Chapter 1: Hunting
Inhaling, the taste of ozone and damp soil tingles my tongue. Expanding my lungs, waking me further.
Like every other morning, I woke at the crack of dawn to go hunting. I relished in these small moments to myself, which despite what you might think was quite hard to come by. Our only neighbors might be the animals and trees, but who could blame a girl for needing to get away. It weirdly grounded me, being out here in the woods. A feeling of rejuvenation always flooded my system after a good hunt.
Running my feet sank into the damp soil that coated the forest floor. Trees and plants rushed by as I sped further into the thick forest. Adrenaline coursed through my veins causing my pace to quicken.
It wasn’t long before the telltale tingle at the back of my mind told me that Nash was closing in. Putting an end to my alone time. If it wasn’t for these tingles, it would be nearly impossible to hear him. Nash’s cat-like stealth allowed him to move through the forest undetected. I doubt even the most skilled eyes and ears could pick him out. The only reason I’m the exception to the rule is our mental connection. Sure, the idea of another’s thoughts in your head is a bit strange, and trust me when it first developed it was. Now, I wouldn’t change it for the world even when he pushes my buttons. Which happens more often than I would like, but I push his right back.
When my eyes landed on his gleaming silver ones all those years ago, a connection seemed to form. It felt like I was looking at a reflection of myself.
Since then the connection has only grown in strength to what it is today.
My head felt a slight pressure as his mind reached out to me. Like a slight caress. Giving me a sense of safety along with a spark of his untamed wildness.
Daydrrrreaming again Aspen? Nash’s deep voice rumbled in my mind.
Narrowing my eyes on him. Morning to you to Nash, and no I was just thinking how peaceful everything was until this light buzzing started in the back of my mind. I sarcastically linked back.
His lips morphed into a grin showing off his two-inch long canines while a grumble of a laugh rumbled out. Pressing my lips together kept me from cracking a smile. The sparkle that shot through his eyes indicated I was unsuccessful.
Changing tactics, with something I knew would pique his interest. You up for a race? His ears perked up. The loser has to sit and watch the traps while the other gets to scout the area?
Neither of us liked sitting still for long. Normally we switched every other day but today I was feeling generous. Since today was supposed to be his day. I Internally grinned waiting for him to take the bate. He had nothing to lose, which is why I made the bet.
An even bigger grin spread across his dark brown muzzle. Without wasting time, he eagerly agreed with one node of his massive fiery head.
With a twinkle in my own eyes, I spoke allowed, “alright on the count of three, whoever crosses into the clearing by the springs first, wins” Counting slowly, “One…… Two...,’ taking one breath in my mind clears. Exhaling, “THREE!” With a jolt, my muscles coil, sinking my feet further into the mud. Like a spring my legs shoot forward. One foot after another my body glides through the underbrush. My arms pump me faster and faster gaining speed as we whip through the forest.
To my right, Nash’s large and agile body propels him forward with little effort. It always surprised me how graceful he was despite being the size of a horse. You would think he’d make some kind of noise but no, not a peep.
In the past, Nash has tried to teach me his ways. Sadly, each time a stick somehow snuck its way under my foot.
A feeling of joy shot through my mind notifying me of Nash’s excitement. With the spring coming into view I pushed harder, doubling my pace. Feeling Nash’s warm breath bearing down on me, kept me moving.
The distance was closing in on us, ten steps…… five steps…… two. The air steered to my right and suddenly Nash was ahead crossing into the small clearing. Slowing my pace I come to a complete stop beside him. A rare full-faced smile split across my face. He was one of the few who could still pull a true smile from my lips, teeth, and all.
Bumping my shoulder with his, “good race, maybe next time I’ll win!” I joked. He just rolls his silver eyes at me. We both knew that the likelihood of that happening was, as likely as my father not being the strict, overprotective, bruit of a man. Despite knowing this, the enjoyment we get out of racing was worth the small loss.
Walking over to the water’s edge, I glanced down into the glassy surface. Reflected back at me was the number one reason for my father’s overprotectiveness.
My doe-shaped eyes encased my black pools that had white flakes around their pupils. They always unsettled me with their eerie intensity. My eyes wandered over my reflection. My face was adorned with a small sloped nose leading to my plump cupid bowed upper lip. All encased in an oval-shaped face framed with hair so blond it could be white. The blond strands were accented with gold strands interwoven throughout my three braids that reached just above my shoulders.
