A lump formed in my throat when I received the news. The Fae, I thought to myself. They. . . They came back. But why? This is the question that I asked Griever upon my discovering the alarming news.
"What more would they have to gain from us?" I asked him in a small voice as we sat down by a fireplace.
He shook his head in perplexment. "If only I knew the answer." He paused for a moment, then looked at me. "Are you all right, lass? You look as if you've just seen a ghost."
I leaned my face against my hands to hide the tears that streamed down my cheeks. "Aye," I said with false honesty, "I'm fine. Just a bit tired, is all."
The next day, Kate divided a handful of us into groups of two; half of the groups would visit nearby villages to check in on them and the other half to scout the surrounding perimeters of the camps. By my specific request, Kate allowed me to be one of those who was visiting a village, as I wanted no such encounter as the Marshall had just experienced.
I was paired with Kiara, which lightened my spirits a bit. I had looked up to her since before I had even become a true Hawk, and there was no doubt that I owed many things to her, my life included.
Today, though, she seemed as if the weight of the world was on her shoulders― she walked with a certain tone of dread and her face was lined with. . . Worry. Pain. And not just any pain, the pain of hard decisions and loss.
Walking next to her, I asked, "Kiara. . . Are you alright?"
She nodded, keeping her gaze away from mine. We walked a bit faster to keep up with the group in front of us. After a moment, everyone stopped.
"All right, this is where we split up," said a man in another group. "My partner and I will be heading off to a northern village. You two go to the east."
I looked at Kiara, then back to the man. "Alright," I replied. "We'll be off, then."
Upon arriving to the village, Kiara and I went to visit some of the townspeople, asking them questions about if they had seen anything out of the ordinary, like strangely-acting animals.
"Nothing much that I've seen," an old woman said, "except for one very odd encounter that I had with some birds just about a fortnight ago. Peculiar creatures, they were, staying huddled in tight groups and chirping very loudly― as if they were panicked by something. When I shooed them out of my tree, they all turned and looked at me, the lot of them. Then the birds suddenly fluttered away in a rush. You could say it was somewhat of a frightening experience. The way they looked at me. . . It was as if they could understand me and were in blatant refusal of my orders for them to leave."
Kiara put her hand on the woman's shoulder comfortingly. "Don't you worry, we'll take care of it. No need to be frightened." The old townswoman nodded, but didn't seem very confident in Kiara's words. And when I looked at Kiara, she didn't seen so sure either.
After talking with a few more villagers, she and I quickly searched the town's perimeters to check for any loose Fae that might be lingering. When finished, we met with the other parties and returned to the base camp.
"Anything to report?" Kate asked, her eyes looking feverish.
I nodded. "Some the the eastern villagers have experienced run-ins with strangely-acting animals that seemed to be a little too comprehensive in understanding language and actions." Kiara explained what a few people had told us about their recent sightings.
All the while, I studied Kiara's behavior from the corner of my eye. She had seemed fine on the way back, except for that last perimeter check that we had performed. When she turned to me to say something, her eyes. . . glowed orange. It was only for a short moment, but I was sure that I wasn't imagining things. She had noticed it, too, because she quickly turn away and spoke more rapidly, as if rushed by some unforeseen rush.
I was watching her even more closely then, until someone kicked my shin. "Hey!" I yelled in surprise and pain. Dreda stood to my left, laughing like I'd just told her the funniest joke. "That hurt, heifer," I said with gritted teeth while grabbing my leg.
Her laughter faded. "What did you call me?" she asked with an abrupt excitement and taunting in her eyes.
"Heifer," I hissed. She then lunged at me, dragging me to the ground where we rolled and fought for the upper hand in our sudden battle. We were interrupted by a loud chuckling and fake cough.
"Ladies," Griever said as he stifled another laugh, "perhaps you would be so kind as to return to your positions in telling us your discoveries while scouting today?"
I stood up quickly, brushing dust and dirt off of my clothes. Dreda took her time, obviously not fazed by the chortling Griever. "Alright, alright," she said. "I'll let it go this time. But call me another unbecoming name"―she looked pointedly at me with a smirk on her face―"and you won't get away so easily."
"We'll see about that," I said teasingly. She snorted in response.
When everyone had finished relaying their findings about new developments in the surrounding villages, I saw Kiara head off to her tent.
"Kiara?" I asked in a small voice. Her tent was pitch black; all I could make out was her silhouette before my eyes adjusted to the darkness.
She turned to me and replied in the same quiet voice, "What is it?"
"I. . ." I started, but wasn't quite sure how to finish my statement. Finally, I asked, "What's wrong? Are you all right?"
She sat down on her bed and shook her head. "No. No, I don't think I am."
Not knowing what else to say, I was quiet for a moment. It was Kiara who finally broke the silence. "I'll be fine. I've just. . . been tired. And stressed. I just need some sleep." I immediately recognized that as my dismissal, but pushed it away for the moment.
"Are you sure? Earlier, you. . . Your eyes, they―" I started, but was cut off.
"Yes, I am sure. And whatever you saw was most likely a reflection of the setting sun playing tricks, nothing more. Now please, I would like to go to sleep."
I nodded and left silently, knowing full well that what she was going to do after my leaving was not sleep.