Dark Hollow

Layne Partin

Part Five:



“We’ll go back to the old home place and start looking for Namer there,” I said as we walked away from the flames of the last Dark Hollow house. The rain wept softly down from a white autumn sky, dampening our clothes but not our resolve. “Since that’s the last place we saw him, it’s as good a place to start as any.”

Nina shrugged. “Whatever you say.”

Her raven sweep of hair was bejeweled with misty rain; she had never looked lovelier, but her face was pale and I knew that this day would long haunt her dreams.

If we lived to have dreams, and nightmares, that was.

In a short time we were back where we’d started that morning. Scorched ruins were all that remained of my childhood home. I wondered if returning would stir any nostalgia in me, but in the ashes of time I found no such thing as I looked around at my ancestral land.

There was no nostalgia, but there was something, some dark memory tugging at me…

“You have that look,” Nina said, as annoyingly perceptive as always. “What’s going through that brain of yours?”

A chill was working its way up my spine, the old fear of the unknown. But this time it wasn’t vampires that I feared.

Those memories again. Those terrible memories.

And, that sense of being manipulated, even now, as if we were puppets and Namer was still pulling our strings.

“Nina,” I said at last, “what say you see if you can get a signal on your phone and call your dad.”

She was immediately suspicious. “Why?”

I stood here a long time ago and shot an arrow into the sky…

I thought about how to say it. “Because where I’m going, I can’t promise you I can get back, that’s why.”

I knew right away that it was the wrong thing to say. Her curiosity was up, and it was like mine: Inexorable.

She came closer, uncomfortably close. “Why not? Where are you going?”

Her eyes, dark and forceful, bored into mine.

“Otherplace,” I whispered, more to myself than to her, and a goose ran over my grave. I really didn’t want to think about it; it was something I’d never revealed to a soul. But it was possible that Namer knew of it. And if so, it was the perfect hiding place, where no one would ever find him, somewhere he would go only if he had to.

And it was possible that he would find victims there.

Oh God, I don’t want to think about this, much less talk about it.

But Nina was the love of my life, the one I wanted to share the future with. And a part of me wanted her with me, didn’t it?

And I had always longed to tell someone, anyone, hadn’t I?

My mouth opened and I began to speak, as if I were an audience rather than the speaker.


I wasn’t supposed to go beyond the top of Cedar Ridge, and I never had, but on that fateful day I was going to. The need to see what lay beyond the next ridge top was an ever-growing curiosity that was becoming a consuming fire. I was eight years old, big enough to take care of myself, and besides, I had my trusty bow slung across my back and a quiver of arrows strapped to my belt; what harm could there be in going a short distance beyond where I had been many times?

I stood in the early morning forest, amid vibrant new greenery, the sun angling through the trees in golden coins, the spring breeze scented of secret things, and surveyed the slight hollow that divided Cedar Ridge from the next ridge, which had no name that I knew of. Or perhaps it was a part of Cedar Ridge.

My heart pounded at the thought of entering forbidden territory, but my feet were already making their way down the rock infested slope, through the rotting leaves of last autumn’s harvest. Gnats and deer flies orbited my head, their buzzes annoying but not distracting; I waved them away with hardly a thought as I moved downward. I paused in the holler and looked around, instinctively searching for Indian arrow wood, or sourwood for making arrows.

But something felt different down there. Things seemed slightly out of kilter. It took me a moment or two to identify what it was: The leaves on the trees up top had been fresh and green, still growing, but here they were the more mature green of midsummer. And something else: The breeze was gone. Sure, it might have been unable to reach down here, but that wasn’t it and I knew it. The day was suddenly sultry and close, thunder like, where before it had been warm and friendly, welcoming. Also, had the trees shifted positions while I had watched my feet progress downward? Was the underbrush less dense?

Or was it my imagination?

I shook off the willies and started out again, Daniel Boone exploring new territory. I’d climb the wooded slope before me, look down on the other side, and then go back, simple as that. With any luck there would be a cliff, or a steep bluff, to look off of. I knew what was supposed to be down there: a green valley shaped like a boomerang, with a creek meandering its way through it, and a muddy road cut into the upper contours along the tree line, with two or three houses along the road; I should be able to see the house where my friend Bobby lived. As the crow flies, he lived less than a mile from me. But it was twice that far over the ridge, and even farther around the roads.

