(Story Starts Here!)
Aislynn had grown accustomed to traveling all day. She no longer fell asleep half way to the next lodging, finding her interest peaked by small animals she spotted. It had become something of a game, one that was more than adequate to pass the time as they traveled with the sun.
"A sun spitter lark," Zalgus answered, not looking up from his book. He had it cradled in his palm, the other hand holding the reigns of his horse.
"A silver back racoon."
Aislynn rested a hand to her head as Raina chuckled. They had been at this for a few hours now. Never the same animal twice. This sparse forest seemed to be full of diverse life.
"Sky ripper heron."
"But it's not like-"
"Female sky ripper heron."
"She's awfully pretty, look at those blue feathers!"
"No where near comparable to the beauty of my company." Zalgus turned the page of his book with his thumb. He paused when he heard his sister laugh outright, and realized he had spoken that last sentence.
"You could have easily fooled us by keeping your nose in that book," Raina teased, drawing her attention away from an oddly twisted tree.
"Ah, but it is considered improper to stare, so I clearly must distract myself," Zalgus replied with a flair of sarcasm.
Aislynn shook her head with a fond smile, still entertained by the minor sibling squabbles. She had no brothers, nor sisters, and so she had to wonder if all siblings acted with each other the way Raina and Zalgus did. How would parents get a moment's rest?
The grass below was a pale green, the veins a more vibrant variation. The trees were narrow, and all of them seemed to have a corkscrew twist to the left. There were no stress fractures or cracks, but all of them twisted at the same spot. A series and symphony of bird calls had become a constant music, very different from anything Aislynn had heard before. Then it occurred to her;
No bird song.
A warm, strong breeze rushed by, knocking Zalgus' hood off and making Aislynn grab her hat to avoid losing it.
"My page!" Zalgus lamented, but no sooner than he complained did he turn right back to his lost spot. He lifted his gaze over the top of the book, blue eyes narrowing sharply.
Immediately he saw every creature in the forest around them. They were all very still, some holed up. But there were no creatures - no predators - to cause that kind of defensive response. He raised an eyebrow, even the weather was fair and was going to be for some time. He was missing something. Then he focused on a tiny detail that he had dismissed previously.
At the edge of his perception, through many trees, was a shadow. There was no definite silhouette to it, but it was distinctly there for something that should have been divulged by his vision. It was moving, back and forth, taking a very wide berth as if gauging defenses.
"Raina," he said into his book, pulling his mount to a stop.
"What's wrong?" Raina knew the tone. He had just caught sight of something problematic.
"I believe we have two options."
"Which one causes less injury?"
"I... cannot tell."
A chill shot down Raina's spine at those words. It was the last thing she expected to come from his mouth. She adjusted her seat, moving the reigns to one hand while dropping her left to her side. Stones and thick roots coiled with vines rattled around them.
"Something is hunting us," Aislynn said softly.
"How can you tell?" Raina glanced over her shoulder, noting Aislynn's pale complexion and nervous eyes.
"I've felt this sensation before."
"What does it feel like?" Zalgus asked, his eyes following the shadow as his head turned as if still reading his book.
"Every bone in my body is telling me to run and hide, but my heart tells me it's too late." Aislynn shivered, remembering the deep sensations of foreboding that would fill her during cold nights on the streets. Her mother would have eyes everywhere, looking for the wayward daughter who would make a liar out of her time and again.
The thud of a book slamming shut made Aislynn jump. She held on tightly to Raina's cloak to not lose her perch on the horse. Her heart was beating in her head now, trying to make amends with logic and hide within reason.
"Our options are to run or to fight," Zalgus said, sliding his book into the leather case attached to his saddle.
"Can we out run it?"
"Even if we do, it will track us," Zalgus answered. It was stalking slowly closer.
Links to a chain started to build around him, draping over the horse's croup.
"Then let's prepare for a fight," Raina said, "but make for a run."
"Sound decision, dear sister."