Chapter 4.5 – The Fear Trial, part 2
My heart was pounding.
I’d never ridden a horse so recklessly before. Bareback and not even making use of the reigns, I used my legs and pure force of will to steer Brink in the direction that I wanted him to go. In the darkness, it was hard to see. The wind howled above us. Tree branches slammed into my face, leaving painful streams on my skin. I didn’t care. Instead, I frantically dug my heels into Brink’s side, forcing him to go faster. It was a matter of life or death.
“Come on, come on, come on!”
Because if I did not reach the red-haired transfer student in time, death was exactly what would happen.
Slowly, Evelyn made her way through the darkness. The light of her phone had long since proved to be useless for lighting her path. In fact, it was only blinding her to her surroundings. So she had reluctantly switched it off, instead relying only on the weak moonlight to show her the way. The small trail was all she had. There was going to be a fork in the road, and she was supposed to go right… or was it left? Evelyn could not remember. And where was that fork in the road, anyway? She had been walking for minutes, and there was no sign of it.
It was quiet. An eerie silence, so much that Evelyn could hear herself breathing. Her footsteps sounded heavy on the dry, sandy ground. The complete absence of other noises made the hairs in Evelyn’s neck stand up straight. She was not a coward. But one did not have to be a coward to realize that there was something wrong with this place. A deep, dark sense of dread crept through her skin, settling in her chest like an icy lump.
She had to leave.
But if she left, she’d fail the trial.
And so Evelyn pressed on. Stubbornly. Deaf to twigs suddenly snapping. The sound of movement behind her. In front of her. Surrounding the human girl, slowly, deliberately.
But she was not blind. A shadow moving behind the bushes, right in front of her, made Evelyn stop dead in her tracks. Her eyes went wide. She suddenly did not need light anymore to see what her instinct already realized.
There was something there.
Evelyn stood still, frozen in place. Her heart was pounding and her hands were shaking. She did not know what to do. She could not move forward. She could not turn back. Like a deer caught in the headlights, she stared at the darkness in front of her. Wishing that it would go away. Praying that it had been an illusion. Hoping that it would… just… disappear.
After several seconds passed, Evelyn let out a stressful sigh. Illusion or not, what was she thinking? Why had she decided to go along with this fear trial thing? The answer, to win the affections of a single boy, suddenly seemed very trivial compared to the possible danger that was ahead. This was insane. Evelyn needed to leave here.
She had to turn around.
Evelyn took a step backwards… and the scene in front of her turned into a nightmare.
Yellow eyes appeared from between the foliage. Not just one pair. One, two, three, four, five pairs of glowing yellow eyes lit up in the darkness, fixated on her. Evelyn gasped and staggered back. A sharp snapping noise sounded to her right, and when she tilted her head, more yellow eyes were staring back at her from between the trees. They were everywhere. They had surrounded her. They were closing in fast.
And Evelyn had nothing to defend herself with.
When she shakingly took another step back, the eyes followed. In the few, weak rays of moonlight that were able to penetrate the thick canopy above, Evelyn could finally make out what they were. Wolves. Huge, feral, almost rabid-looking wolves whose repulsing eyes were trained on her and her only. The leader of the pack, a huge black-coated beast, bared its fangs in a low-sounding growl, a sound that was soon picked up by the rest of them. Evelyn could see their sharp fangs blickering in what little moonlight there was, and instantly knew.
She had to get away from there, now.
If not, she was going to die right where she stood.
Slowly, the wolf pack closed in on her.
Move, she willed herself. But her legs would not listen. Evelyn was frozen in place, her gaze captured by the black wolf’s piercing gaze. She could not run. She could not move. It was as if something had paralyzed her the second she had locked eyes with the leader, and it would not let her go. Evelyn was forced to watch helplessly as the pack closed in, fangs bared. She could already see the white of their eyes. They crouched down, ready to pounce.
She was going to get torn apart.
And that was when it happened. Just as Evelyn saw her life flash before her eyes, the sound of hooves split through the air, following by a howl that was very different from a wolf´s.
