Forest locals mostly hid indoors after dusk—always warning visitors to go softly under shroud of darkness—if insisting on going out at all. It was no time for jaunts.
But it was different with Seven—for his vampire instincts allowed him to safely explore the Forest—while his human curiosity for flora and fauna kept him interested in the outdoors. His family being pure bloods could not be bothered.
So his unique nature singularly suited him for ranging the wood—and on any given midnight in his prime, he could be found hunting down strange new worlds. On any given full moon, he could be seen stirring up some corner or creek.
Forest spirits were drawn to him—and they invariably led him back to the wormholes where they entered into his world. This gave him ample opportunities for crossing over and touching ground on other planets. He had seen the universe.
Now, one time later on in his adventures, he had followed a very odd, ghostly fox for an entire afternoon—when it lost him across a stream. Then, in the shadows of an adjoining pond, he saw his reflection grow old, wrinkled and grey. His older self was reaching out to him now.
It was an elder version of himself with a cane—and he was about to witness a Forest vision he would never forget. It would seem to mean more than just the sum of its parts—as if he were trying to transmit a warning to himself—to abandon ranging forever—and to never look back.
He watched then in the water, as the scene changed, and he saw his ancient self walk out of a dark wood. He watched the old man come upon seven red ravens that were lying dead in a circle—in a forest clearing by the Payne. He stepped around them, carefully, quietly plodding his steps.
In the distance, a jaguar circled, stealthily threading through the trees. It was Midnight, the cat Seven had often spotted when out on so many of his Forest excursions. It was sinewy in its stealth.
There was always this mysterious nature about the cat that emanated benevolence. Seven had come to feel it was a good luck charm—and that in some strange way it was watching out for him.
Although it had never ventured close for very long—in latter days, when Seven was embroiled in his painful affair with Faye, the cat would often race out of the shadows to scare Her off, madly hissing.
Faye would always hiss back and curse at the cat, but She clearly feared it.
She called him ‘Old One’—indicating to Seven a strange bond between them.
Seven would always feel torn between them, as devil and angel alike.
There was definitely always something about the cat that held sway over Faye—although in time She did seem to become increasingly defiant of the jaguar—even to the point of eventually taunting the cat into several savage duels.
Nevertheless, whenever She did take the offensive in latter years—the cat always backed off before battle ever descended into death blows. This indicated to Seven the jaguar also held reservations—despite his interventions.
So then, in the mirage of the pond, Seven watched his elder self carefully approach the red ravens—when one-by-one, the birds started turning silver. Then from up out of the circle that they formed—a liquid silver orb oozed out of another dimension—lifting off far above the elder Seven, out of sight over the far treetops.
Then it dropped down again, a far way off—low enough to be seen—but high enough to remain indistinct. Elder Seven spun about with his cane to crash across the Payne in the direction of the flying sphere—in order to catch a closer glimpse, while his eyes were still making him a believer—skinned and sober to the sight.
He fell down in the rapids—however—and when he recovered, the jaguar was wading through the water, stalking swiftly across the rocky shoals now toward him.
He scrambled back, fearing that the cat was coming to kill him—when a shadow then fell over both of them—and they looked up to see the sphere hovering over. The cat haunched and hissed at it.
‘OLD ONE!!! Faye’s voice rang out hollow from the pulsing red heart of the weightless orb. ‘BEGONE FROM HERE!’
The jaguar growled now up at Her.
A storm whipped in, nearly knocking elder Seven down again. He started heading the rest of the way across the water—but before he could make it, he began to rise up into the air, feet futilely pedaling beneath him. As he floated up and up toward the sphere he struggled.
The jaguar roared at the sight—now rising up on hind legs—transforming into werecat. This was an ultimate battle now.
Elder Seven disappeared into the sphere then—and from out of it, the Silverskin emerged—hovering down—coming to fight with Her one true love.
The sphere accelerated out of sight—taking the elder Seven far away from Her and Evan. Evan, her realest crush.
The Silverskin landed in the stream, forcing the water away from Her by sheer will. She would walk on water for Evan.
She stalked in on the werecat, swinging Ierre—burning the werecat’s flank, drawing an arc of blood—sending him recoiling into the rapids. She winced.
‘Now you are mine at last!!!’ She cried. ‘I claim you, Evan! Surrender …!’
But the werecat was not down for long—and as he rose up once more—growling in a primal fury—the Silverskin backed away, taken aback by the rage.
She swiftly sheathed Ierre then—and after slinging Hete across Her back—She skinned Her claws, now ready and keen on catching her love or killing him with love.
The werecat roared, leaping at Her—gnashing his teeth in her neck—grappling Her down—muscling Her under the breakers of the rapid, icy crystal stream.
She screamed in agony from the Payne. She hissed and cursed as Evan held her down, severely burning Her in the supernatural waters that healed mortals.
They rolled over sharp beds of rock—biting and slashing—tearing and stabbing—bringing each other to shredded, ragged ends—two broken lovers from a distant age, now reunited through blood and fang. It was how love ended.
They fought all the way down to Evyl Falls, where Faye finally forced Evan off the cliff—and he so tumbled down to his ugly death in the sharp rocky basin below.
Midnight the werecat was dead—and the spirit of Evan French would now finally vanish into the abyss of time, at peace.
But when Faye turned back from the edge, She came face-to-face with her own end: Aly on Darkhoof. Her time was up.
The strands of French’s Forest were fast unwinding, as its players came to their final moves and blows of existence.
Aly had served the Silverskin well all those years, only to come at last upon a window where she would make a stand—and so in a flash, she kicked up the flanks of her dead brother’s stead and charged the Silverskin full on. She simultaneously morphed into her lizard form, leaning down from Darkhoof to claw Faye’s face.