I made my way up the leaf-slippery slope, past the gnarled roots of ancient oaks and beech trees. As the forest gradually leveled out thickets of rhododendron and mountain laurel became more numerous, forcing me to take detours.

And then I was at the top of the little ridge, in forbidden territory.

I couldn’t see much, just more forest sloping downward, but a short distance beneath me the mountainside appeared to fall away steeply, revealing only empty space beyond it. From there I should be able to see a ways.

I pushed through tangles of undergrowth and stepped carefully onto a great rocky escarpment, and there before me was a vast expanse of forest stretching away into the distant blue haze. Sure enough, down there was the green curve of valley, the creek like a silver thread winding through it. But, impossibly, there was no road, no houses, and I felt the first stirrings of alarm. This wasn’t right; there were supposed to be farms and houses and a road meandering its way through the countryside, but all I could see were more mountain ridges stretching into infinity.

I shouldn’t be here, I thought, my heart a heavy murmur now.

You’re lost, the tiny voice of fear whispered.

“No way, stupid,” I chided myself aloud. “All you have to do is go back the way you came and down the other side.”

But what if home isn’t down there? That tiny voice again.

It was an unbearable thought, and I refused to dwell on it as I hurried back to the top of Cedar Ridge, and then down through the little wooded valley. It took only a few minutes to make my way back to my boundary line, which I should never have crossed.

Lost; you’re lost--

No, I thought, everything looks the same here, at the top, on our land.

But I had to be sure.

I slipped my bow from across my chest and, grasping it firmly, ran down my side of the mountain, somewhat carelessly considering the angle and the scatterings of boulders, but I had to get to Sheep Cliff, where I’d be able to see my house.

Sure enough, there was the top of the huge cliff, just where it should be, and the sight of it brought a mild relief, but not as much as I would have hoped. I slowed, careful in spite of my misgivings. It wouldn’t do to trip and fall anywhere near the edge. I walked carefully to the corner of the cliff top, where I would have a clear view of my house, and stopped, my heart in my throat.

There was no house down there; in fact, there wasn’t any farm or road, no grassy meadows or strip mine scars in the mountains opposite me.

There were only mountain ridges marching away, into perpetuity.

Fear touched my heart, a cold certainty.


I stood there, my thoughts like quicksand mud, my eyes searching frantically for any familiar sign.

This is impossible, I thought, but the thought was a faraway murmur.

Back to the top; I’ve got to go back to where I was and start again, retrace my steps exactly; somewhere I missed the way.

It was an irrational thought, a grasping for straws, but my mind was somehow convinced of it, and any course of action was better than none, much better than wandering lost, so I turned and made my careful way up the mountain, trying to remember what looked familiar and what didn’t. My eyes darted about, searching for any sign of my former passage: a bent twig, displaced leaves, anything. I saw no spoor, but the activity did lessen the fear and give my heart something to hurry about.

It took longer this time, but soon I was looking off the precipice again, down on a vast wilderness that should have been peopled.

Okay. I looked around. I had stood right here, I was sure of it.

I slipped my bow across my back and turned and studied the slope, trying to determine where I’d come down before. Through that tangle of undergrowth, for sure.

I carefully picked my way back along the route I had taken the first time, racking my memory for landmarks, wishing I had studied my back trail, for things look different when viewed from the opposite direction. But I’d had no need to be careful, since there was no way I could get lost.

So I had thought.

Nearing the top I noticed where I had slipped in the leaves coming down, and hope leaped in my chest. It had to be the right way, for I hadn’t slipped the second time down. The incline began to lessen, and I was soon going down into the little valley again.

And once again I had the odd sense of things coming unfocused for a moment.

I blinked and looked around.

The day felt like spring again, and the leaves were fresh and green and growing. Vast relief filled me, but the voice of caution told me to be certain before I got my hopes up.

Too late, I thought, as I hurried over the top of Cedar Ridge and headed for Sheep Cliff.

I made my way out onto the ancient crag, holding my breath, my heart a slow murmur.

Sure enough, there below me was my house, looking just as it always had. I let my breath out in a great swoosh of relief. I felt giddy and foolish, though my heart still beat too hard.

Logic tried to sort things out. I had obviously veered off down another slope, to where there was another cliff that looked just like this one. It was a big forest, and there was a lot of it that I hadn’t explored before.

That had to be it. I’d simply taken a wrong turn back there, gone the wrong way. Or perhaps I’d taken a nap and dreamed the whole thing. Dreams seem very real when they hold one captive.

