhere where he didn’t see.
Keith curled on himself, covering his ears. The sound of footsteps was blocked, he concentrated only on his heartbeat. Silent tears trailed his pale and dusty cheeks.
He prayed to whoever could hear him in less than a whisper.
“Please make it quick and painless” he was sick of pain.