Well the older man wasn't exactly friendly and had no reason he should be, but at least he had the decency to lead them out of the forest and into – an old house?

It's a nice house but there's no phone, electricity or modern plumbing. Which means they can't even call their families. By then the girls were wondering if they'll have to spend the night there.

"At least we have a roof over our heads for the time being." Theo comments, studying the place curiously. Whoever lived here did seem to have an affinity for bluebirds, many of the decorations here had the shape of them.

"I still don't like this." Zaira said sternly.

"We can't possibly wander around lost out there and this gentleman had the courtesy to bring us here." Sara G. told her.

Zaira folded her arms, "Just because somebody passes a background check doesn't mean you can trust them – all it tells us is that said person's record doesn't mention any known evidence to possible criminal activities."

"Don't be so suspicious." Kylie shook her head then turned to the woodsman, "Yes thank you for the hospitality, but tell me sir -"

Dana piped up innocently, "Do you live in this house all by yourself?"

"Dana, that's not polite!" Beth scolded her.

The Woodsman had his back to them, lighting the fireplace and answered Dana's question. "I found this homestead abandoned, and re-purposed its mill for my needs. You and your friends should be safe here while I work."

To their right by the front door, Greg was placing candies in a straight line in a little trail.

"What- what is your work, exactly?" Wirt inquired, raising an eyebrow uncertainly.

"Everyone has a torch to burn," the Woodsman stared into the fire and answered solemnly before tapping his lantern, "And this here's mine. I grind the horrid Edelwood trees into oil to keep this lantern lit. This is my lot in life. This is my burden."

Wirt frowned, whispered to Greg and the girls behind his hand. "This guy sounds loony."

Yui shook her head. "I don't know, he seems sad to me."

"That's because he is…" Haruna revealed then covered her own mouth nervously. She and the girls can't give away their bewitching secret in front of these three. Who knows if they could be trusted?

Thankfully none of the males present seemed to have caught her words. A knowing look passed between all eight girls, silently agreeing not to reveal their powers unless it was absolutely necessary.

"Maybe we should make a break for it, if we can." Wirt suggested, "But he must know the woods really well, so we may need to knock him out first, except that may turn out really badly, huh? Yeah, bad- bad plan. Forget it. Bad plan."

Greg grinned cheerily. "Okay."

"What are you boys whispering about?" the Woodsman suddenly glanced at them.

"We're talking about running away out of here." Greg said brightly causing Wirt to wince and shush his brother.

The man stood up with a groan. "Leave if you wish, but remember-" He brought the lantern up to the level of his chin with a dark scowl, bathing his older face in a creepy light. "The Beast haunts these woods, ever singing his mournful melody, in search of lost souls such as yourselves!"

Greg asked, "To help us?"

"No, not to help you."

"What is this Beast?" Beth asked him. "And what could he possibly want with us?"

"What? Is it the name of a dangerous convict or something?" Haruna inquired.

"Or perhaps something out of a ghost story?"

The woodsman only shook his head almost forlornly at the girls' questions then walked to the door leading into the mill, "I have work to do in the mill. When I am finished, I will do what I can to guide you, if you are still here when I return." He goes in and closes the door.

Wirt shrugged, "Huh. I guess we could just leave... I don't know. Greg?"

"What?" the smaller boy tossed a log, and wanders around the room not truly paying attention to his siblings' words.

"Do you think there really is a Beast out there, or is that guy just messing with us?" He directed his gaze to their girls, the question intended for them as well.

"Honestly? I haven't a clue either." Beth admitted.

"I mean, he could have done away with us by now if that was his plan, and he lit that fire, that's pretty nice..." Wirt sat on the old couch in thought.

Sara also shrugged, "Who knows? He could've meant anything, perhaps a warning."

"I guess it's possible there's a Beast, since there was a talking bird, but..." The boy sighed and lied down. "I dunno. Sometimes I feel like I'm just like a boat, upon a winding river, twisting towards an endless black sea... further and further, drifting away from where I want to be, who I want to be."

"Sounds depressing." Theo remarked flatly.

"Oh. I didn't know that." Greg spoke up, "Did you know that if you soak a raisin in grape juice, it turns into a grape? It's a rock fact!" He pulled out a rock with a painted-on face from his satchel for emphasis.

Wirt sighs, "You're not helping at all. Why don't you go play with your frog or something?"

Now that they mentioned it, Greg's frog was nowhere in sight.

"Aw, beans! Where is that frog o' mine? Hold on there a second, brother o' mine. I'll be back soon for your plan." He throws candy, then goes outside.

