He paused, long fingers drumming on the shaft of his bow. The silence of the forest greeted him—that silence that never was. Shrieks of birds, buzzes of bugs, the crunch of something moving in the windblown trees nearby.
Maybe he imagined it.
Then it came again, dispelling that thought, and he jumped over the fallen log, long legs carrying him through the forest.
A scream. Desperate. Filled with terror—and maybe something else that he couldn’t quite put his finger on.
Bursting through a thicket, an arrow already nocked on his bow, he dropped to one knee, ready to fire—and froze at the sight before him.
In a large, open glade, a mud puddle seemed to be… consuming a young man.
He paused, staring, then fired the arrow. The young man shrieked again, thrashing so huge, thick gobbets of slime flung out of the mud pond and splattered on the grass and bushes. The fletching of the arrow was just visible in the muck, slowly being sucked in with a wet slurp.
Abandoning his bow as a lost cause, he ran over to the edge of the pond of slime and stretched out one arm. “Grab my hand!”
The young man—so liberally covered in goop that he couldn’t even tell what colour his hair was—managed to extricated one arm and reached, fingers trembling.
The mud pulled him in further, grunting and glugging.
Their fingertips grazed each other, then he caught hold and yanked. With a tremendous grunt, he dug in his heels and pulled, gripping the young man’s wrist with both hands. The slime was powerfully strong and seemed reluctant to release its victim, but after several minutes of vein-popping struggle, it relinquished the boy and sent him flying out of the pond. He landed with a thud, and they collapsed together, panting and soaked.
Leto blinked and looked down at the muddy man sprawled atop him. “You aren’t wearing any pants,” he said, surprised.
In the few spots not drenched with mud, the man’s skin flushed deep, violent scarlet. “Crumpets,” he mumbled, burying his head in shame.
Ignoring it, Leto lifted his head and frowned at the pond, burbling in quiet menace. “What was that thing?” he asked, wiping sludge from his lip.
The man scrubbed his face with a mortified groan and rolled off Leto to slump in the long grass, revealing fine blonde hair and embarrassed green eyes. “You wouldn’t believe me even if I told you.”