Paths Revisited - Chapter 6: Danger in the Dark
Their backs towards the fire, facing out, the three companions gazed out into the night. The darkness seemed almost alive, transforming from a comforting wrap of silence to a wild, howling creature with a sinister and savage nature. One, two, four, eight slithering, circling, shadows could be seen, stalking their camp beyond the limit of the firelight. Moving without a sound, round and round the camp they paced, as if waiting for something, or someone. Their howling screeches and shrieks sent chills up and down Theogwyn's spine, the sound seeming to come straight out of a horrific nightmare once forgotten...
Slowly the shapes circled , almost as if waiting for the fire to die down. As the fire flickered lower and lower, the remaining firewood consumed, the shadows came closer and closer, sensing that their primal urge to spill blood would be fulfilled this night. As they came closer, Theogwyn's sharp elvish eyes began to see faint details of the creatures. Their skin was like the pebbled river bottom, and the color of slate and gray-black, with no fur. Their eyes were a strange purple color, filled with a glowering glowing, malevolent glare for the world around them. The jaws were open, and she could see the long teeth within the mouth were easily long enough to bite through a person. Down the teeth rolled huge drops of saliva. Where it dropped to the ground, there was a faint hiss, and whatever it fell on began to smoke, shrivel up , and die in a matter of moments.
The claws on the four paws were longer than her hand, and looked sharp enough to split a person from navel to nose.
What were they waiting for? Theogwyn thought desperately. Why don't they attack?
Suddenly, the darkness of the night became complete-no starlight, no moonlight- the faint starlight had become dimmed, then extinguished by thick roiling thunderheads. The sound of the thunder rolled through the night, adding to the tension. The scent of rain was heavy in the air, almost smothering the other scents of the woods.
Then, one of the creatures slowly detached itself from the shadows, and leaped into the pale, weak firelight, jaws slathering and open in a hideous growl. Then, it's true shape was revealed. The creature looked to be bred from a warg and a fell beast, having not quite the size of a fell beast, but having four limbs with great claws attached, the warg's fierce demeanor, and the hideous shriek of the beast.
Then, another sound was heard, as if off in the distance, the sound of maniacal laughter, as when evil has finally triumphed over its rival. As the laughter moved closer, so did a sense of menace, of contempt, of pure, unadultered evil. It seemed to stop just outside the clearing. A creaking voice called out of the darkness, full of contempt and hatred.
" Theoliligwyn Stargazer, so-called one of the Rangers of the North, and Elfling... Long have I hunted your family to the purpose of destroying you all.. First your father, so long ago, then, your pitiful mother, then The voice mocked her " and now you.. Then there shall be none to stand against me.. My revenge will be complete. There will My pets will take care of you, and that half-ling hiding behind that toothpick of his."
Theogwyn shuddered, for she had heard the voice before, on the day that her mother had disappeared. That night she had been plagued with nightmares of the faceless, nameless evil that had hunted her mother. She had not thought about that night since, but hearing the voice, brought it all fresh back into her mind. The memory of terror was so great that she began to tremble, clutching her swords, in white-knuckled hands.
A harsh, guttral language, one that she had heard only once before sliced though the night, cracking orders, then the sense of evil withdrew and faded, and then the shadows began their attack.
It leapt across the clearing and came right for Theogwyn, as if it wanted to tear out her throat-its jaws gaping wide and slathering, the mouth a malevolent maw down from which there would be no return.
Theogwyn threw up her twin blades in an X in front of her, and as the thing leapt, she quickly knelt, and separated her blades simultaneously, causing them to sever the head from the body of the creature. The claws raked her shoulder with slashes that dripped fire as she tried to tumble out of the way. The headless body, carried on by motion, fell to the other side of the fire, and lay there steaming, turning into vapors before their eyes. Both her blades dripped black ichor, and she leaned down to wipe them off in the grass, keeping a close eye on the ones still around the camp. She shrugged off her cape, and threw it to the side, where it would not hinder her in the battle to come.
While Theogwyn's back was turned fighting the fierce warg-thing, one of the other creatures sprang out of the shadows, this one with a rider, and grabbed Uleerniel. Bravely, Uleerniel sliced both the creature and its rider with her sword, leaving pieces of both on the ground, but found herself in the hands of the rider- which then disappeared from the camp back into the shadows. A very feminine scream was heard, causing Theogwyn to look back for Uleerniel. But, there was only empty space where her friend had stood. Then that shriek had been.... Abruptly it was cut off in mid-wail.
