Ruby's heart was pounding intensely, and she firmly clenched onto Cole and the ancient tome as the terrifying scream faded into stillness. Cole was peeking around the shrub wall, but he could barely see more than short distance as darkness surrounded the pair of companions.
"What was that?" Ruby asked in a hushed whisper, and she was trembling in fear. In her mind, the scream did not sound like any noise she had ever heard before, and she could not imagine what kind of nocturnal phantom would make such a wretched sound.
"I don't know Ruby, but I think something's coming." Cole pulled his companion closer to his side, and he continued to peer out into the shadows that surrounded them.
Just then a silhouette appeared from between a pair of towering trees, and it was difficult to determine exactly what it was. It appeared human, and was walking about upon two legs as it parted shrubs and bushes with another two appendages that extended from its torso. Cole was about to give their secluded position away and rouse the attention of the shadowy figure, but luckily Ruby pulled him back before he could do a thing so foolish.
The mysterious shadow hunched over and began crawling around on its hands and knees, then it made a huffing sound as if it were sniffing the grass upon the ground. Swiftly it moved back and forth, then it found its way to the apple tree.
"AHH! What is this?" The being shrieked aloud. "Who dares defile my precious trees?! I will find them, I will gut them, and I will eat them like they have my poor apples!" The creature continued to sniff about, and it crawled around more excitedly than ever.
When the silhouette came into view, Cole perceived that it was definitely not a human. The monstrous creature had a dark complexion, and its skin was grey and covered in bulbous warts and grotesque wrinkles. Its hair was tattered and in a wild mess, its teeth were jagged and gangly, and its eyes gleamed with a yellowish tint of malice and hatred.
When Ruby laid eyes upon the being, she took a deep breath of disbelief and utter disgust. She felt her heart throbbing in the back of her throat, and she was slowly succumbing to a panic attack. She looked to Cole, who was still surveying the beast, and she asked fearfully "What are we going to do?"
Cole darted his head back and forth, then he stooped and bent downward as if to pick something up. He was clutching a large stick that had fallen from one of the trees, and he said to his friend "Get ready to run."
The creature sniffed and huffed like an excited dog, and slowly it crept in the direction of the terrified companions. It caught the faintest scent of Ruby's perfume, though it did not know what the foreign aroma was. It remained hunched over, and in a moment it was upon the shrubby wall the pair of young adults were hiding behind, then it leapt up with twisted delight. "Ah hah! Found you! Now your m-"
Cole swung the broken branch as hard as he could, and leaned back into the motion as if it were a baseball bat. The stick snapped from the force of the blow, and the creature was sent reeling backward in utter surprise and sudden pain. "Now!" He shouted at Ruby, who was still petrified in fear.
It took a brief moment, but the weighty legs of the young woman began to move, and she started to run in the opposite direction of their ugly foe. Cole was quick to drop the remnants of the branch, and soon he was directly behind Ruby in a dead sprint. They passed through thick shrubs and clinging bushes; more than once the pair suffered scrapes and minor cuts from the plants, but still they ran onward for fear of being apprehended by the monstrous creature.
After a while Ruby halted in her tracks, and she was panting and trying to catch her breath. Cole stopped sprinting, and he wiped the sweat from his brow. "I think we got away."
"What was that...that thing?" Again Ruby's complex and logical mind was attempting to make sense of the entire affair.
"I don't know, but maybe finding a way home isn't such a bad idea." Cole was keeping his eyes open, and his senses remained sharpened while they rested a moment to catch their breath.
"You just had to eat the apple, didn't you?" The young woman shot an all too familiar glance at her friend, and her face was beaming with the phrase 'I told you so.'
"How was I supposed to know-" Suddenly a loud shriek interrupted his sentence as the ugly creature leapt from the shadows, and it tackled Cole to the ground. They both rolled around for a moment, but the young man became pinned under the heaviness of his foe.
"Now I am going to eat you!" The detestable monster cried aloud, and he grabbed onto the shoulders of Cole, then it slammed his head against the forest floor again and again as it laughed wildly.
Ruby was horrified at the sight, but she quickly regained her senses and clutched the heavy tome in her hands, then she swatted at the demonic figure with the manuscript as hard as she could manage. The creature was displeased by the outburst, and it reached around as it slapped the young woman with a mighty force. Ruby screamed in agony, and she toppled over onto the ground.
"Wait your turn." The monster hissed with wicked pleasure. Its attention was on Cole again, and it raised one of its powerful claws into the air as it prepared to rend the human into pieces. "Your skin is going to taste so good. Now die!"
Cole thought this was going to be his last moment, and his eyes fell from the beast to his injured friend. Sorrow filled his heart, and he feared for the safety of the beautiful Ruby. He was willing to accept his own death, but all of his concern was concentrated on his lifelong friend. He had an inner strength and resolve that was unrivaled, but in those seconds the tears of bitter sadness surfaced in his eyes.
Before the sharp claws of the monster could swipe downward and lacerate Cole, something surprising happened; a force sent the wicked creature reeling backward once more as the shaft of an arrow pierced its raised arm. Two more arrows were shot at the beast, but it quickly retreated back into the shadows before any more harm could be done to it.
"Are you two all right?" A raspy and deep voice called out from the darkness, and a husky man wearing a green tunic and hooded cloak approached the companions. He was wielding a long wooden bow, and strapped to his back was a leather quiver filled with sharpened arrows.
"I-I think so. What the hell was that?" Ruby was never inclined to curse, especially since she had to raise her siblings on her own, but the word slipped out in a moment of terrifying tension.
The stranger answered "That was a troll. They are ugly and wretched fiends that plague these forests; they wander around at night, and they prey on poor and unwary travelers. You are lucky I heard the screams when I did." Then his attention was turned from Ruby to Cole. Suddenly a look of bewilderment permeated itself upon his face. "Th-that scar. Tell me boy, who are you?"
Cole rose to his feet, and he was displeased with his title. "Boy? My name is Cole, and this is my friend Ruby. Who are you, and where exactly are we? Is this West Sparrow?"
The stranger's face became more stern, and he put away his long bow. "I beseech you, accompany me back to my village; the forest isn't safe at night. If you wish to have your questions answered, then I will grant you an audience with the Elder."
Cole and Ruby glanced at each other with uncertainty and suspicion, but in that moment they agreed to comply with the husky woodsman. They both had reached the assumption that, for the time being, there were no other options. The company traversed back to the hooded man's village as nightfall waned and the sun began its steady climb toward the skyline.