The woods were dark as the Huntsman closed in on his prey. It wasn’t prey in the typical sense as one would expect. These woods were devoid of boar, deer or even any water fowl around the lake.
This Hunter was following the desperate pants of the creature ahead of him.
There was a far off fluttering, as if some bird was trapped in the trees, but it was too close to the ground. The Huntsman could hear her terrified gasps as she tried to release herself from whatever bush had caught her in their branches and grinned. Soon, he would have his prey for his master.
There was a snap and she was off again. The Huntsman would have growled if he were a lesser predator, but unlike many in his guild, he had the patience for this kind of hunting. After all, they didn’t come into traps which they were capable of seeing through, nor could they be caught with iron bars. Exhaustion would leave her incapable of fighting and desperation would push her past her breaking points.
It just made it all the easier for him.
He could hear her steps slowing down, her body failing her as she tried to flee. His master would be pleased with his work- she was far easier to catch than he had first anticipated. When she had fled his master, others had been sent and their loyalty questioned. It was clear now that the Trickster was merely incompetent rather than traitorous.
They were coming to the edge of the forest where it dropped away at sheer cliffs. Less than a mile from here, a waterfall fell over the edge, far below into a deep pool that marked the end of his master’s lands. It didn’t matter- the next Lord wanted nothing to do with this creature either and would gladly allow him to continue his hunt. But she had nowhere to go now, nowhere but down or back with him, back to his eagerly awaiting Lord.
He caught a glimpse of her ahead of him, teetering on the edge of the cliff. A gale of wind had caught raven hair and blew it across her face, masking the eyes that marked her as what she was. She turned sharply, searching for another path to escape. And that was when she spotted him emerging from the forest after her, one hand resting on his bow.
“Come with me now,” he said calmly. “And your life will be spared.”
“Never!” she spat. “I will never be a slave to your people! Not again!” He laughed at that.
“And where will you go?” he mocked. “Over the edge?” She glanced behind her, eyes wide. And then, it seemed like something changed in her mind and she turned back to him, eyes steely.
“Your master will never have my blood,” she declared, stepping backwards. Too late, the Huntsman realised that her desperation had changed to determination. She would not allow him to take her back and she was going to ensure it
“No!” he shouted, lunging forwards but she flung herself backwards, out and over the edge of the cliff, plunging into the abyss below. The Huntsman could only watch helplessly as his prey spun gracelessly in the air until she hit the rocks underneath, blood pooling from the shattered body. He had no magic, no access to the Ether to prevent this final act of desperation.
He growled in frustration and stood. His master would not be pleased with him for having lost his quarry so disastrously. He would not lose the next one- he was going to make sure of it.