"Let me get this clear, Rick. You believe you can take on an elf court on your own? And win?"
The question rang out within the cramped metal room, the voice's source coming from a dimly glowing screen. The tiny space had a petite bench meant for just two, but you had company at either side of you, their bodies warm and soft. The reassurance of their presence added an edge of wakefulness to your thoughts, of careful considerations and confidence.
"Yes." You spoke with a nod, your hand lay upon the knees of the women at either side of you. "Will getting rid of the threat they represent convince you to reconsider your decision?"
The silence that followed wanted to make you squirm, but you'd expected it. At your right, Diane's back straightened ever so subtly, at your left, Kiara leaned into your shoulder. You'd rehearsed this, you didn't need to look at them to know they were putting out their best to create an image in contrast. One all serious professionalism, the other, sultry smugness.
Leaning back on his chair, even through the screen, you could see him glancing at the duo at either side of you before he reached out to grab a glass of water and sip. The gesture likely dramatized to see if you'd crack with the lack of response.
Kiara's tail twitched as it stroked your back, reminding you to retain the bored expression on your face.
Finally, he spoke. "Very well." A slight nod as he put down the glass. "You do this, and I'll accept you into the Hunter's association."
Holding back from showing anything other than a nod. "Thank you for giving me this opportunity."
"Make no mistake, Rick." The man leaned forward. "This is your only chance left. Are we clear on this?"
The screen turned off.
A collective sigh was released, you leaned back and held your hands against your face, groaning.
"That was tense." Diane spoke, deflating with a nervous chuckle. "Do you really think we can pull it off, Master?"
"It's doable." You muttered with a nod. "But the first part is going to depend a lot on Eva and Astrid."
The statement made them look at one another, confused.
"Can you... trust them?" Diane spoke with a soft tone of concern.
You held back the grimace, it wasn't going to be easy.
(6 months ago)
The bus ride had been boring, the monotonous drip-drip-drip of rain against the window. Charlie pressed his head onto the glass, feeling the coolness against his forehead and trying his best to ignore the clamouring around him. The other students were muttering, some laughed loudly, most were just trying to speak up above the noise, adding to it and turning the whole thing into a competition to see who could speak loudest.
With a turn of his head, Charlie glanced at his younger sister as she read from her phone.
"This turned out to be just as dumb as last year." He commented with a scoff.
"Shame none of the teachers paid attention to the weather, huh."
Darkness engulfed the bus as it entered a tunnel, the dim lights lining the walls the only change around them other than the stop of the tapping of the rain against the glass.
Charlie paused as he looked at the front of the bus, the lights in the tunnel had gone out and the driver had turned on the headlights.
The next instant, a flash of green engulfed the vehicle from outside, blinding the occupants as shrill screams could be heard all around. The young man had closed his eyes at the light, his mind quickly pointed him towards something else, a lurching sensation in his stomach. Opening his eyes, the outside of the bus had changed.
Trees, whipping past the windows.
And they were falling.
Charlie's voice joined the others.
Pain shot through Charlie's arm, waking him up abruptly from the darkness. Confused, he sat up, looking around and trying to figure out what was going on. His body felt like it'd been used as Mike Tyson's personal punching bag, everything hurt, but especially his arm. His brain scrambled to properly assess the situation.
Glancing at the side, he noticed a blank look staring back at him. Wide empty eyes, slack jaw, blood trickling down the face's cheek and onto the ground.
Immediately Charlie recoiled back and gasped, trying to make sense of what he was looking at. It was a dead student, one he didn't recognise.
The young man quickly averted his gaze away, looking around to focus on anything else. The first thing he noticed was that he was laying on the forest floor, the bus was half crumpled a dozen or so meters away, a trail of glass and blood separating him and the vehicle. The air smelt strongly of gasoline and blood. There were dozens of others in various states of shock, grief, or panic as they walked around the clearing. Several dozen others remained on the ground, unmoving.
No, Charlie immediately knew, they were corpses.
A pang of panic made adrenaline shoot through his chest, immediately he began looking around with greater purpose. It took you a second before he spotted May. Relief and grief both went through him and settled in the pit of his gut as he approached the teenager currently kneeling next to an unmoving figure.
She was crying next to the cold and pale body of what Charlie figured was her friend. The face was vaguely familiar.
Slowly, he reached out and touched her shoulder, unable to find the words to properly say anything at all.
Her lack of a reaction as she continued to sob felt like enough of an answer. Thank fuck she was alive. His eyes glanced over her clothes, tattered, but barely bloodied- she wasn't hurt, right? That was the second source of relief in this otherwise mad spectacle that unfolded before his eyes.
Still, she was sobbing, bawling her eyes out, wailing almost so loudly as to be the loudest thing around. Pulling her against his chest, his eyes kept looking around, trying to figure out what to do, what could be done, where were they? Just what had happened? Charlie didn't know.
With one hand on his sister, his mind reminded him of the existence of his phone. Thankfully, it was still there, the battery not dead. But it didn't have a signal.
"Fuck." He cursed under his breath, holding his sister close even as she kept crying uncontrollably against his shirt.
His arm hurt, his head spun slightly, where were they? What was going on? The question kept bouncing around the young man's head. Around them adults, students, parents, and everyone in between. They were desperately trying to make heads or tails of what to do, who to help, what was going on, or doing something, anything.
The question burned within him brightly. What should you do? He took a moment to look at his sister more closely. "May, are you hurt?"
This seemed to give her enough presence of mind to weakly shake her head and shove him away, covering her face as she moved from crying to sobbing.
"May, I need you to take a second and tell me if you're hurt."
