The Witch of the East
The Witch of the East lives in a house called ‘Hags Haven,’ deep in the heart of shadowy woodland called Ringfinger Forest. Her heart is as black as night and all the forest creatures fear her darkmagic spells and terrible temper.
She turned her anger towards any living thing that entered her forest, as well as the forest folk that lived there. In particular, the Witch hates the Faerysouls and other magical forest folk, despising their goodness, kindness and beauty. In time, she became the master of all creatures, except the Ogres of the Wastelands. Oddly, her magic would not work against them, for some reason she nor they could ever explain.
For one day each year, when the blood moon rises, the Witch may use her darkmagic powers to change herself back into the Princess she once was. Then and only then she may leave the forest, but only for a very short time. Time enough, though, to capture the unwary souls who dare to enter her dark woodland.
Faerysouls are only one of many types of forest folk or ‘hidden ones,’ as they are known as by those people who don’t believe in magic, living in and around the forests. Many others exist – such as Elfinwraiths, Water Nymphs and Silver Sylphs – and each of them has a single, special, magical power.
Mostly, Faerysouls spend their time doing good deeds, such as making sure their kingdom is kept spotlessly clean and helping animals that have hurt themselves to get better. Sometimes faeries come into the towns and villages beyond the Kingdom of Elvingdale to watch over children and to make sure they are safe and sound.
Of course, faeries can only be seen and heard by other Faeries, forest folk, animals and magical creatures, so when they do come into towns and villages where people live, they hide in bushes and trees and in flowers, turning themselves into butterflies and ladybirds, just to make sure no one knows who they really are.
To the west of Ringfinger Forest, high above the kingdom of Elvingdale, lie the Mountains of the Moon. The mountains are filled with deep dark caves where strange and terrible creatures live. In the deepest, darkest cave of all the many caves that riddle the mountains lives a giant troll by the name of Grymdelhack.
Grymdelhack is very big and very strong and always hungry. He loves nothing more that to grind the bones of anyone he catches wandering in his mountains into dusty bone flour, which he uses to bake hot, crumbly honey-bone bread, flavored with the honey of wild mountain bees. Of course, being a giant troll, his skin is so thick that the bees cannot sting him, so he steals their honey every time he has bones to grind.
Grymdelhack hates everyone and everything, except the Red Wolves that live in the mountains below him. At night, when the wolves howls echo around the mountains and through the valleys, scaring everyone and everything that hears them, Grymdlehack dances to their song and howls in reply, though his roars are almost even more horrible to hear.
The Wastelands is a land of quicksand and bogs and choking wet fogs, where giant poisonous toads and slimy creepy crawlies hunt anything that moves. There, in the misty doom and grey gloom of that bleak and featureless land, lies the land of the Wasteland Ogres a race of extremely ugly and extremely nasty beings that love to feast on the flesh of those they find wandering lost in their kingdom – although they sometimes go into Ringfinger forest to hunt. They are quite tall, though not as tall as a troll, and have fat round tummies, as they eat all the time but never get full.
Their enormous heads are completely bald and they have very large ears, although, oddly, they are actually very hard of hearing. Their mouths are filled with forty-six massive flat, but sharp, teeth, which are excellent for crunching and chewing up bones. Wasteland Ogres have strong arms, which they use to swing their long wooden clubs, and warty, bulbous noses, that they use to sniff out their prey. Over time, the Ogres feet have grown longer and wider and flatter, which helps them walk across the soft marshy ground of the Wastelands. They are also marvelous swimmers and catch giant octopus-fish that infest the many bogs and rivers and swamps of their kingdom.
Ogres especially love things that shine. Even though they have no use for gold or silver or precious jewels, they hoard any treasure they can find or steal. For hundreds of years the Ogres have built up a vast fortune in treasure, all of which is stored on a small island, called the Island of Gloomgrey, which lies at the very centre of the Wastelands, in the middle of an enormous lake. Gloomgrey Island is the only piece of solid land in the whole of the wastelands, and the only place where a building exists – a tall tower that goes by the name of Gallows Keep. Gallows Keep has no windows or doors, but at the very top of the tower is the room where the Ogres keep their treasure. How they get into and out of the tower, no one knows.
Even though they have so much treasure, yet no use for it, Odepuff Stink wants to steal the treasure he has heard exists in Netherwold. In particular he desires a single giant emerald, said to be as big as Grizzenboar’s head. He keeps trying to kidnap the Witch of the East, hoping she will lead him the entrance to Netherwold, so he can try to find the emerald. But the Witch is well guarded by the Red Wolves and Black Crows, so perhaps he never will.
Forest goblins -Grizzenbeard & Scryne
Forest goblins are about the most horrible, sneaky and spiteful creatures to inhabit the forest. They are about half the size of a human, hunched over and spindly thin, and have crooked-pointy noses and pale-green scaly skin. Because water burns them, they never wash, and are actually too afraid to go near a river or stream come to that. So you can guess at just how smelly and disgusting they are. This is made worse because goblins, of the type that live in Ringfinger Forest, live in the holes in the rotting stumps of dead trees.
