‘There’s a monstrous sound from further out in the Wood, but that isn’t what startles me. No, it’s the malicious laugh that comes from Gunther upon hearing it.’
— Halden, “Monstrous” They Come at Night
It starts raining right around luncheon and only gets worse as the day wears on. The kind of rainfall that turns this whole wretched village into a muddy swamp.
No person in their right mind would go out in this dreary mess except… Me. I’m that idiot. Because Mother Dagrún asked for firewood and for some reason I just can’t say no to her.
So here I am chopping firewood at the edge of the Wurm Wood and my fingers are so cold they sting with every strike of the axe.
I should be facing the examiners from the capital right now. I should be having my magic tested. But I’m not, because of the storm in the north.
“They should only be held up by a day, Halden. Don’t worry, they’ll get here.”
I set the axe against the tree and try to blow some warmth back into my fingers.
The air is thick with the scent of mud and ashes from all the fires trying to chase away the cold and the damp. And if I close my eyes I can almost convince myself that I’m back in Lindgard. That I never left. That my father wasn’t—
A branch snaps close by and I turn, reaching for the axe. But it’s only Gunther and his horde. As if that’s at all reassuring.
“Gunther.” I don’t release my hold on the axe.
“Oh hello, Halden.” His voice has an eery quality to it as his eyes skim over me and the collection of firewood.
He swings a mud-caked sack over his shoulder. “Has Dagrún got you doing that now?”
Gunther called Mother by her first name. And the way that he said it was downright disrespectful.
My grip tightens on the axe.
He is undeserving of Mother’s name for his own.
“Yes. I am the eldest boy at the Fledgling Hall now,” I point out flatly.
“Are you?” The glint in his rust-colored eyes is more than a little unnerving.
“It’s just the girls who are—”
There’s a monstrous sound from further out in the Wood, but that isn’t what startles me. No, it’s the malicious laugh that comes from Gunther upon hearing it.
He leans in a bit closer to me, not at all concerned about the axe blade mere inches from his chest.
“They’re?” I repeat with a gulp.
His only reply as he departs is a grin that sends a shiver right to my toes.
Wurms. He’s talking about lindwurms.
* * *
As I finish stacking the last of the logs in the wood cupboard and turn, I smack right into Mother.
“Oh! Halden!” she yelps, nearly knocked off her feet.
“Sorry—” I gesture to the wood. “I got enough wood to keep you warm.”
“Excuse me, what?”
“The wood, Mother…that you asked for….”
She blinks at me a moment before her teal eyes drift to the newly restocked wood cupboard.
“Oh yes. The wood. Thank you, Halden.”
“Uh…Mother, is everything alright?” I question. She seems…off.
“Yes. Well, it’s just… Have you seen Kori?”
Always Kori, never Korik.
“Korik? No. Not since breakfast.”
“Oh.” She seems so defeated to hear that.
My stomach twists with unease. Something about Gunther’s malicious smile and that monstrous howling in the Wood.
It’s probably nothing.
I shift my weight from one foot to the other. “Did he do something wrong?”
Please let it be nothing.
Mother waves a dismissive hand. “No. Nothing like that. It’s just…I sent him out on an errand before luncheon and he never returned. I was worried.”
My heart squeezes tight.
“Did you…did you check the rafters?” I offer, my voice unsteady.
“The…rafters?” she questions.
“Yeah, he’s always climbing about up there.”
Her face lights up. “I hadn’t thought of that. Thank you.” And with that, she’s off.
Not even a heartbeat later, one of the younger fledglings, Hendrika, seems to fall out of the woodwork.
“Of course, you’d know where to find him. You always seem to be watching Kori,” she comments teasingly.
I shove the wood cupboard closed with a loud slam. “You’re imagining things.”
“Am I? I bet you know exactly where he is.”
“I don’t. I’m his roommate, not his keeper, Hendrika,” I snap as I storm away down the hall.
But Mother never found Korik. And he never made an appearance at supper either. And for the first time since he arrived I spent the night sleepless and completely alone.
Uh-oh. Will Halden realize where Korik is before it’s too late?
Find out in the next episode of They Come at Night!