When one is walking through the forest, it will always play a certain song. Crunching leaves under soft-stepping feet make the rhythm. The whistle of the wind through the trees and valleys make the tune. Rustling leaves and babbling brooks make up the chorus. And anything extra simply adds to the simple, yet melodious harmony. To most, it is nothing extraordinary. However, to a certain forest dweller, it is the sweetest sound in the world. She cannot help but be enthralled by it.
It’s the end of the day. She is just returning home after an easy day’s work in town. The bakery has been fairly slow this week, with only the regulars stopping by for their daily order and a bit of chit-chat. In her hands she carries a box of cinnamon rolls, gained through the courtesy of her boss; one of the few people that knows she lives alone. She still can’t believe that one person could worry so much over her.
After all, she’d been looking out for herself for quite some time.
Pausing amongst a pile of fallen leaves, she tilts her head back to look up at the sky. Between the gaps in the branches of the trees she can catch a few glimpses of the sky: pastel purples and pinks and oranges blend together to paint the cloudy heavens above. If she hurries home, she might just make it in time to catch the gorgeous red sunset that this world is famous for.
With that thought in mind, she starts again on her trek, being sure to move a little more quickly than she had been. She supposes she could run if she were all the concerned about it. But her little house-more a shack than a house really- lies in a clearing that simply can’t pull off the same perfume of rain-dampened soil and mossy trees. She likes to embrace that scent.
A soft smile pulls at her lips as she jogs along.
Roughly a yard away from where the girl had been stopped, a cloaked figure leans against a tree, arms folded over their chest. Facial features are hidden under a large hood, but the turning of the head makes it obvious that their eyes are tracking...trailing the blonde-haired teen as she works her way through the woods. Not a sound escapes them as they right themselves and begin to stalk along behind her.
She can feel a presence following her.
Many like to believe that if they’re ever being followed, the world would stops in its tracks. That everything would go silent and time would stand still and shadows would close in from all sides. They like to think it would be obvious. But it never is. Not unless they know what listen for. Any hired weasel that’s worth their salt will know how to hide themselves among the shadows, but only the best of the best can silence their breathing and match every footstep perfectly with their target’s.
Her pace doesn’t slow. The tired grin on her face never falters. But she listens. Her instincts tell her she’s not alone, and there are very few instances where they’ve been wrong.
After hearing nothing for a minute or so, she begins to wonder if this is one of those rare occasions. Yet, she just can’t shake the feeling that-
It’s very subtle. A shift in the brush. So soft it could have been mistaken for any number of natural causes. But the harsh crunch of leaves afterwards tells her that someone just tripped over a root. That’s all she needs.
Without a glance behind her, she shifts into a sprint. Her box of goodies clutched tightly to her stomach, she turns off onto a roundabout path. It may be the longer way home, but anyone new to the area will have a hard time navigating the uneven terrain. She counts on her mental map to keep her from stumbling over the natural traps of the trail. She’s spent a long time in this forest. She knows these paths like the back of her hand. With long strides she bounds over roots and divots, always listening for her pursuer.
If she can just make it home-
The word escapes her in an audible gasp as she tries to skip to a stop. Somehow, they’d gotten ahead of her. They seem to step out from the shadows themselves, moving at a leisurely pace, as if they’re in no hurry to finish their job.
Whatever that job may be.
As she lurches to a stop, her foot skids over a particularly rocky patch in the ground, and she ends up stumbling backwards. Despite her best efforts, she still finds herself on her rear amongst the dusty soil. Guided by instinct, her arms fly out to catch herself, and the box of pastries is thrown to the side. Out of the corner of her eye, she sees the cardboard container slide open and her treats scatter; some tumbling out of sight, others only falling pathetically to the dirt. A brief wave of bitterness overcomes her, and she glares up at the cloaked figure. Scrambling backwards, she pushes herself back onto her feet, never once removing her gaze from the other. They seem to be watching her too, but she can’t be certain. Their lack of a readable expression unnerves her.
