II.

Kira slipped away between the trees as silently as she could, avoiding twigs on the forest floor which might break under her footsteps. She would stop every little while to listen, just incase she might run into Josse of Fionn, who were somewhere in the trees within the area. The thought of that happening made her heart pump a little faster, and she carried on as swiftly as she could manage while being quiet.

Every now and and then she pulled out Nicholas' compass and stared down at it's smooth glass face. Kira had never seen a compass before and was amazed that the needle seemed to always point the same way no matter how she turned. Uncertain of how it worked, Kira wondered what else might be out in the world that would be amazing to her.

Sticking west, Kira walked until the sun was nearly directly above her in the clear cerulean sky. Having never been in a forest prior the night before, Kira found the woods to be quite curious with their never ending stretch of green and brown, and the odd rock jutting from the ground here and there. She liked the way in which the light filtered through the leaves, casting shadows everywhere in a dancing frenzy. Despite being told horror stories about the forest for her whole life, Kira found she quite liked the atmosphere.

Lost in thought, Kira hardly heard the sound of something whizzing through the air and just missing her head. She fumbled in mid step, stopping and wondering what had made the sound. She didn't have more than a moment to wonder, however, for she was suddenly forced to the ground by something very heavy. She fell forward and landed on her front, the wind being forced from her chest painfully.

Her arms were pinned underneath her -- she had tried to break her fall at the last moment by throwing them out in front of her. She struggled as much as she could, but what or who ever was on top of her was pinning her down forcefully. Something wrapped around her mouth stopped her from screaming out, though she tried.

"Don't make a sound," breathed a voice in her ear.

Kira stopped her struggling instantly, frozen in fear. Something moved in the darkness of the trees not too far ahead of her. The sound of hard footfalls and rustling undergrowth drew closer and Kira caught a glimpse of a human face between the trees. It was gone the next second, and the noise gradually moved away, receding back into the obscure shadows of the forest. Kira hardly breathed until she was sure it was gone.

The body pinning Kira to the ground suddenly rolled to the side and got to its feet. Kira did the same, meanwhile scrutinizing the person.

He was taller and almost lanky looking with thinking hotly muscled arms and legs. He seemed to be around the same age as Kira, maybe a little older. He had skin as pale as cream and his short cropped ashy blonde hair had the fringes sticking up in the front. His face was slim and his cheekbones high in structure. His green eyes were slanted, vaguely reminding Kira of a cat.

He was looking at Kira with his catlike eyes as if he found something very amusing.

"Nice costume, I must say, miss," he let out a chuckle and ran a hand over his hair, as if to make us his bangs were stuck up correctly. They were. "It fooled me."

Kira blinked at him. "Who are you? And why did you jump on me?"

He smirked and leant up against a tree, facing Kira with the same amused expression. "Grey Blackvale," He said proudly, not bothering to ask Kira's name in return. "And if I hadn't jumped on you miss, you be dead. See," he gestured to something behind Kira.

After giving Grey a calculating, Kira glanced quickly over her shoulder, and gaped. In the tree directly behind her, two arrows were deeply notched into the hard flash the trunk. Kira stared at them for a long moment. Could this boy have really saved her neck from death?

"Centaurs," said Grey after a moment, a note of mirth edging it's way into his speech. "Half man, half horse. They're usually peaceful. Unless they are uncomfortable with your presence in their woods. I suppose you didn't pass the requirements."

Looking back at Grey Blackvale, Kira awkwardly cleared her throat and straitened her cloak, which had gone askew after Grey tackled her to the ground. "We'll, I will thank you for that much, Mr. Blackvale. But if you will excuse me," Kira brushed the last bit of dirt off her front and began to walk in the direction which she was originally headed. "I really need to be going."

At first Kira thought that's her brisk tone might have given her a getaway from Grey. To her annoyance, he fell instep beside her, his footsteps not making a single sound as they walked along.

