"What the heck was this thing?" Midas asked again, looking at the massive trail of destruction cut through the trees.
"Where do you think it went?" Daniel asked. "Raven's living on borrowed time right now."
"If anyone can track it, Leo can," Midas said, looking toward his brother.
"It's going to be tough at best," Leopold commented, looking down at the mud. The tracks left by the creature, large as they were to begin with, were now gone.
"Come on, don't screw around," Midas said. "I've seen you track things a lot smaller than this."
"But that wasn't in a marsh," Leopold countered. He scanned the surrounding area for something, anything that would allow him to track the beast. Footprints were only a small weapon in the arsenal of an accomplished tracker.
“What does this being a marsh have to do with anything?” Daniel asked. Leopold knew that he was just as concerned as anyone, but he masked it far better.
“The mud flows too quickly,” Leopold answered, moving toward the tree line and examining a splintered tree trunk. Some sort of mucus-like substance clung to it.
“Which means that the tracks disappear quickly,” Daniel concluded.
“Exactly,” Leopold answered. “Even so, I might be able to track this thing if I can find something else that it leaves behind when it moves.”
“Then shouldn’t we be down there looking?” Daniel asked as he pointed toward the far end of the swath of destroyed trees. “That where it ceased destroying things, right?”
“No, that’s completely wrong,” Leopold answered. “Raven was walking away from us. If she ran into the beast and it proceeded to chase her, she would have run back in our direction. Also, it was practically on top of the noise just before it disappeared and that was on this end of the clearing.”
“So you’re saying that Raven ran into this thing, whatever it is, ran back towards us, but it chased her down and caught her?” Midas asked. “Then, just as you were about to find it, the thing just disappeared?”
“No disappeared; simply left the area silently,” Leopold said. He pointed toward north. “I think it headed in that direction.”
“Well, let’s go get her back,” Midas said, hefting his axe onto his shoulder. He knew just as well as the others that Raven was likely dead already but didn’t voice the suspicion. So long as there was a chance that she was alive, no matter how slim it was, none of them could entertain the thought.
Leopold led the way into the marsh, constantly scanning for evidence that the creature might have left behind. The strange mucus that he had noted at the site of the attack lasted for a hundred yards or so. Strings of it hung from branches or simply clung to the bark of tree trunks. Eventually it simply stopped, and Leopold had to use other methods of tracking the monster. Truth be told, the task was actually relatively easy once he figured out what he was looking for. For the tracks that it left at the site of the attack, he had determined that it was snake-like, but that theory was quickly falling to pieces. Though usually not obvious, claw marks showed the way as efficiently as street signs. From the signs, it appeared as though the thing slithered on it belly like a snake but also had claws sharp enough to gouge tree. This was something that Leopold had never heard of before.
“Do you think that we’re getting close?” Daniel asked after half an hour. Leopold turned back and glared at him for breaking the silence.
“What does it matter if we’re close?” Midas asked. Clearly his brother’s displeasure had been lost on him. “We’ll get there when we get there.”
“We can’t keep this up,” Daniel said, stopping abruptly. “We’ve been walking through this swamp too far for too long. Do you even know where we are anymore?”
“That doesn’t matter!” Midas said in a loud voice. “We have to find Raven.”
“You as well as I do that she’s probably dead anyway,” Daniel said. “We have to start looking to our own safety now.”
“There’s no way in heck that I’m doing that,” Midas snarled. “Leopold, tell him he’s being ridiculous.”
“You’re both being ridiculous for making so much noise while we’re tracking a monster,” Leopold shot back. “It probably already knows that we’re here thanks to you.”
“Another reason to not risk our lives on a futile mission,” Daniel said.
“Wrong,” Leopold countered in a quiet voice. “Raven isn’t dead as far as I can tell. I can get us back to camp, so we aren’t in any danger at the moment as long as you to shut up. We’re going to continue.”
“You’re not thinking,” Daniel argued. “Raven has been captured by a beast of significant size and will be dead soon if she isn’t already. Even if we find the thing, we won’t be able to anything to it. You saw the destruction that it wreaked; we’ll be like gnats to it.”
“If you want to go back, be my guest,” Leopold said sharply. “Take your amazing tracking skills and find your own way back to the camp. Take our stedillion, take our contract fee, but take it away from here.”
“You know that I can’t find my way back,” Daniel complained. “You’ve gotten us so lost and turned around I don’t know which way is north.”
“Well I do, which means that you have two options,” Leopold said. “Either leave right now or stay, but if you stay, you had better keep your mouth shut or I will shut it for you.”
The harsh statement from the younger boy caught Daniel off guard.
“We really are close, aren’t we?” he asked.
“Yes we are, and unless you want to end up dead, you need to be quiet.”