It was easy to understand why the Crossover had got its name. The boundary: the line dividing the Ereban forest from the other lands, is like comparing day to night. The dark shadow of the trees falls across the road, and not even the air vents cast any light into that dark place. Hack stopped and listened for a moment. There was nothing other than the sound of birds and the rustling in the bushes, as creatures foraged for food. Still, he could not afford to take a chance, so he moved on tip toe, wincing as his shoes made small crunching noises. A shadow fell across his path and blocked the light. Two enormous paws appeared, and he traced the shape upwards until he came face to face with blazing, red eyes. Beast and dwarf stood face to face for a moment until Hack sighed and said.
“I am here on the king’s business, so you must let me pass.”
The fairy dog moved its giant head from side to side studying the small figure before him and gnashed its pointed teeth. It growled and shook its head. The dogs are the only creatures in the hidden world that have no voice. A smack from the dog’s paw sent him sprawling down on to the ground, and it was this same paw that held him in place. Other large shapes moved around him, and he heard the growls of the other dogs. I know what they are doing, Hack thought, they are sending word to Lord Fabien to see if what I said is true.
“Listen,” Hack gasped when the others had run off. “I am finding it hard to breath with your paw on my chest. Let me up. I promise not to move.”
The dog’s face descended until he was staring into the red eyes again, but the pressure on his chest lifted. Hack stood and shook the dust from his tabard.
“There was no need for that,” his said, as he felt along his ribs and glared at the dog.
It growled and went back to its grooming, all the while keeping an eye on the dwarf. Despite its great size, Hack mused, it is still a dog.
Hack let his eyes roam along the hedgerows. The dog cocked his ears, as he saw the dwarf pick up a stick from out of a tangle of branches. Its interest was piqued now, and it watched as the dwarf stripped away some of the dead leaves.
“It is a nice stick, is it not?” Hack made a move, pretending to throw, and the dog arched its back ready to follow.
. Hack stood up on his toes and threw as hard as his small arms allowed. The stick sailed over the hedges and the shape of the fairy dog passed over his head, like as dark cloud as it followed. Hack ran, his feet hardly touching the ground, as he headed for the forest. The ground shook as the dog, realising he had been duped, took off after him.
“Not so big now, are you doggie?” He laughed from the shadow of the trees. “Wait until all your furry friends hear how the big fairy dog was outwitted by a dwarf.”
Hack knew the dog could not cross over the boundary, not unless ordered to do so by its master.
“That is right,” Hack said, as the hair on the dog’s back rose. “Growl all you want. See if I care.”
The Ereban forest is a dark and fearsome place and though Hack knew this, the need to prove himself overcame his fear. No one understood what it was like to be a dwarf in a world of elves and fairies. The elves are known for their beauty and magic. The fairies, whose colours glistened brighter than jewels, make him feel like nothing special. They would have to sit up and take notice when he solved the mystery of the princess and Lord Sabba.
The fairy dog started to bark; the sound resounding like the clanging of hundreds of church bells.
“Stop it, stupid dog,” Hack shouted, but his voice went unheard above the noise of the barking.
The sound made his head swim and the ground went from beneath him. He opened his eyes as the trees swept past him in a dark flash. He blinked and tried to struggle free from whatever held him. A resounding slap on the top of his head stunned him.
“Stay still, dwarf,” the voice rumbled like thunder.
Hack felt tears prick his eyes, and he shook his head to clear his vision. He was carried through the trees; his body dangling under the arm of an Ereban. His captor picked him up from behind, so Hack was lying sideways and able to see around him, as they moved deeper into the forest.
“Please…” his plea earned him another slap on the head, and he thought it wiser to keep quiet.
He had never seen an Ereban up close before. In the past, their dark shapes were the things children whispered about, but no one ever expected to see one, except in a nightmare. The arm around his waist was hard, as though made solely of bone. The stench from its body was nauseating. It smelt sickly-sweet like fresh cut earth or blood. No, worse, Hack thought, it smells of decay. It moved quickly, the weight of its burden did nothing to slow it down.
They crossed large streams, the Ereban leaping from stone to stone. Hack saw the hideous shapes that sat along the banks. Women, or things that might once have been so, clambered from the water to get a better look. Their bodies wasted to the point of emaciation, ribs sticking through skin that seemed too thin to hold back the bones advance. All had long, white hair that grew in a tangle of confusion and when they noticed his searching eyes, they used this to cover their nakedness. Their faces were long, the mouth and nose quite normal, but the eyes were the most terrifying. They were oblong and covered over two thirds of the face. Hack felt his resolve falter as he saw reflected in each of the huge orbs a hopelessness he could never have imagined. He knew he was witnessing what the mortals spoke of as Hell.