From the corner of his eye, Beddigan watched his sister nervously fidget with the hem of her tunic. “Are you sure you want to do this?” Beddigan asked, looking up at the towering dark tree line that spread in front of them as far as they could see in either direction. A peculiar hazy fog hung inside the forest, making it hard to see past the first few trees. They stood in a bright, wildflower filled meadow near the border with Mormant. Evidently there was an old travel road buried in the murky forest from the long-past war between Mormant and Reene, that had not become completely overgrown by the woods. Or at least that was what Clottie had heard from those who had ventured the dangerous journey into the Losley Deadwoods seeking the sorceress. Beddigan looked back over his shoulder across the meadow, back the way they had come, and frowned. It feels like we’re being followed, but nothing seems amiss, he thought, watching the breeze tickle that tall grass and meadow-flowers. Clottie broke his concentration,
“I’m sure.” she said firmly. Beddigan drew his gaze back to the tree line, peering intently into the haze. His paw gripped the hilt of his sword involuntarily. He had grown up hearing stories of the beasts that inhabited the Losley Deadwoods. They were not stories simply told to scare a child from wandering. The naked fear in the eyes of those who had been there and back, and lived to tell the tale, made sure of that.
Taking a deep breath, Beddigan met his sister’s eyes and nodded,
“Alright. Lets get going then.” they stepped into the woods, and both immediately shuddered. It was cold. And not just the cold you feel when walking into shade from sunshine. It chilled deeply. Clottie tugged her cloak around her body, hugging herself. Beddigan marvelled at the puff of steam coming from their mouths as they took breaths. “It’s like being in the mountains.” he murmured, eyes staring around at the murky forest in wonder. Frost hung on giant ferns and clung to the jagged rocks, giving them a deadly sheen. The trees were so tall and the air so hazy that they couldn’t see the canopy. Dim light filtered down just enough to light their way, but come nightfall, even a light crystal would barely make the forest passable. Not that I want to be here at nightfall, Beddigan thought, suppressing another shudder.
They moved quietly through the trees, both desperately hoping they were headed in the right direction to find the roadway. They slipped and skidded on the frosty underbrush, narrowly avoiding falling onto spires of rock, until they finally burst from the trees and onto the road they had been searching for. Not so much of a road as a deadened earth track where foliage refused to grow. Beddigan looked down the pathway and then turned to look where it had come from and was pleased to see they were very near the end of it. The forest had reclaimed much of the road and thick, murky forest lay just a few feet behind them.
“It is just so very odd.” Clottie said softly. Beddigan turned back to look at her, brow furrowed,
“What is?” he asked. Clottie looked around nervously at the cold, still forest and up the path that climbed up to a rise in the distance.
“How quiet it is.” she murmured. “No birdsong. No buzzing bugs. It isn’t like a forest at all.” Beddigan peered around at the towering black-barked trees.
“No. It isn’t a forest at all, Clottie. There is a reason it is called the Deadwoods.” Clottie shivered and nodded. “Come, we need to make haste. This is the last place we want to be stuck, come nightfall.” Clottie nodded again, hurrying to fall into step next to her brother.
They travelled quickly along the pathway, up the rise and down the other side, following the curving root. Beddigan noticed that the black barked trees began to thicken in trunk size, but became more sparse, allowing a little more view through them. The haze thinned as well. It wasn’t long before the sensation of being followed returned. They stopped after some time to eat. They quickly cobbled down the crackers and cheese that Clottie had packed and each munched a bright green apple from the small orchard on their families property. They carefully packed up their refuse back into their bags, not wanting to leave any trace of food that a beast may pick up, and continued down the road. The further they delved into the forest, the deader it became. The haze lifted as the canopy became open to the sky. More light filtered down giving them a better view of the large boulders, barren cracked earth, and dead trees. With the light came warmth and soon they were both sweating, reminding them they were indeed heading south towards Reene.
They were angling slightly east from what Beddigan could tell, which was precisely where they needed to be. They watched the edges of the path for a pair of sentinel stones that marked where they needed to veer off to reach the Sorceress cottage on the shores of the Lost Lake. At least, I hope that is where it leads, Beddigan thought as he scanned through the trees for the source of his discomfort. Something out there was watching them, and he didn’t want to find out what it was.
“There they are!” Clottie said excitedly, pointing to a pair of tall, grey stones sitting like a doorway along the path. They stopped in front of them, looking up at the massive pillars of rock. Clottie moved to walk through them and Beddigan reached out, snatching her wrist and tugging her back. She looked at him in confusion and he held a claw to his mouth, signaling for her to be quiet. They stood listening for any sound of approach, but none met there ears.
