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|Continuing from chapter 4; Travelling through the Shadowood (yeah, yeah, bad name, I *know*...), Jude meets up with some interesting people. Oh, yeah, translation of Sret. I'm supposed to put it in every chapter with the word 'Sret' in it. Sret is a general curse, like 'damn', used instead of Elfwood-forbidden swearwords. Ehhh... song: Linkin Park, Somewhere I Belong. Just because!||
The forest did not have a name; at least, not a name that could be found on any map. The people that farmed the land surrounding the forest called it Shadowood; they believed that strange creatures and evil men lived there. Some said that there were elves, others said orcs; Jude had even heard rumours of a powerful sorcerer that dwelt there. But whatever the truth was, Jude's path lay through the Shadowood; it was the most direct route to the harbour-city of Winterbound, where he hoped to find an old acquaintance of his; a mage by the name of Silas.
Jude watched the flames leap upward, spitting and hissing at one another. They glowed as red as the eyes of the beast. Circ's beast. For an instant, the flames turned blue. There was a roar as the fire flared up, clawing at the air. Suddenly, it was snuffed out.
Wrapping himself in his cloak, Jude lay down, angry with himself. Even the memory of the beast had caused him to lose his temper. Circ deserved worse than death, and Jude was more than prepared to give that to him.
The sun had not yet risen when Jude woke. There was a suggestion of light on the horizon, though; dawn wasn't far off. He covered the remains of the fire with earth and started towards the forest. As he approached the trees, he began to hear birds singing. The trees were tall and strong, in no way evil or oppressive. In fact, the forest was very beautiful. It felt old and majestic, like an elven forest.
He did not hesitate to enter the forest, but once he was past the first trees, he paused. It was always wise to be polite.
"To whomever this forest may belong, I give greeting," he said formally.
He did not receive a reply.
"I intend no harm. I ask only your permission to travel through your territory."
Again he waited for an answer but received none.
He knew that someone was listening, but who or what it was he could not be certain. He raised his right hand and laid it over his heart, the equivalent of a bow or a salute. After that courtesy, he walked on into the forest and did not look back.
Jude journeyed on until the sun began to sink in the west. The trees were closer together this far into the forest and thick masses of undergrowth were tangled around the tree trunks. It began to get dark and Jude realised why it was called the Shadowood; the long, black shadows turned the trees into twisted skeletons that reached for the sky, and the thick canopy of leaves lay like a stifling black blanket overhead.
Jude left no tracks; he had hunted in forests like this one as a child, and he knew how easy it was for the experienced tracker to follow even the faintest of trails-and who could track better than some hungry beast? Especially since the animals of this forest might be-different. Hearing the quiet whisper of running water, Jude turned aside from his path, intending to stop for the night. The source of the sound was a small, clear stream, running swiftly in a narrow channel. He followed it into a clearing, where the stream fed a deep, still pool, roughly circular, but otherwise unremarkable.
Jude waited and watched from the trees until he was sure that he was alone, and then he went and knelt by the pool, scooping the cold water up with his hands and drinking deeply. He never relaxed his guard. This place felt strange; relaxing was dangerous.
Leaning forward, he splashed some water onto his face, the sparkling drops falling from his hands and making the water shimmer and ripple. And within each tiny, ever-expanding circle, a silver light like a pearl appeared…
Jude swore and tried to pull away, but he was too late; he was already caught. Every glistening pearl opened like a flower, spreading golden petals across the surface of the pool, and as they opened, they exploded into glittering, golden dust. Quickly, the surface of the pool was covered with the shining dust, so bright that it was dazzling… He was dimly aware of something leaping down to the ground beside him. It was human-shaped, but a golden haze seemed to be over Jude's eyes and he couldn't see properly.
"Those who stray into the forest heedlessly must accept the consequences."
The creature spoke in a silvery, eldritch voice that sounded female. He watched the shadowy form move behind him, out of sight. It was incredibly difficult even to watch the creature moving, let alone move himself.
He felt a light, cold touch on his face.
"Such a pity that you must die. You are very handsome for a mortal being."
Jude's eyes shut. His mouth felt numb but he managed to form a word that escaped from his lips as a hiss.
"What's that? You can speak? Then perhaps you should pray to whatever god you worship," said the voice in surprised amusement; it sounded pleased, in the way that one is pleased with a pet's trick.
