Her head pounded, her cheek stung, and she felt frigid, the warmth from the small fire barely reaching her. She moaned, attempting to push herself up, but a wave of wooziness swept over her, and she moaned again. She heard something shift to her left, and her body sent a jolt of adrenaline coursing through her. She flew forward, remembering the scene with clarity as nausea gripped her empty stomach.
She hunched over onto her hands and knees, gagging as the nausea overcame her, chills wracking her slender frame. She sat back, and more movement alerted her to his presence. Slow, timid, her gaze crept to his face.
He stared at her with no emotion, unblinking, cold and calculating. His golden eyes were strange, yet beautiful, along with every other detail of his face. A foreboding sense of familiarity struck her, but she was in no place to make the connection. Remembering how easily he’d cut down those men, she lurched away, scooting backwards through the moist dirt, until her back hit a solid force. She brought her knees up to her chest, wrapping her arms around them, feeling so minuscule in his presence. A small sob clawed its way up her throat.
All the fear she’d felt as those men had grabbed at her returned. She knew there was no escape from this foe, having seen the damage he was able to inflict first-hand. She prayed he would be merciful, and if he planned to kill her after whatever tortures he had in mind, she hoped it was swift.
She rocked herself, freezing, tears stinging the cut along her cheek, and he watched on, motionless, forearms resting on his knees, eyes cutting into her soul. The firelight danced upon his tanned skin, and her gaze followed the lines of his lithe body under his cotton shirt, to his arms thick with muscle, to his hands and long, deft fingers. He was sinister, somehow, for her instincts told her he was more dangerous than anything in this world.
But he stayed still, eyes following her rocking form, not a word issuing from his lips. She cried, attempting to keep the weakness to herself, hiding her face in her arms but still watching to ensure he made no move toward her. After a while, she felt something similar to calm and exhaustion overcoming her.
She watched the fire, wishing it could warm her as she shivered just out of its reach. Her eyes, then, fell to her old tattered backpack, resting by his bare feet. She picked her head up, anxiety choking her. If he harmed her, that was one thing, but to take what precious little she had left to remind her of her family was villainous. His shrewd eyes narrowed, and without moving his head, he followed her gaze. Her heart leapt into her throat.
Slow, he reached for the bag, long fingers wrapping with a gentleness unbecoming of his size around the strap. Standing, he grasped the bag. Hollis’ eyes widened as she tilted her head to the sky, shrinking further into the dirt at his impending height. He wore shorts, his elongated calves as muscled as the rest of him and dotted with brown hairs.
It only took him two steps to stand before her, and her panic rose. Her backpack thudded to the ground in front of her, and he retreated, as silent as the hush of butterfly wings. He sat once more on his boulder, waiting.
Her heart clenched, for she desired to ensure all her things were still there, but she also felt uncomfortable under that stare of his.
Her heart won the battle, and she rifled through her pack. Bible, Teddy, clothes, map, matches, coat. Everything was still there except her pitiful knife. She felt her shoulders relax a fraction, and though she wanted to don her jacket and hold her bear tight to her chest, she was too self-conscious to do so under such superior scrutiny.
“You will die, tiny woman. Tonight will rain.”
She jumped, fear pumping through her veins at the deep tenor of his voice, his words low with no inflection.
Was that how other humans addressed one another, with physical descriptors? And how did he know it would rain?
His gaze stayed on her, a frown etched onto his wide mouth. Her heart stuttered as she realized he was…well, perfect. There wasn’t a single flaw on him, and compared to her other encounter, she found it odd. Perhaps he was wealthy, for he wore clothes that depicted a higher status than her own.
She sat, dumbfounded and overwhelmed as to how to proceed. She wanted him to quit staring, to give her some privacy, but she knew that his intentions were sinister, and privacy would be out of the question. She squirmed, turning her hips and angling herself away from him. She heard his exasperated sigh, shrinking back once more as he drew near.
Her breath was ragged, and she used her backpack as a shield between their two bodies as he crouched in front of her. She began to shake her head, wondering if that was all the preamble she would get before he took what he wanted. His hand shot out, gripping her chin with a tenderness she had not expected, his skin rough but fiery against her own. Her heart raced like an erratic hummingbird.
His eyes were rimmed with thick lashes, his jawline holding a hint of scratchy hair and his skin made even more bronze by the glow of the fire. She’d known men grew beards, but she’d never seen one, even on television. His hand was so large that it engulfed her face, it seemed, and though she knew to fear him, in this moment she felt safe, sensing he didn’t seek to harm her now. Perhaps it would come later, when he felt the need, if that was how all this worked. Her other attackers had wasted no time, and so she was left confounded.
She watched his full lips dip into a slight frown, his eyes narrowing again as he analyzed her. He turned her face to the side, inspecting the cut she felt stinging her cheek, and his frown deepened. He turned her head the other way, seeming satisfied with his inquiry.
“You are frigid,” he said, and though his voice was low, it seemed to boom through the quiet forest. Hollis began to shake in his grasp, which only solidified his appraisal.
“I will warm you,” he said, reaching beneath her before she had time to protest. He hefted her into his arms as he stood, and she was too stunned to struggle, pressed tight to his sweltering chest. With her backpack in tow, he stomped back to his boulder, uncaring if he was loud now. Hollis wriggled in his grasp, feeling too overwhelmed by his touch and his presence, reminded of another hot feeling on her thigh not so long ago that made her skin crawl.
