Heroes Journey || Chapter 7: A Fighting Chance

Heroes Journey || Chapter 7: A Fighting Chance

Reading Time: 9 minutes read

Sleep did not come easy for Lance. His mind raced, thinking about all the things that had happened in just the past day: the barrier, the shadows, meeting Caomhnóir, his friends splitting up; it was a lot. He laid with his hands behind his head and stared up at the roof of the giant tree. Soft breathing could be heard around him; Anahel, Gagzar, and Caomhnóir had all long since fallen asleep. Lance closed his eyes for the millionth time, and finally drifted away.

It didn’t feel like he was asleep for long before Lance was pulled awake by a gentle shake. He groaned and turned over to see Anahel knelt near him. Her eyes were wide and her lips were pulled tight into a frown. 

Lance rubbed his face. “What’s up?” he asked groggily. 

She leaned in and whispered, “I heard something outside the tree. A lot of somethings.”

He didn’t like the sound of that. 

Lance stilled his breathing so he could hear around it. At first it was silence. He opened his mouth to ask Anahel what she’d heard, but then he heard it, too: the sounds of the forest had quadrupled since they fell asleep. Birds screamed around them, no longer the pleasant sound of song. Big cats roared and wolves howled. The insects who had chirped quietly were now a cacophony of no longer harmonious sounds. 

Lance threw his blanket off and sat up to glance around. “Where’s Caomhnóir and Gagzar?” he asked. It was just him and Anahel in the tree. 

Anahel sat back on her heels and shrugged. “I haven’t seen Caomhnóir,” she said.

As if on cue, Gagzar came into the tree and took Lance’s attention off Anahel. His axe was hoisted over his shoulder, ready for battle. Lance gave him a curious look. 

Gagzar said, “The shadows are coming. We best get ready for it.”

Lance stood and stretched with a big, theatric groan. “I guess it’s time, huh? I wish Caomhnóir was here.” His magic would have been useful, even if there wasn’t much of it left. But they’d have to make do with what they had. At least now their weapons weren’t useless, and Anahel had some sleep so maybe she’d be able to help. 

Anahel stood, too. She laid a hand on Lance’s shoulder and he gave her a reassuring smile. “We can do this,” he said. Lance grabbed his bow which leaned against the wall of the tree. 

Anahel didn’t look as sure.

Gagzar led the way outside. It was dawn and the sun colored the sky with purples and oranges. Lance looked up at the sky and saw a shadow of a bird fly down into the trees. Shadows approached from trees all around. And leading the charge— 

Lance pointed at the front of the shadows. “Is that Leigh?”

“And Sylqen,” Gagzar said. 

Leigh was surrounded by shadow creatures—wolves, a leopard here and there, squirrels, and even a bear. But he didn’t seem scared or on guard, only confident and in charge.

Lance broke the distance between them, not looking behind him to see if Anahel or Gagzar followed. He walked up to Leigh and gave him the most baffled look he could muster.

“What in the hell are you doing?” Lance demanded.

Lance drew his obsdian sword which swirled with shadows and pointed it at Lance. “I’m doing what you were too cowardly to: freeing the shadows.”

“You’ve been brainwashed by that thing,” Lance said. He looked behind Leigh and scoffed. “Who didn’t even have the courage to show up with you.”

“The Duskhound will come when it’s his time,” Leigh said. He looked to Sylqen who nodded.

Sylqen waved his hands in front of him in a half circle and blue light manifested between his fingers. Then he tapped Leigh on the shoulder and a second Leigh appeared beside the first. 

Lance huffed and readied his bow, jumping back to put some distance between himself and Leigh. He looked around himself to see Anahel and Gagzar battling with the shadows. Anahel threw her light magic at them—restored after her long rest the day before—and Gagzar brought his axe down on them. Thanks to Caomhnóir’s magic, the axe cleaved through the shadow creatures and they dissipated. 

“I see you’ve learned some new tricks,” Leigh said as he watched Lance’s gaze go to his friends. His voice reverberated through the duplicate. “But it won’t be enough. They’ll just keep coming.” He readied his sword, placing his feet shoulder’s width apart and motioned for Lance to come at him. “Now, let’s get this over with,” he said. His duplicate mirrored his form and they both dove at Lance.

Lance hopped backwards, nocked an arrow, and aimed the bow at Leigh. Leigh slashed at Lance and Lance let the arrow fly, but it flew wide and landed beside Leigh’s feet. Rolling to the side, Lance narrowly missed a blow from the duplicate’s sword. 

He nocked another arrow and sent it flying, but it went right through the duplicate. He wondered if, since his arrow went through, would the sword go through him? But he didn’t want to stand still long enough to find out. He dashed to the side again as Leigh and his duplicate converged on Lance.

Sylqen stood in the trees and manipulated the duplicate from the shadows. Lance chanced a glance at him and took a swipe to shoulder. He groaned in pain and went to his knees. But he was right back up as Leigh brought the blade down again, right where Lance had been kneeling only a second before. 

