In the Woods – ending…

I’d like to thank my sister for helping me out with a few of the details, as well as listening while I plotted the story out loud to her.

**

When they arrived at the community center, Timo told them what had happened and who they suspected was behind it.  The moment that her name was mentioned, it was clear that the elders knew her.  “She’s not among the local council of elders,” one said.  “However, she does live in the community.”

“If you’d please, wait in the community hall, while we summon her,” another added.  “She has a right to speak for herself in the face of your charges.”

“Of course,” Darius said.  They headed into the large community hall, where dinners and events were usually held to wait.

It was during the week, so the hall wasn’t in use.  However, there was always coffee or tea that could be had.  After all, the elders were there every day, no matter what else might be going on.

“I wonder what she’ll have to say for hers-” Timo started, braking off mid-word.  Sofia screamed and Nora called out his name.  Darius spun to face him and gasped.  Elder Kyander was standing behind Timo.  Her lance was buried in Timo’s back with the tip coming out of his chest.  Timo was gripping the weapon with both hands, preventing the elder from either removing it or banishing it.

Darius met the elder’s steely gaze and summoned his mace.  Behind him, he heard both Nora and Sofia summon their weapons as well.  “You think we’re cowards,” he breathed.  She blinked and he laughed.  “You kidnapped us while we slept and left in a forest to be attacked by vampires.  You attack us from behind without any warning.  You haven’t once faced us directly and we’re the cowardly ones?”

Kyander released the lance and Timo dropped to his knees.  “You don’t have any idea what I’ve been through,” she said, her voice faint.

“No,” Nora said, shaking her head.  “We’ve only survived one massacre, while you’ve survived three.”

“How?” Timo rasped.  He was still gripping her lance with both hands, but he was pale and trembling.  It was clear that he was only still alive because Defenders weren’t normal humans.  “How does a Lance survive three massacres when their Hammer doesn’t survive any?”

“He’s right,” Sofia said, her voice soft.  She shook her head.  “You weren’t even in town when the attack happened in North Pass Haven.”  She gave a small laugh that held no humor and said, “What?  Did you Hammer say that something was going to happen that you’d been through before?”

Darius blinked when Kyander took another step back.  “He did,” he whispered, repeating what the wind had said.  “The boy warned you and you ran away!  You didn’t warn anyone – not even your own family – what he meant and they died, while you lived.”

“Everyone died,” Sofia breathed, shaking her head.  “My family barely made it out because I was able to warn them in time, but you… you could have saved so many and you only saved yourself!”

“And we’re the cowards?” Nora said, her voice strained.  She shook her head.  “Was it the same in Havensburg?  Did your Hammer warn you then too?”

“No,” Timo breathed.  He gave a weak laugh and shook his head.  “The Elder Hammer did.”  He turned to face her, holding the lance with just one hand and using the other to support his weight.

Darius nodded.  He’d heard the message that the wind had brought them as well.  “She said the same thing that your Hammer would repeat years later,” he whispered.  “You, alone among the elders of Havensburg, survived.  You heeded the warning and never explained to the others what it meant.”

“Did they ask?” Nora asked, although they knew the answer to the question.  “They did!  They asked you what she meant and you lied to them – said you didn’t know.”

“And twenty-seven people survived of the hundreds that called Havensburg home,” Darius whispered.  He shook his head.  “We’re the cowards because we survived.  That means we must be cowards.  After all, that’s how you survived.  Right?”

“Shut up,” she screamed, holding out her hand to summon her lance back to her hand.

Timo gasped in pain as the weapon started to vanish.  He summoned his own weapon and lashed out with the last of his strength, striking her outreaching hand.  She withdrew, as if she’d been slapped.

Suddenly, music filled the room.  It was a song that Darius had only heard one other time: when the Elders in Haven-Shepherdtown feared that his brother had been tainted.  They’d sung him into a sleep to keep him from fighting them.  Kyander’s eyes widened briefly.  Then, she slumped to the floor.

“Timo,” Nora cried, as he crumpled to the floor.  Kyander’s weapon was already dissolving into nothingness.  A young woman rushed over to him as well and Darius turned to find that his young brother was there, along with some people he didn’t recognize.

The young woman kneeling beside Timo began singing the healing song and Darius heaved a sigh of relief.  He gave Mykolas a weak smile.  “You aren’t meant to even know that song,” he said, his voice soft.

“I know a lot of things that I’m not meant to,” Mykolas said, stepping over to him.  He hugged Darius and then gave Sofia a weak smile.  “Hello,” he said.  “Mykolas Balchunas, the Balchunas Cross.”

“Sofia Skalas,” she replied, extending her hand.  She shook her head.  “How did you know to come?”

Mykolas shrugged.  “The Koskinen Hammer knew that they’d need me,” he said.  “They swung through on the way from Georgia to get me.  I’ve learned not to argue with Hammers, so… here I am.”

