Chapter 12: The Forest

The snow crunched with every step taken the pace of each step consistent as though someone were jogging, the wind blew by, chilling whoever it touched. With a sharp cough into his gloves he continued to focus on his goal.

It was unusually quiet for midday in the forest and he didn't like it, continuing on his way he stopped only to stab an arrow into a tree the red feathered end contrasting brightly to his dead surroundings. He hated winter, everything was always dead and cold, any life ran for warmth as soon as possible. Sure it made it easier to track prey but it also meant that you could be tracked just as easily. No, winter was bad that much was certain, all it did was kill and freeze everything in its path. Many times he had witnessed people die during winter as hypothermia was a common enemy.

Trudging through the thick snow he continued on his journey he didn't want to be out here, he wanted to be back home with his wife and daughter, eating dinner by the warm fire of the kitchen, laughing at something someone would say.

His thoughts saddened then, no longer could he think about laughter and fun without his mind reverting back to his son. The one he lost not too long ago, the one he lost to winter.

Anger filled his blood warming him as he continued to push forward, he had a target in mind as he wasn't going to fail on this one. Pushing through the only living green he stood at the edge of a frozen lake. His eyes instantly focusing on the middle, with a sigh he turned to the tree next to him before impaling it with another red tipped arrow. Placing his bag on the ground he began to pull out what he needed.

With a moan Jack pushed himself into a sitting position the snow once covering him falling to the ground, rubbing his head to clear the headache Jack thought back on earlier events. Remembering that he wasn't alone he began to search the ground for Annabeth, it didn't take long to find the brown haired girl, shaking her shoulder slightly Jack waited for Annabeth to come around.

Annabeth moaned as her injuries made themselves known, whatever she hit was hard, and no doubt would leave a bruise in the morning. Sitting up Annabeth saw Jack watching her cautiously from nearby.

"You okay?" He asked placing his hand on her shoulder, Annabeth nodded as she rubbed her head hoping that the headache would leave soon. Standing up slowly Jack held his hand out for Annabeth to grab, although sore she willed her body to move as she took her brother's hand.

"Where are we?" Annabeth asked looking around, everything had been covered in a fresh deep layer of snow causing all existing trails to vanish. They had no way to tell of which way they came when everything looked the same and the sun had vanished from the sky.

"I'm not sure." Jack replied, he hadn't known where he was ever since he woke up at the lake, so if he ever knew the land and markings he didn't know them now. Shaking away the sad thought Jack looked about for some indication of which way they had come.

Annabeth began to panic slightly the sun had set and darkness would be upon them soon, she wasn't sure about Jack but she knew well that people don't see in the dark. "If the sun sets in the West." Annabeth spoke to herself, "We need to head East." She paused, "I think."

"You think?" Jack replied as he found his staff buried in the snow. Annabeth smiled sheepishly, Jack shrugged. "Okay then we'll head East." Annabeth smiled.

"What happened to the sled?" Annabeth asked randomly, Jack paused for a minute before disturbing the snow on the ground. A few minutes later a plank of wood from the sledge was found broken in half near a tree.

"Well that answers that." Jack said tossing the broken wood to the floor before heading off East. Annabeth quickly followed him not wanting to fall behind as darkness began settling in.

"So we're just going to wonder in some random direction?" Annabeth asked.

"Yep." Jack replied simply.

"But we could get lost."

"I thought we were lost?" Jack asked looking to Annabeth, the girl mentally hit herself.

"We are but wondering in random directions won't help." Annabeth said slightly panicking.

"You said we should head East. So we're heading East." Jack replied.

"I know but honestly how many people listen to a twelve year old." Annabeth complained.

"I do, besides you're a smart twelve year old." Jack smiled down at his friend as he continued walking. Annabeth also smiled, she had been told many times by her brother that she was smart but hearing him say that when he did not know her that well made her smile all the more. All those years he had meant everything he said to her, true she would always believe him but every so often she had her doubts after all she wasn't the only person to have self doubt.

Annabeth wasn't sure how long they had been walking but now the sun had completely set and a cold breeze was coming from the South. Shivering Annabeth clung tighter as she often stumbled over fallen twigs and branches. "Jack I can't see." Annabeth said as she tried to look about, the sky was as black as the shadows and Annabeth didn't like it, she could barley make out the form of her hand in front of her face.

"I'm sure we'll be able to see better when the moon is higher in the sky." Jack replied as he continued walking his hand holding onto Annabeth as though he feared he'd lose her to the darkness.

Minutes passed as Annabeth continued to stumble along, it was impossible to walk when she couldn't see, the ground was uneven and it caused her to lose her footing often. To make it worse her legs still ached from the sled ride a few hours ago, it seemed her list of bruises and pains just kept getting longer with every second they spent wondering in the darkness.

