The beached crew of the Wave Dancer stumbled along the coast in the dark, trying to find a suitable everblue tree, using the help of the boy, who managed to conjure up a ball of light, providing some form of illumination to their surroundings.
Finally, the ship's carpenter declared a tree that was suitable for the mast, and the crew carried tools over and started sawing the ironwood tree. The guards fanned out in a circular formation, protecting the crew while watching out for monsters.
The boy yawned sleepily, his job was just to maintain the light spells constantly to provide enough light for the crew to work with. He sat against another tree, his eyelids felt like lead weights as he fought off the sleep demons.
The crew hurried their work, working fast to finish cutting down the tree and stripping the leaves and branches off, fueled by stories since childhood about the horrors that ran amok in the untamed lands. They worked strangely quiet in the night, other than the occasional grunts and huffs, no chatter could be heard, afraid that they might attract the attention of hostile creatures.
Even without chatter, the sawing and the eventual felling of the tree echoed mightly throughout the forest, causing the bird wyverns to cry out in surprise from their nest, sending a huge cloud of birds flapping away in anger and fear from the trees.
Everyone froze, even the boy snapped away and alert, they all stared into the depths of the forest, feeling the darkness creep up into their bones. The guards fingered their weapons and ready their round wooden shields, while the ship crews holding felling axes stood nervously peering around them.
Time passed slowly, a turn of the glass, followed by another, and the crew and the guards slowly relaxed, some even started to joke around themselves, patting each other over the backs for scaring themselves.
As the men turned their attention to the felled tree, the sudden snap of a twig, froze everyone again. Turning towards the direction of the sound, they readied their weapons again, "Hey you two," The bosun ordered in a low voice, "Go check it out!"
Demal had joined the Wave Dancer as a guard for adventure and coins. It was the second voyage he signed up for, the first providing him with enough coins and stories to provide for and entertain his four younger siblings for some time. So when the call at the port for crew came again, he signed up and gotten the job easily as he has worked with the Wave Dancer before.
He rubbed his sweaty palms against his salt crusted pants and heaved the dagger-ax up, pointing the sharp end towards the direction of the sound, while his friend and fellow guardsman, Qoman held up the burning torch in his left hand and a short sword on his right.
They advanced step by step carefully deeper into the forest, avoiding as much of the loose twigs and leaves scattered all over the forest floor. Leaving the contours of the mage light, they entered the dark forest, the feeble light from the burning torch trying to cast away the darkness around them.
"You see anything?' Demal asked in a low whisper, bending low with his polearm held out perpendicular to the ground. His eyes slowly adjusting to the darkness, but the flickering shadows cast from the light by the trees appeared to be taunting him, making him imagine monsters hiding behind the trees.
"No, I don't see anything at all," Qoman lifted his smokey torch higher, trying to light the area more. "What's that?" He heard a rustle of leaves to his right and he spun around. "You heard that?"
Demal looked back towards the rest of the crew, feeling the urge to run back into the protective embrace of the lights cast by the boy mage. "What are you doing?" He turned back around as the torchlight from Qoman appeared to dim.
Only to find Qoman missing, just a burning torch marking his previous spot. "Oh, my goddess!" Demal prayed, he slowly backs toward the rest of the crew, his eye wide in fright, "I should have listened to mother and stay home!"
He took another two steps back, trembling and bumped against something on his back, and felt a breath of warm, rotting air washing over him, looking up, he saw in the dim light, a row of yellowing dagger-like teeth, the mouth salivating and opening impossibly wide. "I am sorry mother!" he cried before disappearing into the maw.
"The sailors are under attack," The UAV operator in the bridge reported to the command team. "No visual on the infra and most of the canopy is blocking the sensors from penetrating."
"Night vision?" Blake asked the operation, watching the hues of color appearing and disappearing on the main display, "Anyway to see what is attacking them?"
"Sir, there is an 87% chance of the attackers are the giant wolves." The operator replied as he tapped several keys on his control panel. The live images the UAV managed to get through from the breaks in the canopy showed very little.
"Are we gonna send help?" Joesph asked, "They getting slaughtered."
Ford raised an eyebrow at Joesph and asked, "So we send people into that, with a high chance of some of them not going to make it back alive for what? To find their remains?"
Joesph's face turned red, "But we can't just abandon those men to their deaths!" He argued with Ford. "If we save them, it will also be easier for the Isles' merchants to trust and work with us!"
"So you are now willing to send your men to their deaths or you want to borrow our power for that?" Ford snapped back.
"Enough," Blake cut through the argument, "Both of you! We will send a team down when the day breaks. No point in wasting lives in the dark and in unknown territory. Besides, it has ended." Blake gestures to the screen.
The imagery showed bodies slowly cooling and fading into the cooler background temperature. "Lord Joesph, please go prepare your men for departure at the barracks, we leave at dawn," Blake ordered.
"As you command, my liege,' Joesph gave a salute and left the bridge while Ford glared daggers at his back.
"You are too soft," Ford muttered. "Why do we need to help everyone we see?"
"Yes, I know, we are not a charity organization," Blake smiled at Ford's temper. "Bullets and medical supplies are not free, but it is good to have a debt owed to you. Makes negotiation easier."
Ford shrugged, "Our bullets and medicine are not unlimited you know?"
"Think of it as an investment?" Blake turned to Lt Frank who stood watching the tactical display map quietly.
"Lt? Why so quiet the whole night?" Blake enquired. "What's your thought on this?"
"We have been trying to track the wolves for some time now, but haven't been successful at all. And they had been very quiet too, almost no signs of any wolves at all." Frank leaned over the table as he calculated the distance of the encounter to the base.
"We might have forced them off their usual hunting grounds, they are probably trying to stock up for winter, and those men just nice made a nice juicy meal for them." Frank gave his assessment.
"We probably won't find much remaining there, well, chances of any survivors doesn't look good, and yeah, I would rather do this in the day than at night." Frank gave his thoughts, "Also, Cmdr Ford is right, we can't keep doing charity for others. The men are tired and we are low on beans and bullets. Very low."
"Heard and received, LT," Blake nodded. "Make the men ready, depart in the morning."
"Yes, Sir!" Frank gave a salute and left the bridge.
"Boy's pretty sharp for his age." Ford commented, "He will do good in the future."
Blake agreed, "Yes, we really need that gunpowder mill up and running asap. The problems this world keep throwing at us, it's like some kind of timer of bad stuff, and we keep running out of time."
The boy huddled into a ball, hiding in a hollowed trunk of an everblue. He covered his mouth and nose with both his hands, trying to stifle his sounds of breathing. The crack of twigs and dried leaves draws closer, and he prayed to the goddess in his heart.
Just as the sounds of heavy footfalls neared him, a scream of fear echoed down the dark forest, and the huge creature spun around, racing off towards the unfortunate soul. Howls followed by more screaming could be heard from where the boy hid.
Feeling his heart almost exploding from the tension, the boy quickly took several deep breaths to calm himself and with trembling hands, cast a tiny barrier around his hiding place in the trunk which helped to mask his presence.
Thus he hugged his knees toward himself and prayed, hearing screams and howls till fatigue consumed him into darkness.