“To all who dwell inside the dark, reveal yourselves within this spark!” Zeke uttered the spell and a bright yellow orb of light appeared in his hand. He threw it up in the air and the light exploded into a million little lights, illuminating the path before them.
“Great work, Zeke,” Moralie said.
“It’s not going to last for too long,” Zeke warned. “We should head back the way we came.” He looked behind them and couldn’t see the trail they came in on. It was like it disappeared completely. He didn’t like the looks of it. Surely, if they retraced their steps, they would be able to leave this forest, but he wasn’t too sure.
“Rafe? What do we do?” Moralie asked.
Rafe looked behind them and saw no trace of where they had come from. She didn’t like what she was going to say, but it made the most sense. She was convinced that they were no longer in Sexton, but had somehow stepped into another place entirely. “We’re just going to have to keep moving forward to the other side.” She hoped that there was another side. “Zeke, you should lead the way.”
“Me?” Zeke’s voice cracked. He cleared his throat and tried again. “But I don’t know where we are! What if I get us lost?”
“We can’t be more lost than we already are, right?” Simon asked. He nodded his head at Zeke with confidence.
“You’re the one who is able to produce light. It makes sense that you lead us.” Moralie said, moving her and her horse aside. Zeke moved his reluctant horse to the front of the pack. “Don’t worry, I’ll be right behind you.”
The four of them moved slowly through the dark forest, being mindful of where their horses stepped. The horses were not completely on board with moving forward. The way was too dark for them and they didn’t like the noises that surrounded them.
Zeke was trying to keep calm. He didn’t like being in the lead. He thought that he would be better off bringing up the rear. He didn’t like the idea of being a leader. He would much rather someone else make the decisions. He thought that Rafe was doing a pretty good job. He told himself that if wouldn’t be for long, it was just until they got out of this creepy forest.
The lights began to dim around them. The horses were getting more antsy. Zeke recited the spell again and more lights appeared. He hoped that he wouldn’t have to do this a lot; he didn’t want to use up all of his magical energy before they were able to get out of this place.
They moved in silence, but there was not total silence. There were high pitched chirps coming from above them, hissing coming from the ground, and some grunts and growls surrounding them. They all tried not to think about what those sounds belonged to. They kept their eyes looking forward.
Simon, bringing up the rear, heard something snap behind him. He looked back to see what it was, but couldn’t see anything. He ignited one of his fists and caught something moving away from them. It looked like some kind of wet snake judging from how the green light reflected off its surface. He turned to Rafe wide eyed and said, “There are creepy crawlies out here!”
“It’s a forest, of course there are,” Rafe said dismissively.
“But they’re following us.” Simon saw that this unnerved Rafe a little. He quickened his horse’s steps with a flick of his reins. Rafe did the same. They continued to hear the sound of twigs snapping and something dragging against the ground.
Simon tossed a green fireball behind him in the hopes of hitting whatever was following them. There was a loud hiss suddenly. “Hoo! I got it!” He listened for a moment and couldn’t hear it anymore. He wasn’t sure if that was a good thing or a bad thing. He confidently turned back around and moves forward with the group. A moment later, something hit Simon in his chest and knocked him from his horse. He cried out, this caused the group to stop moving.
“Simon, what’s wrong?” Rafe turned her horse around and looked at Simon. In the fading light, he appeared to be angry and flustered. “Zeke, more light!”
Zeke recited the light spell again and brighter lights appeared.
“Something threw me off my horse.” Simon stood up and sought to climb back on his horse, but something wrapped itself around his right foot. He fell to the ground again, this time on his chest. He looked down at his feet and saw that something slimy and green had his foot. He quickly reached down and tried to pull it off. The slimy tendril was strong and had a firm grip.
“Playing hardball, huh?” Simon clapped his hands and blue sparks of electricity appeared between them. He touched the tendril and gave it a shock. There was a loud hiss from somewhere nearby. The tendril loosened its hold. Simon was able to slide his foot free. He stood up again and intensified the lightning in his hands. “What is this thing? Come on out!”
“I don’t think you want to do that,” Zeke said cautiously.
