Chapter Three – The Truth
Dezba had a sense of pride inside her. She had managed to escape, and now was heading to somewhere that could send her back home. She had broken free without anyone else’s help. Even as she ran, her feet bare against the woodland floor, for she had removed her shoes as she had clambered into bed, it causing cuts to appear on her feet when she trod on sharp rocks and twigs, she was happy and carefree.
The only problem was that she was not a strong runner, so after a few minutes she found herself gasping for air. She doubled over, grasping a painful stitch in her side. Glancing back the way she came, she turned and started to limp through the forest, the cuts on her feet becoming painful. Dezba had never been in a forest at night before, and it unnerved her. She didn’t like how she could hear everything scuttling around her, and still be blinded by the dark. Back at home, the night was dark, but it was so full of light pollution, you could always see your way through the sinister darkness. Here, though, she could barely see three paces ahead of her. Looking up, she was thankful to see the moon peering through the branches of the trees. The same moon that she saw back at home, the same moon she watched as she sat at her windowsill at night; only this time it was more comforting.
Dezba took a deep breath, looking back at the shadowy path, and holding her chin up. She was determined to make herself seem brave, whom she was trying to impress was unknown to her though. She swallowed and walked, trying to stop herself from limping. Her eyes darted around, startled by every groan of a tree as they leaned towards her, every snap of a twig as some small mammal scuttled through the bushes, distressed by her presence. She clenched her jaw together to stop her teeth from chattering due to the coldness. She reached up and grasped the raven necklace around her neck, yearning its comfort.
She stopped suddenly, her eyes going wide; her ears searching for that noise she was sure she had just heard. It did not come, and she no longer had herself under control. In fear, her breathing was suddenly loud and ragged with fear.
“D-don’t be silly, Dez…” she muttered to herself, “Nothing’s out there…” She swallowed and started to walk again, only to stop in her tracks. This time she was sure of it. She had heard it.
Deep into the darkness, echoing through the night, came a rumbling growl of some unknown animal. She looked around panicky, unsure where it was coming from. It came once again, snarls mixed thickly within it.
Dezba started to run again, terrified. She had no idea which direction, weather she was going towards the creature, or away from it, if she would find civilisation in time. She tripped on roots of tree’s, branches reached out, scratching her face and bare arms, and snagging on her hair and clothes. Suddenly, she ran into something solid, something that grasped her arms before she fell and dragged her back to her feet. She cried out, struggling, before the thing gasped her wrists and covered her mouth, silencing her.
“Shush, Dez!” snarled Chayton, “Do you want it to find us?!” Dezba’s eyes were wide with fear. Suddenly, she saw something in the tree’s behind him. She tried screaming, but it was futile due to his hand still being over her mouth. Nevertheless, he saw her fear and spun around.
The thing in the high branches of the trees was huge. It crouched down, balanced on the balls of its hind legs. Its arms were long, hanging down past its feet. It was crouched over with a large hunchback, and its thick grey fur covered its whole body, matted in places with darker patches that looked terrifyingly like blood. Its claws curved in a fine arch, constantly digging into the branches, the tips stained red. It had the head of a fearsome dog, with long, yellow, blood curling fangs which were on show due to its black lips being pulled back into a snarl. Its eyes were red, the pupils small, as it glared down at the two.
“Dezba…” Chayton muttered, tense in case of attack, “slowly back off. No sudden movements. No questions. Just do it.”
Dezba swallowed, but did as he was told. She slowly began to step backwards, towards the shelter of the trees, as Chayton followed her actions. The creature growled lowly, moving forward in the branch it was balanced on, but didn’t seem to wish to attack them so much. Dezba carried on backing away, until a sudden sharp snap echoed around the trees, from her accidentally treading on a twig. The daemon snarled, before pouncing down from the trees and galloping towards them.
“RUN!” Chayton yelled, and then the two where sprinting through the forest. Dezba managed to dodge the trees by millimetres, ducking under branches as they appeared in front of her. Hearing a sudden, startled yelp, she glanced behind her before skidding to a stop. Chayton was now pinned to the floor by the creature. He was flipped on his back, facing the daemons long fangs which were inches from his face. Its claws dug deep into his arms, causing him to wince in pain.
Her eyes were wide. She did not like the boy who had kidnapped and tricked her, but she did not want him to be slaughtered like this. As the beast let off a snarl down at him, he glared up at it, wrinkling his nose.