But the memory of mountains stretching into the blue of distance turned all my theories to dirt.

No matter; down there was home.

But wait. There was something odd about it.

Anxiety crept up in me as I surveyed the farm below, trying to discern anything amiss.

Finally it struck me. The shadows were different. The sun was in the wrong place.

When I had crossed the ridge it had been morning time. There was no doubt about that. But now the sun was sinking into the western sky, on its slow way to China.

How long had I been lost? Surely not more than an hour had elapsed since I’d climbed the mountain this morning. The sun had been slanting in through the spring trees; now it was slanting toward the opposite way.

Maybe I had fallen asleep. How else to explain the passage of so much time?

But I wanted to be home, and I was going home.

The path from Sheep Cliff to our house was well worn and as familiar to me as my own bedroom. I hurried down it, as surefooted as a mountain goat, prodded on by thoughts of chores left undone.

Our truck wasn’t in the drive, but that meant nothing; Daddy could have been doing any number of things on the farm with it.

I slipped through the kitchen door, expecting Daddy’s voice to ask me where I’d been all day, but there was only silence.

Good. He was gone.

I sighed with relief, feeling as though I’d escaped from a lion.

I made myself a snack of peanut butter and saltines and washed it down with the last of the water in the bucket. Wiping my mouth, I took the water pail down, intending to fill it.

The sound of a vehicle pulling into the driveway gave me pause.

I pulled the kitchen curtain aside and peered out.

It was our ancient red Ford pickup.

The truck wheezed to a stop; Daddy and Harris, our neighbor, got out.

Worry seized me at the haggard, exhausted look on my father’s face. He looked gray and old. Something terrible must have happened.

I hurried out the back door, water bucket forgotten, my ill-fated jaunt forgotten, and the lost time forgotten. Something bad had happened and I had to know what it was.

“Daddy,” I said, but the words died in my throat and I instinctively wanted to hide, for as soon as he saw me his eyes widened in disbelief and he started for me in a lurching run.

“Talon!” he yelled, and then I was engulfed in his arms. I felt the racing of his heart and the shuddering of his breath as he held me tight.

“Oh, son, you’re alive,” he kept saying, and he refused to let me go. Harris hovered in the background, looking embarrassed and thankful and relieved all at the same time.

What in the world?

Finally Daddy pushed me back and looked at me through tear-filled eyes. “Where were you, son? You had me worried to death.”

“Uh--up at the Sheep Cliff, sir,” I managed to stammer, wondering what the fuss was about. I’d only been gone a little while, a few hours if the sun was right.

“The Sheep Cliff?” he snapped, his eyes hardening. “For three days?”

Three days? But that was impossible.

Confusion clouded my eyes, and fear of the unknown. Something strange was going on, and I had no idea what it was.

Daddy shook me angrily. “We’ve been scouring the woods for you for three days, son, and couldn’t find hair nor hide of ye. Ye think we didn’t look at Sheep Cliff?


Suddenly his eyes narrowed, and I thought I saw fear there. “Did you go past the top of the ridge? DID YOU?”

The anger in his voice and his eyes terrified me and, unable to answer, unable to even comprehend what he was talking about, I burst into frightened tears.

For a moment my father glared at me, his fingers like iron claws digging into my arms, and then he relaxed with a great sigh and pulled my taut body into his arms again, and said no more.

But he wondered, in the days that followed, for he would look at me with strange eyes, as though he feared me.

And that had been the end of that.

But not quite…

Spring passed into summer, and autumn soon came, as it always did, painting the mountains with the magical brush of Jack Frost. Indian summer came and went, and then it was Thanksgiving Day weekend. No school for four wonderful days.

That Saturday was the day the arrow fell from the sky.

I was headed down the driveway with water bucket in hand; just as I crossed the road and started down the path that ambled around the slope to the well house, an arrow hissed to the ground in front of me.

My first thought, as I stopped abruptly and gazed down at the arrow protruding from the ground, was that my cousin Jesse was shooting at me from the woods. I started to turn and yell out his name, but realization stole the words from my mouth and left it gaping open.

The arrow was my own. I recognized it because I had made it and painted it my own special colors; the shaft was solid black (inspired by Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Black Arrow) with red and white and yellow stripes near the fletch and the pile.

