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   Chapter 8

The Woodlands By EJBowman Characters: 27944

Updated: 2017-12-22 12:02


“Neem!” someone squeaked as the nymph strolled through the Woodlands. He was now in familiar territory and sensed it was one of his friends who was calling his name.

He was right. Both nymphs fell to the ground laughing as Fee jumped on him.

“You’re alive!” she exclaimed while squeezing him half to death.

“I am indeed,” he replied in an out-of-breath manner.

The female nymph immediately jumped off of him when she saw the bandage he was wearing. This allowed Neem to sit up properly, but he winced when his friend pressed her hand into the bandage.

“What happened?”

“A vampire’s arrow hit me.”

Fee tilted her head to one side.

“What’s a vampire?”

“The owners of those blasted blood wolves. One of them came into the forest because they wanted the foreigner.”

Fee snarled.

“I knew that foreigner was no good! Tell me, did he try to harm you at any point?”

Her friend shook his head frantically.

“No, he was very sweet. I assure you, only the vampire and his blood wolf were dangerous, but now they are gone and won’t come back.”

“How can you be sure?”

The nymph sighed.

“Because the foreigner is gone and they are after him, not me.”

Fee was not as sympathetic: “Oh well, the foreigner’s fate doesn’t matter providing your safe.”

The female nymph then stood up and helped Neem to his feet. She saw the brief look of pain on his face as he stood, suggesting the wound was still relatively fresh.

“Did you make this?” she said while plucking at the bandage.

“No,” he replied, brushing her hand away. “The foreigner gave it to me after the vampire attacked.”

“He shouldn’t have let you come into such danger.”

“He didn’t mean to! He was very sorry when this happened and suggested multiple times that I should return to this part of the forest for the sake of my own safety.”

“Then why didn’t you return sooner?”

Neem shrugged, his friend could tell he was a little ruffled.

“Because… because I like him and wanted to fulfil my promise by guiding him to the edge of the Woodlands.”

“You like him?” the female nymph asked in an accusing manner. “But he’s a foreigner!”

“Just because he’s a foreigner doesn’t mean he’s evil. He was very kind, and he’s faced hate his whole life because he’s a foreigner everywhere else as well.”

Fee shrugged.

“A foreigner’s a foreigner. Now, we must go tell Jaiya of your return!”

Neem smiled even though he was slightly annoyed. There was no way to convey to anyone else in the forest that Dacen was good. They would actually have to get to know him in order to understand that—but now that he was gone they would never know.

They found the dryad among others of her kind. It appeared they were having some sort of meeting. Neem and Fee did not know what about, but they knew they would find out soon enough. They sat in the branches of an oak tree chatting. It was not long until until Jaiya trudged over to them after the meeting. Her expression was just as it had been when Neem saw her last—concerned.

“Neem,” she said happily. Her eyes still suggested she was anxious, “you have returned. Tell me, how was your adventure? Was the foreigner good to you?”

“The adventure was exciting and the foreigner was lovely,” he said quickly before moving onto the next topic: “Are you all right?”

She shook her head.

“Afraid not.”

“What’s happened?” Fee asked in a concerned manner.

“Wolves,” Jaiya said coldly. “I have been warned that two of them have entered the Woodlands… and they’re not alone.”

Fee’s eyes widened as she turned to look at Neem.

“Vampires?” she asked him. “Would they be the ones with the wolves?”

The nymph did not answer immediately.

“I would assume so,” he stated in a distracted way as he thought the whole situation over. “But if the foreigner is gone then why have they returned?“

“The foreigner? What does he have to do with the wolves and what are vampires?” the great dryad asked. All this information could have been useful to her during the meeting.

“The vampires are hunting the foreigner because they want his magic, but he has left the Woodlands,” Neem stated.

“And the vampires own the wolves,” the female nymph added.

Jaiya let out a heavy sigh.

“So the wolves are here because of the foreigner. This is his fault.”

“No!” Neem squeaked in a defensive manner. “Not his fault. If the blood wolves are after him then they are going in the wrong direction. He has left the Woodlands, and they should be able to sense that.”

