He did not realise that he had fallen asleep until he awoke. A heavy weight crashed into his stomach, winding him like a bad fall.
The fox from before stood on his chest. Its teeth were bared, glistening in the scattered moonlight. Its breath misted in the cold air as it growled. Its shriek, eerie and banshee-like from a distance, rattled Lan’s hearing so that he felt his face might melt.
Before he could make a move for a weapon, it sank its teeth into his shoulder and threw him to one side. He rolled in the dirt, nearly losing his sword as he went.
Pushing himself into a crawling position, he tossed his head to shake his fair hair out of his face. The fox was standing at the base of the tree, where he had lain a moment before. It crouched low to the ground, snarling. Its eyes glowed bright yellow.
Lan scrambled to his feet, drawing his sword as he did so. Torn grass fluttered from his hair to his shoulders as he faced the fox.
The glow from its eyes grew to overtake its face, then spread over its entire body. As the light grew, it began to flicker like a flame, but the opacity of the light was no more obscure than a sunbeam.
It dawned on Lan that perhaps neither he nor even Fetlock had had anything to do with the fox’s earlier aggression.
He looked about for mushroom rings and other signs of the fey folk, all the while keeping a wary eye on the glowing fox. It made no move to attack him, but its behaviour did not mellow. Lan thought of his father again, particularly the quiet man’s favourite spell. A calming spell that could win arguments and help a fussing baby to sleep.
Lan gripped his sword so tightly that he could feel his skin squeak against the leather grip. He had no spells, no proper learning. Hadn’t wanted it when he could have had it.
Something cracked under his foot. He nearly jumped–he had not realised that he had been stepping back. Instinct had pushed him away from the fox, towards higher ground.
The snap of whatever he had stepped on sent a change through the fox as well. It sat up, rearranging itself out of an attacking stance, into a pose very like a cat. The way it had sat when it had looked at him after ‘killing’ the construct. It even swayed its tail. The light continued to envelope it, but it had dimmed slightly, and flickered slowly, in time with the tail’s sway.
Lan relaxed, but only just. He pointed the tip of his sword at the fox, then moved it about, indicating the forest clearing. “This is your territory?” he asked, feeling rather foolish for speaking.
Ears erect, the fox stared straight into his eyes. He imagined it saying something to the effect of, “What do you think?”
The sword slid into its scabbard with a reluctant sound. Lan sighed, putting a hand over his heart. He’d been staring into the face of real magic, and its source was as supernatural as a dog raising its leg. He reached into his pack and took out a small portion of dried meat. “My apologies,” he said, as he tossed the meat to the fox.
It caught it in its mouth, but did not eat right away. It went on staring at him until he turned away.