The pack of hunters marched through the woods on their powerful mounts like warriors to
battle. Jade leaned over to give Eleni a pat on the neck. She walked at the flank of
Willow-strama. Sophia and Willow-strama walked beside Yorgo and his stallion. The rest
of the hunters were behind them in no particular rank.
Jade looked at her mother proudly; she loved her dearly. Sophia wore the same clothing as the other hunters except for a fur hood covering her long black hair.
The rain continued to fall steadily. The hunters' skin glittered from the rain, but it had the opposite effect on the horses. Their coats were dark and dull, their manes and tails were wet and limp. Dova slouched beside Jade, her fur hung in wet clumps. They plodded through the puddles on the same path that Jade had followed the night before. They would travel off through another path away from the mountains to a clearing. The hunters were in good spirits. A scout had searched ahead and had reported bison that were grazing nearby. This was good news for the village since there hadn't been a successful large hunt in days.
Sophia signaled Jade and halted Willow-strama when she saw the tired look in Jade's eyes. They allowed the other hunters to pass before dismounting. Sophia kneeled at the edge of the path, folded the hood back and studied the plants. Jade gingerly walked into the woods with Dova at her side watching the ground for any useful plants. For a while they gathered plants and put them into small baskets then Sophia took Jade's basket, covered it, and put it along with hers in a saddlebag.
"I need to hunt for a rabbit for Cych. Go on without me and take Dova with you," Jade said.
"Okay, Jade. Come back right after and be careful," Sophia emphasized the last words. She mounted her mare and waving a farewell, she cantered in the direction that the hunters had gone off in with Dova following.
The rain finally began to slow and came to a halt, but the gray clouds overhead hung drearily as Jade walked deeper into the quiet woods. Eleni walked obediently behind as Jade pulled a leather sling from her pocket.
They came upon a creek where, blended carefully into the foliage, a plump rabbit drank greedily from the creek. The small animal had a thick rugged brown coat with a couple of uneven patches where it was getting ready for the coming winter. It's nose twitched rapidly and it's eyes were wide and alert.
Jade quickly ducked behind the bushes and found a small round stone on the ground. She fitted it into her sling and raised her arm slightly taking aim. The rabbit suddenly rose it's head and stood as still as a statue.
Jade lowered her hand confused. What happened? She thought. It couldn't have seen me.
The rabbit began shaking uneasily trying to stay unseen from an enemy invisible to Jade. It finally gave up and darted over the creek and into the ferns. Without a sound, Eleni, her eyes rolling turned on her haunches and galloped wildly in the direction of the village. Jade stared in surprise at the retreating horse. She paused before calling her back then decided against it.
She hunched down, put her hands on the ground and closed her eyes. She released her senses letting them roam the woods around her. She could feel the grainy earth beneath her fingers and the hard compacted dirt under her feet. Taking a deep breath through her nose she carefully picked out any unusual smells from the damp, wet air. She listened for any strange sounds, but the forest was unusually quiet.
She picked up a faint sound that was drawing nearer. Curious, Jade focused on listening to it. It was a faint ragged noise, almost like breathing. To Jade it thundered in her head seeming to grow loader. A retched smell suddenly overwhelmed her and she squeezed her eyes shut gripping the pounding earth under her hands. A deep growl arose seeming to come from all directions. Jade snapped open her eyes and turned her head to meet a pair of red eyes looking down on her.
Before Jade could jump up, the Ayora pounced. It grabbed her by the arm and lifted her from the ground.
Jade struggled and kicked at it which had no effect. She remembered the knife in her boot and kicked her leg up attempting to grab it. The red eyes taunted her as the Ayora shook her violently. A pounding rhythm rolled in her head and she cried out when she felt her fingers wrap around the hilt. She brought it up and jammed it into the beast.
The Ayora roared and dropped her clawing at the blade in it's shoulder. Jade landed awkwardly on her legs. She twisted around and dashed away from the pain-stricken animal. Jade ran dazed through the verdure and into a clearing. Jade gasped heavily at the huge stone structure in front of her.
The sunlight fell over the dull stones and tumbled over small gardens. The building was large and quite old. What caught Jade's attention was a large wooden cross hanging from the building. A welcoming sight. She stumbled to the vast doors of the abbey and pushed them open.
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