Safely hidden away behind one of the thickest tree-trunks, Faye examined the wound around the knife. Although it was bleeding quite a bit, she wasn’t in any immediate danger. She peered out around the tree to see if they had followed her. She had run off the path and into the dense forest, not even stopping to take the small knife out of her arm. She couldn’t see the men who had attacked her, but she could hear them approaching.
“Come on out.”
The voice echoed through the trees, making it hard for Faye to tell exactly how close they were.
She closed her eyes and tried to block out everything but the sounds of the men, like she had been taught. She tried to hear not just the voices, but the snapping of twigs as they walked through the undergrowth, their quick breaths and the sounds of animals scurrying or flying away from them made it difficult. It was much harder with a knife sticking out of your arm and blood freely flowing down to your fingers. The pain was distracting. She could make out that there were four men, less than she had initially thought, and they were getting closer to her but that was about it.
Faye untied the strap of leather she wore like a bracelet, put it between her teeth and ripped out the knife. She didn’t quite manage to muffle the scream completely and it made it’s way out of her mouth as a loud growling sound. Then she looked at the knife, coated with a layer of her blood, and dropped it in disgust. She used her other arm to fix her bow back around her shoulder and then opened a pouch at her belt and removed a package of pig skin.
The pig skin had done it’s job and kept water out of the paste wrapped inside. Faye scooped some up and smeared it on her wound. Her eyes watered because of the sting, but she blinked back the tears. She re-wrapped the remaining paste and put it in back into her belt-pouch. It began to feel like the paste was burning into the wound, but the bleeding stopped and began to numb. She wrapped the strap of leather around the wound anyway.
Faye checked the wound once more before beginning to climb the big oak she was hiding behind. Born and raised in the shade of forests, Faye was a quick and steady climber with the confidence to climb quickly. She was almost to the top when she glanced down and saw the men approaching, drawn be her pained growl. They looked well fed and fairly clean, so Faye ruled out the possibility that they were wanderers or tramps who jumped her on the road because they were desperate. They didn’t appear to be very skilled either, none of them bending to search for her tracks. Something about their movements, the way they held the clubs and short bronze swords, struck Faye as amateurish. From her perch, she could now see that two of them were just boys. These were not men who should have been able to take her by surprise.
It wouldn’t have happened if she had been paying attention.
It shouldn’t have happened. She needed to be more vigilant than that. After all, Faye was on her own now. The choice had been hers, and she had chosen to be alone. She was the one who had wanted it this way, with no more babysitters. She shook her head slightly in frustration as she watched them and thought of her own imcompetence.
Then Faye continued to climb, going to the higher branches where she could disappear amongst the leaves. In a way, she was lucky that they had attacked her now, and not in a few moon turns when the leaves would fall and she would have had no cover.
When she was high enough, she stood on the branch (which was just sturdy enough to hold her weight), ran across it and lightly leaped onto a nearby tree, one closer to the men. She was fast to travel across this branch also and then pressed against the trunk of the tree, relying on her brown clothes to blend into the bark and conceal her.
“We won’t hurt you,” called one of the younger men, “Come out.”
Hard to believe, especially after one of them had stabbed her. It was unfortunate that she hadn’t seen which one of them had left his knife in her arm. If she had, she would gladly return it to him with a well aimed throw from where she was hiding.
She noticed that the older men looked to the younger one, allowed him to call out, watched what he was doing with keen interest. Was he the leader, then? Faye saw him indicate the tree she had been hiding behind just a few minutes beforehand to the other men. The two older men broke off, trying to sneak up behind where they thought she was hiding. Faye stayed where she was, watching the remaining two. One of them seemed to be just a tall child.
“Lorcan,” said the youngest quietly, “I’m not sure about this.”
“Relax Colm,” said the leader, “We’re almost done.”
“One of them stabbed her. They said they wouldn’t hurt anyone,” said Colm.
“That was just because she fought back,” said Lorcan, “She won’t do that again.”
Faye smirked and wondered how much he would be willing to bet on that. Satisfied, she relaxed and pulled away slightly from the tree. She had two of their names now. She quickly glanced around before continuing, checking between and above the trees. She was deep in the territory of a Forest Guardian, a type of Aed that had once been an animal. She could see no traces of it, but the sense she barely had told her that it was there.
