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The Dark Woods (Lady Madeline pt. 13)

Our heroine and her two friends looked over the edge of the bridge. The troll was getting pushed downstream. They could tell that it wouldn't be able to get back anytime soon. They all took a deep breath, then Roderick turned to Madeline.

"How did you do that?" he asked, "How did you run along the railing like that?"

Madeline thought for a second, trying to come up with a good reason why that could have worked, but couldn't think of anything. Eventually, she just said, "I don't know."

Roderick looked her up and down. Madeline did not like the worried look on his face. "What's wrong?" she asked.

"People can't just run on guard rails like that," he said, "and they don't have sharp teeth like yours. You couldn't have done that a week ago."

Madeline knew that he was right. This is something she could only do because she'd been attacked by a glaring. They were all glad that they managed to beat the troll, but they just managed to do it because she was cursed.

The three continued across and started down the path on the other side. Without fear of the troll, they had a bit more hope, and they talked a lot for a while. But soon the trees started closing in along the sides of the path.

The forest grew dark and angry around them, and Madeline couldn't help but feel that the trees wanted to reach out and grab them. In fact, it seemed that the longer they walked through the woods, the more times she would almost trip, or stub her toe against a root that hadn't been there a second ago.

The forest sounds — friendly ones you and I might like, such as birds chirping, or a gentle wind brushing some leaves — disappeared. While sunlight could still push through to the path, to her left and right, the woods just got darker and darker. She was pretty sure that if she left the path by more than a few steps, the sun would disappear completely and she would be left in pure darkness.

Even Handsome, who wanted nothing more than to mark every tree in Faewold, stayed close. He walked behind Madeline, head facing the ground, whimpering while they walked.

About an hour after the bridge, Roderick flew up to her and whispered, "Madeline, there is something watching us from the trees."

She started to turn to face him, but he stopped her, whispering "Just keep looking ahead. We don't want to draw attention."

Madeline did what she was told, but whispered back, "What is it? Who is it?"

Roderick said, "I don't know. But I've seen the same shadow a couple of times and have a bad feeling about it."

Madeline's throat was dry. She was scared, again. She tried to swallow. She hoped that might give her strength, but too many things had been happening in the last day and a half.

At that moment, Handsome, who heard the two of them speak (and saw that Madeline was upset), came up and pushed his head under Madeline's hand. Dogs, even the ordinary ones you might have as a pet, have a magic power that whenever you pet one, you and the dog both feel a lot better. Handsome used this magic, and Madeline felt stronger, she felt that she had a friend, and scratched him under the ear.

Finally, she asked, "What are we supposed to do?"

Roderick didn't even turn to look at her. "I don't know. We'll just keep going, for now, I guess."

Madeline sighed. This was another case of "Roderick hasn't come up with a real plan."

"Well, can we outrun this thing, whatever it is?" She asked.

"Probably not," Roderick answered. "I don't know what we're dealing with, exactly, but it is something pretty big, and it has been keeping up with us pretty well so far."

"What if we try to chase it off?" Madeline asked.

"I doubt that will work," Roderick said, "besides, we'd have to leave the trail in order to do that. We'd be better off just trying to run the last five-to-ten miles or so."

They walked silently for a while longer, waiting for this thing to jump out from behind the dark trees, waiting for it to attack them. But it never did.

Eventually, they came to a small clearing in the woods. In the middle, they saw a man in rich clothing, kneeling over a fire.

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