After three days of searching, Kaalys had found her mark.

The stag stood patiently in the middle of a clearing, its soft white ears swiveling back and forth in search of any sound of approaching predators. Its small white tail hung in anticipation, ready to stand at attention as a warning to other deer in the area should it need to bound away through the woods.

Quietly, Kaalys reminded herself. She’d been tracking this particular specimen through the giant wooded area behind her family home. It was just her and her father in the small farmhouse now, ever since her mother disappeared 16 years ago, the day after her fifth birthday. Her father had spent the years after her exit teaching his only daughter the ways of the hunter, training her to be swift, silent, and lethal.

Kaalys slowly reached over her shoulder, pulling one of her handmade arrows out of the intricately embroidered leather quiver hanging on her back. Each arrow was an ash shaft, hand-fletched with grey goose feathers and tipped with deadly piercing metal points. She slipped the notch in the fletched end of the arrow onto the sinew cord in her heirloom yew longbow and pulled the string back to her shoulder. She took a deep breath, steadying herself and gauging the wind as she prepared to make the kill shot.

Suddenly, the deer’s ears shot upwards and pointed to the east. There came a muffled crash, and the animal bolted. Kaalys cursed under her breath and relaxed the string, letting the arrow hang loose in her fingers.

There came another muffled crash as a second tree fell to the ground a few dozen yards to her left. Kaalys shook her head. Those boys who had moved into the lot adjoining her family’s farm were back at it again. They’d spent the last few days clearing out the trees that filled the back half of the huge lot, and it sounded from their conversations like they were in the process of building some sort of miniature village. There were more there this time, at least three.

There came the sound of hammers echoing off the trees, sparking Kaalys’ interest. She crept through the woods, taking cure to ensure that her long lilac braids didn’t snag on any small twigs and leave scent evidence that might scare away the herd.

Her hair was the most daring thing she'd ever done in her life, bleaching the natural black away and replacing it with a light purple she religiously maintained. For trips like these, she braided it all together in complicated patterns around her head like a crown, culminating in a long plaited tail. She even wove wildflowers, grasses, and leaves into it as camouflage (and as decoration).

There was a large truck nearby, with what looked like a small young woman sitting in the passenger seat. Three boys huddled around the felled trees, busily constructing a bridge over a small creek out of the raw logs. One of them was much younger than the rest, definitely no more than seven or eight years old. He was yelling excitedly at the older two boys, mostly to the one with whom he shared a distinct family resemblance. Eventually, the boys hauled a large bag of outdoor tools back into the truck before everyone climbed into the truck and, after a moment, drove off.

Kaalys sighed and shook her head. These boys would be back, most likely tomorrow, with more loud tools and banging construction noises and that shrieking little boy. She’d have to be quicker about hunting her prey from now on, as those noises were sure to drive many a herd away from the area.

She walked out of the trees into the now cleared area, scratching the back of her neck with one long arm. At 6’4”, Kaalys felt more at home among the trees than away from them. After all, they were one of the few things on this planet that were taller than her. She wasn’t quite sure where the height had come from, as no one in her family had ever been inordinately tall like her. She was convinced that it stemmed from one misjudged wish for longer legs. Now, she just looked awkwardly stretched, her lean muscles the only thing keeping her from looking like a skeleton with dark brown skin and giant black eyes. Her face was already a long, narrow heart with a sharp chin and thin, straight features. The only outliers to her face were her lush, cupid's-bow lips.

She padded around the area, feeling the newly-shorn wildgrass tickle the bottoms of her hardened feet and poke up between her callused toes. She scuffed her heel on a bald patch in the field, letting her mind wander back to the deer. She should go back to the woods on her family’s lot, see if she could find any kind of trail after the animal, but after three days she was tired of the damned creature. She wished the stupid thing would just wander into her path for once, mentally picturing it being inexplicably forced into her way. After a moment of contemplating her toes, she heard a small rustle from the trees ringing the clearing. She turned slowly, just in time to see the stag she’d been following for so long walk calmly towards her and stop not six feet in front of her astounded eyes. It waited patiently, looking her placidly right in the eyes up until the exact moment she put an arrow through its heart.

Huh, she thought. That was weird.

She rubbed her left shoulder and chest thoughtfully. She could have sworn her giant tattoo, a mass of twisting vector arrows covering her left arm, chest, back, and the left half of her neck, had tingled as she thought of the deer.

The End

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