Veiled Threats

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Chapter 3

Four days in this damn forest and we still haven’t managed to find our way out.

It’s maddening.

The night we lost our parents, Abel and I tucked away in the tree until morning came. Ideally, the beasts would have slunk off to their dens so we could relieve ourselves and scrounge for something to eat. But nothing ever goes to plan. It wasn’t until midafternoon that the Teasba’s slipped away through the dense undergrowth. It wasn’t for another hour or so that we waited to be sure that they really left.

We climbed back down and took off as silently as possible. Abel trailed behind me as we jumped over thickets and maneuvered around the giant dol trees. With no clear direction in mind, we simply hoped for the best as long as we headed in the opposite direction of our home.

We managed to find a stream of clear water sometime later, which we continue to follow now. There’s plenty of berries and roots to scrounge up near the river bank, not to mention the small creatures that are just slow enough to get caught. A quick zap of Elestal and a small roast over Firvo and we have some warm cooked meat to devour.

The beasts aren’t nocturnal like we suspected. In fact, from what I can see, they have no set sleep schedule. Some Teasba’s roam with the sun high in the sky and others prowl when the moon has taken its place for the night. It makes it difficult to plot our course when we could stumble upon the beasts any minute.

Initially we thought the two circling Teasba’s that had sent us to the tree that first night were just a one-time occasion. Wrongfully we assumed that they denied their instincts to rest in the day at the prospect of securing a good meal …us. We also assumed that the damn things traveled alone and that the first two were just, again, a one-time thing.

They were, but not in the sense that we thought. Those beasts like to travel in packs of five or more and that just makes it even harder to keep out of their way. All of this is made worse when our affinities are essentially useless against their hides too. Fire, electricity, it all bounces off their fur like it’s made of steel not hair.

My arm still throbs from the filthy claws of the Teasba’s as they scored my flesh. Our guard was down for only a brief moment, but it was enough for them to sneak up on my brother and I. They managed a swift swipe to my arm that reached from my shoulder to my elbow before I’d scurried up a tree to safety.

Thank fuck I heal faster than humans otherwise I’d still be in bitter agony.

This unexpected journey proves to be more challenging than I had expected. I was arrogant and cocky that first night but I’ve learned since then. Not many people survive a run in with these beasts, even less make it out of the forest in one piece. That means we had little knowledge of this place and its inhabitants before we began our journey out of it.

“Brother incoming.” Abel barely finished whispering before we’re both scaling the nearest tree.

Bark digs into my palms as I climb, shoes scraping against the branches as I get my grip. We’ve gotten pretty good at this after this constant up and down that it takes no time at all before I’m as high as I can safely go in the tree. A quick glance assures me that Abel also made it up on the tree across from mine. I let out a tense sigh of relief that my brother can hold his own. Just imaging him to be less capable in this place has my stomach clenching in fear.

The savage sounds of the beasts growling and yapping as they scramble through the brush to the base of our trees still grates down my spine. It’s an eerie noise, one that works your nerves and tests your mental strength. The tales of this forest and these creatures spoke true. No one sane enough ventures into these parts without a good reason.

It’s suicide.

The longer I spend in this cursed place, the more my mind splinters. Each noise scratches through my head, damaging me, altering me indefinitely. Our lullabies have become the ferocious sounds of the beasts salivating for a bit of our flesh. It’s a maddening sound, a maddening life we live. Up and down these dol trees, scavenging for food, quenching our thirst, and resting on the branches and hoping we don’t fall in our sleep.

I can feel the hope within me slowly flickering out. How many more days can we take in this place? What happens if we can’t climb anymore? What happens when the river comes to an end and the forest still looms over us ominously? What happens if they manage to dig into more than my arm?

My head drops against the trunk as I strain to see through the leaves dusting the canopy. The blue sky is steadily growing darker and it won’t be long before the forest floor is cloaked in shadows and darkness. It’s likely this will be our final stop for the night, seeing as the fanatic Teasba’s are still yapping at the base of both our trees.

A glint catches my eye and I wince as the bright light stings my exhausted eyes. There, not even a hundred feet to the left. The fading sun reflects off a clock tower no doubt placed in the center of a town. Civilization is so much closer than I thought and at this point, I could care less if the place was home to talnarins or humans.

It doesn’t matter.

As long as there’s a place to lay my head for the night without fear of being torn to shreds, I’ll take it. If it means that I can get Abel to a safe place and finally bring him to Uncle Chrome, then I’ll do whatever it takes. That faint hope catches alight as it burns hot within my gut. Soon, tomorrow maybe, we’ll leave this place for good. Tomorrow, we’ll have full bellies and a warm bed to sleep on.

Tomorrow, I plan my revenge on the bastard who killed them.

There hasn’t been time until now to consider our next step. Survival and escaping this forest was all I could focus on. But now that my eyes are trained on that hint of civilization, I can finally think of the future and what it holds for my brother and I. At some point, one of us will need to lead our people and take back what is ours by birthright. I don’t know what that entails or what that means for us but with Uncle’s help, we will figure it out.

Whatever it takes, as long as Abel is safe, I’ll do it.

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