The sky was dark. As she looked up at it, she realized how incredibly dark it really was. 'It isn't normally like this, is it?' she thought in dismay. Normally she could decipher the Archer, the Drake, and all of the other star patterns that had been pointed out to her by her mother when she was little. But not tonight. For a moment she panicked, thinking that something wasn't right. Then realization dawned in her eyes. Of course she couldn't see the stars, it was raining. It should have been snowing though it was so cold. She snuggled deeper into her jacket, in toward the base of the tree. So cold.

The wind carried sounds; the crack of a whip, and a man obliging the sound with a scream. A child calling for her dog, but no bark in reply. The wind carried with it a strong bite, too. So cold.

For a while she dozed against the tree. She reassured herself that no one would see her, with her black boots, forest green jacket and shirt, and her black pants. 'Pants, she thought, 'who would have ever have thought that I would be one to wear pants.'

In the distance, close enough that she didn't need the winds aid to hear it clearly, she heard dogs barking. She crocked her head to one side, listening to the pitch of the howls, and the patterns that were being made. Her eyes unfocused, as she thought.

"The King's dogs," she murmured to the air, "they have caught the sent of an intruder in the King's forest." She snuggled down deeper into her jacket, closer to the tree. "I wonder how long it will take them to find me." So cold.

She tried to keep herself awake, because she knew that going to sleep now would mean never waking up. Her consciousness went into a kind of haze, where she couldn't tell if she was sleeping or not. She thought she could hear her mother's voice talking to her, like it was coming from the bottom of a well. She started struggling, trying to get down to where her mother's voice was, but she just couldn't reach it. She was so cold...

She woke with a start, the baying of a hound interrupting her sleep, and she remembered where she was. In an instant of panic, she realized that at one point, while she was sleeping, she must have crawled away from the tree, because she was now sprawled on the ground next to it. She couldn't remember moving at all; at least, she didn't think that she could.

A torch flickered about 100yrds. away, and she quickly scrambled on her numb limbs to the dark side of the tree, hoping that it would give her some kind of cover. She brought her knees to her chest, and sent a prayer up to whoever was listening. Deep in her mind she knew that the action was futile; the dogs had her scent, and being on the other side of a tree wouldn't change that.

She grabbed the hair above her ears and pulled it down over them, effectively covering them up. In the past 3 months it had become a nervous gesture, one that was now natural habit. It wouldn't do for people to recognize her by the six —-three in each ear—- stones implanted permanently there.

She braced herself as she heard the hunters coming, her mind refusing to come up with a plan to aid her. She didn't have long to worry though: the dogs arrived first. A great bounding hoard of them, ripping, tearing, and gnashing at both each other, in their haste to get to her. Once they were on her, she lost all track of time, trying to keep them away from the front of her neck, and face, and stomach. One got his teeth on her leg, and she felt the bone splinter.

She tried not to make a sound, for she knew that because of their training that it would only provoke them, but she couldn't help the tiny whimper that escaped her throat. One went for her face, and she pulled her arms higher up to protect herself, but the move came too late. Its long tooth had caught the corner of her left eye, and put a gash parallel to her chin line and over her cheek bone, down to her bottom lip. She felt more teeth sinking into her once-fine legs.

She felt a pang of regret, and loss, and knew deep in her mind that if she survived this, no one would want her, because this all would surely leave scars.

What seemed to be an eternity later the men arrived, and called the beasts off. Her mind in a daze, she tried pulling her legs up further, so as to cradle them against her chest, and was both shocked and curious as to why they didn't. She couldn't understand why her limbs would defy her in this way. "There's the motherless son of 'a ninths street whore," the man said, spitting on her. He grabbed her shoulder to roll her toward the light, and it was an automatic reflex that allowed her to throw him at all. She had learned in the past few months, and been training for years, in self defense. She shifted her weight, just so, and the man stumbled back, falling on his ass. The rest of the men roared with laughter as he got up, and one of them commented, "Frozen solid to the ground, I'd wager!" The first man, the one who had fallen, reached down and grabbed a fist full of her hair, a scowl on his face, as well as a level of caution.

He started pulling up, and she relaxed her body, so as not to help. Just as she thought that the fistful of hair would surely come out, the man stopped short. After letting go of her dark hair, he crouched down and brushed the hair away from the side of her face, and consequentially her right ear was exposed. She couldn't even summon an emotion, as she felt her body going into shock. She was momentarily distracted though, by this man...His face was not that bad to look upon, and she noticed that his body had been fined to the point of near-perfection. The only reason she had been able to through him back was because he had not expected it in the least.

"Bring a light up!" he roared, and she noticed a note of panic in his voice with satisfaction. Once the side of her head was better illuminated, he bent in for a closer look. Her eyes drifted close, but that only stopped the sight of his unshaven, dirty, wonderful face. It did not stop the smell of him though, a sweet forest sent, with a tang of sweat. Normally she would have recoiled from the fragrant stench, but she had come to be used to it in the past month. If I'm still distracted by men, I'm still alive. She thought. At least, she thought she thought it. Her vision was getting blurry, and her head started to pound. Besides, she chided herself, still not sure if she was thinking out loud I probably smell twice as bad.

She heard a sharp intake of breath, and then shrank away from the two fingers that were frantically searching her neck for a pulse. Following the movement, nausea hit her like a mace between her eyes, causing her to curl into a more fetal position, as if that were possible. She could feel the blood sluggishly coursing through her body, her brain, every part of her body pulsing with the beat, which was gradually slowing down. She knew that her heart was still going, but she tried unsuccessfully to make it stop, wincing with every beat that it took.

"Get a Medic!" the man cried, his voice now, undoubtedly, in a panic, "The Princess Illyasha is hurt!" She felt his strong, warm arms lifting her off of the ground, and she swallowed back the bile that rose in her throat with the movement. With what little strength she had left, she snuggled her head into his chest. Then her world went black.