p class="MsoNormal" /p
p class="MsoNormal"span style="mso-tab-count: 1;" /spanThe wind did not have a voice, her father used to tell her./p
p class="MsoNormal"span style="mso-tab-count: 1;" /spanThe wind did speak to her, though. It whispered in her ears and sang her to sleep. The wind made her feel safe./p
p class="MsoNormal"span style="mso-tab-count: 1;" /spanIt told her that prey was near, or that something not her own size was approaching./p
p class="MsoNormal"span style="mso-tab-count: 1;" /spanShe listened to the wind as she stretched out on the thick, fresh grass beneath her./p
p class="MsoNormal"span style="mso-tab-count: 1;" /spanIt sang her a lullaby and swept through her cheeks in a soft caress—a trace of magic, perhaps, even here./p
p class="MsoNormal"span style="mso-tab-count: 1;" /spanBut she would not lose herself to the wind today./p
p class="MsoNormal"span style="mso-tab-count: 1;" /spanNo, too much was at stake. She could lose her job./p
p class="MsoNormal"span style="mso-tab-count: 1;" /spanShe unpacked the contents of her bag, grateful for the smell of the not-too-cold chocolate milk in her bottle. Her bag was messy, to say the least. Before she had left her two-story home, she had packed it with her hunting supplies, a turkey sandwich, chocolate milk, a book, and a spare blade—just in case./p
p class="MsoNormal"span style="mso-tab-count: 1;" /spanHer mentor, guardian, uncle—whatever he was to her—plopped down on the grass besides her. "About time you showed your face." she remarked./p
p class="MsoNormal"span style="mso-tab-count: 1;" /spanHe'd been following her for a while, probably just to point out the flaws in her hunting style./p
p class="MsoNormal"span style="mso-tab-count: 1;" /span"Hello to you, too, Im." Cayden said to her, "You're still not guarding your right side."/p
p class="MsoNormal"span style="mso-tab-count: 1;" /spanShe smiled vaguely, "I wasn't fighting. I don't have to cover my right side."/p
p class="MsoNormal"span style="mso-tab-count: 1;" /spanHe was unyielding, "There are many creatures not quite your size in these woods, and you're not exactly one to avoid fights, I believe."/p
p class="MsoNormal"span style="mso-tab-count: 1;" /spanShe drank the contents of her bottle in one, long gulp. "I should get back to work."/p
p class="MsoNormal"span style="mso-tab-count: 1;" /spanEmlyn sheathed her sword at her side—a broadsword with a purple velvet handle adorned with golden carvings—and stood up. "I need some big game today. You pack my stuff; I need to hunt."/p
p class="MsoNormal"span style="mso-tab-count: 1;" /span"Yes ma'am," her mentor was gone now; it was the best friend side of him that rolled its eyes, "On second thought, I prefer to go home. My wife made dinner."/p
p class="MsoNormal"span style="mso-tab-count: 1;" /spanShe raised her eyebrows, "It's ten in the morning, Cay, dinner is at night. You should get back to preschool."/p
p class="MsoNormal"span style="mso-tab-count: 1;" /spanHe shrugged his shoulders, a playful smile on his lips, "Breakfast, then."/p
p class="MsoNormal"span style="mso-tab-count: 1;" /spanThe leaves rustled behind her as Emlyn repacked the empty bottle, book, and spare blade into her bag. She straightened, silently, and loaded her bow with a fresh arrow./p
p class="MsoNormal"span style="mso-tab-count: 1;" /spanIt was a deer, about a good eighty feet to her right. Judging by its dark, spotless brown coat, the deer was at least a year old./p
p class="MsoNormal"span style="mso-tab-count: 1;" /spanResting hand on cheek, she extended the string of her bow—cedar, with the most elastic string in town./p
p class="MsoNormal"span style="mso-tab-count: 1;" /spanThe air was still. Emlyn took aim, her hands steady. Cayden leaned onto the trunk of a tree, watching, judging. She inhaled. Exhaling halfway, she released the arrow./p
p class="MsoNormal"span style="mso-tab-count: 1;" /spanMentor and student watched the scene unfold in slow motion—the slick arrow tearing through the atmosphere, reaching the doe and hitting home. The stunned doe staggered on its feet, the arrow stuck in its throat, and fell backwards./p
p class="MsoNormal"span style="mso-tab-count: 1;" /spanCayden whistled—loud and long./p
p class="MsoNormal"span style="mso-tab-count: 1;" /span"Your father would be proud." he praised her./p
p class="MsoNormal"span style="mso-tab-count: 1;" /spanShe knew that he was waiting for the smile, the bright glimmer in her eyes that shone whenever her father was mentioned. She didn't smile. She closed her eyes./p
p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent: .5in;"Emlyn didn't feel it anymore—not the warmth that used to swallow her when he said things like that, not the tingles of pride that locked around her fingertips, not the ache in her cheeks for smiling so wide./p
p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent: .5in;"Her father wouldn't come back. They were gone, she was so sure of it./p
p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent: .5in;""Do you think they're ever coming back?" emFor me? /emShe didn't dare say it. While they were somewhere else, where they can be themselves, where magic was not as confined, where they were safe from the continuous threat on her life, why would they ever come back? Surely not for her./p
p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent: .5in;"She moved closer to the fallen doe, snapping the arrow in half, and heaving her over a shoulder. Emlyn sagged under the weight of her prey, and Cayden—he still hadn't replied—moved to help her./p
p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent: .5in;""What do you think?" he finally answered her. It was typical of him, to answer a question with a question of his own./p
p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent: .5in;"But Emlyn only shook her head./p
p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent: .5in;"They walked back the length of the woods and the huntress mounted her brown mare which she called Laspi—the Greek word for mud./p
p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent: .5in;""I think they're dead," she said from atop her horse, "And even if they were not, I don't think they will come back. Not for me."/p
p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent: .5in;"With raised eyebrows, Cayden inquired, "Not even Lorcan?"/p
p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent: .5in;"She shook her head, "Not even Lorcan."/p
p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent: .5in;"Emlyn tightened her hold on the reins and took off into the day. She did not stop until she reached the butcher, handing him a note from her client and pocketing her payment—five, round pieces of pure gold./p
p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent: .5in;"Her next stop was the bookstore, she treated herself with two novels she would add to her endless pile of books at home. After all, it was her birthday./p