194Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡUJa0mzHUb4
After a full English Breakfast of poached eggs, white and black pudding, potato scones and Lourne sausage the four had all pitched in to help clean up and now sat gathered in silence around the kitchen table with cups of Earl Grey tea in their hands. No one said anything, but from the nervous tension in the room and the mutual stone-faced expressions made it clear that everyone present were thinking the same thing and that none of them wanted to be the first to speak.
The ring of the phone caused all four of them to jump, their chairs tumbling backwards to the floor as their frayed nerves jolted them onto their feet.
Swearing loudly as the others forced down their collective surprise, Abban crossed the kitchen to answer the phone.”HQ? Why would ya be contactin’ us in the middle o’ the-. Wha’?” his dark eyes widened slightly, voice becoming strained as he fought to keep his tone calm and level. “We’re bein’ sent where? An hour? Yeah, we’ll be there by tonight.”
“What is it?” Morrigan asked him, rushing over and setting a hand on his shoulder as he leaned heavily against the counter. “Abban!”
“In the wake o’ wha’ happened last night, it looks like they aren’t wastin’ any time dealin’ with us.”
Kennina looked up sharply. “What do you mean?”
“We’re bein’ sent up ta Northern Scotland, Lass. To the Caledonian Forest.”
“Tha’ one in the Cairngorms National Park, ya mean?” Seoirse demanded. “If tha’ isn’t a place ta off someone; we’ll never be found! Nae ta mention all the legends abou’ the hidden valley full o’ mist! The one tha’s supposed ta move around like the hut with the chicken legs.”
“Baba Yaga is the least of our worries at the moment,” she said with a sigh. “We don’t have any other choice but to follow the orders that we’ve been given and do what they want; to go and deal with whatever they have lying in wait for us in this forest in the hopes that, by some miracle, we come out of it alive.”
“How will we be getting there?” Morrigan asked. “I’m not sure where this park that we’re going to is, but doesn’t driving all the way up to Northern Scotland from London take around 7 hours? Not to mention that the car is totaled.”
“They’ve got a plane ticket for each o’ us waitin’ at HQ; we’re supposed ta go an’ pick them up. Our plane leaves in an hour, an’ it’ll take abou’ an hour after tha’ for the flight ta get ta Glasgow.” He replied. “They claim tha’ they’ll be providin’ a car for us once we get there; it’ll be abou’ a two hour drive from the airport ta get ta the park and by the time we finally get ta where we’re going it’ll be around sunset.”
Bending over and picking up her chair from the floor, Kennina righted it at the table. “We should probably head out then, since we wouldn’t want to miss the plane.”
After retrieving the tickets and enduring an hour long flight up to Scotland, they found themselves presented with a Jeep Durango.
The beautiful scenery was hardly what she focused on during the close to two hour drive up to the National Park; once inside of the Cairngorm Mountains preserve the roads deteriorated almost immediately to little more than a pair of tire tracks etched deep into thick mud.
“‘Ere we are,” the engine cut out abruptly as they rolled up to the end of one such road. Abban left the keys lying on the seat when he got out; there was no one else around for hundreds of miles at that point, and even if there were a chance it could be stolen the four of them were almost certain they wouldn’t be needing the car anymore by the end of the night.
Seoirse leapt out quickly and then turned to help her down after him; Kennina grimaced when her boots sunk into the muddy ground with a wet squelch.
“It’s certainly quite wet up here,” she noted somewhat sourly, tearing her eyes away from the state of her combat boots to take in the land around them inside. The road that they’d been traversing prior to its sudden end had lead them up to the very foot of the Earth’s arching spine, a ridge of massive mountains-snow capped red stone carpeted by golden fields of grass and thick forests of Scottish Pine Rowan and Juniper trees-reared high above them, shattering the light of the sun into thousands of faceted golden rays as it slowly sank down behind them. “As far as places to die go, I suppose it’s small comfort that we pulled a pretty one.”
