The dark tufts of her long, pointy ears warned her for another incoming gust of wind. She wrapped her arms around her body, trying to protect the little warmth she had from being snatched away by the cold breeze. She cursed herself. How could I be so stupid?
She always thought things through before she did something - except this time. She had been so afraid that she had forgotten to bring something with her. No warm coat, food, or even shoes! The only thing she had now was that pretty, but thin, black dress. She thought about what had happened, and it made her shiver. No wonder she had run off without thinking; she had done something she thought she was never capable of. Something horrible. Don't think about it, just keep moving, she thought to herself, it's more important to find a village now.
She had been walking in this forest for what seemed to be ages. Winter had covered the grass below her with a cold white blanket, making her feet go numb. She was hungry, tired and worst of all: completely lost. This place looked like the best option to go to when she left that castle, but now she regretted it. She had run amongst the gnarled, bleached trees without thinking, and now she had lost her sense of direction. She suddenly couldn't move; her trail got stuck in some shrubbery. A curse left her throat, filled with frustration.
This was the only thing that stupid piece of clothing was good at: slowing her down. She freed the fabric from the clawing branches, and it came loose with a ripping noise. Great, another hole. She wanted to trade the dress for some travelling clothes and food as soon as she found a town, but this trip through the woods had ruined it.
Twigs scratched her face while she walked on, but she hardly felt them. She only thought about what happened. A sorcerer of the Faith had found her, scouting the area. He had accused her of using heathen magic. She had explained him she wasn't a witch, that she couldn't use magic. Her denials fell on deaf ears; he had called her a liar, and arrested her anyway. She had escaped him though, from this man that called himself 'the Hunter', but in a way she never thought was possible.It felt like she didn't knew herself at all, as if there was a monster secretly living inside her, that had suddenly stretched out his claws without her knowing. Tears jumped in her eyes; she was disgusted by herself.
One thing was surely remarkable though; his body had disappeared, like smoke blown away by the wind. Maybe he was not dead after all? Impossible: I made sure he was dead. It's why I shot that second arrow...
She pushed the thought away, not wanting to walk even deeper into her chasm of misery. She swept the tears out of her eyes with her sleeve. This self-pity wasn't making things any better; maybe she should try focussing on something positive. She could hear the creatures of the night crawling around her, but saw no human. She was all alone. That was surely a good thing; she had expected someone to go after her, but she wasn't found yet, after a whole day! It was the only happy thought she could come up with, and it didn't take long before she felt dreadful again. Her surroundings didn't help either. This was a dense forest, and it felt like the trees were closing in, trying to smother her. She needed to get out of this place, fast.
The moon was half full tonight, which meant that there was more than enough light for her sentrin eyes to see that she was close to a rather large dune. Maybe she could see the edge of the forest when she reached its top. She climbed towards it, using trees to hoist herself up. The wind constantly battered this area, and made them grow crooked. They blocked her path, and she had to avoid the oddly shaped branches constantly. She was just ducking below a large one when she heard something awkwardly familiar.
'You are going the wrong way,' a deep voice said next to her.
Her head turned around as fast as lightning. A tall, dark figure leaned against the other side of the twisted tree. She found herself staring into his pair of white, cold eyes. Dead eyes. Her body felt like it was thrown into freezing water. She didn't even scream. She didn't even think about how he could be here. Her instincts took over, and she was racing downhill before she realised it. She could hear him following her.
Run! she thought desperately, don't look back, just run!
Her muscles were burning in protest already, after walking for hours. She had to keep moving though, as fast as possible. Curved roots stuck out everywhere, but she managed to stay on her feet - until sharp thorns got hold of her dress again. She had so much momentum that she ripped the fabric free almost immediately, but the damage was already done. Her balance was off, and she fell. She rolled down the dune's slope, curled op like a ball. Snow and sand stirred up around her and scoured her skin. A sharp pain went through her body when she came to a sudden stop; her back had bumped into a large tree stump. She spat snow out of her mouth and tried to get on her feet, but something large and heavy landed on top of her. The Hunter had caught up.
She had never been so afraid in her entire life. She had to get away, now! Adrenaline rushed through her veins like water that broke through a dam. The tiredness evaporated from her muscles, now ready for action.
Come on! she ordered herself, get up and fight!
She squirmed around, freeing her arms and legs. A kick in the belly, a scratch to his face; she didn't know what she tried to do, as long as it hurt. The Hunter didn’t seem to be bothered by her actions, and crawled on top of her. He pushed her knees aside, and pinned them down. She tried to claw at his eyes, but he grabbed her wrist and pushed her arm down. She tried again with her other hand, but it met the same fate. Hope of escaping fled her heart; he was so much stronger than her. He needed only one hand to keep both of hers under control. Her eyes grew large with fear when she got caught by his cold, bewitching gaze. She wanted to scream, but even that was impossible; the Hunter covered her mouth with his free hand. He could do whatever he wanted with her now, she was powerless. She snapped, and started to hyperventilate.
Let me go! she cried with a racing heart, but her voice was reduced to a soft squeal.
'Calm down, I am not here to kill you...' and, as if he could read her mind, he added '...or rape you, or hurt you in any other way. Listen to me and don't scream, then I'll let you go, okay?'
It took some time before she submitted to those words. Instinct still told her to fight her way out of here, even though it was clear she couldn't win. His voice sounded soothing though, and she couldn't find any anger in his eyes. It calmed her down, and after a couple of deep breaths she started to think logically again. She had not much of a choice in this situation, so it's probably for the best to cooperate - for now. She nodded.
'Good.' The Hunter removed his hand from her mouth.
'You should be dead...' she sputtered.
