I rolled to my hands and knees, eyes sweeping back and forth through the trees as the eerie silence fell over the woods. I saw nothing and that terrified me even more because something scared the dogs away and that same thing took out the guards. Silencing my breath, I tried to listen to my surroundings, but I was so flustered. Pulling my still-damp skirts out from beneath my legs, I lurched to my feet, out of breath, cold, and utterly terrified. I was alone, defenseless, and in a world of pain.
Standing there, wondering if that was where I was going to die, I noticed the sounds around me start to die down even further. I stiffened. There were no birds. No insects. The chill of silence made my skin crawl. I squeezed my dress in my hands, wishing Eyuri hadn’t just run off like she did, leaving me there with only my weak, human legs to carry me. My heart was pounding a million times a second. I decided to press on in hopes of finding a clearing or a peak from which I could map a route to...wherever I was going.
The moment I took a step, something caught my eye. Something in the trunk of a tree that didn’t quite sit right with me. I stopped, squinting at the textures in the brown bark only to realize there was a stretch of it that wasn’t as still as the rest. A portion that didn’t fit. I took another step, my pulse pounding, when two, purple orbs lit up amongst the umber shades. Eyes.
It took a few seconds to truly accept what I was seeing. I thought I was hallucinating until the figure stepped away from the tree, separating itself from the bark enough for me to realize it was a man. He was camouflaged so well that my mind still wasn’t quite able to comprehend it. He walked forward, raising something from his side and positioning it vertically in front of him. A bow. He already had an arrow knocked and drew the string back with his other hand, training it on me.
I gasped, stepping back and catching the hem of my dress under my heel. I fell to the ground, scooting back on my hands as the man advanced. He was covered from head to toe in mud to the point of not being able to discern the color of his skin or what he was wearing or if he was wearing anything at all. He was broad up top, tall, and tapered thin at the waist, squaring his shoulders like a predator about to pounce. He certainly seemed to have more animal in his eyes than anything else.
Panicked, I forced myself to my feet and spun around to make a run for it. My path was blocked by two other figures that seemed to appear from the trees like they were part of them. Male. Female. My brain was spinning and I couldn’t even tell what they were. They all had bows and drew them at me. I backed away, whipping my head around to see more of them emerging to surround me. I was panting and making myself dizzy with unease as they closed in, caging me in a loose circle.
“Please, don’t,” I said, raising my hands in surrender.
It took a while, but the first figure I saw was the first to lower his bow. He kept his purple eyes fixed on me. He turned the arrow parallel to his bow, disarming it, and relaxed his stance a little. The others followed his lead, but no one spoke. Not for a long while. I stared at the man, trying to see past the mud, but there was little to observe save for his long hair, which was slicked back from his face and also covered in filth. Now that I had a moment to think, I was able to see the somewhat pointed ears on the sides of his head. I almost choked on my own breath and gulped.
“You’re elves,” I said, slowly relaxing my hands back at my sides.
The man’s eyes narrowed and he raised his chin, but said nothing. No one did. I took another scan of the others, looking for a gap in their formation. The only one I saw was next to the man with the animal stare. When he looked over my head at the others and motioned something to them with his hand, I bolted. My feet were numb and soaked in my boots. My thighs ached trying to grip Eyuri for so long. My throat was on fire. None of it mattered when I considered the alternative. That alternative was to stay there and see all the stories I’d ever heard about elves unfold in a nightmare around me.
Part of my foolish brain thought I was going to make it when the man sidestepped and crouched down in front of me. In one smooth and effortless motion, his arm collided with my stomach and he stood, draping me over his broad shoulder. I yelped, struggling as he hauled me along, wrapping one arm around the back of my legs.
“Let me go!” I screamed. “Please!”
His grip was strong and no amount of effort seemed to throw him off balance. My hair fell over my head, dull with filth and obscuring my vision. I felt sick hanging there like that, the blood rushing to my head. I was totally disoriented and at a loss. I kept kicking, but little by little, my movements lessened.
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