Night had fully swept into the Silver Forest, the darkness thick and impenetrable as I mutedly entered and ran through a clearing of trees. It did not scare me, no, for the night was my friend, my ally in these lonely years, my eyes made to see through the black fog. Shadows and spider silk snagged on my skin in a hushed hiss as I darted past branches and leaves, my bare feet gentle on the soft undergrowth beneath, careful to avoid any stones or twigs that had fallen in the autumn breeze.
My immortal grace pushed me swiftly through the dense forest, my honed body dancing in the wind that pushed my scent northward. I was a weapon. A deadly one too, and a sly smirk played at the corners of my perpetually pouted lips, my elongated ears twitching to the sounds of the scuttling and whimpering of spiders, their fear coating my tongue. I didn’t stop to wipe the ridiculous look off of my face or feel the guilt that always gnawed at my soul over my predatory presence; didn’t stop as I heard the unearthly roar sound behind me, sending the ground beneath rumbling in its wake.
I smoothly halted, sliding my hand and then my body behind a dark oak tree. The tree groaned in protest; the forest already knew. I peeked out from around the trunk, my breathing slightly faltering when I glimpsed at the dark haired, pale faced men holding Aura's and freshly sharpened Sivilkan Blades shining in their glow, while they stormed out of their black holes in the side of huge grey-stone mountain. My home; or at least it had been my home... five minutes ago.
Running away seemed like a coward’s decision, perhaps fuelled by the foolish hope I had somehow been born with and let my soft heart nurture. And I had never considered myself for a fool. Not once. Not until it had happened. The thought didn’t sit well as I watched my father stalk into the ebony mist that clung to our beloved Silver Forest, his form hidden by the heavy canopy above, that even the hue of moonlight could not penetrate. Thank the Eight-Eyed Gods for my alchemy skills to help create night vision potions. I looked up to the leaves above me, rustling in time to the shouts and yells slithering through the forest. My heartbeat was a wild thing in my chest as one foot poised into the forest ahead and one traitorous foot stuck firmly to the land of my brethren. I dared another glance from behind the tree.
My mother’s wan face was shadowed in the flickering Auralight as men and spiders alike crawled out of the gloomy tunnelling caverns, following my father’s barking of orders, their dark faces disappearing to the cover of leaves. She didn’t even look concerned, her brutally scarred face bored almost, disinterested as she looked onwards into the forest, as if she could hear the thrum of blood in my veins. But my brother did. His eyes flickered with raw emotion as he stepped forward, his mouth arched to call my name, except my mother stopped him. She clamped a callused hand on his shoulder, squeezing hard enough that I saw his wince as he strained against her hold. For him I would have stayed; for him I would come back. I silently swore it to the Gods as I turned away from my family; turned away from my brother, my one shining light in my life, even as my eyes blurred with tears from the Auralight burning behind. That’s what I told myself, anyway.
My heart was beating vigorously as I drew ever nearer to the edge of the Silver forest, a nocked arrow holding loosely in my obsidian Sivilkan bow, with the finest silken string you could get. My most valued possession. From beyond the edge I could see the sheen of dew covered spider silk in the rising sun, the sky a purpling, deep orange behind it. The shadows hissed at the light the closer it grew, twisting and bucking and moving in a way I had not seen it do since my journey to the border as a young child. I saw the light and hope that glimmered beyond that border, the light and hope that shined through the now loosening canopy, rays of sunshine piercing through the foliage above, the shadows crying where it singed.
I paused my running, knowing it was an impeccably stupid thing to do, especially as the clicking and yelling of men and spiders were still distant echoes a far cry behind. But I couldn’t help myself, couldn’t help my gaze as I stood before a ray of sunlight, dust swirling and sparkling in its beam. The dark oak trees and the leaves seemed to stop breathing, the entire forest silent when I tentatively held out my soft, pale creamy hand, my other straining to hold both bow and arrow in a position where it might be of use. I felt my golden hazel eyes glaze over and my lids flutter, the warmth of the sun finally heating my skin like it had once done in my dreams. The forest and I let out a collective sigh. No burning, no singeing, just pure, undiluted warmth and… light. My chest tightened and breathing became difficult. I had never seen the sun, no, for we were not born of the golden orb above, just unrelenting darkness and brutality — and blood, such, such blood.
Shaking my head free of all the lies that had cloaked me all the years I had spent nimbly balancing along fine threads of silk, ruining my body in training and yearning for the warmth and light of the sun – the sun that I would never see — I watched as the sweat that covered my entire body glistened in it. I didn’t dare step fully into it to feel the heat on my face, for if I did that, I may never leave this spot. And I had to leave this spot. I didn’t think my father and his men would pursue me this far, knowing that day would be coming soon, even if I was a strong contender to be heir, to put our family into nobility; to be sold for a hefty amount.
