In the span of time that they’d been hunting, taking on witch after witch, moving from lair to lair and anything in between, Hansel would’ve said that they’d seen it all. Or he thought they had. Until now.
A forest hut in the middle of nowhere? Not new. Sand dune in the middle of the desert? Not new. Icy cavern in a snowy wasteland? Not common, but not new. But a hut in the middle of a frozen forest with quicksand? That was new.
“Do you think she doesn’t want visitors?” The vines that hung from the trees were razor sharp icicles, the trees themselves half frozen and rotting, tilting and leaning and weaving a maze of decay and ice through the forest before the hut the witch was holed up in.
An interesting trek to say the least.
“You saying we should try another day?” Gretel harped back, same dryness, same sarcasm, same unsettled look aimed at the unpleasant mess in front of them. If it hadn’t taken them three days to get this far into the woods, she would’ve suggested they just burn the whole damn forest and call it a day.
The ice made that notion difficult, too. Also the fact that every fifty feet they had to be careful about being sucked down into the mire.
“I’m not going to miss this place when we’re done,” she sighed, pulling the crossbow down from her shoulder to hold at the ready. She didn’t step forward, though. Not yet.
“Peaceful location, interesting terrain, every season in one area. What’s not to like?” Considering the witch was responsible for four missing children in the last six months, it wasn’t like they could really just come back tomorrow. Least of all when they’d need to camp out in the middle of this hell hole anyway.
“Next time, we go for a nice damp wood.” Hansel took the first step forward, like he tended to do. It wasn’t all about recklessness, it wasn’t even about going first, it was about testing the waters, so to speak, because if he could weave it, Gretel would be fine, more than fine, and that was all that ever really mattered to Hansel.
It would be slow going, testing the ground and watching the trees and trying to not slice anything on the ice around them either. “A little bit of normalcy is nothing to be sniffed at.”
“I’ve seen you sniff at it plenty of times.” She was five steps behind him, exactly five steps, putting her boots in the tracks her brother left behind with as much balance as she could muster while keeping her aim up and ready, covering his front and every other direction.
If they could just climb the trees it’d be easier, but there was no telling which ones would hold and which would crap out and plunge them into a pointy death or sink them.
“That was before the ice forest of sinking doom.” Things had been weirder and weirder lately, like the witches were going deeper into the darkness, burrowing away deeper. But then, ever since the Blood Moon, they’d been more aware of just how vastly the witches were spread.
There was a creak over to the left, enough warning that Hansel could move to the right, slipping through some of the icicles. “I fucking hate this place.” He hated cold, he hated marshes.
“Why do you hate this place?”
That definitely wasn’t his sister’s voice. It was lyrical and soft, and too high pitched to be masculine or feminine. And it came from directly behind them.
Gretel spun in place, the filed iron tip of a pronged arrow steadied straight between the eyes of--
...a little girl?
“Where--?” The hairs on the back of her neck had shot straight up, and it wasn’t the cold. “Where the hell did you come from?”