“Good thing, too,” Nora said, her voice soft.  She patted the Koskinen Cross on the shoulder as she healed Timo.  Then, she got to her feet.  “Thank you, Darius,” she said.  “If we’d just gone home…” she trailed off, shaking her head.

“Kyander is grieving and feels guilty,” Darius said, shrugging.  “In her fear, she acted to save only herself and… now, she’s all alone.”

“The Council of Elders will punish her,” Mykolas said, grimacing.

Whatever the punishment was, Darius got the distinct impression that it was something else Mykolas knew when he shouldn’t.  He just nodded silently, watching as the local elders came to gather her up and bring her out of the room.  Then, he glanced at Timo.  He was asleep, but the wound was closed.  He would be fine.

“Time to go home,” Sofia said, her voice soft.  She hugged Darius and then stepped back.  “Don’t be a stranger.  Right?”

“I will write,” Darius said, nodding.  He glanced at Nora.  “That goes for you and Timo as well.  Yes?”

“Without a doubt,” Nora said, giving him a weak smile.

Darius stepped closer to Nora and added, “You should ask him, if he doesn’t seem inclined to ask you.”  He shrugged.  “If your elders won’t allow a union, come up to West Virginia.  Our elders are far less strict about marriage between families.”

Nora flushed and glanced at Timo.  Nodding, she said, “I may just do that.”  She hugged Darius and kissed his cheek.  Then, she joined the other members of Timo’s family as they headed out.

“Let’s go home,” Mykolas said, patting his brother on the arm.

Nodding, Darius fell into step behind Mykolas as they headed out of the room.  Sofia fell into step with them.  “I’m surprised that Petras let you come here without any Defenders,” he said, frowning.

“I didn’t exactly clear it with him,” Mykolas said, shrugging.  He gave his brother a playful wink.  “There wasn’t time.”

In the Woods – continued…

Now that they had some idea who had kidnapped them, they also had a better idea what had precipitated the attack.  They were sitting in a café not far from the hotel discussing the matter.  “If I had to guess,” Nora said, her voice soft, “Ingrid Kyander has spent the last two years searching for any distant kin that may have inherited her family’s gifts.  She’s a lance, with her gift of finding, she’d have that ability.”

“Either the gifts are truly lost,” Darius said, his voice soft, “or there’s no one in the next generation for them to go to… yet.  Finding no one… she may have become angry at those who did survive the massacres.”

“Particularly people like us: who were able to warn our families and, therefore, survive more or less intact,” Timo said, his voice soft.

Sofia grimaced.  “On one hand… I can see how it would be upsetting to find yourself utterly alone,” she said.  Then, she shook her head and added, “but it’s not our faults that the massacres occurred and… honestly, we were just lucky.  We couldn’t have been the only Hammers at any of those attacks to have sensed trouble.”

“It’s only that we reacted more quickly too it,” Nora said, nodding.

Darius shrugged.  “Or else our family members were just fortunate enough to be where our warning could help them,” he said, his voice soft.  He looked around at the others and shook his head.  “Setting aside any talk of blame – it’s immaterial since Elder Kyander clearly blames us – what do we do with this information?”

“We can’t really go to the Council of Elders,” Sofia said, her voice soft.  “We’ve got no proof, just circumstances that fit together.”

“Where is she now?” Timo asked, shrugging.  “The Council of Elders should, at the least, be able to tell us that.  Then, we can confront her directly.”

“A direct confrontation may go badly,” Nora said, glancing at Timo.  He frowned and she shrugged.  “How was she able to kidnap us in the first place?”  She turned to Sofia and shook her head.  “I do think we should go to the Council of Elders, even with the little we’ve got.  It could be enough that they’ll look into the matter.”

“I think that Nora’s right,” Darius said, looking from Timo to Sofia and back.  He shrugged.  “I’ve learned to trust my intuition and… I think it would be a bad idea to speak directly to Elder Kyander right now.”

Timo heaved a sigh and then nodded.  Speaking in a soft voice so that no one would overhear, he said, “This is actual intuition, though.  The wind isn’t telling you something that it isn’t telling us.”

Darius shook his head.  “I’m not Knowing this,” he admitted.  He shrugged.  “It just… It feels like it might be a bad idea.”

“I’ll accept that,” Timo said, nodding.  He paid their tab, although Darius didn’t bother asking how he’d gotten hold of money.  The answer was made plain by his next words.  “We’ll take the matter to the local Elders.  They can bring it to the Council on our behalf.”

“They’ll be able to arrange your flights back to the States too,” Nora said, as they headed out of the café.  “They set us up already, although our flight won’t be leaving for another few days.”

“I didn’t even know there was a Haven community here anymore,” Darius admitted.  He shook his head.  “After what happened in Havensburg, we just… left Alleman behind.  We had family in the States, so that’s where we went.”

