Our journey to the clocktower and the surrounding town takes much longer than I initially expected. Another three days have passed like the first four, only our trips up the trees have increased dramatically.
I was too worried that I’d lose sight of the damn tower and get us turned around. It seemed like every other dol tree I was climbing up to the canopy to confirm our path. As annoying and arduous as it was, I don’t regret my decision.
I rather be too sure than not sure enough in a place as horrid as this.
And it might just be my imagination but I swear, the closer we crept towards the town, the more beasts that lined the path between us and our freedom. It’s almost as if the damn creatures knew that their dinner was slipping away to safety so they banned together in hopes of cutting us off. Honestly, I wouldn’t put it past the Teasba’s. The fucking things are smart as Hellvian.
Even now, hours later as Abel and I huddle up in a massive dol tree on the edges of town, the beasts circling the tree with menacing growls. My frustration mounts as the remaining sun slips beyond the horizon, casting us into the deep shadows of night. Somehow, Abel and I managed to scale the same tree this time, giving us the opportunity to speak in low tones.
“It is a town, lights have gone up.” Abel murmurs in a soft whisper barely reaching my ears.
He’s the one with the view of the town line so he’s taken it upon himself to report to me what he can see, which isn’t much. I’m leaning against the trunk, legs flung over each side of the thick limb beneath me. Another quick glance down below shows the six frothing Teasba’s still chomping at the bit, waiting for us to slip off into their eager jaws.
“The flames are getting brighter Malik.”
My head cocks to the side as I contemplate his words. It could be any number of reasons why the flames are getting brighter but I refuse to let that sliver of hope spread its wings in my chest. I need to remain level headed and think rationally. Allowing my hopes to fester will only cloud my judgment.
The words are barely out of my brother’s mouth before my head jerks to the side as I search the oppressive darkness. Sure enough, even with the village at my back and a massive trunk blocking my view, even I can see the faint golden glow of the fire as it nears.
What is someone doing all the way out here so late at night? And why?
There’s a soft thud and I panic, automatically thinking the worst. “Abel.”
No. No. No. NO.
“Abel?” I pitch my voice higher, anxiety swirling in my gut like a swarm of povios buzzing beneath my skin. “Abel?” His name echoes out, my silence no longer a priority.
Another thud and my heart pounds as fear consumes me. Just as I’m about to say fuck it and climb to my brothers’ side of the tree, he finally responds. “There are hunters taking out the Teasba beasts.”
Relief rushes through me like a river being undammed. My tense muscles relax and I rub a hand down my face as I attempt to collect myself. My heart still pounds in my chest and my breathing is still ragged. The intense fear I felt at the mere thought of something happening to Abel is enough to debilitate me completely. I had completely lost focus on the world around me, confirming Abel’s safety the only priority. As the panic starts to ebb what my brother said filters in slowly.
What? Hunters are taking down the beasts? Impossible.
I shake my head. That’s impossible. We’ve tried our affinities, both separately and together but the powers are never strong enough to break through that hide of theirs and do any damage.
Another thud and it’s then I realize there’s utter chaos at the base of our tree. Two of the beasts are lying prone on their sides, a massive … twig sticking out of their stomachs. The remaining four scramble around, growls sharp and piercing. In my panic, my mind had shut out all sound as I waited with bated breath for my brother’s response.
A beast with a stick poking out of his back leg is the next to drop as I watch in shock. That’s how you kill Teasba’s? With fucking sticks? There’s no way, there has to be more to it. Eyes wide, the remaining beasts yelp and flee further into the cursed woods.
“It’s safe to come down now.” The voice is unfamiliar, a male, young by the sounds of it.
I take a moment to consider my options but the decision is made for me the moment I hear Abel sliding down the tree on my other side. Silently, I grumble about idiots and trusting brothers as I follow quickly behind him. If shit is about to go down, I’ll at least buy Abel time to flee.
Turns out that sentiment is unnecessary.
By the time my feet connect with the ground, Abel’s already shaking hands with the small group of males holding torches and bows. I move to his side, taking a step so I’m standing just slightly in front of him, ready to protect him if that need arises. Even in the dark, their vibrant colored eyes tell me all I need to know.
I release the breath I didn’t realize I was holding as I take in their group with closer scrutiny. There are two Firvo manipulators, one Elestal, and a Flokil user that makes up this team of hunters. They each have a quiver at their back with more of those sticks that they shot at the beasts.
“Never seen that color of eyes before on an Elestal manipulator.” I freeze, the slight tensing of Abel’s shoulders the only sign of his mounting tension. “That must mean you’re pretty strong.” The men all laugh for a few moments before they realize we didn’t join in their mirth.
“Oh, sorry about that. Living out here, so close to the beasts, sometimes we forget our manners.” The young spokesperson for the group shrugs with an apologetic smile. “I reckon you’re tired and hungry. Let’s get back to the village before the Teasba’s come back for another round.”
Without a word, they turn and head back in the direction I assume they came from. Abel and I exchange a long look, no words needed between us. We’re both of the same mind, eager to be free of the cursed forest but cautious of this group’s intentions.
I take the first step forward, following the strangers with Abel close on my heels.
Here’s hoping for a decent meal tonight.