Something Unexpected

It took quite a bit of convincing to get Opa to stay home.  He finally agreed only because Konrad promised that none of his younger siblings would be alone at any time during the operation.  Now that they were creeping through the trees, Liesel was wishing that Opa hadn’t let them go at all.

There was hardly any light from the moon.  Between the tiny sliver that was left of it and the scattered clouds, the forest was dark.  Then, there was the ground cover under the trees.  It was thick with brush and brambles.  Even seeing each other was difficult.  Seeing someone farther away than a few yards would have been impossible.  Any other time, Liesel might have been grateful for the natural cover.  Not tonight, though.  Tonight, it made her uneasy.  If she could hide, so could their enemies.

She nearly jumped out of her skin when Konrad touched her on the arm.  “Quietly,” he said, his voice hardly louder than a breath.  He pointed through the trees.  “I can see the cabin ahead of us.”

Liesel heaved a sigh and nodded.  She should have remembered that Konrad would be able to see.  She was blind without the light.  His vision was exactly the opposite.  In this darkness, he could see far better than he could in the daytime.  “Any activity?” she breathed.

He nodded once before he moved ahead of her, stepping carefully through the thick underbrush.  Liesel followed him as closely as she could manage.  Behind her, she could feel more than see the others.  Malcolm, David and Ryan had come with them.  Malcolm was keeping a close eye on Markus and Frieda, while David looked out for Johannes.

The wind ruffled through Liesel’s hair and she caught the faintest whisper on the breeze.  “Beware the Dark Ones,” the wind warned.  When she silently asked where they were, the wind answered, “All around you.”

She tensed and caught Konrad by the back of his jacket.  Her brother’s eyes seemed to glow as he turned to face her.  “Trouble,” she told her, her voice faint and her tone calm.  “Dark Ones are around us… somewhere.”

Konrad breathed a curse and glanced to the left and then the right.  Finally, he nodded and pointed forward.  “Straight ahead,” he said, speaking into her ear.  “Stop when you reach the edge of the trees.”

At her nod, he slipped away, moving on to the next person in their party and passing on her warning.  Liesel didn’t linger to hear them ask how he knew of the danger.  If they just thought about it for a moment, they already knew the answer.

Liesel slowed to a stop as she came to the edge of the trees.  A moment later, Frieda and Johannes joined her.  David was close behind.  She frowned at Frieda.  “Where’s Markus?” she breathed into her sister’s ear.

“He and Malcolm ran into trouble just as Konrad got to me,” Frieda replied, her tone vaguely annoyed.  “Konrad sent me on ahead.  He said that he’d help them.”

“I don’t like it,” Johannes whispered.

David gave a wry laugh.  “No one asked you to like it, pup,” he said.  He nodded once as Ryan arrived on the scene.  “The others?”

“They’re coming,” Ryan reported.  He heaved a sigh and shook his head.  Touching Johannes on the sleeve, he said, “How are you with healing?  Can you manage one?”

“Depends on how bad it is,” Johannes said, shrugging.  “Markus or Konrad?”

“Konrad,” Ryan said, scowling.

Johannes grimaced.  As the Sword, their brother tended to think of everyone else but himself.  When he got hurt, it was seldom a minor injury.  Johannes was about to speak when they heard a shrill cry from the cabin.

“Go,” Johannes said.  “I’ll wait for Konrad and the others.”

“I’ll stay with him,” Ryan said, nodding.  Even as he waved at them to go, Liesel and Frieda took off towards where the scream had come from.  They skidded to a stop as they rounded the edge of the cabin.

There, they saw a girl standing beside what looked like a crumpled pile of wet clothes.  Frieda frowned as she stepped closer.  As Liesel followed, she realized that the clothing was a body, soaked with blood.

The girl whimpered and shook her head.  She stared at her bloodstained hands as she backed away from his body.  “I’m sorry,” she whispered, silent tears running down her cheek.  “I’m so sorry.”

“Ainsley,” David breathed.  “What happened?”

The girl gasped and turned towards them.  She choked back a sob as she shook her head.  “She – she just… she came at me,” she said.  She whimpered again as she looked down at her hands.

Liesel took a deep breath and stepped closer to the girl.  “Are you the Thurman Star?” she asked, her voice soft and he tone gentle.  When Ainsley nodded, she said, “That’s one of your defenders?”

“My hammer,” Ainsley said.  Then, she hiccupped and began crying.  Ignoring the blood, Liesel wrapped her arms around Ainsley’s shoulders.  Crosses didn’t kill things very often.  If Stars were anything like them, Ainsley would be totally unused to doing violence.  “She came at me,” she sobbed, “and I just…  I didn’t know what to do!”

“Is she all right?” Malcolm asked, his voice strained.  “Ainsley?  Are you hurt?”

“She killed your hammer,” Frieda murmured, pointing towards the body.  She looked behind Malcolm and Liesel followed her gaze.  Konrad and Markus were standing a few feet away, with Johannes between them.  Markus looked annoyed and Konrad looked embarrassed.  “All right, Konrad?”

“Hans healed me,” Konrad whispered.  He looked over at David and then at Malcolm.  “Your staff took off, I’m guessing to get backup.  We might not want to be here when that help arrives.”

“Right,” Malcolm said.  He set a hand on Ainsley’s shoulder and looked into her eyes.  “We came to rescue you, Ainsley.  Your other defenders… they’ve been corrupted.”

Ainsley nodded and then leaned against Malcolm’s chest.  “I want to go home,” she whispered.

“In a while,” Malcolm said.  Then, he caught her hand and nodded at them.  “Let’s get back to the barn and regroup.  The others need to know what happened.”

“We need to get Hans to bed,” Konrad said, grimacing.  “That was a pretty major healing he just performed.”

“The Thurman staff knocked him out cold with that quarterstaff of his,” Markus grumbled.  He shook his head.  “You need to be more careful, Konrad.  I was doing just fine, you know?”

“I’m a little protective of my younger siblings,” Konrad said, shrugging.  His tone was completely unapologetic.  Liesel knew that he’d do the same thing if the situation arose again.  Any apology he might make would be pointless.

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