Chapter 27: Escape
Corrie froze. The eyes were small, yellow, and animal-like. She didn’t recognize them, and she couldn’t see anything else; just leaves, all around. With a start, she realized that the rest of the tree was much more bare. Whatever she was looking at was covered in leaves. Hope rising in her thoughts, she took a step forward. Could it be Ever?
Her hopes were dashed when the creature jumped down from the tree. It didn’t look anything like Ever had without her glamour, except for the leaves. This creature looked like a jumble of different leaves and branches, with a gaping mouth. It hissed at her. She took a step back. What was it doing?
Suddenly it lunged toward her, leaping and reaching with twiggy appendages. She leapt to the side, saved only by reflexes and adrenaline. Now that it was moving she recognized it. It was the creature that had held Edie in place. They’d seen it before, too. It was a servant of some kind. The servant of the court faeries.
The last thing it was going to do was help her. It probably hated her. In fact, as it hissed at her again, its voice a mixture of wind and cracking twigs, she knew it did. And she couldn’t fight it—at least, she was pretty sure it was a bad idea, with nothing but a clover and her keys, in the dark, with no friends, in the faeries’ territory. She had to get away.
The thought had barely formed in her mind before she began to run. She thought she heard something crashing through the brush behind her, but it could have just been her own incautious footsteps, as she ran as fast as she could. She held her arms in front of her face, using her jacket to protect herself from branches whipping her. After a minute she realized she had no idea if she was running in the right direction. But then there was a squeal behind her, like branches scraping together, and she just kept running, keeping her eyes out for any light ahead. At least she knew for sure she was running away from the dance.
Then she saw lights up ahead. She would have sped up her pace if she could have, but without seeing the ground under her feet she couldn’t. Still, it gave her hope. Then there was a rise in the ground that she didn’t see in time. She tripped over it and rolled to the ground.
She was breathing hard, but she still managed to get to her feet quickly and look around. She had fallen a couple of feet down a grassy slope, and now was at the bottom of it. She was bruised and damp, but she hadn’t fallen very far. She looked up, confused. The lights she had seen were street lamps. She had gone in a wrong direction and ended up by the side of the road.
A rustle in the trees made her glance back nervously. She might be near civilization but she didn’t think she had completely escaped the faerie creature. And walking along the side of a highway, even a fairly deserted one, wasn’t safe. She looked quickly in both directions, up and down the road.
There were clusters of lights both ways, on the far side of the highway. They were too far away to really tell what they were. She inched toward the shoulder of the road, trying to figure out which way campus was, before she realized she was being an idiot. She and her friends had explored the northern end of campus fairly extensively when they’d come across that abandoned building where Leila and Edie had been. There was nothing else in that direction but forest. The only way she could have reached a highway this quickly was if it was the one that ran in front of campus.
Veins still humming with adrenaline, she turned right and began to run. It was muddy here in the gutter, so her speed wasn’t much better than when she was in the forest, the wetness sucking at her sneakers. At least she could see. After a moment the lights started to come closer, and she could make out windows and streetlamps in the little town of West Ashburn. Finally, she allowed herself to slow to a jog and look behind her. As far as she could tell, nothing was following her. The gutter was empty.
She breathed a sigh of relief as she came within sight of the Chatoyant College gates. She didn’t know for sure what they were made of, but they looked like pure wrought iron. She walked up to them and clutched them closely, leaning against them with relief. They might not be much protection, but they were there for a reason. Now she just had to get on the other side of them without running in to faeries again.
She started to walk up to the gate and realized she was out with only her keys and clover. She didn’t have her ID.