The way Mama shouted her name told Reina she needed to hide again. She dropped the broom she’d been using to sweep the bedroom floor and raced into the kitchen. Mama, her face white, stood by the door, holding Austyn’s arm. She thrust him at Reina.
“Into the woods—hurry.”
Reina nodded, pushing down her fear, and grabbed Austyn’s hand. “We have to run,” she told her little brother, keeping her voice calm. “It’s a race.”
His eyes wide, he nodded. Although he was only six, he understood the situation just as much as she did—but he played “the game” along with everyone else.
It was a beautiful May morning, with puffy white clouds in the sky and birds singing, no sign of evil anywhere—but that didn’t fool Reina. She pulled Austyn forward, and they dashed across the grass towards the line of trees marking the woods.
She heard a cry and glanced off to their right, where her friends Lilia and Bryan also ran towards the woods.
“Let’s win,” she said to Austyn as they hurried forward across the field. “We’ll get a prize.” Safety is the prize. At eleven years old, Reina had experience with raids. Not getting caught was all that mattered.
A piercing cry split the bright morning. Reina looked back and saw black shapes in the sky. She snapped her gaze forward again; the edge of the woods seemed too far away! Lilia and Bryan had almost reached it. She pulled on Austyn’s hand, and he gave a little sob while stumbling after her. Someone screamed behind them, but Reina didn’t dare look back.
Austyn fell, and, grabbing both his hands, Reina dragged him towards the woods. As they reached the trees, she looked back and saw Kylen, one of the village boys, running, a harpy swooping down at him. She bared the fangs on her cold, human-like face. Her black wings spread wide, she reached for him with clawed feet. Reina had never seen one so close. The warning had come late this time.
The harpy’s claws grasped Kylen’s shirt. Pushing Austyn into the bushes, Reina grabbed two rocks and hurled one of them at it. The first rock fell short, and she hissed in annoyance. The harpy yanked Kylen into the air.
The sky above the village had turned dark with more harpies, driving the men and women of the village out of their homes. Reina forced herself to concentrate. She hefted the second rock, and, to her surprise, it smacked the harpy straight in the face. With a blood-curdling shriek, the harpy dropped Kylen.
“Run!” Reina cried, grabbing another rock. Kylen dashed for the trees as the harpy fixed her dark, beady eyes on Reina. Reina threw the rock, but the harpy saw it coming and dodged. Reina ducked back into the woods, rolling under the bush where she had shoved Austyn.
In the past, they had always made it into hiding before the harpies reached the village. The forest supposedly had a charm on it, cast by the Gold Wizard himself; but would it work when the harpy had seen them there moments ago? Reina hoped so.
The harpy flew low along the tree line, gazing intently into the bushes. Reina held her breath and felt Austyn trembling beside her. She put her arm around him and clutched him close to her.
“It’ll be all right,” she whispered into his ear.
He sniffed a little, and his grip on her arms tightened. She winced.
“I wish it would die.” She barely heard his whisper.
Me too. The harpy paused level with their bush and seemed to stare right at them. A flash of anger swept through Reina. She hated being terrified and hated what fear did to Austyn as well. Her fingers crept through the dirt, tightening around a sharp rock. She looked into Austyn’s tearful eyes, and he gave a barely visible nod. A strange heat zinged between them like static electricity, and Reina’s hand twitched.
Courage filled her, and she ducked out from the bush, stood, and hurled the stone. To her amazement, it hit the harpy in the chest, sharp edge first. The stone lodged into the creature’s flesh, and the harpy dropped from the sky, a stunned look on its face. Reina ducked back down, drawing Austyn into her arms.
“Is it dead?”
“I hope so.” To distract him further while they lay in the dirt, trying to ignore the shouts from the village, she whispered a story into his ear like she usually did, making it up as she went along. Austyn relaxed, and Reina’s thudding heart calmed. Just when she worried she couldn’t imagine any new things for the hero to do, the all-clear bell in the village rang.
Reina helped Austyn out from the bush and stretched her stiff muscles before searching for her friends. The other village children clustered around something on the ground just outside of the woods. Austyn ran forward.
“Wait!” Reina called, but he was out of her reach, already pushing his way through the other children.
Reina followed and gasped when she caught a glimpse of the object. It was indeed the harpy—dead.
“We killed it!” Austyn shouted, waving his hands in the air.
Reina couldn’t help smiling, although she wondered if the Red Wizard would know one of his harpies was dead and come after them.
Kylen grinned at her, his red-blond hair hanging in his eyes, and his freckled face muddy. “I guess I owe you one, Straw-hair.”
Reina shrugged, embarrassed. He’d called her that ever since the time she fell in one of the stables while chasing him and got her hair full of straw. She decided she preferred trying to dunk him in the pond or hitting him with a mud ball to saving his life.
The bell sounded again. The parents must be worried. She grabbed Austyn’s hand again.
“We’d better go,” Lilia said, echoing her thoughts, and they trudged back to the village.
Reina scanned the waiting adults gathered in the village square around the well, searching for her parents. While the harpies targeted children, sometimes they killed adults when they thought they were hiding something. She let out her breath in relief when she spied her mother, looking weary and pale. Austyn ran forward, still shouting about how they’d killed a harpy.
Reina glanced at her father and frowned in worry. He had a black eye and a scratch down his cheek. He smiled at her, although she sensed his concern. “I’m fine, honey. But what’s this about killing a harpy?”
Reina gulped, and her hands shook. Not once had she ever heard of anyone killing a harpy. Her father wrapped his arm around her.
“Well.” Her voice cracked, and she cleared her throat. “It was going to get Kylen, so I threw some rocks. Then we hid, but it didn’t leave, and Austyn said, kill it. And….” She trailed off, unsure how to describe what had made her stand up and throw the rock.
Loud wails interrupted them, and Reina glanced up and saw Talia, the baker’s wife. She looked back at her father, who appeared grim. He shook his head. “They didn’t hear the warning in time, so they tried to hide Dylan in the cellar.”
Reina shut her eyes and shuddered. Of course the harpies had taken him. She could hardly believe that Dylan, a giggly boy of eight who shared pastries with everyone, was gone—forever. Her father kissed her forehead. “Praise be, you two were safe today.”
They walked back to their cottage in silence. Reina saw the inside of their home and shook her head. Furniture was smashed, food and household items tossed everywhere, and through the broken bedroom door, she glimpsed the shredded sheets and mattresses.
Her mother gave her a weak smile. “You’re safe. You and Austyn. That’s all that matters.”
Reina went to find the broom to help clean up the mess. Someone ought to do something. She looked sadly at the broken remains of her favorite vase before sweeping up the pieces. Someone ought to put an end to that accursed Red Wizard and his harpies and evil-spell creatures.
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