Everyone waited for something to happen, nothing did. Simon’s heart was beating hard. He was ready for action, but at the same time dreading what was hellbent on grabbing him. He couldn’t hear anything from the creature and assumed that it had gone away. It didn’t like the jolt it got. Feeling that he was safe, he stepped backwards until he reached his horse. He got back on it and looked at Rafe to let her know that he was ready to move forward.
In an instant, a white web shot out of the darkness and wrapped itself around Simon and his horse. He cried out again as they were dragged backward.
Rafe pulled out her sword and jumped off of her horse. She swung at the web in an attempt to cut Simon free. She only succeeded in getting her sword covered in the sticky slime. She didn’t give up; she continued to hack away at the web.
“Don’t let it get me!” Simon yelled. He struggled to get himself free, but he only got more entangled in the web.
Moralie maneuvered her horse over to Rafe and Simon. She pulled out her daggers and tried to pinpoint her target. It was too dark out there. She called to Zeke to come over and bring his light.
Zeke didn’t want anything to do with this creature, but he didn’t want Simon to get hurt. He obliged and approached them. He recited the light spell and threw the light out into the darkness. The light revealed a large spider like creature, eight hairy legs, six eyes, and two long tendrils waving wildly from his menacing face. The web was coming from between its two fangs.
The creature let out a loud hiss and stood up on its four hind legs. Rafe fearlessly rushed towards it with her sword poised for action. The creature swung one of its legs and threw her aside. Moralie got down from her horse and threw one of her daggers at its abdomen. It connected and the creature gave another hiss and landed on its four front legs.
Zeke was frozen. He didn’t know what to do. He had never seen anything like this in his life. What was this thing? He knew that he had to help, but he was too afraid. He should say a spell, but he didn’t have time to flip through his master’s book for anything that might damage it. So he just watched, immobile, impotent.
Rafe stood up and prepared to attack it once more. She approached carefully and waited for the creature to swipe at her. When it did, she was ready with her sword. She cut off one of its legs. The creature cried a shrill scream and stood up on its hind legs. This allowed Moralie to throw another dagger, this time, one of her fire daggers. The creature deflected it and sent it flying back at her. As Rafe and Moralie prepared for another attack, the creature decided that it had had enough and ran out into the darkness, dragging Simon and his horse along with it.
“Rafe! Moralie!” Simon shouted.
Rafe and Moralie jumped back onto their horses. “Follow him!” Rafe commanded. They whipped the reins and the horses took off. Zeke snapped out of his trance and followed behind them. He soon caught up with them and brought the light with him.
The three of them chased after the creature, following the sound of Simon’s screams. Zeke cast the light spell again and sent it in front of them. They were barely able to make out the creature ahead of them. It stayed just ahead of the light. If they blinked, they would miss it.
They saw the spider creature take a hard right into the darkness. As they approached the spot, they couldn’t see it anymore. They could no longer hear Simon’s screams. It was as if they had vanished in thin air. Rafe and Moralie called out Simon’s name in the hopes of him hearing them. There was no reply.
Zeke couldn’t process what was happening. Did they just lose Simon? Was he going to die? What was that thing? “What do we do now?” Zeke asked out loud.
“We try to find it,” Rafe said. “Come on, it went this way.” She headed off in the direction the spider creature went without even waiting for the light. Zeke and Moralie followed closely behind her.
They continued to call out to Simon, but they couldn’t hear him. They only heard the noises of the other creatures in the forest. No one wanted to admit that Simon was beyond their help. That creature had seven legs and could run faster than their horses. It knew the forest better than they did. It could be anywhere by now. They all knew this, but they didn’t want to accept it.
After twenty minutes of running around in the dark, Rafe stopped her horse. She turned to them with a grave look on her face. Her voice caught in her throat as she said, “I think… I think we’ve lost him.”
“No!” Moralie cried. “We have to keep looking for him! We can’t just leave him out here!”
“We’ve been looking for a long time,” Rafe said.
“That thing must have a nest or something, we just have to find it!” Moralie looked to Zeke for support. “Tell her, Zeke.”
“Umm, yeah,” was all Zeke was able to muster.
“It could be anywhere in here,” Rafe countered. “Are you prepared to search every inch of this forest for something we may never find?”
