MoboReader> Horror > The Woodlands

   Chapter 7

The Woodlands By EJBowman Characters: 33223

Updated: 2017-12-22 12:02


“He can’t have just vanished!” Voinil hissed.

His mount hopelessly sniffed the ground while stalking in a circle.

“He’s a warlock!” Shokhota rebutted. “He can practically do whatever he wants.”

“If that’s the case, then why didn’t he just magically appear at the Ivy Mountains?”

Kroven glanced at Strakha. She indifferently watched the other members of the company argue. The trail to the magical being had gone cold a few days ago and none of them were sure why. Almost as soon as this warlock had left the Woodlands he had vanished.

“We can assume he’s heading for the Ivy Mountains.” Kroven announced. “We wait at the end of the valley for him where the Ivy Mountains lie. We may not be able to track him down as he travels, but we can certainly beat him there and prepare for his arrival.”

Voinil and Shokhota gave each other uncertain looks.

“That could be risky,” Voinil stated. “Hunting an untraceable being is quite difficult, and trying to cut him off when we’re not entirely positive that we know his destination is even harder.”

“But if we get this right,” Kroven began, “the payoff will be inestimable. Bringing the highnesses a warlock? What praise we shall receive.”

““We may not even need to be hunters any more. We could be among the elite who have their meals brought to them,” the vampiress pondered aloud, closing her eyes to put herself in such a wonderful fantasy.

“There may be praise, but what about reward?” Shokhota asked. “Could I gain more by feasting on the warlock myself?”

“You will do no such thing,” Strakha warned him while stroking her bow. “Honour and respect is more important than blood, more important than power. To have the respect of the highnesses would be reward enough. Surely your mother, being the noblewoman that she is, deserves sons of an equal title? ‘Hunter’ fails in comparison to ‘nobleman’, doesn’t it?”

The brothers exchanged a glance. It was unlikely that one warlock could turn them into nobles, but it would set them on the path to becoming noblemen if they were in good spirits with the highnesses.

“I suppose we have more to gain than to lose,” Voinil stated.

“Except possibly our lives,” his brother murmured.

“Well, perhaps you two can return to Primye Dinastoro empty-handed while Kroven and I continue this hunt.”

“No!” both brothers objected.

Strakha laughed. Voinil and Shokhota were so predictable, just like many other vampire men. Her face then changed from amused to stern again.

“Then stop whining like newborns and we’ll get on our way.”

Without another word, the vampiress rode off through the valley. She did not look back to see if her companions were following—she did not care. Her lover laughed and followed suit. The brothers, embarrassed, also trailed along behind rather than question the hunt.

* * *

Dacen’s heart started to beat rapidly as the four mountains came into view at the end of the valley. Three lush limestone mountains stood below the one alp that cast a long shadow over the valley. He was not completely sure where the warlock’s home was in the Ivy Mountains, but he would not stop searching until his knees shattered and his feet bled.

Yet no sign of the hunters, the horned man thought. I’m surprised they didn’t catch up to me at some point. Perhaps they gave up… No. They’d never do that.

Realising this, Dacen stopped with his leisurely pace and got his golem horse to gallop. He needed to be as quick as possible because he would slow down immensely when he had to climb the mountain on foot. The horse would not be able to make it up the steep mountain—but the blood wolves could.

A sudden thought struck him: Neem would have just made it back to his part of the Woodlands. It had been a week, after all.

Dacen sighed. The little nymph managed to keep sneaking back into his thoughts every few minutes, and he could not understand why. It was true that Neem was the only being who had been kind to Dacen since his horns started to grow, but they had spent so little time together. How could one little creature impact him so much in such a miniscule amount of time?

He was thrown back into the present when his golem horse whinnied—alerting him of danger. Looking ahead, two beasts and their riders appeared from the foliage covering the bottom of the closest mountain to the side. Looking back brought the same results. Dacen was surrounded.

I will not be taken down when I’m this close, Dacen promised himself as he kicked his horse in order to speed it up.

“Horns.” Strakha gasped. “He has horns.”

He’s a faun! Kroven realised, although he did not need to say anything. Everyone else had already caught onto the fact. He and his lover were behind the horned man while the brothers blocked his path to the mountains. Although they were too far away to properly see, Kroven sensed that Voinil and Shokhota were likewise instilled with fear upon realising that they were dealing with a faun. Strakha, on the other hand, only became more excited about upon this revelation.

“Imagine the reward for bringing the King and his Queen a faun,” she said in a low, sadistic voice.

The vampiress kicked her blood wolf into a dash in order to catch up to the horned man. Kroven followed behind her, drawing back his arrow. He had no intent of killing the man, but he needed to injure him.

