A tingle ran up Oboe’s spine. She felt it before she saw it. Something electric, magnetic, something that stirred up feelings long buried. She twisted to look, sensing the source like needles in the air.
A human fought, flailing and pushing his way through the brush of Whirlwood. His cloak caught in a thicket and he tore it to get free. There was something strange about the human. He was filled with Fates. They called to her, shining like a beacon through the forest. There were more Fates than Oboe had seen in her whole life.
She shook herself. It was none of her business. She watched the human race by and noticed something else. Some sort of magic was chasing him. A beam of light snaked through the forest like a ghost and curled to follow the human as he disappeared from sight.
On the other end of the light was more humans. A whole herd of them. Their armor rattled as they marched, cracking tree branches and trampling the thicket as they went. They followed the light. Or they were, anyway, before it flickered and winked out all of a sudden.
“Devil damn it!” The human in front wore a fancy wide-brimmed hat. “The equipment is malfunctioning again! There’s too much ambient interference!”
“We’ll lose him at this rate,” one of the other knights said.
“We won’t let that happen,” the hat human said. “Keep moving!”
Oboe popped out of hiding. “Hi!” She said. “Are you looking for someone? Do you need help?”
The humans turned to glare at her.
“Stay out of this, fairy!” The hat human said. “This is none of your concern!”
Oboe frowned as they marched past. There was no need to be so rude. She watched them go and wondered what was going on. It was weird for so many humans to come this far into the Whirlwood. Not that it mattered. The human was right. There was absolutely no reason for her to get involved.
She turned into a bird to follow them. It wasn’t hard to find the human the knights were searching for. Everything tingled in that direction. Oboe swooped down through the trees and found the hooded figure again. He leaned against an oak trying to catch his breath.
“You must hurry,” said a raven perched in the branches. “They are coming.”
“I know!” He was a teenaged boy, muddied with curly black hair. “How much farther?”
A knight erupted out from the brush, aiming a crossbow.
“There he is!” Someone shouted. “Grab him!”
“Run!” The raven said, taking flight. “Remember the plan! I’ll meet you there!”
Crossbow bolts sliced through the air, cutting straight through the raven. She burst in a spray of black feathers. Oboe and the boy both gasped.
The big hat human strode out in front. “It’s over Perceval. It’s time to come home.”
The youth stumbled to get away. “Help!” The knights closed in around him. “Anyone! Please!”
Oboe changed back to a faun and dropped to the ground in front of him. She reached out a hand to help him up.
“Don’t touch him!” A knight shouted, rushing to reload his crossbow.
“Why?” Oboe said. “What’s going on?”
The leader drew his sword. “This is royal business. Step away from the boy or I will be forced to slay you.”
“Don’t listen to him!” The boy pleaded. “They’re trying to take me away!”
Oboe looked at the boy and the knight, and felt the choice was obvious. She grabbed the boy by the scruff, a shiver running through her whole body, and ran. A bolt whizzed by her head and planted itself in the trunk of a tree.
“It’s got him!” A knight shouted. “After them!”
Oboe swung the boy into her arms and sprinted as fast as her legs could carry her. Her heart raced like she had robbed a bank. She scanned the trees for a way to escape and spotted a path the humans couldn’t see. It was a fold in the Whirlwood. She darted between two trees, circled around and back through a second time.
There were shouts of “They’re gone?!” and “fan out!” that echoed behind them. That wouldn’t stop them, just buy some time.
“Thank you!” The boy said. “You saved me!”
“Not yet,” Oboe said. “Hold on. I need to get you someplace safe.”
The magic light trailed through the air, weaving through the trees to track them.
“I’ve got a signal!” The leader said. “After them!”