MoboReader > Horror > The Woodlands

   Chapter 5

The Woodlands By EJBowman Characters: 19362

Updated: 2017-12-22 12:02

Dacen slowly opened his eyes and was quite surprised when an arrow, directed at his head, came into focus. The sky suggested that it was early morning, which was odd given the fact that he had no recollection of ever dismounting the golem horse.

“Oh,” was all he muttered when he realised it was a mighty centaur standing above him—and she did not look happy.

He glanced quickly to the side. His little nymph friend was still fast asleep, so he gave him a quick nudge.

“Eh?” Neem groaned before he saw the centaur. “Um… hello?”

“The water spirits warned me there was a foreigner in the Woodlands,” the centaur growled in a low voice.

“Yes,” Neem agreed while cautiously standing up. The centaur did not point her arrow in his direction even though he was moving. She was much more focused on the horned man. “I am guiding him to the edge of the forest.”

“I assure you that I mean you no harm,” Dacen explained while trying to stand up.

The centaur drew her arrow back, causing him to sit down again rather than risk being shot.

“Liar!” she hissed. “I should do the Goddess’ work by killing you now!”

“Hey!” Neem squeaked as he boldly grabbed her bow and forced her to lower it. “I am a nymph: a being especially designed to do the Goddess’ work. She has given me no foreboding omens about this foreigner and it is not our place to dispose of him without her permission.”

“Look at his human face,” the centaur thundered. “He must be evil!”

“He hasn’t harmed me or any other creature in the Woodlands. He is no threat to us.”

The centaur was not convinced.

“If the Goddess wanted him dead, he would’ve died long ago. If she disapproved of me being his escort, she would’ve given me a sign. It is not your place to kill him.”

Finally, the centaur willingly lowered her bow. Her dark eyes met with Neem’s.

“The blood of the Woodlands is on your hands should you be wrong,” she snarled before galloping off.

“Well, that’s one way to start the morning,” Dacen said with a chuckle as he stood up.

His hands flailed around a bit as he tried to steady himself—he was still exhausted after the golem horse ride. Neem watched him with an uncertain look. After looking through the book last night he was no longer so sure that the centaur was in the wrong. Dacen still had the potential to become a threat if he practiced the dark magic in that vile book.

“I think we should walk today rather than ride the magic creature,” Neem muttered.

Dacen cocked an eyebrow.

“Why? The golem horse will shorten this whole ordeal, which is what the centaur and all the creatures in this forest want.”

“Because you were exhausted last night,” Neem explained. “You were acting strange and I don’t like it when you’re not yourself.”

“Not myself?”

“Your voice changed, and blood rushed to your eyes.”

The horned man sneered.

“I don’t remember a single moment of last night.”

“I know. And do you really want to forget tonight as well?”

“If it speeds up the journey, then I’m willing to sacrifice a bit of my memory.”

The nymph still was not pleased. He did not want Dacen to be so willing to give up something in order to perform his magic. First his memory, then his spirit, until he eventually becomes the hollow shell of a man who is willing to use his power without question.

“I have a compromise. What if we walked for the first half of the day and then rode for the second half?” the foreigner proposed. “That way I’ll be less tired by tonight.”

“All right. That sounds fair.”

“Well, unless you want to walk all day to make my stay in the Woodlands longer.”

“No! We ride at noon.”

The horned man laughed while picking up his pack.

“I thought not,” he murmured under his breath.

“All right, we’ll ride your blasted golem horse. Just don’t wear yourself out this time,” Neem replied as he skipped along behind the horned man.

“I won’t,” he assured the nymph as he threw the little wooden piece down.

They rode for the first few minutes in silence. The illustrations in the book still remained present in Neem’s mind. He found it hard to think about anything else.

“I must be honest with you, Dacen,” he began formally.

The horned man looked back and saw his companion’s sorrowful expression. He raised both eyebrows in confusion.

“When you passed out last night I looked at all the pictures in your book again.”

“Oh,” Dacen replied in a way that suggested he knew where this conversation was going.

“I don’t think becoming the warlock’s apprentice is a good idea. He seems evil.”

“I understand your concern, but I must meet him for myself before I make judgement about if he is good or evil.”

“Have you not seen those pictures? They are cruel and terrifying!”