All goblins are the slaves of the Witch of the East, and help her to catch any strangers who enter her forest. Goblins are very twisty, and like to tell tales and play nasty tricks on anyone who will listen to them. They can be nice when they want to, but normally only when they want something from you.
Because Grizzenbeard and Scryne are the Witch of the East’s slaves, they hate her, and want to kill her. However, only a special spell cast from a spell-book called the ‘Gatekeepers Hexicon,’ said to be held in the pocket of the ogre guarding the entrance to Netherwold, Blackhorn Bonegrinder, can kill her or send her back to Netherwold.
Unless the goblins somehow get the book, they will never be free. As goblins are all a bit cowardly, there is no way for them to do that, unless of course they trick someone else into doing it, which they have tried only once before, to a young chap called Mordekai Hagg . . . but then that’s another story.
The Sea Hags
Sea Hags live in the sea, just over the horizon, and sing to passing ships, trying to lure them onto hidden rocks. Despite being grotesque they have beautiful voices, and sailors say that if you hear a Sea Hag’s song you cannot help but sail towards it, despite knowing why they are calling.
A Sea Hag is about the same height as a forest goblin, but covered in green-blue fish-scales instead of skin, so they are completely waterproof. Their hair is exactly like rotting seaweed, and they have long spindly fingers, which are webbed to help them swim, with sharp, pointed nail-claws to help them catch their prey. They are so ugly, or so sailors say, that if you see one up close your face freezes and you turn to stone on the spot.
It is claimed that the Sea Hags were once beautiful mermaids, although nasty ones that began to lure ships onto the rocks instead of leading them away to safety. Over time, those mermaids became as ugly as their thoughts and actions, and turned into Sea Hags. Which explains why they now hate mermaids so much.
The Witch of the East has tried, many times, to get the Sea Hags to swim out into the lake at the centre of the Wastelands, to break into Gallows Keep – the tower on the Island of Gloomgrey – where the Ogres keep their treasure, to try to find out what might be there that stops her spells working on them. But try as they might they cannot find any way in.
Grizzenboar are enormous, wild hairy pigs that roam Ringfinger Forest, snuffling about in dead leaves and the musty roots of trees for delicious truffles and nuts and acorns to feed on. Because they have such long snouts, which can sniff out anything they want to find, they are used by the Witch of the East to hunt for forest goblins, like Grizzenbeard and Scryne, to turn into her slaves.
Odepuff Stink, the King of the Ogres, discovered quite by accident that Grizzenboar love, most of all, to feast on wild, red forest-apples that have fallen from the trees and been left to rot in the sun. They will also do virtually anything to get one. So, once a month, when the moon is full, Odepuff Stink brings his Ogres into the forest to hunt them.
The Ogres first place rotten red apples into large holes in the trees, then place a loop of strong rope around the hole. When a passing Grizzenboar sticks its head into the hole, trying to get at the apples, the Ogres pull on the loop of rope and catch it. Then they take it back to the Wastelands to roast whole on their spits to feast upon.
The Ogres have captured and kept over fifty Grizzenboar, which they keep on Gloomgrey Island. They use them when they raid the other Ogre clans that live in the two other woodlands that border the Wastelands. Once a year, Odepuff Stinke leads his Ogres into battle against the Grey Ogres of Hackenbark Forest and the Cyclops Ogres of Wiccan Wood, riding on the backs of the captured Grizzenboar.
If Odepuff stink can ever defeat the Grey Ogres and Cyclops Ogres, he will become king of them all, and be able to lead a huge Ogre army against the Red Wolves to try to capture the Witch of the East. But so far he has failed every time.
Blood Sucking Elves are vicious little creatures that bury themselves underground in shallow burrows, during the day. Which is why their nests are known as graves. They do this because sunlight burns their pale white skin so badly that they wrinkle and blister then finally explode.
‘Bloodies’ hunt in packs, swarming through the trees like spider monkeys, seeking anyone or anything moving around in the forest, hoping for a taste of sweet, warm, sticky blood.
Because they have the strongest sense of smell, next to a Red Wolf or a Grizzenboar of course, Bloodies’ can smell the breath of any living thing from miles away. This is why the Witch of the East uses them to hunt. When commanded to rise, by the Witch of the East, they must join her hunts for the Faerysouls or for any other unfortunate creatures she demands them to hunt.
‘Bloodies’ have razor sharp teeth that can pierce even the tough leathery skin of an Ogre, or even a Grizzenboar. They like to sneak up on their prey then drop from the trees onto its head, killing it stone dead with a single bite to the neck, and they move so quickly that most of their victims never see them coming. The only blood that Bloodies cannot drink is that of the Wasteland Ogres, as it tastes far too fishy.
Despite being quite small, ‘Bloodies’ are fearless and will attack any living thing, even if it’s much bigger than them. So, if you’re ever out in the forest after dusk, and you feel a sharp nip on the back of your neck, don’t just assume a midge or a mosquito or some other strange insect has bitten you. It might just have been a Blood-Sucking Elf.
