Pon yanked his talisman out of the air. This time he thought enough to fold part of his jerkin around his hand before he clamped down on the stone. He could still feel its heat through the cloth.
Was there still a monster out there? Had it seen him? What could he do?
The old men of Between would have advised Pon to stay hidden. The old men would have never have left their village in the first place. That was why they had lived long enough to become old men. But no. Surely there was some other choice than hide or be eaten. Surely a real hero, a Rationalist word-wizard, would be able to do something.
Pon felt the edges of the Rationalist talisman in his pocket—an octagon of worn metal roughly the size of his palm. A word-magic mirror.
Now what was the rune sequence for ‘help?’ Pon scratched several onto the mirror’s surface until he got one he was pretty sure was right, but the metal remained dark. He was still too far away from the nation of word-magic. Its god wasn’t active here in the mountains.
Pon could do nothing but wait until the forest had grown absolutely silent again. By the time he felt safe enough to stand, full night had fallen.
The pop of the bones of his spine as he stood almost drove him back into his hole, but eventually Pon stood on the embankment below the empty road. He wondered what to do.
“Go back home,” he told himself softly, “the smart thing to do.” No, he needed to go forward. At least warn the rangers at the border-Keep. Defending their realm against incursions from the Kingdoms of Evil was their job, and besides, how could he get to the Keep ahead of the carriage?
“No, have to go back home.” No telling what his parents might say, but what choice did he have? Pon had traveled farther today in a single direction than he had ever traveled before, and now he turned, knowing he would never go farther.
Pon began to climb up the embankment to the road.
And there, in the tangle of moonlight and shadow cast by the trees, Pon saw the monster.