Black Forest, Germany
Oberst Reinhardt stared skyward at the sea of green leaves above him. He sniffed derisively and signaled to his men that their rest was over and it was time to keep moving. The Major under his command quickly gathered the men to their feet and ordered their renewed march. Reinhardt took his place among the middle of the platoon of Nazi soldiers.
Now that they were moving again he kept his eyes forward, locked on their objective and desperately attempting to suppress his disgust at the dirt that marred his mirror shined boots or the sounds of chirping and scurrying all around him. He would follow his Fuehrer’s orders and stay in this uncivilized wilderness until they completed their objective. Oh, but how he missed the splendor of Berlin. For more than a week now they’d trudged through this godforsaken forest looking for their target. The small villages along the forest edge had proven insufficient to ease his anxiety. Even the more modern town of Freiburg had offered little in the way of modern luxury, offering only a communal radio at the local tavern to listen to the Fuehrer’s latest address.
It was thus, he was lost in his own train of thought, when one of the men screamed out in surprise. Reinhardt barely got a glance of the grey-clad soldier as the man was dragged bodily by his ankles, squeezing off a round from his 98Kurz as he vanished into the underbrush. Despite the near panic on their faces, the soldiers acted with resounding discipline, surrounding himself and the Major to protect their commanders.
A vaguely lupine form burst from the undergrowth, took down a full grown man, and dragged him screaming into the trees before any of the soldiers could react. Several of the men managed to get shots off at the creature, but not before it was long gone into the trees. There was a bloodcurdling scream followed by a wet, crunching sound and then the forest fell eerily silent. The men turned this way and that, trying with all their might to maintain discipline and predict the next angle of attack. But the creature was just too fast and knew the terrain too well. Another silver blur, another scream of terror and anguish, and the creature was gone with it’s prey. This time even the Major drew his Mauser and fired two shots into the brush.
“Cease Fire.” Reinhardt ordered in a clear, tort voice. His men responded immediately and looked to him for their next order. He nodded to three men among the group. Following their predefined orders, in unison, the three men tossed away their rifles and retrieved a short, hosed nozzle that hung from large, steel canisters on their backs. Each one took up the weapons, released a 20 foot gout of flame into the air to test the flamethrowers, and moved into position to set the underbrush aflame. Instead of immediately setting the forest ablaze, they awaited further orders.
“This is quite enough, ya?” Reinhardt asked the emptiness of the forest as he stepped forward, “Cease your attack immediately, or I will order mien men to burn your precious forest to ash! You have to the count of five to surrender to me.”
The men twitched nervously as they glanced around the forest, rifles raised and at the ready.
“Five… Four… Three…” Reinhardt counted loudly. There was a loud, earth shaking rumble as a five-hundred pound black bear burst from the underbrush at a full on run. Reinhardt held up a hand to stay his men as the beast came to a skidding halt, hauled itself up to it’s full seven foot height and let out a roar that shook the very ground not more than three feet from Reinhardt’s face. Reinhardt cleared his throat and smiled nonchalantly.
“Quite the entrance, Freund. But as you may have guessed, I know who and what you are. You may drop the act so that we might converse as civilized men.”
The bear hesitated, looking at the men carrying the flamethrowers and back at Reinhardt. The bear let out a defeated huff and took a couple of steps away, dropping to sit on it’s haunches in the dirt. A shimmer raced across it’s form as it’s coarse, black hair began to vanish, giving way to ruddy, tanned skin. It’s muzzle shrank into it’s face, becoming a human nose and mouth, it’s brown, sorrowful eyes giving way to emerald orbs consumed by anger.
The man sitting in the bear’s place was young, no older than his mid-twenties. His skin was tanned and ruddy from years beneath the sun. His hair was a shock of bright orange on top and shaved from the temples down. He wore not a single stitch of clothing, but his body was covered in intricate tattoos of Celtic knot work, natural scenes, and stylized animals.
“What the bloody hell do ye bastards want?” His accent was thick and unmistakably Irish. Reinhardt was a bit surprised. Of all the stories he’d heard he’d never expected the man to be anything but German.
“Greeting Herr Druid. It is an honor to make your acquaintance.” Reinhardt removed his hat and gave the Druid the slightest of nods of respect. “I’ve heard many stories form Mien Oma about your kind. That the forest, especially the Black Forest, was home to many Druid once upon a time…”
“Cut the gob shite! Get on with it. What ye want with me and me forest?” The Druid stood and stretched, smiling mischievously as the soldiers averted their eyes from his nudity. “Aye. Impressed by what ye see lads?! Or are ye put to shame?”
“Enough.” Reinhardt barked, “We’ve come because the Fuehrer has demand of your particular talents.”
“Ye Fuehrer can suck me nards! I got no love for yer kind…” With an exasperated sigh Reinhardt gave a quick gesture and one of the Flamethrower wielding soldiers let loose a blast of flame directly into the forest.
“STOP!!!” Cried the Druid. “Ye know who claims this forest as ’is domain on Earth?! Do ye really want a war with the Erlking?” Reinhardt barked an order and the flames stopped. The Druid closed his eyes and the forest responded immediately. The earth shifted and moved, burying half burning foliage and retreating when the flames had been snuffed. Before their eyes the burned leaves fell away and bright, fresh green ones took their place. Within the span of a few heartbeats the forest had been saved and restored as if the fire had never happened. Reinhardt smiled knowingly as a sheen of sweat broke out over the Druids naked form and his breathing increased.
“Difficult for you, isn’t it? Over even such a small area to commit such repairs. Your liege must have great respect for you, the protector of his wood, the last protector if memory serves.” Reinhardt approached the Druid, coming almost face to face with the taller man. “Tell me, what would happen to you if this forest were carpet bombed? Hmm? What would your Patron do to you? I hear the Erlking is not the forgiving type.”
“I can’t help ye, even if I wanted to. If I leave the forest unprotected, the Erlking would be… offended.” The Druid shot back spitefully.
“Hmm. But, what if leaving the forest were the only way to protect it?” Reinhardt asked, “You see, if you don’t leave this forest with me by sunrise three days from now, the Luftwaffe have orders to proceed with the bombing. Ground troops will follow and they will salt the earth beneath our feet. No forest will ever stand here again. But you can stop that. You can do your duty and protect the forest by coming with me and doing what you are told. You have my word as an officer, no harm will come to this forest while you are in the employ of the Fuehrer.”
“And your word? How do I know it’s worth a shite in hell?” The Druid demanded.
“You don’t.” Reinhardt spat back, “But what choice do you have? Hmm? Stay here and we’ll burn the forest down. Even if you manage to get away, as you said, your Patron would be offended. Do you want to be on the Erlking’s bad side?”
The Druid’s shoulders slumped despite the furious look on his face. Reinhardt had done his homework and had planned out well how to exploit his only real weakness. He could not let the forest be destroyed, even if it weren’t for the Erlking, he could never forgive himself if anything happened to it.
“What would ye have me do?” The Druid asked, his voice dripping with contempt.
“We’re going on a trip, to America. New York city in fact.” He enjoyed the further look of disgust on the Druid’s face. “You can become a bird yes? What about a pigeon?”