A guttural sound severed Telly’s tranquility. She strained her neck turning to see her cottage illuminated by the full moon.
Telly hurried back toward her home. The nonchalant stroll she’d envisioned after putting her daughter to bed was pulled out of reach by the disruption. She wondered if her husband had heard the noise as well. He had been working in the town a lot more, and his sleep had become heavier. Their infant daughter waking at different times also made it difficult for them to rest.
As Telly reached the cottage, she pulled back her hair, an instinct she’d adopted as a child when she felt close to danger. She had much practice with that in her childhood home.
As she approached the front, another shrill noise pierced the quiet, causing Telly to reach into her cloak for the knife—the knife she wasn’t supposed to have. The knife that demonstrated how little she respected the compromise of the land.
The peace between the four families was so tenuous, anyone seeing her with a weapon on the property would likely perceive it as a coup. There had yet to be blood spilled between them, but the agreement they’d made concerning the land also contained a provision against carrying weapons. The same agreement applied to the use of incantations.
Here, Telly felt at a disadvantage. Everyone could see when a person carried a knife or sword, but a mage was often clever enough to conceal their abilities.
Telly inspected the entrance and moved about the left-hand side of her cottage, not noticing anything amiss. She had confidence that, despite the darkness, she’d be able to see what it was. The moon had lit up many a night for her alone in the woods. The moon had been her guide, a friend. A sure friend, at that.
Guide me, old friend.
She took careful steps, the cool grass soft under her footfalls as she made her way to the opposite side of her cottage, directly outside of her daughter’s room. And there it was.
As if in response to her thoughts, the dark shadow stood on the ground at the base of Telly’s home. Because of the angle, the moonlight wasn’t strong enough, but the splintering sound of cedar confirmed the creature was digging its claws into the cottage, at the bottom.
Telly had never experienced fear in the woods until that moment.
She stood breathless, staring at an animal she was unable to identify.
As the dark figure moved closer to the window, Telly noticed the wooden shutter was slightly ajar. Her husband had surely left it open because of the warmth that day.
The dark shadow snarled with a rasp in its throat.
Without even being aware of what she was doing, Telly held the knife ahead of her as she approached. Time was of the essence. Her daughter’s window was open, and this creature was moving toward it.
For a brief moment, Telly recognized this as the first time she’d held a knife in plain sight in ages. This time she didn’t care if Wilma, Gerard, or even Campbell saw it. Breaking the rules of the Treaty wasn’t something she could stop to consider.
The creature moved slower now. She worried that her footfalls had revealed her position in the grass. Her heartbeat quickened, and she swore that were it not for the creature’s claws moving against the timber, the beating would have given away where she was.
She drew a foot closer to the window.
Why can’t I see what it is? It’s going to go into her window.
Now, something deeper sounded—an intense growl. A growl of . . .
At that moment, it came into view by the moon. This thing. This creature. It had six furry legs and fastened to the cedar; its fur was short, but noticeable in the shining of the moon. When Telly saw its elongated claws, she was gripped with fright.
Its short face and gleaming eyes were pointed toward her daughter’s window.
If this creature weren’t moving in such a unique way, Telly would have mistaken in for a snorry.
This creature was hunting. And it was fixed on the cottage—her cottage.
Snorries didn’t like habitation. They stayed in the deep wood, and they were particularly antisocial. And non-aggressive. This was something else entirely.
She lurked only about fifteen feet from it now. It was a little smaller than she had perceived from its shadow. Its coarse fur seemed to move on its own, and it advanced toward the window at such a slow pace that Telly wondered if it was dying.
The first of the creature’s right claws fastened to the cedar directly below her daughter’s open window, gaining a hold on the sill.
Without a thought, without blinking or breathing, Telly drew her knife back and threw it toward the creature invading her home. A split second after she let the knife go, she recognized that if she were to miss, she’d be without a weapon. And this animal was dangerous.
She didn’t miss.
The creature was now pinned directly below the sill; it arched its back and made a slight, injured squeal, trying to loosen itself from being pinned by the blade, but likely shredding its own organs in the process.
And then, though the tranquility of the silence returned to the land surrounding the cottage, unease filled Telly’s heart.
As she closed the distance to the cottage, Telly recognized the creature was dead.
Thank you, old friend. The moon hovered over the land. Telly never took its presence for granted.
The light revealed just enough of the creature to make Telly even more unsettled than she already was. It was just over four feet long and covered in fur. If she had only seen its shadow, she would have sworn it was a snorry. This creature, however, was covered in dark, striped fur.
Telly regarded where the knife penetrated the animal. Up to that moment, she gave no concern of waking her daughter and husband, but she realized that the knife slamming into the timber of the cottage may have disturbed their rest.
The creature was pinned against the wall of the cottage, lifeless. A small trail of blood cascaded down the side of the rows of cedar. Its bristling hair seemed to move in the moonlight, but Telly perceived this to be an illusion.
Telly’s attention shifted to the knife—the knife that violated the Treaty of the four families. She reached for the creature to brace it against the cottage, but thought better of it. Instead of putting a hand on the creature, she pulled the handle of the knife, and the creature fell, lifeless and unmoving to the ground. Though she couldn’t see it for certain, Telly imagined a small pool of blood gathering around the carcass of the invader.
The scene reminded her of her father. The man the moon had protected her from, time and time again. Her father, whose public reputation was as stellar as his private character was dark. Her father, who had chased her into the woods of this very land so many times, most times not catching her.
Sometimes, he’d gotten lucky.
I’ve let the moon guide me so much, the night has lost its mystery.
She cleaned the blade of her knife on the grass, kneeling down and supporting herself against her cottage—the cottage she’d built amidst the dispute. Her property had the most perfect view of that moon, providing Telly guidance on so many nights like this. The moon always provided her light for the next step and protected her from monsters, starting with the one who had raised her.
Behind her, a branch snapped. She felt her skin break out in a sweat.
What if that dark creature had a companion?
But after hearing the second step, she recognized that the noise was coming from a human.
Telly had no time to conceal the knife and her violation of the Treaty, so she threw it in the grass against the side of the cottage.
She prayed to the gods above and the moon that whoever was behind her hadn’t seen the blade. She stood and turned quickly, staring into the face of her neighbor, Campbell Raggis.
There are some things worse than monsters, she thought.