Heroes Journey || Chapter 4: Battle Lines

Heroes Journey || Chapter 4: Battle Lines

Reading Time: 6 minutes read

Lance and Gagzar walked side by side, Lance with his bow in hand and Gagzar with his axe slung over his shoulder. They didn’t talk, instead keeping their focus on the forest around them. For shadows or for food, it was hard to tell. Lance reasoned perhaps it was both.

The forest was lively around them: birds chirped, insects hopped out of the foliage, squirrels chased each other up a tree. Dried leaves and sticks crunched under Gagzar’s feet as he walked casually through the forest. Lance did his best to avoid the debris on the ground, and was still somehow faster than Gagzar’s indifferent pace. 

Gagzar stopped in his tracks and grabbed Lance by the shoulder. “You see that?” Gagzar said. He pointed with his axe towards the ground a little ways in front of them.

Two rabbits hopped around, playing with a leaf. One jumped over the other and smooshed the leaf. The other picked the leaf up and shook its head vigorously. It would have been cute if Lance hadn’t been so hungry. 

Lance readied his bow, nocked an arrow, and aimed down at the rabbits. He took a deep breath, held it, and loosed the arrow. Just as the two critters lined up, the arrow shot through them and pinned them both to the ground. 

Lance did a little dance in place and pumped his fists before he cleared his throat and looked up at Gagzar. “Got ‘em,” he said. 

By the time Lance and Gagzar returned to the tree, Anahel was curled up on the rug, asleep. Her chest rose and fell peacefully, but her face was scrunched up as if her dreams were unpleasant. Caomhnóir laid beside her. He lifted his head when Lance peeked inside. “She’s just sleeping,” Caomhnóir said.

“We caught a couple rabbits,” Lance whispered. “But I’ll let her sleep for now. She needs it.”

Caomhnóir nodded. Then he laid his head down beside Anahel and closed his eyes.

Outside the tree, Gagzar had started a fire. He tossed a fallen branch on it and it crackled. Lance sat down beside the fire and took a knife out of his bag. He began to skin the rabbits, peeling their fur off around the ankles. Gagzar tended to the fire while Lance busied himself with their catch.

“How’s Anahel doing?” Gagzar asked.

Lance kept his eyes on his work, as he didn’t want to slip and cut too deep. “She’s sleeping, but she looks okay. Caomhnóir was beside her,” he answered. He left out the part about her nightmares since it was just suspicion on his part. 

“Good,” Gagzar said. “She can rest. The food will still be here when she wakes.”

The skin of the rabbits came off in one peel, and by then the fire was ready. Lance pulled a pan out of his bag and laid the finished rabbits in it before he put it over the fire. The fire crackled and heated up the pan in seconds. Again from his bag, Lance removed a spatula and stirred the rabbits around to keep them from sticking to the pan. 

A yell from the forest caught both of their attention. Lance dropped the spatula and readied his bow. Gagzar raised his axe. Out from the trees came Sylqen, running and out of breath. “Leigh!” he said. “Leigh!”

Lance shouldered his bow and pressed a hand to Sylqen’s chest to stop him. “What’s wrong? What about Leigh?” he asked.

Sylqen swallowed and wiped sweat from his brow with his arm. He took a deep breath, regained his composure. Then he looked between Lance and Gagzar, his gaze landingon Lance. “Leigh’s been swallowed by the shadows. Please, come quick!”

He headed back into the forest. Lance and Gagzar shared a worried look before they followed after him.

Leigh dropped to the ground just as he heard Lance yell his name. He turned to see his friends—minus Anahel—run towards him. Lance grabbed Leigh by the upper arms and shook him. “Are you okay?” he demanded. “What happened?”

Leigh shrugged out of Lance’s grasp. “I’m alright,” he said. He looked to the forest across from him. It was empty of life or shadow; the Duskhound was nowhere to be found. The shadows had crept back into the forest or returned from where they came. 

“We got here just in time,” Lance said. “Sylqen said you were swallowed up by the shadows, and then when we got here, you—”

Leigh lifted a hand to cut off Lance. “I’m fine,” he said. “See?” He twirled in place to give Lance a look at him. “No scratches or bruises, nothing. I promise, I’m alright.”

Gagzar stood quiet in the back. Sylqen came to stand beside Leigh. His face was reddened from exertion. “I should be asking you if you’re okay,” Leigh said.

Sylqen shook his head. “I saw you get swallowed up by the shadows. The Duskhound—”

“The Duskhound and I talked. That’s it,” Leigh said.

“What could that beast have to say?” Lance huffed. He crossed his arms and looked Leigh over, examining him. Leigh didn’t like the way Lance studied him, like he was some animal who might pounce at any second. 

“He told me he was king of the forest once. And he asked for my help getting him back there. He wanted me to talk to all of you, to see if you’d help me,” Leigh explained.

Lance scoffed. “That’s crazy. You sure you didn’t hit your head?”

“We got some food back at the tree,” Gagzar said and pointed back from where they’d come. “Why don’t we go back and talk this over? You can tell us what the Duskhound said, and we can talk to Caomhnóir.”

Leigh shook his head. “No,” he said. “Caomhnóir is a traitor.”

Lance’s mouth fell open. His teeth audibly clicked when he shut it. “Yup,” he said, “You definitely hit your head. We promised to help Caomhnóir.”

“No,” Leigh said, wagging his finger at Lance. “You said we would. But now I know better.”

“You can’t honestly believe that. Have you seen the Duskhound? That creature can’t be trusted,” Lance said.

“Yeah, Caomhnóir has given us no reason to mistrust him,” Gagzar said.

Sylqen piped up, “Nor has he given us a reason to trust him. We don’t know him.”

“Exactly!” Leigh said. “And the Duskhound showed me things—memories of his time as king and of Caomhnóir betraying him. You can’t just mistrust the Duskhound just because of how he looks. That’s the shadow’s doing.”

“The shadows have corrupted him,” Lance said. “And it sounds like they’re getting to you, too.”

“Let’s get back to Anahel. I’m sure Caomhnóir will have something to say about this, too.,” Gagzar said.

Leigh shook his head. “No. I’m not going back to that traitor.”

Lance threw his hands up and growled. “Fine! You know what? If you’ve been brainwashed, that’s not my problem. I’ve got to get back to Anahel. She needs us. And so does Caomhnóir. Come on, Sylqen, Gagzar.” Lance turned to leave.

Sylqen stayed beside Leigh. “Well,” he started. “Maybe Leigh’s right? Anyway, we can’t leave him alone in the forest.”

Lance huffed and kept walking. “Fine, you stay, too. See if I care.”

Leigh watched Lance and Gagzar walk back the way they’d come. He turned to Sylqen and laid a hand on the elf’s shoulders. “Everything’s going to be fine,” he said. “The Duskhound is going to help us get out of this forest.”

“If you say so,” Sylqen said, sounding unsure.