Lance pulled another arrow from the quiver and let it loose. This time, it hit Leigh in the wrist. He growled at the pain and wrenched the arrow out of his skin, discarding it at his feet. Blood flowed down his arm as he jerked his head back up to look at Lance.

“We didn’t have to do this,” Leigh said. His voice still echoed through the duplicate. “You could have joined me.”

“You’re on the wrong side,” Lance hissed, nocking yet another arrow and sending it towards Leigh who swiped his sword and the arrow glanced off the blade.

He wasn’t getting anywhere with his arrows aiming at Leigh, so Lance looked back at Sylqen. He jumped to the side to avoid another cleave with Leigh’s blade, then he let an arrow fly towards Sylqen who was too slow to dodge it. It hit Sylqen square in the chest and he went down. The duplicate flickered and disappeared. 

“Now we’re on fair ground,” Lance said.

Leigh glanced at Sylqen and spit on the ground. He sneered at Lance. “That’s going to cost you.”

Lance took another leap back away from Leigh and readied his bow. “Let’s end this.”

Finally, over Leigh’s head, Caomhnóir leaped into the action. He landed beside Lance, snuffed Lance’s sleeves, then headed into the fray of shadow creatures. He drove his antlers into the crowd around Anahel and Gagzar. The shadows popped out of existence as Caomhnóir joined the fight.

Lance hollered and shook his bow at Caomhnóir. Caomhnóir bowed his head before he went back at the shadows.

But there were too many of them. Anahel’s magic waned, and so did Caomhnóir’s. Gagzar brought his axe down on a shadow wolf and the wolf flashed for just a moment before it disappeared. 

Small sparks of light came out of Anahel and she fell to her knees. 

Lance reached for her, but Leigh held his sword out in front of Lance. “They’ll be fine without you,” he said, “I’m not done.” Lance scoffed and turned his attention back to Leigh, away from his friends. 

Then, the shadows stopped coming. The ones who did stand out in the clearing parted like a wave and in their place, the Duskhound appeared. He walked nonchalantly through the crowd. Leigh held his sword down at his side and watched, enraptured with the Duskhound. 

What has gotten into you? Lance thought. 

“It’s time, Caomhnóir,” the Duskhound said.

Caomhnóir nodded. “I won’t go down without a fight.”

“Then a fight you shall have.” The Duskhound roared and the shadows cheered. Everyone stopped what they were doing and watched as the Duskhound leaped at Caomhnóir. 

The Duskhound sunk his teeth into Caomhnóir’s neck and jerked, ripping free a chunk of flesh and spilling blood, marring Caomhnóir’s white neck with bright red. Caomhnóir lowered his head and charged at the Duskhound with his antlers prominently displayed. 

Caomhnóir’s antlers sunk into the Duskhound, but the shadow around it only shimmered before Caomhnóir pulled away. 

The fight went on for what felt like an eternity. But finally, the Duskhound got his teeth into Caomhnóir, and wrenched with his full weight. The stag went down with a groan of pain. The Duskhound bore down on him, and the crowd of shadows converged on him. 

Lance looked above him and saw the barrier flicker. With a great flash of white light, it folded in on itself until he couldn’t see it anymore.

He turned his focus back down at the people around him to see that Leigh and Sylqen had disappeared, leaving behind only blood splatter from Leigh’s injured wrist and Sylqen’s chest. Lance shouted out, “You cowards!” after them, but had no idea if they would even hear him.  

Caomhnóir lay on the ground, blood smeared all over his white coat. Anahel knelt at his side. The Duskhound had taken a step back and stood just barely inside the crowd of shadow creatures.

“Go!” Caomhnóir croaked out. “Go, while you still can!”

Tears streamed down Anahel’s cheek, but Gagzar pulled her to her feet. They ran into the trees towards the forest’s exit. The shadow creatures parted way for Gagzar and Anahel to get through. None of them attacked, even when Gagzar and Anahel had their back to the shadows. 

Lance gave Caomhnóir one last glance and saw the light fade from the stag. His white glow dimmed and Lance knew that the guardian of Crann Wood was no more.

The forest opened up and the road stretched out ahead. Lance made it to the road, his feet padding the ground below and his chest heaving from running. He stopped to catch his breath and Anahel and Gagzar stopped beside him.

“They’re gone,” Anahel said, looking out over the road.

Lance doubled over and tried to catch his breath. “Where do you suppose they went? This way?” He pointed down the road out ahead of them.

Gagzar grunted. “No doubt. It’s the only way out of the forest.”

“We’ll catch up to them,” Lance told Anahel. 

Her eyes were red and her face was puffy from crying. “Caomhnóir is—” she breathed deep, but she couldn’t say it.

Lance nodded. Anahel gasped and fell into his arms. She sobbed into his chest. Lance wrapped his arms around her and let her cry.