(A/N: ah! its a short story I wrote, rather nice I think, a fantasy and all. you can think what you want of the ending, I left it as it is for a reason. read it, I shant say more.

~Anarane Gilraen =^_^= )

The Woods

A cool evening it was, the sun heading for the horizon, though a very few hours of light were left, as I rode toward my destination. The cold nights of winter were upon us, the trees now bare of their foliage, the creatures of the wild woods venturing out only on the fair days such as this. A day it was for strange events, though I do not know for what reason I encountered them.

Ice tinkled as it fell from the bare branches and the sound of my horse's hooves was muffled by the fallen leaves, filling the woods with an eerie silence. The gray trunks sprang from the loam, soaring into the silvery blue sky where they split into a maze of branches.

A cold breeze found its way among the trees, making me hunch my shoulders, tugging the collar of my coat higher up. My mount perked his ears and stepped a little faster, his easy jog taking on more spring. I let him move on, just as eager to reach the end of our long ride as he was. Ahead the seldom traveled path disappeared around a bend, calling us onward, toward our destination. We reached the bend and Gan tensed, his head up and his steady gait faltering. Thinking nothing of it, I urged him on and trusting my judgement, he obeyed.

As we rounded the bend, I could have sworn there was only one path, but my vision blurred at the same time Gan spooked. By the time I got him settled again, the trail was no longer blurry and I thought I must have been mistaken, for there were two paths. One forked to the right, the other disappearing to the left.

I reined Gan in, resting my hand on his neck, reins slacked, and contemplated the paths. They were both alike, though only one could be correct. "Hmm . . . " I muttered, speaking aloud. "What road is the one we need, hmm, Gan?" My horse did not reply, but he was listening to something down the path to the right. I thought a moment more, considering the direction we needed to go and chose that path that so interested my mount. It looked to travel nearly the correct direction, and so offered its self as the best option.

I clucked to Gan and he stepped out a bit warily, though I accounted it to his just having spooked. Down this path we traveled for some time, seeing not a bird or beast or any sign of any other passer-byers. Though I was relaxed, Gan seemed anxious, tugging at the bit and stepping quickly through the dead leaves and what little snow that had found its way through the thick branches overhead. It became darker as we moved along, the trees growing closer together and the undergrowth thicker. Gan finally broke into a canter, tensing at every shadow, his growing nervousness finally started to alarm me, not helped by the silent, gloomy woods. I looked down, checking the turf to make sure he didn't go off in a hole, and when I looked up we were bearing down on some thing in the road.

To me it looked like a moss-covered tree that had lost its limbs, and I intended to just ride around it, however when we reached it, I let out a scream of surprise and a little of horror. The tree was not a tree, but a person. I was so shocked I set back sharply on the bridle reins, throwing my mount back on his haunches.

The person turned to face us, but it had no face, smooth bark-like skin covered where a face should have been. A cold wind rushed down the path, blasting me in the face, and it was if the last rays of the sun had suddenly been blotted out as a damp fog started crawling across the ground.

The figure held out its hands, reaching for my horse's bridle. Gan squealed and struck out, bolting past the sector to carry me down the trail, deeper into the woods. The fog thickened as I clutched at Gan's mane, frozen with some fear I could not over come. Finally he slowed to a trot, bouncing me out of the trance I had fallen under. As I came to my senses, a deep fear filled me, each shadow and moving branch made me jump and the feeling grew until I could stand it no longer.

My hands clutching the reins, I hunched over Gan's withers, urging him on. He broke into a gallop, his speed increasing with each stride, the fear driving him on, as it did me. He plunged onward, the fog swirling around us. As the fog parted some dark thing appeared, blocking our path. With a startled yell I yanked the reins to one side, sending our reckless charge into the woods and not really seeing what had blocked our path.

Twisting and cutting around trees, leaping over the underbrush I clutched Gan's mane, tree branches lashing at me. He gave a great leap, going over a high bush into a solid wall of fog. Before I could think, a low hanging tree branch caught me across the chest.

I hit the ground, and my breath was knocked completely out of me. I tried to yell for Gan, but I couldn't get the breath. I heard him squeal, then nicker and I scrambled to my feet, blinded by the thick fog. Ice fell out of the tree above me and landed on me, making me jump. Sucking deep breaths I finally managed to call out, my voice muted by the fog. Gan nickered in reply and I moved toward where I though he was. The mist swirled and a cold, wet breeze pushed it back. Gan stood, shivering and wild-eyed, not more than eight or nine feet away. Seeing me he moved my way and I rushed to him, wrapping my arms around his sweaty neck. I shivered from the cold and guilt started to tug at me. His flanks were heaving and salty sweat dripped from him.

Gathering my reins I swung back on and let him pick the direction, he knew better than me where we were. He moved out in the fog and as the breeze started to push a little of the mists back, I decided we must have been in a clearing of some kind. Ears perked, Gan walked on, careful of where he stepped. Beneath his hooves the snow was drifted, making me even more sure of our being in a clearing.

