Knox’s heart pounded and his stomach gurgled at the thought of a decent dinner. Even a morsel of rabbit would satisfy him for the time being. Hope blossomed in his chest for the first time that week. He felt eyes on him as he drew his bow. The rustle was fleeting but he knew he hadn’t imagined it. The group hadn’t seen or heard an animal since they entered the dense forest, and Knox wasn’t about to pass up the opportunity. Knox pulled back and steadied himself. He muttered a quick prayer before releasing, his arrow flying into the underbrush, disappearing. There was a low guttural sound and Knox wanted to leap for joy, but it was short lived. A shot of icy fear pierced his stomach when the sound came again. It wasn’t the sound of a dying animal crying out in pain or giving its last breath, but one of anger. Had he just shot a cub whose mother was nearby? He knocked another arrow and the whine of swords being pulled from their sheaths came from behind him. The rustle came again and what sounded like whispering. But the whispering wasn’t coming from his men. It was as if the trees were dismayed at what had happened. But the strange whispering stopped and the trees continued to sway and fret in a wind that Knox hadn’t noticed before. He replaced his bow and arrow, trading it for his sword before he slowly approached the spot where his arrow had disappeared.
He was almost upon it when a young woman shot up out of the brush. Her eyes were a startling, sparkling emerald green. It took Knox a moment to notice anything else about her, but it was hard to completely ignore the fact that she was snarling at him. There was a redness in her eyes and he felt as if he had been stabbed in the heart. He had shot at this beautiful woman standing before him.
A whispering voice came from at her feet and he tore his gaze away from her to look down. There was someone else crouched behind her. He never would have seen her if he hadn’t been looking. A silvery eye peered at him between the leaves and the whisper came again.
“Ma’am, are you alright?” Knox received no answer from either. “My name is Knox, and we are soldiers for King Paxton of the Kingdom of Eastcrest. Are you or your companion hurt?” Knox waited, one of the men coughed at his declaration; heat crept up his neck, but the silence from the woman continued.
From the corner of his eye, Knox could see the soldier nudge the man next to him. Knox felt his face warm. He couldn’t fathom why he was so embarrassed about his men’s behavior when he was standing in the middle of a supposed death forest, but here they were. A young lady was standing before him and they were probably thinking such foul things. The woman’s attire hadn’t escaped him, fitted trousers and a blouse; and his soldiers could be ruthless when it came to women. But then he saw it. He shifted his gaze fully to register what he saw. His arrow was clenched in her fist. She must have noticed that his focus had changed because she thrust the arrow at him. He had barely grabbed it before she let go. Knox caught a glimpse of her palm, a straight red line, the same width as his arrow, was left behind. He saw no blood, but the line was curious. Like a burn mark. Knox looked into her eyes again, the red seemed to have deepened. She was probably lost, crying here in the middle of nowhere, in a forest infamous for being treacherous, and he had shot at her and her companion.
Knox refused to leave them behind, but he also didn’t want to take them with him. He was on a mission and could barely keep his men from entertaining the idea of mutiny, not that any of them new which way was which anymore. Catering to the needs of a woman, and whoever her companion was, would hinder them, but the alternatives were out of the question.
“Here, let me help you,” Knox held out his hand to help her step out of the foliage. She shied away from him and glared at his outstretched hand. He had to admit that he wasn’t the cleanest, and probably looked terrifying, with a bunch of other tired, dirty men surrounding him, but he was just trying to help. She still hadn’t spoken a single word. Knox took note of how clean she looked and figured there must be some sort of stream nearby that she had been able to wash in. He would have to see if she remembered how far it was so he and his men could take advantage of it as well. They had been lucky it had rained heavily the night before to collect drinking water, but their makeshift rinsing in the rain had been futile, as the next day they trudged through mud and the humidity made them all sticky with sweat.
“Well maybe your friend would like some help getting out of there?” Knox shifted slightly to turn towards the person hiding behind the leaves. The silvery eye disappeared, but Knox wasn’t deterred. He leaned closer to where he knew they were. The woman stepped in front of him, blocking his path and the person hiding behind her. He glanced at her. Her eyes seemed redder, covering the entirety of the whites of her eyes. Instinctively, his free hand fingered the hilt of his sword.
Knox stiffened, here he was, thinking about how dangerous of a place he was in, and he had so willingly stepped in to try and help a strange woman, who he only assumed to be a woman. She didn’t speak, and she acted strangely. Knox berated himself for his own stupidity, but he didn’t back away, for fear of offending the creature and setting it off. Despite it all, something about her made him feel at ease, in turn making him all the more nervous. A part of him just wanted to sit down and enjoy the scenery, and the woman’s presence.
A whispery voice came from behind her and he could have sworn he made out the word ‘calm’. The woman shifted slightly, but stayed defensive. There was a low guttural sound, a warning, but Knox wasn’t sure who it was towards. He was positive it came from the woman though, confirming his new fear of the unknown. Perhaps she was human after all, and had been out here longer than he had originally thought. Perhaps she had started to forget basic human social etiquette. He could only imagine what she had probably seen in her time in the forest, if that was the case.
The person behind the woman stood up and Knox took a step back. It was just a little girl. She wore similar attire to the woman, but she looked like she couldn’t be any older than ten. Knox immediately noticed that the girl’s eyes were pools of liquid silver. There were no pupils or whites, just balls of shining silver. Knox’s heart dropped. He had no idea what kind of creature either of them was, but the younger was most definitely not human.
The woman brushed past him and stepped out herself, the younger following suit. The two strangers walked away and didn’t look back. Knox’s stomach churned. They hadn’t seen any sign of life in a week and now they had seen two unknown creatures.
Knox’s second in command, Jackson, nudged him and he turned to see the two walking away from him, barely bothering to push aside the low hanging branches. Their clothing blending well into their surroundings. Knox turned to his second to consult.
“Do we follow them? We have no idea who they are, why they’re here, or even if they’re human at all. Or at least, if one of them is human. Did you see that little one’s eyes?” Jackson eyed the two retreating backs.
“We should probably find a place to camp for the night then,” Knox prepared to continue bushwhacking to find a better place to create a clearing to set up camp. “I say we ignore them. I don’t have a good feeling about them at all,” Knox lied.
Jackson nodded his agreement, and waved the men on to follow in the opposite direction. Knox resisted the urge to look over his shoulder to see if they were being followed every time he indicated for one of his men to leave a marker on a tree.