He struggled to prop himself up on his elbows. Instantly, I went to his side.
"No way, Jake." I murmured, placing a gentle but firm hand on his chest. "You nearly died.." My voice cracked on the last word.
He looked me in the eyes, pausing a minute before settling back down again, pulling me to lie down with him. I put my head softly on his chest, feeling the movement of his breathing.
"I thought you were dead..." I murmured brokenly. "I don't- How..? How did you survive?"
"I nearly did die." Jake replied, as gently as he could, but I still flinched. "But a stranger, some guy named Jay... he took me in until I was well enough to go looking for you."
"J-Jay?" I sat blot upright, looking Jake dead in the eyes. I could feel the blood drain from my face. Crimson eyes, blonde hair and a heart-stopping crooked smile flashed through my mind's eye. I felt again the blows as my sword cut him down. The look in his eyes as I turned my back, his blood on my swords, my hands, it still haunted me. Jake had his hands on my shoulders.
"Asha? Asha, what is it?" He sounded panicked.
"Did you get his last name?" My voice sounded incredibly distant to my own ears, the memories threatening to swamp me.
"Erm, Hale, why? Asha, what's going on? What's so important about this guy?"
I nearly choked. Jay was still alive. The death I had felt most guilty about, the one that had caused the most grief to me, the one I regretted the most, was in fact non-exsistent. I hadn't killed Jay.
Breifly I explained what had happened to Jake.
"Lee had just taken Jessica when you found me." I finished quietly. "I still owe her and Jay. I need to get her back to him, Jake. But the Council are after us, Zelthar is after me and we have no idea where Jay is. Oh, and those Hunters will probably be after us for a while."
Jake was about to answer when the sounds of barking reached us, accompanied with the shouts of bloodthirsty men. I placed my finger on Jake's lip. Stay here, please. And put this on. I handed my pack to him, which contained all of our stores and nothing else. All my weapons were strapped to me. I moved silently to the opening and peered out. Far below, in the fading light, the Hunters were circling us, torches in hand, dogs baying at the foot of our hiding place. I cursed and span round to Jake, who was sitting and looking as though he was about to pass out.
"Hold on." I pulled him onto my back, as gently as I could, aware his injuries had barely started to heal. Using the Hunter's thoughts to guide me, I went for where the weakest of them were, kicking out the wood I had spent so long tying carefully a few days before. The shouts went up from below as I leapt for the next tree, only just making it. Jake's weight was making me slower and clumsier, to the point that they were only just behind us. We weren't fast enough.
Think! If they catch you, you will both end up with the Council. They monitor the Hunters, you know that. They probably already know about Jake and your rescue. You need to lose the Hunters then disappear. Distract them...
I swore. There was only one way I could think of distracting them without fighting them. With Jake the way he was, there was no way I could do that and keep both of us alive. I prayed that we could get to somewhere safe tonight, where we could feed.
"Jake! Drop the stores on them! Its the only way we can get out of this!" I yelled over my shoulder and was relieved when I felt his grip shift as he reached around to the bag. Moments later, there were cries of distgust from below as Jake's deadly accurate aim had blood exploding over the Hunters. Gradually, the gap widened and we eventually lost them with the last of our stores. I kept the pace as fast as I could, running through the night and most of the day, while my muscles burned. Gradually, Jake's grip losened and I knew he was weakening as he had not had enough to feed. As the light was going again, I finally saw an isolated farm, with a scattering of barns surrounding.
As we approached, I realised we'd had a stroke of luck. Only one of the barns was deserted and I slipped in there, closing the door that had been slightly ajar beforehand. I lay Jake down in the straw, his arms sliding limply from my neck. His face was ashen and he lay worryingly still. Though I was swaying from exhaustion I knew that Jake may not survive much longer without feeding. Reluctantly, I left him and slipped round the back of the farmhouse, where only small lights burned. There was a window open and I easily scaled the crumbling stone, slipping through the gap. I landed on a carpeted floor with the lightest impact I could manage. There was a couple in this room, both sleeping soundly. I moved soundlessly to the bed. They both looked so happy and I envied and pited them in equal measures. Their lives were so simple but so short. As swiftly as I could, I knocked them both out, the only sound being the muffled impact of the hilt of my sword against their heads. There was a noise from outside the room and I froze in the shadows, hiding the tell-tale glint of my weapon a moment before the door opened. Someone who was clearly a kind of father figure peered in. My muscles quivered minutely as his eyes scanned the shadows where I was concealed. Jake was waiting for me.
After what seemed like an age, his ageing human eyes finally seemed to have convinced him there was nothing to be seen and he closed the door quietly for a human. A flash of metal caught my eye and I noticed that there was a key in the lock. I waited for the sounds of the man to disappear before turning it quietly. That would at least buy some time for Jake and me to escape once the couple's dissappearance was noticed. Ignoring the protests of my body, I hauled the pair out of the bed and left the way I came, painfully aware of the time that had passed.
When I got back to the barn, Jake was in the same position as I had left him in, still that awful grey-white colour. I supressed my more squeamish tendancies and sliced the woman's throat, sighing with relief as Jake reflexivly began to feed. Once she was drained, he sighed contentedly and fell asleep. I drained the man myself, easing some of the burning ache in my muscles and carried the pair deep into the barn, hiding them there. I noted the door near the back of the barn, realising that we may need to make a swift exit once what had happened was discovered. Returning to Jake's side, I closed my eyes, dozing while he healed. Since I had only minor scratches, I wouldn't need sleep, but resting would ease the strain on my muscles. My mind wandered back to what Jake had told me. Jay was alive. I would need to rescue Jessica from the Council to take her to him. As long as Jake agreed, I vowed that I would do just that. I was not going to be a bounty hunter or on the run any more. I was not going to look over my shoulder while there were still debts to be paid.
It was late afternoon before the yells were heard from the house.
"Jake!" I shook his shoulder, waking him up. He got to his feet, slightly unsteady. "Can you run?" I demanded, going to the door and peering through a crack. They were coming. Jake nodded, looking confused. "Right, then we have to go now, I'll explain on the way!"
We made our way to the back of the barn and burst out of the door at the back as they entered the front. We ran as fast as Jake's semi-healed injuries allowed, but we could not outrun the screams of horror that persued us long after we could hear them. We ran deep into the woods, making for a populated area where we could rest up. Unfortunately, we were also headed back into danger. Where there was a population, there were Council workers. Where they reported us, Zelthar would not be far behind.