'I should, and for a long time as well.' He didn't sound angry at all about killing him. 'I can explain it, but preferably not here outside. Come back to the castle with me, then you'll know what happened.'
She didn't understand; he was alive. Wasn't she a murderer after all? She might live little bit better with that thought. She looked at his face, with his skin as white as snow - an unhealthy colour, as if he had never seen the sun. It was framed by tangled black hair, so long that it touched her face. A striking look, but nowhere near as striking as his eyes. They where white, cold and dangerous, like snow on a mountain that was waiting to come down as an avalanche one day. Only a narrow, dark rim showed the edge of the iris. It was impossible to look away from his gaze, even though it sent shivers down her spine. Why would she go with him? This was the man she tried to escape from so desperately. Her answer was clear.
One of the corners of his mouth went up, turnings is lips into a crooked smile. 'That was not a question. If you don't come voluntarily, I'll just drag you with me.'
She obviously didn't like that idea. 'But what about the 'I'll let you go' part?'
'What I was trying to say was 'I'll stop pinning you down to the ground'. What you want is not going to happen.'
Of course it's not, damn it. She gritted her teeth.
'I don't have much of a choice, have I?'
She sighed. She had to give in, though she found the idea sickening. 'Very well...' she finally said in a defeated tone.
The Hunter let go of her and stood up. She felt a bit better now she had some air to breathe. He reached out a hand to help her up. She took it reluctantly; she wasn't sure her legs had enough strength left to do this all by themselves now her adrenaline rush had left her. The hunter pulled her back on her feet easily, as if she was as light as a feather. He led her down the hill, but they didn't came far; she started shaking so uncontrollably that she couldn't set another step. Her dress was soaked with half-molten snow. Great, now I am even colder than before, she cursed silently.
The Hunter started fumbling with the clasp of his black cape and took the piece of clothing off. 'Here, you need it more than I do,' he said, while he threw it around her shoulders.
'Thanks...' she muttered. She instantly felt better. It was a good cape, even though it was torn and ragged at the edges. It was not just the warmth that was welcoming, but the fact that he cared about her made her feel more secure. It was rather confusing though; she killed him, and yet he was there to help her out. She stared at the longsword and bow on his back. Wasn't it much easier for him to just shoot an arrow at her and be done with it? Why go through all this trouble? She felt more guilty now about the what she had done. The memories about that moment returned, but she quickly locked them up in the back of her mind. This wasn't the right moment to think about what happened, it would turn her into an emotional wreck. She wanted to forget it, and walked on. That turned out to be difficult enough; the cape was too large for her, so she had to watch out not to step on it.
The Hunter looked troubled at her bare feet. 'I am afraid I do not have a pair of boots with me in your size. Shall I carry you? It will take quite some time before we are back at the castle.'
'Carry me?' She laughed, and her spirit lifted a bit. 'Thank you, but no.' Sure, she was tired and her feet were cold, but her pride wouldn't let it come to that. Her dress however thought differently about it, and got stuck in the shrubbery again. She tripped, and fell head first in the snow before she realised it.
'I hate this dress!' she shouted. The snow muffled her voice, making it sound much less angry than she was.
The Hunter grinned. 'I think I like it; it makes catching you a piece of cake.' He picked her up, as if he wanted to demonstrate how easy it was. Despite being tall herself - taller than the average female sentrin - She felt incredibly small in his arms, as if she was a child. The fact that she was wrapped up in his cape contributed strongly to that feeling.
'Please put me down, I can walk!'
'Sure you can,' but he marched on. She couldn't miss the sarcasm in those words.
'Besides,' he continued, 'Saar always says that it would be good for me if I acted a bit more courteous.'
Who was Saar? She turned her head towards him to ask. She couldn't help staring at his eyes again, their colouring - or better; the lack of it - was just too interesting. The question left her tongue before she realised it, and it wasn't about Saar.
'Why are your eyes white?'
'I don't know; they used to be green.' He looked back at her. 'Same as yours actually, but a bit lighter.'
'Are they magical?'
'No, they are completely normal.'
She did not expect that answer. Her mother told her many stories when she was young, folklore which often involved a creature with oddly coloured eyes. They always did something special: seeing the future, looking into someone's mind, or through walls and clothing - at least he can't do that, she thought. Well, if he spoke the truth of course, and she wasn't so sure of that. She pushed the gnawing thought aside; time for another question, before he changed his mind about answering them. She opened her mouth, but the Hunter spoke before she could say anything.
'I think I know what your next question is. My name is Orion. Orion of Westende.'
Orion... She knew from the beginning that 'Hunter' couldn't possibly be his real name, but Orion was almost as unusual. On the other hand, 'of Westende' was one of the most common surnames you could have around here.
She looked for the constellation with the same name through the gaps in the canopy. She found it without difficulty; it was just above the eastern horizon. Most people thought it looked like an hourglass, but she thought differently of it. Sure, the brightest stars were arranged in an hourglass-shape, but if you considered the smaller ones as well it looked like a bowman - a giant archer on the hunt, moving silently across the darkness of the sky. She grinned. Suddenly 'Orion' didn't sound like an odd name at all for the constellation's namesake. It was a bit too fitting, actually.
'You made that name up, didn't you?'
'Why do you think so?'
She wanted to keep her theory about his name a bit longer to herself; it was not much more than a hunch. She preferred to back up her ideas with proper arguments. Luckily, there was something else that gave him away.
'Your accent; You pronounce the 'g' too softly. You're not from Westende.'
He grinned. 'Damn, I practiced so hard on that.'
'So what's your real name then, and where are you from?'
'That's something I rather keep for myself. It's a part of me I left behind.' A crooked smile appeared on his face. 'I am afraid you'll have to do with Orion of Westende.'