No one looked at the fucking ground, the Clarene thought. Every eye turned to the giant gold-black gate, the intricate metalwork, the delicate curves and swirls, the unfurling black steel leaves, the blossoming gold flowers. Their eyes would slowly turn to the giant lion sitting beside the open gate, the dark mirror hanging from his neck. Her sweet walnut lion, always sitting proud near the gate, always courteous to those who wanted to enter.
But no one looked at the ground they were walking on, so no one ever saw the blood that was soaking - constantly - into the earth.
the Clarene sighed. She hadn't meant for the Orchard to be a trap, but she could hardly help that the ground, the roots, the little creatures in the trees could all sniff out potential trouble. And since her lovely-but-irritating son had shoved open the gate with his own body (she could still see the scorch marks on the metal, could still hear his scream as he broke his back forcing the world open again) there had been an increase in visitors. Enchanting faeries, almost as tall as herself; twirling spirits and ghosts; and, of course, humans.
She liked humans, she really did. The way their skin felt, the way their bodies decomposed, the way they survived and flourished and contorted their world to their needs - and the way they warmed her bed (she especially liked that). Most saw her and fell to their knees, which was a nice change from the constantly stuck up elves that stuffily asked for baskets of fruit, from the faeries that tried to stand taller than her. She didn't like humans best, but she did have a fondness for them.
But, by herself and the rest of the gods, were they unobservant little shits sometimes.
They would walk over the bloody, muddy ground and not notice the hearts hanging from her trees. They would spin on the dirt and not see the arms, or the bones, or the teeth scattered around. They would wander her world and see the too-tall trees, blink against the neon lights of the city, be lost for a century in her libraries - and that's all they would see. But there was blood on the ground and on the walls, and they danced on club floors stained with guts of humans not as lucky as they, and faeries need to eat as much as anyone else.
She paved safe paths for them, set down strict rules for her world, built protectors for them. She enjoyed their company, and she wanted them to survive. Most of the time, at least.
the Clarene didn't feel terribly bad when Pallis had slit open the stomach of a man who hadn't taken 'no' for an answer.
There were more humans now, though. Most of them were dreamers, not entirely conscious of this world of hers, and some of them were drunk to the point of blacking out, and others were higher than airplanes. But there were more conscious humans coming through the gate now. Those always proved interesting. She would offer them golden apples or jewel hard black peaches, watching with keen eyes as they accepted or refused. Some stumbled into her Orchard, bare feet tripping on the bloody ground, and fell to her feet and begged to be remade. (So many of them were young, and so many of them had scars everywhere on their body, and she didn't have it in her to erase the scars. Scars were proof that one had survived, and she always loved the way humans survived.)
Some came in with high heads and arrogance.
Pallis had been arrogant, the most arrogant little fucker she had ever met, but he was also a star. And he sat on a throne now, above even herself, and though she rolled her eyes aplenty at his haughty attitude, she had peeled away all that masked him and seen the scared little child within. (Her heart ached for children. the Ophelia mocked her for it, but she had always cared for little ones. She did not have to give forth life from a womb to be such a mother.) Humans were not stars. Humans were not the top of the food chain.
But the new little humans certainly behaved so.
There was little issue at first. The faeries ignored the arrogant ones. The world did not open well for them. Her home was smart. The old tales still held true, in some ways, and gifts would only be granted to those that were truly open to them.
Arrogance shifted to greed. She caught a trio of girls sticking their fingers in the hoarde of one of her griffins, and though they screamed and fought, she considered it a kindness that she had tied their tongues and arms and legs together, forced to forever share any wealth the others had. Pallis brought to her a man attempting to smuggle books from the libraries. the Ophelia sent her humans who had been frozen in their desperate search of a world they did not belong in.
And then her lovely fiery son brought to her a daughter of humanity that had tried to dig into the very core of the West, the very sacred tree she had planted from the beginning, and she could stand the trespasses no longer.
Her son was good at puffing his feathers, shrieking into the sky and giving a show of force. the Ophelia was frightening enough with her weeping and shawls, and Pallis always had guns and knives at the ready. the Clarene detested throwing her weight around. What point was there except to frighten? She had made the world for love, she had split her body and remade it a thousand times because of love. Her people loved her in turn.
The crime was too much.
She pressed her thumbs to the girl's neck and broke the bones, wincing at the crunch and snap. She plucked the girl's eyes from her face and took her teeth, twisted her tongue, and removed from her every bone. She placed every part in a box of wood, engraving words into the surface that would let all know what dwelt within, and then she turned to the girl and asked her,
"Do you regret coming to this place?"
"I will lead others to this place," the girl's voice whispered, carried in her bones.
She leaned close to the human, eyes narrowing, elegant hands curving into claws. "Anyone who comes through you will not make it past the first trees of this world."
the Laetha took the withered body and threw it out of the West, and the Clarene rode for days and weeks and years before placing the box of bones far, far from her world, the words on the box glowing for the rest of the worlds to see.
The first human to be split in half came a day later, and the Clarene flinched at the sound of guts and bone. But she could still see the eyes she had plucked from the one that had delved far, far too deep, digging her hands into the holiest of dirt, and soon she felt no sympathy for those that fell to the ground and kept it bloody.
The fruits were especially sweet that year.