She gazed at her reflection, annoyed as the small flower disrupted her clear image. It wouldn't take long for the water to settle, she knew, but even the smallest flower's disturbance was a waste of her time. They would be here soon.
The water began to calm and she felt herself relax. Her nose and eyebrows ceased to squirm and twitch, and she leaned further into the tree at her back.
Blue optics of curiously different shades returned her resumed stare, their irises standing out in salient contrast to the pale face that bore them.
Thin lips were pursed, a dark brow was furrowed and she intensified her stare. It took but a fraction of a moment. The water parted between her eyes and the ripples commenced anew, as if a tossed rock had broken through the water's plane. But there were no rocks to be tossed. Not around here. Nor people to toss them.
I cause this.
The veracity of her admittance rung loud and true in her ears. She clutched at her stomach, eyes closed tightly against the nauseating swirl of emotion that threatened to tear its way through her mind.
The feeling built and built and built until she was certain it would overtake her. Most every emotional encounter she'd ever lived through was there to be experienced. An amazed wonder; dizzying confusion; ecstatic elation. All were present.
The most prominent, however, was this sickening sense of dread. All else paled in comparison to the rising fear that lodged itself within her heart, stopping her breath and tensing her frame.
She was right, that old hag. Curse her! Curse her and those Sightful eyes that ruined my life!
A string of hissed words a woman of her age and standing should never even think followed her angry train of thought. She felt none the better for it, of course. If anything it only added guilt to the amassed tangle of feelings that made up her soul.
Her next breath was ragged, painful and forced to be deep. The calming effect she'd been hoping for could not even be bothered to try and sooth her inner turmoil. She held it all in, counting to the highest number she could manage and then starting over.
Frantic palpitations slowed to a riskily uneven rhythm and her head began to feel light and fuzzy. She kept it locked away for a moment more, then allowed it all to whistle passed her parted lips.
The seconds ticked by as, slowly, she came to herself. The last of the breath she'd been holding left her system. Quietly.
A good thing, too. Any louder and she might not have noticed the rustling of low-branched tree leaves from somewhere behind her.
"This way!" shouted a voice.
"She couldn't have gone far!" replied another.
Through the holes in the erratic pattern of tree leaves, mismatched blue orbs watched the hunters pass by. Thaegan crouched, still and silent, upon the widest high-branch that would support her weight.
Four. Five. Six... Seven. Always watch for the last scout. The Mat'rock may not possess exceptional hunting skills, but they had definitely begun to pick up on the cautionary ways of the villages surrounding them. By travelling a few minutes behind the main group, the rear man became an inexpendable unit when ambushes, traps, even other scouting groups, were presumed a threat.
This was one of the few hunting skills they had developed over the years. Mat'rock clansmen had little or no need for such competences. The only time they ever took to the trees was when the branching lakes were too frozen to fish, and this was a hindrance only a few weeks every other year.
For this reason she believed she held the advantage. Their numbers were great; quite unusually high, if she did say so herself. The clan must really have been flourishing if the Elders had deemed it fit to remove so many able bodies from their inner posts. But they had nothing on her woodland experience. She had been watching very closely, and so, although she recognized each and every man as a skilled fisher and average combatant, she was confident in her ability to escape their notice. They had a good ten minutes on her, which made travel in another direction really quite easy. She wouldn't have to waste time being quiet. She was just lucky that...
"That was very close."
Thaegan stiffened, the beginnings of a new dread clutching at her heart. The voice had come from behind her; whispered, barely a thumbs width from her right ear. Her outstretched hand tightened around the thick trunk at her side, hard nails digging into the tree's tough crust. Pupils contracted in fear as she shifted focus to the face right next to her own.
A beautiful set of dark blue eyes, perfectly matched and clear, stared down through the very same leaved breaches within the green canopy. High, defined cheekbones accentuated a regal nose and plush lips. Full strands of black hair fell across the far side of his face. The divine black body closer to her was upheld within bone tubes that curved around his head, a mark of strength, acceptance and ability among the Mat'rock. He smelled strongly of musk, and very faintly of the sea breeze that was a constant among the Mat'rock clansmen.
Her fingers throbbed as the rough bark bit into her skin, but the tightness in her arms she could not control. Those breathtaking blue eyes flicked to meet hers and a quiet gasp of fear escaped her.
"You think to run from me."
It all happened too fast for her panic-stricken mind to register. She understood the blur of movement to be his arm flying through the air. Understood the intense pain in her lower jaw to be his strike. But then she was on the ground, only a little ways from a tree trunk. Her legs and torso ached painfully, the last remnants of a high-pitched shout echoing harshly back at her from the surrounding forest. Through the rustling tree branches she saw him looking down at her, piercing her. She could not look away. Which again made it difficult to understand why he was suddenly standing right next to her.
