“Don’t go into the woods”, they’d told him, every time he’d asked about the world outside.

“But what about what’s on the other side?” he’d asked, more than once. They’d laughed at that, and walked away.

But now it was time. He’d show them all. He pushed open the tower door and stepped out into the dark, the cold grass crunching softly beneath his feet.

The woods at night were alive. So much more life than he had ever imagined, rustling past him in the darkness as he left the tower behind, walking further out into the blue-black trees. Crickets trilled in the undergrowth, and something large crunched through the trees, some distance away. He marvelled at the sounds, captivated by the magic of new experiences.

Something pale approached, glimmering in the darkness. He stopped and squinted, trying to make out what it was. He thought perhaps a man, but something seemed off. It was too tall, too hard to see. Harder, he thought, than it should have been, even under the midnight trees.

“Hello?” he said, voice hesitant.

A long silence.

“At last,” the figure murmured, in a voice like dry leaves falling to the ground.

“Don’t go into the woods,” they would say to any other acolyte who asked, when he failed to return.

“Why?” some of the younger ones would ask, “What’s out there?”