Gareth, brows knitting, looked at the sky with concern etched into his features. The dawn that morning was bright with red streaks, and a solid bank of slate-grey clouds built to the Northeast, stretching from one side of the horizon to the other.
“That’ll be full on us soon. We’ll need to find good shelter,” said Gareth. Lisle nodded. Gareth knew about such things.
Ell waddled into a running leap, wings outstretched, then shot up between the trees and out of sight. Moss followed her upward for a short distance, wings a green blur. She hovered and turned in a full circle, peering all around them. Seeming satisfied, she fluttered down to land delicately on Lisle’s shoulder. Lisle hitched up her pack, careful not to dislodge Moss, and fell in behind Gareth, who had already started out. Terris followed closely behind them all, as Gareth rapidly outpaced his companions.
They pushed hard, traveling all morning without a break. Lisle and Terris collected what firewood they could carry along the way.
The terrain grew rockier and they traversed an increasing incline as they moved North. Their feet swished through thick patches of lacey, green ferns growing at the foot of the great trees, and peeking up between large outcroppings of grey-stone.
Gareth scouted back and forth, walking sometimes with them, sometimes ahead or behind. By midday he returned to them, having found shelter.
He led them to a cave almost hidden in an embankment clustered about with tall evergreens. Its entrance was covered over with ferns hanging down from a mass of spongey moss clinging to the rocks surrounding it. Inside was evidence of past habitation by the small, winged darklings for which the forest was named, but the entrance of the cave was relatively clear and unsullied. Here, there was enough room for their small encampment.
Not long after their arrival, with barely time to get themselves settled, the wind blasted bringing the storm full upon them. Their camp was protected by the grey-rock overhang and remained relatively dry, despite the constant drip of rainwater from the ferns hanging down.
Lisle settled herself on her bedroll. It was pleasant to rest there as the storm raged outside the cave. Very pleasant, she thought, with images of sleeping the day away by a warm fire in her mind. Moss snuggled into Lisle’s pack, wrapped in her small section of fur. Terris stretched out on his bed, hands clasped under his head, legs crossed, the picture of relaxation. Ell sat upright, toward the back of the cave, eyes closed. Gareth crouched close to the entrance, wrapped around with his bedroll, and prodded at their struggling fire with a small faggot. Every few minutes he scanned the storm lashed wood in front of them. Soon the fire was warm and crackling at the cave mouth. The welcome scent of woodsmoke curled around them even as wind and rain howled on the other side of the rocks. Lisle laid her head back. It feels so good to rest, she thought, as she drifted off.
Ell lurched to her feet and moved out from the back of the cave, into the rain, crimson ridged tail thrashing. Lisle's eyes popped open as Ell passed by her, and she groaned. Time to go, and she nudged Terris with her foot and then Gareth. “P..pack up.”
The companions reluctantly left their shelter. The forest, so quiet the day before, now howled and grabbed at them. Wind-blown rain assaulted them, tearing at their clothes and packs, drizzling cold wet down their necks. Within minutes they were soaked through. Movement kept them warm enough, and travel hardened muscles kept them going.
Ell, grounded by the storm, walked beside Lisle. Lisle was grateful for Ell’s comforting, bulky presence next to her, even as she could feel Ell’s need to hurry. Gareth too, stuck close.
End-day was a miserable affair, hunched against a tree trunk to get out of the worst of the wind and rain. The sky, when they could see it through the driving rain, ranged in color from stone to deepest slate. The dark clouds formed curious, almost black, bulbous patterns such as Lisle had never seen before. Thunder growled and roared almost continuously. The rain, lit by lightening, seemed with each flash, to be caught at a standstill on its way to the ground. Wind thrashed at the tree branches above them which threatened to tear lose and cascade down upon their heads. They rested only long enough to choke down a cold end-day meal, then got up and slogged on, hoping to find shelter for the night.
Rain and wind slashed downward, making tracking, even for the Hunter, near impossible. All traces of the trail he had followed so easily washed away with the storm. Lightning stabbed downward, flashing off dark, wet tree trunks and illuminating the forest about him in skeletal white on black. Thunder roared. The scent of ozone and soaked earth permeated the air.
Resigned, he squatted beneath the low, hanging branches of a densely needled evergreen, as he considered his options.
A short while later, having consumed a portion of dried rooter from his pack, the Hunter stood up, pushing his way free of the sheltering boughs. He stared up into a dark and glowering sky that seemed determined to continue on with its temper tantrum, as rain dripped from the brim of his hat, running in rivulets down over shoulders already soaked.
He picked up a hefty, arm-length branch from the ground in front of him, where it had been knocked down by the heavy winds. Its rain-softened bark felt crumbly and rough in his hands, as he looked about at the changes wrought by the storm. Driving rain wiped clean all trace of his quarry’s passing. The ground was now covered with leaves and debris blown about by the violent weather.
Tracking the humans was no longer possible, but he knew the companions traveled North, running for the safety of Guardian Mountain. He would travel due North and travel fast. With luck he would come across their trail on the way. If not, he would take them at the mountain. I will have that Guardian, he thought, and viciously stabbed the end of the branch he held, deep into the wet earth at his feet.
In case you missed a post, or if you've just tuned in to Lisle's story,
here are links to previously posted chapters to save you scrolling all the way through.
Introduction Prologue Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Chapter 5 Chapter 6 Chapter 7 Chapter 8 Chapter 9 Chapter 10 Chapter 11 Chapter 12 Chapter 13
Chapter 14 Chapter 15 Chapter 16 Chapter 17 Chapter 18 Chapter 19 Chapter 20 Chapter 21 Chapter 22 Chapter 23 Chapter 24 Chapter 25 Chapter 26