"Now, wait a minute, miss. Haven't you learned anything from what just happened. After all," With a quick moment that Kira did not see in her peripherals, Grey stood directly in front of her, causing her to stop abruptly in mid step to avoid walking right into him. "You would be skewered by now if it hadn't been for me." he smiled teasingly, and hot rage rose in Kira's stomach, she didn't much like this boy.

"I beg your pardon, Mr. Blackvale-" Kira stated, but was cut off.

"Polite little thing, aren't you?"

She glared at him and his grin only widened.

"I don't believe that what I do is any of your business."

"This forest is my business, and therefore what ever is in this forest is as well. Tell me, where are you headed for?"

Kira gave in and sighed. Grey didn't seem like he was going to let her go without a fight. So she tried. "HighHaven. I was told that it was directly east from here."

Grey laughed. "Sure, if you fancy walking until daybreak tomorrow. Plus, the trail is horribly mangled and difficult the navigate. Whoever sent you must either be trying to do you in or knows no better."

Kira thought then of the kind Nicholas, of his cute boyish smile and innocent eyes. Her hand automatically went into her pocket and felt the cool, round form of the compass. Surely he hadn't  know that the trail was difficult or else he wouldn't have sent her this way. He had been very kind to help her. Hadn't he?

"Why are you on your way to HighHaven anyway? You don't look like a native to those parts." asked Grey casually, although Kira could sense the intensity in his words. For some reason, he didn't want her to be in the woods alone. Kira's mind flashed back to Fionn. He had seemed unnerved by her journeys as well. Why did they care, she wondered?

Grey was still standing in front of her. The sun was directly overtop of him, but since Kira looked up at his face, the sun seemed to send a halo of light around his head and shoulders. She blinked a couple times, her eyes splotchy from the sun and shrugged at Grey. "I left home and decided that I was going to do something with my life besides grow old and die. Is there a problem with that, sir?"

She put quite a lot of emphasis in the last word. Grey raised an eyebrow at her. "Well, if you continue to walk aimlessly around here, you won't have to worry about getting old before you die. There are much worse things in here than centaurs. And that," he looked down to the handle of the dagger, which could be seen sticking out of Kira's boot. "That won't help you much, I'm afraid."

Kira blinked and shook her head. "Honestly, Mr. Blackevale, what do you care? What does my life mean to you?"

"Really, not much," he admitted and laughed a sardonic laugh. "But I'm not an evil man, miss. I don't crave bloodshed."

Kira stared at him. His eyes, which were a mixture of green and brown were quite alluring. They weren't to be mistaken with hazel -- his brilliant green irises were flecked with brown close to and around his pupil. Kira thought they were lovely, yet wasted on such an arrogant person like Grey.

"What are proposing I do then? Stay close to you for protection like a child? Do you know why I left my village, Mr. Blackvale?" Kira said quietly.

"Haven't a clue, miss."

"I left because I was tired of being confined to that dreaded place and being forced to live a life of pointlessness. I left to be free and to evade the command of people who think they know best for others. And that is exactly what you're doing right now, Mr. Blackvale. I understand that these woods are dangerous. But I wouldn't have left if I didn't think I'd be able to handle it."

Grey looked back into Kira's face for the longest time. His expression was blank and confined. Kira thought for sure that he was going to argue back with her. Then, ever so slowly, a little smile warmed his lips. It wasn't the arrogant sneer he had been displaying earlier, but a real, genuine smile.

He stepped aside and motioned Kira past. "Keep headed in this direction to reach HighHaven. The path is littered with streams and valleys, so you might lose your way, and time, getting there."

Kira smiled at him as well, more out of triumph than anything. "Thank you, Mr. Blackvale."

"All I can do is offer you the best of luck, Ms..."

"Greene." Kira replied and nodded at him. "Farewell Mr. Blackvale. Hopefully, I won't run into you again."

