A darker journey

The genre for Genre Stretch for May was Imaginary Voyage which is a kind of narrative in which utopian or satirical representation (or some popular science content) is put into a fictional frame of travel account.  I’m not sure how successful I was, but here’s the next part of my continuing story.

This is set directly after “Mischief on the Lake” and before “The Empty Boat”.

**

Lachlan stared out at the field with the lone tree, in which they’d found O’Neill’s truck.  Behind him, Ezra was working some spell that would keep the basil from affecting him, provided that it worked.  He glanced around and then turned to face the trees.

The area was actually quite beautiful.  The trees were beginning to change color.  There were golds and oranges mixed in with the greens of the scattered pines.  Somewhere, Lachlan could hear the lapping of water.  There was a lake somewhere beyond the trees that he could see from the edge of the field.

“All set,” Ezra said, nodding.

Biting his lip, Lachlan moved closer to where they’d found the body.  He scented the air and then nodded.  “That scent is here,” he said, his voice soft.  “The same person as was at my apartment was here.”

“That’s too coincidental,” Ezra said, shaking his head.  His brows furrowed and he added, “And… he must have been Nowell the other night, for his scent to have transferred to me.”

Lachlan glanced over at him and saw that he was pursing his lips.  They both knew that there was another possibility: that Ezra had been near their suspect himself, rather than simply being near someone who’d been near them.  However, Lachlan had meant what he’d said.  He trusted his partner.  “Let’s see how far I can follow the scent,” he murmured.  He didn’t mention that he could also scent Ezra at the scene.  That went without saying.  After all, Ezra had set the preservation spell over the body.

Shaking the thoughts away, Lachland turned away from his partner.  Then, he looked deeper into the forest and set off through the brush.  As they left the initial crime scene, the scent of his partner faded and he could focus completely on the unknown suspect.

The sound of water grew louder, although Lachlan knew it wasn’t quite loud enough for Ezra to hear just yet.  At the same time, the forest grew darker.  “Whoever this was,” he said, pausing to let his partner catch up, “they’re athletic.  There’s no trail for them to follow.”

“It also indicates that they know the area well,” Ezra said, his voice faint.  He took a deep breath and then nodded.  “I’m fine, Lachlan.  We can carry on now.  I’d rather not be out here all night, if I can manage it.”

“Mind the footing,” Lachlan said.  He took two steps and then paused.  Turning to Ezra, he scowled.  “I’m going to shift.  That’ll make following the scent easier.  Will it freak you out, though?”

Ezra shook his head.  “It’s probably a good idea,” he said.  He gave Lachlan a weak smile.  “I’ll hold your clothing for you, if you like.”

Lachlan nodded once and then turned away.  He used his cloak to hide his body from view and maintain his modesty while he shed first his kilt and then his shirt.  His socks and boots followed.  Then, he closed his eyes and focused on shifting into his wolf-form.

He groaned in pain as the change took hold.  Agony swept through him and, as the pain faded, he opened his eyes to find that he was crouching on the ground, his cloak still swept around him.  He shivered, panting softly, as he pushed back to his feet.

Ezra crouched beside him and eased off his cloak.  “All right?” he asked, as he bundled up Lachlan’s discarded clothing.  Lachlan barked and then stepped away, sniffing to relocate the scent.  With his keener nose, it was fairly easy to find.  He glanced back at his partner and tilted his head.

“Was that as excruciating as it sounded like it would be?” Ezra asked, frowning.  When Lachlan approximated a nod, Ezra shook his head.  “Your strength never ceases to astound me,” he said.  Then, they set off into the trees once again.

As they walked, Lachlan tried to focus on the scent he was following.  However, something about the forest was making him tense.  He glanced back at Ezra and knew his partner felt the same way.

“There’s something very… off about these woods,” Ezra said.  In a softer voice, he added, “I feel like something is… stalking us.  Do you feel it?”

Lachlan whined and then turned back to the trail he was following.  Behind him, Ezra summoned a mage-lamp.  The soft blue glow made him feel a little less tense.  However, it didn’t chase the feeling of being hunted completely.  By the time he reached the edge of the water he’d heard, he was very much on edge.

“You there,” a voice called.

Ezra gasped and Lachlan spun with a stifled growl.  His ears pinned when he saw that it was just two men in the sort of overalls and boots that men wore for fishing.  “Can we help you?” Ezra said, stepping over to them.

One of the men pointed out into the water.  “What do you think of that?” he asked, something unsettling in his tone.

Lachlan glanced out towards the lake.  Bobbing on the water, several meters from shore, was a small red rowboat.  He sat back on his haunches and looked towards his partner.  Ezra sent his mage-light out to the boat and they saw that it was empty.  “Peculiar,” his partner breathed.

“There’s talk of fell creatures in this lake,” one of the fishermen said.  He frowned at Lachlan and nodded.  “Aye, and fell creatures in the forests that surround it too.”

“Yes, you came to these woods to fish this lake?” Ezra said, arching his brow.

The other fisherman smiled.  “Takes more than talk to scare us, city-boy,” he said.  Then, he looked back out at the water.  “Still, something like that… it’s enough to make you wonder if that’s all it is: talk.”

Lachlan’s ears pinned as he wondered something else entirely.  Was the empty boat somehow related to their case?  He supposed that there was only one way to find out.  For that, though, he’d need his clothing.

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