Faye stumbled back into the rapids, already drained from her battle with Evan—when Aly spun Darkhoof about and jumped off, tackling Faye over Evyl falls. She battered and smashed the Silverskin with her reptilian speed, startling the vampire-slayer, unable to keep up with Aly’s agility and dexterity in the moment.
Together they plummeted to the frothing pool—as Aly clung to the Silverskin in a four-limbed death-lock, every last cell intent on making sure Faye did not survive this fall. Aly knew only too well that the Achilles Heel of the Silverskin was the Payne itself—and if she could hold Faye underneath for long enough—Death would come. Long deserved Death at last.
Faye struggled, but Aly was stronger—invigorated from years of lying in wait, planning Faye’s end, in hidden thoughts—and now Aly at last had action at her back.
She used her lizard instincts to snap into kill-or-be-killed mode, for she knew if for any reason this did not work—Faye would lash back at her in a fury tenfold.
Aly dragged Faye down to the bottom, digging her claws deep in Faye’s silver hide, clouds of blood flowing up toward the surface—and eventually the Silverskin stopped twitching. Finally, She began to disintegrate in Aly’s arms, dissipating like silver mist into the Payne.
Seven blinked. The vision in the pond then switched to the elder Seven trapped inside the silver sphere—curled up crying, in the fetal position, now shivering uncontrollably inside the cold chamber of Faye’s old shimmering silver heart’s orb.
But as Faye faded from body and consciousness—the sphere began to shrink, until it was crushing the Elder Seven, who futilely pushed against its inner walls. He used his cane to prop open the collapsing diameter of the sphere. The stick shortly snapped in half—and he was instantly compacted into a ball of flesh and blood—and then eventually nothing but a red speck of nothingness.
The younger Seven reeled back from the water’s edge, tearing himself away from the horrible sight of his future self dying inside of Faye’s awful, evil heart.
He ended up blocking out most of the details from that vision—not understanding significance of the sight. He thought it more nightmare than not—and simply wished it would all go away.
But he prayed to the sky that day—and promised himself never to venture forth into French’s Forest ever again. So scared was he by the sight of himself at Faye’s mercy in that far flung future twisted ill, he swore off his boyhood wood.
But by the very next night, he was already breaking his vow―as the wood so did forever know how to call him back.
Deep down he knew for sure that, at the very least, he would have to see the Silverskin just once, before he could ever quit looking for Her, for once and for good.
But beyond even Her, French’s Forest had become as much a part of him as anything—so that to cut it out of his life seemed like killing the very feeding hand.
So he continued on, but always with this looming emotion in the wings that dead ends for bad choices waited in store for him somewhere down the dark line.
Regardless, he tried to make the best of life. He tried to forget the past and find renewed faith in the future. But as all things in life, light eventually falls.
He would often meditate down by the Blacktree at Evyl Falls—or spend an afternoon in a canoe on the Payne—wondering what the future held in store.
Most evenings he prayed that his life went on forever like it was back then—and that it never changed. He promised God he would be good if he could just remain.
From gnarled trunk to ravine dancing wild―from Wishing Well to Oracle on Mount Miramar―he never tired of exploring those trees—and the Forest never ran out of adventures for him—every time he set forth in pursuit of them.
In hindsight of those wild years, however, he was surprised to still be alive—let alone moderately balanced in the head—and not entirely off-center of reality. He was surprised to still be alive.
For at the height of his exploits, he could have been found in unimaginable escapades, doing the most dangerous deeds by routine—and daring feats by rite.
He was a Master Archer, Master Falconer, Master Swordsman—and Master Ranger—all by seventeen. He thrived.
He could track down sylvan apparitions anywhere they fled—over craggy fields—through the densest thickets—across slippery river rock shallows―into reedy crocodile swamps—up majestic summits on summer mountain peaks—and everywhere else imaginable.
He was equally apt at hiking unexplored tunnels as climbing high into the clouds, looking for universal peeks into parallel planes low and high, for some small sign of Lady Faye of French’s Forest.
He was just as likely to conquer his inner divining―as to mounting new precipices—for in him there was always this need to play spirit off of earth—to temper the divine with the hard line.
Somedays, for instance, while sitting still, catching the wood’s wind-song―he would suddenly see the unity in infinite blades of grass—and for a moment, the skin of everything wrapped him up in supreme consciousness. Every leaf spoke.
But other times, he would spend an afternoon in the boughs with his trusty bow and arrows―shooting down flying goblin-rats into the dusk—not thinking a single thing in the universe—but just breathing with the stars—just being real.
In the end, French’s Forest always meant more to him than She ever did. She was always just another adventure—albeit a symbol of the ultimate hunt to him—but still just a facet of his otherwise deeply fecund pastoral bildungsroman.
His intimacy with the woods had become encyclopedic—and his penchant for hiking had come to fit the hardiest forester to a tee. Perhaps with the exception of Evan French, there was never another woodsman around so adept and capable as Seven Bane. He reigned high.
Still yet, despite the fact that those trees were his first love—Lady Faye and French’s Forest came as a set—and so up until he finally left the woods for good, he lived with the everpresent portent that he was moribund. She would have Her way.
Some evenings―he would see a silver flash in the distance—or spot a ghost flitting fast through the murky pitch—which for a moment reignited his hope of finding Her. But it always turned out to be a trick of light on his eye—and so he slowly learned to leave Her at last behind.
Faye would grow terribly jealous, he knew in his heart, and possibly try to intervene—but he had no choice, he had to show Eva how he truly genuinely felt.
(Author’s Note: If you are enjoying The Silverskin, you can buy the full 400 page Revised & Expanded 10th Anniversary edition paperback here. Forever Yours In French’s Forest, Rian Torr)