The rats screeched angrily when they saw one of their own on the ground with a sword through its neck. The scurried forward, the foam in their mouths dribbling on the ground and their white-brown teeth gnashing hungrily.
Freya leapt forward, swinging her axe wildly and cutting down dozens of rats, blood splattered on her face, but she didn’t seem to mind. In fact, Rase could have sworn he saw a twisted smirk cross her sweet halfling face.
Kal wasn’t so lucky, as the smaller targets and close proximity threw off her aim and as she moved back, one bit her in the ankle, tearing a chunk of flesh clean from the bone. She pulled out a dagger and jabbed at the one at her feet, the blade struck true and slid deep into the rat’s eye socket. It released a deafening squeal and tried to fight against the pain, but she twisted the dagger and watched it go limp at the end of her blade.
Rase used his free hand to send red balls of energy at the rats, striking dozens of them down with a single blast. He didn’t know where these rats came from, or if it was even right to call them such. Now he could feel the uneasiness that was lingering over the forest, like a dark cloud of evil energy covering the land. The smell of rotting blood hit his nose as more and more of the beasts fell and the beautiful forest backdrop to this fight, faded away from his sight.
“They’re still coming!” Freya shouted as she continued swinging her axe toward the ground.
Kal continued shooting the rats that were coming at her, but she was only able to take down one with each arrow. Rase knew this wouldn’t end well if he didn’t do something quickly. He may have only just met these people, but they were his allies now and he needed to help them win this fight.
He saw Freya stumble to the ground as two rats jumped on her chest and began biting at her arms and neck. In his distraction, he failed to notice another two clawing and biting at his legs and tail. He shook them off and flicked his blade with his wrist and an arch of purple acid flung from his sword.
They screeched in pain as the acid hissed against their fur and their flesh and bone sizzled as it began to melt away. They quickly retreated into the forest, the rest of them following closely behind. For now, Rase could no longer sense any danger. They had won.
He looked over at Freya and Kal and noticed that Freya looked furious. His brow furrowed in confusion. They were just weird rats, nothing to get so upset over.
“I can’t sense any danger, they’re gone,” Freya said with a pant as she wiped her axe clean on the grass.
“Something is not right with this forest. I have never seen such creatures in these parts before,” Kal said.
He moved away from the massacred bodies and put his blade away once more. Just as he started to feel a little safer, he noticed something large and black moving slowly in the underbrush. His hands shot up to his swords and he jumped when he felt a firm hand grasp his wrist. Kal was standing behind him, shaking her head. But…why?
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” she said threateningly.
“There’s something else out there.”
“I know…she’s with me.”
“she?” Rase looked back to where he had seen the unidentified beast and stumbled back when he came face to face with a fully-grown black panther. Its yellow eyes stared into his and its mouth hung open slightly, showing off those deadly white teeth. “You’re a beast master,” he said, once he caught his breath.
“Yes, this is my friend Carla. I rescued her three years ago when she was a cub and she decided to stay with me.”
He watched as the panther brushed against Kal’s hand affectionately. Panthers in the wild were rare but to have one as a companion was unheard of. They were recluse, dangerous, some even rabid, but this one seemed different, special almost. However, that didn’t mean he was going to go anywhere near it anytime soon.
“Shall we continue?” Freya asked cheerfully, clearly unphased by the appearance of a deadly cat.
‘Where was this cat while we were fighting rats?’ He thought to himself. It was mildly annoying that Kal seemed to have a wild card, but didn’t choose to use it. If this panther was joining them on their rescue mission, he hoped she’d put it to good use, should the need arise.
“Yes, you’re not in pain, are you?” Rase asked Freya, pointing to the bite marks on her arms.
“Oh, this is nothing,” she replied.
“Then let’s move before those disgusting beasts decide to come back for another go.”
Rase followed Kal, allowing her to track the boy and the alleged beast that stole him. The leafy canopy above blocked most of the sunlight, so there was no telling how long they had been walking for, but there was an unnatural light keeping the forest illuminated. He was curious as to what was producing the beautiful soft haze, but he had no time to stop and investigate.
“What do you think took Jimmy?” Freya asked, breaking the silence that Rase so desired.
“I thought you didn’t believe there were violent beasts here.”
“Well that was before the rats. Did you see those teeth?” Freya held up two fingers to her mouth, pretending they were fangs.
“I did,” Rase responded
“So, what do you think it was?”
“I really couldn’t guess.” He watched as Freya stopped her line of questioning, defeated for now.
They entered a clearing off the beaten track and they stopped.
“This is it,” Kal whispered. “There’s a strange power here. I don’t know what…”
“There’s nothing here,” Freya said as she looked around the clearing.
Rase scanned every gap in the tree, every bush and every tiny flower, but there was nothing out of place. Except for one thing. Two trees stood out from the others, their branches intertwined with one another, creating a natural archway. The leaves were almost completely transparent, but they shone gold and silver and purple. A brilliant gold light seeped from the inside of the trunks, it was soft, welcoming and made Rase feel at ease. He didn’t like it.
“I think this is it,” Rase said, nodding towards the archway.
“This is what?” Kal asked.
“Where the beast took the boy.”
Freya looked at Rase with bewilderment. “It’s just a funny tree.”
“And those rats were just funny rats,” Rase sighed. “Nothing is right in this forest anymore…so, maybe…” he trailed off as he stepped closer to the tree.
The glowing light grew brighter as he approached and the leaves began to pulsate with energy. As he lifted his hand towards the centre of the arch a beautiful gold and silver shimmer appeared. He shot a glance back to his new allies and nodded. His hand disappeared through the arch and his body followed. The warmth that covered his body was like nothing he had ever felt before, it was wet and dry at the same time, suffocating yet airy.
He stepped through, disappearing from sight.
Legend of Aphron – Chapter 2 Purple Forest Part 1 will be out Monday 10th September! I hope you’re enjoying the adventure so far, there is much, much more to come!