Chapter 2Mature

Carefully I pulled back the bowstring and stared down the arrow at the fox, lined up with its eye. It continued poking through the brush before it stopped suddenly, ears pricking up. Tensing, I watched as it looked cautiously in our direction, and I shot a glance at Alice. She was staring intently at the fox; focused, calculating. She licked her lips expectantly, and her ears twitched. Crouched down, ready to pounce on command.
The fox went back to searching, but its ears moved from time to time and it would survey its surroundings. I prepared to take the shot when a crow screeched and flew overhead. It dislodged a branch of snow, which came crashing down next to the fox, making it flee. I fired an arrow after it but missed, hitting a nearby tree.
Alice saw the arrow go and pounced. She shot after the fox on all fours, easily outpacing the smaller creature. Standing, I called out for her to slow down, and began to run, retrieving the arrow on the way. As she was about to attack it darted into a small cave, too small for Alice to follow. She whined and scratched at the rock with her claws, chipping off stone. I came up behind her, panting and knelt down, I tapping her on the shoulder, and she looked sadly at me.
"It got away..." She whined. I gently patted her head.
"Its okay" I reassured her. "We'll get him when he comes out."
She smiled slightly "O-okay"
I lead her to a cluster of trees 50 metres or so away, and dug a small dip in the snow to lie in. I spread my jacket on the base, laid my bow by a nearby tree and the quiver with it while I made sure Alice was comfortable. Then, I picked them back up and sat on the edge watching the rock, waiting, a hand on my bow with an arrow ready. Alice lay on my jacket, playing with the snow. I watched her smile carelessly, and my hand felt the note in my pocket. Discreetly, I unfolded it and looked again. The area on the map was close to here, and when I checked the sky saw the sun quite low. It would soon be sunset. I glanced between Alice and the note and decided to go.
"Alice" I called, standing up. She looked at me, tilted her head and purred. "I think I might know where some more foxes are."
Her eyes lit up. "Ooh where where?"
I pointed towards the cabin. "Over there".
Alice shot off towards it, and I had to sprint to keep up. The cabin was closer than I thought, sitting menacingly in the middle of a clearing, just beyond the trees. Before I entered I grabbed an arrow and jammed it into a tree trunk, just to be sure. Alice was already at the cabin door, sniffing, before I even entered the area. She scratched gently at the wood, leaving faint marks. Pawing at the door handle she found it locked, and whined. I moved around the cabin, looking for another way in. All the windows were boarded up.

A gust of wind blew past, chilling me to the core. Alice squealed quietly and shivered, looking around. I too scanned the area, bow at the ready, but there was nothing around, except for shuffling in a bush. I aimed my bow at it, only for a rabbit to hop out, look at me and then hop away. I let out a sigh of relief before turning back to the hut. Alice was scratching at one of the windows, trying to get in. Wandering up behind her, I tapped her on the shoulder. She turned to me and begged, pointing at the window. Leaning in closer, I could see a few cracks in the wood boards. I pressed experimentally on the boards, and they creaked in response. Drawing back a bit I rammed into the boards with my shoulder. They buckled, snapping inwards and falling onto the floor inside, making a horrid clatter. A swarm of bats screeched and flew out of the now open window, startling Alice, who squealed and curled up. I moved over to her and stroked her back gently.

“There there… it’s okay girl… shh…” she looked up at me fearfully. I scratched behind her ear and she instantly lightened up, purring softly. I couldn’t help but smile, and tickled under her chin. She purred louder and rolled over, waving her paws in the air. I laughed and stood up, and she followed. I ruffled her hair, before turning my attention to the darkened hut. There was little I could see from here, save a small table with an ornate silver candle holder. Leaning in revealed no more, so I reached into my knapsack and pulled out a small, intricately designed case, like a pocket watch. Holding it out, I opened it, and a small but bright flame burst into life in the centre. I jumped through the window, Alice following closely behind. We were in what looked like a study, with bookshelves full of ruined books everywhere. At the far end of the room was a fireplace, charred wood filling it, with a small wooden chair in front. A skeleton sat in the chair. Alice whined when she saw it and hid behind me.

