Raising the StakesMature

I ambled back towards the camp, unable to keep a smile from my face. There was a lady in the village who had invited my accompanying guards and myself to dine with her, after we had spared her a run-in with the sheriff's idiots. It had been later in the evening, and even though the food was simple, it seemed like the most delicious meal I had ever eaten. I told the woman this, and after a smile she said,

"Hunger makes the best sauce Marshall."

After months of wishing to be back with the Hawks, hunger had indeed made the best sauce.

Nearly oblivious to the outside world, I was startled when a patch of grass rustled in front of me. A small rabbit bounded out and hopped towards me, running figure-eights between my legs.

"Shoo" I said with a chuckle, marveling at how an animal could be so lively and so unafraid to show itself in the forest surrounding the Hawk's encampment. Surely it knew that to do so would be to invite the arrow of a hungry hunter?

I took another step, and almost landed on the energetic creature. I twisted my foot aside, standing on the tip of my foot so as to avoid the thing, and managed to delay my foot's descent long enough for the rabbit to scamper away, though I almost dropped the bundle I was carrying.

"Shoo!" I said a little louder this time, and to my surprise, the rabbit stopped and cocked its head at me. As if it was listening...

As it it understood.

"Crazy forest" I muttered, and continued back in the direction of the camp. A minute or two later I heard more rustling, and looked back behind me to see the same rabbit. It had followed me.

I began to walk more deliberately, unsure of why I was so intimidated by the creature. Sure it was behaving oddly, but it was nature, and nature was often unpredictable. Yet even with that knowledge I was a little uneasy. The rustling continued, and no sooner had I gotten used it when it stopped abruptly.

To be replaced by the humming of tiny wings. 

I caught hold of one of the weapons I was toting and began to count. 

1.

2...

On three I dropped all the armaments in my hand save for the one I was carrying. I spun quick with it and swung at a tiny form, not two feet from me. The weapon, a makeshift club, connected and I heard a shrill scream as the thing was knocked to the ground. It darted up quickly, hovering before me for a split second, then flew away. I had only gotten a quick look at it, but a quick look was all I needed.

The fae, the blasted fae had returned. 

After making sure it truly gone, I bent down to retrieve the rest of the weapons.

Snap!

A twig broke behind me, and I spun once more, brandishing the club as I did so.

"Corin what are you doing?"

"Kate!" I said, relieved. 

"You look like you've seen a ghost..." she said, chuckling. The laughter died away rather quickly when Kate saw that I didn't join in. "Corin, what's wrong?"

I took a deep breath and bent back down to collect the weapons. When I straightened I looked Kate dead in the eye, "I think, I think the fae are back."

Again Kate laughed, this time punching me in the arm as well. "Stars Corin! I thought something was actually-"

She was cut off by a horn in the distance. It was one we both recognized as belonging to the camp, to be blown only in the event of an emergency. Kate shot me a worried look, and together the two of us broke into a trot, disregarding the weight of the bundles we were carrying. The cabins and tents appeared after a brief minute, and after another, the two of us jogged back into the camp, dropping the weapons in a pile and approaching the group that had formed in the center. Jem and Griever had returned, along with Robin and the rest of the patrol. They wore grim expressions and exchanged nods with the both of us as we joined them.

Jem pulled Kate aside and began whispering to her in hushed tones. I glanced at Griever, who was staring back with a look that mirrored the thoughts swirling through my own head.

"You saw one" he said, not as question but a statement of fact. I nodded. "Well that answers a few questions," he muttered, "not with anything approaching a pleasant answer, but at least it's an answer."

My mind was racing, reeling, from the encounter. The stakes had risen, it was now more important than ever that we rescued my men from the Sheriff's clutches. If we didn't, we'd be sorely outnumbered, and our less-than-decisive victory would be even less certain and decisive.

I looked up to see Kate and rejoin Griever, Robin Hood, and myself. She surveyed the group gathered around the five of us, and after clearing her throat she spoke the simple, yet utterly depressing sentence.

"The fae have returned."

The End

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