Chapter 15: Into the Woods
When Diana caught up were her friends, halfway into Amor-Perfe’s woods, she was surprised to see nothing had gone wrong, and at the same time, cautious that something would. The moment her eyes caught Danson’s vigilant form in the distance, she made an effort to get his attention as quietly as possible, and had him lead her back to where the others were in wait. She told them about the light in the north, and the woman from the Eagle Scope School who was apparently after someone in their fold, and as she saw Parlia hang her head, she wondered why she thought it could be anyone else. Parlia was the one who was being pursued after all, and anyone who dared come after herself, Danson, or Keigo would have known to come with a better plan. Instead of trying to distract them, or even get them to run in the woods, where all the sounds of the night would give them cover, they’d choose a moment where their chances were high, and in that moment, they’d strike the necessary blow. The planning alone made it obvious that there target wasn’t herself, or the two she had known for a while, and Parlia being pursued made it obvious that they were going after her, and that made Diana wonder why those thoughts hadn’t come to her before. It made her wonder why it was so hard to figure out whom their target could be, till she looked over to Kiara, and realized that she was the enigma of the group.
“But I’m being paranoid.” She responded aloud to the thought and Keigo shook his head, oblivious to what she meant as he considered what Vanessa’s plan could be.
“I wouldn’t call you paranoid at all.” He said. “They definitely wanted us to come here, and I’m guessing they waited for us to come deep into the woods before they sent off that flare, it makes me wonder though: why haven’t they attacked?” He asked the group who traded confused looks before their eyes all fell onto Parlia.
“I’m not sure.” She said, and as she looked back to them, it was clear that she was holding something back. “The… they didn’t waste time with the last group that escorted me…” She revealed her hand, and Keigo let out a sigh of disappointment as they realized the gravity of the situation.
“This is bad.” Danson said. “Even with Keigo and Diana here, we still have to worry about that woman from the Eagle Scope School, and we don’t know what type of magic her allies use, nor do we know how many of them there are.” He put all their problems out for all to see, as his mind stirred them up to form a plan. “It’s bad. It’s definitely what they want considering they haven’t attack us yet, but we have to continue through the night.” He offered a solution, and both of his seasoned allies let out sighs while Kiara looked on, wondering what she could do.
“There’s no way we can fight them?” She asked, and Danson turned to Keigo.
“I got absolutely nothing. The only malicious intent I can feel is coming from the nasty monsters that are watching us.” He said, and the bushes began to rustle as Keigo drew attention toward them.
Kiara shrunk against a large tree as she saw glowing yellow eyes pierce the curtain of the night, and watched with horror as seven canine-like beasts, emerged from the brush. At first she wanted to say that they were wolves or coyotes, but their bodies were far too elongated, and their purple fur and four eyes, told her that couldn’t be. They were probably the most terrifying thing she had ever seen, more so than the speckled beast because of their numbers alone. Their massive paws and open mauls would have made their fierceness vast enough, and the bark like sounds they made in communication would have easily done the same, but the truly frightfulness of it all, came from the look on her companions’ faces. Danson, Diana, and Keigo, whom she imagined to have taken on greater challenges before, all stood with nervous looks, even though they were ready to go to blows.
“Well guys, I just realized I left my bossut on the other edge of town.” Diana tried to apply levity to the situation, but of the things that weren’t changing, the atmosphere could be included.
“Well that’s no good.” Danson laughed. “I’m sure it could have really helped us out here.” He tried to add levity as well, and made Kiara think back to what she learned about the creature; how its strange form was determined by the food it ate, and how Diana had made the mistake of giving it a little of everything. “Keigo?” Danson looked back to his friend who rummaged through the contents of his rucksack.
“Even in my cheetah form I don’t think I can take all of them out, fast enough.” Keigo replied, and now Kiara couldn’t remain silent anymore, as even the arrogant Keigo seemed to admit defeat.
“Why not?” She asked.
“Look closely at their tails.” Danson replied, and her scarlet eyes locked on to the tails that swung rhythmically through the air, exuding small clouds of gray smoke. “They may look dangerous, but all they really have going for them is their immense speed. Because they’re rather lankly figure they don’t have much going in the way of fortitude, so to keep their prey from fighting them off, they release a gas built up in their fur that numbs the body.” He explained the smoke, and made her realized that this was a matter that only she could resolve.