“You’d probably have better context for them if you could read, though,” Dacen said defensively.

“So what is with that picture of the blue fellow burning and with a cut wrist?”

The horned man had to think for a moment.

“Perhaps that’s the one about stealing vampire blood.”

“Stealing their blood?”

“Because of all the magical beings they feast on they also have magical properties.”

“That’s horrific!”

“Really, I wish you would meet a vampire before you feel sorry for them.”

Even though Dacen would have preferred if his ‘wish’ never came true, it was about to

Neem’s sensitive ears detected something in the forested charging in their direction—a large beast, a creature large enough to send shockwaves through the trees and make them scream.

“Something is coming this way,” Neem said more to himself than to Dacen.

“Like a centaur?”

“No, something much bigger.”

“Blast!” Dacen hissed before kicking the golem horse to increase its speed.

Neem closed his eyes and let the voices of the trees enter his mind. He became a part of every tree in the surrounding area and could sense all that they could. He heard the snarling and heavy breathing of the beast as it stormed through the forest.

“It’s a wolf,” he said in a dreamy manner due to the fact his spirit had not fully returned to his body.

“I know,” Dacen growled while throwing the hood over his head to hide his horns. “Hold onto me. It’s about to get dangerous.”

The nymph complied and wrapped his arms tightly around his companion. The golem horse then broke into a thundering gallop. The trees and the river went by Neem’s eyes at such a pace that they just became a blur

“Dacen!” Neem squeaked. “A vampire is riding the beast!”

The horned man did not reply. He quickly glanced back to see for himself. When he saw the being drawing back its bow, he quickly veered towards the Nacta River. Neem was a little confused by this given that the river was too deep, even for their mount, but Dacen stuck his hand out and the water parted to reveal the muddy terrain below. The nymph was in utter shock as they crossed the land between the parted river. It was only when they reached the bank that the water resumed its natural flow—and the blood wolf and its rider were still stuck on the other side.

“Brilliant!” Neem squeaked.

The blood wolf and golem horse were now riding parallel to each other on their designated sides of the river. The mysterious rider did not seem remotely shocked that Dacen was able to part the water. Instead, the rider was redrawing its arrow and pointing it across the river.

Suddenly the nymph let out a shrill scream when he felt an unfathomable pain in his side. Looking down, the arrow had pierced him just above the pelvis and silver blood was seeping from the wound.

Dacen looked back and saw the damage done to his little companion. The nymph was expecting him to wear a sympathetic expression upon seeing his injury. Instead, blackness swirled into his corneas, and his face went dark.

“That’s it,” he growled in a voice foreign to his body.

Neem was in so much pain that he barely noticed the horned man conjuring up a ball of flame and then throwing it across the river.

The blood wolf let out a yelp as flames consumed its body. The rider quickly leapt off as the beast hurdled itself into the Nacta River. At the same time, Dacen dissipated the golem horse and gently helped Neem to the ground.

The vampire walked to the edge of the river bank and removed his hood, revealing his blue face and long braided black hair.

“I see I’ve hunted down the wrong being,” he called from across the river. He sounded enthused, but the malicious element was present. “Clearly you’re not the type of being who would be taken down so easily. And who might you be?”

Dacen gave him no reply. Instead he looked down at his little nymph friend as he writhed in agony.

“And who are you to harm a forest spirit?” he called back while gesturing to Neem.

“Just a simple hunter,” he said with a sly smile.

It was at this point that the blood wolf returned from the river and shook the water out of its fur. It now bared a hairless red spot below its neck, where the fireball made contact. The hunter stroked the creature behind the ear in order to calm it.

“I had no intent of harming your… companion.”

“Yes, I’m aware that you were aiming for me.”

The vampire let out a laugh—much like Dacen’s awkward laugh, but more smug.

“I am Kroven. Tell me, you’re not from these lands. Where do you originate from?”

“That doesn’t concern you. I’m merely passing through and this nymph is my guide.”

“Ah,” the vampire said with a nod. He then climbed onto his mount. “Well, it was a true pleasure meeting you. Perhaps in the future it shall be under different circumstances.”

“I hope to never see you again,” Dacen said quite honest

ly. “And if I do… I’ll kill you like the blood-sucking scum you are.”

The vampire let out a laugh.

