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– An excerpt from a young adult fantasy novel I’m working on. –

            She could smell the grass, a light moist scent that drifted on the breeze. She could feel the humid earth between her fingers and the dampness of her clothes as they clung to her skin. She could hear the crickets and the frogs and the flutter of some distant bird taking flight. Fae’s eyes slowly opened as she pushed herself into a seated position, holding her head with one hand. She was in a moonlit clearing barely two spans wide, a small expanse of moss and earth amidst a dark and looming forest. Fae squinted up at the night sky. The full moon shone surrounded by a field of tiny bright stars that glowed like fireflies above a tranquil inky pond.

She knew she was no longer in Valley, she knew it the moment she could no longer smell the wisteria blooming, or hear the faint hum of cars driving down the interstate. She also knew because she could feel the humidity that hung in the air around her, she could feel summer for the first time in weeks. But she could also feel the storm on the winds, the unnatural twist of icy breath that would soon envelop this place.  Despite the heat, she shivered and reached to tighten her coat around her shoulders only to realize it was not there. She had left it back home, wherever home was.

Something howled in the darkness and Fae realized for the first time how exposed she was in this open space. She looked up at the sky; the stars were clustered in foreign constellations that she did not recognize. With nothing to lose, Fae picked out a star that she felt shone a little brighter than the rest and began to walk towards it. Clutching her brown canvas bag to her chest she ventured into the dark wood, stealing once last longing glance at the moonlit clearing before it was swallowed by the trees.

***

      Fae plodded through the dark undergrowth, her legs covered in small scrapes to the point that she no longer flinched when a protruding branch drew blood. She felt exhaustion weigh down her bones and humidity cloud her head. She had long since lost sight of the constellation that guided her, the feeble starlight lost behind a maze of dark twisting branches. She had contemplated turning around and heading back the way she came, but the howling had come closer, a blood thirsty wail that pressed her steps. Fae thought she heard something stalking her in the darkness, swift strides on the damp earth, a soft growl on the back of the wind.  She pressed forward, trying to mute her heavy panting breaths when she stumbled onto a narrow muddy path.

  She looked to either side, hesitating. Suddenly, the howling was upon her, so she veered left and instinctively began to run. She could hear padded feet running along each side of her, no longer worrying about stealth. Fae forced herself to look up at the sky, which was barely visible amongst the treetops. No moon shone down upon the beaten path to cast its pale glow and dispel the darkness around her. Her chest heaving, Fae looked behind her and to either side, but there was nothing there that she could see. But she heard them. Snarling and howling, calling one another to the hunt.  There was nothing she could do but keep running.

Then she tripped on a rut and slid head first into the muddy ground. Pain shot up her right leg as she pushed herself onto her knees; she heard howls erupt all around her. Pressing her hand against her throbbing ankle, she spun her head from left to right, but they seemed to come from everywhere at once. Dark figures darted in and out of sight, yellow glowing eyes peering from the darkness then were gone the next instant. Disoriented, she shut her eyes and tried to calm herself. The howling pressed closer, turning into snarls that dripped saliva and craved blood. She tried to slowly get to her feet but as soon as she put pressure on her ankle she collapsed onto her other knee with a cry. Then the howling stopped, and she heard a low growl that caused the earth to tremble.

Fae opened her eyes and saw a figure slowly creep out of the darkness ahead of her. It snarled, its jet-black fur spiked up at the ridge, streaks of silver gleaming as it moved. Its paws pushed down into the muddy earth, sizzling as the water beneath the pads of its feet evaporated into thin white steam. Fae looked into the wolf’s glowing yellow eyes and saw hunger. Her hand slid along the ground and found a thick jagged branch. Her fingers grasped it tightly as she slowly got to her feet again. Placing her weight on her good leg, she took an awkward step back as the wolf snarled. She wished she was home, she wished she had stayed in her warm bed with the covers drawn up against the unnatural cold. Instead she felt the hazy warmth of this foreign place. Instead her head swam, her ankle throbbed and her bones felt like led. Instead she was lost in a dark forest where the stars were strangers and the shadows were wolves.

The wolf-like creature bared its unnaturally long fangs, saliva dripping into a pool at its feet. She grasped the branch so tightly she could feel splinters pushing into her skin, but blood pumped in her ears and she payed no mind to the sharp pain. All she could see where the creatures yellow eyes, they seemed to flash with keen anticipation.  It lunged, and a scream caught in Fae’s throat as she threw up her arms to protect herself with the stake. She felt something fly by her ear and heard the wolf snarl furiously. She opened her eyes and saw an arrow sticking out of the wolf’s neck, dark purple blood dripping onto the muddy floor as it thrashed violently. Its yellow eyes fell on Fae, but as it was about to pounce another arrow shot from behind her and silenced it.

She stared disbelievingly at the dead wolf, which lay silently in a pool of its own sizzling blood, two arrow nestled deeply in its throat. She turned her head as three more creatures leaped out of the forest, bellies low to the ground and teeth barred. Two arrows shot simultaneously at the pack from the trees, but they leapt out of the way and in one fluid motion swiftly began running towards the source of the arrows. Another arrow shot out of the darkness, but the wolves weaved in and out of formation, easily evading it. They leapt towards the trunk of a large tree, a shaft suddenly piecing through the leaves pinning one of the wolves to the ground as it was in mid air. The other two sank their claws into the bark and began running straight up the trunk into the depths of the branches.

Fae hobbled off the muddy path and collapsed on the ground in a near by bush. She heard a yelp and turned to see a wolf break it’s back on a large branch before falling into a heap at the base of the trunk. Then someone leapt from the branches, still facing the tree as they landed in the mud using one hand to steady themselves. The other held a sword, the purple blood steaming against the cold metal of the blade.

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