The stream wouldn’t let him pass.
I stood off to one side, knife in hand, and I watched the man try to cross the stream.
Each time he stepped off the bank and into the water, the stream took hold of his foot and pushed him back. I could see the rising panic on his face, smell his fear mingled with the cool, calm scent of freshwater.
Among the twisting current of the stream, I could see them. Dryads laughing and toying with the man.
He was one of those I was hunting, and while normally I took no joy in the way the dryads toyed with their prey, today I didn’t interfere. He had participated in the murder of children I had rescued, and so his life was forfeit. Had he not done that, his mere agreement to attempt to return my mother to Cross was enough to sign his death warrant.
A howl of anguish brought my attention fully back to my prey. He sank to his knees and struck at the water, which deftly slapped his feeble blows away.
I took out my pipe, packed it, and then lit the tobacco. As the smoke curled up from the bowl, I was pleased to see the dryads notice me.
Their play stopped, and they formed a large wall in front of the man, trapping him with me.
He got to his feet, yelling and hitting the water, demanding passage.
“Won’t do any good,” I said around the pipe’s stem.
He twisted around fast enough to fall back into the wall, which shoved him toward me.
“They won’t let you through.” I advanced toward him. “See, they know you’ve upset a god. Hell, probably more than one.”
“I didn’t mean anything,” the man’s voice cracked. “I didn’t know what they were going to do.”
“Of course, you did.” I snapped out the blade of the knife, the sun glinting on the bright, curving metal. “So, I’ll see the dryads get what they want.”
“What do they want?” he asked, glancing at the wall of water. The dryads had their faces pressed against it, lips parted, eyes watching with greed most would find disturbing.
“What we all want, in the end,” I told him. “Our share of blood.”
Before he could speak, I lashed out with the knife and cut his throat where he stood.
The dryads caught him, tilted his head back, and drank their fill.