Moralie nodded. “I will not leave him out here to die. He wouldn’t leave us behind. We owe it to him.”
Rafe let this sink in for a moment before she nodded her head. “I agree. Let’s keep looking. Zeke, lead the way.”
Zeke nodded his head and activated the light. He allowed the light to go ahead of him so that it could properly guide them. He looked up and tried to see if there was anything in the canopy where it might hide. He couldn’t get a clear view due to the brightness of the light.
Moralie and Rafe called out Simon’s name as they went. Zeke knew that Simon couldn’t hear them. He considered the idea that the spider creature had taken him far away and was… He didn’t want to assume the worst. He wanted to have hope that Simon was still alive and he was fighting hard to survive.
Zeke also knew that they were lost. The original path they were on was far behind them. He couldn’t tell which direction was north. There was no sense of direction in this place. There was only darkness, more trees, and the denizens of the forest. It was going to be impossible to get their bearings, even if they found Simon.
They searched for another hour. They were no closer to finding Simon. The forest seemed to stretch on forever in all directions. Rafe looked to Moralie and didn’t say anything. Everything she wanted to say was in her eyes. Moralie avoided looking at them for a moment before she finally gave in. They told her that Simon was gone and they still had a mission to complete. Tears ran down her cheeks and dripped onto her fists. How could this have happened? How were they giving up on him?
Moralie wanted to call out Simon’s name until she went hoarse, but with each passing minute, it seemed less likely that they would ever find him. She sobbed as she thought about having to go forward without him. She shuddered as Rafe placed a cold hand on her shoulder.
Zeke watched as they mourned for their friend. He couldn’t believe that Simon was gone just like that. They were all happy and eating breakfast earlier today. How could today have gone so wrong so fast? He silently cursed the Dark One for this. If he ever met that guy again, he would make sure that he was made to pay for all of the hardship he put them through.
Zeke shushed Moralie as he heard some rustling nearby. Moralie dried her eyes and scanned the lit area for anything that might be creeping up on them. Rafe gazed upward to see if anything might be above them. They all heard the rustling. It made the horses uneasy.
“We should move,” Moralie said. “We’re sitting ducks.” Rafe and Zeke agreed.
Zeke tried to pick a good way to go. Any direction was as good as any. Zeke turned his horse to the right and led the way between the trees.
The rustling drew closer. It sounded like it was coming in from all sides. Zeke pondered if he should keep going forward or stop. He didn’t want to be a sitting duck, but he also didn’t want to be moving into danger. He decided to press on.
“Zeke, look! The ground!” Moralie sounded panicked.
Zeke looked down and saw that there was some movement on the ground. There were vines that were wriggling and twisting in place. He looked to his left and saw the same. “That’s unnatural.” They didn’t appear to be doing anything at the moment other than existing. “We should just keep going. Maybe it’s nothing.”
Rafe flicked the reins on her horse, telling it to move forward, but it did not move. She kicked the sides of the horse urgently, but the horse refused to move. She looked down at the horse’s feet and saw that it couldn’t move. The vines had wrapped themselves around each foot and were slowly climbing upward to get her. She was stuck. She knew that if she got off the horse, the vines would grab her. Her fate was sealed, but she wasn’t going to go down without a fight. She took out her sword and began to slice the vines away. The horse struggled to get free, bucking wildly.
This caused Moralie and Zeke to look behind them. They saw what was happened and rushed to Rafe’s aid.
“Stop!” Rafe shouted. “It’s me they want! Stay back!”
The horse bucked one last time and it made Rafe fall to the ground. The vines didn’t waste a second in snapping her up. They wound their way around and encapsulated her in a cocoon.
“Rafe!” Moralie shouted.
“Get him to the mountain!” Rafe said. “Keep him safe and get him out of here!” With that, the vines drug her away into the darkness, horse and all.
Moralie and Zeke cried out for her, but there was nothing they could do. Rafe was gone. There wasn’t time to mourn her. They didn’t want to be in the same situation. Zeke flicked the reins on his horse and encouraged it to leave this place. Moralie followed him. They picked up speed and they raced through the forest. They prayed that would find the end of it alive.