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Merwood, Dread Hideout


A few days later, Chastain was in her chamber. Looking at the ceiling, saddened.

“What is it you think of so deeply?” Margaret queried as she passed the doorway. Pausing when she saw the look on Chastain’s face.

Chastain relented. “I miss my sisters. I wonder if they’re...”

“I’m sure whatever guided you to that doorway watches over them even now.”

Chastain worried her lip. “Do you think?”

“Is that why you sleep so little? Their absence?” Margaret leaned over. Straight white hair framing her cheeks as she caressed a palm over Chastain’s forehead soothingly.

“I was accustomed to talking with them until I fell asleep.”

“So, speak to the wind as you would your lovely sisters.” Margaret gestured around. “Perhaps it’ll carry your words to them.” She breezed from the room.

So, Chastain confided to the darkness each night. Words growing sadder.

She heard nothing back. She sighed forlornly.

But someone was listening…

In a cold cave, in the dark. Acharius Sevence sat on his high bed frame staring into the blackness. Looking at a gray ceiling jutting with stone spikes. He heard water dripping close by. And beyond that, her voice. And the increasing sorrow marking it.

I hear her everywhere I go. The Merwood was a relatively small stand of trees branching from the Netherwood. Separating the Dread Hideout from the Netherlands. The trees of the Merwood were sparser, larger but shrouded in vines and their huge draping leaves.

That night Acharius woke to a vision of vivid green eyes flashing in the dark and somehow knew instantly. It was the eyes of the girl living in Meredith House with Mags and Agatha. He stared at the dark cave wall. His breaths heaving as he met the green gaze coloring the dark like someone lighting a torch.

It was strange. Different. I’ve never seen anything like them. He who’d always seen everything in black and white.

At length the image of green eyes, her eyes, faded as she went to sleep. And he was once more left with only the drip of water echoing through hollow caverns. Wondering. What was that?

Today Chastain wove through the trees toward the cottage, oblivious to the creature trailing her on silent paws.

She shouldn’t be out here alone. It wasn’t uncommon for Dreads to come here to do their sacrificial rituals or for cimmerii to patrol looking for Forever Knights.

She lingered here and there to feel bark on a tree or take in the scent of a flower. The hood tried to contain her wild hair, but dark tendrils escaped.

She paused, tilting her face up to let vestiges of sunlight warm her. The hood slid back and hair that looked almost black to Acharius, suddenly turned flaming red. Sparkling light gray eyes burned emerald. The lavish circlet, a mimic of high-priced ones worn in Mane Country, scribbled into silver with opalescent pearls. Winking in the bursts of gold peering through the tree canopy.

He gasped at the blindness of color. What is that?

What’s happening? He tucked his nose into the fur at his shoulder. Shielding his eyes as he blinked against the foreign brilliance.

Who is she? He shook his head. Unsure what was happening to him. He could suddenly perceive color.

Impossible! He tried to focus. Getting a headache from the dizzying surge against his senses.

Her face fell, she lifted a bare foot and froze, glimpsing the mud drenching it.

What’s she doing? He saw a flash of her memory…Bare feet splashing through icy puddles in a cold morning flight. Nightgown hems muddied. Shivering under wet clothes. More from terror then the chill.

Shaking her head, she returned to the present and stepped over the puddle. As her heel lifted a twining green flower wove from the water, reaching after her foot and then tipping onto the mud behind her heel when she put the foot down. The next footprint filled with green moss and tiny budding flowers. When her shoulder brushed a branch, it lengthened dramatically. Leaves unfurling in thick masses.

Life blooms wherever she touches…A Dread? I’ve never seen magic this powerful. A glance at her back revealed she was oblivious.

Lurking behind her, he trailed her step. Never near enough to be heard…

Her dark shadow.I could kill her before she even knew I was here. That worried him. Anyone could sneak up on her.

She pushed open the hefty gates of the Meredith House gardens.

She knows this place? He slipped in behind her, nearly tangling in her cloak. Furred tail almost catching as she turned and closed the gates quietly. He edged along the border of the gardens to stay from her view. Watching as she headed into Meredith House. The trim of her gray cloak disappeared indoors.

Where did she come from? He decided to ask Mags and Agatha when they spoke next.

His shape changed, as he reduced. Body contorting as he stepped. Furred paw turning to man’s sinewed foot. Skin smoothing and bones jerking as joints realigned. He jumped to catch a low hanging branch. Swinging up into the apple tree’s dark depths. Heading up into the denser parts, he perched on a thick limb, squatting on his haunches. Despite his grace, the branch creaked under his massive weight.

He worried about being seen, aware his blue eyes glowed in the brilliance of the day. Revealing the beast he was. Glancing back toward the gates he verified no one was watching.

But I feel like I am. The sense had driven him from the solace of his caves this morning and hung in the air still. But even through the eyes of his beast, he discerned nothing.

Nothing has better instincts then our kind. He knew. Nothing is moving in these woods without me knowing it. But he wasn’t comforted.

The girl emerged again.

He winced, freezing as she took the stone bench directly below.

Admiring flowers just blooming this morn. At length she rose, and stepped, her foot catching on a root concealed by dirt and grass. She squealed as she lost her footing. However, when she should’ve toppled, her body slowed. Her fall suspended, nearly horizontal. Slowly levitating until she was righted. Feet firmly planted on the ground.

Acharius slowly lowered the hand he’d used to project magic to catch her. He released her weight back to her legs.

Shock had her eyeing her hands. Front and back as she wandered back inside the house.

She thinks she did it. He squinted against laughter.

Leaping from the tree behind her, he landed easily on his feet and was out the gate without a sound.

But an indrawn breath from the trees behind him, had him spinning into a crouch. Scanning the foliage, picking apart the underbrush. Listening carefully, he heard nothing more.

But he caught the scent of basil oil, making his eyes narrow perceptively. Karina?

Down the trail, a dark-haired girl hid behind a tree. A hand over her mouth. Her eyes flashing orange in her excitement.

Acharius aimed for his caves, shaking his head. He only knew one girl that slathered the oil on like that.

Along the way to the cave, he heard whistling and spun his back to a tree. Peering around it, he glimpsed Karina emerging from the borders of Meredith House.

She was an attractive blue-eyed brunette…But the smell…

Basil oil. She’s covered in it this morning. He groaned. Moving around the tree to stay from her view as she approached.

She was watching me. He’d been right earlier. Did she see me jump from the tree?

Why is she following me?

Just watching him leap from the height was not proof he was inhuman. But it’d be unusual for a mortal to jump that distance. He admitted reluctantly.

Yet not impossible.

Karina lived in the forest and Acharius used to help care for her but eventually put her in touch with Margaret and Agatha so she could pick fruits from the garden and partake of the donations from the village. After that, he’d begun extracting himself from her cloying grip.

Did she see me change from the wolf? Now that, could certainly prove dangerous.

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