Arianna’s heart beat faster. There were at least two dozen of the creatures lurking in the darkness just outside the cave opening. “What do we do?”
“Fight,” Rhinna said firmly. “They must not get beyond the entrance, or we’re all doomed.”
She motioned to groups of villagers near the entrance. “You, you, and you bring your spears,” she said. “Form a line. Four to the left and three to the right. Two behind. Arianna, Magnus, and I will be in the center. When we strike, do it quickly, and don’t let them get too close.”
Long clawed fingers crept over the stones lining the entrance, behind which the demons’ low forms slipped into the cave’s torchlight. Crooked and hairy, the dog-like bodies glistened. In the harsh light, their pupils contracted. Low growls and hissing echoed off the walls. A chill carried in the air.
The young woman hardly had time to think of how scared she was before a shrill screech pierced the air. The demons charged forward, and without thinking, She lunged forward with her spear.
With a sickening thunk, the spear plunged into the body of the closest creature. Black ichor oozed from the wound, and the demon grabbed the spear. But when it touched the shaft, a sizzling cut through the air and the acrid scent of brimstone cut through the air. The creature shrieked even louder as it jerked back.
“Forward,” Rhinna shouted. At her command, the villagers yelled, charging the demons. Rhinna and Arianna ran with them, thrusting spears at the beasts.
Snapping and snarling, the creatures retreated, slipping and sliding across the stone floor until they leaped back through the opening.
Arianna let out a shuddering breath and lowered her spear. Her heart still raced.
Rhinna turned and smiled at her. “You did great, young one,” she said, then clapped the young woman on the shoulder. “Now, let’s get everyone settled and get some rest. We’ll depart at dawn.”
Arianna nodded and returned to her travel bag, relieved they had survived. The villagers were safe – for the moment. But she’d gotten one step closer to escaping this world and on her way home. As she sat on the floor, Rhinna approached.
“We’re going to take turns standing watch at the entrance. We’ll let you know when it’s your turn.”
“Okay. Can I ask you some questions?”
Rhinna nodded and knelt next to her. “What do you want to know?”
“The demons. Have they always roamed around freely at night?”
“For as long as I can remember and as far back as my parents’ and grandparents’ time as well.”
“Where do they go during the day?”
“They appear to hide in the deepest and darkest areas of Aldewater, such as Shadow Valley and Graymoor Forest. No one knows, and those who have tried to find out often don’t return.”
“How do Dathon and his followers stay safe from them?”
“I presume it’s because of the Aldewater tree magic in his staff.”
Arianna yawned widely.
“Better get some sleep,” Rhinna said, patting her knee. “Your turn on watch is in a couple of hours.”
The young woman nodded as Rhinna stood. Before Rhinna went to rejoin Magnus, she’d fallen asleep.”
Magnus nodded toward Arianna. “You think she’ll take Dathon with her?”
“I just need her to get me close.” The older woman thumbed the hilt of her knife. “We’ll be rid of him, one way or another.”
“And if she tries to stop you?” he asked, pursing his lips.
Rhinna glanced at the young woman. “That would be unfortunate.”
[ Going to try AI suggestions for the journey from Great Falls to Freehold. Stay tuned. ]