Into the Woods

Chapter Twelve: Freedom.

Author's Note: This is the final chapter. I hope you enjoyed my first foray into original fiction territory, and I may have more stories to come.

Robert was sure he had died. All he could see around him was a white expanse, and he was aware of the sounds of shouts and screams. When the fire had belched out of the pit, he had been frozen with mindless gibbering terror, and that combined with the thought that he might never see Maeve again left him nearly catatonic. He was scrunched up against the wall, knees drawn up to his chest as he stared ahead, his eyes blank.

Down in the pit, Maeve continued to battle Azertoth. She had scored several deep hits, but she knew if she didn't end the fight soon, she would die. The fire was licking at her flesh, and she felt sick from the smell of brimstone and sulfur. As she fought, her mind was going over all the demons she had fought. How had she killed them? She knew that there had to be a way to kill Azertoth in this realm. Stabbing him in the heart had no effect, and she knew that she would run out of blood long before he did. She was about to despair when the solution came to her, and she dropped to her knees, gripping her sword tightly in readiness.

Azertoth gave a look of what might have been called pity to the young woman that was crouched in front of him, her body trembling in fatigue and pain. "You cannot hope to defeat me. But I must say, you put up a good fight. Drop your sword now, and submit to death. I will make it as painless as I can, I promise." She didn't answer or look at him, and he sighed. "Very well." He bent down to pick her up-and that was when she uncoiled like a spring and plunged her sword into his throat. He gave her a pitying look, and shook his head. "Mere steel isn't going to stop me, mortal."

Maeve gave him a grim smile. "I know. But a sword dosed with holy water, blessed by a priest, and sanctified by the Prayer of Saint Michael-that will kill you." She grinned at the look of sheer disbelief on the demon's face before decapitating him. "Now…how do I get out of here?" She walked up to the wall, running her hands across it. If she was very careful, and went slowly, she could use the depressions in the rock as hand and footholds. She jammed her sword into a spot above her head, and then started to climb. Suddenly, the room began to shake. Maeve flattened herself against the wall, scarcely daring to breathe, and that when a white light burst before her eyes, nearly blinding her. She yelped in surprise before realizing what the light was.

The souls trapped by Azertoth had been set free. She howled in triumph, and was flooded by a tide of gratitude, joy, and thanks. She smiled, and then continued to scale up the wall. It was rather slow going, and several times she nearly fell, but she kept climbing.

Jacob inched closer and closer to Robert, eyes gleaming in mad triumph as he raised the blade, prepared to plunge it into his heart. "Now, Doctor, you see the futility of opposing us. My master has killed the Hunter, and now I will kill…" he blinked at the sword that was suddenly protruding from his chest, and turned, eyes going wide in terror.

Maeve stood at the edge of the pit, covered in blood, slime, and guts. She was swaying on her feet, and she wanted nothing more than to collapse and sleep for a year. She gave Jacob a grim smile. "You were saying?"

Jacob laughed insanely and gripped the handle of the sword. "You can't destroy me like this! As long as my master lives, I am invulnerable!"

Maeve didn't say a word. Instead, she tossed something at Jacob, and he caught it on instinct, screaming in terror when he saw what it was-the head of Azertoth. Maeve walked up to him, took the sword hilt in her hands, and yanked upwards. "I win."

She stepped over the two halves of what was rapidly becoming a skeleton and knelt beside Robert. He was looking right through her, and Maeve knew she would have to resort to desperate measures. She took a deep breath, then hauled off and slapped him as hard as she could. His head rocked back, and she noted with relief that his eyes cleared up.

Robert blinked, then gave a great shudder and looked at Maeve, his eyes wide in disbelief. "Maeve?"

"You were expecting someone else?" Robert didn't say anything, and she grasped his hand. He grabbed onto her, and gaped at her.

"You…you're….alive." He gave a gasp of disbelief, then began laughing and sobbing at the same time. "You're alive." He couldn't believe it. She was real…solid…alive. Not caring that she was covered in blood and other viscera, he grabbed her shoulders and yanked her forward into a kiss that left them both breathless. "How…I thought you had died."

Maeve sighed. "I thought I was going to a couple of times. But in the end, Azertoth was just another demon. However, I do need to get these wounds tended to as soon as possible. It's a good thing my lover's a doctor."

Robert smiled, and together they stood up, Maeve leaning against him. She glanced around the room, which somehow seemed brighter. "It's over."

