The something Petra had detected was a steep embankment, which emerged only begrudgingly from the fog: layers of thick roots, gnarled and twisted one among another, forming a dam, or wall.
The bowmen grumbled about the dreaded fog, and getting turned around. Halav ordered them around the obstruction, yet poling in either direction only revealed more of the same twisted exposed rootwork as the fog parted.
“What devilry is this?” the big man demanded.
The shrike mumbled something, and while Jasna merely snorted in amusement, Brynne translated for the Traladaran.
“She did try to warn us,” the girl said.
“She also called him a—” Petra started.
Katarin clapped a hand over the girl’s mouth.
“What are we to make of it?” Zirchev asked, and as he did, the embankment widened as the raft drifted, a large root bulging outward, rootlets spread conveniently between it and the looming wall, rising away from the waterline.
“Well, that’s subtle,” Jasna said.
“No,” Zirchev said, placing a hand on Jasna’s shoulder as she made to hop from the raft to the base of the natural staircase. “I will scout ahead first, to make sure it is safe.” As he rose, so, too, did the shrike.
“It would do no good to tell her to stay, would it?” he asked Jasna.
“You’ll need someone to translate,” the girl said, shaking off the huntsman’s hand, following them onto the embankment.
Zirchev glowered, but held his tongue, pressed close to the wall of roots, hurrying up the uneven steps. Within a half dozen of those steps, the raft below disappeared into the clinging fog. Another half dozen, and even the sound of its creaking, and the muttering of the guardsmen was swallowed up.
“Is there no end to this?” Zirchev asked.
As if to answer, the wall to which he’d been pressing his back fell away, and he tattered for what would have been the span of several breaths, had he not been holding it. The Huntsman ignored the shrike’s wry smile.
There was nothing but a knobby protrusion, where the roots bent to plunge the dozen feet to the river below, and a short stretch of sandy soil built up among the tangle, before trunk after trunk could be seen, stretching to the edges of the mists to the left, right, and above.
Zirchev prowled from one gap to another, peering at the ground, cocking an ear to listen. Though the string of his bow was relaxed, the fingers that held the arrow were anything but.
Jasna waited, watching, shifting from foot to foot. She huffed a sigh, and then stalked past the Huntsman, slipping easily between the trees. She twisted, as Zirchev made a grab at her.
“What are you doing?” he hissed. “I haven’t finished—”
“It’s quiet,” Jasna said, not bothering to whisper back.
“Just because you can’t hear something waiting to eat you, doesn’t mean something isn’t waiting behind the next tree,” he said.
Jasna skipped backwards, keeping out of Zirchev’s reach as he tried once again to stop the girl.
“If we wait for you to check behind every tree, it could be too late,” the girl said. “Right, Goldy?”
The shrike opened her mouth, the word of warning dying as she began to speak it.
The branches behind Jasna bent, twisting around the girl’s arms, lifting her off her feet, which she kicked first at the tree to her right, and then to her left.
Zirchev drew his bow, bringing the arrow to his cheek in one fluid motion, only to find the arrow shaft sprouting leaves, the bow writing in his grip as greenery burst forth along its length as well.