Gan head came up, as if coming upon another horse. To my shock there was a horse and rider traveling in front of us. The rider was clad all in gray and his horse was also gray, they blended perfectly with the fog. I urged Gan forward and as we came closer other riders began to appear around us. They did not speak to me, though I tried to get them too, I stopped speaking almost instantly. Words were not welcome, and though no one ever even looked at me, I knew.

Suddenly and without cue or word every rider halted, unmoving and silent. Slowly the fog in front of us rolled aside, revealing a gently sloping clearing that lead up to a dark wall of trees. The covering of white snow shone in the light of a very few stars that dared to shine through the mists. Even though the path before us was clear of fog, it still surrounded us and for some reason I felt safer for it. In my gut I could sense a growing darkness before us, making my insides clutch with the same fear as before.

A wind, sudden, cold and from the opposite direction as the breeze had been, blasted me in the face, making me sway in the saddle. Beneath me Gan shivered, tensing, head coming up, yet not a single horse or rider around me moved. The tree line ahead blurred, like the trail had before, and when it became clear again there stood hundreds of the treelike people as I had run from. One stepped away from the others and raised its arm to point at me.

With a definitive movement one of the riders moved in front of me, throwing back his gray cloak and drawing a broad sword. The tree man made a sound like an angry bear and they started to advance, raising great clubs and weapons of wood.

With a resounding ring the riders drew their swords, their horses suddenly alive and eager. One of the riders halted his mount by mine, and they stood unmoving as the other advanced to meet the faceless tree people.

I looked over at him and asked, "What is happening?"

He turned to me and pushed his hood back, "This is the night of the Druids. They want to take humans into their ranks."

The way he said it made me shiver, there was a tone of warning that went right to my heart. He turned away, looking back to the riders and druids before us. They came together with a clash on the snows, swords slashing, clubs pounding. The druids started throwing shadowy balls that hit like cannon blasts, throwing horses and riders hundreds of feet at a time. To my shock the riders returned fire with arrows that were made of flames, engulfing the Druids they hit in flames.

I turned to the rider beside me, "Who are you?"

"We," he said, "are the Guardians."

I stared at him, but that was all the explaining I was going to get. I looked back to the battle, a druid was trying to escape the riders and reach us.

"Come, stay beside me." Said the rider and he sent his horse off at a gallop.

Following his orders I sent Gan off, keeping up with the rider. He headed right for the fight and I though for sure we would not make it though, but amazingly a path cleared before us. Before I knew it, we were out of the fight and into the woods again. The fog was gone, leaving our path clear before our horses. We continued to ride at an easy canter, the rider with his sword in one hand, reins in the other. We had not gone far when I thought I saw movement in the trees, but when I looked there was nothing but shadows and ice.

Gan started and at the same instant a shadowy figure leapt at me. With a yell the rider swung his sword in an arc and I ducked. The sword sung though the icy cold air, slicing into the shadow. It fell to the ground and I started to rein Gan in, but the rider urged me on.

"Do not stop. They are coming for you."

I saw another shadow flit through the trees and needed no other encouragements, a fear was trying to take me again. I bent over Gan's withers, urging him faster. The rider kept pace with us, and then he was gone just like that. Startled I reined up to see what had happened. A gray fog was starting to form again, surrounding me. Just as I opened my mouth to call out, I heard him speak.

"I am here, do not stop, ride on."

"Where are you?" I called, letting Gan start again.

"With you." Was the only reply.

Still somewhat confused, I rode on as calmly as I could with fear growing in my stomach. A shadow flitted by and spooked both Gan and myself. With fear clutching my insides once again, I sent him off at a gallop. Ahead, between the trees I could see moonlight glimmering on the snows, the path appeared beneath Gan's pounding hooves.

Freedom was before me when a shadow stepped into the center of the path. I reined in so hard, Gan sat back on his haunches, front hooves striking the air. Gan shrank from the Druid, rolling his eyes and snorting.

Just as the thought of sure death filled my mind, the mists condensed and the rider and his horse stood between me and the druid. Startled the druid paused just long enough for the rider to sweep his shining sword through the druid's middle. With a creaking wail the druid disappeared.

"It is not far now." Said the rider as he led off again at a canter.

We burst out of the shadow of the trees into the silvery light of a full moon, ahead the lights of a village could be seen. I turned to the rider and he was not there, but I had no fear. Calmly I let Gan continue toward the lights, and eager he was. Tugging at the bit, his ears perked, anticipating what lay ahead.

That happened many years ago. Sense then I have moved to that village, in a house not far from the woods. I ride there often, though I have never been chased by the druids again. Only on the full moon do they come out, and each full moon I saddle Gan and we ride in the woods, always accompanied by a fog, and often by that rider that killed the druid. He is the only one of the Guardians that I have seen sense the battle.

I do not know why it happened, and I doubt I ever will, but I will always return to those woods. They have become a part of me.