“Then why are the wolves here?”

Neem shook his head. He was just as confused as Jaiya.

“Regardless,” the dryad began after a few moments, “we must prepare for their arrival in this part of the forest. You two must get the word out to every creature you can find. I want no casualties.”

“We’re on it!” Fee said with a brave attitude as she hopped out of the oak tree.

Neem did not follow suit in such an enthusiastic manner. He moved at a more gradual pace. The nymph could not understand why the vampires would return. What could they want out of the Woodlands now that Dacen was gone?

An odd thought made its way into his mind: what if they had already captured Dacen? He had not considered that yet. He had just happily lived under the assumption that they would fail to catch him, yet it was still a possibility.

Oh, I hope he is safe.

“Are you all right, Neem?” the dryad asked once Fee was gone. “You seem… sad.”

“I’m afraid of the wolves, just like you.”

Jaiya took a few steps closer to him and knelt down so that she could look him directly in the eyes.

“No, you appeared sad even before I told you of those beasts’ presence in the forest. Tell me, what is wrong?”

The nymph had no answers. Now that the dryad mentioned it, he had been down for the past few days, but he had not recognised the shift in his mood until now.

“I have no idea,” he said in an honest manner.

“Is it something to do with this?” she asked while pointing at the bandage around his lower stomach.

“No, err, kind of.”

“Did the foreigner harm you?”

“No!” he squeaked in the same way he had when Fee blamed Dacen for his wound. “He would never harm me. No, a vampire pierced me with an arrow, but they were aiming for him. He gave me this bandage to cover up the wound.” He sighed. “I miss him, Jaiya. The foreigner was kind to me, and I’d very much like to see him again. I don’t feel as if we got to spend enough time with each other.”

A dark look spread across the dryad’s face.

“You want to befriend this unnatural being you met?” she asked in a judgmental manner. “He is the reason a so-called vampire harmed you and the reason the wolves have returned!”

“He isn’t! He didn’t intend for harm to come to me or any of the creature of the Woodlands. All he wanted was to reach the end of his journey.”

“No matter,” the dryad began as she stood up properly. “The foreigner is of no concern of ours any more. Remove him from your memory. We have more important issues at hand.”

Neem nodded, but avoided her gaze. He was annoyed that he could not alter her view of his friend.

“Go,” she commanded while pointing behind him. “Help Fee spread the word.”

The nymph nodded again before dashing out of sight. He thought over the dryad’s words as he ran.

But I can’t just forget him, he thought. He is my friend, and I don’t forget friends.

Neem ran into his female nymph friend while on his quest to warn the beings of the Woodland about the incoming danger. Her out-of-breath panting suggested she had been doing much of the same.

“I told the fairies and birds to fly high, and the pixies, sprites, and other ground dwellers to climb the trees. I wasn’t sure what the centaurs should do, but I told them to run as far away as they can for the next few days,” she said in one breath before she went back to panting.

“They should be fine. Centaurs aren’t magical so they probably won’t be targeted,” Neem assured her. “Also, I went to the water spirits and mermaids to inform them. They are swimming further upriver.”

“Have our nymph friends been informed yet?”

Neem shook his head.

“That’s just where I was going,” he explained.

“We shall go together.”

Much to both of their surprise, all the nymphs were surrounding Jaiya when they finally arrived.

“Neem!” one squeaked.

“He’s ali

r this scum through the Woodlands now?”

Neem furiously shook his head and mouthed the word ‘run’. He could not warn them aloud as he feared how the blood wolf would react.

“He is our prisoner,” Kroven explained, “and you are our meal.”

“Not likely,” the male centaur growled.

Both centaurs were just about to relinquish their arrows when Voinil’s injured blood wolf took revenge for the arrow to its hind leg, sinking its teeth into the female’s side. Neem screamed and covered his eyes as Voinil and Kroven fired off their own arrows. Neither missed their mark and the centaurs were defeated within seconds.

The vampires ignored the nymph’s wailing as they bared their teeth, ready to feast on the carcasses. The centaurs were not magic, they knew that as soon as they inhaled their scent, but their craving for blood was stronger than their desire for power at that point.

