Grateful for the strength of the Bear paw gripping his forearm, Beddigan pushed hard with his legs until he crested the top of the bluff. William hauled him away from the cliff’s edge, depositing him in a heap next to his sister. Clottie was still breathing heavily from her own climb up the rocky path.
Beddigan collapsed onto his back, dragging in hungry breaths of the cold night air. Everything hurt and he was thoroughly spent.
“How in the names of Annalose and Ardra is Ragnon going to manage it?” Clottie asked. Beddigan pushed himself up into a sitting position next to his sister.
“He’ll just have to. Shianne is going to follow him up from the bottom to give him support and William is just starting down a ways to help drag him up. That should be enough.” He answered, trying to keep the doubt out of his voice. Clottie was worried enough without his concerns for Ragnon bolstering her own.
“Maybe I could…” Clottie started to say, but Beddigan laid a paw on her shoulder shaking his head.
“We all agreed this is the best way to do it, Clottie. He will be okay.” Clottie set her mouth in a firm, uncertain looking line and nodded brusquely.
Struggling to his feet, Beddigan looked around. He was grateful for the moonlight which illuminated the rocky plain at the top of the cliffs and the sparse evergreen trees that stretched out as far as the eye could see. Below he could hear the waves lapping at the beach. No sign of any ships on the water, and the sky was clear; black velvet with the glittering diamonds of the stars strewn upon it.
Hearing a grunt, Beddigan turned to see William hauling himself up onto the plain, tugging a groaning, scraggly looking Ragnon behind him. Beddigan shot William a cross look as the Bear none-to-gently released the Wolf into a pile just shy of the cliff’s edge. William looked mildly sheepish but he made no move to help the Wolf and stalked towards the trees to scout ahead as they had planned. He had told them that he had some memories of the area and of some abandoned cabins strewn throughout the mountain side; though it had been many turnings since he had been in these woods.
Shianne nimbly bounded up onto the plain, narrowly missing kicking Ragnon in the face. She skittered over him and growled,
“Move your tail, Wolf.” Ragnon struggled to move and ended up collapsed in a heap on his stomach. Clottie snarled and stomped over to his side, crouching to check on him, before glaring up at Shianne,
“He’s injured! Annalose and Ardra, Shianne, have a little compassion!” Shianne stared at Clottie for a long moment, her paw far too close to her daggers for Beddigan’s liking.
“Compassion is not my strong suit.” She said in a low, cold voice. Beddigan rushed to put himself between the two ladies, holding his paws up in a plaintive gesture.
“Okay, okay, that’s enough. Let’s just calm down and rest a moment until William returns.” Shianne met his eyes and he was relieved to see that despite her tone, they held their usual eerie glint and not the hard, cold look that would mean all of them were in tremendous danger.
Clottie busied herself helping Ragnon roll onto his back, and Shianne walked along the cliff’s edge, looking out at the open ocean. Beddigan sighed with relief and sat down on a small outcropping of rock to wait for William.
Not much time passed before the Bear’s heavy footfalls snapping twigs and crushing evergreen needles underfoot announced his return. Beddigan stood and met the Bear as he emerged from the woods.
“Any luck finding us some shelter for the night?” he asked his dear friend. Another wave of relief washed over him as the Bear nodded.
“There is a cabin not far into the woods. It is dark and unused. There are no tracks around it for quite a distance in any direction. It isn’t pretty, but it should last us through the night.” Beddigan nodded with a smile,
“Excellent. We best get moving then.” He turned to find the others had already assembled just a few paces behind them. You’re slipping in your exhaustion, old boy, he thought to himself as he realized he hadn’t even heard them moving. He needed to be a lot sharper than that with the price that was now on his head. Ragnon flashed him and William a smaller version of his usually toothy grin,
“Better not be far or the Bear is going to have to sling me over his shoulder like a sack of grain and haul me there.” Clottie’s paw flew to her mouth to stifle a giggle, and Beddigan grimaced, feeling the anger radiate off of William. Shianne stalked past them,
“Enough joking around. I’m tired. Let’s go.” William turned and moved with Shianne into the forest. Clottie had an armed looped around Ragnon and Beddigan took up a place on the other side of him to help him as they followed the rest of their party into the dark woods.
As they moved through the trees, struggling to keep William and Shianne in sight, he let his mind wander. He listened to the sounds of the breeze off of the water rustling the tree branches, the soft plinking sound of needles being blown free from their home high up in the trees. The sound of their boots crunching through the thin underbrush. And then it hit him: there was no sound of forest life at all. No owls hooting; no squirrels rustling. He listened as they walked, puzzled by the complete lack of forest creatures. He was about to comment on it to his companions when they stepped between two large-trunked trees and into a small clearing with a large, dark cabin. William stood at the door, waiting for them. Shianne was nowhere to be seen.
The door creaked as William opened it. Beddigan slipped away from Ragnon’s side and approached. His hand moved to his crystals automatically in response to the dark interior of the building but William grunted and shook his head.
“No light. Not worth the risk.” Beddigan frowned at William,
“I thought you said there wasn’t any tracks around here?” William nodded,
“No tracks but the hill slopes down not far from here and there is a small village along the eastern coast. The trees are sparse and the light carries.” Beddigan nodded and stepped into the cabin, blinking until his eyes adjusted to the darker interior. There was no furniture at all, lest a battered looking couch against one wall, a low wood table, and a few piles of linen and straw for sleeping. Everything was dusty and grimy. A rusted basin sat near the front door, empty but for an inch of murky water. The walls were high and the peaked roof was fully intact, blocking out the moonlight; the rafters disappearing into the darkness above.