With that, Kira held her head a little higher than usual and continued in her path again, this time with no interruptions. She thought fleetingly about the rivers and valleys Grey had told her about. He had seemed serious when he'd talked about them, but she wondered perhaps if he might have been lying. She had known neither Nicholas nor Grey very well at all, but she trusted the innocent looking Nicholas more than she did Grey.

Kira looked back over her shoulder suddenly before she had thought out the action. She thought that maybe she'd be able to tell if Grey was lying by getting one last look at him. To her slight disappointment, he had already gone, melted into the endless green and brown blur of the forest. 

Kira pushed that feeling away; she didn't have any right to feel that way. Instead, she pulled Nicholas' compass out of her pocket once more and checked that she was still headed in the right direction. She was.

Hours passed where all Kira did was walk, checking the compass every so often. The only other form of life she even came across were the birds, who sung their merry songs from the branches of the trees all around her. Every so often, Kira would walk into a clearing, and would be able to see the great open sky. It was the same sky she had always looked up at while in the village, but somehow it seemed more beautiful now. It looked bluer and more carefree, and as the sun began to sprint towards the horizon, Kira liked it more and more.

Kira had always been a creative soul. She was captivated by the way the sky would change at night, washing over with the most vibrant oranges, pinks and reds. She wished that she could capture the image somehow so she could keep it with her at all times. But there was no way to do that. She simply kept the memory in the forefront of her mind whenever she needed a happy thought, which had been very often in the village.

She had had so many terrible times in the village. Most of them had to do Keith other people mistreating her or her father. For some reason, everyone in the village seemed to think it was perfectly acceptable to mock them and exclude them. Kira use to wonder if maybe her father had done something long ago to make it that way, but Kira knew it probably only had to do with her father's drinking.

A memory flashed across her mind, one she had thought about many times before then. She was in the forge room of her old house,sun was streaming through the windows and open door. A figure was standing in the door, creating a dark outline of their body. Kira knew who it was.

Mr. Westfield was looking down in Kira's father, who was sprawled out on the floor. He was talking in a commanding and disgusted kind of voice. Kira was hidden behind a pile of wood, and watched the whole scene without being seen.

"Get up, you worthless dog!" hissed Mr. Westfield. "Good god! Can't you hold yourself back from the drink for at least one night?"

Kira's father lay quite motionless on the floor, but his eyes were half open, red and bloodshot. He winced as Mr. Westfield's words grew very loud.

"You had better have my order ready for midday, you great oaf, or I'll be going to the minister about this. Hopefully," and his voice did sound quite hopeful, "The minister will finally get his senses straight and chuck you out."

Mr. Westfield turned and slammed the door of the forge room, and Kira snapped out of her memory. She had only been about ten when that had happened, but she remembered it very vividly. Dark feelings towards Mr. Westfield had been swarming in her chest since that day. But she knew that he wasn't the only one who disrespected her father. He was embarrassing, but that didn't give them any right to treat him in such a way.

The sky finally began to fade into a dark blue, the sun having not quite set all the way yet. Kira's stomach growled fiercely, not for the first time, and her feet were feeling numb and quite like bricks as she walked. Deciding that it would probably be for the best, Kira stopped under a large tree in the middle of a small clearing and sat leaning up against it's humongous trunk. It was thicker around than three grown men and towered higher than all the other trees around it. Kira wondered how old a tree this big much be.

Routing through her tiny satchel bag, Kira didn't noticed the distant sounds of approaching in the trees until it was far too late. When she did notice it, screaming now added to the ruckus, she immediately pulled the dagger from her boot and sprung to her feet. The trees all around her were very dense, thus Kira didn't see what was approaching until it practically burst out from the thick foliage of trees and bushes.

It was a man, tall and built with flaming red hair and a curling beard. Horror was etched into his face which was red as if he had ran a long distance. When his eyes darted to Kira, he stumbled and nearly fell. If it was possible, his face crumpled into an ever more horror stuck manner.