"Are we going in the right direction?" Annabeth asked as she barely brushed past a tree. "We're going to walk into a tree at this rate!" Annabeth pouted as she brushed some of the fallen snow off her head with her free hand.

Jack sighed he knew it wasn't easy and that both he and Annabeth were sore from the accident but he knew that it would be easier to keep moving instead of trying to rest. He sighed he hated not knowing how to handle this situation, something in his mind screamed that he once knew but for the life of him he couldn't access the memory that would help them currently.

Thankful that he had the staff for protection Jack continued onwards unsure of his location or the direction he was heading in. After another few minutes a small cry emitted from Annabeth who stopped dead in her tracks. "What's wrong?" Jack asked slightly panicked over the girl's health.

"I think I walked into a tree." Annabeth said clutching her foot, "My foot hurts." Annabeth whimpered. Jack sighed as he kneeled down in the snow, praying that this worked he focused on the staff and willed it to glow. Nothing happened at first but after a few minutes the wood began to cast a chilling blue light.

Annabeth shivered as if she wasn't cold enough already now there was a cold blue light to make it worse. On the upside she could finally see her hand in front of her, but the light only allowed so much to be seen before it was engulfed by a wall of shadows in every direction.

"It seems you've kicked a log." Jack pointed to said tree part a small distance behind the two. Annabeth glared at the wood before returning her gaze to Jack, the winter teen smiled at her before picking her up and placing her on the dead truck.

After a quick inspection of her foot Jack was pleased to say that it was fine and that the pain would go away shortly. Annabeth disagreed however as her feet began to ache from the walking she had been doing, it was by far more than she was used to.

Jack slowly coaxed Annabeth back onto her feet but was saddened when the girl began to move inch by inch, sighing he placed her back on the log and sat down himself, his own feet begging for a rest.

It didn't take long before Annabeth's shivering became more consistent, the wind was picking up now it's cold touch sent more and more shivers down Annabeth's spine. Not feeling the winter's chill Jack took his cloak off without a care before placing it around Annabeth.

Standing up Annabeth followed suit as she waited for Jack to set off in a direction, Jack smiled before bending down, "Hop on." He sighed with a smile, Annabeth smiled gratefully at Jack before jumping on his back.

Holding his staff out before him he used it to guide their way through the forest, he once more found himself praying to find something that told him they were headed in the right direction.

They had been walking for no more than a few minutes and Annabeth was becoming more cold with each passing minutes, Jack didn't know what to do, he knew that Annabeth needed to be kept warm. It didn't help that he was as cold as his surroundings, his friend needed the warmth of a fire, though looking at the frost covered twigs and branches he doubted they would light even if he tried to start a fire.

Hours passed by and Jack was panicking for his young friend, she had fallen asleep on his back hours ago, although her breathing could be heard it shook as she shivered in her sleep.

Jack looked to the sky through the bare branches, the faint glow of the moon suggested it to be early morning, in a few hours dawn would lighten the land and sky. Continuing his tiresome journey he ignored his legs and feet as he searched for a place to rest, and hopefully to start a fire to warm Annabeth.

It had taken all night but it was done the entire perimeter of the lake was armed and ready all he needed now was for his prey to come close enough to the lake where his traps would accomplish his task. Albert smiled as he sat back down near the edge of the lake, no one was getting anywhere near this place without setting off one of his traps. "Soon." He whispered to no one. "Soon." His smile grew as he planned out what would happen next.

The light of dawn peaked through the trees as the sky began to lighten, a new day, birds sang merrily high up in the trees. Albert listened to the merry songs as his heart began to warm, he hoped that today everything would finally be settled.

Annabeth began to stir as a thin ray of sun blinded her eyes, moan she moved to block out the warm bright intrusion, realising that she wasn't being carried by Jack as she last remembered she sat up abruptly her elbow colliding with Jack's side.

Jack was up in seconds holding his new injury, looking about he saw Annabeth looking at him mortified, "I'm sorry." Annabeth quickly apologised before Jack had time to speak. "I'm sorry, it was an accident." She apologised again her hands knotting and un-knotting themselves with worry.

Jack watched his friend panic as she continued to apologise, raising his hands in a calming gesture he spoke, "It's okay." Having earned her full attention he continued, "It's okay, I know it was an accident." Jack smiled, Annabeth visibly relaxed at Jack's words but tensed again when he started laughing.

Confused Annabeth watched as Jack's laughter increased as she now scowled at him, "What-what's so funny?" She asked now glaring at the teen before her.