My looks were almost an exact replica of her’s. Her being my Matther or mother as the humans would say. The only difference was my olive-toned skin given to me by my father. My unique black irises came from somewhere in the gene pool, but who knew.
Tucking a stray hair behind my right ear showed off how they came to a slight point. Having a slight point to your ears was a common trait amongst halflings.
Halflings in my case and my sister’s represented our three-fourths elf and one-fourth human heritage. My mother was a full elf, while my father was a half-elf, half-human. My father maybe half-elf but he had almost no physical or magical traits common for halflings. He did, however, have heightened stealth and strength and a longer life span which is why he still looked to be in his twenties. Despite him being way past his youthful years.
My little sister Terra and I have already begun showing some of our elven traits and abilities. For Halflings gaining our affinities as they call them, happens over time. They slowly billed until we hit puberty and then the full extent of our abilities are manifested. Though for each halfling the exact age differs as well as the abilities we could get. Our aging also comes to a stop like the Elves.
To this day, not everything is known about our powers. Even after two centuries have passed since the rift was torn into our world.
As my father would bluntly put it, they are all a bunch of tight-lipped fuckers. Not his most elegant wording, but it got the point across. Our mother upon hearing this had smacked him upon the head for saying such crude words in front of the children. It was one of the funniest things I have ever seen. Our slime well-mannered mother berating our father who was almost twice her size. When you got her temper going it was a sight to behold.
Just thinking about it turned the corners of my lips up. The brief happiness didn’t last long as reality reared its ugly head.
Exhaling, my physical appearance was a reminder to my father of her death. Not only hers but also my older brothers. Their deaths left quite a mental and physical scar on all of us. Having a daughter who looks so much like your dead wife, was a smack to the face.
Their deaths were also the reason we went into hiding nine years ago.
Thinking about the past was making those old and dark memories claw their way back to the surface. I could feel my unstable emotions become evident in my eyes. The white rings around my inner eye fade to a vibrant purple that swirled around in my black irises.
A slight shove to my side nearly pushed me over, and out of my thoughts. Shit, I need to get it together.
Normally it wouldn’t be this easy to rattle my emotions, but my dreams from last night left me feeling off-kilter. It’s been so long since I last had one of those dreams.
You ok? Nash’s calm voice lulls into my mind.
I nod, ya, just feeling a bit off since this morning, nothing a good hunt can’t fix. I try to brush it off but he’s no fool. Thankfully he let it slide for now but by the look, he was giving me it wouldn't last.
Bending down I scoop up some water and splash my face a few times. Cleaning off sweat and dirt that built up overnight. Lastly, I took a sip. Swishing it around cleaned my mouth of the morning grime. After spitting it out I felt refreshed. Standing I stretched my arms over my head in one big motion, releasing my tense muscles.
Turning to Nash who was now sprawled out on the ground grooming his paws. I couldn’t help but think how cute he looks. “Awww, aren’t you the sweetest thing,” I teased.
He instantly freezes, looks up with narrowed eyes, and grunts out his displeasure.
Bantering back and forth is a daily occurrence between the two of us. And he gave just as good as he gets.
Still glaring at me, I simply wave my hands in a placating manner “Alright, alright you’re a very intimidating, ferocious Relux.” Grinning he stands up and puffs out his chest. Rolling my eyes, “Let’s get going before you wake up every animal in the forest with your inflated ego.”
Not taking the bait for once he turns and dashes into the brush. Heading In the direction of our extra traps and hunting gear. Keeping the supplies out here keeps me from having to lug them back and forth each day.
Following behind him it doesn’t take long to reach our hiding spot. Located Within the base of a tree is a small burrow covered with leaves. Bending down I brush the leaves to the side revealing the hole. Reaching in I begin pulling things out. First is some rope, next three small cages crafted from sticks, and a few other objects to set up traps.
All set Nash heads out to scout and check the traps we left overnight. While I head further into the woods. The sunlight peeks through the dense forest canopy. Warming the air.
Eventually, I find some fresh animal droppings. Using the rope, cage, and a few berries I construct a simple trap. After completing the first, I head to find two other spots and set up similar traps.
Finished I hunt for a place to hunker down and wait. Someplace high and out of sight would work best. Glancing around I spot the perfect tree. Reaching it I grip the lowest branch and pull myself up. Halfway up I stop and settle myself on a thick branch.