Dacen quickly veered when he looked back and saw Kroven. The arrow missed him by a few hairs—the vampire was a good shot, but not good enough.

The horned man prepared a ball of fire in his hand as two of the hunters came at him from the front. Neither of them bared the confidence Kroven and the vampiress had. They had been thrown off by Dacen’s horns, and that gave him an advantage.

Voinil made a yelping sound as a ball of fire was thrown in his direction. He tried to move out of the way, but the ball of flame landed between his legs and started to consume his garments. In his distress, the vampire fell off his mount as he tried to pat down the flames that had started to sear his flesh. His mount, however, continued the hunt as it knew so well to do. The riderless beast turned around and ran alongside the golem horse. Dacen brought his horse to a staggering halt as the blood wolf tried get a hold on his leg with its teeth. The blood wolf continued to run until it realised that the golem horse had stopped. In the beast’s brief moment of recollection, Dacen flew past it on his mount and towards the Ivy Mountains.

I can’t outrun them, he tought while looking back and seeing three blood wolves, two with riders, catching up to him. It was at this moment that Shokhota came in from the side, ramming the golem horse with his blood wolf. Dacen fell as the horse turned back into dust and eventually dissipated entirely. Its little wooden piece fell somewhere in the long grass of the valley.

The horned man was not worried about the disappearance of his ride at the moment. He was staring into the eyes of a blood wolf as three more came for him. He was about to form another fireball in his hand when an agonising pain shot through his shoulder. Kroven had relinquished an arrow from his bow.

Dacen stumbled forward before gaining his balance. Clasping at his injured shoulder, he sturggeled to cope with the pain. Much to his surprise, the four blood wolves did not pounce on him. They simply circled their prey like vultures. Ferocious teeth no matter where he turned.

“It’s best to surrender,” Kroven stated smugly, drawing back another arrow to reinforce his point.

It took a few moments for Dacen to catch his breath. The pain in his shoulder was so excruciating that it took a moment to process what the vampire had said.

“And return with you to become a blood slave?” he panted. “Let you blood-suckers feast on my life essence and power every day and night until I fully wither away? I think not.”

Kroven laughed and lowered his arrow. He then dismounted his blood wolf before casually strolling to the horned man. When he stopped, he was close enough that Dacen could smell the rancid creature’s breath. Feasting on the blood of creatures left a foul smell in his mouth.

The vampire was taller than Dacen, forcing him to have to look up so that they could make eye contact. He was definitely more powerful, but the height difference still made him feel inferior.

“We’re not exactly giving you a choice,” the vampire murmured as he ran his hand up the arrow shaft sticking out of Dacen’s shoulder.

The horned man let out a grunt when Kroven suddenly ripped the arrow out of the back of his shoulder with unforgiving force. The vampire inspected the bloodied arrow tip before licking it. He savoured the taste and smiled manically once he’d finished.

“So you are a faun,” he hissed. He then looked down at Dacen’s feet and saw he was wearing boots. “Or, at the very least, a mongrel. No matter, the highnesses shall enjoy your services as a blood slave.”

Dacen quickly came to realise that he was becoming drowsier with every passing second. The arrow tip had likely been laced with some sort of drug, but it had to be a sedative that vampires were immune to given the fact that Kroven had happily licked the top of the same arrow. This had not been the case when he shot at Neem, so he must have learned that Dacen was not going to be easy to catch based on their last encounter.

His knees soon gave out and he stumbled into Kroven. The vampire caught him. His strength was enough to keep both of them up.

“No,” the horned man groaned dazedly when the vampire grabbed his wrist and found the bracelet Neem had made for him.

Of course, because he said ‘no’, Kroven ripped the bracelet off his wrist and inspected it before carelessly tossing it to his blood wolf. The creature, although knowing it was not food, caught the bracelet in its jaws and swallowed. Dacen expression changed from tired to angry as he tried t

ncluded.”

Dacen ran his hands over his face. He had only just arrived, and already, he was utterly confused by the faun lifestyle.

“When will the Meeting take place?” he asked as he watched the circular glass window above them open.

“In three nights.”

The younger man took a step back when twelve massive ravens swooped in. Daefortis said nothing as he placed an envelope in each bird’s beak. One by one, they flew off until none remained.

“Do all the Masters live nearby?” Dacen asked as the faun continued to go about his business. “I mean, it took me many months to get here after I received your letter by raven.”

“Fauns are magic,” Daefortis simply stated. “They can arrive whenever they want.”

A silence followed. Only the clopping sound of the older faun’s hooves could be heard as he strode back to the bookshelf.

