I gently fingered my neck. That damn woman! Nicked my neck, she did! I huffed in disdain. Fool. Should know better than to wander around alone in the dark and not be prepared for the worst. That was the number one rule of the street. Be prepared for anything. It irked me that I had had an encounter on the night before I had intended to leave Ishihara. Now I'd have to make my escape before the night was out. No telling what the woman would do. Would she go to the authorities? What a joy that'd be. Huzzah, more gold upon my head, I thought sarcastically as I walked by another wanted poster with my unsmiling countenance upon it. I paused for a moment and looked at it. One thousand gold now. I was really raking it in. I scowled at my image. Bloody mages and their bloody truth spells. If it weren't for them, I'd be fine. But no, the Watch has to have at least one mage that can perform a truth spell. I'd only been caught once or twice here in Ishihara, but after I stole the Count's purse when he spent the evening at the tavern here, the Watch captured almost every thief, every cutpurse, every beggar, criminal, and fence. Under normal circumstances they would've been put in jail, perhaps killed. But they were released if they consented to a Truth Testing about the Count's purse. So, of course, they all consented, knowing who had stolen the purse. Damn mages.

And now thanks to the woman I had one less arrow to hunt with in the Forsaken Wood. Or, rather, to survive. It'd been one of my armor piercing arrows that I used when I either had guards tailing me or when I was attacked by larger, more unpleasant creatures of the forest. I'd broken into a blacksmith's forge years ago and stolen them--and then immediately skipped town. Arrows were precious.

I growled softly as I walked away from the poster. It would be dawn in a few hours and I needed to leave before the sun had risen a finger's width above the horizon. I had to move quickly. My belongings had yet to be packed and I could feel time press upon me. I started to jog through the empty streets, dodging the occasional hand, foot, and the rare dagger that came flying at me from the darkness of the narrow side streets. I was used to it. Daggers were the warning shots, followed by well-aimed arrow to the throat if it was clear that you were going to enter the territory which was so voraciously defended by their poor inhabitants.

I made my way quickly to the run-down end of Ishihara through the winding streets, side streets, and backstreets with hardly a pause to find my way. It was a familiar path, one I had taken often. In what seemed like no time, I arrived at my temporary home. All in all, my little hovel was better than the others surrounding mine--at least, on the inside. On the outside, I tried to make it slightly worse. It didn't attract the attention of the authorities as it was the common mindset of the more fortunate to think that if the poor have money, they'll spend it on brand new clothes and bettering their homes. Wrong! Food is the most important thing, followed by decent clothes that are cheap, broken in, and perhaps comfortable.

My hovel was a small, decrepit shack upon which were rags to help insulate on the chillier nights. More rags filled in the cracks in the wall. The door was a heavy quilt that might once have belonged to a lord but was now barely fit for a dog. But it was warm enough. Inside was a bedroll that I had actually bought years back when I worked as a courier for a messenger service. There were also a few oil lamps--most of which I had stolen-- and a pack that contained most of my possessions: my few spare clothes, a chip of soap, a wet stone, flint, tinder, a small copper pot, my lock picks, a chord for my bedroll, and a sturdy rope. I had a few other things stashed in it, but they were of little consequence. As it was, I rolled up my bedroll and tied it to my pack, stuffed my lamps into it. I picked up the thin-bladed longsword that had been hidden in a dark corner and belted it on. I glanced around once to make sure I hadn't accidentally over looked anything before leaving, then strode out of the hovel. Time to start anew.

I got to the edge of Ishihara when I heard something behind me. I whipped around. No one. I gazed intently in the shadows, but there was nothing. I continued walking, but this time more warily. It just wouldn't do to get caught this close to freedom, not at all.

I breathed a sigh of relief once I got to the fringe of the Forsaken Wood. I was back where I belonged, back to where I could survive without having to look over my shoulder for a tail everywhere I went. I was safe. Strange to think I could be safe in the Forsaken Wood where no two-legger willingly went, what with the monsters and all. But the Wood was more of a home to me than anywhere else had been. I fit in here. Here, no one cared about blood purity--except for the vampires, but they were in the minority in the Wood. Besides. I had a deal with them. They don't bother me, I don't bring holy water, garlic, consecrated weapons, or crosses with me. Although the agreement was rather reluctant on their end, it worked out.

I took a deep breath. Ah…home at last…The earthy scent filled my nose, distilling a sense of peace throughout me. I relaxed and worked my way steadily towards the center of the forest, dodging vines and the occasional poisonous thorn. It was not silent in the Forsaken Wood. The sound of nocturnal creatures--both magical and non-magical--filled the night air in a quiet symphony. Even the large thicket I passed through seemed to sing. 'Grow, grow, strong and proud. Reach the sun, see the sun, grow, grow, strong and proud' it seemed to say as I glided by.

I jumped at the sound of cursing behind me and a furious shaking of leaves. I silently drew my sword and warily slunk back to the thicket, clinging to the shadows. My blade glinted dully in the faint trickle of lunar light that had found its way between the tree leaves above me. I saw some one moving in the thicket frantically trying to get loose of the grasping vegetation. It seemed to me that the bramble actually tightened its grip, its wordless song of sleepy effort now one of anger. 'Enemy! Stranger! Grab tight, tight, stop the enemy! Infidel!'

The leaves of the tree above the struggle moved though there was no wind and I could see the face of the human who had foolishly dared to follow me into this place. The trees seemed to groan ominously and I was half tempted to leave the fool to suffer the Wood's wrath, but I didn't. Instead I walked forward and laid a gentle hand on the vegetation and looked at the human in disdain.

"Why are you following me?" I asked in a deceptively calm voice.