“Ever since the attack on our home,” Nora said, her voice soft, “my eldest brother has kept track of where the various communities are.  It makes relocating easier, if there’s a need.”  She shrugged and added, “When I called to let him know I was safe, he told me about the community here.”

“Thank goodness for that,” Sofia said, giving her a wan smile.  From there, they set out for the nearby Haven community.  The sooner they reported what they suspected to the elder there, the better Darius would feel.  Then, he could go home without feeling like he needed to be looking over his shoulder constantly for trouble.

It was near evening when Darius was declared to be in good health.  However, since night was falling, they didn’t release him until the next morning.  The first thing he did after he was released was track down Sofia.  Like him, the antivenin had cured her condition.

“Sofia,” he called, as he came up behind her.  She stopped at the exit of the clinic and he slowed his steps as he joined her.  Then, they walked out together.  He took a deep breath and sighed.  “Nora and Timo went home.”

She nodded.  “I guess I should be glad that they waited until they knew I was safe and… well, recovering anyway, before they split,” she said.  She frowned slightly and looked at him.  “Where were you?”

“I got bitten too,” Darius said, shrugging.  She nodded, accepting his words and he said, “Are you going to return to the States now?”

“What’s to keep the person who kidnapped us from doing it again?” she replied, shaking her head.  “Either to us or to someone else that he thinks was cowardly at some point?”  She heaved a sigh.  “No, I’m not going anywhere until I find out who was behind this whole thing and… why?  Why kidnap four people and leave them in the forest like that?”

Darius nodded.  “Even if we assume it was because he figured we were cowards because of what happened at each of our Havens,” he said, his voice soft, “Even if we assume he either figured we’d be killed or prove our bravery by facing the vampires… Why us?”

“Right,” Sofia said, nodding.  “I mean, that’s exactly what I mean!  Timo and Nora knew each other, but I hadn’t met either of them or you and… you didn’t know them, right?”

“Never seen them before,” Darius said, shaking his head.  “Who would have known our background?”

“The elders of our Havens,” Sofia said, shrugging.

Darius frowned.  “The Elders…” he started, but then he trailed off.  Turning to Sofia, he said, “Did your elders survive the massacre?”  Only the elder lance of Havensburg had survived.  He had no idea what had become of the woman.  It hadn’t mattered after that, because the village had been abandoned.  He’d relocated to a new Haven community, with a different set of elders.

“The elder lance wasn’t in town when the attack happened,” Sofia said, shaking her head.

Gasping, Darius stopped dead in his tracks.  He caught Sofia by the hand.  “Elder Kyander,” he said, his voice soft.  When her eyes widened, he nodded.  “She was the only elder to survive the massacre at Havensburg.”

Sofia set off once again, almost dragging Darius with her.  She had a determined expression on her face.  “We need to get in touch with Timo and Nora,” she said.  “That might be our connection, but there’s no way to know unless we ask them if she was the elder in their village too.”

“How are we going to find them?” Darius asked, shaking his head.  “They might be on a flight back to the States by now.”

“They might,” she said, nodding.  “They would have to get in touch with their current elders, though.  They’ve got no money right now.  I’d be willing to bet that they stayed at a hotel over night while the elders made their travel arrangements.”

“We don’t have any travel papers,” Darius realized.  “They’d have to get in touch with their elders before they’d be allowed on a plane back to the States.”  He’d have to do the same, in fact.  Actually, he was pretty sure that his brothers would take care of that detail, once he called them.

In a matter of hours, they were arriving in Alleman.  It was shocking how easy it was to find the hotel into which the pair had spent the night.  Sofia went to the front desk of each hotel and asked the manager to call Timo Koskinen’s room.  The first few times, they were politely informed that no one by that name was checked in there.  Finally, the manager looked up a phone number and dialed it.

“There is a young woman at the front desk who wishes to speak with you, sir,” the manager said in a polite tone.  Nodding, he looked at Sofia.  “Could I have your name, please?”

“Sofia Skalas,” she said, her voice soft.  “Tell him that Darius Balchunas is with me.  We have news for him and a couple of questions.”

Nodding, the manager dutifully repeated the message.  Finally, he nodded and returned the telephone to the handset.  Turning to Sofia, he said, “He and Miss Hagen will be down directly.  You are welcome to wait for them in the lounge area.”

“Thank you,” Sofia said.  Then, she headed over to a gathering of sofas and chairs in a corner of the lobby.  They only had to wait for a few minutes before Timo and Nora arrived.  Darius touched Sofia on the arm and they both stood as the pair approached them.

“It’s good to see you both well,” Nora said, giving them each a faint smile.  “What’s up?”

“Was Elder Kyander a survivor of your village?” Darius asked, his voice soft.

Timo blinked and Nora frowned.  “Ingrid Kyander,” Nora said.

“She wasn’t an elder at the time,” Timo said, his voice soft.  “She was… just one more lance.  Her family was killed and… she went to where other family members were living, since they’d inherited the gifts.”

