Sarah lost track of what happened after that. After the implications of the horse sank in, everything dissolved into something of a chaotic mess as everyone started talking at once. Andrew started throwing ideas around like snowballs after a fresh snow, Cory tried to be the voice of reason, but was mostly ignored, and Cynthia seemed to be in five different places at once, feeding off the chaos and confusion and chattering non-stop the entire time. Somehow, they reached a consensus to go see Alan. Probably because no one could make heads or tails of what was going on either. All Sarah knew is that she was being dragged by the hand down a trail towards a small clearing in the trees where someone had built a den into the hillside. Rose bushes flanked the great wooden doorway, and Sarah thought she caught a glimpse of a fenced-in garden full of flowers around the side. Andrew burst through the door with the rest of them to follow soon afterward. Then the chaos began anew, this time with a startled Alan as its focus.
“Okay, calm down everyone.” Alan said, rising from his seat behind his desk, as he tried to dissolve the panic. “Everyone? What’s going – can you please stop talking all at – I can’t understand what you’re trying to… urgh…” Alan’s attention flitted between everyone there, trying to process the situation. He growled and gritted his teeth, one hand massaging his temples to try and stop the headache that he felt coming.
“QUIET!” Alan roared, slamming his fists onto his desk, knocking over some knickknacks in the process, his body tense and eyes narrowed. His outburst achieved the silence he desired, and taking a deep breath he began putting his desk back in order. “Okay, one of you, and only one of you, tell me what’s got you in such a panic?”
Andrew stepped forward, ears flattened back on his head in worry. “Alan, we’ve got a problem…”
Naturally, Alan called in Tony after Andrew explained what Cynthia had seen. Chairs were brought in and an impromptu meeting convened. Tony paced back and forth in the den in consternation, while Alan closed his eyes in thought. Andrew, Sarah, and the others watched on in silence. Finally, Alan sighed and looked up.
“Okay, let’s review all the facts. The horse is headed home to Caledon, right? Is there any way we can catch it in time?”
Tony shook his head. “Unlikely. It’s probably already there by this point. Let’s face it, they know she’s missing. And you said they’ll probably come looking for her, right Andrew?”
“Most likely.” Andrew nodded. “They don’t like going into the forest, but if it’s important enough they probably would.”
Alan bridged his hands and looked around. “So excuse me for offering the obvious solution, but why can’t we just give her back? Let them find her. She goes home, we’re kept safe. What’s the problem?”
“Her injuries.” Cory offered, arms crossed and looking off to the side. “Much as I hate to say it, my care for her would be noticed. She’s not healed enough for the wounds to be gone, but healed just enough so that it’s clear someone took care of her. If enough questions get asked things will end poorly.”
“So our objective is to buy time?” Tony asked, cracking his knuckles. “We can do that. It’s been awhile since we’ve reinforced the old rumors. How much time do we need to get her healed up and out of here?”
“We may have more time than we think, if we play our cards right…” A smile grew on Andrew’s face as a plan began to take form in his mind. “What if we give them a reason to never need to come back? What if we play the what-if game and make them ‘discover’ that the cougar that attacked her actually got her? That way she can stay here, there’s no retaliation because it’s just a wild animal, and we’ll stay safe!”
The room took a moment to ponder the idea, and Andrew basked in triumph until he noticed Sarah’s forlorn face. “You mean, I’d never get to go home again? I mean, it’s nice here, but…”
Andrew slumped back into his chair and threw his hands up in the air. “No, you’re right. It was a dumb idea in the first place.”
“Not entirely…” Alan mused thoughtfully. “Perhaps not with faking her death perhaps, what with the logistics being hard as well on such short notice to make it believable. But we may just have a workable Plan B with some tweaks.”
The sun hung low in the sky and cast long shadows over the forest as a team of Sylvans hid out of sight above of one of the many trails that crisscrossed the forest. A rustling in the trees made them look up to see Cynthia leaping through the trees to vault down and stick a perfect landing next to the group. “Yup, just checked. The search party is still headed this way. Some of them are armed, so be careful!”
Tony nodded and motioned to his siblings. “Alright, this is it. Plan A in motion: scare them off. Beth, you take the right. Eric, you take the left. Daniel, you take behind them, and I’ll stay here in front of them. Andrew, stay with me. Be ready to do your thing when I give the signal. Sarah, you stay here in case we need to turn to Plan B. Cynthia, keep a high lookout for anything unexpected surprises.”