I pulled my hand away and a crevice yawned open in my stomach, but I forced myself to breath, to back away and move to the border, to find a hole in the wards. Fast. Time was ticking, the roars of my name on my father’s tongue closer. I should have feared that bellowing rumble, should have raced back home and slid to my knees to beg for forgiveness with all of my traitorous heart. And that’s what I was, wasn't I? A traitor to my kind; to my brother. But how could I stay in a court of liars and deceivers? We were so different he and I, and I think that perhaps what I felt for him was love, unconditional love, even if I was not made to feel such things. He was safe, a male in the court, living comfortably in the Threaded City and I… wasn’t. I was a female, trained only for the purpose of defending, never for battle, only for breeding and keeping the race alive. Yes, I knew how to fight, better than the rest of the girls my age and quicker and more wicked than many of the males. But the golden years were over. They had lied about everything — even the sun.
How could I expect anything more from the most cunning race in the realm of Vishet?
Exhaustion hit me hard when I prowled away from the sunlight and began to dash through the trees once again. East — just keeping heading east. I hit the edge of the border, the ward zinging my skin where I touched it; an invisible barrier, but deadly to our enemies if they ever tried to cross. Yelps and special guttural calls made to mimic the wildlife of our forest sounded nearer now, the crunch of leaves beneath heavy legs and boots too close for comfort. I suppressed my snort and set off into a sprint, my hand never faltering in my gliding along the ward, always feeling for weaknesses or holes. My father was a fool if he thought that I did not recognise the sounds of my own kind, sounds I had spent my life listening to and watching the male warriors learn to mimic, even if I had not been allowed to learn them myself.
My thoughts were too distracting, too spiralling in the frenzy of my hurried decision. Even though the decision felt more permanent and less rushed now, since I had been running for my life and freedom the entire night, my legs only just beginning to burn in protest. Only the Gods knew how many miles I had run — how many miles my father and his men had tracked me for, risking the daylight. For my welfare, they will instil in me, into my addled brain from their tricks. For the good of our people, my father will say. Won't say, Anera, I chided. You will not be caught.
I forced myself to focus, to keep my legs moving and my lungs breathing and to ignore the sweat dampening my dark gear; ignore the bruises and cuts stinging and throbbing on my bare shoulders and arms beneath the fluttering cloak trailing behind me. I had not had enough time to prepare when the vicious hands of Pateen Terash had grappled me from the darkness as I was dazedly preparing for training. I hadn't even had time to put on my boots or shoulder pads when I'd gripped the dagger strapped around my thigh and stabbed him hard and deep too swift for recollection, his black blood a glorious slickness on my fingers. I'd licked it off of my blade as I crouched in front of his falling form and given a venomous smile before kicking him abruptly in the face, sure enough to break his already crooked nose. The ugly worm. He certainly deserved it for all he had done. And his blood tasted disgusting too, just like his paling, dying face. I didn't stick around to see if my assumption rung true.
Perhaps that was why my father was so furious. I'd killed my own betrothed and my own kind. Good, I thought, I'm done with this hell hole anyway.
The ward around our lands felt like a hard, cold stone wall, except it did slightly sting to touch. It had lumps and bumps and cracks, but they were never large enough for me to actually slip my slender form through, and I didn't have time to stop and try to break through with my father and his trackers so hot on my trail. I hadn't even been covering my tracks like a damn fool, nor had I washed off Pateen's blood, or my own. Even if the wind directed my scent in another direction, it would be hard for the lingering aroma of it on sharp thorns and branches that had snagged and sliced at my skin, or those that I had touched to keep myself upright, not to send the males into a killing-calm frenzy. Blood, blood, blood, our court was run on blood. That, and killing and shagging,
I'd just finished counting 6 miles when I heard it before I saw it. A sleek Sivilkan dagger with an obsidian pummel whizzed through the air from out of the shadows to my right. It thumped into the ward wall to my left, a hairs breadth from my face. I skidded to a halt, my hair and cloak flowing around me, struggling to stop itself from my sudden break in momentum. Blood welled on the end of nose and dripped onto my lips. I eyed the dagger before my face, my fresh blood shining where it had nicked the skin, my red blood mingling with the dried black blood already smothering it. Pateen's blood. I didn't give myself a moment’s thought as my eyes widened at the scent of his blood and my head whipped towards the shadows of the denser trees. I yanked my dagger free of the ward, it scraping as if on stone, and set myself low into a defensive crouch, ignoring the sounds of the ward splintering behind me from the fracture the dagger had manage to make. That was some strong throw, with some very impressive aim.