Now for the fun part, waiting.
Pulling my bow from my back and an arrow I notch it into place just in case anything wanders by. Using my enhanced hearing I toon into my surroundings. Listening for the sound of any traps being triggered or wandering animals in shooting distance.
Time passes and still nothing. Even the chirping of the birds has been unusually quiet.
I reach out to Nash, How are things on your end? It’s pretty quiet over here.
His reply is instant, One rabbit is in the trap closest to the springs. Otherwise, it’s been quiet. There seems to be… Everything goes silent on his end. Then a rush of mixed emotions streams into me from him. They’re all over the place and I can’t pinpoint what’s happening. Worry turns my gut.
Nash are you there? Is everything ok? I try reaching out to him but nothing. I try again and again, but not a single word.
I’m about to dart back down when he answers back. I think you should check this out. Stay alert.
Not questioning him I swiftly but skillfully climb back down. Close enough to the ground I jump landing softly on the balls of my feet. Using our connection I push out my senses and locate him off to my right. Moving as quickly and quietly as possible I make my way to him. Paying close attention to my surroundings.
Coming up behind him I notice that he’s focused on something on the ground. Reaching his side I pear down at what has grabbed his attention. Imprinted into the dirt are tracks and not that of an animal but boots. Following the tracks with my eyes, they lead further into the woods. Relief rushes through me when I realize that they are going in the opposite direction of our camp. What keeps my stomach clenched in worry, is why would someone be way out here. Father had picked this location because of its isolation. Even more, concerning was what my father would do if he finds out.
I don’t want to move again. If he finds out, we will be gone so quick I’ll have whiplash for a week. Grunting in frustration I pinch the bridge of my nose.
Dammit, this sucks.
Looking once more to where the tracks disappear, my frustration quickly gets overshadowed by interest.
Without realizing it, my curious side has taken complete control. My feet are already moving in the direction of the tracks. Not even my previous concern has me stopping and turning around.
Nash being the responsible one tries to stop me. Using his teeth to pull on my clothing causing the already tattered animal hide to nearly rip. Waving him off I continue. He grunts but follows, staying close behind.
Only moments have passed and it seems Nash the worry wort is on the cusp of dragging me away.
This isn’t safe Aspen what if someone finds us, Nash practically whines.
Voices up ahead reach my ears. Before Nash can stop me I rush forward. Not the smartest decision might I add, but it seems my body had a mind of its own. It’s been way too long since I’ve seen another face besides my father and sister. I had to take the chance while I had it, who knows when I’d get another.
That was my, I don’t give a fuck about the consequences, brain speaking.
Ya, not a good sign.
Using all the skills my father and Nash have instilled in me. I stalk up to the voices now only ten yards ahead. Closing in, my ears pick out three distinct male voices. Next to me, I can feel Nash’s anxiety rolling off of him in waves. Flooding my mind with his apprehension.
To relax him I send calming vibes through our bond. If you want you can go back and watch the traps. I won’t belong, I’m only going to take a quick peek.
Growling under his breath. Knowing he would never leave me in danger, he sulks in defeat.
Catching sight of a drop off I edge closer. The voices are coming from below. The bushes keep us out of sight from what sounds like men below. Staying as still as we can I peer through the branches and leaves. No luck, I still can’t see them. Until a slight movement to the right catches my eye. Tilting my head further, three people come into view. Their backs are turned to us as they walk. All three seem to be wearing the same set of clothing. A dark pair of pants and some lightweight armor on top. On each of their backs, is some kind of goldcrest. My enhanced eyesight, lets me make out the design. In the center is a lion’s head, depicted with his mouth open menacingly. Surrounding the head is some kind of plant weaving around what looks to be a sword going down the middle.
Thinking back to the years of teachings my fathers instilled in us. The armor and crest represent someone from one of the kingdom’s royal guards. Though to which kingdom the crest belonged I can’t remember. Terra was always better at remembering these things.
Why would royal guards be way out here? I strain even further hoping to catch sight of anything else. As I lean forward a stick finds its way under my foot. The crunch and crack of the twig sound deafening to my sensitive ears. We Both freeze listening and waiting to see if the guards react. The seconds tick painfully by. Thankfully after a few minutes, the voices only get further away. With a glance at one another, we silently agree that it’s time to head back.
Hunting was completely forgotten as my mind turned with questions.