Please note, this story contains swearing.
The difference between magic and mundane is a single step.
Two friends walked through the forest in the late autumn afternoon. It was nearly too dark to see, but they made this trip often enough to know where everything was. They instinctively jumped over a larger branch. It didn't even pause their conversation. One of them threw their arms out as if to make a point, accidentally hitting a branch on the side of the small path they walked on. A brief pause brought silence into the forest before they burst out in laughter. All was peaceful.
Overhead, the trees began to grow tangled and thicker, the dim patches of darkening sky strangled by encroaching greenery. The smell of soil and rotted leaves hung thick in the humid summer air. One of the friends, the tall one with piercing grey eyes like daggers, glanced around. A deep breath made her broad, muscled shoulders rise.
“Shit, I think we took a wrong turn.”
The smaller of the two, wiry and tense with a square jaw and flowing hair like fire barely tamed by a hastily tied ribbon, mimicked his companion’s gaze. His shoulders, which had been slumped and relaxed, grew straight as a sigh whistled between his teeth.
“Looks like it.” He reached up and touched the moss growing thickly on a nearby tree. Taking a piece and rubbing it between his fingers, he sniffed it gingerly. “Wyldewood.”
“You think if we just walked backwards...?” The grey-eyed lady’s voice didn’t hold much hope, and what little was there seemed to vanish into the thickening gloom that crept between the trees as her companion shook his fiery head.
“Following what path?” They turned to look behind them. Trees crowded around them, pressing in for all they were immobile. Tangled roots and clawing branches writhed in the half-light; it was hard to make out with night rushing ever onwards but it looked as though the gnarled trunks formed a scarred, twisted barrier blocking off the way they had come. For all the trees could not, had not, been there mere moments before, they looked older than the world itself.
A growl slipped from the tall friend’s lips. “Fuck. We need a cyrcle.”
“Assuming that’s how we wound up in this mess.”
“It’s the most likely option, given where we are.” The broad-shouldered woman threw her arms wide, indicating the stifling closeness of the forest. She was barely visible, a darker shadow amongst shadows that were already dark enough. “I mean, we’d have noticed a rytual.”
“The candles would have given it away, true.” Silver flashed as the slender man pulled a hidden knife from his sleeve. “Lyt.”
With a flick of his wrist and a hiss of pain, a drop of light bloomed on his fingertip before flying up into the air. It grew larger as it arced upwards, sending flickering blood-red light spilling onto the forest floor to reach grasping fingers through the trees.
“Warn me before you do that, warlock,” hissed the grey-eyed woman. The short man shrugged, resheathing the knife. He ignored the hunger that made his companion’s eyes gleam as they tracked his wounded hand.
“Thought my blood was too impure for your tastes.”
The woman’s eyes shone in the light. “I’m hungry. And magyck is magyck.”
“We needed the light.”
“Pfft. You needed the light. I can see just fine; the ley lynes are strong here. Naturally.”
They walked in silence for a while, the trees opening into a path before the orb of light. Neither looked back; either the path would still be there, or it wouldn’t. The implications of the latter were... unpleasant, to say the least, and they had no intentions of returning the way they had come, so it was pointless to burden their minds with unnecessary worry.
The only sounds in the dim woods were the soft rasping of their breathing and the crunch of their footsteps. When they paused, silence enveloped them and rode heavy on their shoulders, so they didn’t stop.
The taller one raised a hand, the crimson light making her skin appear blood-stained. It crusted darkly under her nails, lined the creases of her knuckles then vanished as the light shifted.
But even as he said it, something tugged on the very edge of his perception. Not the silence, the deathly stillness that had accompanied them as they pushed through knots of bracken and grasping, hungry bramble thickets. He tilted his head to one side, focussing.
Like distant waves thundering on a forgotten shore, the sound of hooves and hounds.
Even in the ruddy light, his face was pale. He met wide grey eyes, saw fear glinting in their depths. It only amplified his own rising terror, his pulse frantic beneath skin prickling with icy panic.
“We didn’t stumble here accidentally.” The words were empty, hollow and useless. Stating the obvious, now. Wasting precious time. He hated himself for saying them.
“The Wylde Hunt.” The muscled woman’s hands shook, convulsively opening and closing as if she gripped a spear before her, her feet sliding unconsciously into a guard position. The fiery haired man remembered that spear, with its vicious iron point. He had set it alight, the hawthorn and rowan crackling and sparking as it ignited, and at the time it had seemed like a fine plan. After all, he hadn’t wanted to be stabbed and, in his defence, it had managed to break the compulshyn.
Now he wished the spell hadn’t taken.
“We shouldn’t run.” The baying of the hounds was getting louder, undercut by the jeering laugh of men and women drunk on magyck and bloodlust.
“Yeah. But I wish we had brought weapons.”
“Agreed. And if we get out of this, I promise to make you a new spear.”
His companion raised an eyebrow at his lithe frame, his hands roughed by years of handling staves and books rather than hammers and heat. A twist of her lip revealed razor teeth beneath its crimson curl as the redcap grinned at him.
“With your own two hands?”
The pair squared up, back to back, waiting. In the fading light of the warlock’s spell, eyes glinted in the trees.
“We’ll need to make sure we survive the night, then. That would be a fine gift indeed.”
Author’s Note: the first paragraph (until the words ‘All was peaceful.’) was provided verbatim by Coonfex on PokeFarmQ. It was given as a set beginning from which to build an original story - the remainder of the work, including the ideas, are mine (inspired by British folklore, obviously).
And for those wondering about the ‘interesting’ spelling of some words - adding a ‘y’ makes everything more magical. Well known fact. It’s all pronounced the same.