Kiara watched as Norida approached the Marshall, hesitating a moment before silently pointing out a direction for each of the Hawks gathered around her. The women quickly disappeared into the dark streets, sacks of food draped over their practiced shoulders. Taking her own bag from the cobbled street, Kiara set about leaving supplies discreetly inside the doorways of each house. Her eyes constantly flitted to where she knew Norida was, an uneasiness engulfing her.
She shouldn’t have let the girl confront the Marshall. He was a soulless, cruel man that knew nothing of mercy. Norida did have an advantage, however, considering that he was wounded. The girl was a fine warrior, quick to learn, but she had a certain hesitance around her, an innocence that was repulsed by inflicting pain. Kiara couldn’t blame her, really. It only took repetition to stamp out the uncertainty and, even after years and years of that repetition, the uncertainty still existed.
All it took was persistent death, and it would become commonplace.
“Pretend that it’s the person you hate most.”
Norida had looked at Kiara incredulously, the blade hanging limply from her hands.
Kiara gestured toward the tree again, deathly serious.
“You heard me. Want to learn or not?”
The girl gave a small nod, taking a deep breath and closing her eyes momentarily. Norida’s hands suddenly started shaking, and her eyes flew open, ablaze. She rushed at the tree screaming, slashing and gutting at the bark madly. Norida kept at it, vigour never lessening, long enough that Kiara had to pry her from the carved trunk. The girl was panting, jaw clenched with hatred and eyes shining maliciously. She was gripping the weapon so hard that her knuckles were turning white, skin cold.
Kiara was almost startled at how Norida reminded her of a younger version of herself, a spiteful, wild girl. The only difference was that Norida was almost always a placid young woman, whereas Kiara was the kind that kicked and snapped at all nearby.
“Calm, Norida, you must be calm. Harness the emotion. Let it spur you on. Be calculated.”
Norida nodded again, loosening her grip on the blade.
“Now, do it again.”
The girl ran at the tree once more, a tentativeness evident in her step. She plunged the weapon into the bark, bringing the blade full circle, and ripped a chunk of wood from the out and tossed it aside, doing it quickly again and again until the tree was full of holes.
Kiara walked over to her, looking over the mutilated tree with an impressed air.
“Well done. Your enemy would be a mound of flesh now, nothing more.”
“That’s just how I’d like it.”Norida replied darkly, eyes overcast.
Kiara only raised an eyebrow and held out a hand for the blade, wiping the splintered wood from it and sliding it into her belt as she received it. Norida was acting almost as oddly as that other young girl, Ali. Now that was a disturbing thought, indeed.
Kiara had just been finishing off her deliveries, sack significantly lighter, when Norida emerged from an alley, panting.
“The Marshall was getting suspicious,” she whispered, the whites of her eyes glistening in the moonlight, “I couldn’t stall much longer. Have the deliveries been made?”
Kiara nodded, wetting her lips, and let out a few birdcalls. The Hawks were instantly beside them, empty sacks in hand.
“That’s all of us. We should get back to camp now, stay out of sight until we hit the woods.”
The women all nodded, disappearing swiftly into the shadows once more. Norida remained, however, her eyes still wide, hands clenching and unclenching. Kiara started to scale the wall beside them, stopping when she heard the girl’s voice.
“It was him.”
The Hawk craned her neck, blue eyes confused.
Norida started to climb the wall as well, fingers nimbly moving through the cracks and crevices in the stone.
“The Marshall. He’s the person I hate most.”
Kiara remained silent, casting thoughtful glances at the girl ever so often as they moved from one rooftop to the next. They were out of the village within minutes, walking in the brush along side roads until the forest was within sight.
The two emerged into the trees, both sighing with relief. Being out in the open always had a certain element of risk alongside it, making it easy to be spotted. The woods were much, much different.
A loud rustling made Kiara’s gaze snap up from the trail, eyes barely registering the girl running madly towards them, nearly barrelling over Norida. It was Ali, a rabbit clutched desperately in her hands and-was that blood?-teeth stained.
“Where have you been?” Norida asked, voice bordering on angry, “I was supposed to watch over you!”
Ali pouted, stomping a foot in frustration.
“It’s not my fault you’re terrible at it!”
Norida shot back an icy reply and Kiara, too bothered to listen, wandered further into the forest, the girls’ argument growing quieter as she walked.
The night was cool, a soft breeze filtering through the trees. Leaves crunched softly under Kiara’s boots, the stars casting uneven light onto the forest floor.
She had been wandering aimlessly, thinking about returning to camp, when the tang of blood hit her nose. Kiara drew the crossbow hidden in her peasant garb, and neared the scent cautiously, head cocked and ready to aim at a moment’s notice. She let the weapon fall to her side within a moment, however, upon the sight of a cloaked body draped over a log. Blood was seeping through the fabric on one of the arms, steadily filling the air with its stench.
Kiara walked towards it slowly, poking its shoulder, and nearly leapt back as it shifted, the hood dropping and a set of brown eyes looking up at her.
“You’re a Night Hawk, aren’t you?”he said, words slurred with pain and fatigue.
Kiara considered denying it but, realizing that she was dressed as a peasant and had a lethal, expensive crossbow in her hands...only nodded.
“I am, stranger. Now tell me-what business do you have in these woods?”