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The sounds of the nightly forest were nothing new to Laiva. On every evening, when the noise of the village had finally died down and the last drunk had left the pub for home, she had heard it. At times, when she couldn’t sleep, she had sat up in bed, wrapped her blanket tightly around her and listened. Many an alien cry there had been and Laiva had let her imagination fill in the pictures, fill them with life. Many a beast she had met this way, warm and snug in the safety of her bed.
Now things were different. The sounds were the same, but instead of the safety of her bed there was intimidating darkness, large trees obscuring whatever beast there might be after her. The forest was scary enough in its own, but Laiva was terrified. Every owl’s cry made her jump, even though she know what it was, and there were plenty of things she couldn’t identify.
Laiva fastened her grip on the dagger. She didn’t care whether or not it made sense, at least she had a grip on something. She wished someone was with her, someone to tell her that everything was all right, someone to protect her. She wished she was home. Running away from home didn’t seem such a good idea after all.
Not that it mattered much. She wouldn’t reach home until dusk even if she turned back now. Besides, if she gave up now they had all been right, all those who had been laughing at her. She had made up her mind and she was going to do it, no matter what. Even if it was the last thing she did. Which Laiva really hoped it wasn’t going to be.
There had been far too many men who went into the forest and never got the chance to tell their tale. Her uncle for one. The grown-ups had been whispering, but she had heard it anyway: They had only found his ring, a family heirloom; he’d rather have died than taken it off. And the blood on it had told its own tale.
It was a clear summer night and despite the moon standing high, it did nothing to diminish the sparkle of the myriads of diamonds sparkling next to it. Far below, the dark sea of leaves lay silent, motionless except for the odd ripple in its surface when the wind gently stroked its surface.
The surface wasn’t unbroken, however. A dark line extended along its surface, far too straight to be merely a coincidence, but only from it could be seen for what it was. Amidst the mighty giants of the forest a chasm opened, threatening to devour anything that dared venture into it. Indeed the moonlight put little effort into descending it, leaving the better part of the trunks forming it to dwell in darkness. Only little of the light went astray and ventured into the depths of the abyss, as if afraid to disturb the road at its bottom. Disturbance, however, was already on its way.
Laiva knew she was in trouble the moment she heard the cry. She was pretty sure it belonged to a bird, but it sounded so utterly alien that she wondered. The meaning, however, was out of question. The moment the cry had echoed through the forest all noise suddenly died away, but she didn’t need that to tell her what it meant.
For a moment she stood petrified, not daring to move. Laiva listened into the darkness, but the only thing she could hear was the throbbing of her heart. Then her mind regained control and instinctual fear was replaced with rational one. Bewildered she noticed that she had started walking again. Well, that was probably as good as anything and moving away from whatever had caused the alarm sure beat the alternative. After all there was no reason that alarm was relevant to her in any way, was there? Unfortunately she had never been very good at fooling herself…
In the darkness of the forest the handsomely reddish fur was no more than a dark and dirty grey. Not that anyone would have seen the wolves by day. They were creatures of the night, not so out of necessity, but choice and embraced the darkness like a lover – and darkness cared for its children. And tonight it was giving them a very special treat.
Admittedly, there wasn’t much flesh on the girl, but the thought alone of ripping the tender flesh apart was making the lead wolf salivate. Plus she would be easy prey; they had already circled her and the stupid thing still hadn’t noticed them. It could already taste the warm blood in its mouth.
For a last time it judged the distance to the girl’s back, then tensed its muscles and jumped. It was already on top of her, could almost taste the blood in its mouth when the girl whirled around and in an arc brought her arm up against him. The wolf felt blood filling its mouth, but instead of the sweet liquor it had longed for there was only the bitterness of its own cursed juice. That hadn’t been part of the plan.