Sten’s breathing was labored as he ran. The others were right behind him. Normally, this would be a comforting thought, but they were acting strangely. Looking behind him, he didn’t see the root that caused him to trip and fall. As he was sprawled out on the ground, catching his breath, a shape stepped out of the trees. His husband’s face came into view, but it was strangely contorted. His skin moved as if something was under it. John grabbed Sten by his neck and began to strangle him. As Sten struggled, John had no expression on his face, but his eyes seemed to plead for forgiveness. As the last breath fled from Sten’s lungs, John Straightened and began walking. With not a single glance behind, he left his husband lying dead. Food for what came after.

A wolf’s eyes gleamed an unnatural red in the light reflected in them by the flames of the totem, and it let loose a laughing howl as it watched the trees feast on the bodies of those they killed. This would be a glorious game to play.

 

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

 

The Grove was peaceful this sunset. The fading light falling over the shapes of countless animals that appeared to be carved into the Grove’s central tree. The sounds of nature abruptly ceased, plunging the entire area into silence, as what appeared to be a large owl alighted onto one of the tree’s lower boughs. It twisted its head, peering down at the ground with eyes slitted and reflective like a cat, then beat its wings, revealing patches of scaled hide along its sides. Opening its beak, flicking a serpentine forked tongue, it said in a deep yet soft voice, “I know all, and so I know you’re there.”

 

From the edge of the Grove walked a small red-furred fox with large rabbit ears on its head and black feathers sprouting down its back. Its mouth fell open in a mischievous grin as it sat and peered up at the owl. “I’m glad to see you’re finally awake. It’s been a long time. The others?”

 

“Still slumbering, although we have heard all that has been said to us by the many Chosen. We can’t all recover from our ordeal with the Drinker as swiftly as you.” The owl twisted its head in the other direction, and stepped sideways along the branch closer to the trunk. “What brings you back from your constant wandering?”

 

The fox lowered its head and its voice, “I need help. I have tried to warn them, but the danger grows beyond what I expected, and approaches sooner than anticipated. I tried to teach them what they needed to know, but it wasn’t enough, and they need to know more. They need to know what you know. Will you come?”

 

With a few beats of its powerful wings, the owl swooped from the branch and landed on the ground, facing the fox. “Of course. We are all threatened, after all. They will learn what I have to teach.”


The two animals appeared to bow to each other, then disappeared from the Grove without a trace, leaving the tree in the growing twilight.

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