Deltora Quest #1: The Forests of Silence

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Authors: Emily Rodda
one, and for a long time now he had been concentrating only on moving quickly, keeping up with Barda’s long strides. He was determined not to be the one to call for rest. Determined, too, not to be the first to speak, though his head was teeming with questions.
    They came to a place where a small road branched off the main one to the right, crossing a little wooden bridge and then winding away into the darkness. Barda stopped.
    “I believe that this is the path to Wenn Del — and the shortest way to the Forests,” he said. “The turning fits the description I was given. But there should be a signpost, and there is none.”
    Tall trees rose around them, but no leaves rustled. The silence was heavy and complete. It was as if the land was holding its breath, waiting for them to decide what to do.
    The clouds parted for a moment, and the moon’s ghostly light beamed down on them. Looking around, Lief saw a tiny glimmer of white on the ground by the side of the road. He moved to it quickly, knelt down, then beckoned to Barda.
    “It is here,” he called excitedly, scrabbling among the dead leaves. “Someone has pushed it over, to keep the way secret.”
    The signpost lay flat on the ground, almost covered by leaves and small plants. Lief brushed away the last of the leaves, then sat back on his heels with a gasp as he saw what was underneath.

    “Someone has tried to warn other travelers of danger along this path. No doubt the sign was not pushed over to hide the way, but to hide the warning,” Barda muttered.
    Lief stood up slowly, glancing behind him. Suddenly the silence seemed thick and heavy, pressing in on him.
    He became aware that his companion was watching him, frowning. “This path will save us a day and a half, if we take it,” Barda said. “But perhaps I should not lead you into certain peril when we have just begun.”
    All at once, Lief was very angry. With Barda for seeing his fear, with himself for showing that fear, and,most of all, with the unknown enemy who had so craftily hidden the warning sign.
    “You do not have to guard my safety any longer, Barda,” he said loudly, kicking at the dead leaves. “A short cut is too precious to waste. We are prepared for trouble, now. We will watch for danger as we go.”
    “Very well,” said Barda, turning away. “As you wish.” His voice was as calm and level as always. Lief could not tell if he was pleased or sorry.
    They turned to the right, crossed the little bridge, and went on. The road twisted, narrowed, and became darker. Tall, thick bushes lined it on both sides. Their leaves were large, smooth, and stiff, with strange, pale veins showing almost white against the dark green.
    They had not gone far before the back of Lief’s neck began to prickle. He turned his head slightly and, from the corner of his eye, caught a glimpse of something gleaming through the leaves. It was a pair of red eyes, glinting in the moonlight. Controlling his urge to shout, he touched Barda’s arm.
    “I see them,” Barda muttered. “Draw your sword, but keep walking. Look to the front. Be ready.”
    Lief did as he was told, his whole body tingling with alarm. He saw another pair of eyes, and another. And soon it seemed that the whole path was lined with burning points of light. But still there was no sound.
    He gritted his teeth. The hand that held the sword was slippery with sweat. “What are they? What are they waiting for?” he hissed to Barda.
    As he spoke something skittered across the road behind him. He swung around just in time to see a creature disappearing into the bushes — a bent, pale, scuttling thing that seemed all legs and arms. His skin crawled.
    “Look ahead!” hissed Barda, furiously dragging on his arm to make him move again. “Didn’t I tell you —”
    And then the humming began.
    The sound was soft, at first. It came from all around them, filling the air — a high, whining hum, as if a great swarm of flying insects had suddenly invaded

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