44/366 – Blackwater Lake

Continued from 43/366 – To Leave a Home (Cont.)

“It’s just up ahead,” Master Scaine called over his shoulder to the others who were following him.

Morn’s legs and back were sore from the day’s riding they had done. He was sure that Celeste and Jaque felt the same way. His mother looked as though she had seen better days that didn’t include riding, and, to Morn’s surprise, Koldian looked as though he had ridden his entire life. He looked rested and comfortable on the horse.

The road turned to the west, opening to show the dark waters of the lake sitting undisturbed. Not even a ripple on the surface suggested that anything terrible had ever happened there.

“This isn’t right,” Master Scaine said, pulling the horse to a stop. He dropped off the saddle and walked near the forest, giving the water a wide birth. “There was a camp here.”

“What do you think happened?” Helem asked.

“I don’t know, but this isn’t good,” Master Scaine replied, “Koldian, do you have anything in your bag of tricks that could help us figure out what happened to the camp?”

“I could, but it would sap a lot of my energy,” Koldian replied, keeping his eyes on the glassy surface of the water, “I think we should look around a little longer before resorting to magic use.”

“This place looks so peaceful,” Jaque said, “it’s hard to believe that so much has happened here.”

“Everyone keep an eye on the water,” Master Scaine said. “Under no circumstances are you to touch it or even get within fifty feet of it.”

Morn nodded as he took a few more steps away from the water. He kept close to Celeste as they scanned the area for any sign that there were people there. Everywhere he looked, it seemed like they were the first people to ever be there. There were no footprints in the sand near the water, no signs of fire or gathered wood. Not even a discarded weapon. Simply nothing.

“I think I might have something,” Jaque called out, a few steps into the treeline.

Everyone moved swiftly toward him. When Morn arrived, he saw what Jaque had found. At the base of a tree, a single, blood-covered bolt lay facing away from the lake. There were no footprints or other evidence to suggest that people had ever been there before.

“It looks like it materialized here,” Koldian said.

“It was placed here by one of the initiates,” Master Scaine said, glancing over his shoulder at the water. “They went this way.”

“We should take the horses,” Helem said, “If someone’s hurt, we might need them to get back to the town faster.”

“We don’t want to leave anything alive too close to the lake,” Master Scaine said, nodding.

Everyone retrieved their horse and walked in the direction that the bolt had been pointing. The only noise during the walk was the sound of their feet, and the horses protesting the conditions that they were being walked through.

“Everyone keep your eyes open for another sign,” Master Scaine said, “This isn’t likely the only direction they went.”

“Don’t forget about the lake either,” Koldian said, checking behind him. “If something comes out, it’ll likely come fast.”

“I don’t know that there is anything there right now,” Master Scaine said, “If they retreated this far, there is a good chance they were followed.”

A small game trail opened up in front of the group, giving the horses more room to move. Morn’s horse nudged him with a low whinny when they reached the less obscured path. He absentmindedly reached up and pet the horse’s face with his hand as Celeste came up beside him.

“I’m starting to wonder if my father really came out here,” Celeste whispered.

“Why?” Morn asked.

“You’ve met my father,” she replied, “There is literally nothing here. He’s not able to move around in his armor without leaving so much of a footprint in the soil or breaking a twig.”

“It does seem like there isn’t much here,” Morn agreed.

“Master Scaine said that there was a camp back there,” she said, “there was nothing. No charred sticks. Nothing arranged in a way to make a camp. Everything was just overgrown and seemed untouched.”

“Do you think this isn’t the lake?” Morn asked.

“I don’t know what I think,” Celeste replied. “I’m just not sure how this is possible. Both Master Scaine and Koldian are wary of the water, and I feel like they wouldn’t lie to us necessarily.”

“There was the bolt,” Morn said.

“That’s the other confusing thing. There’s blood on the bolt, but nowhere else. No pools, or splashes. There’s nothing other than the bolt. I wonder why,” she said.

“I just hope that your dad is okay,” Morn said. “The bolt is at least giving Master Scaine some hope that someone is still out here.”

“We’re close,” Master Scaine called out behind him before he lifted his chin and yelled, “Reveal yourselves!”

A few birds scattered from the underbrush and the sound of twigs breaking nearby echoed around them. Master Scaine stopped moving and closed his eyes, tucking his chin down. After a moment, he took a step back and vanished into a shadow, leaving his horse behind.

“Master Scaine!” Jaque called out.

“Over here,” Master Scaine called back from off the path. “Leave the horses.”

Morn and Celeste tethered their horses to a nearby tree before walking in the direction of Master Scaine’s voice. The undergrowth was thick and hard to push through, but they made it to where Master Scaine was waiting about sixty feet from the path.

Master Scaine was standing in the middle of a small camp. Four tents surrounding a minute firepit that was long cold. Around the camp, little trinkets, dishes, pans, and clothes were littered. It looked as though people had been here for some time, but had left in a hurry.

“There’s no bodies,” Master Scaine said, “They must have moved on.”

“Where to, if not back to the village?” Koldian asked, looking around. “There weren’t any tracks leading us here, only a single bolt. Did you find any blood?”

Master Scaine nodded, “in one of the tents, there was a small amount of it. I’m assuming it’s from the bolt based on the amount.”

“So, someone is injured?” Helem asked. “Should we be worried?”

“Not yet,” Master Scaine said. “If my initiate is still alive, there is a reason that he was unable to report back. He was likely the one hit by the bolt, but the better question is how. The creatures that come from the lake don’t use weapons.”

“It’s getting dark,” Koldian said, “should we make camp?”

“Not yet. Let’s search a little longer for the others and see if we can’t find them first,” Master Scaine said.

continued 46/366 – Blackwater Lake (Cont.)

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