They’d stopped. Katherien stood still, her eyes closed and breathing deeply. Caila had found a rock to sit on and was staring confusedly at Katherien. Katherien did not pay attention to her. She was focused entirely.
“What are you doing,” Caila said, disrupting the silence.
Katherien sighed. “I’m listening,” she told the girl.
“Because I need to know how far away the whisperers are.” Shoot, Katherien thought. I shouldn’t have told her that. I’ll have to take that from her mind when we get to Kren.
“How can you tell that?” Caila said, her brow furrowing. “I can’t hear anything.”
“You don’t just listen with your ears,” Katherien snapped. “Ears are superfluous to the true sound. You must listen with your whole being, with every sense that you possess. Only then will you hear the true sound, the pureness of it. Then you will be able to track whisperers just by listening.”
Caila had jumped at Katherien’s outburst. Now she curled herself up on her rock, clutching her knees together.
“Sorry for disturbing you,” she said in a quiet voice.
Katherien turned back to listen again. She felt in some way bad for snapping at Caila but the girl shouldn’t have bothered her.
“They aren’t far,” Katherien said eventually. “We’ve got to be quicker.”
She set off once again. Caila slid off the rock and followed lightly. Katherien went back and pulled Caila forward.
“Stay in front of me,” she said. “Then I can make sure you keep up at my speed.”
Caila gave her a worried glance. Katherien knew she was probably scaring the girl but they had to keep moving. Especially as she had heard something more than the whisperers.
For the love of Orn... she silently pleaded to the god of the skies. Caila had found yet another butterfly to chase. She seemed more a child than an actual sixteen year old girl. She skipped around everywhere, always wanting to play in the sunshine rather than hide in the shadows like Katherien did. Were humans always this irritating?
"You know, Kath," Caila had said, "if I didn't know any better I would think that you were being chased or hunted or something..."
After the listening, Katherien had been trying to go faster and faster. The new creatures that were with the whisperers were fast approaching. And the whisperers were close behind. Whisperers don't make noise. They are as silent as the grave. The only way anyone can tell they're there by the silence as the whisperers have an uncanny knack of killing everything in sight unless ordered not to. If you haven't been seen, you would have run away.
Katherien was well aware that they might strike at any time. She had no idea how soon this was to come.
" Katherien," called Caila excitedly. "Look, eagle."
Katherien turned to look. She sighed. "That's not an eagle. It's a..." She turned to look again. "Hide!"
Quickly, Katherien ducked behind a boulder.
"Really," said Caila, staring in wonder at the black creature streaming across the sky.
"Get down you idiot," Katherien hissed, pulling Caila towards her.
The creature in the air was unfortunately not an eagle. A black beast turned its head towards them. It had the same features as a bird - at least a skeleton of one. Its bones were black and covered with a few scant feathers. Its eyes were a vivid, piercing green, searching the ground below it with the keenness of an hawk. As it swooped overhead, they heard the heavy wing beat, pounding the air above them, enough to scare anyone.
"Bisch," whispered Katherien to herself.
"What?" said Caila, loudly. "I can't hear you."
The bisch let out a horrible shriek. It had spotted its prey.
Katherien immediately got up and ran but Caila, oblivious to the world, was content in staying put. Katherien didn't notice, not till the bisch had landed beside Caila and had started to consume her.
The bisch don't eat you necessarily. Oh no. That would be far too easy. Where would the fun be? They take your mind. They make you forget your friends, family but most importantly, to run away.
Katherien was losing part of her mind even with her being further away. She was already forgetting names. Desperately, she tried to remember faces, words of spells, books she had read. Nothing.
It was either run away while she could still remember or save Caila.
And she couldn’t quite believe her decision.
She turned back and ran towards Caila. Bending down as she ran, she picked up a stone and turned it into flame. She threw it at the bisch.
The stone flew through the air and hit Katherien’s target. The moment the stone made contact with the bird, the bisch went up in flames. It emitted the same piercing shriek but louder so that Caila and Katherien covered their ears. Then, it vanished, flame and all. A single feather was left, floating to the ground, and was blown away by a breeze.
Back to its flock, thought Katherien.
Her memory came flooding back to her. She checked it. Everything was there.
Caila stood up groggily. She stood up her arms spread out to help her balance. It can be traumatic losing your memory to the Bisch. Katherien still felt a little light headed.
"Are you OK?" she said to Caila.
Caila nodded and immediately fell back down to the floor.
"We need to get you somewhere safe," Katherien murmured.
It took a while but finally Caila woke. Katherien had managed to drag her under the cover of a small wood. She’d built a fire and listened for a while. Finally getting bored with the sleeping girl, she’d left her to go explore.
The bisch was still heavy on her mind. The one they had faced was only a scout. Its pack were close behind, she’d sensed them.
And behind them were the whisperers.
She ought not to be afraid. She’d faced them all before. She’d got out of worse situations than this.
But this time, Katherien felt tired. All she wanted was to be back home. If only she hadn’t met Caila. If only she’d avoided the village. If only the whisperers hadn’t followed her. If only...
There were a lot of if onlys.
Sprinting lightly through the woods, she came across some deer. She hid behind a tree, not wanting to scare them. It was a family. The young deer stayed close to its mother and still seemed to be uncertain of this world. As Katherien watched, the deer played for a bit, the mother encouraging her child to explore, then they vanished, in an elegant fashion that no human could compete with. Katherien stood still for a minute, almost blending into the tree. At last she turned and went back to Caila, some strange blur obscuring her vision.
She got back just in time. Caila’s eye lids flickered and then slowly opened. Katherien tilted her head to see if the girl really was waking. Surely, Caila pulled herself up and looked around.
“Where am I?”
Katherien responded by poking the fire more.
Caila shook herself. She had remembered that Katherien didn’t like talking. Then Katherien surprised her.
“We’re at the edge of Bithnor woods,” she said.
“Oh.” Caila looked about her. Clearly she had no idea where Bithnor woods were.
“We’re barely a day away from Kren,” Katherien explained.
“So why aren’t we going?”
“Because you need rest.” Katherien opened up her bag. Inside was some hard bread and various berries she had picked up. Katherien was not really feeling hungry. She gave the food to Caila and went to sit by herself. Tomorrow, the girl would be gone and she’d be free again. Free to go back home. If she could escape her trackers. A glance behind told her Caila had fallen asleep again. It was a natural reaction. The day had turned into night and now a million stars and a sliver of a moon cast silvery light upon the hills. No. The whisperers would not be coming tonight.
So Katherien settled down, wrapped in her cloak, and slept.