A waning moon, dimmed by thinning clouds, cast its faint glow on the wooded landscape below. The leaves of the trees were once again falling, coloring the forest floor in shades of orange, red, and brown, permeating the air with their scent. The changing temperatures gave rise to a mist from the earth’s warm surface that hung suspended, still as stone. The crack of a stick was as good as a shout.
Through such a scene a young man swiftly made his way on foot along a well-used path. His steps were sure and he traveled the path with a seeming knowledge of every twist, dip and turn to the very texture of its surface.
Steadying the sword at his side with his left hand, Corred swung the other to match his gate. Little could be heard of his travel apart from the sound of his breathing and the occasional crunch of leaves. The color of his clothes matched the season in drab shades of brown and olive. The hood of his shirt hung loosely, allowing for better vision. His dark brown hair fell to his shoulders, and though his features were not distinguishable in the dark, the length of his stride spoke of his youthful strength. And though he traveled without a companion, Corred was not alone.
From a higher point in the woods, against a thicket, a silent figure bent low to the ground to hide his outline. He was carefully watching Corred’s path. His dress was black, matching dark eyes and on his back hung a pouch full of short spears. His hair was just as dark except for a few blond tips still clinging to black roots. Crouched motionless, he looked ahead, seeking a point of ambush. Once located, he quickly turned back into the thicket to carry out his attack.
As Corred made a turn in the path, he heard the snapping of a twig in the distance. His attention was drawn to the hill on his left, but there was no motion to accompany the sound. His pulse quickened and his senses grew more alert with each step.
Moving with the agility of a predator, the dark figure exited the opposite side of the thicket and stood behind a tree to wait. As he slowly raised his hand to the pouch on his back, his long fingers felt one of the spears, and stayed there. For a brief moment the light of the moon revealed the hunter’s features: hollow eyes, gaunt cheeks, and a sinister glare. His wide, black eyes absorbed all of the light available, shifting to and fro in search of his quarry. He walked his grip down the shaft of the spear when he heard the crunch of leaves to his right. Several seconds passed. Then, from his periphery, he spotted Corred running through the brush fifty yards out of range. Cursing behind clenched teeth, the hunter flew down the hill and pursued his target along the very path he had been watching. The spear was now in his hand, held at shoulder height, ready for release.
His pursuer now flushed from hiding, Corred fully realized the source of his alarm. Pulling his sword, he hit the full length of his stride. Fear threatened to take over, but he fought the panic and searched for a possible advantage. Ducking under the lower branches of an evergreen, Corred picked up a rock in his left hand. As the gap between he and his attacker lessened, Corred gripped his sword all the tighter. In the darkest part of the woods, he stopped on the face of a leaf. Rolling the stone ahead of him, he slipped behind a tree.
The hunter quickly released his spear in the direction of the sound, burying it in the stump of a fallen tree. Slowing to a standstill, he listened quietly while pulling a second spear from his pouch. After a moment of silence, he backtracked toward the place he had last seen his prey, stepping lightly. A low, angry growl escaped his throat.
Every muscle tensed and ready, Corred waited for the opportune time to either attack, or run. As the burning in his chest subsided, and he began to catch his breath, he listened carefully for his enemy’s movements. A minute passed before he again heard the crunch of leaves. At the snapping of a twig, now further away, he drew a deep breath and took off at a full sprint, aiming for the main path out of the woods. Within a few steps another spear flew just behind him, skipping across the forest floor.
Pushing so hard that he barely touched the ground, the hunter attempted once more to catch his prey. But this time, the intensity of his pursuit seemed to be well matched by his target’s flight. Unable to keep pace, the hunter hurled a second spear down the path with the full force of his body behind it. It found its mark.
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