“Ugh! You need a tick-tack!” he muttered. Dezba glared at the beast, kneeling down and grabbing a rock by her feet.
“Hey!” she yelled, throwing it at the daemon, “Over here! Come get me!” the rock bounced off its head, causing it to snarl, turning its murderous gaze towards her.
“Dezba! Stop that! What the hell are you doing?!” Chayton cried, his eyes wide.
“That’s it! Come get me!” she yelled, pelting another stone at it. It snarled and released Chayton, turning and pouncing at her. With a cry of alarm, she ducked, causing the beast to crash into a tree. She backed away slowly, leading it away from Chayton who was clutching his bloody arms were the monster had dug in its talons.
“Dezzie! Stop!” he cried in horror. Once again, the daemon lunged at her. This time it missed by centimetres.
She had started to feel fearful; she knew that without help she’d be murdered. Once again, it pounced. This time she was not so lucky. She slammed to the ground, her head hitting a rock, and stared up at the daemon who pinned her to the floor.
Its black lips curled into a smirked, and – taking her by surprise – it talked.
“Not so wise for the guardian of the raven clan, are you?” it hissed, its voice replicating that you would presume a snake to have. She stared up at it with fearful shock, the stench of its breath hitting her in the face, catching the back of her throat and causing her eyes to water. It smelt like a thousand carcasses rotting.
Then, just as it was about to lunge down at her, about to stamp out her life, it screamed, a horrible, blood curling scream of agony. Dezba looked up in surprise, only to see Chayton as he drove the knife deep into the monsters ribcage. It pulled away, staggering away from the two as it bled, its breath panting.
“You’ll pay for this!” It gasped, “My pack will gain its revenge. Both of you will die!”
“Yeah, yeah,” Chayton sighed, rolling his eyes, “I’ve heard it all before.”
The daemon let off one last mournful, quivering howl before slumping to the ground; shiny blood caked the grass around it. Chayton looked down and Dezba, kneeling beside her and quickly checking her over for wounds. She just sat, eloped in shock, unable to take in anything. She just stared at the daemon. They were telling the truth. She became aware of Chayton speaking to her, but could not absorb what he was saying. He turned her chin so he was looking at her, and she saw he looked concerned. She was not sure why though. She felt him slip an arm under her legs, lifting her up, but she did not respond. She just sat with her head against his chest as he made his way back through the forest. If asked, she would not be able to tell you if he was running, jogging or walking.
Before she knew it they were back at Madam Hausisse’s hut. She could see everyone’s worried faces around her, but she still was not registering everything. Mingan was the closest; he had her face in his hands, speaking urgently to someone. Maybe he was speaking to her; she could not tell. Madam Hausisse appeared, a steaming mug in her hands. Mingan took it from her and held it at Dezba’s lips, helping her to drink it. The herbs that had been added to the tea worked perfectly, sending Dezba into a peaceful sleep.
Mingan carried her back into her room, Hausisse leading the way and pulling back the covers on her bed when they arrived. With his eyes fixed on Dezba’s sleeping face, he lowered her into the bed, before pulling the covers up to her shoulder and tucking her in. Dezba turned on her side in her sleep, curling her arms around her pillow and hugging it tight. He knelt beside her.
“What happened to her?” Honaw muttered; Mingan look up at Chayton, searching for some sort of explanation. Chayton looked grim as Elu stood beside him, bandaging the wounds on his arms.
“She ran away; she must’ve woke up in the middle of the night for some reason or another. I saw her leave, and followed. A howler daemon attacked us. It pinned me to the ground when we were getting away.” He growled lowly, wincing as Elu placed slightly too much pressure on the gash she was working on, but not showing any other signs of discomfort.
Mingan looked back at her, stroking her hair and combing the twigs and leaves out of it using his fingers.
“How on earth did you get away, child?” came the raspy voice of Hausisse. For a moment there was silence, before Chayton replied.
“She saved me; she distracted the Howler and made it come after her.” He said calmly, “Amazingly, she’s not harmed.”
“Not harmed?” Mingan snorted, looking up at Chayton with annoyed eyes, “look at her! Did you see what state she was in? Can you really call his not harmed?”
“Boys, enough!” snapped Hausisse, “We should have known she would attempt to escape, and that it would end like this, or worse. For now, we’re changing sleeping arrangements. Mingan, you seem to be the only one she truly trusts, so you will be staying in here tonight. If she wakes again, she should be at more ease to see you. Elu, you sleep in Chayton’s room; Chayton, you’re taking Mingan’s bed.”