"Shut up!" She screamed. Now the crying was becoming louder, May leaning forwards as she hiccuped from the feelings coursing through her. In front of her, her friend lay motionless, cold, dead. The piece of metal lodged in the girl's throat was clear evidence there was no coming back from that.
But this wasn't the time to mourn the dead. Perhaps the shock had yet to settle in fully. A part of him certainly felt increasingly numb.
Half satisfied that May wasn't bleeding nor that she has deep wounds of any kind, he turned to yourself to go through the motions of looking over himself. There was a light cut on the side of his abdomen, bleeding lightly and stinging like a bitch, but it didn’t seem deep. There also didn’t seem to be any broken bones.
The aching shoulder appeared more a bruise than anything else.
"Does anyone have cell reception?" He heard a voice crying out. "Please check your phones, anyone has cell reception? We need to call an ambulance!"
No kidding, Charlie grit his teeth and checked his phone again. Nothing. Looking around again, there was nothing but forest. Just where the hell was the road? Frustration welled within him. The road should be nearby. "May, just... just stay there, ok?" He intoned, moving to stand up with a groan, holding the cut against his shirt and hoping it was as superficial as it seemed rather than worse... He'd have that checked when he got the chance.
First, finding a way to call for help.
His eyes glanced into the forest, then at the bus. A quick guess told him the direction the bus had fallen from, and he glanced the forest as he thought about that. The trees were untouched, there were no signs of how the bus had crash-landed into that clearing. Maybe... maybe somehow it'd skipped over the trees?
It was hard to imagine, but still, there was really only one way to check.
With a deep breath, he set out into the forest, preferring the silence between the trees than the crying and wailing that was happening around the bus. All he had to do was find the road, or a signal, and everything would be alright.
Determined to at least check, the pressure against the cut had stemmed the bleeding at least.
Slowly, the noises died out the further he walked. A slight smell of pine and crushed grass soothing him further.
It was a beautiful forest, quiet; it was frankly peaceful. Heck, without the sound of panicking people, it was a nice place to be at. And yet something about it kept gnawing at Charlie, the trees were larger than he'd ever seen in person, the tops so far up he could barely spot them through the foliage, and there was a quietness about the place that felt unnerving.
The gnawing at the back of his head kept warning him of something, but of what? That he was on some older part of the forest he'd never seen? or that, despite being only past noon, the forest was quickly becoming darker? Either way, the scenery was tranquil, not a single animal around and...
Wait, hadn't the forecast been a whole day's worth of rain?
Something tugged at Charlie's sleeve and he paused, looking down. There was a single silvery thread of silk, almost invisible, hanging between the trees that had snagged your shirt. "Huh?" He muttered, giving it a slight tug and expecting it to unravel. It did not, the silk remained fixed to his sleeve, glued, and as he tugged at it, the thread appeared entirely unable to come off at all.
Something in the back of his mind screamed. He didn't know why, his alarms were going off, but he knew he had to do something. And yet, his mind screamed loudly to move.
Without thought, his body acted on autopilot and ducked. Something swished past where his head had been only a moment ago.
Instinct kicked in, he rolled and put as much distance between himself and the spot he'd been standing on just a moment ago. The sweater had been torn where the silk had stuck to it, but Charlie paid little attention to that. As he stood up, he'd turned to look at what had made his instincts scream so loudly.
That was when he saw IT.
The monster was looking at him with brilliant silver eyes that gleamed from underneath the bed of silky black hair. The face was a ghostly visage, its rosy red lips closed, not a sound coming from the creature, from her? The young man could barely believe his eyes for they were the only proof the being stood as real as the forest he was trapped in.
It was the only option. He didn’t give a single instant more of consideration. With bated breath, Charlie turned around and sprinted with everything he had. The young man weaved between the trees as best he could in his mad dash to escape. There was no sound behind him to signal he was being hunted however, looking over his shoulder showed nothing. But the beat of his heart told him not to stop.
"Help!" He screamed, loud and clear.
Faster, his lungs were struggling with every breath, his heart was beating loudly in your ears, legs burning with every step. "Help! Please! Oh God HELP!" The young man knew he was still a way's off from the others, that he was too far away, but he hoped, he hoped with everything he had that the creature would not follow, that he could reach safety.
The crunching sounds above his head made him look upwards.
The creature was in the canopies, keeping pace with him, moving from tree to tree with grace and ease that were equal parts mesmerizing and terrifying, all of her eight legs moving in tandem for perfect near-mechanical synchronicity.
"HELP!" He kept screaming, pushing himself to go faster. Tears streaked down his cheeks as he could hear the crunching steps getting lower.
He saw it, the gleam of metal, the bus. He had to move, he was almost there, almost safe. "HELP! PLEASE HELP!" He was screaming with every bit of breath he had left, this couldn’t be it, this couldn’t be it, he was almost there!
"HELP!" The sight of the bus became clearer, the sight of people barely visible between the trees. "HELP ME PLEASE!"
Something touched the centre of his back and tugged.
Then, his feet weren’t in contact with the ground anymore. Wide eyes and shrieks as he was lifted up and up.
Something grasped his waist and yanked with a force that knocked all the air out of him. The young man heaved, suddenly finding himself momentarily without enough air to speak.
He was looking at the mass that had yanked him upwards, eight spider legs, each larger than his torso, they began to spin his body mid-air, the speed was blinding, his mind whirled with a punch of dizzying sensation. "HEL-!" He was silenced as a thick piece of silk covered his mouth.
The young man struggled to breathe.
A sharp sting in his neck brought about numbing fire into his veins.
The last thing he saw were the eight silvery eyes of the creature.
(Survivor count: 53/73)