I stared at the arrow, bewildered. It was the arrow I had lost back in the spring. Of that I was certain, for none of my arrows was the same; each was unique. I clearly recalled the day I lost it: Standing outside the back door shooting it high into the sky, watching it grow tiny as it reached its zenith, flutter there, lose momentum, and then begin its long fall earthward, into the tall grass just beyond the road, near the path. I had searched for it many times, and figured at worst that I would find it when winter killed all the greenery, but had never found it. Now, six months later, it had fallen from the sky as though I had just shot it.

Puzzled, I plucked the arrow from the ground and examined it. It was as fresh and shiny as when I had first made it and loosened it on its maiden flight. Had it laid out in the weather for six months it would have been faded and warped from sunshine and rain and frost and age. Even if, as I had initially surmised, my cousin had found it and kept it, there would have been signs of wear.

It occurred to me then that Jesse and his family were away for the long weekend.

Wonder dissolved into fear as I turned the arrow in my hand. I had shot it into the sky and it had fallen six months later as if it had never been missing. A short flight through a long stretch of time.

And then I remembered being on the Sheep Cliff, seeing only forest where my home was supposed to be, remembered the fear. I had almost convinced myself that it had been a dream.

Then I knew where that arrow had been, for I had been there too.



“A timeslip, most likely,” Nina said when I had finished. “I’ve read of them, but this is the first time I’ve ever actually heard of one, firsthand.”

I felt a wave of annoyance and looked away, up the mountain where it had happened, so Nina wouldn’t notice. It was a relief to have her believe the impossible, or at least the improbable, but I’d wanted to awe here with the knowledge, and also share with her the sheer helplessness of being a young boy lost in some impossible place. But Nina wasn’t easy to impress.

I turned back to her. “Yes, that’s the technical term, but what exactly is it? I walked up that mountain and came back down a couple hours later and three days had passed. There’s something strange about this place.”

Nina shook her head slowly, thoughtfully. “No one knows, of course, but I suspect it’s a place where the wall between realities is thin or nonexistent. Or perhaps the space-time continuum loops back on itself and touches in places.”

“Or, do alternate universes exist alongside this one?”

Otherplace,” I said again, and again a goose ran over my grave. “And that, I think, is where Namer is hiding, waiting for us.”
“You think he knows about it?”

I shrugged, then nodded. Decided not to tell her how I felt manipulated still.

“Do you think you can find it again?”

I looked at her, so beautiful, so desirable, and so needful to me. “I’m afraid so.”

She tilted her head and looked at me thoughtfully. “We don’t have to go if you don’t want to. We can walk away, right now, and let it go. Do you think you can?”

“Can you?”
She nodded. “For you, yes. He fears you, and knowing that helps me to fear him--and his kind--a whole lot less.”

For a long moment I just stared at her, unable to believe that she would do that for me, a vampire killer who lived by the sword and would die by the sword, as all warriors are fated to do.

“Let’s do it,” I said at last, nodding toward the gloomy, dripping woods that rose up behind where my house had once been. I wanted nothing more at that moment than to take a hot shower in a dry motel--any motel--with clean sheets and a noisy air conditioner to drown out the world while I drowned in Nina’s arms.

“But first,” I reminded her, “see if you can reach your dad. I’ll explain later,” I said at the question in her eyes.

She pulled out the phone and thumbed it on, checked for a signal. Her eyebrows rose in disbelief. “Hey, there’s a signal, not much of one, but enough.”

She speed dialed the number, listened.

“Hello, sir,” she said after a moment. “How are things with you and the Icarus?

“Yes, we’re fine, a bit wet but just peachy.

“No, we haven’t found Namer yet, but we’ve rid the earth of a couple dozen of his kind, and Talon thinks he knows where we’ll find Namer.

“Of course we will, sir.”

Nina turned away from me and looked up at the sky, said something I didn’t catch, then folded up the phone and put it away. When she turned back to me I thought her eyes looked misty, but it could have been the rain.

“Let’s go,” she said, starting for the forest.

I guessed her father was fine, and asked her no questions.

We climbed through dripping arboreal vistas that were slightly altered by time from what I remembered, but it was mostly as I recalled it, and I had no difficulty finding my way to Sheep Cliff, which had shrunk in all the years that I had been gone.

Or perhaps I had grown. I had seen some of the world, and what had once been my world no longer seemed so grand.

