3 The Boy, the Cave and the Dare*
Diggory and the others had long left Rassa, Falla, Jane and the younger children behind. They had also however, lost the rabbit. They'd been doing great, had nearly caught it, then it had unexpectedly dodged to the north at high speed and James, who had been right behind it, had slipped on the loose dirt and slid into a berry bush. He'd gotten plenty of berry juice on him, but had no white rabbit to speak of.
The boys had proceeded north, determined to find the rabbit, but eventually, they'd reached the border line that had been clearly marked with coloured ribbons by the villagers as the end of part of the forest the children were allowed to play in. Beyond the line, the beasts got bigger, and the foliage denser, it made for a harder rescue mission certainly.
"Maybe we should just turn back," one of the boys sighed, "Besides, Jane was hurt, we should go see she's alright".
"Who cares about Jane?" another said.
"What do you think Digs?" asked James.
Diggory thought for a moment, then pointed west, "Let's follow the border line back that way for now, if we don't find anything, we'll head back to the village".
The boys agreed and set off. Diggory was annoyed though. If there was no rabbit, he'd have to wait until next time to prove himself better than Rassa.
The boys walked along the border line for some time before they reached the edge of what appeared to be a meadow full of wildflowers. They paused for a moment as they noticed the multitude of rabbits amongst the meadow.
"Would it matter if we caught a different rabbit first?" James asked with a grin on his face.
"Well the game was to catch the white one," another boy pointed out.
"Hey look!" hissed another, "Over there, isn't that Rassa?"
The boys watched another boy, who was indeed Rassa, slowly crawled through the brush on the far side of the meadow. Diggory frowned at him, then noticed to his surprise, the white rabbit barely two metres in front of Rassa.
"Cheater!" called Diggory.
Rassa looked up, and so did all the rabbits. There was a moment's pause before the multitude of rabbits darted out of the meadow and into the woods again, the white one included. Rassa jumped to his feet, rushing after the white rabbit. Diggory, not in the mood to be beaten, rushed to follow. The two boys converged on the rabbit as it headed further north...right over the boundary line.
The boys didn't seem to notice, crashing through the trees after the rabbit.
The calls of the other children weren't heard as they boys raced forward. Rassa had the advantage, and he was nearly on top of the rabbit when Diggory suddenly lunged forward and tackled Rassa's legs. Rassa crashed forward onto the ground, just missing the rabbit as it darted forward and into a cave the boys had failed to notice.
"What did you do that for?" asked Rassa.
Diggory frowned, "Do what for? I tripped".
Rassa frowned back, disbelieving, but he stood up and dusted himself off, then looked where the rabbit had disappeared.
"Digs?" asked Rassa as he took in the dark mouth of the cave. It seemed to swallow any light that entered it, they could barely see a metre inside, "Was there always a cave here?"
"Who cares, someone has to go and get that rabbit," Diggory said, looking at the cave uneasily.
"We're passed the boundary line, we should go back," Rassa said, "The game is over when the rabbit passes the boundary, remember?"
"But it's right in there, you saw it disappear too!" Diggory grunted, "We're barely a few metres passed the boundary, look, you can still see the edge of the meadow!"
Rassa could indeed see the edge of the meadow where the other children waited impaiently.
They called worried about their friends.
"Go on, I dare you to go and get the rabbit," said Diggory.
"But the game is-"
"What, are you scared?" asked Diggory.
Rassa frowned, "Why are you acting like this? You've never been this way before".
"Acting like what?" asked Diggory, "Just go in and get the rabbit, Rassa, it's not hard".
"Then why aren't you doing it?" asked Rassa.
"My dad's a knight. I don't have to go if I don't want to," Diggory stated haughtily.
Rassa shook his head, it was the most ridiculous excuse he'd heard so far. Something was wrong, and in the state that Diggory was in, there was little chance that Rassa could reason with him.
"Fine, Dig," Rassa sighed, "I'll get the rabbit then we can all go back to the village together".
Rassa didn't wait for a reply, turning and marching towards the entrance of the cave.
Diggory couldn't believe Rassa had actually done it. While he wouldn't admit it, Diggory was sure as well that there had not been a cave here previously. None of the hunters ever reported seeing a cave here, and if there was it was unlikely they would have put the boundary line so close to it. Still, Diggory didn't speak up as Rassa approached the cave. He paused outside of it for a moment, and then he entered. Diggory's expression turned somber. He couldn't see Rassa at all.
"Rassa?" asked Diggory, beginning to regret issuing the dare. The last thing he wanted was for his friend to get hurt.
There was no reply.
Inside the cave, Rassa couldn't see anything, it was pitch black. He felt along a wall, trying to steady his breathing as fear started to imbed itself in the young boy. Rassa had walked no further than ten metres when he felt something soft and furry at his feet. Slowly, Rassa bent down and felt the creature at his feet. Small, fluffy, and with two long ears. The rabbit!
But something was clearly wrong. What wild rabbit in its right mind would sit and wait to be picked up? Rassa used his hands to pick it up, but as he did, he felt something wet and sticky beneath it. Rassa paused, then very slowly lifted up his wet fingers to smell them.
It smelt metallic...blood. A deep rumble disturbed the eerie silence of the cave, and Rassa shot to his feet. A chill came up his spine. Turning, Rassa sprinted towards the exit of the cave, fear encompassing his being.
He tripped and scraped his knee, and elbows, then scrambled to his feet again, running for the entrance.
Only he couldn't see the entrance. That was impossible, he was barely twenty steps inside the cave. Suddenly, Rassa hit a barrier of some kind he bounced back onto the ground, then looked up in panic. He leaned forward again, putting his hand against the barrier. The darkness rippled where he touched it, but nothing else. Rassa gasped.
"Oh no," he whimpered, "No, no no!"
He stood, pounding against the barrier with his little fists.
"Let me out!" he yelled, "Let me out! I swear I won't come back, let me out!"
Behind him, a deep dark chuckle echoed.
Outside the cave, the dark chuckle was heard too. Diggory stepped back, terrified.
What had he done?
"Rassa!" he yelled.
The darkness at the entrance of the cave seemed to ripple and move, and diggory's eyes widened, "Rassa!"
He ran to the cave entrance, but bounced back off of the darkness. What was happening? He'd seen Rassa disappear inside not a moment before. Diggory stood, then pounded on the barrier.
A feint shout could be heard, and Diggory paused to listen.
It was feint, but Diggory could tell it was Rassa.
"Rassa?! Are you okay? I can't get inside!"
"I can't, there's a barrier, Rassa!"
Diggory looked at the paniced ripples on the barrier, and somehow knew it was Rassa.
"I'm going to get help Rassa!" called Diggory, "Stay here!"
Then Diggory turned and sprinted back towards the village.
Inside the cave, Rassa again heard the dark chuckle, though this time it was much closer than before. Rassa felt something coiling around his feet and up his legs.
"Let go, no!"
"Oh little one...you've barely had a chance to be welcomed...please, come on in".
Rassa felt himself being jolted back deeper into the cave through the air, and he screamed.