“Small comfort indeed,” Seoirse scoffed. “Oi, if we’re stickin’ with the plan o’ splitin’ inta partners than I call Kennina as mine; havin’ seen ‘er fight I like my chances with ‘er better than with either o’ you.”
“I’d be obliged ta worry for ya, Lass, with ma brother as yer partner.”
“Abban! Come on now!”
“Siblings,” Morrigan shook her head. “Teasing each other mercilessly right up until the end.”
“I guess that’s how you know that they’re related.”
“Yeah, you’re right. I guess it is.” She said. “Before we head out on this suicide mission-I doubt any of us here have any sort of illusion that this is anything different-I’d just like to say thank you to all three of you. The ride has been fun.”
Abban nodded. “Tha’ it has. Now, as Morrigan said, I don’t think tha’ any o’ us ‘ave any sort o’ illusion as ta the reality tha’ we’re nae likely ta be seein’ the next dawn, but I don’t want any one o’ ya ta so much as think abou’ goin’ down without givin’ those bastards hell!”
“I’m sure that I’m speaking for all of us when I say we’ll be taking as many of them with us as we can.” Kennina said.
“Tha’ ya are, Yankee Rose. But warriors don’t say ‘goodbye’ so we should get goin’ before this can get any mushier.”
“He’s right. Luck ta all o’ ya; until we meet again.”
There were no definitive trails in the area, so she simply followed Seoirse as he walked off the road directly into the trees. The land sloped upwards dramatically, the dark canopy of the widely spaced-out trees sheltering rich green mosses and the feathery curling fronds of ferns, the loamy leaf-strewn soil sighing softly beneath their feet as absorbed rainwater was forced from the spongy earth.
As the sun set completely and the last light of day faded into the night the silver bark of the ancient trees surrounding them darkened into black.
Something-an animal, small and weasel like-darted away into the undergrowth.
The watery light of the moon floated down to them from the satin heavens.
At the slight snap of a branch, Kennina stopped in her tracks.
“Somethin’ wrong?” Seoirse paused as well, turning from his position a few paces ahead to glance back at her.
“I...just thought I heard something,” she replied, finding nothing in the shadows surrounding them even as her eyes darted quickly to each side. “Never mind.”
“Forests like these mess wit’ yer senses so I’m nae surprised tha’ yer hearin’ things. Especially in this one.”
“Why would you say that?”
He shrugged. “Aside from the legend o’ the movin’ valley, the Caledonian features in a number o’ stories an’ tales, including Arthurian Folklore. Supposedly, it’s a place where those thrown into a supernatural madness, known back then as Gwyllt, come to escape from their demons. Somethin’ about these trees...it calms the beast.” Seoirse glanced around as well and then shuddered. “There certainly does seem ta be an energy ‘ere. It’s very eerie.”
“It’s say ‘eerie’ is putting things lightly.” She replied dryly. “Don’t tell me that we’re going to end up walking right up on a sleeping Dragon, or that a werewolf is going to pop out of thin air and start chasing us through the trees.”
“Let’s hope nae, but one never does know in places like this one. We should keep moving.”
They pair continued onwards for another few minutes before coming upon a shallow stream, its water running crystal clear across a scattering of worn-smooth multicolored stones and with muddy banks hedge in by tall walls of white stone. It was much colder here, set in the dip between two slopes of the mountain that they had been climbing for the better part of an hour.
There were tracks imprinted in the loose silt of the shore, almost human and unmistakable as belonging to a Malformed.
“Aye,” Seoirse crouched down on his haunches to better examine the trail made in the mud. “They’re fresh; wha’ever made ‘em isn’t far away.” Straightening up again he looked around, squinting left and right through the gloom. “I don’ like this; it feels too much like a set up. Like a trap.”
The sharp sound of applause rang from gloved hands and the pair raised their eyes to the top of one of the stone walls to find their attacker from the previous night grinning ruthlessly down at them, flanked on either side by a pair of snarling Malformed.