We rested a moment in the dryness of the ancient cliff while I got my bearings. The floor was lifeless dirt with old charred remnants of bygone campfires strewn about. Their smokes had etched weird shapes on the seriated ceiling high above; I felt a wave of vertigo as I scanned its vastness. In the back of the cliff was a natural alcove where I had once laid my sleeping bag. Had I ever been so small and supple that I could sleep on that?

“Almost there,” I said, watching Nina stretch and massage her shoulders where the backpack straps had dug in. She then checked her weapons, her eyes all the time searching the gloom of the heavily treed forest slope.

I hoped that we lived long enough for me to grow tired of looking at her, if such a thing were possible.

“Ready,” she said, swinging her pack into place

We started up the left side of the cliff, moving as silently as ghosts through the wet leaves. All along the base of the great outthrust of rock, time and the elements had pocked the layered sandstone with nooks and runnels, and giant moss covered boulders had long ago broken off and lay scattered about, making the climb difficult.

Nearing the top, we passed a dark fissure that wormed its way underneath the cliff wall, when something cold and evil shivered up my spine. I stopped abruptly and drew my HK, my eyes darting about for the source of the disturbance.

Nina turned her back to mine, her own handgun held high and ready; I knew her eyes, like mine, were everywhere. We had, in the last few hours, become an instinctive oneness.

Seconds turned into minutes as we listened and watched, but the drip of the rain and the occasional stirring of the wind were the only sounds.

“The arrow doesn’t make sense,” Nina said at last. She hadn’t moved, and I knew she was still on high alert. “I mean, you were gone for an hour or so, and came back three days later; the arrow was gone only an instant and came back months later. Does that bother you too?”

“I think it makes sense, in some way that I can’t put into words,” I said, relaxing somewhat but still nervous. “Something I’ve read, maybe.”

The day grew darker and the rain began to fall harder. I shivered, conscious of Nina’s pack pressed against my back, of her nearness. I wanted to get this over with.

“Okay,” I said, “Let’s do it.”

We heaved our way up the last steep incline and reached a plateau, which the cliff jutted out from. If memory served, we needed to go the short distance to the ridge top, and down into the little valley separating the two ridges. There, the doorway waited.

“That way.” I pointed. “Somewhere just beyond the top.”

We started hiking again, through a festive fall of autumn leaves borne on an ill wind. But for the rain it would have been beautiful, even romantic.

It took only a short time to reach the top of Cedar Ridge, the far boundary of my childhood explorations. The little valley that I had crossed on that momentous day waited below. And somewhere down there was the entrance to Otherplace.

A shiver worked its way through me, and I knew the chill had nothing to do with the wet afternoon.

“Stay close,” I whispered to Nina. “Somewhere down there is where it happened, unless it has shifted.”

She nodded and I made my slow careful way down the slope, trying to retrace from memory the exact route I’d taken in my childhood years.

We reached the bottom of the slope and breathing became difficult.

“Well--” I started to say, and stopped abruptly, stunned. Nina bumped into me and I heard her gasp in awe.

I had felt no passage, nothing, but we were standing in sudden sunshine, surrounded by green.

“My God,” Nina whispered. “It’s true. We’re somewhere else entirely.”

The forest was the same, although summery instead of autumnal, but it seemed slightly altered, as if things had shifted around subtly. I felt the hair on the back of my neck stiffening, and knew that we were indeed somewhere else.

We looked around in wonder. There was little doubt that we were still on planet earth, for nothing seemed foreign or alien to us; if the weather hadn’t changed so dramatically we wouldn’t even have noticed the change right away.

“Take my hand,” Nina said, holding hers out.

I took it, knowing without asking what she was going to do. We took a step back the way we had come and suddenly we were in the rain again. It was an uncanny feeling, as though we were indeed stepping through a doorway. There didn’t seem to be any cutoff point, Nina never disappeared. We were simply in one place one moment, then in another place.

“See if you have a signal,” I suggested.

Nina nodded understanding and pulled out her satellite phone, opened it.

“Yes, I have a very strong signal,” she said.

I tilted my head the other way, and we stepped wordlessly back to the other place. She looked at the phone in the warm summer day. “No signal,” she said, shaking her head in disbelief.

A gentle wind stirred the leaves about, and somewhere far off a woodpecker hammered on a tree. Remembering why we were here, I looked up at the sky, trying to judge the time. The sunshine angled in from the west, suggesting it was mid-afternoon.

We had plenty of time to find Namer and get back to where we needed to be.

Nina put away her phone, a troubled look on her face. “We shouldn’t be here, should we?”

