L ogan’s feet ached with each step. It took everything in him to keep going. With each hoarse breath the taste of metal coated his tongue and throat. The hunter’s were so close now he could hear each distinct footstep thundering behind him like horses in the final leg of the race. Fingers grasped at his cloak, twisting and grappling for purchase. He could keep up the ruse no more.
“Pull me out! Pull me out!” he shouted.
“It’s not her!” One yelled out from behind him.
“Take him anyway!”
An alley to his right. Thirty feet away. He could hear the ragged breath of the closest one over his left shoulder. Twenty feet. Gnarled fingers clawed at his back.
“Pull me ouuuut!”
Wind whipped tears from his eyes and the darkness of night pooled around him as he shot right and plunged forward into an inky blur.
The three hunters rounded the corner behind Logan and stopped dead in their tracks. Their eyes picked apart the dark in front of them but it was immediately clear to all of them. He was gone. All that remained was his cloak which fluttered to the ground in a crumpled heap. The one who had been closest to grabbing him, Guthrie, knelt down and picked it up; she inspected it, unfurling it and turning it inside out before turning back to the others.
“Well this is new,” she handed the cloak to the third hunter, Sa’id. “Take this to the Council, they’ll want to examine it.”
He plucked it from her hands and with a thrust of his wings took off into the night. She turned to Rutten with a grim look on her face.
Seth was only a few feet from the door when Rose’s eyes peeked out from around it. Perhaps it was the suddenness of it all – a cat coming face to face with a mouse that had mistakenly wandered up to it during an afternoon slumber – but for a moment he froze. Their eyes registered one another, hers growing wider, his narrowing with intent, and she was off.
Back into the house, she screamed across the main floor towards the back door. The sound of the door slammed against the wall as Seth careened after her. Rose reached the rear wall and flung the back door open. He was so close to her that he rammed up against it pinching her right leg in the threshold. His weight squeezed against it like a bear trap, his arms maneuvering for purchase but she kicked free and bolted away, unfurling her wings as fast as she could and thrusting up into the air.
A cloud of dust plumed around her, her wings flapped climbing her higher and higher. The deep billowing of wings in pursuit thudded in her ears. Against her better judgment she chanced a glance back. He was close enough that she could see the moon reflecting around his deadened eyes. Up here she had the advantage, if you could call it that. On the ground his extra muscle could overpower her but up here, her slender frame gave her speed. It wasn’t much but she made herself as small as possible and darted west towards the forest. The wind whistled past her ears, a sensation she had grown to love over the years. It silenced the world around her bringing a peaceful calm no matter what was happening below. Tonight though, it brought a new feeling: terror. The faster she went the less she could discern the situation behind her.
A flutter of motion to her right caught her attention where Rutten and Guthrie emerged, joining in on the hunt. Rose tried not to think what that meant for Logan. There had been a fourth. Was he closing in on her from a different path? She scanned around her as fast as she could but couldn’t see him. She could feel her heart rising in her chest.
Don’t panic. Slow is smooth. Smooth is fast. Focus on the forest.
She reminded herself she could outfly the two men. It was the woman she feared most up here. Despite the delay, Guthrie was already closing the gap. Rose couldn’t believe how fast she was.
Point your feet. Arms tight.
The guiding words of her father first teaching her to fly sprang to the front of her mind. She dipped towards the ground for speed before leveling out again as she cruised past the perimeter wall.
They were high enough that one of the guardian angels stationed at the wall looked no bigger than a small stone. He’d have no interest in a local even if he did notice her. They were more concerned about keeping things out than in, and with the night hunters in pursuit they knew better than to get in the way. Rose shot out over the grassy knolls and for a moment she wondered if this would be her last time seeing them. The whole world was shades of silver from up here. Moonlight glittered off the creeks below etching life into the black tableau.
Rose was halfway across when Guthrie caught up to her. She could feel her over her right shoulder, edging closer. A glint hit Rose’s eye. She couldn’t hear it over the wind, but she knew the hunter had drawn her sword. The small bit of extraneous movement widened the gap again, if only for a moment. It was only as Rose crossed the forest’s edge did she realize that she’d reached the extent of her escape plan. She’d never ventured much further than this and had no idea what the horizon held.
A great weight pulled at her, sucking her stomach down towards the trees. She resisted the sensation but it was slowing her down. Guthrie was on top of her now. Rose spun in the air avoiding the initial swing of her blade but this wasn’t a dance she was going to survive. She weaved away from the second strike and dived towards the canopy that loomed below. They were still a few hundred feet above the treetops when Rose felt a pain like nothing she’d ever felt before scream across her back and her body swirled into a tailspin. The white of her feathers floated in the sky above her. The hunter had sliced her wings clean off.
Rose tumbled towards the Earth in free fall. The edges of her vision blurred and it was all she could do to not pass out. If she blacked out she was done for. Blood drifted upwards away from her like red rain. She swung her arms to right herself and did the only thing she could do. She dove. For two hundred feet she plunged towards the thicket. She wondered if the impact might kill her, but she knew if hunters caught her they definitely would. The choice was simple, but terrifying nonetheless. The blurry mess in front of her took on definition and shape at an alarming rate, and with barely a moment to brace herself, she crashed into branches below.
TO BE CONTINUED…