"Are you sure about this?" I could hear them talking from a distance away. "We can't be sure of either of their trust or motives. What if the girl's a spy? What shall we do then?" They were talking about me, and I knew it. It was my first actual day at the camp, where they had unwillingly let me stay here. That was understandable, as they were the Night Hawks. Hence, they could trust no outsiders. I suppose it didn't help their logic with my eagerness of joining their group. It couldn't be helped though, as I was so longing to belong somewhere again. The solitude of my previous living stature had taken a toll on my social skills.
"I suppose it's a risk we're obliged to take," the other voice said. I was still too unfamiliar with these people to tell who was talking, but I could hear the defiance in the second woman's voice. "Besides, she's only a mere child. Surely she couldn't have wandered here by her lonesome with motivations of turning us in. The Sheriff doesn't even have the smarts of our location."
The lady that had started the conversation scoffed. "We'll just see how far your blind optimism takes us. It's unsettling to see just how overly trustworthy you are, Kate."
"I'm not being 'overly trustworthy' or 'blindly optimistic', Jem. I just believe we're much too close to the enemy now to be picky with the members of our pack. They both seem harmless enough to me, anyway." So it was Jem and Kate speaking. I etched their voices into my memory in case it was ever needed for recollection. Knowing she had lost the battle, Jem made a frustrated sound and walked away. Lost the battle, not the war, I reminded myself. They could very easily decide I was a liability and dispose of me without a second thought. Quietly and stealthily, I leaped down from my perch in a tall tree, landing with a barely audible thud. Changing into my human form, I got into the clothes that Kiara had given me and walked back to the "mess hall" of the camp, where a few ladies were fixing lunch. The sun was a little past the middle of the sky, leaning ever-so slightly in the western direction. Nonchalantly, I crept past Jem, who was busy in a new conversation now. I went over to sit next to a girl who looked only a bit older than me. There was a bandage on her shoulder.
Pointing to the injury, I asked, "How'd you get that? It looks painful."
"Oh, this? It happened on the last raid we went to," said the girl, putting her hand on the wounded shoulder. "I was stricken by an arrow, but that kind man over there pulled it out for me." She gestured to the man who introduced himself to me as Griever, the newest annex to this band of soldiers besides myself.
I nodded. "Aye, he does seem like a gentleman." As the girl chattered on about other things, my mind began to wander. Griever did seem like a nice man. How could they still doubt him? Also, in other dialogues I've heard (it is not eavesdropping), it sounds like he knows a thing or two about the new Marshall. He could be valuable to the Night Hawks, so why do they continue to defy him a permanent place here? Then again, I understood their motivation to keep their distance. He could very well be a spy. But they also thought the same about me. For the moment, there was nothing either of us could do to change their minds. They would just keep going in circles with each other until we both became useful enough to be a part of the loop.
The first half of the afternoon went by without conflict. There was one woman who kept looking at me with suspicious glances, but I ignored it for the most part. More than anything, I simply tried to stay out of people's way and help as much as I could. Just before the sun was beginning to set, Griever found me sitting on a log, cleaning my sword.
Sitting down next to me with a grunt, he made a polite gesture and said, "Hello Norida." I made an acknowledging nod in response.
"If it's not any trouble to you, may we continue our talk from last night? I've caught myself curious about how someone young as you could survive alone out here. How aged are you, anyhow?"
Without looking up from my blade, I replied, "Fourteen."
He made an impressed sound. "And how long have you lived in these woods?"
"I've just about lost count of the seasons, but I presume about three or four years." I paused my cleaning to tuck my long, malnourished hair behind my ears to keep it out of my face. Routinely, my hair would be healthy and shiny from the organic soap I created, but I hadn't used it in a while.
My eyes clearer with hair no longer an issue, I looked up at the kind man. His eyes were wide. "You've been hiding around here for that long??" I closed my eyes and nodded. "Well. . . that's. . . news to me. I didn't expect an answer as such."
"I know," I said quietly, "no one ever expects it. Not like they should in a world like this."
"And you have no parents, I assume?"
Looking down again, I replied in the same small, cold voice, "That's right."
He left me alone after that. I suppose he had to take some time to think it through. He obviously hadn't been prepared from such a reply from such a young girl. Well, he wouldn't be the first one to underestimate me.
Griever sat a few paces away from me again during dinner, but didn't speak a word, let alone ask any questions. And, to be honest, I was grateful. I had enough on my mind today to answer any other probing inquiries. Drawn to exhaustion from the last two days, I could hardly stand much more. And so, I was glad when he decided to leave me be. That evening, I was only haunted by a dream of my parents' deaths. Certainly not the worst I've been hit with from my own mind.
The next morning, we had a feast of a breakfast, compared to our usual rations. It was apparent that Jem and her troup had just done a raid the night before. People ate until they were at the brink of over-stuffing themselves. I, however, only ate a small portion, as I wasn't really hungry, although I had to think twice about getting seconds because the food was so good.
After the delicious meal, I made myself scarce and took a hike up to the familiar stream near my old hut.
Finding the small creek without difficulty, I decided to bathe in my feline form. It felt good, as I hadn't taken a bath like that in quite a while. My hygiene nowadays had been kept up solely on necessity. It had felt like forever since I soaked for leisure reasons. As I sat there, I thought about something that Kiara had told me when I got up this morning. She had told me that it wasn't long before I was called onto a mission. I had to admit, that peaked my curiosity a bit. I wondered about it as I dried myself off and got dressed again. Afterwards, I made the decision to venture a bit further.
I was still thinking about my potential mission when an odd smell came across me. Stopped in my tracks by the death-and-decay kind of smell, I looked around. It was only then that I became aware of my surroundings. There were a bunch of deer, about five or six -- dead, all of them -- and one little girl, who was skinning one of the deer.
"Now, now Regina, this will only hurt a little bit," said the girl in a chirpy voice. She was talking to the deer. The dead deer. Named Regina.
Caught completely and entirely off guard, I could not even attempt to hold in the blood-curdling scream that came from the bottom of my throat and the very core of my being.