Mr. Death brought him to the same swampy wood Odette died. Thanatos shivered, wrapping his arms about himself, as he followed the tall board back of the aged man, deity, powerful wielder of destruction and everyone's ultimate demise, or whatever he was. He glanced at the darkening grey trees, the statues between them turning their gazes upon them, and the sound of scuttles here and there, but no visual evidence of the salamanders he recalled to live in the swamp."
Mr. Death," Thanatos hissed. "Why are we here?"
The old man's voice echoed a cheery twinkle, "You shall see."
"I was under the impression I was to start training or take a test. Stomping through a moss-ridden, bog-infested, creepy-statued swamp is hardly what I call optimal conditions for promising test results." Thanatos ducked under a branch that Mr. Death swatted aside. Mr. Death gave a low rumbling laugh, imitating a growl as it echoed.
Thanatos, despite his grumblings, could not get another word out of the old fogey and so lapsed into silence. With gradual unease, he began to recognize certain trees and landmarks. The statues may have moved, but he knew the clearing and the path. Within fifteen minutes Mr. Death stopped at the edge of the small lake where the rusted ship of the salamander's home beckoned him not several weeks before.
Thanatos shivered in his jacket. "Now will you tell me what we are doing in this godforsaken swamp?"
"It is your test, to see if you can." Mr. Death answered.
Thanatos shot Mr. Death a glowering look. He knew there was more to it than the old man was giving. The twinkle in his eyes glimmered with laughter and Thanatos knew Mr. Death was enjoying watching Thanatos squirm.
"Don't stop talking on my account," Thanatos turned away. He set his jaw and face away. He would not show discomfort to the other, the other, Thanatos reminded himself, that held his and Odette's lives in his hands. His eyes trailed along the dead ship, taking in the rusting exterior and the soft wheezes from tiny holes unseen.
"You must stay in the forest. Survive." Mr. Death said.
"Can I not just walk out?" Thanatos asked.
"No. I have erected a barrier. You cannot leave without my permission. It is dark magics, unique to me, so do not hope to overpower it."
Thanatos stayed silent. He scrunched his shoulders, the cold seeping through his thin jacket and deep into his bones. No place should be this cold. He peered into the depths of the trees, the fog settled on the ground like low waters before a storm. No birds chirped as before and like the air froze his limbs, the forest stood frozen, waiting, holding its breath. Other than this, Thanatos saw nothing. The magic Mr. Death wielded, that Thanatos also hoped to learn, was undoubtedly invisible, as expected of the supernatural.
"What of others?" Thanatos focused his attention back on his employer. "Can they come and go as they wish? Or, as I suspect, since this is a test, your barrier is only connected to me."
"Quite so," Mr. Death said. "And some last words before I leave you, if someone comes and you meet him, I recommend that you consider your…position."
"Hm. Cryptic, aren't we?" Thanatos mumbled. He glanced away, seeking out any remnants of salamanders, ghosts, or the statues. Few of the rock creatures stood around, their eyes staring at him, but there was no wisp or tail of the other two. He turned to ask Mr. Death one last question, but found the old man had gone. In his place, a knife stuck a note to a tree:Swim or fly.
"My god! The riddles," Thanatos cursed. He paused, hearing a branch crack behind him. He spun around to see two statue creatures approach. As he stilled, they did so too, each sizing the others up. Thanatos could tell that these two creatures were in competition to see who could get to him first. Just off to his side was the ship. A quick swim…ah, yes. The statues would sink and drown, if they breathed at all, but Thanatos didn't know if the old creaky thing would even hold his weight. It was worth a shot.
He glanced from one statue to the other. They were closer now. Thanatos dropped slowly into a crouch. He tucked the knife into his pocket and grabbed a few twigs and branches, a small stone too in one hand.
One of the statue's faces smiled, cracking into deep caverns. A hiss came from its mouth. Thanatos knew it was laughing. Thanatos took his chance, flinging the twigs at it and the stone at the other, hoping for a distraction. He launched himself into the lake, swimming towards the hull, and heard nothing besides the splashes of water. Were they following him? He dared pause, scrambling up the side and over the edge. Collapsing into a heap on the deck, Thanatos looked out to the forest. The statues stood at the edge. He imagined they would curse and hiss loudly, but instead they stood, faces wreathed in joy and hunger.
Speechlessness grasped Thanatos' throat. He shuffled over to the cabin, eyes never leaving his predators. Once inside and door shut, Thanatos let loose a breath he didn't know he'd been holding. Streams of light shafted through the splinters of metal and Thanatos could see the wreaked havoc of what used to be the captain's quarters.
"Home sweet home," Thanatos murmured, ideas forming in his mind on how to survive, thanking Odette for her strange boyish ways. She was more suited to survival here, than Thanatos felt he ever could be. But it was she who died first, not him. He glanced through a hole, spying for the statue creatures. They stood, waiting, lurking, lingering. Thanatos grinned to himself. If they had a way to the ship, they would have found it by now. Turning, he set work.