"I don't think he should be outside by himself." Kylie said in concern, "Shouldn't you at least go after him?"

"He'll be fine." Wirt responded sullenly.

"It's probably not good manners, but I'm going to have a look around to see if there's anything useful in case we do decide to leave." Zaira told them, "Anyone else want to join me?"

"Sure why not?"

"Alright, I'm coming."

"Mind the boys."

"Keep an eye on them."

"Hey, Kylie, could you watch –" Dana began, only to see her sister in deep serious conversation with Wirt about siblings. Everyone else had just ditched them albeit for a short time.

"I, er… Fine!" she snapped stomping over to the door, slamming it behind her.

It couldn't have been more than a few minutes before a loud crash was heard catching Kylie and Wirt's attention. Another crash resounded, causing the Woodsman to burst open the mill door just as the other girls came rushing down the stairs in alarm.

The Woodsman turned his gaze onto Wirt and Kylie, "What's happening? Where's your brother?"

"He's right here with-" Kylie motioned to the floor then paused in dismay, "Oh no, where Dana?"

A taken aback Wirt shrugs and whining something that sounded suspiciously like 'I dunno'.

Zaira accusingly to Wirt. "Wait, you left them alone?!"

Before the teen could retort, a visibly frightened Dana suddenly runs inside followed by Greg. The boy looked dazed, stumbling a little and covered in bits of broken barrel.

"Holy moley, hot dog!" He jerked his thumb to the door.

Just as he said that, the door was broken down slamming Greg upside down onto the stairs. The intruder was a giant black dog with glowing eyes; its pupils were hot pink and the sclera was yellow, light yellow, and light blue.

The girls promptly shriek in terror.

"It's the Beast!" Wirt cried.

Immediately the Woodsman raised his ax, "Stay back! This creature which is known as-"

Greg attempted to hit him in the head with a board but his aim way off so he hit the man's hat instead. Yet it didn't matter, the woodsman slipped on a fallen ornament and hit his head on the log Greg had been playing with earlier.

Sara rushed forward to feel the older man's pulse, it was still there except for one detail: "He's out cold!"

Wirt yelped, "Greg, why did you do that?!"

"That was your plan, remember? Knock him out!"

Wirt shook his head using the fire grate as a shield between himself, Kylie and the monstrous canine. "No! Bad plan! I told you to forget that plan!" He screamed, covering his head with his arms as it got closer.

"No, get away!" Kylie wailed.

"Hang on!" Sara G. cried grabbing a poker for a weapon, only to have it knocked out of her hand.

"Spank! Spank!" Greg was trying to hit the giant wolf with the end of the ax. But it lacked force, if any, it felt like tiny taps to the monster. The creature turned and growls.

Dana and Yui pulled Greg back. "It doesn't work that way!"

Once the thing was distracted, Kylie grabbed Wirt's hand to escape.

"Dana! Greg, run! RUN!" she shrieked, briefly glancing over her shoulder during their flight.

"Run run run run run run run run!" Wirt shouted as he and the girls ran towards the door that lead to the mill.

"Greg, come on!" Dana tugged on the little boy's arm urgently.

"Candy camouflage!" Greg tosses candy, grabs the ax and his frog following Dana's lead. "Run run run run run run run run run."

The creature goes after them, causing quite the disaster.

"Wait why should we run? WE could fight it off!"

"Not just yet!" Beth insisted

"But our lives aren't the only ones at stake here!" Zaira argued.

"What're you all talking about?!" Wirt sputtered as he threw a sack of potatoes at the monster.

"Am I supposed to throw something? Oh yeah! Ha ha!" Greg reached into his satchel and threw candy onto the wooden platform they're on. The creature pauses and lapped it up with its tongue.

"He's eating your candy." Wirt remarked in wonder.

"I wonder if he ate my whole candy trail that led to this mill." Greg speculated.

"It what?" Yui gasped in disbelief.

Wirt became just as incredulous. "Ugh, Greg! You led the Beast right to us with your candy!"

"Not a good time to be pointing fingers!" Theo reminded them.

Hungry for more, the giant wolf turned over the platform the youngsters were standing on. They all sat up with a groan.

"Hey, give me the axe." Wirt picked up the tool, "You're too little to have it anyway."

"We got to do something!"

"No fire, we'll suffocate or be barbecued!" Yui shook her head.

There's no water inside, wind and thunder might not be very effective in a small space.

"We got to- we've all got to get out of here!" Wirt urged them.