Andrew nodded his agreement, and Tony’s siblings split off to their posts further in the woods and Cynthia leapt back up into the trees and out of sight. The others sat still as an uneasy quiet hung over the woods. Minutes passed, and then a dim light appeared down the trail along with the quiet murmur of voices and crunching of footsteps on the withered and fallen leaves that littered the forest floor. The Sylvans and Sarah kept low on their overlook of the trail. Soon, a group of Caledonians came into view, some with bows, some with makeshift weapons, all of them on edge. As they got close, wolf howls from all directions shattered the silence and froze the villagers in their tracks.
“3… 2… 1… and now!” Tony whispered to Andrew before starting to howl himself. Andrew nodded put his hands out and concentrated. Glowing yellow eyes appeared in the trees around them and illusionary fog began to cover the ground. The Caledonians huddled together, weapons held defensively as the spectral shades of ghosts flitted between the trees around them. The howling continued as Andrew moved the images of the ghost wolves closer and closer to the group.
“Get back! Stay away!” One of the villagers shouted at one of the apparitions while swinging a club at it. One of the villagers carrying a bow had his fingers slip and an arrow shot off into the darkness. This pushed the others over the edge into a panic and they started attacking the ghost wolves and shooting off arrows in all directions.
“Get down!” Tony hissed as one arrow whizzed overhead and buried itself into a tree nearby. He grabbed Sarah and pulled her to the ground, but Andrew didn’t process the command immediately, concentrating on micromanaging all the ghost wolves actions in the growing melee. By the time his mind caught up to what Tony had said, another stray arrow caught him in the upper arm, causing him to scream and drop to the ground in agony. All of his illusions froze and began to fizzle out as Sarah and Tony rushed over to his side. The Caledonians stopped attacking and looked around puzzled as Tony scooped Andrew up in his arms and carry him further down the trail to an empty spot and set him down.
“Andrew! Stay with me! We need you for just a little bit longer! Focus for me! Look at me! Are you going to be okay? Can you still use your Gift?”
Andrew looked up at Tony, clutching his injured arm, his eyes watering in pain as Sarah ran over too. “I’m…. no, I’m not fine. It hurts like hell! I… I think I can use my Gift, but it’ll have to be short.”
“That’ll have to do. Sarah-”
Sarah nodded. “Yes, Plan B. Before anyone else gets hurt! Andrew, I’m so sorry, this is all my fault!”
“We can discuss whose fault it is later!” Tony snapped. “We don’t have much time! Andrew, all we need is one more illusion when we draw them over here. Can you do that?” Andrew nodded, and Tony looked over at Sarah. “Sarah, last chance to back out. If you’re with us, get into position.”
Sarah swallowed a lump in her throat and moved over down the path towards a small outcropping of rock in a bend of the path. She turned around and lifted the back of her shirt up and removed the bandages, exposing her back. The angry red lines from the cougar’s claws were still there, but mending. “O… okay. I’m ready. Just make it quick.”
Tony walked over and raised one clawed hand. “Sarah, I’m…” He paused awkwardly, trying to find the words he wanted, but nothing managed to make it out of his mouth. Shaking his head, he growled and slashed his claws across her back along the lines the cougar had made, making fresh wounds. Sarah screamed and doubled over in pain, bracing herself against the rock wall.
“Help me! Somebody, help!”
Tony ran off the path and joined Andrew in the underbrush. “Okay, Andrew. NOW!”
“Over here! I think I heard something!”
Andrew gathered the last of his will together and managed to make one more wolf image, growling threateningly at Sarah. Sarah fell to the ground in front of it, and cowered as the group of Caledonians came following the sounds of Sarah’s voice. Spotting the lone wolf, they charged it, and Andrew made the illusionary wolf run off at their approach. They clustered around Sarah as Tony snuck off into the darkness, supporting Andrew with one arm.
“Sarah! You’re hurt!”
“Thank goodness, you’re alive!”
“The ghost wolves must have done this to her!”
Soon, they bundled her up and started to take her home. Sarah looked over her shoulder, trying to get one last glance at Andrew and Tony, but they had already vanished into the woods. But they were safe, relatively speaking. As long as she kept her secret, a flesh wound would hopefully be the worst that would happen to them.
Scene change! Vote!
A: Caledonian party for the heroic rescue!
B: Sylvan aftermath
C: Mysterious stranger lurking?