Beddigan gently nudged William and Ragnon awake, before standing up on the ship’s rocking deck to stretch his legs. On the horizon he could see the coastline of the west; to the north, the towering canopy of evergreens that was the southern barrier of the Losley Deadwoods, and to the south the rocky shores of Reene. Silhouetted against the bow railing of the ship was Shianne, standing as she had been for the latter portion of the trip, waiting for her home country to appear in the distance
The trip had gone quickly and it had been surprisingly smooth ride, leaving Beddigan feeling much better than he normally did after any amount of sea travel. He moved across the deck to Shianne’s side, folding his arms on the railing and taking a moment to relish the salty spray of the sea air on his whiskers. Turning to face her, he commented,
“We’re almost there.” He watched her nod her head slowly in response, her eyes never leaving the expanse of rocky coast that she hadn’t seen in a great many turnings. Clearing his throat, Beddigan continued. “I uh, I don’t know anything about the village, other than it is the northernmost village along the coast. Few live there, according to Marlog, and it has a very small patrol station. Being so close to the woods… well, you know how the Wolves feel about the woods.” Shianne turned to face him and he fidgeted under her unnerving gaze.
“Are you worried for me, Beddigan?” she asked him, a ghost of a smile tugging at the corners of her mouth. He rubbed the nape of his neck awkwardly.
“It can’t be easy… to be going back there, for any length of time. And I… don’t really know what to expect.” Shianne’s eyes sparkled with feral delight as she laughed, a hollow sound against the winds of the sea.
“Of me or of Reene?” she asked him and he honestly didn’t know how to answer. After a short period of silence, he met her eyes.
“Both.” Her laughter faded and her eyes took on a haunting look.
“Of Reene expect… the very worst of the Wolves. Expect devastation. Expect hardship… subjugation. Expect horror.” Beddigan watched in awe as she blinked back tears, an unheard of action for her. She chuckled then, a soggy sound, and gave him a watery smile. “Ahh, but alas that may just be memories. I imagine after as many turnings under the paw of Mormant, it is far less dramatic. There hasn’t been so much as a single village uprising in recent history. So rather, expect complacency on the part of the Wolves.” Scowling she bitterly added, “And resignation from the Foxes.” Beddigan felt his heart and stomach warring at which could ache worse as he digested her words, as the ship veered slightly north towards what he could now see was a small harbour very near the woods.
Reaching out he grasped Shianne’s paw where is rested on the railing and she shot him a look of surprise.
“And of you?” he asked softly. A moment of aching silence stretched between them as he saw her eyes run the gambit of emotions from fear to rage, settling on that queer, unbalanced look that she was known for.
“Expect death at every turn!” she giggled, winking at him, and tugging her paw away, setting off towards to back of the ship. He watched her go with an ache in his chest and a stab of fear in his belly. His dear friend Shianne had boarded the vessel, but Death’s Whisper would disembark it.
It didn’t take long to dock the ship on the single pier that jutted out from the small, rocky harbour. The village was dark under a wide open canopy of stars, with light coming only from the guard post that sat in the centre of the small cluster of buildings. Beddigan and his companions slipped off of the boat and into the village under cover of darkness, as quickly as they could, to allow Marlog to leave before being engaged by any guards. Luckily the ship was so fast that the guards didn’t even have time to leave the guard post before it had set back out onto the water.
They knew a tight turn around like that would raise all sorts of red flags and they were counting on Captain Marlog’s intel that there were only a handful of guards on site. They had barely made it behind a building before two Wolf military guards stomped past in the direction of the docks.
Moving quickly, Beddigan and his companions fled from shadow to shadow in the direction of the Losley Deadwoods. They had almost reached the edge of the village, ready to race across the long, rocky stretch that acted as a buffer between the town and the woods where they heard the clanging of alarm bells. Lights suddenly flooded the village from every window and doorway, and sweeping long-range lights powered by crystals lit up the streets from the guard post.
“Well, there goes our cover.” Ragnon groaned as they huddled their backs flat against the building’s wall to avoid the sweeping spotlight. Commotion rose in the village around them as foxes exited their homes, hands in the air, and then settling into a kneeling position by their doorways, awaiting the guards to sweep their homes.
Beddigan counted the sets of heavy-booted footfalls. From what he could tell there was about half a dozen military, a few more than they had expected. If it came to a fight, they still had a chance, though they were outnumbered. But I hope it doesn’t come to that, Beddigan thought, eyes fixed on the woods beyond that rocky clearing. Shifting his gaze to William he asked,
“How long between sweeps of the light? Reckon we could make it most of the way if we run?” The Bear took a moment to think before answering.
“We will not make it the whole way, but most of it. I think it will give us enough time once they spot us to make the woods edge. And with any luck the Wolves here fear the woods as much as those in Mormant.” Beddigan nodded, then turned his gaze to Ragnon and Shianne.
“Two passes of the light and then we make a break for it. I can hear the guards moving closer in their search.” Ragnon nodded, his eyes set with firm determination. For a moment, Shianne wouldn’t meet his eyes. He reached out to touch her arm, but she pulled back, just out of reach. Finally raising her eyes, she smiled and fished a crystal from a small pocket on the inside of her vest. He hadn’t seen anything like it before, small and perfectly round, iridescent and shimmering. She held it in her paw a moment and took a deep breath before grinning as she crushed it in her hand, a small explosion of fine dust puffing up from her palm when she opened it.
The change was so sudden that all three of them gasped as Shianne’s dark hair suddenly became bright, coppery fox fur. Brushing her paws clean of the dust she winked at them.
