Chapter Twelve

"What do you think they are?"

"They look like us."

"Yeah, but - "

"Look. It doesn't matter what they are, but even if it did, they're obviously people. None of the crow's minions have ever been so successful, and it's likely they never will be. It's more likely they're spies, gone to the other side for whatever dark, twisted purpose."

"They're so young. And they can't be too smart to be wandering the forest without at least some boots."

"Or they're desperate."

"I suppose. What do you think Jax is going to do with them? If they're spies, we should kill them."

Finn had been pretending to sleep through the conversation, hoping to discern what was going on. He had woken up painfully disoriented, only to learn shortly after that he was unable to move except to breathe. His hands were tied tightly behind his back, and he was propped against something lumpy - maybe a bag of potatoes? He dared not open his eyes to find Day, but he was sure she was nearby. He wondered if she was awake too. When he heard the man suggest killing them, though, he couldn't fight his reaction. His eyes fluttered open and his sharp intake of breath gave him away.

"The boy's awake!" That was the last thing Finn heard before something struck the back of his head and he fell into a deep, black abyss.

*~*

Finn eventually awoke again to a pale of icy cold water dumped in his face. Glaring at what he guessed were his captors, he couldn't help but mutter "Rude," still coughing and sputtering. As he began to shiver, the men roared with laughter. It sounded unnatural, like laughing was foreign to them, almost as if they'd forgotten how.

"You have some nerve, boy," one of them said. He had shoulder-length, wavy black hair and a ferocity in his eyes that Finn had never seen before. He was bound, head to toe, in leather armor. He looked like a character straight out of Lord of the Rings. "Who are you?"

Finn tried not to show his fear, but the suggestion earlier to kill him replayed over and over in his head. When he was sure his voice wouldn't shake, he answered, "Please. I have nothing to hide from you. My name is Finn, and I was with my friend. Her name is Day. She was hurt, I was trying to get her help."

"Hurt? Our healer examined her thoroughly. She bears no sign of injury. What were you doing in the Glass Forest? Are you spies?"

"You have a healer? Please, can I see Day?"

"I am asking the questions here. What were you doing in the Glass Forest?"

"Glass Forest? Please, we're from Pittsburg. I don't know anything about a glass anything. You can't keep us here. Our parents will file a missing person's report. Or worse, an Amber Alert. If you let us go, we won't say anything to the police. I swear."

"Pittsburg, you say?"

"Yeah, the suburbs."

"Wherever your 'Pittsburg' is, you're a long way from home. I've never heard of it. How did you come to be here?" The man seemed to have lost some of his hostility, leaving Finn feeling slightly relieved. Finn laughed nervously.

"Yeah, funny story. You're never going to believe this. I"m not actually sure how it happened. One minute we were in the hallway at Day's, and the next, we were in the woods." Finn relayed the whole story of being passed out on the couch and waking up to Day surrounded by darkness, to the shadows with their strange whispers, and everything leading up to this moment.

As the men listened, their faces grew somber and the air physically turned grim. "The shadows were after them," one man whispered. "This is bad. It won't be long before they know where to look."

"Wait, you believe me?" interrupted Finn.

The man only glared at him. "We should kill them and leave this place as soon as possible." Finn hadn't known it was possible for a man as formidable as he to be so frightened.  Despite the man's fears, he still had his own.

"Kill us? We haven't done anything wrong! You would murder a couple of kids?"

"The Crow sent his shadows after you. Clearly he needs you for something. It's better for everyone if he doesn't get what he wants." Another man piped in. He looked sorrowful, like this decision would weigh heavy on him for a very long time. All of the men did. It was obvious that no one wanted to kill them. Finn knew that these men were not heartless, and wondered what could possibly make them so afraid.

"No one is killing anyone yet," their leader said after a long moment.

"But Jax!"

"Your concerns have been noted, Garrett." Jax cut him off. He looked each of his men in the eye before turning back to face Finn, as if to make sure his men knew he wasn't discussing it further. Finn's heart soared a little in his chest.  "The girl, your friend... she hasn't woken up since the shadows came for you?"

"No, sir."

"When did they come?"

"Last night.  Sir, is she going to be okay?  Has she woken up yet?  Will you let me see her?"

Jax turned back to his men, ignoring Finn's torrent of questions.  "Darby, get Surga.  Tell her it's the Whisper Sickness."  A young man not much older than Day hurried out of the room with a nod.

Finn had not noticed him before; he had remained silent against the wall, behind the others.  Nor had Finn noticed his surroundings, really.  He was in a dimly lit room, mostly bare except for a few things.  In the far corner next to where Darby had been, there was a large, dingy table resting on a thick tree stump in the far corner, with some equally dingy chairs around it.  In the corner opposite, there was a brick fire place, with flames blazing and licking at the stones.  Sitting over the fire was a suspended cast iron cauldron being tended by a young girl.  Clearly dinner was not far off.  Finn's stomach gave a small grumble that went unobserved by his captors who were being given orders and dispersing.  

When they were finished, only two men, Jax and the one Finn recognized as Garrett, remained.  Garrett knelt next to him and withdrew a knife Finn had also failed to notice earlier.  His heart skipped a beat, but Garrett only leaned him forward and cut away the ropes binding his wrists together.  The time spent having his circulation cut off was angrily etched into his skin, and as he began to regain feeling he hadn't known he'd lost, his hands began to ache.  

When he had finally stood up, rubbing his wrists, Jax put his face in Finn's.  "I'm choosing to trust you, boy.  Do not make me regret this choice."

Finn shook his head vigorously, stammering, "N-no sir.  You won't, I swear it."

"Good.  Surga will take a look at your wrists after she tends to your friend."

The End

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