In the NightMature

The wolves were howling in the hills as I approached the edge of the forest. The leaves whispered softly in the treetops as the night breeze darted amongst the creaking branches. Soft rays of moonlight filtered through gaps in the canopy, turning the dew that clung to the forest floor into a coating of glimmering silver. I avoided these illuminated places as much as I could, retreating into the shadows where I would not be seen. The night creatures had begun to stir; invisible forms scuttling and snuffling in the undergrowth and slithering in the bracken. Owls flew on ghostly wings towards the moonlit sky, and thousands upon thousands of gleaming eyes watched me as I slipped through the dark.

Gradually the trees grew thinner, and I slowed my pace. The road lay ahead, a river of compacted earth snaking like a worm between the trees, as if intimidated by the ever-watchful gaze of the forest's myriad eyes. I stopped at the edge of the road and scuffed at the dirt. The road had fallen into disrepair over the years, forgotten and abandoned as traders and locals ceased to use it. Long ago it had been a popular route, bustling with carts and wagons laden with goods; exotic and home-grown alike, heading for the big market towns. There had been hundreds of people here in the summer, and even as the months wore on the road was always in use. But not now. Now the old road lay silent beneath the dark sky, white and dead and empty.

I turned my gaze westwards, over the tops of the trees, towards the shadowy outline of the royal castle - a blacker smudge against the ever-deepening night. There were lights in the windows, and distantly I could hear the sound of faint music beneath the wild cry of the wolf song. I curled my lip in disgust. Those contemptuous fools thought they had nothing to fear from the forest any more. They knew nothing, hidden away amongst their affluence, swaddled in velvets and gorging themselves on expensive meats while others starved at their gates. The common people had little food since they ceased hunting in the forest. They knew better than to trespass into the deep places. They knew that we were still here.

A tiny smile pulled at my lips as the sounds from the castle grew louder. They thought they were safe now, but little did they know that their cushioned existence was already under threat. The King would surely be telling them all of his narrow brush with the bandits that evening, never thinking that it was anything more than a chance encounter.

But the viper was already in the warren, and their time was running out. If I had my way, those who so detested us would suffer for their ignorance. It was only a matter of time before the hunter would become the hunted.

The End

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