Taking her pendant in hand, Kiara swept up a gale and quickly sent it forth, making the creature cringe as they felt it push them back. As their toxin was blown away and the others prepared to attack, all seven of them set their four eyes onto Kiara, and quickly sprung toward her with revenge overwhelming their desire to eat. When Danson told her that they only had their immense speed to depend on, Kiara never had an idea of what exactly he meant, but now she understood as they shot pass her friends, and prepared to tear her apart. She only had a second to think of what to do, and that second didn’t go to thinking, as she realized there was only one way she could survived, and began to call out her flames. She was ready to give the beast the rage of her fire, but stopped as she felt the tree behind her rumble, and watched with wide eyes as a branch shot forward and entangled the closest beast. She heard a pained yelp as the branch tightened around it and crushed its bones, then watched the other beast pull back as that one’s body was thrown to the ground.
“You monster better run off.” She heard an elderly voice roam down from the tree, and joined the others, who looked up to the elderly woman in a dark pink robe, “Wouldn’t want me to do to you what I did to your friend would you?” The woman teased them, and the creature seemed to glower as they disappeared back into the curtain of the night.
The branch that crushed the beast grew upward into the tree, and wrapped itself around the woman before it brought her to the ground. Taking a moment to see if Kiara was safe, she joined the group of five at the base of the tree, and gave them an apologetic nod.
“I’m so sorry.” She said. “I’m sure I could have assisted you sooner, but I was asleep you see.” She said, and Kiara looked up to the tree again at the dark brown house of wood, that rested between its branches.
“A wood witch? In the calm lands and not the wetlands, forgive me if I think that’s a little odd.” Diana addressed the woman with suspicion and received a weak chuckle in response.
“Yes, the wetlands tend to be where we witches roam, but we can’t go denying that the calm lands have plenty of woodlands too, right?” She said, but still Diana regarded her with suspicion, sure that this could be a part of Vanessa’s plan.
“We owe you thanks.” Danson said.
“I don’t think so. I can tell by the look in your faces that you all were wary before those colfurrs attacked, helping people out is the least I can do. How about you stay in my tree house for the night?” The witch replied and Keigo shook his head.
“We don’t even know your name-“
“Onia,” The witch cut Keigo off and made him give her a sharp look.
“Well Onia, even if we know your name, there’s no reason we will go about trusting you.” His response was sharp as well, and Onia’s was another weak chuckle.
“I think we can.” Danson said, and now Diana and Keigo looked toward him with suspicion. “It’d be going too far when you think about it. Why would they lure us out into the woods, let the colfurrs attack us, have their ally save us, and make us fall asleep. If they really wanted to knock us out, they could have let the colfurrs do that.” He explained his reasoning, and begrudgingly the others accepted it.
“I don’t think I saw her before either.” Parlia added to his reasoning and once more Diana and Keigo begrudgingly accepted, as the woman called branches down from the tree and had all five of them pulled up.
“There’s fruit in there as well, so you all should be able to sleep tight. As for me, this was my final night in the calm lands, so I’ll be moving on.” Onia called up to them, and though Keigo and Diana still found this suspiciously convenient, they trusted the decision of their appointed leader, and decided that that moment would be fine for a nap.
As they enjoyed some of the fruit Onia left behind and quickly prepared to rest, the old witch who gave them the home shuffled through the night, toward the exit of the woods. She could see the vibrant moon reflecting in the lake of the next town, but found her travels halted as the colfurrs converged again. She had expected this moment to come when they slinked away with their solemn looks, and now she was prepare to face them, as something about her began to change. What was once long and gray unkempt hair, turned a vivacious and stylish pink, as what was once a woman hunched and wrinkled by age became one that stood without issue, with smooth and soft caramel skin. She ran her hand down her left arm as she reveled in her return to her true form, and green eyes turned toward the creatures that barely let the marvel hold them back.
“What reason do you have to be mad?” She asked them in a voice that told no tale of age, a sultry voice with a hint of spite clear enough for the beasts to detect. “You’re monsters, and even though you have moderate intelligence, you know that there is no justifying going after someone else kill. His life is mine to take, and if you weren’t too stupid to run away, none of you would have had to die.” She talked to the beast with a hint of anger, shining with the bravado that Kiara had expected Keigo to give. “But I understand, because of his friends I couldn’t take his life, and because of me, you all didn’t have anything to eat, so we all want to vent right? To take our aggression out on someone else, and luckily for you all, I’m right here, and luckily for me, you’re all here too.” She chuckled and the beast began to circle her as they called her bluff.
“Yes, that’s exactly what all of us want.” She continued as they closed in. “But I’m the only one here who will get it!” She hissed as the ground became disheveled, and roots shot up like spikes, skewering all the beasts. “Next time I’ll get a chance to fight you, when your friends aren’t there to help. Next time, I’ll show you how different things are, Danson…” She chuckled as she continued toward the next town and the roots retracted, leaving the colfurrs’ corpses to decay…
[Chapter 15 ends…]