Faye had only seen Aed after she was picked up by a Council Scout, and even the idea of them still made her anxious. A born Aedly, no Aed had given her the gifts and those she had were not strong and skipped generations of her family. She remembered very little of her Grandfather, who’d had a weaker version of her ability, but he was the one who had begun her teachings. The worst thing an inherted Aedly could ever meet was an Aed, he had told her. To the monsters, she was a living insult.
So she would need to be careful before deciding to move on to the next step. When she was almost certain that it was safe, she pulled some dried fruit out of her pack just in case she would need an offering, and began to use her gifts.
Faye closed her eyes and steadied her breathing to a slow and constant pace. When she opened her eyes again, the view had changed. She looked at the two men below her and could see an almost transparent blanket of dense air surrounding them. The auras surrounding them were murky, and there was a yellow tint to the youngest one, Colm, that swirled in an uneasy pattern. He was an easier target, but Faye focused on the other man, Lorcan because it appeared to her that he influenced the others.
So she began to nudge at his aura from where she hid in the tree. She started slowly, creating a patten and adding a colour that would give him a sense of dread. The other two men, who had separated, had nearly reached her former hiding space. She was too far away from her target to affect him very much, but she needed to do something before they discovered that she had moved. So she worked to give an impression of an emotion, like seeing something from the corner of an eye.
Still, it wasn’t working as well as she wanted it to. Apparently the boy had a stubborn streak that was so ingrained he applied it without any conscious thought. She could, of course, still have eventually gotten his aura to where it wanted to be but it was like painting on glass. She decided that it would take too much time, and switched to the easier Colm. He was sensitive to her impressions, more malleable like canvas, and the additional fear affected him almost imediately.
“This doesn’t feel right,” said Colm, holding his arms.
“It sure doesn’t,” whispered Faye in her hiding space. Colm jerked, but he hadn’t heard her. He had just felt the affirmation of his emotion.
“Shut up,” snapped Lorcan, trying to ignore the fear she had put on him.
The two older men reached the tree. One of them picked up the knife and held it out for Lorcan to see.
“Shit,” said Colm, “Where’d she go?”
He glanced around the forest too quickly to see anything but the shadows and spaces in which predetors could hide.
“Not far,”said Lorcan, “She can’t have gone far.”
Lorcan examined his surrounds as well, but much more slowly and more diligent than his companion. He didn't just glance at the shadows and hiding places but examined them and considered them before moving on.
“We should just head back to the road,” said Colm, “Someone else will be along.”
“Someone with a pack that big? Someone carrying an ornate sword? Plus she’s clearly able. We could have enough with just her. Think of Sorcha.”
Faye didn't think her pack was all that big.
Most of what was in it was blankets and clothes, anyway. Her ‘ornate’ sword was a fake. She had been allowed to keep it after finding the forger. It was worth less than an arrow. The only thing she was carrying that was worth any money was safely tucked away in her belt pouch next to the paste package. When Lorcan began to look up into the trees, she figured that it might be time to use it.
“That’s why this is weird,” said Colm, “Just think about it. Why would someone like that be wandering around on her own? With a sword like that, she could afford bodyguards.”
“I don’t know,” growled Lorcan, “And I don’t care.”
Faye smirked. She could change that easily enough. Colm might have been more frightened because of her gift, but the boys was still using his head. It was a shame his friends weren't as smart as he was.
Faye reached down and pulled out the only valuable she had, letting the length of it trail through her fingers. A long string of small, glass beads that strectched longer than the lenght of her, it was awkward for her to take it out without getting tangled up in it. She tied one end of the string around the branch before climbing onto another branch and walking along it. Lorcan was examining trees in the wrong direction, so she didn't have to worry too much. She walked as far along as she could on the narrowing branch. Then she held the other end of the string up close to her mouth.
“You should listen to your friend,” she said into the beads. The string shallowed the sound so that even she could not her her own voice and then, after a few moments, each bead sang it back out at almost the same time, so it sounded like there were hundreds of voices, all the same. Faye had to giggle as all the men looked around in terror. The giggle was shallowed and amplified as well, and she had to admit the result was delightfully eerie.
“Witch!” hissed Lorcan.
Faye smirked in silence. If only it were that easy.