Chapter Thirty-Two: The Prisoner of the Witch's Seed

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"What's out there? I can't see anything!"

"Look at the trees, Frazer." Abigail opened her suitcase and pulled out the parts of a compact crossbow. She slotted the stock to the bow and loaded the bolts.

"All I can see is trees. I can't see anything in the trees!"

"It's not in the trees. It is the trees."

On cue, the treetops shivered and shifted, and the branches stabbed up into the sky. The trees moved. They reached out to each other, tangled their branches together, and became one. I felt more ground-shaking thumps as the trees tore themselves out of the earth by their intertwined branches and thudded down like hammers.

The trees formed a black spiny figure that shuddered and creaked and reared up on two thick tree-trunk legs. The newly formed entity threw its arms into the air, scratched the sky with its thorny claws, and let loose a terrible bellow. It stood maybe thirty feet tall, and it looked down at us with eyes like blue swamp gas burning in bare hollows.

"What the hell kind of fairy is that?" I asked.

"Get out," said Abigail. "Get out of the car and run."

"You said this was a defensible position."

"Not against that. Run."

The monster lurched towards us. One of its hands twisted into a jagged spike. Abigail got out of the driver's seat and fired a bolt into the monster's blazing eye. It screamed and reeled back and the blue fire plumed and sputtered. The monster lunged forward, and I rolled out of the car as the spike shattered the windscreen.

"Ben? Speak to me, Frazer. Are you alive?"

I had a mouthful of mud, but I was still in one piece. "I'm fine," I said.

"Then get up and run."

I picked myself up out of the mud and ran for my life.

I heard the thrum of the crossbow and the wooden creaking of the creature in the stillness behind me and looked back to check on Abigail. She shot the monster in the other eye, but the first was alight again, and the second sparked back up almost at once.

The monster drew back its spike arm and stabbed at Abigail. She dodged the strike, but the monster followed immediately with a backhand swing of its other arm, and Abigail disappeared from sight.

In the time it took me to slide to a halt and wonder if I should go back for her, the monster reached toward me, and its arm stretched like a branch growing in fast-forward. I stumbled back, and the arm crashed into the ground at my feet and sprouted writhing vines that wrapped around my ankles.

I tried to kick loose, but the monster had a tight grip and dragged me through the mud on my back. I flailed around for anything to grab as an anchor or a weapon, but it was all leaves and twigs and mud.

Mum had been right all along. I should have taken the dagger.

The monster shaped its free hand into a spiked club, heavy and brutal enough to dash out my brains with one blow. I lunged for the back wheel of the car, but I couldn't reach. I only managed to flip myself over.

A figure ran towards me through the night.

Hari?

No.

He drew his sword. In the murk it glinted like silver.

I knew that blade, like a slice of moonlight, and I knew the man who carried it. The glow from the sword spread across Éven's body like armour cast from pure light. He looked angelic, but his smile was the devil's.

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