Joni and the Master of Weirdwood Forest
There once was a young man named Joni who was very brave. So brave, in fact, that he boasted often that there was no foe he would not face. One day he heard a tale about a strange place filled with monsters called the Weirdwood Forest. A land so deadly even the trees can kill you. The tale seemed to frighten the grown men sitting around the table. “I would never venture to such a place,” exclaimed one man. “I have a son and wish to see him grow into a man.” “Nor would I,” agreed another as he sipped his beverage. “I have a wife and she would miss me greatly.” “And I have a daughter,” spoke a third man. “I wish to see her marriage day.” Joni, seeing a chance to prove how brave he was, climbed atop the table and shouted for all to here. “Well I fear not this forest!” he cried as he called each man a coward for their worries. The men laughed and said it was easy to say one is not afraid but quite another to prove it. So Joni took their challenge and said he would go to the Weirdwood Forest to prove he has no fear. The men tried to talk him out of it by pointing out all the years he still had ahead of himself, but the boy refused and left on his quest. The journey took three days and three nights but in time Joni came across the forest’s edge. Immediately he found a gaggle of strange creatures. Long and gangly with crooked bodies and bulbous, wet, frog-like skin. There were three of them in total and a young woman tied with rope between them. “We must take her to the master,” one declared adamantly. “But I want to eat her!” said the second as he eyes the woman as his jaws dripped with hungry drool. “We cannot! She is for the Master. We’ll just have to dine on someone else,” the first shot back. Joni, not fearing these strange creatures even a little bit, charged forward. With his great club in hand he bashed the first one over the head, then turned to fight off the two others until they fled into the forest. Once it was clear Joni untied the woman and she thanked him for saving her. Then she asked him what he was here for. Joni explained that he had heard this was a place most cursed and that only the fearless could journey to it without waning. The woman admired his bravery but told him that even for a man as brave as he it was not safe within the forest itself. She warned him of monsters even worse that were said to dwell within the forest, and that the forest’s ruler would not allow hm to trespass freely. Joni ignored her advice and proudly claimed he was not afraid of any beast nor evil master of this wicked forest. She pleaded with him not to go on and promised to marry him if he should return to her village with her, but he refused. He said that if he backed away now he would be called a coward by the old men back at his own village. She begged him a second time but he replied only with “I would rather die a brave man than live as a coward.” So Joni entered the forest alone. The trees were sharp and deadly and the water hid secret thorns that threatened to pierce the very soles of his shoes. Yet he trekked onward. Deeper and deeper into the forest until he no longer knew what direction he was going. Soon he found himself beset by another monster. This one huge and covered in scales with great teeth as long as Joni’s arms. Joni fought back and cut the beast down, but before he delivered the final blow it spoke. “Please! Pity me, brave hero, for I was once like you!” Surprised Joni lowered his club, then asked what it meant by that. The creature cried and told the brave hero that had bested him that he was once a man named Krayg, but his beloved wife was taken from him deep into these woods and he sought to get her back. He slew many a monster but upon meeting the Master of the forest he was instead transformed. Joni listened to his tale with a heavy heart. He asked if there was no way to return the creature to his normal self. Krayg said yes, but only if he found someone to replace him as the Master’s guardian. Or, perhaps, if the Master was slain. Joni beamed with pride and declared he would slay this master, then. The monster shuddered and told Joni not to try! The Master could not be defeated. Joni reasoned that he was a greater warrior than Krayg for having bested him and declared that he would slay the master easily. Krayg called out as Joni started on his way to the forest’s heart. “Please no! If you face him you will surely die!” Joni shouted back. “I would rather die a brave man than live a coward.” And so he continued on. Through a thick mire and over a thorny thicket. Several more monsters blocked his path but he crushed every one of them with his great club. In time he came upon a massive pyramid of pitch black that seemed to reach the very clouds themselves. Realizing this must be the master’s lair Joni climbed the many stairs and made his way to the top. What he met up there was the forest’s master. The Master of Shapes, Shaper of Groves, and Father of Monsters. The demigod who presided over the Weirdwood Forest. He was massive, even by demigod standards, and had a huge snake-like lower body, four arms, and three eyes peering out from beneath his golden mask. He spoke, loud and thundering, as Joni entered his throne room. “What is this?” he asked. “A new guardian so soon?” For a brief moment Joni almost felt afraid but he pushed through. He held up his club and shouted his challenge at the Father of Monsters. The Master of Shapes only laughed. “A fool I deem you. One who would throw away their life on a quest they could never win.” Joni puffed out his chest and called out once more. “I would rather die a brave man than live as a coward!” The Master of Shapes rose from his great chair and held high in his three-fingered hand of the gods his Staff of Change and said, “Death? Who ever said anything about your death?” Joni did not die a brave man. Three days later a man came to Joni’s village naked and shaking. When the old men asked him his name he replied only with “Krayg”. So it is in the Churning World that death is not always the risk when one chooses for being brave. Or foolish.