Eventually the rest of them fell deathly quiet—while Eva babbled on—until Aly had to hush her up—because they saw something scurry close by in the Forest.
“Is it Her?” Eva inquired meekly. Her mind had become so dizzied by the avalanche of unnatural occurences—her subconscious was now running off wild.
There was a distant hum—and the limbs of the trees started to sway side-to-side, as if a monsoon were blowing in. The air grew chill as the ground froze.
“See it brother?” Olin said.
“Over near Cray’s Aviary?”
“It’s Her,” Aly so concluded.
A female falcon figure stood motionless beside an old barn. Seven knew instantly it was Faye, for She wielded Her blue firesword Ierre and bloodshield Hete. She looked back at them with better vision than their own.
“We leave now,” Seven said—and as they took off down the road—Faye the Hellfalcon flew after them—rising above the Forest crown. She swooped and dove at their backs—clawing at all of them except for Eva. She was out for blood.
Meanwhile—the trees both sides of the highway reached toward them—lashing their vines to ensnare the quartet as they pounded the asphalt in full flight.
In her panic, Aly’s lizard form triggered—and she morphed into scales once more. She trailed the pack in wait.
Then the next time Faye swooped down—she turned and viciously clawed back at Her. “Stay away from my Man!”
They fell into a rolling melee across the shoulder of the road—blood and feathers flying. They hissed viciously.
Olin stopped. “Take Eva home, brother … I will stay and handle this my way. This is between Aly and I and Her.”
“No—” Seven began to object, but he knew better that Olin would not listen.
“If neither I nor Aly return—speak no ill—just remember the good in us.”
Seven nodded—threw Eva over his shoulder—and saluting Olin—he summoned his supernatural strength to carry them back to Bane house in a hurry.
So Olin flew at Faye—but She easily evaded him—leaving Aly all broken and cut up on the road. She waved Ierre.
Aly then reverted to her human form—too beat down to be able to maintain her lizard skin. She lay there vulnerable.
Then just as Olin was helping Aly up—a vine snagged his ankle—and he was dragged like a thief behind a horse into the dark black gut of the wood beyond.
Aly tried to get up by herself—but the Hellfalcon dove down again—tearing into her in a red, raving, frenzied rage—sparing no mercy—Ierre plunging in.
Faye was finally finished with this meddling, mortal bitch—and Seven’s nuisance brother. She would kill both.
She would cherish their perishing.
Meanwhile, as Olin was dragged along the forest floor, vine after vine entangled him, until he was nearly suffocating, only able to see through to a slice of daylight. They continued to squeeze him until he began to suffocate.
But then Faye had a better idea than killing him outright—and in a flash She contrived a plan. As She continued to crush him—She began threatening him:
‘Do as I say now—or say good-bye to your time here, Olin. I will keep Aly for insurance. You will be My bait and help lead Seven to Me. Do as you are told—and you will be rewarded with your life. Do not—and die! It is your life to lose!’
Meanwhile, the Hellfalcon had already sliced Aly so badly that she was hardly recognizable—but she spared the girl the final cut, letting her lay near death on the asphalt, keeping her alive for Olin.
She stood over Her, listening to Aly’s shallow breaths—wondering how it felt to be so helpless—feeding off the vulnerability of the girl. She leaned over, kissing Aly softly on the lips in mischief.
‘Get some rest now, pretty one—you will need it before I am done with you.’
She picked up Aly’s broken, bloody body in Her arms and started walking down the highway, toward the Payne—and then on to Bane House, intent on watching her new puppet Olin kill his brother in cold blood—and then watching Olin’s face as She crushed the last life from Aly before his eyes—as his reward for obedience.
After having revived Aly some in the river, however, a mile down the road—there arose a dark silhouette of a hulking horse now galloping over the hill ahead.
It was Darkhoof, Red come to rescue his sister, just in the nick of time to boot.
‘Is this what you are here for?’ Faye asked, setting Aly down, who was barely conscious, reverted to her human form.
The black horse neighed stridently, nostrils flaring—yellow eyes burning through the night like floating lanterns.
‘Has it been awhile since you have seen your sister—Red?’ Faye mocked the horse—unsheathing Ierre for a fight.
The giant equine then suddenly shrank, morphing into Red’s human boy form—kneeling down at Aly’s side.
‘Brother and sister reunite, how touching,’ Faye said sneering—an uncomfortable witness to emotion.
She imagined embracing her sister Solana just then and shivered in disgust, shaking the thought away. Such trash.
She leveled Ierre’s silver blade, readying it to sever Red’s head—and kill the boy for the second time. She was his mysterious mountain murderer, on the day Darkhoof had taken him up Miramar.
She had come upon him up there—and caught him shapeshifting into his lizard skin—which set Her inner alarms off, for changelings were Her Achilles’ heels.
Only changelings could truly defeat silver elves—by making contact with them and adopting their silver hide—thereby becoming impervious to Ierre’s blade, for Faye herself could not cut Her own edge.
