Seven tried driving up the bank, but the ground was soft—so they only dug in deeper. He attempted to punch the metal, but the hole was deep, so they just stuck.
He got out—circled the truck―pulled Eva free―who was passed out again—hoisted her over his shoulder―and marched off by long strides into the wood.
He knew these trees like some of his best friends—and where to cut short for the river. He would get them to where they needed to go one way or the other.
He figured the Payne was their best bet for escape, since Faye’s senses could not penetrate it. She could turn river to silver on far off worlds, but not this one.
They would float downstream with the flotsam―all the way out to Evyl Falls—where they would jump. They would leap to their freedom to become finally uplifted.
They would stand at the ledge that jutted out over the jagged taluses below―and plunge into the frothy pool, cleansing themselves of French’s Forest.
Then they would follow the river down as far as Raven’s Way and Highway 9 to where freedom began. With any luck it would be an uneventful end to it all.
They did not make it a hundred yards, however, before hearing branches breaking abreast of them. It was clear that they were still in the sights of Faye.
Seven stopped in his tracks, under a heavy cloud of dread. Looking back—he spotted a harmless-looking fawn in the brush―and sighed in a steep, sharp relief.
Recollecting his presence of mind then―he smirked at himself for getting so worked up so easily. He needed to just relax so that they could cooly carry on.
But looking once more—he noticed now that the fawn was covered in blood―standing awkwardly on broken legs. It was the fawn he had struck.
“What the Hell? By God, Jesus …”
They started on a little ways, then looked back to see that it had followed them, closing in another dozen yards now.
He pressed on further yet, summoning all of the stamina left—and glancing back―he saw fawn closer still.
‘Lucky … Lucky … Lucky … … …’
It then suddenly healed its wounds from when it was struck—and morphed into a Satyr that was half-Faye—half-fawn—a demonic Hellfawn if there ever was one. She embodied everything evilly vile.
She cackled maniacally, with black antlers sprouting from her temples, as electric lightning crashed all around Her.
Then two bolts struck Her antlers simultaneously, channeling down through her body, super-charging it in a blue light.
She was the Underangel from the Other Side—the evil incarnate of French’s Forest—and to look upon Her now this way, was akin to giving up innocence forever. Looking upon the Silverskin was folly to all who found her in their sights.
Seven grimaced at the horrific spectacle, readjusting Eva on his shoulder. He summoned every ounce of courage and determination, reeling from the most grotesque version of Faye that he had ever seen before. She had really lost it.
She had outdone herself this time in his estimation—and he did not want to see where She would take it from there. She was too deadly, too loathing, too psychopathic to underestimate for a second, and so he pushed on in resolve.
He hustled the last twenty yards to the Payne, heart slamming in its cage—with the Hellfawn heavy on their heels, firing blue lightning from Her antlers all around them, missing by inches, as Eva opened and closed her eyes in delirium.
Seven broke through the last line of brush―down out onto the rocky riverbank.
While wading in up to his waist―Eva suddenly awoke again―wide-eyed.
“What’s happening? Seven … … … ?”
He set her down in the river—holding her while she found her balance on the mossy rocks. It was eerily quiet now.
“It’s sooo cold,” she so whimpered.
He looked back―but the Hellfawn was gone. Only an owl hooted in the wood, sending a shiver down their spines.
“She was just there,” he whispered.
“Where―” Eva said, casting around.
He put a finger to his lips to be still.
He thought he saw something in the shadows, but then upon second look there was nothing there at all. It was Her tricks.
He pulled Eva behind him into the Payne, as they waded out up to their necks, in a last desperate escape attempt.
They furtively floated downstream under limbs and leaves—holding their breathing low—minds distant—and brows bent—as the river deepened—and their feet dangled when they could no longer touch bottom. They bit lips for freedom.
But not a far ways on, Faye’s voice boomed overhead: ‘SEVEN BANE … !!! WHY MUST WE PLAY THESE GAMES … ?’
“Seven, I’m scared―” Eva quivered.
Seven covered her mouth before she said any more—shaking his head ‘No …’
It started to rain blood again—quickly staining the Payne with Her mark—and it ran in red rivulets all around them down to Evyl Falls. The trees burst blue.
He felt something brush his leg just then—and his heart skipped at the thought of Draca—but he kept calm so as not to alarm Eva. Blue fire roared either shore.
While Faye could not enter the Payne Herself—he knew that a few times She had resorted to sending Draca in on Her behalf—and he had no reason to suspect She would not try that right now.
‘Your Hands were only ever lucky they caught ME, Seven—yet you left Me for a mere mortal … Such a sharp insult.
‘How badly you have treated Me … when I was so devoted to you. All you had to do was try .. All you had was Me.’
A supernatural thunder boomed, shaking the very earth and whipping up the Payne into a tumultuous river of raging waves, engorged by Her powers.
Suddenly, Draca bit onto Seven’s calf and yanked him deep underwater, down toward the bottom—coiling around him so that he could not even break free.
“Seven?!” Eva cried, frantically spinning about, searching the waters for some small sign of him. She had just lost her love to the depths of Her madness.
The river was deeper there than Seven remembered, as the great snake pulled him down to a watery grave—but after several seconds he knew for sure that this abyss was not natural—for the length of their descent was carrying on without end—maybe all the way to Hell.
Up above on the surface,Eva only saw clouds of sand rising up around her. She knew not what to do, so very scared by the presence of her very subconscious.
“Seven … Please, oh, please,” she begged, desperately praying he resurfaced—for she shuddered at the thought of fleeing French’s Forest all by herself.
Seven struggled until his life was nearly petered out—when finally his other side kicked in―and out of desperation, unsure of the outcome, he bit into Draca’s tail—sucking the blood of the snake—draining the power from serpent into him.
The strain was a potent mix—and Seven’s body became imbued with an unearthly strength. His fangs grew long and claws sharp. He felt a constant corkscrew of power spiralling up his spine, making him feel above all animalian pain.
He closed his eyes―and with only a fistful of breath left—broke Draca’s hold, forcing the snake to release. Seven’s muscle surged in a sinewy frame, veins pulsing as thick as ropes, tendons taut with tension as he flexed for his freedom.
Draca twisted around in the murky depths to strike again—but just as he started darting in, Eva dove down from above—grabbing Seven under the arms and pulling him up. She did not see the snake in murky depths—and he disappeared moment she came to rescue.
So they resurfaced together and embraced—and the Payne carried them on the rest of the way, like Mother Nature’s main artery to freedom—twisting through the Forest to the outer limits, where the river roared toward the fabled Evyl Falls.
Eva closed her eyes, shivering uncontrollably—with Seven hugging her close—both of them so silent—so afraid.
“Don’t worry, we’re nearly there,” he eventually said—humming in her ear to keep her calm. “I love you so much …”
They were almost upon Witchling Isle, almost at the end of their journey—and the feeling of relief was so palpable.
(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)