Kira recognized Fionn instantly. It was strange to see a grown man so scared and Kira had even imagined that look was possible for someone like Fionn. Her heart sunk to her stomach and her heart clenched. What on earth was going on?

Fionn stood stock still, staring at her with wide eyes and an open mouth. Just as Kira was about to ask what was wrong, a shadow slipped out of the dense trees, yet a second glance told Kira that it wasn't exactly a shadow. It looked for like a cloud of billowing smoke, swirling and wispy and dark. It was much more than just smoke - it kept the rough form of a human body, obscure limbs ending in wisps of curling smoke instead of hands or feet.

It was wielding a staff of some sort, made out of the same smokey substance as it's body. It rushed at Fionn, who was till staring transfixed at Kira. With a movement that Kira's eyes hardly saw, it swept it's shadow staff right through Fionn's body, splattering blood everywhere. Fionn let out the most terrible, blood curdling scream Kira had ever heard-- it raised the hairs on her arms and back of her neck. His knees giving out from under him, Fionn crumbled to the ground, his dead eyes still open and staring at Kira.

Silence settled over the forest again, but Kira's ears were ringing. She stared at the smokey ghost, not moving a muscle and it didn't move, either. It had no features on it's moving face with the exception of two glowing golden eyes, which resembled two brilliant suns hidden behind the darkest rain clouds. Kira could feel that they were fixed on her.

They stood like this for a long moment, neither of the two moving, nor talking. Kira's mind raced to find a reasonable explanation for what she'd just witnessed. Of course, she couldn't find one. This thing, which could not be described as anything real or logical, had just killed Fionn with as little effort as breathing. What was it, and why did it kill Fionn?

Kira almost jumped when the smoke moved suddenly, it slowly gravitated towards the ground. It's strange smokey makeup was changing as well. It seemed to swirl slower and slower until it was motionless and solid, like water freezing to ice. Hands and feet materialized at the ends of its now solid limbs, and features popped up on it's face. A pointed nose and a mouth that resembled a jagged gash cut across its skin. Its skin faded from the shadowy grey to an off white, like a cloudy sky. Its hair, however, stayed the same smoke-like substance of its previous body.

Kira shivered as it's feet touched the ground, and it raised its slender, pale hand and shadows flew out from every direction to clothe it in billowy black robe-like clothes as if on command. It sheathed it's shadow staff into the robes with graceful movements, where it melted into the folds of material.

Kira scrutinized the thing with mingled feelings of fear and awe. It looked like a man, but there was something about him that made it impossible to tell how old he was. He was timeless, with his pale skin and shocking dark hair. His irises had stayed the same golden colour which his eyes had been before, attracting Kira's eye almost immediately.

He opened his gash mouth and let out an agonizing laugh. The sound seemed to come in waves from every direction around Kira. It was high and low at the same time, making Kira's head spin. She automatically dropped her dagger, which she had been holding out straight in front of her, and covered her ears with her palms. The combinations of her ringing ears and his laugh made Kira feel like smashing her own head open just to put an end to the sound.

He stopped abruptly and a sneer pulled at his ugly mouth. "I don't mean to scare you, girl. However," his voice wasn't much better than his laugh. It still made Kira want to faint, but she lowered her hands slowly from her ears to listen to him. Her body was shaking, which he mistook as a sign of fright. "I see you've already decided to be afraid."

Kira said nothing at all. She didn't trust her words to get her anywhere in this situation. She knew that he was probably going to kill her, just as he had killed Fionn. She knew that she wouldn't be able to outrun him if Fionn had been unable to. She just hoped that her death would come quick and painless.

As if reading her mind, the man let out another cutting laugh. "I don't plan in killing you either. I wouldn't dream of ridding the world of such a gem like you, Ms. Kira Greene."

Kira felt her eyes widen and hotness rise in her face. "How did you know my name?" her voice sounded weak and small in her ears. She cursed herself for sounding so helpless.