“She was an elder when the massacre took place at Havensburg,” Darius said, frowning.  “She was the only elder to have survived.  I… didn’t hear what happened to her family.”  He realized now that the woman may well have been the lone survivor of her family a second time.  When it happened, he’d been focused on his cousins and brothers and burying their mother and the rest of their family members who had died.

“Her family’s gifts were lost after the massacre in North Pass-Haven,” Sofia said, her voice strained.  “It was the last generation that the Council of Elders had on record.”

In the Woods – continued…

Darius didn’t remember falling asleep, but knew he had.  He woke when Patrice shook him gently.  As he yawned and stretched, Patrice stepped back.  “Wash up and I’ll get you over to the clinic,” he said, nodding.

“Thank you,” Darius said, around a yawn. He ruffled a hand through his hair.  Then, he padded off to the bathroom.  He did as Patrice had suggested.  After washing up and seeing to his needs, he met Patrice in the front room of the cottage house.

“You can’t use the teleporters,” Patrice said, as they headed out.  Giving him a wan smile, he added, “I can, though.  I’ll have to hold your hand so that you can come along with me.”

“All right,” Darius said, nodding.  He trailed along with Patrice as they headed off the estate.  He found that the light hurt his eyes, so he closed his eyes and trusted the wind to guide him as they went to the building where the teleporters were.

Inside, Darius found a series of booths that looked like the boxes where one might find an old-fashioned payphone.  He took Patrice’s hand as the man set his other hand on a panel.  “Patrice Harriot, age twenty-three, with companion for Freeport,” he said.

A moment later, Darius felt as though the floor had dropped out from under his feet.  He staggered, nearly falling into Patrice as they reappeared in what he was certain was another building.  It looked much like the other one, however, there was a large sign identifying it as the Freeport Teleporter Station.

“Cool,” Darius said, as he released Patrice’s hand.  He gave the man a weak smile and then fell into step behind him.  From there, they headed off to the Health Clinic.  It was much like a hospital, complete with an emergency room.

As they stepped inside, Patrice led him over to the nurse’s station.  Waving towards Darius, he said, “He’s been envenomed.  You need to get him started on the antivenin as soon as possible.”

“Of course, Mr. Harriot,” the nurse said, nodding.  She smiled at Darius and then moved to her feet.  “If you’ll come with me, sir.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Darius said.  He nodded at Patrice.  “Thank you for the help,” he said, his voice soft.  As Patrice waved his words away, Darius turned around and followed the nurse to a room.

The nurse stayed long enough to get his personal information and make sure he was settled comfortably.  Then, she headed off to get the doctor.  Her last words were to take off his shirt and lay back on the bed.

Darius waited until he was alone before he did as she’d said.  He didn’t have long to wait before the doctor arrive. “Mr. Balchunas,” he said, nodding a greeting.  “I’m Dr. Ingram.  You’ve been envenomed?”

“Yes,” Darius said, showing him the bite on his arm.  The shoulder itself was feeling better now, although he suspected that it was strained, at least.  It didn’t seem to be dislocated.

Dr. Ingram checked it over and then turned to the nurse.  Nodding, he said, “Give him the standard dose of the antivenin.”  Patting Darius on the shoulder, he said, “We’ll have you back to your normal self very soon, Mr. Balchunas.  Just sit back and relax.”

“Thank you,” Darius said.  He watched as the nurse inserted a small needle into his lower arm. It was connected to tubing and a bag of some sort of fluid.  After a moment, he began to feel chilled.  He shivered for a moment before the nurse settled a blanket over him.

She patted his arm gently and said, “I’ll bring you something to eat in a little while and we’ll see how you do with that.”

“Thank you,” he said, blinking.  He let his eyes close and was nearly asleep when the wind rattled the windows, bringing him fully awake.  He lifted his head and listened to what the wind had to say.  Then, he smiled at the news it brought.

“Timo,” he called through the opened door of his room. “Nora!”  He smiled when they peered into the room.  He smiled.  “I’m getting the antivenin now.  You found Sofia?”

“She found us and we were told to bring her here,” Timo said, nodding.  He stepped over to Darius’s bedside.  “It’s good to see you well.  Sofia had already fed, so it will be more difficult for her, but they said it won’t be impossible to cure her.”

“I’m glad to hear that,” Darius said.  He smiled faintly at Nora and then frowned.  “We still don’t know who kidnapped us.”

“I don’t care,” Nora admitted.  She shrugged and shook her head.  “I’m just glad that we made it back to civilization.  I want to go home and forget all about vampires.”

Darius nodded slowly.  He could understand her desire to put the experience behind her.  Still, it wasn’t his nature to just let a mystery go.  He wanted to know who had kidnapped them.  Otherwise, how could he know that it wouldn’t happen again?  “You’re going home, then?”