No body complained about the change. All of them just wanted Dezba to be safe and at ease.
“She’s raven.” Chayton said suddenly, catching everyone’s attention.
“How can you be sure, Chay?” Elu asked, staring sadly at her friend as she murmured in her sleep.
“The howler.” He shrugged, “It said something like ‘Not so wise for the guardian of the raven clan’ when it went after her. Daemons may be gruesome and bloodthirsty, but they don’t lie about things like this.”
For a moment, they were all silent, until Madam Hausisse cracked her cane across the back of Chayton’s legs.
“Bed. All of you, now.” She snapped, receiving the glare her grandson sent her as he rubbed the back of his legs. She turned and hobbled out. Elu sighed.
“Night, guys.” She muttered, leaning to kiss each of them on the cheek, before exiting the room. Honaw was the next to leave, simply wishing the others goodnight. But before he left the room he paused at the door, turning and looking sadly at Dezba.
“Get well soon, Dezzie.” He muttered.
Then it was just Chayton and Mingan, who was still knelt beside her bed.
“I’m sure she’ll be fine.” Chayton muttered, “Madam Hausisse knows what she’s doing; I’m sure she’ll be fine by the morning. She just needs her rest.” Mingan sighed, nodding.
“I know,” he said softly, looking at his friend, “I’m just worrying, that’s all.” Chayton smiled at him, before patting him on the back and leaving.
Dezba murmured, beginning to stir. The sun outside of the window provided a warm light to filter through the glass, warming her face and lighting up her features. She turned her head, her eye lashes beginning to flutter open. Yawning she sat up, forgetting briefly were she was, before last night horrors struck her again.
“Hey,” came a voice, “sleep well?”
She turned to see Mingan sitting on Elu’s bed, smiling warmly at her. His hair was sticking up in random directions, and his eyes were tired, but it was still a reassuring face to see. She smiled at him, but her smile faulted, and she looked down.
“Last night…” she muttered, “Was that real?” Looking up, she saw his smile too had fell. He sighed, running his fingers through his hair, before moving across the room and sitting beside her.
“It was real, that daemon – the howler – did come after you and Chayton. You went into shock.” He said softly. Dezba swallowed, looking down at the floor.
“It’s real then…” she muttered softly. He nodded slowly, before sighing and pulling her into a gentle hug.
“Am I in trouble?” she asked looking up at him.
Surprisingly, he laughed.
“In trouble? Dezzie, we’ve all be worried sick about you! Why on earth would we punish you?”
“Because I ran away…” she said softly, looking at her hands that were folded on her lap. He smiled, lifting her chin so she was looking at him.
“You’re not in trouble, Dez. If anything, we’re relieved that you ran away. It shows how quick thinking you are when it comes to situations like this.” He grinned. Dezba smiled softly, before looking down again.
She remembered something Chayton had promised her, and then looked up at Mingan.
“Can I ring my dad?” she asked, her eyes pleading. He paused, glancing at the door, before pulling a phone out of his back pocket.
“Be quick.” He said. She smiled gratefully at him, before dialling her home number and listening to the ringing. After three rings, someone answered.
“Dad!” Dezba cried, her eyes lighting up at the sound of Noshi’s voice.
“Dezzie? Is that you? Jesus Christ, I’ve been worried sick!”
“I’m fine dad,” she smiled, but noting how tired he sounded, “I’m… I’m with some friends.”
“I know.” He replied, “Grandpa Sicheii called when you were in school. He told me what was going to happen.” Dezba frowned slightly; once again, she had heard about her beloved grandpa organising her capture.
“Listen, sweetheart, I know what’s going on. And I’m sorry for keeping everything from you. I was only trying to protect you from… well, everything that’s out there.” Noshi sounded sad.
“Don’t be, dad, it wasn’t your fault.” She smiled. There was a pause on the other line, before he spoke again.
“Is someone there with you?” he asked.
“Yes, Mingan’s here.”
“Can I speak with him?”
Frowning, Dezba held the phone out to Mingan.
“He wants to speak with you.” She explained. He frowned, taking the phone from her.
“Yes, sir?” he asked. For a while, he sat, frowning, listening to the voice of Noshi.
“I understand… yes, sir, you have my word… ok…” there was another long pause from him, before he smiled, holding the phone back to her.
“Yes dad?” she asked, pressing it to her ear again.
“Dezzie, honey, please do me a favour. Stay safe. Don’t get into trouble, and please listen to what the others have to tell you.” He said. She smiled.