“You were right when you said it wasn’t pretty.” Beddigan said dryly, turning back to the Bear. Shianne appeared out of the trees behind him.
“I set up a perimeter with a few warning bells, though I doubt we’ll come across anyone up here in this… nowhere…” her voice trailed off as she peered past Beddigan into the dusty interior of the cabin.
Clottie and Ragnon hobbled over and Beddigan ushered them inside, helping Clottie get Ragnon to the filthy, sagging couch. Once the Wolf was settled, he grinned up at them,
“Never have I been so happy to lay on such a piece of junk.” Clottie giggled and Beddigan waved for her to follow him over to a pile of linens. They set about getting makeshift beds set up, and soon everyone was settled in for the night. It wasn’t clean or comfortable, and it smelled dank and musty, but it was out of the wind and dry. They really couldn’t ask for more than that.
“I’ll take first watch.” Shianne’s voice murmured, drifting through the cabin. No one answered, and Beddigan was sure that with the lingering exhaustion from their harrowing escape, everyone else was already fast asleep.
Tired as he was, sleep was slow in coming to him that night, and just as he was drifting off a roar so loud the walls creaked and rumbled, sent him shooting up into a crouch, stifling a groan as his sore muscles ached at the sudden movement.
“Everyone out now!” William roared, crashing over the low table and slamming through the door so hard it tore off its hinges and crumbled to the ground below the Bear’s bulk.
“What in the-Ouch!” Shianne’s voice tapered off into a scream and then a hiss of pain. Clottie shrieked and Beddigan caught a movement in the air, small and dark; silent and deadly, as it circled his sister. And then suddenly they were all around him; a veritable storm swarming around his head. Throwing his arms up to block his face he barreled towards his sister and Ragnon, who was alternating between cursing and crying out in pain. Something sharp dug into the back of Beddigan’s thigh and he stumbled, nearly knocking Clottie to the ground. He struggled to get a hold on his sister as another sharp pain bit into his side. He couldn’t make out what they were but he knew they needed to get out into the open or they were as good as dead. He tried to haul Ragnon up off of the sagging sofa, but without letting go of his sister he didn’t have the leverage.
“Take her and go!” Shianne yelped, appearing at his side and looping her arms around Ragnon’s waist to lift him up. Scooping Clottie up into his arms he barreled for the opening where the door had hung and burst out into the cold night air. Clottie was covered in dripping half-moon bites, eyes glazed over. Shianne stumbled out behind him with Ragnon slung over her shoulder. Clottie had gotten the worst of it from the looks of them. Upon a quick surveying glance, Beddigan noticed only a few bites on the rest of them.
“Don’t just stand there, RUN!” William’s voice hollered at them from the trees. Beddigan felt his legs move before he even made the decision to run, in response to the sound of screeching and fluttering behind them. He knew now from the bite marks what had assaulted them in the cabin: Blood Bats. He had only run across them a handful of times, as they preferred the warmer southern climates and he spent the majority of his time in central or northern Katheyra.
They crashed through the trees with William at the lead, and Beddigan nearly dropped Clottie when the ground shifted beneath them to a steady decline down the mountain side. Heedless of the possibility that the little town they were headed directly toward may have already heard of the price upon their heads, they raced through the woods, trying to put as much space between them and the cabin as possible.
As the path leveled out, William slowed, eventually coming to a stop in a stand of trees at the villages edge. Beddigan stopped, gasping for air, and was relieved to see his sister looked less glassy-eyed.
“Can you stand?” he asked her. She nodded numbly and he set her on her feet. William held out his arm for her as Beddigan gulped deep breaths of air despite the pain it caused in his still bruised chest. Shianne and Ragnon were both leaning against a tree, Ragnon inspecting his wounds and Shianne huffing and puffing to catch her breath.
“What were those things?” Clottie asked in a small, shaking voice. William growled softly,
“Blood Bats. I should have known that was why there were no tracks around the cabin.” Beddigan nodded and added,
“And why there were no sounds of other creatures in the forest.” Shianne grunted in response,
“I noticed that too but I haven’t spent much time in Sinnerah. I didn’t know what was missing.” Beddigan nodded in agreement with Shianne.
“Beddigan!” William cried out and he spun around to face the Bear just in time to see Clottie sway and crumple to the ground. He rushed to his sister’s side. She blinked up at him.
“Beddigan?” she asked, her voice quavering. Shianne appeared on the other side, crouching down to survey Clottie’s bites.
“She’s lost too much blood Beddigan. As much as I hate to say it, we need to go to the village and see if we can find a healer.” William stepped in and gingerly lifted Clottie into his arms.
“I will go. The lot of us will arouse much suspicion.” Beddigan frowned,
“No, I’m coming too. I don’t want to leave her like this.” William frowned at him, but upon seeing the determination in his eyes, nodded slowly. Beddigan continued, “I can see about finding us passage to Katheyra after we find a healer for Clottie. Then you can bring some food back here for Ragnon and Shianne, and we will meet you back here when she is feeling better. Sound good to everyone?”
Shianne nodded absently, busy inspecting the bites she had received. Ragnon’s look of concern shifted from Shianne to Clottie to Beddigan, and back to Shianne. He hobbled over to Beddigan,
“Is it… do you think it’s safe for me to stay with her?” he asked in a hushed tone. Beddigan shifted his gaze to Shianne who was paying no attention to any of them.
“Yes, you can trust her.” He said encouragingly, patting the Wolf gently on the back. Ragnon gave him an uncertain look but nodded.
“Go get that pretty sister of yours some help then.” He said with a twinkle in his eye. Beddigan nodded and followed William out of the trees as they headed towards the soft, amber lights of the seaside village.
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