In the Woods – continued…

For some time, the four of them sat in the clearing, trying to figure out what to do next.  Darius had half expected that whomever had brought them there might appear.  However, the sun was high in the sky and nothing had happened since Timo and Nora woke.

“What now?” Sofia said, looking around.  “We can’t just stay here forever.  I mean… for all we know, there might be a town just over that hill.”

“Trust our intuition and find people?” Timo said, shrugging.  His expression became thoughtful for a moment.  Then, he pointed south, away from the hill that Sofia had indicated.  “That way?”

Darius closed his eyes for a moment.  Then, he nodded.  When he opened his eyes, he saw that Nora and Sofia were both nodding in agreement.  “It’ll be slow-going without shoes, but it’s a better plan that staying here,” he said, his voice soft.

“Let’s go, then,” Nora said.  So, they set out.

It seemed to Darius that they had walked for about an hour when he heard the sound of running water.  He gave Timo a weak smile.  “Follow water downstream, right?” he said.

“Works for me,” Nora said, moving towards the sound.  After a moment, a stream came into view.  She hesitated for just a moment before stooping to take a mouthful of the water into her hands.  “It’s clean,” she told the others.  Then, she moved to her feet and looked down the slope towards the valley.

“I think there are houses down there,” Sofia said, after she’d had a drink.

Darius nodded and glanced back up the slope.  His intuition told him that they didn’t want to linger there for long.  “Let’s go,” he said, as he set off carefully down the slope towards the valley.

As they walked, they would occasionally stop to get a drink.  Timo surprised them by catching a fish with his bare hands.  However, with no way to clean and prepare it properly, he released it again a moment later.

By the time that night was falling, they could see the lights of a small town through the trees.  Sofia heaved a sigh of relief.  “Finally,” she said.  Then, she grinned at Darius.  Even as Darius was returning the smile, her eyes widened in surprise.  “Trouble,” she breathed.

Darius sensed it the moment the word was out of her mouth.  He summoned his mace and swung it around without looking.  He connected with someone that grunted in pain.  Then, he spun around to see a group of people with glowing red eyes watching them intently.  The one he’d struck was sprawled on the ground.  However, it was sitting up and glowering at him as it wiped blood from its face.

“Well,” Nora said, her voice soft.  “I think we know why whomever kidnapped us left us in these woods.”  She summoned her own weapon, a large and wicked-looking scythe.  “They expect us to either prove our courage or die.”

“Back to back,” Timo said, summoning his own weapon: a heavy, nasty-looking whip.  Sofia scrambled over to his side, summoning her weapon, a bulawa.  Timo’s brows twitched at the short-handled mace, but she gave him a weak smile and shrugged.

Darius hoped that he could trust the other three to guard his back while he focused on the creatures facing him.  As they moved in closer, to attack, he saw that they were pale with sharp teeth.  “Vilkolakis?” he breathed.  He’d always thought that such things were nothing more than fairy stories, told to scare children.  These, however, were only too real.

The first thing that he realized was that they were fast – easily as quick as any Singer – and agile.  He swung at the closest one and it flew back, out of reach.  He noticed that they were wary of his mace, but they were definitely looking for an opening.  That made sense.  After all, the weapon might be painful, but it was made from whatever material was handy in the area where it summoned.  He strongly doubted that there was silver in the earth there.


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