So She and Draca had made haste in ambushing Red that day—in order to stamp out any chance of the boy growing into a more dangerous foe. She skinned him alive—roasted him over an open fire—and ate every ounce of bone and flesh—not wasting a single drop of blood or brain—until the boy was gone from this Earth.
So She found it odd to look upon him again, even though She knew he was just a projection of Red’s undying spirit—not exactly non-existent, but not alive.
But just as she was about to swing Ierre and lob Red’s head clean off—the boy re-morphed into Darkhoof—and charged Her with a sudden full assault.
She tried to dodge out of his path, but he was already upon Her—stamping Her down into the asphalt. He rose up on hind legs—with nine tails of fire blazing—wailing like a pack of coyotes—horns in his head twisting endlessly—spine hunching and deforming—hoofs flying down like hammers, as fast as lightning, mercilessly smashing the Silverskin into the road over and over—until Faye tried crawling away.
The horse then galloped around her, encircling Her in flames—trapping Her in a blazing ring. She soon recovered and stood up again—fed up with the reversal of events—and so She taunted Darkhoof, motioning for him to dare enter here.
Darkhoof swung back—then galloped forward through his own wall of fire—lowering his head to impale Her with his horns. But at the last second, She flashed Her green eyes into his—blinding the horse’s connection to his spirit guide Red.
Then She swung up on his back—and rode him right out through the fire—only to pull up immediately, for Aly had risen. Aly had summoned enough strength to turn one arm into sinewy scales—which she now raised up at Faye, claws unsheathed—eager for payback.
The Silverskin hissed—and unleashing Ierre again—She leapt off of Darkhoof—falling upon Aly—who knew what she was doing this second time around. Aly knew now that all she needed was one good arm to clobber this bitch—and it would be over then in moments.
But Faye twisted to one side—and from behind Her, Draca snaked through the air—diving in for Aly’s exposed human flank. Then, in favor of pawning folly for another day—Aly grabbed Darkhoof’s mane at the last moment as he trotted by. She pulled herself up on his back, riding him off to safety—saved by her brother.
She could sense Red’s spirit had reconnected with his host horse once more—and though wincing in pain—she could not help but now smirk at the thought that her mother had been right on the mark. Red really had been in Darkhoof all along.
“Let’s do this then, brother,” she said, pulling his mane. “This may be our last chance now.” The wind blew her hair all about as they galloped along at a clip.
Darkhoof was the fastest creature in French’s Forest, so they were putting good distance between them and the Silverskin in a matter of seconds. Then when it seemed that they were well out of sight—Aly suddenly steered them down a familiar trail into the wood, on a hidden side track.
She knew French’s Forest as well as Seven or Olin or even Faye Herself—so she was confident that she could throw off their trail in the bush better than on the road—but the darkness slowed them up.
There was no sign of the Silverskin for some time—but they eventually began to see markers that indicated they were going in the opposite direction intended—indicating Faye was manipulating the map.
‘See if you can find your way home now, dear brother and sister Alterman …
‘Wa-ha-HAAA!!!’ she cried aloud.
‘You will die of old age before you ever find your way out of here again!!!
‘I will enjoy watching the years of your demise, as you hold on to no hope.
“I WILL HUNT YOU DOWN!” Aly declared. “ENJOY EXISTENCE WHILE YOU CAN, YOU WITCH! I WILL KILL YOU!!!”
Faye’s ensuing brief silence was enough for Aly to dig deep and press on in renewed determination. It took a woman to see through a woman’s bluff that night.
The Silverskin wanted Aly to believe she could never escape French’s Forest. She wanted the changeling to think she was powerless and lost to all good fortune.
But Aly was too fiery to live with less than vengeance for all of the pain the Silverskin had now dealt her and Olin. She had finally met wit’s end with it all.
She so longed to see Faye dead.
But several hours later, she was beginning to lose hope that they would ever escape the trees—and then days on, hunger pangs gradually began to kick in. It was getting difficult to keep keeping on.
They drank from the Payne to get by, but weeks mounted, until one day, lost deep in the trees, they finally collapsed in defeat—broken in spine and spirit—all but extinguished from the spark of existence.
If they but had enough energy to crawl to the Payne, they might have regenerated and tried again. But their bodies were as defeated as their minds, and the thought of death was more kind.
This was when Faye stepped in to save them—offering them rebirth if they but obeyed Her every whim from then on in. Now, being desperate victims to the survival instincts of weakened minds and souls—they accepted Her arrangement.
They had no idea only a few minutes had actually transpired in the entire ordeal since they had first veered into the Forest. Now the next thing they knew, they were tied up in Aly’s bed at home, destined to be used as near future pawns.
The Silverskin would spare their lives, but take them out of the game long enough that She might decide best fates.
(Author’s Note: If you are enjoying The Silverskin, you can buy the full 400 page Revised & Expanded 10th Anniversary edition paperback here. Forever Yours In French’s Forest, Rian Torr)