The words came easier now, pouring from Jude's lips quickly and clearly.
"What language is that? What are you saying?" the voice sounded suspicious.
A feeling of warmth, heat, burning…
Blue flames burst into life over the surface of the lake. The golden dust was consumed in the heat and Jude called the fire to himself. He bent his head and allowed the flames to lick at his body. He stood up easily, wreathed in blue fire, as a lithe form darted across his vision.
Jude raised his hand and a stream of blue fire seared through the air, landing in front of the creature with a roar, forming a barrier that was twice its height.
The creature turned to run again; it was unbelievably fast, spinning and leaping in a precise, exact way. But Jude was faster.
Two stiletto knives blurred through the air with faultless accuracy. Before they'd even left Jude's hands, two more were in their place. He leapt forward.
The whispering sound was unmistakable. Jude flung himself to the ground in a somersault as one of his own knives streaked over his head. It was bloodstained.
The creature gasped in pain as it tried to pull the other knife out and Jude smiled grimly. That one was too deep.
The dark, still form of the creature came into sight, lying at the foot of a tree and scarcely breathing. Perfectly steady, the next pair of knives was balanced in Jude's fingers, held by the blades. He moved forward very cautiously as the flames dispersed, shaking his head to throw his braid back over his shoulder.
Wounded badly, his attacker curled in on itself, trying to hide itself from him.
Jude didn't need to say anything. He just waited.
Shrinking back further, the creature tensed…
Desperately, it tried to attack him again, leaping to its feet with a grunt and lunging at him, but its wounds had caused it to slow down and Jude easily sidestepped the attack. His hand shot out like a snake and he took hold of the creature's hair, long, black hair that felt soft under his fingers.
He jerked its head back with one hand and twisted its arms behind its back with the other. Black eyes glared at him as he forced the creature to its knees, and he was surprised to see that its face was human; in fact, he realised, it was a human girl, not an elf as he'd first thought.
She hissed angrily and spat in his face, but he didn't flinch or loosen his hold. "Why did you try to spell me?" he asked, his voice cold. "You have no right to be here!" she snarled, twisting and struggling violently.
"Oh? I did ask for permission, but you didn't answer, did you?"
"You should know that no one is permitted to enter! And you drank from the pool!"
This last offence seemed to make her so angry that Jude expected foam to froth from her lips in a kind of fanatical devotion, but all she did was renew her frantic-and useless-wriggling.
Jude watched her face thoughtfully. It seemed to irritate her to the extreme that he wasn't having any trouble restraining her; she was resorting to attempting to bite him. Her clothing was odd. She wore a short jacket without a shirt and a pair of trousers, both made from some slippery, gauzy material that was difficult to get a grip on. Then, with understanding dawning in his mind, he saw the black fang mark tattooed on the back of her neck. Werewolf.
In his arms, she began to growl.
Not a pleasant situation, was his first thought, but he was already moving. Letting her go as though she was a poisonous snake-it is not wise to hold on to an angry werewolf-he stumbled back, the two knives sliding into their sheaths. They would be useless.
However, even as the growling began, it stopped. Slowly, the girl fell forward, landing with a thud on her face, and a dark pool started to spread out from her side. Jude knew unfeigned unconsciousness when he saw it, so he ran to her. Kneeling, he touched her wrist. A ragged pulse still fluttered there, and Jude frowned.
That faint scent…
Scooping up her limp form in his arms, Jude backed towards the pool, laid the girl on the ground and covered her with his cloak. The moonlight turned his braid into a bright silver rope that fell down his back like a waterfall.
He spoke softly in a strange tongue and stretched out his hands. The blue smoke coiled around him and the spear was in his hands.
"Greetings, Lythrà," he murmured.
Eyes watched him from the trees, saw him scent the air. He knew they were there. They saw the girl, lying unconscious; she had failed. They watched the spear appear in the man's hands. They moved in to attack.
Jude slid one foot back and lifted the spear to shoulder height, resting the heavy shaft lightly on his fingertips. He was perfectly balanced, like a dancer about to perform a difficult move, or a cat preparing to spring.
The smell of wolf, strong and wild, was in the air. A deep, threatening growl began from the trees to his left. He spun swiftly to face it. Three creatures padded out from the shadows, eyes gleaming. Although Jude thought at once that they looked like wolves, he knew that they were far too big. Their shoulders were hunched and drawn up above their hindquarters and their heads were lowered menacingly. They were more thickset than normal wolves and their teeth were longer; Jude could see the moonlight glinting off protruding incisors.
