His head pounded as the fresh snow crunched under their heavy footsteps. They had escaped the bizarre dungeon just as the sun rose that morning, the deep green grasping gas perusing them, dragging them back, and that….. thing coming close behind them, it had taken his voice, was taking his shape, maybe taking his mind, maybe it knew already. And then there was Herbert. Herbert didn’t help at all. He was slow, fat, stupid and probably a spy for the golden circle, or a demon or worst. He shuddered at that thought, maybe it was just the mimic monster pretending to be Herbert.
Book and Bronath were in front making a path, Helena and Herbert were in front of him and he brought up the rear. Helena politely engaged Herbert in conversation, The snow scattered light across her steel armour and brown hair as she walked illuminating her so brightly guilding her in silver and gold. she shone with such radiance in the morning sun it was painful for Robert to look. he would have to look back at Herbert or into the trees as they passed from the shadows of the trees into direct illumination/ But she would look back whenever there was a break in Herbert’s prattling and smile and be would smile back. so he didn’t mind the pain in his eyes.
It was late morning, dark patches of shadow fell beneath the trees in the forest, while the snow reflected every naked ray of light creating a patchwork of bright pure white and deepening shadow. Their footsteps were loud against the dead silence of the snow covered world. The noise fell upon the snow covered trees and ground and it was as if the pure white absorbed the sound and held it in ice only to release it as bright white rays. pure, clean, undisturbed.
Except for the inane chattering of Herbert. His head pounded as the tiny useless man chattered on. He went on and on about that archway and the ruins and how the food was better at the golden circle rather than the rations Robert had given him. He complained about the food he had given him out of his own pocket, how it wasn’t good enough for him. Herbert would glance back nervously at him from time to time, judging him, sizing him up, Looking at his things, maybe trying to find Oswald. He would just glare back, and then stare at that little balding spot at the back of his head as he walked, perfect pot like a little bulls eye on the back of his head. Herbert droned on an on. He was useless, he couldn’t fight, couldn’t sneak, and had almost gotten them killed more than once. If he slipped up one more time, got in the way, anything, he wouldn’t be much of a problem again. The pain was horrible now.
He had to keep an eye and ear out he had to be aware. The peacefulness of the morning could just be a ruse, anything could be hiding behind the trees some monster waiting for him to drop his guard. maybe Herbet was waiting for just that opportunity, for him to drop his guard.
They passed into a patch of brilliant illumination, he turned his eyes from Helena to Herbert. If the agony in his head would subside, he could pay better attention. If the little scrap of flesh, scurrying along awkwardly in front of him could shut up for a moment. If he could just silence the little man himself maybe the pain in his head would stop and he could keep them from running into an ambush!
Something moved. A soft patter of falling snow. He spun about attention fixed at where it had come from bow already notched. There in under the shadow of a tree hidden in the deep shadow and silence. Something…. Was it something? The darkness seemed to deepen there, to be too dark. The endless patchwork of pure glistening white and deep endless darkness made spotting anything hard. colors vanished under the brilliant white and consuming darkness, And there at the edge of the shadows was something, it was coming. He could almost see it move on the surface like swirls in ink. it would form and sink back in again just at the edge of the light. His eyes burned from the contrast and his head pounded from the cacophonous droning of that usless endless stomach with a mouth and voice. could it not shut up, if he could maybe he could see what was coming for them. He blinked to clear his eyes. It moved! His arrow passed through the branches of the tree, striking nothing. Snow poured forth over the shadows, the whiteness piled up and beams pierced the dark making lines of bright contrast against the blackness revealing nothing. Nothing was there. Just the light and darkness. whatever was there had gone, moved on or ran away. He took a deep breath. And then noticed the silence.
The party had kept going. They didn’t notice him stopping or the monster at the edge of his senses. But he couldn’t hear them even in the distance. sound traveled strangely with the snow fallen trees. How long had he stopped? Seconds, minutes, hours. He could find them again, it’s not the first time they hadn’t noticed him gone, it wouldn’t be the last. Fresh tracks in snow. Book, Bronath in front. Heavy iron and steel footsteps, even, trained . Helena and Herbert in the back, sloppy awkward uneven, and smaller strong and soft steps.. They were walking along normally they hadn’t even noticed he was gone yet. followed by even, soft, quiet, deliberate foot prints. His foot prints.
The pain in his head started again, the whispering at the edge of his mind was back.. How were his own foot prints here? He had stopped! The mimic. The shadow monster with his laugh, something worst? His broke into a run. light and dark flashing across him in a patchwork. He stumbled over the shadows as he sprinted recklessly through the undergrowth. growing panic urged him on faster, he could see his own tracks get closer to Herbert and Helena, so close behind them almost on their heels as they walked. It was close enough to just reach out and snap his neck, just one little pull a snap, and that little man wouldn’t be in the way again.
His footsteps fell so loud, they seemed to echo in his head, his pulse surged behind his eyes. He could hear them now. whatever this monster was It could kill them one by one while they slept it would start with Herbert, silence him once and for all pull his knife and it would be like cutting butter. But then what if it hurt Helena or the others? The pounding in his head and eyes became a chorus of screaming and pain, he had to push through. He ran into the light, and his vision faded, they were just ahead he thought he could see them in the shadows. Each step seemed to take an eternity the spots in his vision widened and distorted, his head screamed. He screamed at them. did he scream? he couldn’t tell the light began to fade from his vision and he couldn’t hear anything but Herbert’s piercing shrill voice. Just reach out and silence it! and I will have quiet and the pain will stop!
He opened his eyes, peering out of the darkness and met Helena’s gaze. she was gilded in silver and gold. But she wasn’t smiling, she was confused and concerned.
The sound of foot steps from the he party stopped, and the forest was silent. He could feel the cold steel handle of his hunting knife in his hand as it rested against Herbert’s neck. He could feel the tension in Herbert as he feebly pulled at his arm. His chest heaved as he tried to breath through Roberts open hand clamped like iron over his mouth. He was ready to quiet this nagging little voice and pull him back deep into the shadows, where no one would find the little useless traitor again.
Helena’s eyes were brilliant in the light, even as they twisted into concern and disgust. He had to look away, back at Herbert as it was to painful to keep looking. He released his grip on Herbert as the pounding in his head started again.