“Then perhaps I’ll avoid you,” he said in a sinister, dishonest tone.

A brief silence followed before the vampire rode off. As soon as he was out of sight, Dacen knelt down to tend to Neem.

“The f-flowers,” the nymph said in a shaky tone as he held the side that the arrow had pierced.

“It doesn’t look like it went too deep,” the horned man replied as he rummaged through his bag in search of the flowers and a bandage.

He eventually passed the flowers to Neem.

“Don’t use them just yet,” Dacen warned him. “First we have to remove the arrow.”

“Oh, that’s not going to be fun.”

“Not one bit,” Dacen agreed.

Neem let out a shrill scream and balled his fists as Dacen took hold of the arrow—he had not even tried to dislodge it yet.

“Now…,” Neem panted. “Now I see why you don’t like vampires.”

Dacen laughed, but his chuckle was cut off when he heard Neem whimper again.

“Sorry,” he whispered. “This is going to hurt.”

It took a few minutes, but Dacen eventually removed the arrow. Unfortunately the removal of the arrow caused the silver blood to start gushing from the nymph’s body. Neem allowed Dacen to firmly press the flowers onto the wound before placing his own hand over the foreigner’s. He then began to hum a soothing psalm to heighten the flowers’ healing abilities.

“Okay,” he said after taking his time to steady his breathing. “I’m okay now.”

“Well, not okay,” Dacen debated as he unravelled a stained bandage.

“It is clean, right?” he asked in a revolted manner while gesturing to the bandage.

“I washed it, don’t worry. Now remove the flowers an–”

“No. The flowers remain. They dull the pain.”

“All right. I just need you to sit up so I can wrap this around you.”

That was not an easy task. Pain shot like lightning through Neem as he tried to sit up properly. Seeing this, a sad expression spread across Dacen’s face to replace the angry one he had worn previously. He had not been angry at Neem, that was for sure, but rather at Kroven for harming the nymph.

“That’s good,” Dacen mumbled in a distracted manner as he wrapped the bandage around Neem’s lower stomach. “You’re doing great,” he said quickly when he saw the nymph flinch.

“Will he be back?” Neem asked in an anxious manner before gasping as Dacen tightened the bandage. “The vampire, that is.”

“Not to the Woodlands,” Dacen replied while still adjusting the bandage. “He’s going to go gather reinforcements and then hunt me down. Luckily, by that point, I will most definitely be out of the Woodlands, so you are unlikely to be in any more danger.”

“I’m thankful for that,” Neem said in not an entirely sincere manner since Dacen was still going to be in danger. “But what will you do when he comes for you with more hunters?”

“I’ll kill him and all of his little friends,” Dacen said in a disturbingly enthusiastic manner. He then looked down in thought for a moment before he made eye contact with Neem. “However, just to be safe, you should return to your part of the forest. I couldn’t bear it if you got hurt again because of me.”

“I didn’t get hurt because of you!” Neem objected. “The blasted vampire did this to me.”

“He did that to you because of me, though.”

“No matter, I want to finish what I started and get you to the edge of the forest. You don’t even think he’ll be back to the Woodlands so I have nothing to fear.”

Dacen smiled.

“I did say that you liked a little thrill on your adventure.”

Neem scowled, but in a playful way.

“Maybe a little bit of danger is okay.” He then groaned as he tried to stand up, clutching his injured side. “But a little bit of pain isn’t as much fun.”

“I think, given the circumstances, we should continue our adventure on horseback so that you can save your energy.”

Neem nodded. He knew he would not be able to make it far if they walked even if he did not admit it to Dacen.

* * *

Kroven rode like lightning out of the Woodlands. Blood wolves were one of the fastest mounts. They could certainly outrun any horse a man rode.

He and a few other hunters had set up a rendezvous just beyond the border in an abandoned shack. Hopefully the other three had returned from their scouting so he could tell them of the being he had discovered.

The cries of a little being echoed through the valley, suggesting at least one of the hunters had returned. The blood wolf resting on the shack porch also implied this conclusion. As Kroven neared the shack, he saw a female vampire feasting on a pixie through the open door. The little creature battered its fists into her chest in an attempt to make her stop but to no avail.

“Strakha,” Kroven said calmly as he dismounted his blood wolf.