“I promise. I love you.” She muttered.
“I love you too, baby. I have to go. Be safe.”
“Bye dad.” She muttered, hanging up. Sadness overwhelmed her. She could not remember the last time she was away from her father for longer than a day. He was her best friend. She handed the phone back to Mingan, looking at the floor.
“Hey...” he muttered, rubbing her back soothingly, “you ok?” Dezba nodded glumly in reply. He then stood up, pulling her with him.
“Come on, the others will want to see you.”
He held her hand and led her back into the kitchen; she kept her eyes on the floor whilst she walked. Suddenly, there was an excited cry, and Dezba looked up in time to see Elu dive on her, both of them crashing to the floor.
“You had me worried sick!” Elu squeaked as she hugged her tight. There was a laugh of the boys, and she looked up to see Honaw and Chayton sat at the table, Hausisse was stood with a crinkled smile across her withered lips, her hands on her hips.
“Jeez, Elu, give her chance to breathe!” Honaw chuckled. Elu got back to her feet, pulling Dezba up with her. Dezba could not help but giggle along with the others. Elu pulled her over, insisting she sat with her; whilst Mingan made himself busy by making them both breakfast.
She soon felt at ease with the others, even Chayton was slightly smiling at her by the time they had all finished breakfast. Dezba sat frowning for a while, a question bugging her.
“What’s stopping the… things out there from coming in here and getting us now?” she asked, glancing nervously at the window. Honaw grinned at her.
“They would, if they could. Madam Hausisse set up a various amount of charms and carved many signs in trees to prevent daemons from coming into this clearing. We’re safe, as long as we’re here.” He smiled. Elu laughed from where she was washing up the breakfast utensils.
“Unfortunately, we have to head out tomorrow.” She said, grinning over her shoulder.
This took Dezba by surprise.
“Tomorrow? She asked in disbelief, “but… don’t I get training or something like that? Something to help me survive this?”
“Well, yes,” Chayton said in a matter-of-factly way, “but we can’t do that. You have to act on your instincts, which you did last night; that’s the only way you’ll survive. You’re training will be simply taking on a few weaker daemons.”
“But don’t worry,” Mingan added, “We’ll always be backing you up, we’ll be there to help if you need it.” He gave her a bright, reassuring smile. With this information she took a deep breath, before adding a weak smile.
Don’t worry about it, she told herself, they’ll be there with you. Madam Hausisse peered at Dezba with her beady blue eyes.
“Elu,” she croaked, “get Dezba some clothes, and a bag. Get her everything she needs for the on coming days.” Elu nodded, wiping her hands on her jeans; grabbing Dezba’s hand with her sudsy one, she pulled her out of the room. In the girl’s room, she shuffled through her cupboard, searching for clothes for her. She found an outfit that Dezba liked, but it was not very warm. It consisted of a purple vest top, a pair of grey jeans, and a pair of red converse. Still, it was more comfortable than her school uniform that she had been stuck in.
“I haven’t any more jackets, I’m afraid.” Elu said, frowning whilst she thought of a resolution to the problem. She smiled, clicking her fingers together as a thought came to her, before disappearing out the door. Suddenly, she came back, dragging a confused Mingan through the door.
“What’s wrong?” he asked, frowning.
“Dezzie needs your hoodie.” She smiled her hands on her hips. Surprised, Dezba looked at her.
“Elu, I can’t just go taking his clothes!” she frowned. Elu laughed lightly, rolling her eyes.
“So its fine to steal mine, is it?” she grinned. Mingan paused, before sighing.
“My favourite jacket as well…” he muttered as he unzipped it.
“No, don’t Mingan, it’s alright. I’ll find something else.” Dezba protested, but he grinned, pulled it around her, and zipped it up.
“Its fine.” He promised, grinning at her, “It looks better on you, anyway.” She smiled softly back as his scent travelled up from his jacket. He had a nice, distinctive smell about him. The hoodie was big on her, but it was warm and cosy.
Before she knew it, Dezba was all packed. Elu had brought her spare pack – a green back pack with pink flowers all across it – and it was filled to the brim with things she had packed. In there was a woolly hat, gloves, and thick socks for the night; some money that she had found in her school skirt, her phone; Madam Hausisse had brought her two books on Daemons that was in there as well, and finally, a dagger that Chayton had provided was safely tucked into the socks, whilst another was strapped to her belt in case of emergencies. She was ready to go, and very nervous.