:: Zoeday Evening, the 93rd of Jhyel's Slumber ::
"Cory will be paying for my drinks for years after I haul him out of this predicament!” lamented Theo, continuing down the slight grade that led into the shadows on the outskirts of the wood.
"I suppose there definitely is an up side to this quest,” replied Saw, apparently regaining some of the good humor that he'd misplaced since the night before.
"Free red wine for a lifetime,” said Theo, his eyes attaining a dreamy quality usually reserved for daydreams and drunken stupor.
The light snow capered and swirled on the ground around them, forming chiaroscuros with the black soil and umber colored grass.
Seemingly hypnotized by the cavorting snow, Saw stumbled on a rock and interrupted Theo's whimsical musings.
"Uunh...” grunted Saw, as the obvious pain from his arm etched itself onto his expressive face.
With a concerned look, Theo caught Saw's right arm to see that he didn't fall. He noted that the arm was actually healing quite well considering the extent of the wound. Saw would definitely keep the limb, but when he grew older, he'd be able to judge the changing weather by the ache in his arm.
"How's the arm feeling?"
"Not so bad, still pretty banged up, but I'll be fine,” he said, with a grin and a tone which held more than just a touch of the old Saw in it.
Just as Solenari was beginning to dip her head below the edge of the world, Theo and Saw began to walk below the distorted, skeletal trees which composed the edge of the gloomy wood.
"Cory, Cory, Cory, what have you done with yourself this time?” spoke Theo quietly to himself.
As the two scurries approached, the woods seemed to demand a grim silence from them, a demand they both seemed more than happy to follow. A thin sheen of sweat broke out on the pads of Theo's hands as the icy touch of Tisden Weald's shadows caressed him. The claw-like roots of the wooden giants gripped the dark soil with a baneful resolution, as if someone might try to pull the twisted colossi into the heavens.
"Just our luck, we reach as darkness falls. Simply wonderful! I hope that ungrateful wretch Cory understands what I'm undergoing for him!” nervously mumbled Theo to himself.
Saw didn't respond, but continued to stare nervously at the hulking trees, which seemed to crowd closer as the two trudged deeper and deeper. The contorted limbs of the trees seemed to reach out for them, and both scurries unconsciously strayed closer together.
The thought of spending a night in one of those trees didn't exactly thrill Theo, but the options seemed somewhat limited.
"It looks like a tree is going to be our home away from home tonight, Saw,” said Theo as he gestured to a tree which seemed less intimidating. Once again, Theo couldn't help but think how much Cory owed him for this one.
Scampering up the tree, Theo and Saw made themselves as comfortable as they could in the crook of the menacing tree. Lovingly touching Kindle and his throwing knives, Theo pulled Old Grey tightly about him to ward off the chill effects of the coming night. Thoughts of Lizbeth beckoned him into a fitful sleep as Saw took the first watch.
Jolting awake nervously, Theo woke looking into the uneasy, scared eyes of Saw.
"It's your watch, Theo,” was all that the uneasy Saw could remark before pulling his own cloak about him and attempting to enter the land of dreams.
Theo heard the nearest limbs creak and whine in the dead, slow wind that stirred around him and despite vigorous rubbing, the cold sank into his bones and stubbornly refused to leave.
Everything seemed suddenly, very, very, quiet. Realizing that the stillness had been growing for a while now, Theo looked about frantically, with his sixth sense screaming warnings. Apparently even Udiah didn't enter the weald, because Theo could see nothing in the ubiquitous and impenetrable darkness. His every muscle tensing as he looked about, Theo silently drew a throwing blade from inside his cloak. The sound of the dagger drawing from it's sheath harshly cut through the night, and Theo flinched as he heard the blade ring out.
And then just as quickly as that, the awful noises of the weald resumed, seeming comforting compared to the horrifying quiet that had descended like a death shroud.
* * *
Red-eyed and tired, Theo could blearily see Solenari attempting to penetrate the dense canopy of boughs which hung heavily over the forest. Saw was already awake it seemed, and in a similar fatigued state. Unfortunately, daytime in the weald seemed like dusk everywhere else in Daed.
After climbing down from their uncomfortable evening perch, Theo and Saw had a cold breakfast of Acisha nuts and spring water. Theo noted that even the taste of his favorite nut couldn't erase the unsettling feeling that he felt in the pit of his stomach from the previous night.
"I seemed to have kept us *quite* safe last night,” said Theo with false bravado as he stretched and yawned.
* * *
Theo spent a good portion of the early morning scouring the ground for tracks of things that go bump in the night, as well as tracks that might lead to Cory.
"Perhaps we should just move towards the center of the wood, as distasteful as that sounds” suggested Saw, after about an hour of Theo's intense searching.
"Yes, that's *just* where I'd love to be, I hear the center of the weald is lovely this time of year.
And so they began, walking without particular direction, hoping to stumble upon some clue as to the whereabouts of their missing friend. After a number of hours, Theo began his search for tracks again.
"Ho, why what gem is it that we have here!!” declared Theo with pride, puffing out his chest. There in the mud, stood a barely distinguishable, but unmistakable four-padded scurry print.
"Your sure we didn't just come upon our own tracks, Theo?” replied Saw with a particularly deflating comment.
Moving slowly, both of them continued forward, hunched over, examining the ground for clues of their friend’s whereabouts.
"Yi...” exclaimed Saw, grabbing Theo's arm with an uncharacteristically iron grip.
Following Saw's alarmed glance, Theo looked skyward just in time to see the net, descending like a lazy cloud from the heavens…