“I see you were unsuccessful,” the vampiress stated while dabbing her mouth with a handkerchief. Her meal had stopped screaming and now lay limp in her lap.

“Not quite,” Kroven retorted as he sat on the old chair across from her. “Where are the others?”

“Have not yet returned,” she replied in a simple manner before holding up the pixie carcass. “Thirsty?”

Kroven shook his head and waved away the question.

“I had a fairy a day ago,” he explained. “But we must wait for the other’s to return, and then we shall get on our way.”

Strakha cocked a well-groomed eyebrow.

“Why?” she queried.

“I believe I found what the blood wolves sensed. It’s a being with the shape of a man, but he’s not a human. No, far too powerful to be one of those pitiful things.”

“Then what is he?”

“Perhaps some sort of wizard… or maybe a warlock. His demonstration of power which I saw suggested he weilds dark magic and is quite powerful.”

The vampiress gave a smile of interest.

“Was his demonstration of power the reason you were unable to capture him?”

“Yes. He burned Volkaby and created a dry path for himself to cross the river. I let him go because he is going to cross the border soon and we’ll be able to catch him then. It will take more than one of us to bring him back alive.”

“Is he going to be your gift to the King and his Queen?” she asked as she pulled her knife out of its sheath to inspect it.

“Our gift to the highnesses, I assure you.”

The vampiress picked up the pixie corpse and waltzed towards the archway. Her mount leapt up to catch the carcass as she threw it. Kroven’s own blood wolf started to snarl and tried to snatch the pixie’s body. Strakha returned to her seat before she could see how the blood wolf tiff was resolved. She assumed the little corpse would be torn to shreds within a couple of minutes.

“If he’s some sort of warlock then it’s to be expected that he is heading to the Ivy Mountains and if that is the case… our window of opportunity is very small.”

“I’m aware of that,” Kroven replied in a disheartened manner. “Which is why the others need to return as soon as possible. We have a better chance of apprehending him if we work as a group.”

Strakha walked back to the doorway. The blood wolves were gnawing on their respective pieces of the pixie carcass.

“Sila!” the vampiress barked in a commanding tone. Her blood wolf raised its head. “Find Voinil and Shokhota then bring them back here.”

The beast stood up, reluctantly dropping its meal, and dashed off into the night.

“We should see them by dawn,” Strakha told Kroven.

“Excellent. Until then, though…” the vampire began with a cunning smile. He allowed his words to drift off as he knew Strakha had already caught on to where he was going.

She glanced back at him with an equally sly smile and began to untie her vest. Kroven licked his lips when she removed her red blouse and turned to face him. Gradually, she drifted back in his direction.

“Is this what you desire?” she asked in a teasing manner while gesturing to her chest.

“Very much so,” he replied greedily as he stood up and strode towards her.

She pushed him back firmly. The cot groaned as the vampire fell back onto it. His lover joined him and interlocked her fingers with his.

“This warlock better be all-powerful or we’ll be wasting too much effort trying to capture him,” the vampiress warned him.

Kroven was too distracted to answer. He was enjoying nibbling on her neck until she pushed herself upwards with her arms. He tried to follow her, but his neck strained and his head landed back on the thin mattress.

“I truly believe he is,” he finally said. “You can have my head if he’s a farce.”

She lowered herself again, allowing their noses to touch. Kroven tried to nip at her, but she quickly shot back up. He let out a frustrated sigh.

“What do you think will be our reward for bringing the highnesses a warlock?” she asked. The vampiress did not actually care for an answer; she simply enjoyed teasing her lover.

“Oh, I don’t know!” he growled.

Strakha laughed at his agitation before he took hold of her shoulders and rolled them so that he was now on top. She hissed in a playful manner as he began to bite at her neck again.

“I want a promotion,” she murmured to demonstrate that she was not invested in their intimacy.

“Don’t we all,” Kroven replied in a breathless manner due to his excitement.

“You act as if it’s been years since you’ve gotten the opportunity to touch a vampiress.”

“It feels like it has been years.”

She stroked her fingers through his hair in the same manner she would a blood wolf.

“You poor, poor deprived little creature.”

Kroven let out a laugh before trailing down to her chest. Strakha could be so cruel, but that was part of why he loved her.

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