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The 'clearing' was a wide, empty area nestled between the end of the field of crops and what looked like the edge of a forest. The Golden Road formed the third side of the irregular shape. It occurred to Dee that the place probably had some purpose. There was some grass, but it was mostly just sparse patches dotting the well-packed dirt. Was there a camp here at some point? Dee couldn't tell, but FELT like there should have been people there. In addition to the strengthening scent of food roasting somewhere nearby, Dee smelled animals. Horses or cows, perhaps... or whatever passed for horses and cows in this place. But she didn't hear anything, and if there was something to see, the rapidly fading light hid it quite well.
Treach sniffed everything, but then, he always did. He wandered in several directions, always staying close to Dee as he searched for whatever it was that tickled his nose. He didn't find it.
The far side the clearing was much narrower than the front, and when Dee reached it she found the path that she'd glimpsed form the road. It disappeared into the trees, but the scent of roasting meat was much stronger. She followed it.
The path wasn't as ominous as she'd feared it would be. The trees never quite closed in around her, and she saw the second clearing ahead long before she actually reached it. Burning wood joined the smell of food, replacing the animal scent entirely. She saw light. A camp?
"Hello?" She called, not wanting to stumble into someone's camp unannounced. Her hand went to the knife at her belt... and she slid it further back, so that it wouldn't be immediately visible. The sight of it had caused men to attack her last time. She didn't know what it was with these people and knives, but-
-she needn't have worried. The camp was deserted.
A modest flame crackled in a small, shallow pit ringed with stones. A cooking apparatus was arranged over the fire. Three small shapes were impaled on a spit over the flames. They were the size of rabbits, but they looked more like miniature deer. They smelled like chicken.
Dee's stomach growled noisily. She wasn't starving, but here diet of rationed energy bars wasn't exactly filling.
She approached the fire, looking around for any signs of who'd made it.
"Hello?" She called, a bit louder.
There was no reply. Nothing moved except her, Treach, and the dancing shadows cast by the fire.
Treach sniffed around the edge of the fire pit, then started lapping at something.
"What'd you find, boy?"
The trunk of a large fallen tree lay on the far side of the campfire; the perfect place to sit and eat or stay warm. In front of the log, Treach had found a shallow metal bowl filled with water. He drank noisily.
Dee frowned.... not at Treach or the bowl, but at the dented metal bucket a few feet away. It too, was filled with water. The small metal cup beside it was empty.
"O-kayy..." Dee looked around again. "Food? Water? Just sitting here waiting for us? Mama didn't raise no fools... who's out there?"
Somewhere in the surrounding woods, a twig snapped.
It was a loud, obvious sound. She was meant to hear it.
Treach stopped drinking and raised his head. He sniffed in the direction of the noise, but didn't growl or move. He just watched.
A few seconds later, a shape slid out of the darkness.
The scarecrow was wearing one of the soldier's coats. Dee didn't bother wondering where he'd gotten it. He had a new shirt, pants, and boots as well. A patch of blood stained the edge of the shirt. It drew Dee's attention to the knife that hung from his belt nearby.
Correction: Knives. Three on his left hip. A forth and fifth strapped to his thighs. A sixth jutting from a special sheath built onto his boot. And those were just the ones she could see. There was no way to tell how many he had tucked away under that coat. But his hands were empty, and they remained empty as he approached.
"Whoooaaa...." Dee held up one hand, and the man stopped. His expression was hard to read, but it wasn't angry. And it wasn't that murderous smile he'd had when he'd killed the soldiers, either. He just looked at her. She looked back.
The scarecrow nodded at the campfire, but didn't make a move.
"You do all that?" Dee asked.
He nodded again.
"A boy scout AND a serial killer. Lucky me."
The man frowned, confused.
"Boy scout? You... I guess you don't have those here, right? I see you found some clothes."
He glanced down at his new garments and smirked.
"How many people you kill for those?"
The smirk vanished.
"I saw some of your handiwork earlier. Nice of you to clean up after yourself, at least."
"So what am I supposed to do here?" Dee continued. "Have a nice meal and catch a nap while a crazy guy with a knife fetish keeps watch? I don't even know your name, but I DO know you kill people. And it looks like you're VERY good at it. Clearly there's more than a bit of... pride... in your work, as well. So you'll excuse me if I'm not feeling the warm and cozy here. Treach!"
Treach had been standing over the water bowl, watching the exchange. His attention shifted to Dee.
"We're leaving. Come on."
The dog looked at her... then sat down.
"Oh, for... COME ON, dog!"
Dee's shout made the scarecrow frown. He looked around, eyes darting along the perimeter of the clearing before coming back to Dee.
Treach didn't move.
The scarecrow pointed at the log, pantomimed eating, then flicked his hand toward the woods behind Dee.
"Eat before I go?" Dee interpreted. "How do I know you didn't poison the food?"
This time, the scarecrow sighed. He made a frustrated grunt, then turned on his heels and stormed away, clearly insulted.
"Hey!" Dee called.
He slipped back into the darkness.
"Sorry?" Dee said softly... not quite certain whether she WAS sorry or not. Maybe. Probably.
Dee glanced back at the campfire. Treach was cautiously sniffing the roasting animals.
"That does smell good, doesn't it?"
Treach sneezed on one of the deer-things.
"-and THAT one is yours."