"I know a lot of information about a lot of things, and you and your little village are no exception. Please, let me introduce myself. I am Ri, spirit of the rive Rigori." he offered Kira a hand, and took a step forward. Kira automatically jumped back from his advance. Ri smirked darkly and instead used his hand to run over his smokey hair. The only thing standing between Kira and Ri was the dead, cold body of Fionn.

Ri looked down of the crumpled bloodied body and smiled slightly. He nudged Fionn with his bare foot, smearing blood in his deathly skin. A wave of sickness passed over Kira as she saw Ri's skin absorb the scarlet mess as if it were dry soil.

"I had no choice but to kill him," Ri commented casually, as if he were talking about a mere tree. "He wouldn't tell me what I wanted. He was no use to me."

Kira felt very sick at that time, the ringing in her ears not having subsided. In fact, it had grown louder, drowning her thoughts in it's droning sounds. Kira wanted nothing more than to lie down and sleep her sickness and tired feelings away. But she knew that she may never sleep again.

"Not a talker are we?" commented Ri nastily and weaving his fingers together in front of his chest. "Well, good. You can listen and this will be a lot easier for the both of us.

"Ms. Greene, as I said before, you have special qualities which could be a quite valuable weapons to me. This is why I've  been waiting for you to get your senses straight and leave that damned village which your father kept you in. Your mother was quite smart to put you there as a baby, for you have been protected for a very long time without realizing it. And of course that bumbling oaf of a father you've got knows nothing about what makes you special. The fool.

"And now you've done exactly what I've been waiting for. And what a surprise it was when you came walking right into my hand just now. A sign that you should be mine, perhaps." glee was evident in his words as he told this to Kira. He smiled at her, not in pleasant way at all. Kira's stomach lurched.

"I am not a piece of meat. You cannot simply claim me!" said Kira indignantly. "I don't know what you're rambling on about, sir, but I'll let you know that there is nothing special about me. My father is not half as foolish as you are, and you had better not insult him again in my presence."

Ri's smile only deepened at Kira's heated outburst. "You know nothing of your situation, Ms. Kira Greene. But i'll let you know this; once you've helped me with my plans, you will be more famous than any person before you. Everyone on his god forsaken planet will know your name."

The ringing grew louder every minute, and at this point, Kira was finding it hard to make out every sinister work which Ri uttered. Her head was swimming, and she felt dizzied. Something was wrong, thought she hadn't the slightest clue what. Was Ri doing this to her?

"But more of that later," he said happily, reaching into to his black shadow robes and reproducing the shadow staff. Kira's throat closed up, her head screaming with noise. This was it, she thought over the din. This was when he was going to kill her.

"I reiterate, I don't mean to kill you." Ri told her, examining his staff with loving eyes. "Don't move, now," his feet raised off the ground once more, but he stared in solid form.

The droning in Kira's head met a climax. The sound seemed to ricochet inside her head, beating at her brain until it was bloody and bruised. Her visions was starting to get blurry, her limbs becoming heavy and stiff. She couldn't move as Ri raised his staff and flew at her.

Something happened then that Kira would later not be able to explain very well. Ri was suspended in mid air, his staff drawn back and ready to strike. Fionn lay dead and bloodied on the ground still. Something moved in the wall of trees at her side, and Kira watched as something so bright and brilliant it was indistinguishable from the sun bounded out in between Kira and Ri, creating a blinding barrier. She heard Ri scream in rage, and next thing she knew she was being thrown backwards.

An explosion sounded in Kira's ears, the ringing breaking like glass, freeing her mind from torture. Kira landed painfully on her back and rolled across the forest floor until she hit something rather hard. A tree? She didn't care much. The ringing was gone and the ground shook from the explosion created by Ri and the bright light. Was she safe?

She didn't care much about that either. She just lay there and closed her eyes, finally getting the rest she had wanted. She didn't move for the longest time, the night swallowing her up and restoring her until the sun rose again.

Her last fleeting thought was one which she wouldn't remember later. 'Grey had been right.'

 

The End

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