Erin and Terra kept moving away from the approaching shadow creatures until they were back-to-back with nowhere else to go. The shadows were dark and dense despite the sun overhead, and as they came closer they took on vaguely human shapes that towered over the two. They moved in with absolute silence.
Erin swallowed as she stared up into the nearest blank face and held out the horseshoe in her hand like a poor excuse for a shield.
The shadow halted in its tracks and wavered. Despite the fact that it had no eyes, she thought she could sense the thing’s attention turning to the small piece of iron.
Terra turned and put one hand on her shoulder and the other on the hand holding the horseshoe. “Follow my lead,” he said.
Erin’s immediate instinct to knock Terra’s hands away faltered as she realized that she could not even work up the nerve to move an inch closer to these things. They took one hesitating step, and before the outstretched horseshoe the shadows slowly retreated.
Terra breathed out. “This might work.”
“You mean it might not have?” Erin’s hand shook and she tightened her grip on the horseshoe.
Together, they slowly and steadily moved toward the inn. The shadows shifted and stirred, their absolute silence allowing Erin to hear her heartbeat roaring in her ears. She felt Terra tense, but did not see the shadow behind them move until the hunter pushed her away.
The shadow fell upon the hunter, as a split in its head opened to reveal a great, gaping hole rimmed with innumerable teeth. Still it made no sound, until Erin swung her fist with iron in hand and connected with the creature.
An earsplitting shriek filled the air as the shadow split and dispersed, and then all of the shadows leapt.
Utter darkness surrounded Erin, cutting out all light. As much as she swung the horseshoe around and the shrieks of the shadows pierced her ears, there seemed no stopping them. She could not see the ground beneath her feet, much less Terra, and something latched onto her elbow at the same time as the disturbingly heavy weight of the shadows pulled her down.
Immediately, all of the feeling besides a searing pain disappeared from her arm down to her hand, and Erin realized she could not tell if she still had the horseshoe or not. She screamed, but the sound was drowned out by a long, haunting howl unlike the shrieks of the shadows.
The shadows split and fled, blinding Erin by the sudden return of the sun. She blinked away the tears streaming in her eyes and saw the shadows lurching across the yard of the inn in every direction, chased by a gray and white blur.
She rubbed her eyes and blinked some more, and the blur became a large wolf with a yellow and orange mark blazing over one eye and a gleaming piece of metal in its mouth. One by one the shadows shrieked and disappeared when the iron touched them, none of them making it any farther than the fence.
It wasn’t until the wolf slowed to a stop and dropped the horseshoe on the ground that Erin remembered Terra, and only thought of him then when she heard the distinct sound of an arrow being pulled from a quiver.
The wolf turned at the sound and saw the hunter sighting along the shaft. Both stood absolutely still, neither daring to move.
“Terra,” Erin said quietly, afraid that even that small noise would startle one or the other into action.
“Did you see that?” the hunter said, his lips hardly moving and his eyes still locked on Kota. “I knew we weren’t dealing with a normal animal!”
It was only a matter of time before one or the other did something, and Erin could not wait for that to happen. She tried to think of something, anything, to distract the hunter, but the pain in her arm flared up so suddenly that she could only gasp.
Terra’s eyes darted toward her and the wolf’s ears picked up. It started to take a step forward and the hunter hastily fired a shot without aiming.
Before the arrow even pierced the ground by the wolf’s front paw, Terra had another arrow in his hand, but before either one could make another move something else pierced the air: a long, low note that turned into a quick, eager melody.
The wolf snarled, and even Erin took a step back as it shook its head and then took off running, toward the woods. Terra started to aim another arrow, but stopped with a frustrated sigh before remembering Erin.
“Are you okay?” he asked, returning arrow to quiver and turning to her with open concern.
She shook her head and ran her hand over her arm again, shuddering at the radiating pain through which she could feel nothing else.
“It will wear off.” This came from the rider standing at the front door of the inn. “Just worry about bandaging that wound.”
Erin looked at the flute in the rider’s hand but said, “Why were those things chasing you?”
“They were a warning, that’s all.” The rider pulled back the hood of her cloak, fully revealing a beautiful face and dark hair pulled back into a ponytail. Her large, bright eyes drilled into Erin even as she smiled and said, “I have a tendency to annoy the wrong people in my line of work.”
“Just a warning?” Terra said. “Yeah, I guess so, since they attacked everyone else but you. Here, let’s put something on that bite.”
This last bit he said to Erin and led her inside the inn past the rider, who watched them with the same little smile on her face.
“That was certainly an interesting creature out there,” the rider said, following them to the table where Erin sat down. “I would have loved to get a closer look at it.”
“Then why did you scare it off?” Terra snapped as he searched behind the desk for the bandages Erin thought were back there.
“Why do you think I was trying to scare it away?”
The hunter thumped the first aid box down on the table and glared at her. “That music you played? You’re a tamer, aren’t you?”
“No use denying it, is there?”
At this Erin stared at the young woman. She had heard of tamers before, but she usually thought of them in connection with traveling circuses and that sort of thing. People said tamers could control any animal, beast or monster with enough time or talent. At least one of the townsmen claimed to have seen a tamer make a dragon do tricks like a tame dog, but those traveling shows had never bothered to stop in her town for as long as she could remember.
“So you played your little pipe and ran off my wolf,” Terra said.
“Your wolf?” The tamer laughed and leaned toward him with both of her hands splayed out on the table. “Funny, since I was the one hired to bring that wolf to heel.”