Here's the next installment of our Metallum Nocturne story. If you need to catch up on any of the previous episodes, click here.
Outside the house, the wind had picked up and the moon was no longer visible through the trees, leaving them in near darkness. Carl trotted through the leaves, crunching them beneath his massive weight. Claire followed him around the house to find him sniffing at something brown and covered in blood. At first, she thought it was a severed head until she realized it was a dead chicken.
"It was recently killed," said Claire.
"Why isn't he eating the chicken? Don’t dogs like dead things?"
Carl sniffed at the still body, but didn't get closer than a few feet, which was as strange as Dawn had suggested.
"If it was an elongated hellcat, wouldn't it have dragged it into the woods to eat it?" asked Dawn.
Claire hated that she didn't have a rational explanation for the presence of the dead chicken, or Carl's behavior.
"Are you sure we can just get the hell out of here?"
"I want to."
"Merlin's tits, Claire. Do you have to be the best at everything including dying in the Appalachian forest?"
"Let's just find Grayson and then we can leave. If he was attacked and is injured somewhere, then I think we'd be awful people if we left." When Dawn crossed her arms, she added, "We don't know anything yet, and we're letting our imaginations get away from us."
"Fine. But no splitting up."
"I wouldn't think of it." She crouched down and scratched Carl's ear. "Can you lead us to Grayson?"
The dog perked up and immediately trotted away towards the front of the cabin. After a moment of frenzied sniffing, Carl headed down the slope in the opposite direction than they'd arrived. The trees grew more gnarled and there was less room between them as they traveled down the hill. Halfway down, the scent of rotting vegetation filled her nose so thoroughly she wanted to sneeze. Beside her, Dawn pinched her nostrils and shook her head.
"That's awful," she said loudly, then again quieter. "That's awful."
Carl dropped into a low crouch, a growl emanating from his big body. Before Claire could put a hand on his collar, he bound down the hill, disappearing into the darkness. Claire grabbed Dawn's hand and followed at a run. The wet leaves and old trees made their rapid travel perilous. They almost fell a few times, using each other's weight to stay upright. At the bottom of the hill, a thick mist formed. Claire descended into the fog, squeezing Dawn's hand for assurance.
"Carl?" called Dawn too quietly.
A cold blue glow formed in the mist to their left. The shape floated about thirty feet from their location, wavering in a way that suggested they should follow.
"That's a spirit," whispered Dawn.
"No shit. But it is friendly?"
"I wish I knew."
Claire edged forward and the spirit moved away. As it shimmered through the fog, she had the impression of a young girl. Was it Grayson's daughter? Or some unrelated apparition? Claire no longer believed there was an elongated hellcat on the loose.
"Why would Grayson care about entering the Veil?" asked Claire as they followed the spirit through the fog, over soggy leaves and puddles that grew larger the further they went.
"Orpheus entered the underworld to retrieve Eurydice and bring her back to the living. Others went for knowledge, or power. The myths are filled with tales of katabasis, and most scholars believe some part of their tales were true based on what we know of the Veil, though the details are probably made up for fiction's sake."
"What if Grayson killed his daughter, but regretted it later and has been trying to get her back?" asked Claire.
Dawn's shoes slopped to a stop on the wet leaves. "That makes him a bad person. Maybe we should go back. He could be trying to lure us into a trap." She checked behind them. "I wish Carl was here."
A shift in the fog gave Claire a longer view of what was ahead, including the hulking form of Carl. The enormous dog was crouched low as if afraid of being spotted. A pained whine eliminated from the dog's lips.
The spirit was no longer visible, but they crept forward until they were parallel with Carl, his tail giving one small thump before returning to silence. The fog had grown thick, and the darkness saturated it like ink. An elongated shape rippled in the distance, both towering and small. Claire didn't know what she was seeing until she realized it was Grayson on his knees. Ropes or vines wrapped around his arms, which tugged him forward towards a gaping hole in the trunk of a massive tree. Before Claire could take a step forward, the vines yanked Grayson into the darkness at the center of the trunk. A tortured cry slipped his lips before he disappeared.