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Silent Footfalls

Cautiously, the car crept around a sharp bend in the road as if afraid of what may be behind it. Dark had come quickly to the hills, bringing with it the ominous cloud of fog obscuring the usually clear August sky, making driving a nightmare in itself. The car started to splutter: a strange, acrid smell of burning plastic and ruined metalwork sweeping into the small, cab-like vehicle, warning that all was not well.

Jolting suddenly, the antique wreck came to an abrupt halt, pulling just short of a grove of huddled trees. Weeping willows moaned in the wind for the loss of sisters fallen to the axe long ago, when humans still lived in the log cabins hidden beyond sight. The humans had left the darkness of the grove for the glamour of the city many miles away.

A dark-haired, coal eyed man stepped out of the car, swearing venomously as he slammed the crumpled door into place. After swearing at some length, deafening creatures nearby with his curses, he stepped into the gloom of the woods and waited silently.

A sharp snap.

He turned quickly, startled at the sound of someone so close but previously undetected. The wind wrapped a blanket of chill around his shoulders while fear clutched at his heart with its gauntlet grasp, numbing all thought, reason slipping away as madness seized him, rooting him to the spot. The willows whispered frantically to him, muttering, moaning, weeping. Fog smothered the man in a thick, white cloak until he could no longer see and all sound was muffled. The dank, mouldy smell of rotting woodwork and decay slipped up to meet the dark figure, choking him, leaving him gagging for even one breath of fresh air. The smell wrapped him tightly a moment in its coils and finally let go, losing interest in the strange man-creature. Fog taunted him, showing wraith-like figures of the past in its confused form where there were none, laughing at him in his helplessness.

Backing away slowly, the man sought to leave the ghostly, grave-like grove but came up against the rough bark of a solitary snarling oak. Knots dug into his tortured back as gnarled, arm-like branches clutched, constricted, suffocated.

A sudden gust of wind.

Branches and fog were swept away and the man untangled himself from the glistening tree warily with white knuckled hands, allowing himself a brief glimpse of the world he had thought he had known. The fog closed in once more, pouncing on the man, dragging him under and holding him in its possessive, child-like grip once more.

An owl swooped, crying shrilly into his ear, showing itself only as a faint shadow until gracing him with its soft silk touch and just as swiftly vanishing, leaving a single feather by his feet. As the man reached down for the silver webbed artefact, the fresh, clean smell of damp grass greeted him, wishing him the luck that he would surely need in the ancient tongue of the light. The feather gleamed with cold inner fire, droplets of water clinging on for dear life. A drop of crystal perfection fell from safety, its flawless form suspended in the air, its many facets showing promises of the world and all it could be in heart-breaking simplicity before embracing all consuming oblivion.

Calm stillness shattered.

Fog lifted once more to reveal a pale figure emerging from the darkness below the star-studded sky, seeming to glide on dew jewelled grass...

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