Chapter 4

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"It's okay to ask," said Yaalon, looking straight ahead as they walked through the woods. His steady pace and straight back made him look determined to reach a destination, even if he didn't quite know where they were going. The normal sounds of the forest had returned. Birds chirped and a slow breeze stirred leaves in the treetops. The occasional rustle from within shrubs told Yaalon that small game was nearby.

"What?" Agnez looked up at him, holding on to the arm he held out to support her as she limped along.

"You can ask. About the scars, I mean. I know you're wondering."

"No, I'm not."

The corner of Yaalon's lips lifted into a slight smile. "Okay," he said, "let's start with something easier. What's your name?"

"Agnez."

"Agnez," he repeated. "Well, Agnez, since you were gracious enough to let me help you home, why don't you tell me about yourself to eat up some of this silence and time."

Agnez looked down at her feet as she limped. "There isn't much to tell."

"There must be something."

Agnez took in a long breath and slowly let it out through her nose. There is always something. So many somethings one after another that over time they had gotten out of control and grown into one big everything. She thought of her father and mother, long dead. She pictured her sister, young and still childlike in some ways but every day becoming more of a woman. She thought of her duties to the tribe: provide food and defend from threats. Not that she was the only member who fought and hunted. But she was the only member who had nothing else. The other huntresses had families, children. She only had her sister. And Ra would leave as soon as she married. At least she would still be in the village. But she would have new responsibilities as a wife and then, eventually, as a mother. She wouldn't have time for Agnez anymore. And she thought of the monster, killing off pieces of her forest, threatening to kill her world. She whipped up her head at the sound of a branch snapping.

"It's just Rockdog," Yaalon said as he stopped with her. "Whatever that thing is, it isn't following us. Rockdog would have alerted me and besides, it's not exactly stealthy. Come on, let's keep walking."

Yaalon took a step forward and gave Agnez's arm a gentle tug. "So," he said, "are you going to tell me anything?"

"Huh?" Agnez looked back up at him.

"About yourself? I don't mind helping strange, weapon-wielding women through the woods from time to time but I'd at least like to know that you won't shoot me with an arrow."

"I won't shoot you," Agnez said as she started walking again.

"Okay..." Yaalon let out a short sigh. "So, can you at least tell me if we're going in the right direction?"

"We are."

"Good to know."

"Look, I'm not very good at talking with people. I live in Iyhiri Village. I'm a huntress. There's just not much else, okay?" At least not that she wanted to share with this stranger.

"I don't normally talk to people, either. It's just me and Rockdog. Has been for years." Rockdog jumped out from behind a shrub and trotted up to Yaalon's side when he heard his name. The wolf nudged Yaalon's hand with a giant snout. Yaalon looked down at his friend and smiled, giving him a scratch on the head. "Hey, pup."

"It's a wolf."

"What?"

"It's a wolf," Agnez repeated. "Not a pup."

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