Meemu growled, ears flat, as the noises drew closer.
“Don’t be silly, Meemu,” Lacey said, trying to dismiss her fears. “It must be Blayd. Who else is always chasing after me?” Her grip on the knife hilt tightened, though.
Lacey tried to catch Blayd’s familiar scent in the air, but her animal senses were useless. She couldn’t concentrate on anything except her pounding heart.
The noises came to the edge of the clearing and stopped.
“Blayd? Is that you?” she whispered, peering into the darkness beyond the clearing.
Glowing eyes flashed, reflecting firelight. Meemu charged into the dense underbrush and Lacey screamed at him to come back.
The lynx-girl, Arley, emerged from the tangle of vines, hissing, and carrying something limp and furry in her clawed hands.
“Meemu!” Lacey cried.
“Give me some credit, village girl.” Arley tossed a dead rabbit on the ground, and stomped her foot to shake off the maniacal ball of fur whom had attached himself there.
“Meemu, it’s ok,” Lacey said coming forward to peel him away one claw at a time. “Right?” She looked up at Arley.
“Mmmhmm,” Arley said, sitting down by the fire once she was free and picking up Lacey’s knife from the dirt.
Lacey drew in her breath sharply. What kind of fool was she, dropping her only weapon in the face of danger?
Arley started gutting the rabbit. Blood and bits spattered her silver fur as she worked; even though she used a knife, her claws became tinged red.
Arley was a quiet one, always hanging back and watching. Lacey had never taken the time to get to know her. She was one of the cats, a day hunter--Goeden’s creature. What else was there to know?
“What do you want?” Lacey demanded.
Arley set down the blade and tossed rabbit innards into the fire, sending a savory smell wafting up with black curls of smoke. Then she pulled in a swift motion and stripped the skin away from the rabbit, keeping her eyes on Lacey. “You left in a hurry--maybe not thinking too clearly. You don’t seem to have any food.”
Lacey let the red glow of the fire hide the shame on her cheeks. Edging closer to the heat, she eyed the blade on the ground beside Arley. She needed to get it back.
Sitting down with as much nonchalance as she could muster, Lacey replied, “Maybe I lost my appetite.”
Arley tossed her head back and laughed. The white tipped frills of fur on her cheeks softened her face and the eyeliner markings around her eyes were pretty. It was difficult to keep thinking of her as a ruthless killer. Lacey focused on Arley’s bloodstained hands, which were putting the cleaned and skinned rabbit on a stick to roast.
They sat by the fire, with an obvious distance between them, as the smell of roasting meat filled the clearing. The only sound was the crackled and spit of the flames as fat juices dripped down--even the forest was quiet.
It didn’t take long for Lacey’s stomach to contradict her earlier statement with a loud growl. Even Meemu turned traitor and sat beside the lynx-girl, staring at the meat and licking his lips.
Lacey leaned forward and reclaimed the knife, using the pretense of cleaning it to disguise her actions. Once the knife was cleaned and thrust firmly in her belt--within easy reach should she need it--she started to relax. Arley wasn’t here to hurt her if her intention was to feed her. That would make no sense at all. Unless it was some kind of elaborate trap.
YOU ARE READING
Lacey is a bat girl. Seven years ago, her mother wished at the well in the heart of the Wish Wood, transforming a young bat-ling into a human girl--mostly human. But Lacey is growing up, Mama has a real daughter now, the kids in town tug on her poin...