High on the Mountains of the Moon, where all manner of strange and hideous beasts make their home in the deep, dark caves, live the Red Wolves. They stand as tall as a horse and have jaws filled with the sharpest, longest, whitest teeth. Their eyes glow as red as fire, and when the moon rises to the highest point in the night sky, their howl can heard echoing through the mountain passes, down to the three forests that surround the Mountains of the Moon. It is said their howl can freeze the blood of any living thing that hears it.
But the Wolves have a dark secret. They were once not wolves at all. Once they were cave-dwelling troglodytes – small, hairy, troll-like creatures living in the deepest holes in the darkest caverns of Netherwold – and their fur was black as midnight.
The day after Dragontail Slimefinger, the King of Netherwold, cast his daughter, the Princess, from his kingdom, for using light and mirrors against his will, he sent the trogladites to the land above to guard her. To make them even more frightening, Dragontail turned the troglodytes into giant black wolves.
But, after a hundred years living in the Mountains of the Moon, the strange glowing red light of the Crimson Cavern’s sapphires have turned their fur the colour of ruby red blood. Now, as Red Wolves, they prowl the mountains and forests each and every night, ensuring no one tries comes to harm the Witch of the East, and coming to her bidding when she has need of them, as she does during the Faerysoul hunts.
The Red Wolves devour anyone that comes to their mistress’s forest unannounced, and fear absolutely nothing, as some have found to their cost. Odepuff Stink, the King of the Ogres, has four long, raking red scars across his right cheek and nose, given to him by one of the Red Wolves when he tried to visit the Witch of the East unannounced. If it had not been for Odepuff falling back into the water of deep, dark lake, he would have been torn to pieces.
Now most people have seen crows flying about the fields or meadows or hunting in gardens or rubbish tips for food, and probably don’t think crows are particularly scary at all. But what makes the Black Crows that help the Witch of the East to hunt the Faerysouls different is that they are not really crows at all – at least not the sort of crows that you or I might know. They are actually giant rat-faced bats.
So the Black Crows of Ringfinger Forest are much bigger than normal crows, and about the same size as an eagle. Their beaks are slightly curved, cruelly sharp, and filled with two rows of tiny razor sharp teeth. While their favourite foods are bluebirds, wrens and owls, the Black Crows are also very fond of Faerysouls, and join the Red Wolves in hunting them on the nights when a blood moon rises and the hunting horns sing.
During the day the Crows eyes shine bright green, like the giant emeralds that line the walls of Netherwold, and their eyesight is a sharp as a falcon. But at night, their eyes turn bright red and glow in the dark, making them able to see just as well as they do in the daylight. This makes them excellent spies and hunters for the Witch of the East.
By day and by night, the Black Crows spy on the Ogres, flying back to tell the Witch of the East if they enter her forest, and guiding the Red Wolves to where they are. Sometimes they ride on the backs of the Red Wolves, flying above them occasionally to keep watch on the Ogres are. The crows torment the Ogres, out in the Wastelands, every single day, following them wherever they go and dropping rotten eggs and stinking fish heads on any ogre they find. They always try to hit Odepuff Stinke more than any other ogre.
At midnight, each night, the Crows return to the giant nests they live in, built in the trees growing straight out of the sheer rock face of Crimsonwrath mountain. They caw loudly for hours on end, tormenting the Grymdlehack troll, who keeps threatening to climb up and catch them and to bake them in a giant crow pie. But he never catches them because he’s not really a very good climber.
The Black Crows, apart from the Witch of the East and the forest goblins, are the only creatures that can leave Ringfinger Forest without disappearing in a puff of smoke. Sometimes they fly into the towns and villages beyond Ringfinger Forest to destroy garden flowers or to steal fruit from the orchards.
So the next time you see a particularly big crow, try to see if its eyes are bright green, because, if it is, it might just be one of the rat-faced bats that Dragontail Slimefinger cast out of the Kingdom of Netherwold.
Now, if you’ve already read all about the Witch of the East and how she used to be a beautiful Princess then all well and good. But if you haven’t, then you should probably go and find out how the Witch of the East became a Witch at all. Because the Princess she once was has a completely different story.
Princess Gorgonzella, as she was known, was the daughter of Dragontail Slimefinger, a powerful black wizard who rules the Kingdom of Netherwold.
However, Dragontail Slimefinger has decided no light must shine in Netherwold, and to make certain that Emberglow gives off no light, he has a vast army of slaves – cave trolls, trogladites, black dwarves and gloom-ghouls – all pouring water onto the surface of Emberglow for every minute of every day. Making sure the river of molten rock remains as dark as coal.
Each day, Dragontail’s daughter, Princess Gorgonzella, would ride on the surface of Emberglow in a gondola made of diamond, which is the only thing a boat could be made form and not catch fire in the great heat of Emberglow. Gorgonzella would travel through the dark underground valleys of Netherwold, making sure her father’s slaves never stopped working.