Grey sneakers thudded on foreign ground, crunching the leaves that had fallen from the dying trees; tripping on a bare root, scrambling to stay upright and running. Pale and shaking hands pushed low hanging branches out of the way, the heel of one splitting open on a particularly sharp thorn.
The boy ignored the blood that ran down his wrist, running around the trunk of yet another tree, one that looked the same as all the others he had passed. He panted, lungs burning from the strain of running. He wasn't used to it, and he wasn't sure how long he would last before he started to slow down.
He listened carefully. His own panting breaths, the sound of his shoes pounding against the ground and the odd crinkling noise of the dead leaves under his feet. The hoot of something that sounded like an owl. Angry yelling in the distance.
The boy cried out, willing himself to go faster, the faint light from the moon the only thing telling him where he was going. He stumbled against a tree, muscles aching and cut hand stinging. He couldn't stop, he couldn't.
He pushed off the hard bark of the tree, propelling himself forward and down a hill he didn't even know was there. He kept mostly silent this time, letting out quiet pants as he tried to right himself.
Panicked, he looked behind him and up the hill, praying to all the gods he could think of that he would not see the men chasing him. He could still hear them. It was faint, but he could still hear them, meaning he was not safe yet.
He cursed, pumping his tired legs harder and trying not to slip on the leaves. He knew he was growing tired, he knew he would stop soon, and he knew that if he did the men chasing him would catch up to him. He knew what would happen after that too. He shuddered at the thought.
The dark didn't help his fear in the slightest. The black spaces between the trees taking the shape of people from the corner of his eyes. The smallest sounds making him jump in fright. The faint shadows of the scraggly trees looked like skeletal monsters preparing for a feast. The ghost-like noises of the wind that would hide the sound of his pursuers for the smallest second it was there.
There was a layer of sweat on the brown haired boys' skin; from running or from the fear that was threatening to consume him he did not know. He tried to ignore the shadows and the dark and the noises, but from the corner of his eye he would see them, or he would hear something inhuman above him and his fear would increase tenfold.
He turned around another tree, hoping that he wasn't going around in circles. Something loomed up in front of his face, and for a second he thought he had been caught. He gasped, throwing his arms up in front of his face, only realising at the last moment that it was the thick branch of the tree.
He wanted to laugh at his mistake when an idea struck him. He grabbed the branch tight with both hands, ignoring the sting as the hard bark rubbed against the cut on his palm. Placing a foot against the trunk he pushed, launching himself onto the branch. He stood on wobbling legs, grabbing hold of the next branch, and the next, and the next, until he was high up where the leaves still hadn't fallen.
He was grateful for the dark clothes he wore, camouflaging him in the night. He breathed deep, keeping it as quiet as he could. He didn't want to give himself away now that he had finally gotten smart enough the see the abundant resources the forest provided him. He could only hope that his pursuers didn't have the same idea.
He looked down at himself, at the mud and dirt and leaves that covered his clothing and skin. He looked at his hand, covered in sticky wet blood that mixed with the dirt and the sweat that layered his skin.
It was then that he remembered the other cuts on his body. The shallow one on his face right above his eyebrow. There was another on his right arm, but he wasn't sure if that was from the men or the trees. He was sure he had skinned his knees at some point, he could feel them stinging through the burn of his muscles.
He hissed in a breath when he heard the voices again, one nasally like he had a cold; the other deep, always bellowing like he didn't know the definition of the word quiet. The boy pushed himself further into the tree, pressing himself against the wood, ignoring the uncomfortable feeling of the bark rubbing against his face.
Footsteps accompanied the voices, growing louder and louder with each passing second. The boy clamped a hand over his mouth, trying to silence his breathing as best he could.
One of the men said something in a language he didn't recognise, something that only added to his fear. How would he know if they saw him? The footsteps grew closer, passing underneath his tree and stopping barely two metres from where he sat.
The nasally one said something then, sounding angry. He couldn't see them through the leaves and the dark, and he just prayed that meant they couldn't see him. One groaned and he heard the sound of a foot stamping on the ground. The other replied then in his booming voice, loud enough the make the boy think he was right next to him.
One of them stalked off, walking back under the boys' tree, while the other continued forward. Splitting up, now he would have to avoid two of them in different places instead of both together. He wasn't sure which would be harder to do.
The footsteps faded and with them so did most of the boy's fear. Eli Fawn let himself breathe in deep, ignoring the ache in his lungs as he did.