They walked out of the City Hall, leaning onto each other for support, and Robert was the first to realize that something significant had changed. Before, the road that supposedly led out of town had stopped at the edge of the forest. Now, it continued on. "We're not trapped anymore."

Maeve smiled, and then swayed. "Robert, I think I'm going to…"

He caught her as she fell, and then looked around, at a loss. 'How am I going to get her to my house?'

"Doctor? Do you need some help?"

He looked at Jerry in surprise. The young man was looking at him in concern, and for a moment Robert wanted to refuse, when he noticed that there was something different about him. "Yes, please."

Jerry came forward and lifted Maeve's legs. "Where are we going?"

"My office. She needs medical attention." Jerry nodded, and together they carried Maeve to Robert's house.

Jerry laid her carefully on the bed, and then turned to Robert. "If you need anything else, just ask."

Robert nodded absently, still slightly confused, and Jerry smiled and left. Robert snapped out of his thoughts and turned to Maeve. She was still unconscious, and her chest was rising and falling slowly.

He filled a basin full of warm soapy water, and then carefully removed her ruined undergarments. The sight of the myriad wounds she had suffered made his breath hitch, but he steeled himself and began to clean her up, washing away the blood and filth that covered her.

When he was done, he stitched her up, then pulled back and looked at her. She was sleeping peacefully, and he gave her a soft kiss before going into the bathroom to clean himself up. He came back and lay next to her, draping his arm carefully over her waist before drifting off to sleep.

Maeve slept for three days, her body healing from the beating it had undergone. When she opened her eyes, the first thing she saw looking back at her was a very relieved Robert. "Welcome back."

"I go somewhere?'

Robert nodded. "Very nearly, my love. You've been sleeping rather deeply, and missed all the hoopla." Maeve cocked her head in confusion, and he handed her a newspaper. The headline caught her attention, and she sat up, reading.

'TOWN REAPPERS

'The small town of Darkhallow, which had made news headlines four years ago when it suddenly seemed to vanish from the public eye, has sparked further stories by its sudden reappearance yesterday.

As readers will recall, the town, which had a bit of a reputation for being haunted, was a popular spot for tourists around Halloween. However, this all came to and end when it seemed as the town had vanished into thin air, and most were sure that Darkhallow would never be seen again.

Yesterday, a couple driving through the forest noticed that the road, which had been a dead end for years, went through the forest and into the town itself. This reporter was immediately dispatched to the scene, and through interviews with the townsfolk was able to piece together what happened. Apparently, a mysterious woman played a part.

'It was as though I had been a puppet and my strings were cut,' said Jeremy Danvers, age 30. 'I felt like myself for the first time in years. She saved our lives.'

'This young woman defeated the Mayor, and for the first time we can think for ourselves,' said Robin Clemons, a waitress at the Drop In and Eat Diner.

When this reporter tried to find out more, those he spoke to refused to say anymore. The doctor, a close mouthed man, simply said 'The lady came here, saved us, then left. That is all there is to it.'

This reporter has no doubt that this story will just be one more to add to the collection of weird tales that have come out of this strange little town in the forest.'

Maeve chuckled. "That's all there is to it, huh?"

Robert kissed her, threading his fingers through her hair. "Well, I wasn't about to give that nosy reporter the whole story. I do have some standards, you know. But there is one thing that puzzles me."

Maeve smiled, knowing what his question would be. "The mayor had to keep the townspeople from realizing that something was wrong. He used a form of mass mind control. That's why they were so indifferent to everything, and why they would obey any order he gave without question. When I killed him, the spell was broken."

"And Devon?"

"Was a golem, just as I thought. I saw the markings on his neck when he was beating me. When I decapitated him, I severed the markings, effectively killing him."

Robert nodded, and then kissed her again. "Now, one more question. Have you recovered…" Maeve wrapped her arms around him and pulled him close, kissing him fiercely. "Fully. I'll take that as a yes."

His clothing was quickly shed, and he grasped Maeve close as they made love for hours, wanting to make up for lost time. Maeve cried out in joy as he moved strongly inside her, feeling the flood of love and desire pouring from him.

After, she pressed close to him, listening to the steady beat of his heart. Tomorrow she would write to Daniel's mother and tell her about her son, but for now she was content to simply lie in her love's arms, safe and happy.

'Sometimes,' she thought before sleep claimed her, 'going off the path can lead to discovering wonders.'

THE END.