“We’re taking a boat to the mainland – Zeimia,” Timo said, nodding.  “From there, we can catch a flight home.  You’re going to stay here?”

“Just until I know who did this to us,” Darius said, grimacing.  He frowned and shook his head.  “I’ll need to call my brothers and cousins – my wife too – to let them all know that I’m all right.  Otherwise, Estera will come looking for me.”

Nora heaved a sigh and then hugged him.  “We’ll write you,” she said, as she straightened.  “Take care of yourself, Darius.”

“You too,” he said, nodding slightly.  After they were gone, he did sleep.  He woke when someone stepped into the room.  He smiled when he saw that it was the nurse.

“Feeling hungry?” she asked, holding up a covered tray.

Darius felt his stomach rumble and smiled.  “Yes,” he said, sitting up a bit when she set the tray on a little bed table.  While he ate, he considered the question of who had kidnapped him.  He knew why: they thought he was a coward for fleeing Havensburg during the massacre.  He knew what their purpose had been: to prove that he was a coward by forcing him to face the vampires.

In the Woods – continued…

Continuing on from where we left off…

**

After a few tried to get past his defenses by themselves, they started coming in groups.  That was harder to stop.  One caught his wrist, where he held his mace, and two more pulled him off his feet.  He fell to the ground with pained cry.  He heard a loud pop as he tried to catch himself and pain radiated down his arm.

They hadn’t eaten all day and the monsters were strong, as well as fast.  Darius cried out as he felt a sharper pain in his wrist.  His mace vanished and he squirmed as he realized that one of the vilkolakiais was biting him, drinking his blood.  He glanced at the others and saw another snatch Sofia away from the group.

Squeezing his eyes closed, Darius began singing the banishment song, focusing on pushing the monsters back – away from them.  A moment later, Timo and Nora joined in with the song.  Hissing and growling, the monsters fell back from them.

Darius sat up, trembling and panting.  He hugged his arm to his chest and blinked to clear his vision.  Water dripped onto his hand and he realized that he was crying.  He flushed, wiping the tears away as he got to his feet.  Then, he looked around quickly.  “Where’s Sofia?” he said, shaking his head.

“The one that grabbed her…” Nora started.  She shrugged and let out a deep sigh.  “We need to get help.  Do you feel well enough to travel?”

For a moment, Darius didn’t understand the question.  Certainly, his shoulder was dislocated, but that wouldn’t hamper him very much.  The bite from the vilkolakis was more troublesome, but it didn’t seem to be bleeding.  “It’s just a little… bite,” he said, glancing at his wrist.  Actually, the wound looked red and inflamed, like an infection.  He blinked when Nora set a hand on his brow.  “What?” he said, meeting her gaze.

“You’re hot,” she said.  Heaving a sigh, she nodded.  “Let us know if you need to take a break.  We need to get down to that village and see if someone there will help us rescue Sofia from those monsters.”

By the time that they reached the village, Darius was actually starting to feel a bit better, except that he was very thirsty.  He followed Timo and Nora as they went to the first house in the little square to knock on the door.

The person who answered opened the door just a crack.  Darius couldn’t blame them for being cautious, particularly if there were monsters so near the village.  Her eyes widened and she said, “Oh, my Gaia!”  Then, she practically dragged Timo and Nora into the house.  Meeting his gaze, she said, “You are not welcome here,” before slamming the door in Darius’s face.

Darius blinked in surprise.  For a moment, he just stood there, too stunned to move.  Then, he stepped back from the door and closed his eyes.  He tilted his head, listening to the wind.  What was happening?  Why had the woman dragged the others inside?  Why wouldn’t she let him inside?

You’re like them, the wind told him, the monster that bit you made you like them.  You’re a danger to her now.

“What are you doing, little one?” a soft voice said.

Startling, Darius looked up to see that the monsters had returned.  He looked down at his arm.  The wound was still there, but it was no longer red and inflamed.  It had scabbed over.  He blinked away tears and looked back up at the monster that had spoken to him.  “I… was trying to understand what happened,” he said.  He stepped closer to the vilkolakis.  After all, they couldn’t harm him now.  Could they?  “I’m a Hammer.  We… have the gift of knowing.  I’m… like you now?”

“After a fashion,” the vilkolakis said, nodding.  He smiled as Darius stepped closer to him.  “What is your name, little one?”

“Balchunas,” he replied, “Darius Balchunas.”  He shook his head and fidgeted with the compass pendant that his mother had given him when he’d dedicated himself to Tilvar.  “I don’t want to be a vilkolakis.”

Wait for daybreak, the wind said, Get the antivenin.

“The antivenin?” he repeated, tilting his head.  He sensed danger and tensed, glancing around.  The other monsters had encircled him.

“Aren’t you thirsty, little one?” the one standing in front of him said, reaching towards him.  “Come with us.  We’ll help you.”

