AN: I'm back! Sorry, I haven't had much time to write lately, and I was kind of absorbed with my new idea for Afraid of the Dark. But now I've finally got this chapter written, and I can wrap up the cliffhanger I left you with.
I'm really not satisfied with this chapter, so if you aren't either I'd LOVE some pointers. Honestly I've got a bit of writers block for this right now, so that's why its not the best.
"Show yourself," I said confidently, hiding my panic behind a fake aura of cockiness. Father had told me once that animals can smell fear. The only way to beat them was to be confident. And even if they couldn't understand what I was saying, they might understand my tone of voice.
The bush moved again, then something slowly emerged from behind it.
The knife dropped to the ground, my eyes nearly bugging out of my head.
"Oh my gods," I muttered.
It was a girl. A human girl, who couldn't be more than twelve years old. Her clothes, which looked like they had once been fine garments, were hanging rags around her skinny form. Her matted brown hair hung limply around her face, which was straining around her cheekbones. She was deathly thin, and I realized she must not have eaten in days. Her bright, ice blue eyes kept darting to my bag and back to my face, but she looked to scared to do anything more than look.
"Are you all right?" I asked, then cursed myself immediately. Of course she wasn't all right! She looked half dead!
"No. I'm not all right." she said, and I was surprised by the strength in her voice, as well as the strange accent it carried. "I-" she stuttered, then drew herself up. "I'm hungry. Do you have any food?"
I suddenly realized what kind of accent she had. It was eastern, and with a little lilt at the end of all her words that identified her as being from Ti'sok. That cursed city . . .
"Yes," I said, cutting off my own thoughts. She took a step forward, but I held up a hand to stop her. In my head I was berating myself for being so suspicious, but I had only survived this long by being paranoid. "What's your name?" I asked.
"Estelle." she said. "Estelle Medalia." I nodded, not expecting what she said next. "What's your name?"
I stared at her, and she just raised an eyebrow, a slight smile playing at her lips. I couldn't believe it. Here was this girl, alone in the Forest, starving, and she finds the strength to banter with me?
"Talitha Frewin." I answered automatically, then cursed inside. If she recognized my name . . .
But it didn't seem she did, because she just nodded. I watched her for a second more, then sighed in defeat and swung my pack off, plopping it on the ground. Estelle walked over and sat down in front of me as I pulled the deer meat out. "Where are you from?" she asked in a tone I could only describe as conversational, as if this was a totally normal event. She was the first (live) human being I had seen in months!
"A small village, from the south." I answered. "It is- it was called Inucar."
She nodded, taking the meat I offered her and immediately ripping it apart and shoving it in her mouth. I looked away while she ate, recognizing the desperation she felt. "I'm from Ti'sok," she continued between bites. "My father...he was the mayor." she paused, looking down at the significantly smaller piece of meat in her hands. Her eyes were watering.
"Your father was the mayor?" I said, astonished. She just nodded, then continued to eat. "What-" I paused. "What happened to your family?"
"What do you think?" she said quietly, but her tone wasn't angry in the slightest, just infinitely sad.
"I'm sorry," I said. She nodded in acknowledgment.
"Yeah, me too. What about you?" I raised an eyebrow. "What happened to your village?"
I looked back into my pack, rummaging around until I found the other piece of cooked meat and held it out to her, though I wasn't sure why I was being so helpful. "The Elves happened." I said. "It burned. I was the only one who got away."
She took the proffered food and looked down. "I'm the only one left too. Everyone else is dead. My friends, Father, Mother, my-" she stopped, blinking away tears that were threatening to spill out of her eyes, then took a deep breath before continuing. "I'm the only one in the whole town who was immune."
I stopped dead, looking at her. "You're immune?" I whispered. "To the Fisherman's Plague? Is that possible?"
She shrugged. "Apparently. Mother told me to stay in my room, but she ended up locking me in a cupboard. I wanted to help..." she shuddered and looked away. "By the time I got out everyone was dead, including her. I was about to leave when I saw them. The elves." she set aside the now-empty leaf I had wrapped the meat in. "I saw them coming over the wall. They move like spiders; all low to the ground and creepy looking."
I busied myself with closing my pack and latching it, aware of Estelle's eyes on me the whole time. Finally I glanced up at the sky, noting that it was starting to get dark. The day had gone by quickly.
"All right," I said finally, standing up. Estelle did so too. "Is this where you leave?" I honestly wasn't sure whether I wanted her to stay or not. I craved human contact, but I was also overly suspicious. Could she still be carrying the plague? Or maybe she was lying about everything. Could she really be immune?
"Could I.." she stuttered, and I suddenly realized just how young she was to have seen so much death. "Could I just stay the night with you? I'll leave in the morning if you want me to."
I considered it. What harm could she really do to me that one night? I probably wouldn't sleep anyway. "All right," I said finally. "One night."
Her eyes lit up immediately, and suddenly they reminded me of what my mother's eyes had once looked like. I didn't have much time to consider the similarities though, because Estelle launched herself at me and hugged me tightly. "Thank you!" she said sincerely, and I stared down at her for a moment before carefully putting my arms around her.
"Um . . . yeah," I muttered.
The next morning I spent a good ten minutes adjusting all the straps on my pack and avoiding Estelle's gaze. We had stayed up most of the night talking before she fell asleep, and I would never admit it but I had gotten sort of attached to her. Did I really want her to leave?
"Talitha," Estelle said eventually, and I looked up. "I'll, uh . . . I'll just be going then."
I nodded, looking back down. "Right. Goodbye."
She didn't say anything, and after a moment turned and started walking away. She got about forty feet away when a voice in my head suddenly screamed What the hell do you think you're doing?
"Estelle!" I yelled, standing up. She turned around and I saw the start of a smile playing on her face. I gave in and smiled for the first time in months. "So do you want to come with me or not?"