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   Chapter 21

The Woodlands By EJBowman Characters: 15398

Updated: 2017-12-22 12:02


The hybrid knew things were wrong in more ways than one when he saw a bit of paper dancing across the sand. Dacen emerged further down the beach than originally, but he already knew where the paper had come from.

Please, let me be wrong.

Running across the sand was difficult—and hard on the knees—but he went at a raging pace. More shreds of paper led the way.

“Neem!” he cried. He could not see the little nymph in the place he had left him. “Neem!”

A head popped out from behind a large black rock. Finally, he was showing some real emotion: fear.

“Neem,” he said for a third time, this time out of relief.

His stomach lurched when he saw the tattered covers of the spellbooks splayed in the sand. They had been torn to shreds by small claws.

Bastards.

Dacen chose to momentarily ignore that issue. Neem was priority over spellbooks. His little friend looked petrified. A new scar dripped blood down his cheek.

The hybrid crouched down next to him. Still, the nymph flinched and shifted back slightly.

“What happened?” he queried, but he already knew the answer.

Neem looked at the sky, dazedly.

“There were all these birds. I thought they were nice… but—err—they went bad.” He pointed to a torn shred from the spellbooks being dragged out by the ocean. “I tried to shoo them. They were so mean.” His eyes were watery. Clearly, his emotional barriers had severely deteriorated since their first encounter.

“These are not the Goddess’ birds,” Dacen informed him. “These birds, this whole island, is sinister. I will get us away from this.”

“But why did you bring us here?” Neem hissed. His expression shifted from solemn to furious in a split second. “Why would you bring me somewhere evil? You should have just taken me home!”

Dacen was unfazed to a larger extent. His mind was on the shredded spellbooks: their tickets back to the Woodlands.

“It was not my intent to bring either of us here,” he assured the nymph in a calm manner. “I am not sure where here even is… but this place wants us. It wants to keep us here.”

“It wants you! You’re the evil magic one. You can stay here, but I want to leave… right now!”

Neem put his hand on the boulder in an assertive manner. His attempt to stand was short-lived. It hurt to sit back down, yet it was all he could do. Everything was in pain. He did not understand how he could have so many wounds. He did not understand why it had all happened to him.

“I will get us out of here,” Dacen said, keeping sincere eye-contact. “For now, let me mend your wounds.”

I have certainly been unconscious enough recently that I should be fully-rested.

Neem made no signs of approval for a few moments. The hours spent alone on the beach had helped him reach one conclusion: Dacen was to blame for all of this. Now he was trapped in a foreign placed—a place that oozed evil—with the one being he had lost all trust in.

“I can do it,” the hybrid promised him. “I can, at the very least, make sure you can walk.”

The nymph winced as the larger hands grasped his feet. His instinct was to jerk away, but he gradually returned to Dacen’s touch. The soles of his feet numbed as magic began to flow through him. Even though it felt better, his soul felt sick. Dark magic, coursing through his body, was not what he needed. It could heal him physically, but dark magic was not meant to enter his body. The main reason he was not throwing up bile was because his true, pure magic had dissipated. He was a hollow being, everything stolen.

“Try standing,” Dacen suggested, releasing his feet.

Neem attempted as he had before, the difference being that he was able to make it all the way to his feet. His soles were tender, yes, but walking would be manageable for short distances. It was a relief, even if the consequence was allowing dark magic to blemish his already mutilated core.

“The other wounds should seal quickly as well,” Dacen informed him.

“Okay.”

The placidity is back. Fantastic.

The nymph took a seat on the rock. He chose to face the forest this time. The ocean was wonderful, but the wall of trees was the threat. He found that fact hard to believe. Coming from the Woodlands, the foliage was the one thing he was always meant to trust, to see as shelter. Having that fact turned on its head was unsettling.

The faun sat down on the sand beneath him. Neem watched Dacen run his hand over the back of his head and wince. Only then did the nymph realise the faun was covered in new scrapes—similar to the ones he had sustained from the swarm of birds. He chose not to question it. Asking w

wdy now. It sounded as if every being on the island was singing. Hopefully it did not mean anything sinister in Neem’s case. He would not put it past the island to desire the nymph for sacrifice.

It was a shock when the foliage in front of him caved inwards. Perhaps they had gotten what they wanted out of Neem, so his attempt would be futile.

“Neem!” he screamed while pushing his way through. “Can you hear me? Neem!”

The sudden ease of resistance did not come without manipulation. His direction was decided by the forest, forcing to follow a faint path. He could only hope it was leading him to Neem—how far could the nymph had gone in a matter of moments?

Far, apparently. Minutes passed as the forest herded him in an unknown direction.

“Neem!” he cried once again, his voice coarse from dehydration. “Please,” he said, a little quieter—more a request of the forest than anyone else.

“Don’t think I won’t kill everything in this blasted place if you harm him!” he snarled.

His threat was apparently not taken seriously, given he got smacked in the face by a branch.

The scraping, shoving, chirping, and high gusts of winds was disorientating. It was torture. Minutes passed. Every flesh wound stung and was given no reprieve as scratches began to intersect each other.

Dacen was desperate. He was ready to set the whole bush alight if that was what it took to end it. Only minutes had passed, but the time that had passed in the half-breed’s mind made it feel as if he could have made it to the other side of the island and back.

“Neem!” he called out one last time. His voice was drowned out by the screeching birds. They appeared to be all around him now.

Then, it stopped. All of it ended in an instant. The hybrid hit the ground, skinning the bases’ of his palms. He knew where he was without even looking up—the open terrain was enough indication.

But how was he back at the boulder? It had taken quite a while to get there when he first ventured in. Had the forest moved the boulder, or had the whole land shifted just to get him there quicker?

Whatever it is, I should destroy it. It is the heart of this evil.

With that resolution, he stood up and readied a flame in his hand. The hybrid took it as a good sign when all the birds simultaneously departed from the trees. They dispersed in the sky above. If he was lucky, they would not come back. The likelihood of being free of them was slim.

Dacen’s whole body jolted when he brought is attention to the boulder. He had assumed the humanoid with horns was the painting—he was wrong.

A being clothed in dusty orange emerged from around the boulder, standing in line with the image. Not much of their skin could be seen, but the oh-so-familiar blackened eyes surrounded by veins told Dacen this was trouble. Beyond that, the upwards-curled horns were a blatant sign he was dealing with a female faun. That was shock enough, but their feet were what tremored him the most.

The being wore wrapped boots. No hooves.

Body of a human.

Horns of a faun.

A hybrid.

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