Heroes Journey || Chapter 6: Act of War

Heroes Journey || Chapter 6: Act of War

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The forest began to look the same as Leigh and Sylqen traveled back the way they’d come, away from the giant tree Caomhnóir lived in. Leigh tuned out the birds around them and he didn’t notice the rabbits that hopped off into the bushes to his left. He only had eyes for the road ahead while Sylqen remained silent at his side.

Eventually, they found themselves back at the lake where Leigh had first arrived in the Crann Wood. The sun had slunk down below the horizon and left the sky colored orange like a fire lit across it.

“This is as good a place as any,” Leigh said. He pulled his pack off his shoulders and laid it on the ground at his feet. Sylqen sat down cross-legged beside Leigh. 

“What’s the plan now?” Sylqen asked. He dug through his pack and pulled out some dried meat and bread. He took some then handed the pouch to Leigh.

Leigh took his share and gave the pouch back. “I guess we camp for the night,” he said. “Maybe we should sleep in shifts. To keep the fire going, and to keep animals away.”

Sylqen nodded. “Alright. Guess we should build a fire then? Step one.”

Leigh kicked leaves and debris away from the center of where they would camp for the night. Then he and Sylqen dug a hole and Leigh gathered some wood for a fire. They took turns scraping the kindling together and blowing on it until they had a roaring fire. 

Leigh scooted in close to the fire, his blanket thrown over his shoulders. It was a plain wool blanket, not even dyed, but it kept him warm. He snuggled under it, wrapping his arms around himself to keep his body heat in. 

“I’ll take first shift,” Sylqen said. “I’m not really tired anyway.” 

“Thanks,” Leigh said. And he was asleep almost as soon as his body hit the ground. He felt the weight of the whole day on himself, and he was worn out.

His dreams weren’t going to let him rest, though. He dreamed of the Duskhound, its form alternating between the shadowed beast he’d seen and the overgrown wolf with antlers from the Duskhound’s memories. The Duskhound became split down the middle, each form on one side of it. It opened its maw and shadows poured forth. Leigh stirred in his sleep, but did not wake. 

 Out of the shadows came an angry Lance, his arms crossed and a sour expression on his face. “What were you thinking?” Dream Lance demanded.

Leigh tried to answer, but no words came. Gagzar and Anahel stood behind Lance with disappointed looks. Gagzar looked to his feet while tears welled in Anahel’s eyes. 

Lance shoved Leigh and Leigh fell backwards into a sea of shadow. It engulfed him as shadowed arms pulled him down. He couldn’t breathe. The arms wrapped around him until he was a black, wriggling mass. 

A pressure on Leigh’s shoulder shocked him awake. He gasped and bolted upright. Sylqen leaned over Leigh. 

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to frighten you. Just wanted to trade places.”

Leigh placed his hand on his chest and felt his hard-beating heart. He took a deep breath to steady his nerves. The shadowed arms were gone—just a dream.

“You have a nightmare?” Sylqen asked.

Leigh nodded. “Something like that. Get some rest; I’ll take the rest of the night.”

Sylqen didn’t have to be told twice. He grabbed his blanket from his bag and laid down in the clearing. 

Sylqen slept on through the night just like Leigh had told him. Leigh grabbed a stick and stoked the fire, trying to keep it going. He pulled a handful of dried meat out of his bag and munched while he tended the fire. 

“Have you slept, child?” The voice echoed around Leigh. He turned towards the forest and came face to face with the Duskhound’s shadowy figure. 

Leigh swallowed and nodded. “I got some sleep,” he said.

“Good.” The Duskhound moved away from the camp, towards the lake. He knelt down, his nose touched the water. When he lifted his head, water cascaded around him and shadows were pulled from the lake. Black spots appeared all over the water, all crawling towards their king.

Leigh moved around the dying fire to shake Sylqen awake. “He’s here,” Leigh said.

Sylqen rubbed sleep from his eyes. “Who?”

“The Duskhound,” Leigh said. 

An army of shadow creatures climbed out of the lake. They stayed to the shadows, in the trees and above the clearing. They chittered to each other, their voices barely above a whisper as the Duskhound came close to the camp. Dozens of eyes in the trees twinkled in the moonlight.

“It’s almost time,” the Duskhound said as he sat near Leigh and Sylqen. His eyes moved between the critters in the trees, upon branches and tucked behind trunks. 

“Time for what?” Leigh asked. He wrapped his arms around himself, hoping to chase off the early dawn cold. He let his blanket fall to his lap, but stayed seated. His focus was on the Duskhound, though he couldn’t tune out the chittering around him. 

“The barrier is falling,” the Duskhound said. “Soon I will return to my rightful place as king of the forest.” He got to his feet and walked towards the trees. “Come.”

Leigh and Sylqen, tired and barely awake, packed the camp and smothered the last of the fire. Then they both hoisted their bags on their shoulders and followed the Duskhound into the forest.

The barrier wavered in front of Leigh. The hole from before had cracked open and was wide enough for two wolves to step through, and they did. Then a leopard behind the wolves, followed by a horde of smaller critters. Shadows poured through the opening, all bowing to their king as they came through. 

“Our numbers are almost enough,” the Duskhound announced to Leigh. Leigh couldn’t see it on the darkened Duskhound’s lips, but he heard the smile in its tone. The Duskhound was thrilled at the prospect of a fight, and taking back his kingdom.

The shadow creatures hooted, howled, and cheered in response to the Duskhound’s announcement. 

“Where are your other friends?” the Duskhound turned to Leigh and asked.

“They couldn’t be convinced,” Leigh said and bowed his head to not look the Duskhound in its eyes. 

“Ah,” the Duskhound said. He offered no reassurance, nor any other words. Instead, he turned to the crowd of animals around him. “We attack at dawn!” he said.

The animals roared with excitement. Leigh heard them in the trees, through the barrier, and all around him. The sounds vibrated the ground beneath Leigh’s feet. He could practically smell the excitement as the shadow creatures neared battle. War was upon them and it was too late for Leigh or Sylqen to back out now. 

The Duskhound lowered his eyes to Leigh and Sylqen. “I hope you’re prepared for war,” he said. His tone was dark, heavy with the promise if violence and taking back his throne.

Leigh took a deep breath and glanced at Sylqen who just nodded. “Let’s do this,” Leigh said.