Though I do not know what providence guided us through the cursed woods, some higher power delivered Samantha and I to a smalls stream. Unlike the river, whose muddy depths had concealed the nameless terror that stole away my best friend, the stream was clear. Upon seeing the water, Samantha rushed forward and fell to the ground. She plunged her face in, slurping water to quench her thirst until she was forced to rise and gasp for air. The poor woman repeated the process several times before pausing to look around.
My own throat burned with thirst. I wanted nothing more than to fall beside her, or perhaps simply leap into the stream and roll in the water, but instead I stood over her, Club in hand, waiting and watching.
When she felt satisfied enough to look up at me, Samantha’s eyes widened in realization. “Oh,” she said. “Thank you. I did not consider watching. I was just …” As she trailed off, her eye fell with a look of shame.
“Don’t worry about it,” I said. “I would have insisted you go first anyway.”
She nodded as she rose and picked up her own club.
The water was such a blessed and soothing relief that I almost laughed after the first mouthful. While I didn’t lie on the ground that way Samantha had, I did plunge my face in so that I could drink it in as fast as possible.
A few minutes later we traded again. Whether it was because she did not feel as pressing of a need or because of the shame she had felt for making me stand guard over her, Samantha didn’t lie down to get her drink. This time, she drank from a single cupped hand, never releasing her club from the other.
This probably saved her life.
Another of the hairless rats, though smaller than its brethren, charged at us from across the stream. It darted out from beneath the brush and leapt at Samantha. Her hand was lifted ot her mouth when it came, and she let out a muffled squeak as she lifted her club.
The vermin was airborne as it crossed over the water. Fortune was the girl because its mouth wrapped around her staff, pushing the limb towards her body and knocking her backwards with its weight.
Samantha caught the free end of the stick with her raised hand and pushed back, which lifted the over-large rat away from her a bit. The thing’s claws raked the front of her, shredding her camisole and gouging at her corset. She growled at it, her face showing the strain of pushing the monster away.
Her strength was insufficient to throw the creature off of her, but it was enough to lift its head up level to my waist. I stepped into the swing and caught the loathsome beast in the ear with my swing.
The force of the strike made my hands tingle and itch. The overlarge rat rolled off of Samantha, though it never released her club. It twitched and jerked for a moment, then rolled further away from the girl. I seemed to have knocked it senseless, for it was having trouble finding its feet.
My next swing, straight down. drove the creature’s nose into the ground and shot blood out of its ears. It twitched and released its fluids, but did not rise.
I helped Samantha to her feet and looked her over. Her corset had survived, though it was now all that really covered her upper body. She was lucky that she wasn’t bleeding, though there were angry whelps crossing her bosom. I placed a finger tip just beneath the top most scratch, sliding it across down as I examined her injury. I had not considered the impropriety of it until she took my hand in hers and pulled it away.
“I think we need to leave,” she said. Her chest was heaving and her breath came in frightened gasps after the exertion of the fight. “Which way?”
“Let’s try following the stream,” I said. “Perhaps …”
My thought was interrupted by another one of the rats. It scampered out and rushed to its fallen comrade. We watched as it set to the feast that I had provided it with looks of disgust on our faces before making our silent exit.
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