He sat still, relishing the quiet that had been left behind by the two men. It allowed him to think. He twisted his good hand through his shirt, a nervous habit. He didn't know how he had gotten there, or where he even was. All he remembered was sitting at his desk in his room, having just come home from school. His mother had been at work and would have been at work until dark. Judging by the dark he sat in, it was the middle of the night. His mother would be home and she would have no idea where he was.
He shook his head, thinking back to what had happened. Thinking of his mother would only bring on more panic, which he really didn't need. He had been at his desk doing his homework. He had gotten up for some reason. A pimple, he had found a pimple when he got irritated at the work and ran a hand down his face. If he really wanted to think about it, he had been procrastinating.
He had gotten up to go to the mirror and look at the pimple. He had just turned eighteen and he was still getting pimples, something that annoyed him to no extent. He hadn't noticed at first, the malicious grin that had formed on his reflection's face. It wasn't until he pulled away, a sigh on his lips that he saw it.
He had jumped back with a yelp that he would have denied making under normal circumstances. He had stared, pulled faces, moved his hands around and yet the expression stayed and the body stood still. The only word he had to describe it was evil. A half sneer, half grin that reminded him of a shark looking at its next meal, eyes that were narrowed into a piercing glare, and his head lowered so that the chestnut brown hair fell in front of his green eyes.
Eli shivered as he remembered, he had never seen anything like it in his life. If he was honest, he wasn't sure what was more terrifying, the look on his face in the mirror, or being chased through dark unfamiliar woods by two strange men.
He had gone to leave when the mirror rippled like the surface of a puddle. His reflection moved away as he watched, nearly disappearing from view. The mirror had rippled again, a golden glow forming on the edges. He had been frozen in both wonder and fear, having never seen anything like it in his life.
In what looked like slow motion, when it could only have been a few seconds, the middle of the mirror began to glow the same colour as the edges. A hand appeared from the glowing area, reaching around and grabbing the edge of the mirror to help push the rest of the body through. Eli had stepped back, mouth open in shock, until his back hit the edge of his desk.
The person had continued to climb through until half their body was through, a booted foot on the ground and the glow covering the entire mirror, so bright that it nearly blinded Eli. He knew now that it was the man with the booming voice. He had a body to match, towering tall over Eli with muscles that put Eli's to shame. If it didn't sound so extreme, he would have compared them to a tree.
It was then that Eli had seen the glint of the sword as the man pulled his other arm through. It was then that he saw the second man start to climb through. He had cursed and turned to run. He hadn't understood what was going on then, he still didn't, he just hoped that going back over it would help him understand.
By the time he had made it to the door, the man with the nasally voice had made his way through Eli's mirror. He was much skinnier than the man with the sword, but just as tall, with beady little eyes and a big nose that made him look like a bird.
One of them grabbed Eli by the back of his jacket, pulling him away from the door so hard that he had landed on the ground in the middle of his room. The two men had been grinning down at him in much the same way as his reflection had.
The bigger man swung a sword that was probably the same size as Eli himself, shining in the light. A sharp piece of metal came speeding down towards him, but his life hadn't flashed before his eyes. With a scream, he rolled in the only direction he could, towards the mirror. The sword grazed his arm, tearing the skin open before it had landed on the pale brown carpet with a dull thud behind him.
A growl sounded from one of the men and the other lunged, landing on Eli. He had screamed again as something cut his forehead, barely hearing the garbled words the bigger man let out, spoken in a language he didn't know. The skinnier man held him down by his shoulders.
The other man stood over him again, a sneer on his face and his sword in his hands. Eli did the only thing he could think of, and kicked out harshly, landing his foot on the man's crotch. He twisted his head, biting the wrist of the one holding him down. As soon as he felt the grip on his shoulder loosen he ripped his arm free and punched the man in the head.
He spun quickly into a standing position, briefly glancing at his attackers crouching on the floor. That quick look had told him to move, and move fast. He turned, ready to jump onto his bed and around the two men when a hand around his ankle tripped him up. He stumbled and fell forwards, the world becoming a blur as he spun.
That was when he had landed on the floor of the dark and dying forest he found himself in now. He had gotten up and started running almost as soon as he had heard the men climb through after him. He could only assume he fell through the mirror and into wherever his attackers had come from.
He still didn't understand what exactly had happened, nor did he know where he was. That was the next thing on his list to figure out, and then maybe he would find out what was going on. He wrapped his arms around himself, burrowing deeper towards the trunk of the tree. It would have to wait until morning when it was safer and he was rested.
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