1 - A Whisper of Darkness

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I held my breath. The moonless night went still. A shroud of silence fell on the forest and a chill crept down my spine, every hair on end, my ears straining for the faintest sound of danger. I gathered my cloak tighter around my shoulders as if to shield myself from the darkness.

Something was out there.

There was just a hint of it, tiptoeing at the edge of my senses, not close enough to see or hear, no—just a whisper, and then it was gone. I forced out a slow, shaky breath. My heart was pounding in my chest.

I glanced up and down the trail I was following, keen eyes searching for anything unusual. Nothing greeted me but the stoic oak trees towering to blot out the stars. They were abundant and dense, their thick canopies outmatched only by the thicker mountains of brush that blanketed the forest floor. Only the narrow, winding trails through the wood allowed passage for anything but the scores of tiny critters skittering along through the night.

A twig shifted in the bushes and I whirled around, every muscle tensed. Nothing. The currents showed me nothing but a mouse.

With my heightened Animaré senses, the critter wouldn't have normally taken me surprise. In fact, I prided myself on my connection to the currents, which showed the little mouse's glimmering soul scurrying away into the night. But tonight was... different.

Moments before, the energy of forest pulsed and hummed in currents as I followed the narrow path. The currents were bright life in such a thickly populated area. Immersed as I was in the flowing energy around me, I felt the dark presence before I heard the forest go quiet, and it had taken only a moment more for me to dive into the bushes and freeze. The chill lingered even after the moment passed. I had brushed against something dark and twisted in the currents, something even the forest feared.

Normally, the currents flowed smoothly, connecting living things with streams and rivers of energy. As the currents flowed through living souls, they "shone" with light: dully through animals, brightly through humans, and even brighter in Animaré. The thing, whatever it was, left frayed edges in the currents just beyond my reach. But before I knew it, they smoothed themselves over without a trace.

I paused again and reached out, straining my power to sense even the tiniest disruption, but met only the thriving forest, peaceful as ever. I wasn't quite sure what to say, but I thought Koren should know that something was out there. Bound to me as she was, Lylisia no doubt felt an echo of the disturbance too, but would likely have no more luck placing the chilling feeling than I would.

I refocused my attention on the task at hand, glancing up and down the path. It was one of the many snakelike trails that wound through the vast outskirts of Lisparr Forest. Lisparr was a dangerous place to be, but the forest outskirts served as cover from the more immediate threat: Corvelen soldiers.

I shook my head to clear it and peered into the inky blackness ahead of me. The only thing I could see in the near pitch dark of the forest was the occasional twinkling star and a few fireflies blinking ahead of me. My cloak had caught on a thorny bush when I hid, and I wrenched it free, shaking leaves to the ground. Gathering it around me, I set off down the trail toward where the sun had set just hours before.

My tread was silent as I walked, unwilling to disturb the quiet of the night. Before, the quiet had been peaceful—now, I strained my ears for any whisper of danger.

I had all but forgotten the task at hand, and tried to refocus. Andrin needed some berry or root or leaf, just something for food. He didn't need much to keep us all going, which was good, because so far, I hadn't found a thing.

Before I covered much more ground, the trail forked sharply and I slowed down. The currents told me nothing lurked beyond the curves, but instinct made me cautious anyway. The left hand side veered off deeper into the woods, deeper toward Lisparr, with the right side drifting gradually northward.

Solace Curse: Part IWhere stories live. Discover now