“No need for that anymore.” She slipped her daggers from their place in her belted sheaths and flashed the group a dazzling grin, amber eyes twinkling. “You needn’t worry of the light, just go. None will follow.” She leaned over and kissed Beddigan’s cheek and whispered, “Not even I.” And before he could stop her, or question her further, she slipped around the edge of the building and was gone. Beddigan stared at the spot she had stood, mouth slightly agape. I can’t leave her here, he thought, but William pulled his attention back.
“Beddigan, we must go.” Gut twisting, he made the decision as he heard the first guttural screaming cry of an attacked Wolf, and nodded to William; setting off at a dead run across the rocky patch of ground towards the trees.
They made the tree line with no sign of pursuit and stopped running just a short ways into the trees. None had followed, exactly as Shianne had promised, and in the distance they could still hear the commotion and cries of a fight in the village. Taking only a moment to catch their breath, they continued, staying close to the shore line. The danger of Wolves following them had passed but they couldn’t forget that they were in a most dangerous place, despite their connection to the sorceress who ruled the Losley Deadwoods. Beddigan was all too aware of what lurked in the woods; what hunted in the woods.
Angling west, further inland, Beddigan was starting to think that they would never find a path leading towards the Lost Lake, when a sudden crash just ahead of them sent them all flying to the ground with their arms over the backs of their heads in cover. When Beddigan looked up he felt a stab of fear in his gut as Silkelline slowly materialized into the icy creature he had seen before. A hulking beast whose legs alone spanned past Beddigan’s height, with a jagged skeletal structure and enormous skull for a head. It looked exactly like the one he had seen before; the one he had ridden to the woods edge after meeting the sorceress and accepting her help. His heartbeat raced as he climbed to his feet. Annalose and Ardra, please let this be the same beast, Beddigan thought. Looking around, he found that Ragnon was cowering behind him, and William was crouched in a defensive stance to his left.
“Uh, Silkelline… we seek the sorceress.” Beddigan said, clearing his throat. “We seek your master.” The beast cocked his head and stalked around them, circling slowly. Beddigan realized then that the crashing that they had heard before was made for their benefit, as the beast made not so much as a sound when it moved through the brush.
“I think I’d rather take my chances with the Wolves.” Ragnon said weakly, as Silkelline’s icy snout drifted closer to him. A girlish chuckle had Beddigan whirling around, searching for the source, and when his eyes drifted to a smoky shape next to the beast, Beddigan felt relief wash over him as he recognized his sister.
“Clottie!” Beddigan said, taking a hesitant step towards her. His feet stopped propelling him forward when she drifted towards him, an opaque shadow. “Clottie?” he said again, this time in askance. The figure changed then, drifting and blurring until Beddigan recognized the creature as a Wysp. The fire in the creatures centre burned brightly against its smoky core, icy wings dancing brilliantly in the night.
“I am Wysp.” A voice boomed in their minds, somehow loud and breathy and soft all at once. “Mouse is known to us. We like Mouse.” The figure drifted around Beddigan, chilling his fur whenever it got close. The Wysp drifted past him to William who tried to back up away from the creature, only to find Silkelline was behind him, forcing him to be still. The Wysp circled the Bear slowly, stopping to hover in front of his face. Beddigan spoke hastily,
“You have not met my friend, William, but I assure you he means you and your home no hard.” The Wysp turned around and stared at him sharply enough that Beddigan felt his stomach churn. Then the creature turned back to William.
“We not know your kind. You are new.” The Wysp said simply before drifting back over to Beddigan. “You are Mouse. We like Mouse. But you are Wrong. This Wysp does not know this Mouse. But this Wysp knows of this Mouse.” Beddigan nodded as if he understood, but couldn’t help being confused. Is there one Wysp then or multiple Wysps? Is this the Wysp that Clottie and I met before? His questions rattled around in his mind as the Wysp drifted over to Ragnon who was all but hyperventilating, his back against a tree. Suddenly Beddigan was all too aware of how much the previous Wysp had stressed its dislike for Wolves. He leapt forward trying to put himself between the Wysp and Ragnon, but Silkelline lunged forward, wrapping a long arm tipped with icy claws around him, dragging him away with a rumbling growl. Beddigan swallow a gasp of pain as the cold racked through him, burning his lungs and frosting his fur.
“P-please.” He stuttered, his jaw working to eek more words out. “H-he is not a W-wolf like those you have m-met before. H-he poses no d-danger.” The Wysp circled the panting Ragnon slowly, its fiery centre flaring up as it scrutinized the Wolf. Finally, it drifted back and Ragnon let out a shaky breath. Beddigan was panting now too as his body tried desperately to burn through the bone-chilling cold that Silkelline had left behind. Moving to Beddigan’s side, the Wysp’s core heat rose until Beddigan was engulfed in the warmth of summer sunshine, and he groaned with relief as the frost melted from his fur. The Wysp hovered in front of him as its warm core shrunk back down to its regular flicker.
“All Wolves dangerous.” It whispered, before vanishing from their eyes. Silkelline took a couple of crashing steps forwards, away from where they stood, before turning its enormous skull back to face them, then taking a couple more loud steps.
“It wants us to follow it.” William said softly. Beddigan nodded, shaking his fur free of the little droplets of condensation that had formed from the fast freeze and thaw.
“And we best do as it wants.” Ragnon added, stepping ahead of them to follow the beast. Beddigan and William fell into step behind the Wolf as they trudged through the thick underbrush, deeper into the Losley Deadwoods, becoming increasingly aware that their fate lay at the end of this journey.
To be continued…
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