However, they possessed even stranger characteristics; for one thing, their claws were retractable, like a cat's. As they approached Jude, he saw their claws slide out, long and needle-sharp. On top of that, their colouring was abnormal. One creature's fur was striped in black and white, like a nightmare zebra; another was a bluish-grey colour with a golden ruff, and the last was pure white, with not a speck of colour on it anywhere except for its eyes, which glowed orange.
The growl intensified, becoming a terrible song that raised the hair on Jude's neck. It reminded him of the beast…
The flame cloaked his whole body with blue light and the song stopped abruptly. The wolf-like animals began to change, their forms becoming fluid and rearranging themselves into new shapes. And suddenly, three people stood before him.
Jude didn't lower the spear. He watched the three coolly, not moving a muscle.
There were two men and one woman, all just as extraordinary as their animal counterparts. The first, whose fur had been striped, had the same pattern in his long hair. His skin was black as ebony. The second had short, golden hair that grew down his back like a lion's mane. His skin was light and tattooed with a blue dye. The woman was tall and slender, with dark skin. Her hair was very long, falling in a snow-white curtain down her back and sweeping the ground.
All three were naked without looking at all embarrassed about it.
Jude made no effort to damp the flames.
"Your friend is badly injured," he said, indicating the motionless girl with a jerk of his head.
"You injured her?" inquired the woman, as though she could not see the spear.
"I will see to her." The woman swept past him, her eyes watching him warily, and knelt by the girl's side.
"Is this your cloak?" she asked in surprise.
"Yes," Jude replied calmly, but in his hands Lythrà was a cobra about to strike.
"Why?" the woman asked, "She is your enemy, as are we."
Jude shrugged. "She was injured," he said, as though that explained everything.
The woman frowned.
"What happened?" she asked imperiously.
"She tried to kill me, as you know," Jude replied with a hint of an amused smile, "Perhaps you can tell me why?"
"The fact that you have entered here is enough." This came from the blond man. His voice was rough and deep, like a snarl. The black man said nothing.
The woman drew back the cloak that covered the girl. She laid a hand on the young woman's forehead and whispered something. A very faint glow spread across the girl's skin.
Jude looked for an escape route. If they were as good as he suspected, he could never beat all three of them in a fight, four if the girl was healed completely, but as he thought of this, the two men moved to hem him in and blocked every way out except the pool behind him.
The woman pulled out the blade that was buried in the girl's side, stemming the flow of blood with a concentrated burst of light that healed the wound quickly. Then, her eyes gleaming, she rose to her feet.
"It appears that you know how to use a weapon," she said slowly. Jude said nothing.
"You must be punished for entering where you should not have." The blue fire danced along his arm and enveloped the spear. Jude smiled.
"I see that you will not come quietly," she continued, watching him intently.
Jude returned her stare levelly.
The woman signalled to the blonde man, who stepped forward slowly, watching Jude's hands and eyes. The fire rushed silently down the length of the spear and a whirling fireball launched from the blade, scattering blue, flickering light across the still water. Flinging himself to the right, the man dodged the flame, which flickered out in mid-air.
"Misao!" shouted the blonde werewolf.
"I can't! I don't know what…" the woman hissed.
Under the cover of another white-hot sphere of flame, Jude sprinted towards the gap in the werewolves' defensive ring, scything the air with Lythrà as the black man tried to head him off. The fair-headed werewolf sprang to his feet and touched his forehead, closing his eyes in deep concentration.
"Sret!" Jude cursed, turning to face the man and holding Lythrà up like a barrier, the fire washing over his skin and leaving him unharmed. But behind him, the black werewolf touched his neck, letting his eyes sink shut as well. The woman, Misao, held her wrist, and Jude knew there was no way out when, at last, her eyes closed too.
A glowing corona surrounded all three werewolves, a gathering of enough power to overwhelm even Jude. Misao's orange eyes opened, glowed, blazed…
The world spun sickeningly around him and the last thing he saw before he lost consciousness was a sheet of blue flame.
|Jude Ch. 7||Jude Ch. 2|
|Jude Ch. 3||Jude Chapter 8|
|Jude Ch. 6|