If you feed, it will be harder to cure the illness that makes you like them, the wind told him.  They don’t want you to have the antivenin.

Darius gasped and kicked off from the ground.  He flew, as he’d seen the one that had attacked him do.  Then, he landed on the roof of a building and closed his eyes, singing the concealing song until the others had passed by overhead.  He needed help, but it was clear that none of the villagers would help him.  They would be too afraid to do so.  He would also have to be careful of the others like himself.  They wouldn’t want him to be cured either.

“Who can I trust?” he asked the wind.  He felt the breeze ruffle his curls and heard the answer.  He flew away from the roof, letting the wind guide him until he saw a young man with long dark hair.  He landed behind the young man and said, “Phillipe?”

Frowning, the young man turned to face him.  He looked Darius over and then frowned.  “What do you want, little one?” he asked, his tone almost hostile.

Tears welled in Darius’s eyes and he shook his head.  “I don’t want to be a vilkolakis,” he said.  “How… how do I get the antivenin?  The wind…” he trailed off.  He wasn’t meant to tell people how he knew things.  Then, he wiped at his eyes and decided it didn’t matter just then.  “The wind said that you would help me – that I could trust you.”

“The wind?” Phillipe said, frowning.  When Darius nodded slowly, he heaved a sigh.  Then, he took out a small box.  “Drink that.  It will help you feel better.”

Darius blinked at the box.  It was coconut water.  He stuck the straw into the box and sipped at it.  Then, he fell into step behind Phillip as they ran through the town.  They came to a large estate and Phillipe led him to a smaller house behind the larger one.

“Patrice,” Phillipe called, rapping on the door and then peering inside.  “Are you here, gran frere?”

The man inside frowned at Phillipe and shook his head.  “I’ve said that only you are welcome here, Phillipe,” he said, crossing his arms over his chest.

Phillipe rolled his eyes.  “This little one doesn’t wish to remain a vampire,” he said, waving at Darius.  “I thought that I could leave him with you, so that you could see to it that he was able to get the antivenin.”

Frowning, Patrice stepped over to the doorway.  He looked at Darius for a moment before he nodded.  “Come in,” he said.

Darius stepped inside and gave him a weak smile.  “Thank you,” he said.

Waving his words away, Patrice said, “You’ve been envenomed, but you’ll be fine.  You haven’t fed yet?”

“Only the coconut water that Phillipe gave me,” Darius said, shaking his head.  He gave Phillipe a weak smile.  “I feel better now.  Thank you!”

Nodding, Phillipe said, “Rest here, little one.”  Then, he nodded at his elder brother.  He said something that Darius didn’t understand before he flew away into the night.

As Darius turned to Patrice, the other said, “I’ll take you to the Health Clinic in the morning.  Dr. Durem can give you the antivenin then.”  His brows furrowed.  “I’ll see if I can find something for you to wear.”

“The ones that attacked me took a girl too,” he said, his brows furrowing.  “Is there any way to help her?  The… probably did the same thing to her that they did to me, right?”

“It’ll be up to her,” Patrice said, shaking his head.  “If she doesn’t feed and is able to slip away from them in the morning, to get to the Health Clinic, she’ll be fine.”

“She’s a Hammer too,” Darius said, nodding.  “We’re sworn to protect our Crosses and we can’t do that as vilkolakiais.  She’ll know that.  All Hammers have the gift of knowing.”

Patrice frowned at him for a moment longer.  Then, he nodded.  “Rest here while I find you something to wear,” he said, his tone firm.

Darius sat down in a chair and waited patiently while the man headed out of the room.  Soon, he returned with a simple shirt and trousers that would fit Darius, as well as socks and boots.  Darius ducked into the next room and changed out of his pajamas.  When he returned, he gave Patrice a weak smile.  “Thank you, again, for helping me.”

“It’s no problem,” Patrice said.

Nodding, Darius tilted his head slightly.  “What did your brother say before he left?” he asked.

Patrice met his gaze and chuckled.  “He told me that you were odd and perhaps mad, but that you truly didn’t wish to be a vampire,” he said, nodding.  When Darius nodded, he arched his brows.  “It doesn’t surprise you to be called mad?”

“I’ve been called mad quite often,” Darius admitted.  He shrugged.  “Hammers are always odd, it comes from knowing things that we shouldn’t know.  It’s very off-putting when I do that, so people always find it odd.  As for madness… well, I listen to the wind.  When you don’t have experience with it, that can strike you as crazy.”

Chuckling, Patrice nodded.  “I’ll get you some more coconut water,” he said.  “Dawn is still hours away.  Make yourself comfortable for now.”

Darius nodded and settled down to listen to the wind blowing around the eaves of the house.  He would be fine now, as Patrice had said.  Timo and Nora would find their own way home, as he could once he’d had the antivenin.  Sofia’s fate was in her own hands, but the wind had told her what she needed to know.  Darius said a little prayer that the Great Father would guide her.  Then, he drank some more of the coconut water.  All he could do now was wait for the dawn.

