This is an excerpt from Runaways, chapter 4, when Hannah first encounters the villain! She left home looking for her lost little sister, Cecelia, who she thinks was stolen by The Pied Piper. She found a faerie, or more accurately, he found her… If you aren’t familiar with this story, you can check out the WIP page for an introduction and other excerpts. I hope you enjoy reading!
Are you prepared to pay the Piper?
No! This is all a trick! Her foe stands before her and she didn’t even notice! If he’s here, where is Cecelia? Why doesn’t he play his flute? Is he toying with her? Is she just his entertainment? Disgust and anger replace the fear. She takes a menacing step forward, intent on wiping the condescending grin off his smug face.
“You stole her! Give me back my sister!”
He raises the flute to his lips.
Hannah lunges forward to snatch it from his hands, but something tugs her back. A jerk on her pant leg trips her before she can make another move. She shakes her foot with her next step, but sharp claws dig into her socks. She spares a glance at her shoe.
The stoat chitters furiously before scampering off. He stops, turns back to look at her, as if to say, “Come on! Follow me!” then rushes back to pull on her pant leg again.
Hannah takes the sign and takes off into a sprint as the Piper plays his first note.
“I don’t need your help!” She shouts behind her, and though she still thrills with terror, hopes she sounds triumphant in her near escape.
The tree cover grows dark, and the brambles grow closer. They spring to movement at the sound of the flute and catch at her legs, trying to pull her back towards the Piper. The keening notes come over the wind, reaching her loud and clear. She shakes her head at the haunting music, but her steps falter.
It is beautiful and mysterious and trapped between the notes are secrets she could only dream. The tune tells of terrific and terrifying sights—trees of fire, moonlight made into marzipan, stars captured in crystals. The sensation smells sweet, like hot spiced cider, honeysuckle nectar, or amber ambrosia. Maybe it wouldn’t be such a high price. Not if she could hear the end of the song. Not if she could unlock the answers in the melody. It’s so close, she just has to stop-
Kit Kat barks at her to keep up and it briefly shakes her from the trance. She stumbles but does not fall. She screams against the song, calling “Cecelia!” until her own voice drowns out the flute. Exhausted, she stops for breath at a gnarled tree. The Piper’s hollow face peers at her from a frown of twisted knotholes in the trunk. She screams, stumbles back, and runs again. He is everywhere – in the rocks that jab at her feet, in how bugs swarm around her head, the eyes in every leaf. The winding string of notes twists the dying wildflowers around her feet. She hides behind another tree, but as soon as she catches her breath, she starts headlong down the path again.
Which path? Who knows? Who cares? Kit Kat leads, and she follows him blindly. She just needs to get away from the Piper. She runs until she outpaces the flute. Until she outruns the birdsong and choking vines and swarming bugs. Until she outruns the fear that she is being watched. Hunted. Trapped. Until her legs give out underneath her and she collapses in a heap on the soft cover of pine needles. Kit Kat sits beside her, fur damp with sweat. Blood seeps through the bandage, the exercise reopening the wound from earlier. They have to hide, and quickly, before the Piper catches up. She searches wildly for a hiding spot, but they’ve fled so far up the mountain, the gaps between the trees grow wide and sparse. She scrambles for the nearest patch of scraggly underbrush, lays belly down on the ground, and pulls branches on top of her.
“Kit Kat! Down here!” she hisses, and the stoat crouches beside her. Hannah hides him among the branches too. They hunker down to wait as the fog slowly moves in on them. She prepares for the disorienting effects this time. As the mist and darkness envelop them, her head swims with dizziness, but she digs her boots into the dirt to ground herself, and she shoves her fingers into her ears so she can’t hear the flute.
The horrible, wonderful, beautiful flute.
The haunting melody warps into a wailing screech. In seconds, a great rustling joins it as thousands of footsteps scatter debris on the forest floor. Thousands of throats let loose a high-pitched whine. The Piper’s rats sweep through the clearing in a feral, hungry wave. Hannah dares to take one finger out of her ear to reach for her pocket knife. She flips open the largest blade as the tune worms its way into her brain.
She can’t remember why she opened the knife. Why is she laying on the ground in the dirty woods with pine needles in her hair? The rustling of the leaves adds such a depth to the enchanting music. It’s so peaceful. She wants to lie here and nap. If she follows the music, she can rest after her long journey. It knows where to find Cecelia. Why does she have a knife? “Let go of your weapon,” urges the music. It knows best. Let go. Let go.
An angry hiss next to her ear disrupts the spell. Growls and pressure drive her back to the present as Kit Kat pounces on her back. The rat squeals in pain as the stoat’s teeth fling it from her neck. She flinches in pain as its nails rake into the jacket, and it just misses her skin as a wet nose digs at her ear. She jabs forward on instinct. Another squeal. The knife comes away red and slick. A shudder runs down Hannah’s spine as she hears Kit Kat wrestling another rat. Where did they all come from? How did they find her? Are they going to eat her alive? She drops the knife where she can see it and plugs her ears again.
“Stop that,” she says when Kit Kat vanquishes his foe. The stoat obeys. He settles down, still ready for a fight, stationing himself between his charge and the swarming creatures.
“Hide,” she pleads, “You’ll get hurt.”
Kit Kat refuses to lower his defense.
The tune fights past her attempts to block it out, but without the full effect of the magic, Hannah resists succumbing to the trance. She squeezes her eyes shut and focuses on the rough ground against her cheek. It is enough to anchor her to reality. As the controlling charm passes over her, the rats move on in their hunt. They don’t notice the hiding spot, and return in the direction they came. She can’t help a twinge of sorrow as she listens to the music go, and strains her ears to catch the last shreds of a tune.
Thank you for reading! Next week I’ll be sharing my July Goals Recap. If you feel so generously inclined, you can support my writing by leaving me a tip on my Kofi or donating using the secure box below. Until next time, thanks for reading and happy writing!
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