The thing grinned, showing teeth rend with decay and slobbering diseased luminescence about the forest floor. Everything that its foul fluids touched began to brown and curl in on itself. Its hundred of bloodshot eyes leered about the thing’s vaguely lupine carapace.

“I am the poisoned one, child, and it is my lot to end that which is living.” Its voice was thick with noisome phlegm but with a vaguely refined edge, as if it had learned to speak by observing a nobleman. “You would do well to step back lest you too are ended.”

“I am flattered that you care for my safety so, O poisoned one,” said Maria. She curtsied with an imaginary skirt.

A laugh like a death rattle in an envenomed throat. “Child, I care nothing for you or your safety.”

“And yet you warned me so kindly against approaching,” said Maria. “If I had stumbled across you unawares, I would surely have perished.”

“My poisons are indiscriminate, child.”

“Yes, but perhaps you are not.”

This seemed to give the beast a moment’s pause.

“You have warned others, have you not?” said Maria, taking a gamble. “Those who would listen, anyhow?”

“Indeed,” was the sad, phlegmatic reply. “But so few do.”

“I am listening, now,” Maria said, trying to hide the triumph in her voice even as her hand tightened around the blade behind her back. “Tell me of your pain.”

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