Fear muddled her mind. She focused on his beautiful face, searching for something that just wasn't there.
Three years her senior, Kiraelan had been quite the anomaly among the clan's people, much like herself. Neither had taken to fishing, the life-long passion of every villager that enclosed them. They had instead chosen to spend their days in the large forest bordering the village. Often were the times they chased one another through the trees, snickering together as they accepted punishment from various scolding parents.
All that had ended mere months past. Kiraelan had become secluded, withdrawn. He spent more and more time alone - without her, at least - until several weeks separated their every encounter. She had been hurt, but had accepted the seclusion as his choice and had left him to his own designs.
Deep down, though, she'd been worried. Very, very worried. He began taking part in all things combative; morning practice; defensive drills; the infrequent animal hunt. The Mat'rock insisted on such things, stating that, however unlikely, should ever there be an invasion of some kind, the villagers must be prepared to defend themselves. Kiraelan agreed whole-heartedly. Or so said the others. Thaegan had seen through his act. There had been another reason. One that she had yet to figure.
It had worried her how everyday he'd improved. He had long ago reached the point of "superior ability", so termed by the few "combat veterans", should wizened fishermen be allowed such a name. The white bones adorning his head marked him as the Mat'rock's best warrior. Had she not been so suspicious and bothered, she would have rejoiced upon hearing the news. As it were, she had grown skeptical of the time he spent alone. No one else seemed to see it, but in only months he had developed these skills... Skills that far surpassed anything passed down by Mat'rock Elders.
That would explain it. The way he'd been able to just appear behind and before her. An immensely fast and completely silent breed of travel. She'd seen it only once before.
"You will not run away."
His voice returned her to the present. When her eyes fluttered to complete openness, she found him kneeling beside her. He ran smooth fingertips over the stinging skin of her jaw. Tilting her head into his hand was purely reflexive.
One corner of his lips curved upward, and in that slight movement she saw the ghost of his familiar boy-like grin. She felt her eyes begin to water, only then realizing how much she had really been missing him.
The small quirk of his fine dark brow betrayed his surprise. So he had not yet lost all emotion. This thought brought a smile to her lips, an oddly happy curve.
Kiraelan took hold of her shoulders and helped her sit up, then cupped her face with gentle hands, carefully avoiding her eyes as he slid his thumbs across her saltwater-stained cheeks. The site of her tears must have triggered something within him. The unfamiliarity was gone, his stoic, controlled mask suddenly falling away. He took her into his arms and held her close.
His body was warm and comforting, different from when last she'd felt it, but she couldn't really complain. The months he'd spent hard at work conditioning his build could really be noticed. His skin now stretched perfectly over taut, growing muscle. Where once the limbs around her had felt companionable and friendly, now they were firm and sheltering, protective.
"Why?" he asked quietly, the slightly coarse feel of bone making her shiver as he nestled into the crook of her neck. "Why did you run from me?"
For a moment she felt lost. To finally have him back, after all the months of worry and skepticism. She felt light enough to fly! Except for... something. What was it? Something about the situation bothered her. It was too subconscious to be identified, but even when she tried pushing it from her mind, the feeling of wrongness nagged at her.
"I had to run," she replied just as softly. "I couldn't stay with you while the whole village hunted me." Truth be told she had barely thought of him. He'd been gone for so long that she'd stopped relying on him for any kind of assistance. She was her own woman now. Not that that had helped.
And there it was. The whole village was hunting her. Kiraelan would have been one of the first people notified, probably by the Elders themselves. He'd attacked her almost the moment he'd found her. Could this all be-
All thoughts shut down as her lower back exploded in pain. She screamed her agony, lashing out at the man before her. The tips of his long black hair whistled past her grasping fingers, just barely out of reach. He stood a ways from her, a knife bloody to the hilt in his hand and a look she'd never seen lighting his eyes.
A hiss of pain rasped through her clenched teeth as she pressed a hand to the wound. She had no idea what he'd been going for, though he'd probably planned on slashing instead of stabbing. Good job she'd reacted so quickly.
She was still on her knees, gasping for breath, when he began to circle. The mask had returned. The lines of his face were set to expressionless, but his eyes bespoke a madness unlike any she had ever known. He was a frightening figure. Beautiful- divinely so. But frightening.
The jumbled mass of emotion returned. She couldn't hold them back any longer. New tears streaked down her pale cheeks, dripping from her chin or continuing down her neck. They left a chill in their wake, a coldness that added to the surreal feeling of nigh pure emotion.
"Stop it!" he shouted, forehead creasing in frustration. "Stop crying! You weak woman!" He hesitated a moment and, if she'd been capable of sight, she might have noticed the suspicious stroke of wetness that glistening off his cheek.
He lunged, as fast and as hard as he could. She fell heavily to the ground, un-noticing, uncaring. Her world had gone black.