03-2: The Restless Stars [continued]

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She reached the edge of the forest and dived straight in. She didn't like to enter at night, but she knew the trees as well as anyone. It wasn't the trees or the darkness that was the problem, it was the wolves that came down from the mountains and roamed after nightfall, and they were known to pick off people who were lost, trapped in the thicket. But she wasn't afraid of the wolves. She felt no fear, not for anything in Rordynne Forest.

Even as she heard them howling in the distance, she ran through the trees, certain she knew where the star had fallen. She could see in her mind's eye the exact location, though she couldn't say why.

Suddenly she realised she wasn't alone. She was being shadowed by something off to her left, running almost completely silently through the thicket. She caught glimpses as the shadow darted through the darkness. As silent as it was, there was also something much louder behind her. Something chasing her.

Unsure of her best move, Ryleine stopped dead in her tracks and swung around, dagger drawn ready. Two men burst through the trees. The same two who had pestered her at the tavern. With little time to think, or options, she laughed out loud.

"Did you notice I turned you around while you were chasing me?" she said. "Do you have any idea where you are? You are almost certainly going to die here; if not eaten by wolves tonight, then from starvation in the next few days as you finally succumb to the wrath of the forest in the futile search for a way out."

The two glanced at each other nervously for a moment.

"You will show us the way out," said the talkative one, "once we're done."

"Will I?"

She held her dagger out for them to see. They drew their own blades, both significantly larger than hers. She didn't particularly fancy her chances, not against two of them. But it didn't mean she would give up that easily. She would need to lure them closer, within her reach. After all, she was a trapper.

She sighed, dropped her dagger and began unbuckling her belt.

"Let's get this over with then."

Both of them smiled, relaxing their grips on their blades as they edged forward. Then they froze, their eyes drawn behind and to her left.

She couldn't hear anything, but she knew what was happening. She felt it. The black and red tiger stepped out of the darkness, calmly walking between her and the two men who looked too scared to move. Too scared to breathe.

The beast stopped, looking at the two, and then a vicious snarl sent them running for their lives without any care for which direction they were headed. She hoped that Rordynne Forest would finish them off.

"Thank you," she said out loud.

The wild cat was almost invisible in the darkness, but Ryleine could just make out the dark red stripes on her coat, and when her eyes caught the starlight, they too shone a deep red.

As quickly as she had arrived, she bounded off into the thicket, leaving Ryleine alone once more.

"Hello?" came a soft voice from behind her a few moments later.

She swung around, her second dagger already in hand.

A man stood there. A different man, short, light build, dark clothing. Almost camouflaged in the shadows. He held up his hands before him, defensive, unthreatening, and approached cautiously.

"I'm sorry, I mean you no harm. I am lost," he said.

She still held the dagger out for him to see.

"I was about to help you, waiting for a good time to charge those men, but it seems you don't need my help."

"I was about to help you, looking for a good time to charge those men, but it seems you don't need my help."

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