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June, otter

drownedinlight7


Write the Thing

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Ulorna
June, otter
drownedinlight7
 She woke to the sight of a wolf in her face.

Ulorna gasped and sat up, placing a hand on her knife. The wolf cackled and lay down in front of her.

“So,” it said. “You are a hunter.”

“I…” Had the animal really just spoken to her? “Yes,” she replied at last.

“We were debating eating you,” the wolf informed her. “Not many of your kind come into these woods. There was one, who used to trap some game just on the edges, but we asked him to leave and he did. You smell like him. And you have the Hunter’s mark on you.”

“What hunter?” she asked.

“The Hunter,” the wolf told her. “The one in the sky. Did you give him blood from a hunt? He likes when you do that.”

“Yes, but not to protect me,” she said. “I wanted him to help my uncle.”

“The gods help as they see fit. A pity, I was wondering how you tasted,” the wolf said rising. “And well, you are in our pack territory.”

“I don’t mean to be,” Ulorna said, rising, her muscles protesting each step. “I’ll pass through as soon as I can. If it didn’t hurt, I would give you some of my flesh to try.”

“Probably a waste,” the wolf replied. “I’ll likely not see one of you again. You would think your kind is afraid of the trees.”

“The villagers in the next valley over are afraid of the magic here,” she told it. “They do not like what they cannot explain.”

“Does anything?” the wolf asked.

“I cannot explain the fact that I feel you and your pack all around me, or the fact that I can speak to you,” Ulorna pointed out. “I am not afraid of those things. And where are you going?”

“There is one who is healing one of my kin. He is like you. I figure I might as well take you to him, or you’ll never leave our scented area.” Ulorna thought to object through her soreness, for she had intended to travel southward through the forest in any case. But the wolf would lead her to another man, one who could heal things, so certainly not one of her village. Perhaps he could even tell her what lay beyond the Valley of the Wild, in the south.

Wolf trotted through the roots and ferns that covered the forest floor, and Ulorna did her best to follow at his pace. It was strange, and she had not noticed it when she had been running before, but even the plants spoke through the feeling, warning her where and were not to step, making her second guess each movement as she walked through the woods. The wolves around her seemed to cackle at her odd dancing walk, many of them making circles around her and the wolf she followed. “Are all your kin so odd?” he asked as they began to see fire light cast on the trees and ground.

“Only the ones who can feel the life of things with their feet,” she retorted. Wolf stopped so suddenly that she nearly tripped over him.

“Can you really feel all that is alive around you?” it asked.

“Not usually plants,” she admitted. “But everything here as a feeling and it seeps into my feet, sometimes into the air around me, and tells me what things are there for me to discover. I feel your pack all around us; I feel the trees warning me not to step on their roots. I feel the wind when it wants me to, and it whispers things in my ears. For the first time, yesterday, I felt death.”

“Well don’t call it here!” the wolf exclaimed and trotted on, leading her closer to the fire. Ulorna felt a smile ghost her face as she followed after him.

“I don’t know how to call death,” she said. “I just felt it there with us, as my uncle died.”

“You don’t know what you talk about,” the wolf told her. “Death can hear your whispers when you speak to her.”

“She’s a woman?” Ulorna asked.

“Who else could take you from this world, but like one who brought you into it?” the wolf answered. “Now hush, I deliver you unto your kin.” The fire stood not twenty paces from her, and the man who sat near the fire wrapping the paw of a wolf cub in a scrap of cloth looked up at her.

“Are you going to come and sit?” the man asked. “Or do you intend to stand there for the rest of the night and gawk.” Ulorna drew closer, seating herself opposite the man and the cub. She pulled her quiver and bow from her shoulders and lay them beside her. The pack straps slid off of her, relieving her of the weight of the food. From the pack, she pulled two long strips of dried meat and offered one to the man over the fire. “What is it?” he asked.

“Meat,” she replied. “Seasoned and dried in the heat of the sunniest days so that it stays good for winter.”

“And I don’t get any?” the wolf asked. “After leading you here and everything?” Ulorna ripped a piece from the end of her stick and threw it to the wolf, which caught it barely even jumping in the air. Her fingers gripped the meant again and pulled of another piece and set to chewing it. The man, who had been watching her, slowly began chewing a piece of his as well.

“Do you have a name?” the man asked around his meat. He chewed as if he had something large in his mouth, not used to the rougher quality of the dried meat.

“It helps if you suck on it,” she told him.

“Strange name,” he replied.

“The meat,” she clarified. “My name is Ulorna.”

“No father’s name?”

“No father to give me a name.” She looked at him over the fire. “And yours.”

“Bohs,” he said. “Same as you, never had a father. But what are you doing here, in these woods? Hunting?”

“No, passing through, I want travel south,” she explained.

“And your village couldn’t spare a lad to see that you make it through the forest alive?” he asked. “Or perhaps you ran away from a marriage.”

“No man in my village would want to marry me, but I did run away.”

“Why?”

“They were going to kill me,” she said.

“And why were they going to kill you.”

“I’m a bastard.”

“That’s it?”

“It’s the only reason they needed, really.” Ulorna stared into the fire. “Well, they did claim that I was strange, and that perhaps it was my uncle who forced himself on my mother those many years ago.” Bohs snorted.

“I had heard that villages to the north were somewhat brutal in their treatment of those magical, and of strangers as well, but never before have I heard of people wanting to kill a child because she was strange,” he told her.

“Perhaps you need to listen a little harder,” Ulorna retorted.

“Perhaps I do,” Bohs admitted, twirling the piece of meat in his hand. “And so, you intend to travel south. What do you intend to do when you get there?”

“I had not thought of that,” Ulorna admitted.

“And why not?”

“I was focusing on staying alive.”

“Good focus,” Bohs replied. “Well, you look like a strong girl. You can sew, clean, cook, plow?” At the mention of each job Ulorna nodded. “Should be easy for you to find work, then. I’m traveling south myself, all the way down to the place of the king’s palace near the coast. You’re welcome to stay with me until you want to stop, or you can find a place that’ll give you a job and a place to sleep.”

“Thank you,” Ulorna said.

“I would have only had you following me the whole way down,” he told her with a shrug. Bohs eyes snapped up, his shoulders growing prostrate.

“What is it?” Ulorna asked, planting her feet into the ground. She could feel nothing but the wolves and the trees.

“Tell me, some fool from your village they would not have followed you here out of some great want for your head, would they’ve?”

“No, they all fear the forest,” she said reaching for her bow.

“Well, then that means it’s one of mine. And your knives would serve much better,” Bohs remarked, pulling a sword hidden under a blanket from its sheath.

“I don’t feel anything though,” she hissed, as they both rose from their spots. “I would know if a man were watching us.”

“Perhaps, but what if he were disguised so you did not know he was a man?” he asked. “What do you feel out there? Is it as you told the wolf?”

“Yes,” Ulorna replied. “I only feel the wolf kin, and the trees underneath my feet.”

“And in the air?” Bohs asked. Ulorna had to focus more for that, but reached out into the air to feel what was there. At first she did not notice anything, but then hovering just outside of the light of the fire, something felt the tiniest bit like a man. As she turned to look at it though, that something cried out and began to move, and then she was sure. Letting a blade fly through the air, it pierced the something, which continued to descend on them. Bohs raised his sword and slashed at the knife suspended in the air, blood spurting on to him once he had and a man finally appearing to fall to the ground.

Now they did not hide, but two more came from the air. Ulorna could only feel one of them attacking Bohs as the other made for her. She blocked the swing of a blade with one knife and drew another from her belt to strike with. The invisible force reached out to strike her, slashing open her arm.