“Why do you say that?” I asked.

“It just doesn’t feel right,” she said, looking about uneasily. “It’s like worlds will be out of balance, or something.”

“Not if we’re back in time,” I said.

“Somehow that scares me, too,” she said. “Where did I once read that if time travel is possible, then the past will vomit you out like a sickness?”

“Don’t know,” I said, “but Namer is here and if we’re going to finish this, let’s do it and get back where we belong.”

Nina shrugged. “Where do we start?” she asked, looking around at the forest. Her expression said it all: there are a thousand hiding places on this mountain.

The Minister spoke up in my mind: You will learn to sense the presence of evil, and no vampire will be able to hide from you if you are anywhere near it. It is a gift of Yah.

“I think I know,” I said, looking around. Selecting a nearby sapling about the thickness of my thumb, I bent it over and severed it with my pocketknife, trimmed off the branches, and stuck it in the ground where I was standing. “To let us know exactly where the door is,” I explained, needlessly, of course, for Nina knew what it was for.

I pointed. “Let’s detour around that way, and head back to the cliff. I think I felt him there a few minutes ago, only he was in this time and place.”

We approached the cliff warily in the serene emerald forest, which looked so much like my childhood memories of it, much more so than the earlier version we’d just traversed.

“There,” I said softly, nodding at the little tunnel we’d passed on the steep part of the climb up. “I think he’s holed up in there; it’s perfect, too small for us to get in with him, and nice and dark.”

Nina studied it, frowning. It was a perfect place, and she didn’t like it any more than I did. We’d have to stand on treacherously steep ground, where our footing would be far from certain, and balance questionable. And if he were waiting on us, expecting us, as I feared…

But he should be helpless in the sunlight, even mottled as it was by the trees.

“Here’s what we’ll do,” I whispered. “I’ll crawl in, make sure he’s there, then pull him out and you stake him the instant he’s clear. Okay?”

Nina nodded. We removed our packs, and took out several stakes, just in case. We had our usual talismans--for luck, since I knew that Namer feared them naught--and the accoutrements necessary for his final burial.

I took a deep breath. “Ready?” I asked, looking at Nina.

She nodded emphatically. “Yes. Absolutely. Let’s get this over with and get out of here.”

“I’ll go first, get in position, and then you come down, stakes ready,” I said, starting down the steep incline.

I made my careful way down to the little grotto and knelt to peer in, but it was totally unnecessary: I knew Namer was in there; a suffocating wave of evil wafted out and made me want to gag; a stench like ancient cairns.

My eyes adjusted to the gloom inside the cranny and, sure enough, there was the V of his boot bottoms, old and mud caked.

Finally, after so many years, he was within the reach of the vampire killers.

I peered over my shoulder; Nina was there, stake raised, her eyes intense, her lips thin and bloodless.

I hunkered forward to within reaching distance, readied my hands.

And then everything happened fast.

I grabbed Namer’s ankles, heaved backward, counting on his weight to keep me from tumbling off the slope, and dragged him out into the death of the afternoon.

NOW!” I shouted, but Nina was already bringing down the stake, grunting with effort. It plunged into Namer’s upper stomach, just below the sternum, angling upward for his heart even as his eyes leaped open in shock and surprise. His hands, curled like the talons of a bird, came up, grasping feebly for the stake even as he convulsed and vented a sigh that was in direct contrast to the scream he’d uttered the first time I’d done this to him.

His breath was awful, scented of carrion and horror, but his eyes were milking over and his body was collapsing into death throes.

He shrunk beneath us, the stake loosening in his chest as Nina backed away.

I felt no sorrow, no pity. My father had died long ago. This monster was not him.

Dark shadow engulfed me suddenly, causing me to look up in alarm, half expecting to see Namer towering over me like some dark and monstrous bat.

There was no monster, but the day had darkened and a gale like wind was lashing through the trees.

I turned to Nina, vast relief filling me.

It was short lived.

Nina was gone.

My eyes flitted about frantically, uncomprehending.

Lightning flared, causing me to cringe.

I got to my feet, a shout filling my lungs.

Where was Nina?

She was nowhere to be seen. Her pack, which had a moment before been right above me on the cliff top, was gone as well.

A cold certainty filled me then, as the shout died in my throat. I looked down, dread like bile in my stomach.

Namer’s body had, inexplicably, disappeared as well.

I was all alone and a storm was coming.

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