“You wouldn’t happen to know who my father is, would you?” the younger man asked abruptly, and then bit his lip instantly afterwards. He had not meant to ask that.

The old faun turned to look at him speculatively.

“I have no idea who your father is,” he stated after a moment. “I know who your human mother is, however. I monitored her while she was pregnant with you.”

Dacen’s eyes widened. It did not faze him that the faun had been observing him for so long, he was just shocked that someone actually knew who one of his parents was. He had only asked Daefortis if he knew his father because they were both fauns.

“W-who is she?”

“A creature of no significance,” he stated coldly. “Considered a half-breed by her own kind as well, funnily enough.”

“Please tell me,” Dacen asked, his voice cracking slightly. “I would very much like to meet her.”

“Well, she doesn’t want to meet you. She left you in that forest for a reason.”

Dacen’s head dropped, but he nodded obediently. The younger man knew it had been stupid of him to ask this old faun about his parents.

“And what of the hunters who ambushed me?” he finally asked to distract himself from the thought of his parents.

“Two are dead and two fled,” Daefortis explained before ambling to a large chest on the opposite side of the room. “I’m going to remove the blood and heart from one of the dead ones in a little while, you shall help me.”

Dacen’s face drained of colour. That was the last thing he wanted to do.

“Of course… Master,” he said hesitantly. In order to gain the older faun’s approval he had to show him respect.

Daefortis looked at him, it was the first time the younger man had seen him smile slightly.

“Now you’re catching on. I’ll make an apprentice of you yet.”

The older faun then pulled a book from the shelf and brought to it to the nearest table. Dacen casually strolled over to Daefortis and looked down at the book. He expected it to be some sort of horrendous book about how to extract vampire organs given the mention the old faun had made about the vampire corpse he had in the chest.

“Your first task as Apprentice is to heal your wound.”

The young man raised an eyebrow in confusion.

“But you have already tended to my wound.”

“Yes, and now you are to completely heal it. Choose a spell from this book. Any ingredients needed can be found around this room.” The faun then began to walk towards the door. “I shall return later to check on your progress. Given that this is your first time… I will give you two hours.”

The younger man banged his head against the table at the same time that Daefortis slammed the door shut.

Where do I even start with this book? he thought in a dismayed manner as he flicked through the thousands of pages. I’m going to fail. I’m going to fail miserably.

And he did. Daefortis knew he was not going to succeed. When he came to survey Dacen’s progress, he found that the younger man had made absolutely none

At the end of the second hour Dacen was on the verge of tears. He was so afraid of failing and being exiled from the one place he had finally been welcomed. Where would he go if the faun kicked him out?

Back to Neem: the one being who genuinely likes me, he thought as his shaky hands continued to turn through the pages of the book. He then shook his head at the thought. That nymph deserves better than me.

The young man froze when the door opened. One look from Daefortis caused him to put his face in his hands and sob. The journey, the vampires, leaving Neem, and the task at hand had all led up to this meltdown as Dacen lost complete control of his emotions. The whole journey, his whole life, was wasted.

“So I see you failed,” Daefortis remarked in a moderately amused tone.

The younger faun gave him no reply. His was incapable of forming words at that point.

“You needn’t worry. I expected you to fail. The goal was to see how you would react to being thrown straight into the inferno. I was hoping you’d remain composed, but that obviously isn’t the case.”

Dacen refused to remove his head from his hands, too ashamed to even look at the older faun. The creature looked down at him in an unsympathetic manner before trotting back towards the door.

“I’ll be back in a half hour or so… try to have yourself collected when I return.” Daefortis looked back once when he reached the door again. “I suppose we shall wait till after the Meeting of the Thirteen Masters before we continue your lessons. It was clearly too much at once for a mongrel like you.”

Dacen took a deep breath when the older faun closed the door. It had been hours, mere hours, and already he had been accused of vandalising an important text and failed his first lesson. He would never be a warlock, that was for sure. He would never be accepted by the fauns, and he would be forced to leave and continue his endless roaming as he searched for a purpose in life.

I’m a disgrace to fauns and humans alike, he thought while wiping his eyes. I’m not meant for this world. Curse the faun who raped my mother!

He was able to calm himself after a few minutes. It was this moment that he felt a strong yearning for his little nymph friend from the Woodlands. Neem had liked him enough to hug and kiss him. The horned man sensed he would not feel the acceptance he felt with that nymph ever again, and that thought was more horrifying than being rejected by both fauns and humans.

You will never be that happy again, he admitted to himself, but you must push onwards and fight for the respect of the fauns.

And with that, he began poring through the pages of the book once again. He would not stop searching for the right spell. He could not if he ever wanted the reverence of Daefortis the Master.

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