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.

In the Woods – continued…

Picking up directly after yesterday’s part…

**

Nora heaved a sigh and glanced at Timo.  Then, she nodded and opened her own box.  “The same as yours,” she said, waving at the contents.  Inside, Darius could see that there was a pocket watch, a little souvenir gnome and a pink fluffy chick.  Cursing, Nora slammed the lid back down on the box.  She shook her head.  “I’m not a coward,” she said, glaring at Darius and Sofia, ask if asking them to counter her words.

“Neither of us said you were,” Sofia said, holding up the little chick she had found in her own box.  “Whomever brought us here said that.”

“How do we know that you aren’t behind this whole thing?” Timo asked.

When Sofia flushed, her brows furrowing, Darius held up a hand.  “It’s a reasonable question,” he said, his voice soft.  She shot him a glare and he shrugged.  “We woke before them.  You woke before me.  It’s not unreasonable to think you or even both of us knows more than we’ve said.”

Heaving a sigh, Sofia said, “Fair enough.”  She shook her head and asked, “How could we prove that we weren’t in on this whole thing, then?”

Darius shrugged and looked at Timo.  “We’re in the same position as you: outside in the forest, God only knows where, and dressed in nothing more than what we wore to bed,” he said.  He waved at his bare feet and then at Sofia’s very thin nightgown.  “Does it make sense for us to place ourselves in this predicament dressed like this?”

“If I were planning something like this,” Nora murmured, “I’d have claimed to have fallen asleep in my clothes or, at least, worn a warmer nightgown.”  She glanced at Timo and nodded.  “I believe them.”

“All right,” Timo said, clearly trusting Nora’s judgment.  He grimaced and then nodded at Sofia.  “My apologies for offending you.”

“Fine,” Sofia breathed.  She wrapped her arms around her shoulders and heaved a sigh.  Then, she smirked when Timo shrugged out of the bathrobe he had on over his pajamas and held it out to her.  “You always wear a bathrobe to bed?” she said, as she pulled it on.

“Only when I fall asleep on my couch,” Timo said, shrugging.  He looked down at his feet and smirked.  “I’m the only one of us who has slippers.”

“Thankfully,” Nora said, “it’s not terribly cold here.”  She glanced around and then shook her head.  “Which is a bit odd, since it’s a pine forest.  That indicates we’re either to the north or higher in elevation.”

“Not necessarily,” Darius said.  When they both frowned at him, he shrugged.  “Pines don’t generally grow south of the equator, but they aren’t confined to cold environments or high altitudes.”

“Pine expert?” Sofia asked, arching her brows.

Darius shrugged.  “I just like trees,” he said, his voice soft.  “I read about them a lot as a result.”  He heaved a sigh and set the lid back onto his own box.  Then, he settled down on a handy boulder.  “About six years ago, Singers located Havensburg.  Out of hundreds of people in that village, only twenty-seven people survived.”

Sofia grimaced.  “Two years ago, North Pass Haven was attacked,” she said.  “My family… the eight of us… were the only ones that survived.  There was only a few hundred in the community, but…” she trailed off.

Nora released a shaky breath and nodded.  “It was the same where we were from,” she said, her voice faint.  “My family and Timo’s family – fourteen people in all – were the only ones that escaped the village.”

“We were heading to the Community Center for a gathering when it happened,” Timo murmured.  “I… just couldn’t get motivated and I made my family late.”  He gave a weak laugh and shook his head.  “My elder brother was so angry… until…” he trailed off and looked over at Nora.

Nodding, she said, “I sensed trouble and pitched an all-mighty temper tantrum.  We didn’t arrive until they were gone.”

“This was long ago, then,” Darius said, looking from one to the other.

Timo nodded.  “About thirty years or so,” he said, his voice soft.  “As is typical, that Haven was abandoned and we resettled elsewhere.”

“Where?” Darius said, frowning.  “My family moved to Haven-Shepherdtown, in West Virginia.  We had family there, so… it made sense.”

“North Haven,” Nora said, her voice soft.  “Fair County, Maine.”

When they turned to Sofia, she grimaced.  “Havensport, Georgia,” she said.  She shook her head.  “How could someone find four hammers from three different communities and just… in a single night?”

“I’d say that no one person could,” Timo said, shaking his head.  “It seems to me that would be too much work for just one person.”

“A group, then,” Darius said, nodding in agreement.  His brows furrowed and then he looked at the boxes.  “I do wonder… I know that there were three other Hammers that survived the massacre at Havensburg, but they aren’t here.”

“Why are you?” Nora said.  When Darius nodded.  She grimaced.  “Lots of questions, but no answers.  Who kidnapped us?  Why did they bring us here?  Why were we targeted and not others in our same circumstance?”

