There were ants on her skin. The feeling was far off at first, like a particularly unpleasant dream. But then Sabel registered the insects’ paths across her body and their stinging bites.
The second sensation she regained was the horrible tightness in her chest and a pressure between her eyes. Sabel’s first breath in a long time was a ugly sputter of coagulated blood. She opened her eyes to emerald sunlight filtering through the leaves above her.
It was a long time before she could really move. She turned her head towards the massive corpse next to her. The monster was dead, actually dead, unlike whatever she’d been an hour ago. Bloated flies hovered around the clotted wound at the base of its skull. There amidst the blood matted fur, Sabel’s long knife remained stuck hilt deep.
She wouldn’t be getting that back. Sabel turned her head the other way, noting the pain beginning to boil its way past the numbness of close death. The clearing was empty. Her brother was gone. So were the others. Sabel did not know what had happened after the beast’s tail lashed through her spine.
Night would fall eventually and she was prone next to a soon to be rotting corpse. Any starving predator could finish her off in this state. She started slow, turning herself over, and testing her strength.
Sabel dragged herself two feet before she had to stop and wait for the pain to lessen its convulsing hold. She took comfort in it, as she gathered her strength , not dead, not crippled. Only the living can feel pain.
The hollow of a fallen tree provided little shelter, but she wasn’t in the open any longer. It would have to do. Now curled inside, Sabel gave into the pain and exhaustion, blacking out as the sun faded from the clearing.
An indistinct murmur of voices woke her. They were strangely accented but in the common tongue, and close, dangerously so. Sabel shifted, feeling a new fire rise deep in her back, separate from the previous haze. She stifled a whimper behind gritted teeth and peered from a narrow break in the dead tree’s bark.
Shapes circled the beast’s corpse in the dappled moonlight, now quiet. Sabel recognized the easy alert in their poised stance and the unmistakable silhouette of weapons in their hands, soldiers. As she watched, one leaned over and pulled Sabel’s knife free from the mess of fur, blood, and bone.
Many, wounded and helpless, would have called out to them. Without supplies and only a bad turn away from death, the soldier’s mercy was more likely than the wilderness’s.
Sabel kept her breathing as soft as her wounds would allow. She held her tongue.
Though the moonlight wasn’t bright through the trees, she could make out the edge of the occasional jaw or the glint of an eye. Sabel remembered the primal prey drive that begged her to run as she faced down the beast. She felt it again.
One turned towards the hollow log, the silver light from beyond the leaves lighting his features. She’d never seen that expression on a human face before.
Sabel closed her eyes and controlled her breathing. In the feral turn of the man’s mouth, she’d read exactly what would happen if they found her.
I have stolen the line She’d never seen that expression on a human face before. From the Librarian at The Gate in the Wood. Why you ask? Well you see, I am a deplorable thief with no respect for the law (and she told me to.)