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Hunting O'er Hill and Heath

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The roots of the Nemeton spread deeply throughout the soil.  The air around it hangs hot and heavy with the scent of blood.  There’s no stone altar here, the Nemeton is the altar and it’s waiting, anticipatory, because it doesn’t just know the forest, it is the forest, and it walks its floor with Death tonight.

 

“Why do they always run?” the built silence is quickly broken.

 

“It’s as though they want us to chase them.” A feminine voice laughingly replies.

 

“And who are we to turn down prey?” drawls the male counterpart.

 

The Nemeton looms over the familiar tableau and the air begins to hum with its satisfaction.   In the center of the clearing, not yet sheltered under its looming branches but posed oh so enticingly over its roots a grimy human man lays sprawled and panting with exertion.  Clothes torn and bloody, bow scattered just out of reach.

 

“Beasts!  Demons!  Come out and face me!”  He shrieks with impotent rage, not able to hide the tremble of exhaustion and fear as his voice cracks.

 

Nobody appears, this is a familiar game and one which is already won.  Bored already and with more fruitful pursuits in mind the man’s pursuers finally step into the clearing.

 

The man takes a breath, ready to bluster his way out of trouble as he has done many times before.  He fingers brush the top of his boot, but he does not pull out his knife or utter another word of defiance.  He gets a brief glimpse of his antagonists, a youth with amber eyes and a wicked grin, a slight girl with hair red as the fires of hell, when they are somehow already upon him. A blade slides feather soft across his throat and he never sees anything again, nor does he feel the roots of the Nemeton pulling him into the earth’s embrace.

 

“Stiles, you’ve specked blood all over my new riding boots,” the girl huffs in annoyance.

 

“Lydia, moon of my heart, as I know you’re aware the bounty we collected on this buffoon’s predecessors is enough to buy you twenty pairs of riding boots, thirty new silk dresses, and a horse.”

 

“Yes, well, I liked these boots in particular and hadn’t been expecting a woodland chase tonight.  And since I’m sure you did, I have no problem blaming you as you well know.”

 

At that, Stiles’ teeth flash white in the grey night, “That’s what I love about you Lyds, you were the only one with no fear in you.  Here I stand, in the seat of my power and absolutely glutted with it and still you’ll banter.”

 

“Yes, you’re absolutely terrifying,” she deadpans, “I can almost forget you still learning to control your horribly gangly limps and falling into and tripping over everything in your path when first we met.”

 

“I thought as much,” Stiles laughs, giddy.

 

“Fear me,” he says, raising his glowing green hands into the air, towards the Nemeton.  Possibly startled by his ridiculous dramatics a small snake tumbles from a low hanging branch to the ground at his feet.  Stiles coaxes it into coiling around his right forearm and speaks to it softly.

 

Rolling her eyes fondly Lydia gently takes him by his snake free arm.

 

“Stiles, you’re power drunk and sleep deprived.  We had best get back to the Inn before there are any more surprises tonight.”

 

Stiles lets himself be led but refuses to relinquish his new serpentine companion.  And, having had many years to adapt to his antics Lydia resigns herself to the inevitability of said snake as a permanent fixture and doesn’t even bother with the traditional cursory protest.

 

This is Stiles’ forest, finally he’s home after so many years, and so with each step the forest floor seems to meet them and in moments they find themselves at the tree line that had been leagues away. 

 

Two black horses wait there, unbridled, one pacing restlessly, the other tearing contentedly into the haunch of a white rabbit with its sharp incisors.

 

“We weren’t gone but thirty minutes” says Lydia, exasperated.

 

She smooths her hand over the air and then comes the sharp scent of rain, a subtle mist rises from the ground, the world tilts a bit sideways, and then with a small sound, almost a sigh, the glamour snaps back into place.

 

Two perfectly dull looking black coursers with all the respectable accouterments pulling a black and silver carriage face them now.  Four hooves each, and not a spot of viscera to be seen.

 

Lydia wears a seeming of a practical pale green traveling gown offset by impractically delicate lace, instead of her far more maneuverable hunting leathers. Stiles eyes seem a shade darker, no longer lit by an unholy light, his forest green tunic unrumpled.

 

“Ugh, I understand the necessity, but still I hate the glamour.  I swear, it itches.” Stiles grumbles under his breath scratching at his neck.  And still he is already putting on the familiar mask of humanity, slouching a bit as indolent lords are wont to do, movements slowing to a near languidity.

 

“Oh, I’m sorry husband, is my glamour not seamless enough for you?  If so I will certainly seek to improve. My greatest desire is to please you in all things.” Lydia says to him, smiling sweetly.

 

“Oh my gods, no, that was horrifying. Please, never say anything like that again.” Stiles shudders, with complete sincerity.

 

“Merely getting into character, wouldn’t want to shock the poor mortals' staid sensibilities.  Husband.” She says, as they get into the carriage which begins to move at breakneck speed, maneuvering with ease over terrain not fit for a carriage of any sort.

 

“I promise you that there is no version of you that would ever seem natural in subservience, Lydia.”

 

“Yes, well, that is as it should be, and I will forgive your griping because you, my friend, submit so beautifully, and I’m aware you’re out of sorts at the moment.”

 

“Gracious of you.”

 

“Of course; Sleep now, I’ll take care of things at the Inn.”

 

“Whatever would I do without you?”

 

“Absolutely nothing, I suspect.” Comes her voice from a distance, as Stiles finally sinks into slumber.