“How are we going to get home when we don’t even know where we are?” Sofia murmured.

In the Woods

This story was inspired by a random prompt that I found on the internet…

**

Darius shivered and then sat up.  He blinked slowly as he tried to make sense of what he was seeing.  He was outside, that much was obvious.  It was why he’d been cold when he’d awakened.

All around, he could see old pines, their lower branches dead and bare.  He was sitting – had been lying – in matted grass and moss.  As he stood, he realized that he was barefoot and wearing his pajamas.

Not far away, he saw two others – a man and a woman.  They both appeared to be sleeping, curled up in the grass and moss of the forest floor.  Like him, they were dressed for bed.  Turning away from them, he saw another woman silhouetted in the darkness.  She was turned away from him, wearing a flowing white nightgown.

“Hello,” Darius said, stepping carefully over to her.  “Do you… remember how we got here?”

She turned to face him and grimaced.  Shaking her head, she pointed over to a circle of trees.  At the center of the ring of trees, there were four boxes.  “It might have something to do with those,” she said, her voice faint.

Darius padded through the grass to where the boxes were set.  He blinked when he saw that one of them had his name written across the top.  He turned back to the woman and grimaced.  “Nora Hagen,” he said, “or Sofia Skalas?”

“Sofia,” she replied, stepping over to him.  Her brows furrowed and she raised her gaze to meet his eyes.  “Our names are on them?”

“I’m Darius Balchunas,” he said, nodding.  He glanced over towards where the other two were still asleep.  “She must be Nora Hagen and he’s Timo Koskinen.”

Sofia nodded slowly.  “Should we open our boxes or wake them up and… open them all together?” she asked, her voice soft.

Darius shrugged and then grabbed the lid of his box.  He eased it up carefully, ready for some sign that it was a trap of some sort.  However, nothing happened as he removed the lid and he set it to one side.  Inside, he saw an odd assortment of items.  There was a watch, a small piece of fabric and a fuzzy yellow chick – the sort that peeped when you touched the bottom.

He scowled and looked over at Sofia.  Like him, she had opened her box and was examining the contents.  “What did you find?” he asked, shaking his head.

“A broken clock, a bumper sticker and… this,” she said.  She lifted the item out of the box and it peeped as she held it.

Darius looked more closely at the watch.  It was stopped at ten minutes after four.  His eyes widened as he remembered the significance of that time.  He looked at the piece of fabric again.  It was the Allemani flag.  He took a shuddering breath and then looked sharply at Sophia.  “Did you survive… a massacre at a Haven?” he whispered.

Sofia stared at him for a moment.  Then, she looked down at the box again and nodded.  She drew out the bumper sticker.  It was a vibrant yellow with the words, “New Mexico, Land of Enchantment” written across it.  “My family lived in New Mexico,” she said, her voice soft.  “We… were the only family that escaped from the Haven out there.”

“We weren’t the only family,” Darius said, grimacing.  Then, he shook his head.  “There weren’t many families that made it through intact, though.  My mother…” he trailed off, unable to finish the thought.  Then, he cleared his throat and said, “but both of my brothers made it, as did our cousins.”

He held up the watch.  “The Massacre of Havensburg happened just as the kids were getting home from school,” he said.  “It started at ten minutes after four in the afternoon.  I… I was able to save my cousins and my brothers because I’m the Hammer.  I sensed it.”

“Me too,” she breathed.  She looked at the broken clock again and nodded.  “I didn’t even know what time the massacre happened.  I just… it was the middle of the night.  I woke up my cousins and got them out of there.  I didn’t have time…” she trailed off and then looked over at Darius.  Shaking her head briskly, she said, “There wasn’t time to save anyone else!”

Darius grimaced and then whistled loudly, startling both Nora and Timo awake.  They looked at each other and quickly got to their feet.  Immediately, they were speaking in rapid-fire Scandian.  “Hey,” Darius called.  They broke off to stare at him.  “Clearly, you two know each other.  Are you Hammers?”

“Yes,” Nora said, as she gingerly made her way over to them.  She frowned at the boxes and then at Sofia.  Turning back to Darius, she said, “What’s this?”

“Someone brought us here and left these boxes with our names on them,” Darius said, shrugging.  As Nora opened her box, he said, “Did you survive a Haven massacre?”

“Yes,” Timo breathed, as he joined them.  He took a deep breath and nodded.  In a fuller voice, he added, “We both did… the same massacre.”

“If the little peeping chick is anything to go by,” Sofia said, as Timo opened his box, “whomever brought us here thinks we’re cowards.”

“Excuse me?” Nora said, her voice taking on a harsh edge.

“Chicken,” Darius said, holding up his little peeping chick.  He nodded and glanced at Sofia.  “I think you’re right.  I can’t agree with the assessment.  My case was the same as yours: there wasn’t time enough to warn anyone else.  As it was, my brothers barely made it out of there alive.”