He sat on the forest floor, wedging her between his thighs, her back to his chest, his legs and arms her new prison. She began to hyperventilate.
She watched, stomach sinking, as his nimble fingers unzipped her backpack, hand diving into the darkness before producing her teddy bear. She grasped for it, and he let her, the stuffed animal giving her a sense of comfort in such a frightening situation. She buried her face into Teddy, the smell of home emanating from his fur, and another sob wracked her small frame.
She shook and wept, petrified and losing all sense of hope.
She stilled as she felt his warm fingers brush through her hair, the gesture intimate but new and therefore frightening.
“Please,” she begged, quaking, squeezing tears from her pinched eyes as she gripped Teddy with all her mite. She didn’t want him to draw this out any longer, for it was more tortuous than any physical pain she would endure.
“Shh, tiny woman,” he grumbled as she felt his chest expand and contract with his deep, even breaths, his heartbeat heavy and slow.
“I will not take you,” he said, fingers still working their way through her long hair. She felt the confusion on her face at his turn of phrase.
“Take-take me where?” she said, voice full of tears. He stilled, and she sensed his own confusion. After a moment, he exhaled, chest rumbling with what felt like a dark chuckle.
“I will not harm you, tiny, fair woman.”
Oberon waited what felt like hours for the small creature between his legs to relax. She was so strange to him, so new, as was everything he’d encountered. His instincts had survived his death, though, and being of higher intelligence and status than mere humans, it was easy for him to bridge the gaps in his mind.
He was able to listen to what everything around him had to say, especially the rocks and the trees, for they had been present the longest. They grew tall and proud here, unhindered by humanity anymore. Although he’d been sleeping for thousands of years, he’d never felt more alive, more in tune with himself. His memories of the past were there—shrouded by darkness—but there all the same.
She fidgeted and squirmed still, even after his promise to not harm her. He wondered when she would tire herself out. As he held her, he could feel everything she was exuding, a perk of being a creature such as he.
He felt her fear, mingled with despair and confusion, but most of all her stark innocence. She’d never met a human outside of her family, and this was bizarre for Oberon. He stared down at her fair head, his fingers enjoying the silky feel of a woman’s hair after so many years locked in the darkness. He knew his gesture was disconcerting for her, but he could hardly deny himself this small bit of contact.
He let his eyes slip closed, hearing her small voice as he watched from the cover of the treeline, not willing to intervene until he’d heard it.
It had been so quiet, so panicked and unsure, and it had awoken within him a rage he hadn’t felt in thousands of years. Her small, wispy voice had called to him, and then she’d screamed, and his resolve was faded to nothing. He drew strength and pleasure from the slaughter, having quite missed the fear in a man’s eyes as he cut them down to nothing.
His eyes snapped open as the little human shifted, seeking comfort, her body overcome with exhaustion and hunger. He felt the first of what would be many raindrops pelt his face, the water caressing his cheek and sharing with him its multitude of memories. His eyes slipped closed once more as he let a small smile grace his lips.
With a sigh, he knew her fragility would not survive the cold and wet, and he’d need to find them a bit of shelter. He stood, pulling her and her backpack into his arms as he kicked dirt over the small fire, bathing them in what precious little moonlight was left. Although he hadn’t felt he had been gone for more than a night’s slumber, he somehow sensed it, and his body sighed in relief at every small change and shift of nature.
He slung his own pack over his shoulders, careful to not jostle the small female too much. She was stiff in his arms, heart thumping, arms encircling a strange looking doll. Her scent clung to it, though, and he felt her attachment to the thing. He walked through the night as the rain thundered in the distance, drawing nearer. He needed little light to see, his eyes stronger than a normal man’s.
He paused, listening, before he adjusted his course, an outcropping of rocks sliding into his view. He ducked under it just as the clouds closed in above, and the rain picked up its speed. It would be no use building a fire.
He sat once more, the human in his lap, his arms releasing her so he could shed his pack. She did not hesitate to scramble away, standing and teetering to the left before she fell, her body devoid of nutrients. He caught her, cradling her to his chest, her body limp. He preferred her this way, still and peaceful. He could gaze upon her face without her shying away in fear.
He’d never seen a human so enchanting. The women of his time had been dark haired, riddled with disease and ailments of every kind. He’d never found a woman worth carrying his children, and so he’d left, going as far north as he was capable. He was able to catch glimpses of fair-haired women with sapphire eyes and pink cheeks, and he’d set out to choose one, before…
He felt his lip curl back in disgust as the memory overcame him, and his purpose for being here, now, was brought to the front of his mind once more. He needed to hunt down this Res and rid himself of the devil, for he intended to be free in every sense of the word.
The young girl moaned in his grasp, giving a hearty squeeze to the fluffy creature in her arms, her dark brow knitting together. If Oberon had his way, she would be his by morning. His body knew all too clearly what it had been missing while he slumbered, encased in ice. He’d already quenched his hunger and his thirst and his bloodlust.
Now, what he desired above all else was the softness of a woman.
He situated her in the dirt on her side, laying down behind her and pulling their bodies flush, attune to her vital signs. She may have been starved and dehydrated, but at least she would be warm, would be kept safe from others who would waste the gift that was her life.
His eyes gave the darkness a final scan before he allowed himself to fall asleep, knowing, this time, he would awake.