“Shh…” I whispered back. “It’s okay…”

Moving further into the room, I saw a glint at the edge of the rug. Cautiously, I moved closer, and found a trapdoor partially hidden by the worn fabric. Gripping the handle tightly, I pulled at it. It resisted, probably having been rusted shut by time, but slowly began to give. Alice wandered over and stood behind me, grabbing my wrists and helping pull. Slowly the door began to move, when suddenly it broke free. Both of us fell backwards, and I fell on Alice. Hastily, I got up and brushed myself off. I held my hand out to Alice, who grabbed it and pulled herself up. A cloud of dust had formed, and Alice sneezed quietly, before looking at me and blushing, hiding her face. I laughed and patted her head, before moving over to the hatch. Only blackness greeted me. I looked down into the abyss for a while before I took the Luxsphere and ran my hand through it. The flame wobbled, and an equally bright flame now sat in my hand. I held it over the hatch and let it fall, watching the receding circle of light, until it hit ground, not far below. I gripped the ladder, and began my descent.

It didn’t take very long to get down, but it did take a while to convince Alice that she was going to be okay. She was outgoing, unless darkness was involved. Then she became a shy little creature, terrified of the slightest thing. We were in a small rock tunnel, leading towards a larger stone walled room lit with dim purple light. A faint crackling could be heard, as we moved closer, and Alice whimpered. I held her hand and whispered to her reassuringly, and she nodded and smiled slightly. I smiled back, and lead her on.

We found ourselves in a large, dilapidated room, that didn’t fit with the rocky tunnel that lead to it. The stone walls were broken, chipped, and various torture devices lay scattered around the room. A skeleton hung from rusty chains in the far wall, and a small table covered in a variety of strange looking objects, some sitting, some floating, was sat nearby. The faint glow came from a crystal sitting innocently on the table. Alice stared at it then reached a paw out. I batted it down and stood between her and the gem.

“No! We don’t know what it is… and from the look of the rest of the room it probably isn’t good…” Alice nodded and blushed slightly. I gripped her hand tightly. “Stay behind me, and don’t touch anything. If you see anything move, that wasn’t moving before, you get my attention.”

I focused my attention on the gem, and poked it with my bow. It rocked a bit, and hummed slightly. With a gloved hand, I reached out to it, and as my hand drew closer the glow intensified. I drew my hand back and scratched my chin, deep in thought. Alice brought me back by tapping my shoulder, and I turned to her. Her eyes were wide with fear, and at the far end of the room was a vaguely humanoid shape, that was somehow darker than the pitch black corner it stood in, as if it stole the light. I reached for the gem with my gloved hand and pocketed it, keeping my eyes on the figure. A voice; deep and commanding, filled my head, invaded every part of my mind.

“Curiosity was always man’s greatest weakness. I’d never known it would be this easy to kill you.”

The shadow reached out a hand, but Alice hissed and pushed me aside, pouncing at him. The figure brought his other hand up, and a pulsing light shone for a moment, and Alice was thrown across the room. I’d brought up my bow and lined up a shot, aiming for his chest. It hit, and the figure stumbled, before it brought a hand up, pulled the arrow out, and threw it back, embedding it deep in the rock a few inches from my head. I patted my pockets, looking for anything to use, before I felt the gem. Pulling it out, I watched it glow for a moment, before throwing it at the figure. It struck, and a bright flash engulfed him.

“No! What have you… done?” The shadow vanished, and the crystal glowed a brilliant red. I sighed in relief, and turned to Alice. She lay motionless, back to the wall, a deep cut running across her cheek, and her clothes across her body were torn as if a blade had run through them, but the skin was untouched. I ran to her side and held her limp hand.

“Alice! Wake up… please!” I shook her. “P-please…”

I continued to shake her, continued pleading, but she didn’t wake. In desperation I thumped her chest and cuddled her limp body tightly. “Damn it! Why? Why…?”

Her body twitched, and she coughed. I hugged her tightly, as she slowly opened her eyes. “Oh thank God you’re alright!”

Alice stayed silent. I looked at her face and tilted my head. She smiled slightly, pulled me close and kissed me. A short, but powerful kiss, and I almost fell over backwards in shock. She smiled more, and gestured for me to come closer. I did, and she whispered in my ear.

“I love you.”

She raised her paw. Beneath it was another gem. A purple, gaseous stream seeped from her palm into it, and she slowly began to lose consciousness. I grabbed it and hurled it away, but the stream continued to leave her. I gripped her tightly. “No! I’m not losing you!” I shook her almost violently, tears almost beginning to run down my face. “Please… I love you… don’t go…”

 

Then she went limp.

 

You should never look to the past. Only to the future. But without her, I have no future.

The End

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