Jack calmed slightly, "You're so much fun to be around Annabeth, everything you do makes me smile." he paused to calm himself down more, "Here I thought you're first concern of today would be that you're hungry and sore from the sledding accident yesterday. Not that you've hit me." Jack said trying to stifle more giggles.

Annabeth continued to scowl at Jack, "You're annoying Jack." She said before standing up, "But you're right," she sighed, "We need food and I doubt we'll find any in this cave." Jack looked about the tiny cave that housed them through the early hours of the morning and it's cold winds.

Jack stood up picking up his staff as he went to the entrance of the cave, "Shall we be off then?" Jack asked gesturing to the forest with the staff. Annabeth nodded as she made her way out back into the cold, lifeless forest.

Looking at her surroundings Annabeth began to panic as she couldn't find anything familiar that marked her whereabouts, looking at the sky she noted that they were headed in the direction but it didn't stop her from worrying.

Placing a comforting hand on her shoulder Jack held Annabeth close as the continued to walk through the woods. "This-this is hopeless." Annabeth spoke her voice thick with anxiety.

"Hey, it's okay." Jack spoke holding Annabeth in a hug, "We'll get back, I promise." Annabeth's voice cracked as she cried into her friends shirt. Jack looked about for something to distract her with, seeing nothing he decided to think of something. "How about a game?" Jack suggested, Annabeth looked at him, there were those words again. Jack took her silence as a bad thing, "Don't worry we won't crash into anymore tree's this time." He paused rethinking what he just said, "Well at least not on a fast moving sled." He laughed, Annabeth still remained silent, "How about a game of tag?" Jack suggested hoping that the game itself would make Annabeth respond.

"Tag?" Annabeth echoed, Jack nodded still smiling. Annabeth fell quiet again as Jack awaited her to either confirm or deny his suggestion.

"I promise you the journey will fly by." Jack said raising a hand to his heart, "We'll be home before you know it."

Annabeth looked to the floor the memories around those two words saddening her, she remembered them on the lake and then on the hill and now this, and each time they almost took her brother from her. Shaking her head Annabeth was about to decline the idea but realised that all Jack was trying to do was to make things more bearable for her. It warmed her heart to know that her brother despite him not knowing it was still trying to protect her, while making a fool of himself. Though she didn't openly admit it, she had enjoyed trying to play hopscotch on the ice, and dodging trees on a sled.

Nodding now Annabeth accepted Jack's offer to play tag in the woods for she knew just how much fun Jack could make even the worst of situations. "You're it!" Annabeth squealed after tapping Jack on the nose before she scampered off into the trees heading in the direction she believed to be home.

"Hey!" Jack called back as he gave chase.

Jack had told the truth hours had passed by while they were playing tag, though unsure if they were closer to home or not they continued in the direction they had been heading in for a while now. Annabeth collapsed into the snow worn out, Jack slowed to a stop besides her. "You okay?" He asked.

Annabeth held a thumbs up before pulling her head up, "I'm just tired." Annabeth said as she sat up completely. Jack nodded in understanding after all that had been running and dodging for about three hours now. "And hungry." Annabeth added making Jack laugh.

"We have missed out two meals." Jack replied still smiling.

"Three if you include dinner." Annabeth said.

"How have we missed dinner?"

"It's noon now." Annabeth replied point up to the grey sky where the sun should be.

"Okay so we're missing dinner."

Annabeth shook her head smiling, "Where are we going to find food? There's no vegetation growing, and most rivers and lakes are frozen over."

"Well it is winter."

Annabeth groaned, "I know it's winter." Tossing a loosely compacted snowball at Jack which turned to powder before hitting him, she got up to look for something to eat.

"Maybe we can find a river of some sort." Jack suggested now standing up. "Perhaps one that isn't frozen over." Pulling Annabeth close he began walking again, "I'm sure we'll find something to eat soon." Jack said his eyes scanning the forest. Annabeth sighed she hoped Jack was right her stomach was beginning to hurt from how little she had eaten, she was used to not getting a lot to eat but this, this was different. It didn't help that they had been running about for the past three hours with very little energy.

Annabeth mumbled to herself she knew she was right to pester her father about teaching her about the forest and finding food, she wished that she had been included with Jack when he went out on hunting trips with his friends. It would make a lot of difference now if she had considering her brother remembered nothing about how to survive in the harsh conditions of a winter forest.

More hours passed by and they had found nothing to eat, Jack had once again taken up the task of carrying Annabeth who was starting to not only feel the painful effects of being cold for so long but also the effects of hunger.

Annabeth's soft breathing warm against his neck informed him that she slept as he continued to walk, scanning the forest of anything to eat he sighed still finding nothing. It was going to be a long day.

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