Running was her only option. Faster than the arrow, faster than death. Twigs slapped in her face, the forest blurred into a stream of greens and browns. Two eyes, two legs, one mind. The path was narrow, and today she had to watch out. With blood trickling into one eye and more air than dirt under her soles, she dodged the second arrow.
Faster. Cut through tree and bush!
Usually she felt the forest, every breath of every leaf, knowing when to duck branches, jump boulders or phase through thorns or trees. She never had to look where she ran. However, usually she didn’t run from someone. Usually she was invisible.
Yet Iza had to bolt, and he was fast. Chasing her with strained grunts, hard strides and that bizarre intention to kill her.
Left, right, straight, to the right again. Soon the jump across the river would come up. She had done it many times. There! The granite rock jutting out high over the river already appeared. Beyond the river on the other side stretched a gravel shore she would have to reach. She darted out of the foliage onto the flat stone, hearing his struts. If he was fast enough he would have a straight shot at her. Three more steps before she would need to push off and fly over the wild winter waters.
The girl heard the nearing swoosh of the third arrow. Even before sharpness bit her left arm she knew it would get her. Iza’s arm snapped upwards, ripping her off balance and she stumbled over her own legs. The fae almost fell over the edge.
With sheer will the fae pushed off and flung herself into the void, hoping he would have trouble aiming for her.
But the leap had not been strong enough. White waters rushed towards her, instead of the gravel shore beyond. She crashed. And the ice mountain river was merciless. The speed of the torrent pulled her under, tethered on her clothes. River rocks bashed against her feet, and her left arm was useless when she fought to find balance.
Iza struggled through the water with panic clawing her throat. Jump, Iza! Scrambling to the bed rock of the shallow shore she pressed the throbbing arm to her body and turned around.
Don’t look at it. If she saw the arrow piercing her limb she would get scared. It would be more real. Instead she caught another glance at who had shot her.
High up he rose with his forth arrow drawn, directly aiming for her heart. His squinting eyes darker than the river, black tattoos covering his left chest, a presence like a tree. His hatred was tangible, and Iza shuddered.
The fae girl had seen enough. She leaped out of the waist deep water and vanished in the near bushes with a curse under her breath. So far no one had gotten to her. No one had come that close to killing, less seeing, any of them. It was the realm of the tree, water and animal fae and the Harrak-ya forest was her territory, her home to protect.
Back at the tree city of Yachua-ya, Tarden-o the healer inspected the blue painted arrow stuck in her arm. “Darkling you said?”
Iza nodded briefly. “Ashes!” she cursed. “Fast too.” She pressed a cloth to her bloody brow.
“But you outran him.”
She was known to be the fastest of all of the fae tribes, having just won the Red Seed Run, and she kept her precious trophy in a pouch on her belt.
“And he didn’t follow you?”
She snorted. “Course not.”
She wouldn’t tell Tarden that maybe she had been fast enough to outrun death but she had not been fast enough to be invisible. “Their sightings are becoming more frequent. I counted four scouts in the last few suns alone. And that darkling was no scout.”
“We’ll need to meet. Tonight. I’ll inform the council.” Tarden said jerking his head towards the Great Ever Oak. “Now hold still.” Without losing another beat he snapped off the head of the arrow. The girl sucked in air, then closed her eyes. She exhaled through her mouth when Tarden cradled her arm in both hands, wrapping his fingers closely to the entry and exit wound. Then he concentrated. A dull heat travelled from his palms through her blood to the ripped flesh. When the arrows’ wood loosened and under his incantation moved it itched more than it hurt. The shaft pushed itself out of her skin and dropped onto the floor boards. As soon as it had left her, Tarden let go of her arm and pulsing agony rushed up her bones all the way to her forehead where bright red sparks blinded her. The girl panted, clasping the edge of the table.
The healer dabbed the wound, but it didn’t bleed. After applying a salve with lark resin he padded it with yellow moss, bandaged her arm and handed Iza some bitter barrna leaves to chew on for the pain.
“Tomorrow it should feel better.” Tarden had picked up the arrow, and studied it. “I’ll see you later.” He mumbled. Iza was dismissed.
She pushed herself off the table and stared at the healer. Tarden was everyone’s and no-one’s friend. ‘Forming attachments is dangerous when your task is to heal the sick and dying’ was his excuse when asked why he behaved mainly offensive. But secretly she had other suspicions. Maybe he wanted to return home. Tarden had not grown up with them, had come out of nowhere three summers ago and no one knew what he actually was. He was not fae, or commoner, nor any of the other races of Marram that they knew. However, with his many skills he had soon become a treasured part of the Yachua community and when the strange healer had decided to live with them, no one objected.
Iza drew another sharp breath, left his oak to take the east bridge leading from tree to tree to her house, when Tardens head stuck out of his door. “Fraem-o will be frantic. My advice: Don’t let him see the wound. Not until tomorrow when it’s more healed.”
Fraem. Right. She didn’t want to see her fellow guardian today. She had to lick her wounds. Her ego was shot to pieces.
Instead of the usual jog she walked to her tree. Am I glad the darkling didn’t shoot my legs.
After a tiresome and slow climb up her own vine to the second storey, she fell onto her fur covered moss bed where a storm of thoughts robbed her of the chance to rest. The run, the chase, the river. The darkling tattoos swirled in her mind and she asked herself:
Why didn’t he kill her? Why did he not release that fourth arrow?
She should be dead.