Pins and needles trekked across my skin as Antheus spoke. I didn’t know what to think about any of this and yet his story had me gripped in fear and anticipation. I opened my mouth to ask what the story was when a sound at the end of the hall brought all conversation to a screeching halt. My head snapped up and I peered down the dark hallway.
“What was that?” I whispered.
“Shh,” Antheus ordered. He got to his feet quickly and took three steps into the deepening darkness.
I hadn’t realized how late it was, but I could tell that the sun had set probably over an hour ago. Instinctively I lay down on the floor and close my eyes. Not a second later I hear the shuffling walk of the monsters accompanied by Antheus’ measured footsteps. I froze in place.
“Vesh do’ng, Brugher?” the monster spoke.
“Do’ng gerld ve evchded,” Antheus replied. “Proglfe thernin vesh do’ng, Tuug.”
“Ferdad yig Tuug breld vesh do’ng,” the monster insisted.
“Proglfe thernin vesh do’ng, Tuug, de abigea,” Antheus said.
He gestured toward me and I held my breath as the monster lumbered toward me. I was forced to glance through my lashes and what I could see of the monster told me it wasn’t very bright. It tentatively reached out toward me and as soon as it encountered the invisible barrier it cried out in pain and jumped back.
“Hei brishen, Tuug,” Antheus said matter-of-factly.
The monster whimpered and lumbered back down the hall into the darkness. Antheus followed for about ten steps and then returned to my side. I waited until I could no longer hear the monster before I spoke.
“What was that thing?” I asked nervously.
“That was Tuug, my brother.”
“Why can’t he touch me?”
“The protective circle. Anything unwelcome that tries to cross it gets shocked or burned,” Antheus replied.
“How do you do it?”
“It is a charm my mother taught me. You take a stone and replicate it in a circle with the spoken charm and it creates a protective barrier. It is easier in the forest because the flowers grow more naturally, when I am inside I have to use stones and they are a little harder to replicate.”
He looked at me, measuring my reaction to Tuug and I tried to carefully conceal my terror at the appearance of the monster. I returned his gaze and then asked the question I had been longing to hear an answer to for the past four days.
“Antheus, why am I here?”