Cerys nearly leaped out of her skin when she heard a rustling in the bushes. She peered into the area where she had heard it, but could see nothing. Then several other parts of the bushes rustled, and she had to wrap her hands over her mouth to keep from screaming. She backed up against James, her heart racing. Even the goblin crouched down, making something like a ball of itself there on the road.
He must have felt her body trembling, because he told her, “I will deal with this. I did not bring you here to lose you on the first night.”
“What is it?” Peter asked, suddenly clinging to Bayani.
“Just stay out of the path of my blade,” James told them. He stepped a safe distance away from Cerys and drew the sword that hung at his hip, the one with the pegasus on its hilt. The light of the rising moon shone off of it, and she wondered whether it had been just such a glint that had inspired magic in the minds of men so long ago.
Something black crept onto the path just then. It might have been very dark grey, but it in that twilight it was hard to tell. Cerys shook her head and wondered why she even cared about the color. Maybe her brother was right; maybe she her mind did have a tendency to wander when the situation became stressful. Either way, it was growing. Th thing looked like a lump and first, and either it was standing up or it had the ability to grow in size, but in moments they were looking up at it.
Cerys had no name for it. She had thought at first that it would be some kind of shadow-hound, but it was too anthropomorphic to be a beast. Why was she thinking of scientific terms, now? It was not a ghost, not a ghoul, not a lich, nothing like that. It was not exactly like anything that she had read about in her fantasy novels or seen in her video games. It was as thought it had been made out of hate and darkness. Not born, but created by the will of some other power.
It hissed at James, and when it went on hissing and crackling, Cerys realized that this was how the thing spoke.
“You are not welcome in our barony,” James told it. “Leave us be!”
The thing spoke again, but James did not seem impressed by it.
“Move aside, or I shall have to end your miserable existence.”
Those words made it hiss even louder, ending in a sort of snarl. Two shadowy figures flanked it, staying low, and not making a sound.
James scoffed. “I should have known you had no intelligence– or should I say wisdom? I will not stand idly by and let you try to bully around our citizens.” He glanced back at Cerys and added, “Watch me dispatch all of them so that we can continue on our way.”
His motions were fluid, skilled, even majestic. They seemed well-suited for a boy of noble upbringing. They were nothing like what a typical seventeen-year-old high-schooler should have been able to do. It was like watching a martial arts movie, the way his body moved, the way his sword slashed and struck. The thing out the right was first to fall to James’s blade. Then he moved swiftly to the one on the left, the moves so quick that they were both nearly instantaneous.
They fell. Cerys was not sure how to describe it. The enemies in anime and games tended to flash and tear, disappearing as shreds of their former selves. These creatures did not do that. Neither were they goopy masses that fell like globs of slime to the ground. They had a more solid constitution, but somehow not as solid as humans. She wondered what they would look like in the morning.
The tall one reached out an arm for her. It was long, impossibly long, but not stretchy. It made Cerys think that this is what it would look like if a patient with advanced Marfan Syndrome had turned to the black arts and been overtaken by evil. The was when she heard shouting, but could not move. The felt hands grabbing her wrists, more hands than just those of two people, and then she was pulled backwards, further away from the villainous thing. Her her mind really been that lost in thought?
There were angry hisses, and several shrieks, as James Hacked way at the creature in between avoiding its swats at him. The one advantage that he had was that she was so fast, and it so slow. He sword relieved it of one arm, and as it screamed– a terrible sound that Cerys was sure would bring nightmares to the villagers that night– he circled around it. There was only a moment for it to snarl at him before he leaped forward, jabbing his sword upward into it back with full force.
“In the name of the Barony of Carawick, I vanquish you and all that you stand for!”
It gurgled as it screeched, probably cursing in it own hideous language, and James gave it a thrust with his boot to knock it over. It fell with a terrible thud, and writhed on the ground.
“Get moving!” James ordered the group as he stepped onto it back to hold it down while he pulled his sword out. “Go around the carcasses, and don’t stop moving until we are through the gates! More will be on their way before too long.”