In the next heartbeat, four warg-beasts came tearing through the camp, two with riders. Theogwyn tried to protect the hobbit as best she could, while defending herself.
The rider, small creatures she had never seen the like of before, fought with jagged blades, while the mounts fought with teeth and claw. Like deadly whirlwinds, they dashed in and out of the camp, inflicting heavy wounds each time they passed.
By now, Theogwyn was covered with deep slashes from claws and blades. Blood oozed from her many wounds, staining her clothing, and dripping onto the ground. She could feel herself losing strength to the poison in her wounds. Her footing became unsteady, and her vision began to blur. Uleerniel and Pippin were not fairing much better than her- covered with wounds and losing strength.
As if sensing their weakness, the creatures redoubled their attack, coming on with twice the fury and anger. Then, in a flash, Uleerniel was gone! Her shrieking could be heard for a great distance. Then, they began to become fainter, then abruptly they were silenced. The creatures seemed to melt into the shadows, headed in the direction of the screams.
Then, on the night wind, came the sounds of a feeding frenzy-the ripping and tearing of flesh- their other prey forgotten, and the shadows circled the camp no more.
Pippin ran over and buried his face in her arms. She leaned down and knelt, holding the hobbit close, tears streaming down their faces, trying to block the sounds of the creatures consuming their friend.
After only a few moments, it started to sprinkle, then gently rain, then with more vigor, rain fiercely. The deluge helped damp the sounds around them. Gathering their blankets and saddlebags, they moved back under the shelter of the trees, the sound of everything else began to fade away, to be replaced by the loud rhythm of the raindrops on the leaves around them.
Theogwyn was unsteady on her feet from both loss of blood and the poison coursing through them. Darkness hovering around the edges of her vision, making it difficult to see well. Her hearing was no longer so sharp, and all her wounds throbbed as if on fire. She looked down at Pippin, and saw that, he too was covered with wounds. Her tired mind working purely by instinct, she bent down and wiped her blades clean on the wet grass. Then she retrieved her tossed-aside cloak before it got too wet. Also, she picked up the bedrolls, and rolled them up, and tied them over her shoulders. The horses were gone, and along with them, all their supplies. Too, gone was Eriathiel's bag, with the miraviuor. She looked down at the hobbit, and said..
"I think it might be wise if we spent the what is left of the night high in the trees Pippin. That may afford us some measure of safety, and at daybreak, we will try to make for Rivendell as best we can. If you will hold tight around my neck, I will carry you up" Theogwyn looked down at the hobbit, and afforded him a grim smile. She knelt down, putting a hand to the tree trunk to steady herself, and Pippin clasped his arms around her neck. Making sure that he was holding tight, she began climbing up to the heights of the oak trees that they had sheltered under.
As they slowly made their way up the tall oak tree, the branches closed around them, hiding them from view on the ground, and the rain was washing away their scent.
About three-fourths of the way up the tree, Theogwyn found a large section of branches that grew so closely together that it reminded her of the flets of home. Gently, she set down the hobbit and began to spread out her blankets.
" I think we can sleep on these branches," she said to Pippin, who was holding on to her neck with a death grip. " I think that they are wide enough and close enough together that neither of us will fall off while we sleep. I will sleep closest to the edge if you like, that way you will be sure not to fall."
Pippin looked at the branches, and made a non-committal sound. Being a hobbit, he didn't like heights. But, being in the tree was much preferable to becoming warg food. He loosened his arms from around Theogwyn's neck, and began to spread his bed roll in the center of the closely grown branches, taking care to arrange it so that he was up next to the trunk. ` Hobbits were not meant to sleep in trees. I miss my hobbit hole. I wish I was back there, with a mug of ale in my hand, and a warm fire in front of me.. He lost himself in memory as he slipped into his damp bedroll, and tugged the covers up over his head.
Theogwyn spread her blankets on the other side of Pippin, between him and the edge of the branches. She sighed with relief as she slid into her bedroll. It felt so good just to lay here and rest. Her wounds throbbed and burned, but somehow, she put it out of her mind, and simply let her self drift off.. With one last look at the hobbit, she saw him sleeping soundly. Following his example, she closed her eyes and knew no more.
The leaves overhead grew so closely together that it was like a shelter. No rain dripped down onto their faces or blankets. The rain lighted to a gentle patter, falling a like a soft blanket over the forest. On the branches above the sleeping pair there landed a small hawk. It settled itself on a thick branch over the pair, as if to keep watch through the dreary dark. And the elf and the hobbit slumbered on.
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