[TT] Hunters’ Folly

[TT] Hunters’ Folly

The first one to disappear had been
the one bringing up the rear.

One moment, their merry rogue had
been laughing and joking, knives held loosely in hand, and then, when they’d
all turned around, she’d vanished like a puff of smoke, silent.

Then things really began to fall apart.

Fear had become a near-constant
companion, hovering over them like a dark storm cloud through their paltry
meals and watch shifts. There had been five of them, and now there were only
four.

The leader, Leander, was the first
to lose his calm; his eyes darted through the tree branches, searching for
something; one hand was raking through his hair, and the other was on the hilt
of his blade; when Gladen snuck up behind him to retrieve something, she’d
nearly been skewered.

And the man’s paranoia only
worsened come nightfall. He claimed he could hear branches snapping, distant
shrieks of pain and fear, hysterical laughter and inconsolable sobs that broke
the quiet of the night like glass.

They’d been sent by the Crown to
hunt for and dispose of a kingdom-wide threat, about which they knew little.
But all of them had been desperate for money, fame, glory. Backed into a corner
and blinded by the fruits of this toxic expedition, all of them, one by one,
had agreed.

And now, Leander was certain that
they were all in line for the block.

Death had never scared him before;
he’d been a mercenary and soldier before this crazy mission. But the thing that
terrified him the most was the unknown. How, exactly, would he and his allies
die? There was no way of knowing, for no one had ever returned to tell tales.
Night was beginning to fall, and all he wanted was to get somewhere safe.

**

Gladen looked at Leander from her
position on her mare, struggling to hide a frown. It was true, that Samara had
disappeared, but being a rogue, her vanishing was not something so out of the
ordinary. But their fearless leader was convinced that something much more wicked
was at hand.

As they found a clearing to bed
down in, Gladen found that she was tired of the endless litany. She would never
admit that she was frightened, even if at times throughout this job she was so
wired that she felt like she was going to jump out of her skin.

They had a simple meal of bread,
cheese, and thin rice porridge, and went to bed; at least, everyone except
Tessa, who sat next to the fire, a book open on her knees and her staff close
at hand.

Gladen fell asleep quickly;
sleeping on the ground with little warmth was nothing new for her.

**

She was awoken by a harsh, guttural
screech, and before she was really conscious, her fingers closed around her
weapons, a razor-sharp set of chakrams, and she dressed as quickly as she
could. There were the sounds of heavy footsteps, heavy breathing, and the drip
of something thick and wet. It hadn’t been raining when they’d gone to bed.

What in the gods’ names was going
on out there?

The screams came again, and Gladen
steeled her courage, throwing herself out of her tent and letting loose a
battle cry of her own. But she was utterly unprepared for what awaited her
outside in their campsite.

**

Blood, bone, and limb lay scattered
on the cold, hard ground, the pieces of her friends staring up at her like some
grisly, grotesque joke; all the fight had left her body.

Who, or what, had done this to her
friends? Why had they left her?

“Who did this?!” She roared into
the night, and she heard a low, hoarse chuckle that deepened into a growl.

She spun around, chakrams raised.

“I do hope, for your sake, that
those are silver, pretty girl,” A female voice floated over the trees like
music, and then there was a pair of luminous violet eyes in the dark. Blinding
agony, like she was being ripped apart, and then nothingness.

**