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They walked through the rest of the unnaturally short night without resting, and without any sign of pursuit. When morning came, Dee was starving and exhausted. The Scarecrow led them to a small creek, where they had their fill of water. He was about to continue on, when Dee protested.
"Hey! Tired and hungry over here! Do we really need to keep moving right now?"
Her guide and protector glanced back at her, and then held up his hand for her to be quiet. He listened for a long moment, then motioned to a nearby tree and started off in a different direction while Dee sat. He returned a short while later with a handful of pale berries that had a disturbing resemblance to miniature eyeballs. They tasted like overly-sweetened candy.
Treach wasn't interested, but Dee ate them all while the Scarecrow washed the blood from his skin and clothes. The cuts and wounds he'd received in last night's battle were already healing.
"Are we out of your people's territory?"
"You don't seem too happy about that."
He gestured something. Dee shook her head in exasperation. She was too tired to play charades. She decided to ask a simpler question.
"How may days to Mazoz?"
The Scarecrow thought for a moment, then held up two fingers.
"That's not bad. Are you.... can you last that long?"
He nodded. Dee wondered if he was telling the truth. She was still wondering when Treach got to his feet beside her and gave a single soft bark.
The Scarecrow froze. Dee looked around, but didn't see, hear, or smell anything that she hadn't been seeing, hearing, and smelling the whole time. They were deep in the woods, surrounded by constant sound and movement. Birds, large insects and small animals made no secret of their presence. There was no change now. A large bird flew overhead and vanished into the trees to Dee's right.
When she sought out the Scarecrow again, she saw him moving through the trees in the direction Treach had barked. The same direction that the bird had flown.
"Hold on." Dee got to her feet and followed, ignoring his gesture of protest. Treach gave another soft bark and trotted past both of them, leading the way. The Scarecrow shook his head, sighed, and continued on, now making less effort to be stealthy.
A few seconds later they came to an open spot in the woods. It wasn't exactly a clearing. The space had been dominated by three large trees, two of which had fallen. The rotting, moss-covered trunks formed a large 'V', which had filled in with weeds and large toadstools nourished by the decaying wood. The remaining tree loomed at the apex of the V, casting everything beneath it in a shadow that would prevent larger plants from growing.
A man hung upside-down from one of the lower branches.
"Again!?" Dee sighed. "What is it with you people and hanging?"
"Who's there?" the man in the net spoke. He was facing away from them. The net twisted back and forth, but not far enough for him to see them.
"Are you okay?" Dee called.
"I'm upside-down. In a net."
The man didn't sound worried or frightened. His voice carried more annoyance than anything else. Annoyance and disappointment, as if being caught in a net was a mere inconvenience that had made him late for something important.
"Hold on," said Dee. She started forward, but the Scarecrow's arm blocked her path. She stepped back, and they both examined the scene.
The man was caught in a trap, suspended in a tight net made of thick, coarse rope. Dee followed the rope up to the point where it looped over a thick tree branch.
There was a bird perched beside the rope. It looked like a hawk, but it was huge. Dee didn't know how big hawks got normally, but this thing was larger than Treach. If it decided to attack them-
The hawk opened it beak and made a loud, shrill sound... like a cross between a whistle and nails on a blackboard. Through a megaphone. It dropped from the tree and spread its wings. It sailed past Dee and the Scarecrow, then arced upward over the surrounding trees and out of the clearing.
"Whoever you are," said the man in the net. "Now would be a good time to leave."
"We'll cut you down-" Dee started forward again. Again, the Scarecrow stopped her. "What!? The bird's gone!"
"That won't be necessary. Someone will be along to cut me down any minute now. You don't want to be here when they do. If you leave now they'll be too busy with me to chase you. Hopefully."
"OR we could cut you down and we can all leave together. How's that sound?"
"That's a TERRIBLE idea! Really, it is!"
Dee darted around the Scarecrow and found the end of the rope. She started cutting it. The rough strands yielded easily to her knife. But the time she was halfway through, the Scarecrow was beside her. He grabbed the rope, and together they gently lowered the suspended man to the ground. Dee ran over to him and began to cut him free.
The man looked up at her through the holes in the net. His dark brown eyes regarded her with... pity?
"This really is a bad idea, you know," he said.
"Why?" she said. The Scarecrow joined her in cutting the net loose.
"Because the kind of people who would help a stranger don't deserve to die the way you're about to."
"Huh? What's that mean?"
"Oh, NOW you come to your senses!? Don't bother running now; it's already too late."
Treach started barking. It wasn't a low huff of warning, but the deep resounding growl that usually preceded someone's throat being ripped out.
The Scarecrow stood, knife in hand. He looked one way... then the other... then behind him. He didn't move.
"Surrounded," said the man in the net. "Now do you believe me?"
A low, dark shape slinked into the clearing, separating itself from the darkness and fixing them with yellow eyes.
It was a panther. A panther the size of a bear.
A second later, and ACTUAL bear appeared, pushing through several saplings and trampling them as it approached. Dee didn't know how big bears were supposed to be, but this one was the size of a small car. And it looked hungry. On the opposite side of the clearing, another shape slipped out of the woods... this one, a large brown wolf. It bared its fangs and growled at them.
"Told you so," said the man in the net.