Saturday, April 27, 2013

Handmaidens of Petra: Windrush Woods

“What was that?” Jasna asked. She slowed, then stopped, head cocked to the side as she listened.
“If we’re going to stop every time you hear something, why, I’ll…” Brynne said, shaking her quarterstaff at the other girl.
“Quiet!” Jasna and Petra hissed at the same time.
The sound came again, a dry rustling, a groan.

“It’s the wind.” Petra took a step, but Jasna grabbed the other girl’s cloak, tugging.
“That was footsteps!” Jasna whispered.
“If they’re werewolves, wouldn’t they be paw-steps?” Justin asked. He moved the lantern back and forth, but the feeble light did not press very far beyond the trees to either side of the game path.
“There! There it is again!” Jasna said, as a quiet, furtive rustle sounded, followed by another creaking groan.
“That’s the wind,” Katarin said. She stared at a point slightly above her hand, which she held slightly cupped, the fingers spread.
“You’re just trying to keep us from panicking,” Jasna grumbled.
“Who’s panicking?” Brynne asked. Though she held her quarterstaff at her side, she did not put much weight on it, and she — like Jasna — kept her balance shifted slightly forward. “Katarin has her mother’s knack for reading the wind.”
“Wouldn’t it be listening to the—” Justin started, but the sharp pop of a snapping twig caused the group to suck in a short, collective breath.
“That was not the wind,” the shrike said, her grip tightening on the hilt of her sword. She turned a slow circle, golden eyes moving to regard every shadow. “Lead on, Sixth.”
They resumed as quick a pace as the uneven ground along the trail permitted, only slowing when they came to a split in the path.
Petra frowned, lifting her nose, sniffing. Her frown only deepened, and she tested the air along both paths again.
“I thought you said you knew where we were going,” Jasna said.
“I do,” Petra said, a bit of a pout in her voice. “In my own time. The woods are different than they, um… will be,” she finished. “This isn’t really the same path. There are quite a few trees here, in case you hadn’t noticed.”
“It’s a forest,” Jasna said with a shrug. “Aren’t they usually full of trees?”
More trees,” the younger girl said, followed by a sigh. She sniffed again at the air, and then pointed to the righthand path. “That way.”
“If you’re just going to guess, we can always call words or wolf,” Jasna said, coins clanking as she fished through the pouch at her belt.
As if on cue, a high, ululating howl rose from somewhere within the woods. It was picked up by another and then another voice.
“They have our scent,” Petra whispered. “Come on, it shouldn’t be much further.”
The others had to jog to keep up with her.

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