“Well done! Well done indeed! You certainly picked up on it much faster than the other two did though, I suppose, the setting here does make things a bit more obvious. Not that that will save either of you.” The black clad Dhampir chuckled evilly as more Malformed, fangs bared and claws bloody, emerged from the undergrowth not far away from the top of the other stone wall above them, beginning to crawl down towards them like massive spiders with predatory gazes fixed on their prey. “As a reward, I’ll allow you to play a little game with my pets here. How about tag? Kill them!”
As the horde surged forwards in a tide of snarls and hellish-sounding howls the pair took off running for their lives, crashing through the shallow water in a shower of crystal droplets and plunging with abandon into the dark undergrowth on the other side of the stream as the rollicking sadistic laughter rang out from behind them.
Their hearts thundered in their ears, pounding in their throats as their chests heaved for sharp shallow breaths tinged with the metallic flavor of blood. Kennina tripped over a rock and Seoirse paused momentarily to steady her; his feet slipped from beneath him on the muddy slope and she dragged him back upright before forging on.
“Damn it, this isn’t workin’! They’re still right behind us!” He hissed harshly between gasps for breath, casting a glance over his shoulder at the billowing mass of red eyes roaring over the mountain behind them. “Split up! Go tha’ way!”
“Keep runnin’ Kennina!” His voice echoed back to her as he veered off into the trees, leaving her with no choice but to continue forwards on her own.
Alone, now, Kennina plowed blindly through the darkness, weaving chaotically through the trees without direction driven onwards only by the thought of escape even as exhaustion began to overpower the adrenaline, the burning in her legs threatening to take them from beneath her.
Suddenly, the forest opened up around her and the earth vanished from beneath her, solid stone crumbling away beneath her feet as she pulled up short at the very last moment to teeter precariously on the edge of the sheer drop off into the darkness below.
One of the Malformed at the head of the pack launched itself at her, crashing into her back and sinking its blade-like fangs deep into her shoulder; its momentum and their combined weight carried them over the edge with a snarl and a scream.
A moment of weightlessness registered on her senses before she plummeted like a stone, the Malformed knocked free of her when they slammed into an outcropping jutting out of the side of the mountain, her body crashing through sharp thorny bushes and ultimately coming to rest with a heavy thud at the bottom of a 100 foot cliff.
Pain exploded across her senses with an intensity unlike anything she’d ever felt before as, beaten and bloody but somehow still alive, Kennina forced herself to roll over onto her stomach and began a desperate effort to drag her wounded frame away into the trees.
The Malformed were coming; she could hear them climbing down after her. It was a fight to remain conscious; he vision rapidly going in and out of focus. Her hunters had reached the bottom now and were advancing on her, victory in their eyes as they leisurely drew down on their now helpless prey. The boldest among them darted in for the kill and she threw up her arm in a futile attempt at defense, prepared to feel fangs slash once more into her flesh.
A black apparition appeared from nowhere, the tails of the cloak that it wore fluttering sharply with its swift movement as the massive sword in its hands cleaved the leaping beast in twain, it's two halves crashing to the ground on either side of her.
Like the Angel of Death himself, the hooded warrior struck before the Malformed could recover, slashing through a handful more of them before their fellows could even attempt to formulate a reaction.
He moved with a practiced, fluid grace like the rushing waters of a river parting around a moss covered stone, fighting with a style that she had never seen before, breathtaking in its eloquence and speed. His blade vibrated, moving so quickly that its edges blurred like those of a flickering flame and making it so that a single pass of the great weapon was all that it took to reduce his opponents to thousands of pieces which were scattered to the wind; the creature before her was a God of War, a being to whom battle was an artform and a pleasure, and within the span of what seemed like seconds the entire horde had been cut down.
Flicking the blood from the weapon in his hand with a sharp twitch of his thin wrist the unknown man turned towards her as everything faded into black.ns 22.214.171.124da2