The tree had been chewed to bits. What had once been a towering spike of a pine was now reduced to wood chips on the forest floor. Like a dog’s work on a stick—but this was an entire tree.
Corvala stood back with the horse, taking in the scene and wondering what kind of creature could have done this. Whatever it was, it was big. Serapha was investigating the stump. It had been wrenched to the side, half uprooted. What remained above ground was a shredded ruin of splinters twisted and splayed. Serapha removed from the stump a sharp tooth as big as a pine cone. Corvala shuddered.
Without a word, Serapha continued onward, leading them ever deeper into Thorn Mouth. They were out to where the pines stood tall and the stingy moss grew thick, to where all was dim and damp. Corvala led the horse by the reins. Exodus lay over the saddle, still unconscious.
The small company had gone a long way from the village. At least it felt that way to Corvala.
This was the third time this week she had come into the forest. During the two times prior, the forest had been dangerous and home was safe. But now it was the other way around. The forest—despite the work of giant beasts—had become a refuge, and her home held none of its familiar protections anymore. In truth, there was no home to go to.
She let that sink in.
Serapha’s stunt on the roof would have everyone talking about the “Demon of Dawnfield.” (The strange woman claimed that she was no demon, but she certainly wasn’t human. What was she then? Corvala was still trying to work out this woman’s nature.) Word would certainly reach the Rooks about what happened. It would be said that Judge Exodus’ daughter summoned a demon to attack her enemies. Such a crime was unforgivable. The Rooks would hunt her and her father and bring them both to justice. The law was the law. No consorting with demons. Exodus’ title as Judge would not save them. Exodus’s selfless service to his village would not afford them any measure of mercy. Indeed, a Judge and his household would be held to a higher standard. So if the Rooks got a hold them…
No, Corvala thought to herself. That’s not going to happen.
Part of her—her primitive instinct to survive mixed with a hint of naïve dreamer attracted to the lure of adventure and new beginnings—this part of her thought of what was ahead. This part moved her forward. It began concocting plans of what she and her father would do next. They would flee to safety. They would have to go far away, probably out of the Norester Province. Take on new names. Carve a new life out for themselves. Probably never return to the valley.
The other part of her, however, looked back. She thought of her house, the only home she ever knew. Was it hers anymore? Had the sheriff seized it for the state? Were their guards now sleeping in her bed and stomping about the place with muddy boots?