Greg then tugged on his cape and points to a ladder. Taking no chances, they climbed it.

With the boys' backs turned, Zaira turned her head, opened her palm and swept it forwards into the monster's direction. A bolt of purplish electricity shot out and zapped it, causing it to howl in agony.

"Keep going, keep going!" She hollered.

Haruna insisted, "Just don't look back or down no matter what!"

Finally, they emerged onto the roof of the mill. Unfortunately, the wolf breaks through the ceiling to their left and goes after them.

"This thing just won't quit!" Theo exclaimed.

"Any more ideas?" Beth asked nervously.

"Greg, give him the rest of your candy!" Wirt cried.

The little boy checked his pants, but they're empty. He looks around, and notices a piece stuck to Wirt's cape. Thinking quickly, he snatches it and tosses it off the mill. "Oops."

Like he thought, the monstrous dog jumps after the candy and gets caught in the waterwheel. The machinery creaks and strained under the force of the large being. As a result, the roof breaks and the group falls -well the boys do - into the river. Dana moved her hands in different directions so that a gust of wind would catch the girls before hitting the ground. So that they stumbled and tripped just a foot from the ground.

They looked up in time to see the enlarged canine hurl up a turtle with a candy stuck to its shell. Wirt and the girls stare at the small black reptile in a mix of both confusion and wonder only for Greg and Yui to call out to them.

"Hey Wirt, look!"

"Check this out!"

Out of the small river, Greg rode on the back of a simple average sized dog that was white with tan spots, possibly a borzoi mix.

"Wirt, he spit up that turtle and now he's my new best friend!" the child declared.

Stunned, the guardians looked at each other. That dog was the same creature that attacked them, yet became virtually harmless after the turtle was expectorated from its body? What manner of magickery was this?

The dog then shook itself dry causing Greg to fall off. The dog then ambles away, panting to take a nap at the edge of the river. "Hey, where're you going? Ain't that just the way." Greg remarked brightly.

Behind them, they heard the Woodsman's voice. They looked over, relieved. He was alive and unhurt, except he was distressed at the state of the mill.

"The mill is destroyed. The oil- all gone!" He morosely picked up a shard of a broken container.

Kylie looked apologetic, "I'm sorry for the disaster, sir, our frenzied escape from the creature was what did this."

Wirt chimed in, "But- but- but look. We- we got the Beast problem solved."

"The dog?! That is not the Beast!" The Woodsman roared at Wirt, taking the axe from his hands. "The Beast cannot be mollified like some farmer's pet! He stalks like the night." In his frustration, he swung the axe once cutting a piece of a rock with little effort much to the group's amazement. For a middle aged man he was quite strong.

"But you still haven't answered our questions: what is the Beast?" Zaira protested, "To us it only remains a word nothing more."

"He sings like the four winds. He is the death of hope. He steals their children, and he'll... ruin..." The older man sat down wearily, lowly muttering something unintelligibly.

Wirt scowled at Greg, "You're always messing up!"

"Boy, you have it backwards!" The woodsman suddenly scolded, "You are the elder child! You are responsible for you and your brother's actions as are the girls!"

Beth looked indignant. "Hey! I'm only related to these two over here!" she pointed to Kylie and Dana.

"I'm- I'm- I'm sorry. Maybe I can... fix it? I- I can't fix it." Wirt mumbled uncomfortably

The Woodsman shook his head and pointed to the path across the river, "You must go. Go north. Look for a town."

"Thank you sir." Beth nods,

"Yeah, thanks. Come on, Greg." Wirt led his brother to the stepping stones.

"One last thing." The woodsman called out to the group, "Beware the Unknown! Fear the Beast! And leave these woods... if you can. It is your burden to bear!"

Wirt looked unsure. "Right. Yeah, uh, got it."

"Thank you… I suppose." Haruna shared the uncertainty.

The Woodsman then addressed Greg, "And little one, you captured that frog. Give him a proper name."

In Greg's hands, the frog croaked once. Greg agreed, "Okay."

"So long as we're headed in the same direction, why not we go together?" Sara G. offered to Wirt and Greg.

"Well why not?" Wirt affirmed with a shrug, "At least we'll be in a group."

"The more the merrier!" Greg said cheerily.

And so they set off into the wood under the light of the half-moon, unaware of the small eyes watching from atop a branch. Yet they remained full of so many questions about this world and of the infamous Beast. What is the Beast? What was this land? And more importantly would they find a path home?

None of them knew that their questions would soon be answered.

To be continued...