Of the Night
The forest was heavy with silence, sensing a change occurring within its domain. Such drastic silence was an omen any hunter worth his stock in elk hide listened for and paid heed to. This current hunter was worth plenty more elk hides than any average hunter. Clever eyes pierced the darkness of the night, gleaning the small signals of distress rising from the woods around him. The trees were still, the owls were quiet, and the game in the area had fled. Even the strong nymphs living in the woods had gone away to hide in their secret dens. There was something lurking in the darkness that was unnatural to this wood.
Shifting his weight slightly to peer more easily through the foliage of an oak tree, he spied movement. There and gone in a flash. Blood surged forward through his heart, egged on by the rush of adrenaline pumping through his body. He had found his prey.
Palming the familiar hunting spear, he rose from his perch in the limbs of a giant maple tree. Not a leaf rustled underneath his weight. The forest lay quiet, still. The smooth wood of the spear was held in a secure and practiced grip as the hunter stalked through the trees, leaping from branch to branch. His way was silent and invisible. The thrill of the hunt was something he relished above all else, and because of this, he had become an accomplished and stealthy hunter since his first forays in his youth.
Coming to a halt in the boughs of another maple tree, he eased himself close to the rough tree trunk and stilled all motion. The prey stood below him, not ten feet before the tree and in perfect range of his weapon. This prey was something entirely unusual. In all his long years, never before had he seen such as this. The hunter lifted his trusted spear and balanced it perfectly in his skilled hand, taking aim at that which he hunted.
Below him, the prey stiffened suddenly as if just becoming aware of danger. It turned its head sharply and found the hunter's eyes unerringly through the leaves of the tree. A queer feeling took root in his gut. Intelligence was evident in the prey's gaze, in the way it held its head up high, and in the strange manner in which it dressed. Even with a sharp spear pointed at its heart, the thing did not bolt for cover. It held his gaze with a look of defiance and calm. He was frozen in sudden indecision.
"Well, aren't you going to throw that thing at me and get it over with already?" the prey said impudently.
If the hunter was not so well accustomed in keeping a serious countenance, his jaw would have dropped in surprise. Inasmuch, the only sign of surprise evident on his face was a slight widening of his eyes.
"You speak?" he asked, almost dumbfounded.
The prey broke eye contact only to roll her eyes. "Yes, of course I speak. What do you think I am? A dumb animal? I must say, for being the first person I have met so far in this strange and utterly ridiculous world, you are not a very fine example of your species."
Had... had he just been insulted by this thing? This was unnerving. He looked down upon the woman-thing. Becoming bored quickly with the man standing in a tree and holding a spear aimed at her, she turned her back to the tree and continued the way she had been walking. Confidence and self assurance was in her every step. She did not hesitate in turning from such a dangerous adversary. That could only mean she was incredibly dimwitted, the hunter thought.
The strange feeling in his stomach did not agree with that assessment. When the woman's eyes were on him, he felt as if a great pressure was sitting on his chest. His heart pumped erratically, and that heavy pull in his gut left him feeling chilled and nervous. From a single look, the woman-thing brought fear into the hunter's heart. This was very unnerving, and the hunter did not like things that made him question his security or sanity.
So he chose to follow her. He dropped lightly to the ground, holding his spear in front of his body to parry any possible attack. He did not know what the woman was capable of doing, and he did not trust her. She walked on ahead as if unaware that she still had company. With head held high, back straight, shoulders squared, and gown hitched up to her knees, she continued on her way through the woods. The silence of the night following her.
The hunter hesitated a moment. He was conflicted. His gut felt fluttery and heavy, the same feeling he got every time he came face to face with a large mountain lion in the forest. That feeling of anxiety and danger which always came during a treacherous hunt. His mind was telling him something different. He was intrigued and curious about this strange woman. More alluring than even the nymphs of the wood, this woman was unlike anything he had encountered before. Her presence was felt by everything surrounding her, turning the peace of the night into panic. Yet she looked so unremarkable, so human. She was beautiful, but so were many other human women.
It wasn't until she rounded a large tree in her path and left his field of vision that he took a step forward, deciding quickly to follow her. He kept a firm grip on his spear as he walked through the underbrush. His footsteps were quiet and measured, and the woman did not seem to hear him. Or if she did hear him, she was not bothered by his presence. She continued walking in her regal stride for over half an hour when a pattern began to occur. She would walk in a straight line for many minutes before making a wide circle to walk back in the direction she just came from. The hunter followed without pause and in silence. Though she did not turn her head quickly from side to side or stop at random intervals to see where she was, it occurred to him that she was looking for something and did not know where she was heading.
Ten more minutes passed before her stride finally faltered and stopped. He came to a standstill twelve yards behind her. She stood there in silence and without motion for a long moment, gown still held up and back straight. The moonlight filtered through the canopy of trees and lit up her golden hair pinned high upon her head. The dark violet of her gown shimmered in the faint light, catching at different angles when the soft breeze brushed against it. She looked like something out of a dream. He stood there transfixed and unaware.
Her voice drifted back to him, soft and slightly bemused, "It appears that I am lost. Would you happen to know where I'm going?" She turned her head to look back at him, her eyes glowing in the dark.
He blinked once, dazed. He blinked again to shake himself awake. It was an odd feeling to know that he had left himself unguarded and became entranced so easily by something he was hunting.
He stared at her quizzically, "Why would I know where you're going?"
"Because you have been following me for many hours now," she answered, turning fully to face the hunter. "I knew you were there up in the trees, spying on me. I noticed you almost immediately upon my arrival. So if you have been tracking me for such a long time, you would know how to get back there."
"Why should I show you?" he sneered. "I am following you to examine your behavior, and if necessary, eliminate you. I am not your lackey."
His windpipe was suddenly crushed within an iron grip. He gasped from the unexpected attack, digging his fingers into the hand at his throat. The woman's furious red eyes burned into him, bringing waves of fear and panic to his mind. How had she moved so suddenly? Terror began to seep into the hunter, realizing that this woman was no mere human. She had the strength of a man twice her size. Her very soul radiated evil.
Her cold voice lifted the hair on the back of his neck, "I have tolerated you far too long, filth. You will show me the way back, or I will gut you with my claws and feast upon you until the last breath leaves your pathetic body. And trust me, I will make sure that does not occur for many more hours." The dim moonlight glinted off of sharp fangs in a twisted smile. "So you will show me the way back, and I will allow you to keep your life. Understood?"
The hunter stared at the woman, unable to move. The whites of his eyes spoke of his terror, and the only sound he could let out was a soft whisper.
The woman smiled brightly at the word. The death grip left his throat, leaving him gasping for breath. She politely examined her claws as he recovered from her attack, searching for any imperfections and found none.
"Yes, that I am," she grinned in self satisfaction. "Now, do as I told you, or do we need to talk more?"