From out of nowhere, a large horse and rider appeared. In the split second it took the pair to pass Evelyn, the red-haired girl realized with a shock that it was Chase. Not even touching the reigns of his horse, he seemed to be using sheer willpower to steer Brink into charging straight into the wolves’ midst. It was so violent and such an impossible scene that it took the beasts by surprise. They scattered, howling and whining as Brink bulldozed right through their ranks. Evelyn watched in awe.
The next second, Brink stopped next to her, his head whipped up high and foam on his mouth. Chase wasted no time. He took hold of the reigns, jumped off and roughly grabbed Evelyn by her shirt, pulling her towards the horse.
“Get on! Now!”
Evelyn was given no time to hesitate. Chase roughly dragged her over to the saddle and lifted her up with an ease that surprised Evelyn almost as much as his being there in the first place. She was thrown on top of the horse like a doll, effortlessly.
By now, the brief surprise among the wolves had passed. The low growling returned, swirling around the three of them. Brink started to shake; his ears were placed flat in his neck and a panicked look appeared in his eyes.
“Whatever you do, do not let go of the horse, you hear me?!”
With my full strength, I hit Brink’s backside. That was the last straw. Panic driving him into instinct mode, Brink bolted. Once again, he bulldozed right through the wolves’ ranks, catching them by surprise. When they turned around to chase him, he was already gone. I’d trained him well. If he really wanted to, Brink was the fastest horse in the entire village.
He had also been my only way out. And with the sound of his hooves disappearing into the distance, I found myself alone and unarmed in the middle of an angry wolf mob. One that I had just pissed off by repeatedly bulldozing through. Great. I could see their eyes, cold and calculating and fully fixated on me, slowly coming closer. They circled me. There was no way out.
And, strangely enough, I wasn’t scared. Quite the opposite; their yellow, menacing eyes made a completely different emotion wake up inside of me. It was anger, mixed with anticipation, and… something else, something I couldn’t identify. I had never looked death in the eye before. But now I did, and it made something awaken inside of me that I had never known existed.
“Come on then,” I growled, in a voice that was almost as low as the beasts’ around me. “Come at me, ye mutts. I’ll survive worse than this.”
The wolves did not seem to agree. Mercilessly, they closed in on me. I could see the patterns on their fur, their blickering fangs, closing in on their meal. I looked to my right…
And another surprise was flung my way. There, mixed in between the wolves that were crouching down to pounce on me, was one that I had met before. There was no mistaking it. Coat a yellowish white and piercing, black-edged eyes- that wolf was the same one that I had freed, all those months ago. The one that I had saved from death by lifting a hay wagon off of it. That same wolf was now crouching down to kill me.
That was unacceptable.
I don’t know why I did it. Instead of trying to run away, I turned until I was face-to-face with that white wolf and stared it down, violently making eye contact. From deep inside my stomach, a low growl accompanied the words that rolled out of my mouth, aimed directly at her.
“…You wouldn’t dare.”
The wolf stared at me for a good three seconds, during which time seemed to have come to a standstill. Its growling stopped. The ears perked up on its head, and it rose up from its crouching position. It definitely recognized me.
And unbelievably… it responded to it. A short bark sounded… and the other wolves stopped growling. It was as if a switch inside of them had been flipped, that’s how sudden it was. Slowly, the threatening aura that surrounded them faded away. They stopped crouching, one by one. As I turned back to face the pack leader, I found it still staring at me, but the menacing glow in its eyes had disappeared.
But I wasn’t out of the woods yet. Slowly, the black wolf approached me. It stopped inches away from my legs. Its snout moved towards my trousers, and I instantly realized what the beast was doing.
It was taking in my scent.
The next moment, it was over. Abruptly, the black beast turned around. A second, hoarse bark sounded, and the rest of the pack instantly responded to it. They scattered, disappearing between the thick foliage. Tails and hind legs vanishing was all I could see. Within seconds, there was not a single one of them left. The trails around me were abandoned once again.
A good twenty seconds passed… and nothing happened.
I was alone.
With a hissing sound, a long breath of air escaped from between my clenched teeth. I had not realized I was holding it in. With the immediate threat gone, my body seemed to catch up with itself. Any adrenaline I had vanished. I could feel my legs starting to shake uncontrollably, and collapsed on the ground.
My eyes were fixed on the spot on front of me, where the pack of wolves had disappeared.
What… had just happened?