Chapter 3: Going in for the kill

I woke up, breathing heavily. I seemed to be lying on a scratchy green mattress complete with the considerate touching of a sticky ginger pillow. I sat up and squinted around me. The bog was, strangely, on the other side of me now. I sat up gingerly, resting my hands on my knees; the green mattress was indeed a patch of thick grass; my head had been propped up on Hero's back. I glanced around again. Hero had got up since I woke and was yipping and howling with delight, his thick bushy tail waving gracefully in the wind. He swivelled the large black rimmed ears fitted elegantly on his head and pounced on his prey, which was quivering on the bank of the water. Taking his find in his jaws, the victorious cub sniffed the still air in case an enemy came and snatched his triumph away. I laughed noiselessly upon noticing Hero's antics, a feeling that was a welcome break from the hard-hitting stress and confusion. Seeing me properly awake, Hero bounded over to me and licked my five-fingered paws. I scratched him behind his silky ears, returning his token of affection. Slowly, I stood up, still a little shaken from passing out. As soon as I was steady on my feet, I shouted out 'Hero, you've done it! You carried me across the bog!' Except I said it in fox talk; a few yips and howls had done it. Hero gave a yap of thanks and licked me again, this time my damp face being the victim of the slobber.

Wiping my face, I began to explore the part of the forest we had landed in. I walked slowly towards a suspicious looking gnarled tree and peeped around it. Whoa. My jaw dropped; literally. Laid neatly before me was a vast clear blue lake, but where the bottom should have been was blackness. A cool breeze licked the surface, causing ripples to cascade across it. But looks didn't fool me. It was beautiful, certainly. - but deadly I knew that it had to be, the Lake of Death. The name, created centuries ago, was originally intended to ward people off, most probably to protect some kind of treasure. However, now, it was only home to the 'legendary' scarlet dagger. There's a myriad of stories surrounding it, some myths and some that hold truth. Although, all containing some level of blood and gore. No–one's dived down there in years, even when our population was large. Nothing's ever been found, which doesn't quell my dread at all.

My head started to throb. Very soon, I was going to have to dive to the very bottom of that lake to retrieve the dagger and do what I promised. But what if someone had already taken the weapon? Why was it the only dagger in known history which could totally destroy the Eagle? I wondered how I was supposed to survive under there for such a long period of time; my mother hadn't mentioned anything about breathing under water. I began gathering petals and grass and bird feathers to help me keep warm in the icy depths of the lake. Then I stood on the edge, breathing in short breaths. I supposed I would just have to hold my breath. Before my fear could cause me to hesitate, I jumped in.

The icy water rushed over my skin, sending a shiver down my spine. I ducked my head under, making my knotty curls bob up to the surface jellyfish-like. Screwing up my eyes so I could see through the strange liquid that somehow refused to collect any dirt at all, I began swimming downwards, gliding through the water like a bird. I went

Down,

Down,

Down,

until I couldn't see the surface anymore. Soon I was trapped inside the darkness of the lake. I suddenly realised that I was still holding my breath. Maybe that was why I had to retrieve the dagger and nobody else, because I was the only living person who could survive the coldness of the lake; that thought gave me hope. I sank further, scanning the area around me, sinking and scanning the area around me. There was no form of life in the lake: no plants or animals, and the clear water was free of stones. Then I noticed something glinting metres beneath me, to the left: something silvery with a pointed tip and a scarlet handle. It had to be the legendary dagger.

I quickly dived down and reached for the weapon. As I touched it, friendly warmth spread through my finger tips as though it had at last found its owner. I struggled my way back up to the surface, the dagger only weighing me down a little as I surged upwards, finally feeling the hardship of being unable to breathe. When my head finally broke out of the water, I bent my bruised arms and pushed myself headfirst onto the dewy grass, the dagger clutched in my left hand. Hero, peering at my face, dragged me into the sunlight so that my dripping clothes could dry. He eyed the dagger suspiciously – sniffed it – then his mouth curved upward in a big fox grin. I collapsed against him, my head spinning. Now all I had to do was kill the Eagle. But where was it?

All of a sudden I heard a birdlike sound overhead; I looked up and there it was, the Giant Eagle, soaring through the open, cloud strewn sky. It must've sensed the disruption of the dagger. Hearing my sharp breaths it spotted me and swooped down, ready to finish off what it thought was the last member of the fox clan. I drew out the dagger from my belt, making a silent prayer, vowing to fight for my people - for the living and the dead - for Ma, for Fa and for Hawthorn. The Eagle made its first move, knocking me flying with a single swipe of its wing. I used my clammy hands to push myself up onto my remaining good foot, returning to the battle limping, unable to walk on my twisted ankle. I swung the dagger at one of the Eagle's bright golden wings, drenching the feathers in scarlet. In anger, the Giant Eagle's chestnut beak drilled into my shaking shoulder, causing a similar liquid to pour out of it. My face twisted in agony and I threw the dagger at my enemy's head. The Eagle made to fly away but its injured wing caused its movements to be slow and jerky. The shining blade sank deep into the Eagle's tough skin beneath a multitude of feathers and pierced its evil, beating heart. Too exhausted to even think, I collapsed in a heap on the grassy floor. After that was only silence.