Watch (Monster Hunters short ii)
The night was an uneasy one. Beatrix didn’t need Jasper awake and casting one of his divining spells to know that. Around them the trees murmured in creaks and rustles, and the moon was full. It didn’t take much imagination to expect the worst.
She stood up and prowled around the campsite to check the protective circle of silversalt, a carefully measured blend of silver flakes, powdered aconitum, fine sea salt, and ground cacao. Along the way she paused by the banked cookfire and inspected her companion’s discarded drinking tin. Yes, just as she’d thought. As soon as she’d announced that there wasn’t enough cacao left for another circle, Jasper had gotten into it and added it to his cup. Fine brown dregs had dried into a ring on the inside bottom of the tin, and she could smell it. Damn, had he found the time to make the almond milk for a hot chocolate without her noticing, or had he nicked it from the last town they’d passed through?
Without the supplies to make another circle it had to hold. The salt formed the anchor for the protection spell against nightghasts, but weres — wolves or otherwise — couldn’t be kept out by magic. This was the last truly safe camp they could make before happening on a town with a decent trade market.
Beatrix circled again and again, checking to make sure the circle was unbroken. She always felt restless at this point of the lunar cycle and it gave her something to do during her habitual insomnia.
On the seventh pass, she stopped at the side of the clearing where the surrounding trees and underbrush were thickest. She saw no movement, heard nothing besides the rustle of leaves and branches in the wind, but she felt as though she was being watched. There were no light sources in the camp and her eyes were well-adjusted to the dark, but the clearing was a moon-drenched dark, not the deep dark of the forest that encircled them. Instinct, though, told her something was there.
As Beatrix stared intently into the gloom and failed to remember seeing that many saplings in the forest before the sun had set, she reached into her pocket and pulled out the first object with a decent heft to it. Without looking away she tossed it in Jasper’s direction and heard the satisfying thunk of a pocketwatch hitting his big dumb hot chocolate drinking head.
She heard a quiet rush of muffled cursing, but they were well versed in this: if the lookout woke you up in the dark, you kept quiet because it meant company. As professional monster hunters, company in the middle of the night wasn’t good.
In the darkness beneath the canopy, the forest began to move.