“You may also eat the male,” Kroven told his blood wolf. Voinil’s mount had already begun to feast on the dead creature.

The blood wolf was not hesitant in the slightest to leave Neem alone as it went to feast. The nymph appeared to be too distraught to attempt anything.

“Should we encounter any especially magic beings on our journey we should capture them as well,” Voinil reminded his companion before sinking his teeth back into the neck of the deceased centaur.

“Only small ones,” Kroven replied. “Having to bring back two beings of moderate height would not be as easy.”

Voinil was quite surprised when Kroven’s expression quickly changed from calm to stern. The vampire rose and drew his dagger. Looking to the side, he saw that the little prisoner was standing closer to the river—perhaps he intended to try and swim away.

“Try it,” Kroven snarled. “I dare you.”

Both blood wolves also looked up from their meals and started to growl. Terrified, Neem quickly sat back down and brought his knees up to his chest as protection.

Voinil’s blood wolf let out a yelp, followed by a snarl, after its master crept over and ripped the arrow out of its leg. Although aggravated, it went back to eating its meal before the other blood wolf devoured the whole centaur.

“I think we should continue our journey once our thirst is quenched,” Voinil suggested while tossing the bloodied arrow to the ground. “I would like to be out of this wretched forest as soon as possible.”

Kroven wiped the blood off his lips before replying: “All right. Probably for the best.”

That is when Neem finally understood he was going to be leaving the forest. Yes, that had been a given when the vampires decided to take him back to their kingdom, but the realisation had only just set in. He had no idea what the world beyond the Woodlands was like, and he did not want to find out with the aid of the vampires. Based on what Dacen had told him, the world was a cruel place—and he wanted no part of it.

“I don’t want to leave the Woodlands,” he announced in a puerile manner. Both vampires looked up from their meal with confused, and slightly amused, expressions.

“Oh, really?” Voinil asked in sarcastic manner.

Neem ignored their mockery. He had expected that reaction from them.

“If… if you must kill me. Please do it here in the forest.”

“You’re not in a position to be making requests,” Kroven warned the little nymph. “Besides, we still need to bring blood slave candidates back to the highnesses. If not you, we will have to capture another creature of this forest. You wouldn’t want that, would you?”

Neem’s eyes became watery, but he shook his head. Another creature suffering due to his own selfishness was the last thing he wanted.

Eventually, both vampires seemed satiated and let the centaur corpse be. Their mounts, on the other hand, were still busy devouring their own centaur when Kroven’s blood wolf noticed the abandoned female corpse and moved to feast on her carcass instead.

“None of that,” his master warned him, making the blood wolf’s ears droop. “We’re leaving now.”

“Would you like to be sedated?” Voinil asked when he reached the nymph, gesturing to a vial in his hand. “By the time you wake we shall have left the forest.”

Neem had to think for a few seconds, but he eventually nodded. It could be easier on him to be unconscious as they crossed the border. That way, he would not spend the next few hours consumed with dread.

“What are you doing?” Kroven asked, cocking an eyebrow as Voinil passed the little nymph the vial.

“Making the journey a little easier on everyone,” the vampire replied simply. “The last thing we need is for this frail thing to have a heart attack before we reach the border.”

Kroven shrugged indifferently and went back to preparing his mount.

Already, Neem was feeling the effects of the sedative after sipping the foul-tasting liquid in the vial. His head felt like a boulder on his weak neck. The nymph had to force his eyes open every few seconds in order to stay awake.

“Is he going to be all right for running?” Kroven asked while gesturing to Voinil’s injured blood wolf. The creature walked with a minor limp as it came to its master, but it did not look as if it was in any pain.

“Should be,” the second vampire replied. “He’s a sturdy beast.”

To Neem, the whole conversation was quite odd. The words began to become distorted as they passed by his ears. He soon found himself looking at the starry sky rather then the hunters. The last thing he saw was Kroven’s face as the vampire came to pick him up.

When he woke, the world around him would be completely different.

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