Spirit's Forest Part Two
Horns held his hands behind his back, analyzing Alice as Tusks skulked by, muttering to herself words too low to hear. Bear lowered his head until the bone of his skull was grazing the top of her hair.
"I'm going to release you," he said in a low voice. "If you run then you'll be guilty. The guilty go straight to Execution. Do you want that?"
"No," Alice was afraid, and felt a puff of warm air dance across the nape of her neck.
"Good," Bear chuckled, thrusting her forward towards the fire. She spun to look at him properly, as she knew what the other two looked like.
Pale like the other two, he was taller than anyone she'd ever seen before. He was wide but not fat, thick but not muscled. If anything he seemed to be carved straight from a plump boulder. His red eyes glimmered dangerously within the bear skull, and Alice knew he was waiting for her to make a break for it.
Alice gave him the warmest smile she could muster, pulling the wolf skin blanket around her frame to try and stay warm. The fire was low, shedding light but oddly enough almost no heat. Horns grunted, bringing Alice's attention to Tusks.
She was crouching at the edge of the light, the woven basket of blueberries sitting next to her. She had a small pile in her large hand, and was bringing them up beneath the skull, loudly feasting on them.
"Judge," Horns said, catching the creatures attention. Alice was curious over the monsters apparent moniker, but remained silent.
"I want to watch," she ground out, blue drool dribbling out from beneath her skull, eyes fiery and mad.
"That's not how this is done," Horns said as if speaking to an idiot.
"I want to. Watch." Judge ground out, spearing a blueberry on a long fingernail, juice leaking out as she held it up. "She brought this to us and accepted payment. I won't influence, merely observe."
Horns didn't seem to like that, but Bear gave a clueless shrug. "It's your decision to make," Bear grumbled to Horns.
Horns merely looked back at Alice, his eyes burning bright enough to become white in the center. "Fine. But one noise and you're out of the running for her skin."
Alice blinked at that, not really knowing what to say. She tried to remain still enough so that the three quarreling monsters might lose interest in her.
Bear turned and caught Alice's stare. He seemed to almost smile beneath the aged bone. "You don't have any objection if Judge watches, do you?"
"Um, no?" Alice offered.
Horns groaned while Judge let out a shrill cry that could have been joy. Alice couldn't tell, and was a little afraid of what else it could have been.
"Alright," Horns said, holding up a finger and wagging it at Judge. "You stay silent, and leave some berries for us!"
"Will do!" Judge said, squatting low enough that her hair covered her pallid form, almost obscuring her completely.
Horns turned and slowly walked around the fire, the shadows dancing along his leather clad chest. He was of average size, and of average build. What skin could be seen was a pasty white that could only be achieved through paint of some kind. But Alice didn't smell anything like that coming off them.
She just smelled the forest.
"Do you know where you are?" Horns asked.
Alice shook her head, earning a snort from Bear. Horns picked up a stone bowl from out of sight, along with a crude knife fashioned from shale. The blade was perhaps nine inches long, and had stains on it that showed frequent enough use. The bowl bore the same stains. Horns reached into the fire and thrust the bowl into the ash covered pit where the logs crackled. Then he stabbed the blade into a log, sending sparks flying into the night air, dancing like the fireflies that brought Alice to this vale in the first place.
"This is holy ground," Horns began reciting as if he'd said this many times before. "Holy ground for the Algonquin for millennia, and holy ground to the Men Who Walked The Night before them. Countless generations of the greatest leaders, warriors, and poets are buried here."
Horns waved a hand at Bear and Judge before continuing. "We," he said, "are here to care for the site while the Old Ones slumber. We are here to guard the dead and their earthly remains for the day when they will be called upon once more. But we have not done this since time immemorial."
Horns reached into the fire and took the bowl, grabbed the blade, and began walking through the flames, which licked at his leathers without burning him. He stepped out with a pop, holding the glowing red knife and red-hot bowl in his steaming hands.
"It is time for us to see if you qualify," he said in a voice that chilled Alice to the bone.