All I could afford to carry were my most valued possessions: my Sivilken bow and arrows, twin blades and hunting knife, along with a little satchel of gold the other courts and lands seem to use as currency. Nothing personal, nothing I particularly cared for. I was never allowed to keep possession of such meaning. Only those of practicality like what I'd packed into the deep pockets of my cloak: undergarments, clothes, fruit, gold and contraceptive tonic. Who knew what the males of other lands might be like – I'd certainly met some brutes from visiting courts. Not that they'd even be alive to even get that far but... semantics. Besides, I'd had enough of bloodshed for a lifetime.
Wasn't that an ironic thought?
I darted across the open clearing I was presiding in, seeking the cover of a wide tree. I sheathed my dagger, a small smile on the corners of my lips, happy to see it strapped back to my thigh. I'd chosen their designs and methods of creation; they all felt a part of me somehow. I let out a little contented hum, a lovely, jolly melody I had once heard played at a ball when entertaining the Needle Court. I even went so far as to let out a little hysterical cackle, whispering to the wind to send it in all directions. Let it confuse and frighten my prey, for I was not the hunted.
My hands were already on the pummels of my twin blades as I took a quick steadying breath before rapidly twirling around the edge of the tree trunk, my blades already deflecting two more whirling arrows and already poised to kill as I nimbly dodged a giant spider snapping it's fangs out of the shadows, as if appearing from nowhere at all. It had tried to grasp me, not poison, I duly noted as I pranced around it into the shadow, jumping and twisting my body to arch my twin blades to slice open the gut of the man sneaking up from behind (I use the term sneaking loosely). I flew through the air, his black blood spraying on me, hot and thick, and my body swung back around into the direction I had pushed it, turning back towards the spider. My left foot deftly landed first, taking the impact, and before my right even hit the ground, I angled my waist, throwing my arms wide around me, sending my blades flying and spinning and slicing the spider completely in two.
Black blood had gone everywhere, and from somewhere beyond, I heard a wail of torment from deep within the forest, miles away, like they actually gave a damn about the life of another lesser of our kind. Many of my kind savagely died fighting for their lives every day in The Trap. I didn't let the thought sink in as I hastily scanned the dense forest and made my move to hide the bodies and use their blood.
Grunting from the strain of carrying the spider up the dark oak, I hauled it high on my shoulders with one hand, using my other to drag myself up the tree, my nails breaking from the effort. Gods, it would all just be easier if I could just shift.
The grunt I made echoed back to me on the breeze, the wind already my new enemy. I shouldn’t have let myself utter a single sound; shouldn’t have let myself potentially give away my position. Anyone could've heard of it, especially when the trees and shadows liked to gossip and send messages of betrayal. Some were friends and some were, I’d learned over the years, incredibly good spies — when they wanted to be, and perhaps they were cruel enough to want to be that now, too.
I quickly slicked my hands with their black, copper tasting blood and promptly vanished into the shadows, going in every direction, purposely gliding my covered hands on the trunks of trees. What an interesting, chaotic adventure I had in mind for my dearest father and his minions. And I had even delayed my search for holes in the ward all for him too! Oh how delightful it would've been to watch them stumble and frolic as I let them unravel the riddle of a maze I'd created; let them find the dead bodies of our kind wrapped thoroughly and hanging and dripping from the canopy. Was it even our kind any more? I no longer felt sure.
The autumn breeze was hauntingly whistling through the forest harder and harder and — Gods, it was absolutely freezing! I had begun to strip myself off complete to the skin, shrugging off the heavy with sweat and blood training gear. It was a damn shame that the closest stream I knew of the Silver Forest was miles away — if I had guessed my coordinates correctly. But I simply didn't have time to make a detour to wash the grub and blood off of my slim figure and golden, mousey brown hair, braided back for practicality. I had stalled long enough; I certainly hadn't planned for my escape to take this long.
I hastily shoved on black stretchy and tight fitting trousers that went just past the knee, a dark grey cotton shirt — tucked in, of course — with a figure hugging black leather tunic. Little flat black silk slippers that tied up around the ankle finished the look. All small and lightweight; all easy to fit into the pockets of my fur lined cloak, which I covered myself with last, making sure to strap all of my weapons back onto me. I straightened up from buckling my thigh weapons holder and rolled my shoulders. Time to get the hell out of this place.
Going back to where the dagger had fractured the wall would perhaps be a silly mistake... but it was a mistake I was a desperate fool enough to make. I knew those hunting me would be sniffing around that area and it was a bit of a trek back from where I'd sprinted back on myself to dump my stinking clothes. But I had to break through that border, even if no one from these parts of our lands ever had before.