Looking at a person’s face can supply a lot of information. The intensity of their stare can hint at any malicious intent. Tense features will tell of a jumpy or agitated personality. Even little wrinkles around the eyes and mouth are helpful in determining whether a person has a tendency to smile or sneer; the difference between an easily swayed assailant and one to be cautious of. All kinds of information that helps to form a defensive strategy. Barring that, she would like to know who’s henchman this is so she can outmatch them in the most effective way possible.
However, as it is, she cannot even tell if the person she’s currently facing is a man or a woman. Their build is rather willowy, with them being tall but not quite on the bulky side. The flat chest makes her want to put money on a male, but really, who is she to judge?
“Moving on.” A voice in her head urges. Neither of them have made a move. They seem to be waiting on her. Which gives her an idea.
Worn down sneakers move from their defensive stance, preparing to run. The black cloak shifts as the person underneath it prepares for whatever she’s about to do. She smiles.
“That’s my chance.”
Dirt flies as she kicks off in a random direction. The figure lurches, reaching out to grab her, but leather gloves miss by mere inches. With an opening now to her left, she throws her body forward, tumbling under their reach, before smoothly righting herself (she’d picked up on the tuck-and-roll trick a couple years back, and had been quick to master the recovery). Once again, she prepares to hightail it for home. It shouldn’t be too much fa-
She’d only made it a few feet. A stray root- one she is certain hadn’t been there before- snags her heel, sending her down face first. As she looks behind her for the figure, she’s shocked to see the plant stretching out of the ground, wrapping itself around her calf.
They approach. She claws at the ground in an attempt to free herself, rock and hard soil scraping at her desperate hands. Any certainty or courage she’d had moments ago drains, leaving only sparks of fear to burn through her. A sick feeling works its way into her stomach. Thoughts fill her mind. Few make sense. Everything moves too slowly; but too quickly at the same time. A shriek builds up in her throat. She opens her mouth. No noise escapes.
They grab her arm, forcing her to her feet. The world goes tilts, goes dark. Her skin prickles and sears where they’ve got ahold of her. Her head pounds in time with her heart. There’s not enough air.
“Help.” Silent cries, “Help. Help me. I need- help, help me. Can’t breath. Need- Can’t- need help. Can’t-can’t-can’t--Breath. Can’t. breath-help-”
Over and over. She struggles. Her movements are weak.
He’d pulled her into the corridors to prevent anyone from hearing her scream. However, at this point, it doesn’t seem necessary. Her attempts at resistance are weak. She’s trying to pull away, sure, but it’s as if all her strength has simply left her. It would be better to say she’s putting all of her weight into leaning away from him. She’s mouthing words, but doesn’t actually speak. Seafoam blue eyes appear glazed over, and her breathing is sharp.
“I suppose I should stop her now. They apparently don’t want her injured. Although, if it is of her own accord, would I be punished, I wonder?”
The theory is not to be tested, he knows. Besides, leaving her in this state would only make transport all the more difficult. So, raising his free hand from his side, he lets out a string of murmurs; to anyone else, it would have been gibberish. But, when his closed fist opens, it reveals a small pile of red flower petals with black bases, sitting in his palm. Underneath the hood, he smirks.
“These should do nicely….”
A small puff of breath sends them fluttering from his hand: however, instead of simply drifting to the ground, they seem to come to life. They hover in the air for a moment, swaying to and fro. Then, they’re carried on a nonexistent breeze, dancing over to the girl. Lost in her frightened stupor, she hardly notices the approaching bits of flora until they’re directly in front of her. He watches as their sweet scent reaches her and immediately the tension leaves her body. Her eyes droop. For an instant, it appears she tries to resist the sleepy feeling that is overcoming her. But as he loosens his hold on her, she only fumbles.
He counts how many seconds it takes.
He makes certain to catch her as she falls.
The petals disappear into thin air. With no apparent strain, he shifts so she’s resting comfortably in his arms, before straightening up. He looks into the darkness around them, before walking no particular direction. Within minutes, the shadow falls away to reveal a room.
A room with thirteen towering seats, and walls as white as history’s purest light.