Home > Dryad-Born (Whispers from Mirrowen #2)(10)

Dryad-Born (Whispers from Mirrowen #2)(10)
Jeff Wheeler

They paused there, resting a bit, trying to catch their breath.

Trasen’s neck was gleaming with sweat. He bent over, huffing, and stared back down the trail.

Phae began pacing. The feelings were coming back again, stronger than ever. Every moment resting was a danger. “We can’t stay here.”

“You’re right,” he said, staring. “I hear him.”

Phae jerked around and then she too heard the trod of boots coming up the trail after them. A moment later, the figure appeared around the bend, cloaked, veiled, and relentless.

Fear nearly made her scream.

“Go,” Trasen said, dropping to one knee next to the stump. He turned the quiver over and spilled the shafts on the ground next to him. In a fluid motion, he fit one to the string and raised the bow. “I will find you. Just start running. Change directions often. Try to throw him off. Cross water when you can. Go!”

“I can’t leave you…”

“Don’t be a fool,” he said. “He’s after you, not me. Now, go!”

Phae’s conflicted feelings made her nearly refuse. But the presence of the stranger struck terror in her soul. She kissed Trasen’s hair and then rushed away from the grove and plunged into the woods.

Moments later, she heard the bow twang and a shaft thud into a tree, then Trasen’s voice. “That was a warning, friend. Keep following us, and the next one won’t miss.”

Her legs burned with the effort. Her chest heaved for air. There was another thrum from Trasen’s bowstring.

The sound of the arrow thumped as it struck something solid. Not a tree.

“I got him,” Trasen shouted. “He’s down.”

Part of her feelings surged with relief, but the black cloud of fear had not left her. She noticed several insects buzzing around her. Birds were chirping at her as well. It felt as if the entire forest was alive and heckling her to run.

“You got him?” she called back, stopping. Instead of relief, she still felt intense worry.

“I was aiming for his leg, but I hit him in the chest. He walked right into it. Collapsed. I’m going to search the body.”

Phae stopped, leaning back against a tree, trying to calm her heart but unable to. The conflict inside her raged on. She could not leave Trasen behind. He was her best friend. She should not have doubted his aim. Yet why did she feel such irrational terror? Why were her feelings screaming at her that the danger had not passed? She pushed away from the tree, head spinning with confusion. She started back down the trail to him.

She watched Trasen approach the body, another arrow nocked and ready. He was being careful. His boots were nearly soundless despite the brush and needles carpeting the area. Their pursuer was crumpled nearby. Where was the arrow? She could not see the arrow sticking out of him. At that close range, the tip should have been poking out his back.

As she was about to call out in warning, Trasen reached the body.

The stranger moved like a serpent striking a mouse. He was lying still for a moment and then suddenly Trasen’s bow and arrow were jerked from his hands and tossed aside. The stranger was on his feet again, unharmed. It had been a trap.

“Trasen!” she screamed.

“Run!” he yelled back, yanking the short axe from his belt. He swung it expertly, defensively, driving toward the cloaked man with every intent to kill him.

Phae stared in horror.

The stranger watched the stroke of the axe, stepped inside it, and suddenly Trasen was on his back, slamming so hard the axe flew out of his hand. Before Trasen could do anything else, the stranger hauled him up and encircled his neck with his arm. The cowl raised as he looked up toward her. She could see the stranger’s scarred face, the quill-tipped dark hair, and ice blue eyes. The eyes stared right up at her menacingly.

Phae looked in his eyes and tried to connect with him to steal his memories away, but she sensed he was too far away. She had never attempted doing so with someone at that distance. She blinked but nothing happened.

Trasen’s eyes were panicked. He could not breathe. Then his whole body went slack.

Phae ran. She did not bother to hide her trail or attempt any trickery. She was running for her life, and she knew it. There was no mercy in those eyes. There was only determination. She was his prey. He was hunting her, not for any fault of her own that she could understand, but for some debt owed to someone else. What did it matter?

She ran, dodging trees and boulders. The trailhead split two ways and both were steep. One went higher into the mountains. She knew it would reach a ridgeline and then descend on the other side and there would be a river. A river could possibly help hide her tracks. She chose it instantly, her legs throbbing with pain as she continued up the mountainside. Tree limbs swatted at her as she clawed past them, trying to put distance between them. Was he torturing Trasen? Was he already dead? Her stomach threatened to heave with the thought. Guilt at abandoning him threatened to choke her. If he died, she would never forgive herself.

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