“You may as well come out. I know you are there, that you’ve been following us for some time now.” Turning his back on the stones he looked around the pathway and the forest, waiting for whatever it was that was following them to show itself. When nothing happened Clottie gripped his arm,
“Maybe we should just go, Beddigan.” she said, a hint of fear in her voice. He shook her grip off of his arm and replied,
“If it meant us harm, it would have attacked already.” Clottie looked at him hesitantly, but nodded. Beddigan turned back to the empty pathway. “We aren’t leaving until you show yourself.” he said firmly. A light caught his eye directly across the path from where he and Clottie stood. A flash, bright white light, and then nothing. So small and fast it could have been missed. “There!” Beddigan whispered, pointing across the path, “Did you see it?” Clottie looked at him with rounded eyes,
“See what?” she asked, following his eyes and arm to the empty spot on the pathway. Beddigan lowered his arm.
“There was a flash of white light.” Clottie gasped and pointed further up the path. Beddigan whirled to look and saw nothing.
“I saw one too!” she yelped. And then suddenly little flashes of white light were zinging all around them, through the dead trees and across the path, swirling up around the sentinel stones. They watched in wonder as the flickering white lights gathered together a few feet away from them until a glowing, opaque figure floated just above the cracked earth path. Mist and shadow, ice and fire; the creature was elegant and slender, with a peaked, childish face and about half the height of Beddigan. Sparkling wings, shimmering with frost, and a bright, flickering core of fire. Beddigan’s throat worked as he tried to speak, but he was too awestruck to form words.
“I am wysp.” a voice boomed in his mind, answering his unspoken question. His eyes flickered to Clottie who’s mouth hung agape as she stared at the creature, the likes neither of them had seen before. Beddigan cleared his throat.
“Hello Wysp, I am Beddigan, and this is my kin Clottie.” The creature drifted closer to them, it’s large, dark, shining eyes peering at them at close range.
“A wysp. Not name.” the voice came again. It was then that he noticed the creature had no mouth or nose at all. Just those shimmering, coal-dark eyes. Beddigan nodded hastily, forcing his paw to stay away from the hilt of his sword. He did not want to startle or anger this creature, but his nerves were rising.
“Ah, my mistake. I apologize, I am unfamiliar with your… kind.” he said softly. The wysp drifted back away from them, head cocked to the side, as if considering something.
“You no been before. Your kind has. We watch.” the wysp said, drifting closer again, this time circling widely around them.
“Yes.” Beddigan said, “Others have come before us, seeking a great sorceress.” the wysp stopped sharply in its circuit in front of them.
“You seek Great One? Why?” Beddigan thought for a moment about how to answer. It didn’t seem smart to divulge too much information to this unknown creature, but at the same time the woods were a tricky place and this wysp may be able to assist them in locating the sorceress.
“A very important friend of mine is being held captive by the Wolves of Mormant, and I seek a way to free him.” The flame in the wisps core, which had been quietly flickering orange and yellow erupted, engulfing the entirety of its body, replacing the opaque with hot blue fire. The heat wafted at them as the voice boomed in his mind.
“Wolves not welcome here.” Beddigan nodded hurriedly, taking a step back alongside his sister from the heat of the wysp’s reaction.
“Yes, we are no friends of the wolves.” Beddigan said placatingly. The blue flames flickered out and the opaque frame returned, leaving just the small fire in the wysp’s chest burning.
“Be wary Great One. Powerful.” the wysp’s voice was softer now. “Much danger here. Not all roads lead to her. Many lead death.” Beddigan watched the wysp as it started to drift back towards the deadwoods.
“We were told to head through there stones.” Beddigan said, gesturing behind him at the sentinel stones.” The wysp nodded.
“Take this. Red good. Blue bad. Watch for long-teeth. They like taste of your kin flesh.” A purple gem about the size of Beddigan’s fist appeared in the middle of the path. He stepped forward and knelt to pick it up.
“What about purple?” he asked, but when he stood, he was alone on the path, the wysp having vanished. Clottie was standing in the trees next to the sentinel stones, peering around behind them.
“There is no path.” she observed, walking towards him. “That was intense.” she murmured, looking at the multi-faceted gem in Beddigan’s paw. Beddigan nodded.
“I’ve never seen anything like it. Or even heard about anything like it.” he murmured to her. Clottie ran a claw over the gem.
“At least it was friendly.” she said softly. Beddigan looked into her eyes.
“This time.” he murmured. “Something tells me that we just dealt with a very powerful and very dangerous creature.” Clottie nodded and then turned to face the stones.
“Lets get going then, and not wait around for another dangerous creature to find us.” Beddigan held the gem in his cupped paw as they stepped through the sentinel stones together.
“A path!” Clottie exclaimed as the ground that had been previously covered in the thick foliage of the forest floor, now resembled the road they had been on prior; hard and cracked as sun-baked earth. Beddigan held up his paw for her to see. The gem shon bright ruby red.
“And apparently it is the right one. For now, anyways.” Beddigan said, giving his sister a small smile. They headed off down the pathway, Beddigan preceding his sister, his mind still stuck on their encounter with the wysp.
To be continued…
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