The giant, icy gold eyes stared down at her.
“That’s not a fire. It’s barely an ember! How could such a runt come from my womb?”
There was a pause.
“Get it out of my sight.”
Ember woke with a start as sunlight reflected onto her face, shattering the dream. She lidded her eyes with a reflective lens and immediately checked her surroundings.
She was in a cave, alone, with nothing else but her packs and the remains of the cow she had cooked and eaten the night before. Outside, the blizzard had obviously stopped, but from the depth of the snow it hadn’t stopped very long ago. The whole world was buried in frozen brilliance.
Ember pushed to her feet and crept out into the day.
A thorough look around the mountainside the cave emerged from showed no footprints but her own. Nothing but pristine, undisturbed, powder.
She listened in every direction, sampled the air thoroughly with her nose, and didn’t detect any human sounds or smells.
She did smell a hare though, in a burrow at the base of a large rock.
Her stomach rumbled. Still hungry.
Ember looked around one more time to make sure she was alone, then crept up to the rock and brought her nose less than an armlength away from the burrow’s entrance.
She could hear the small creature breathing just inside its hole. It’s body heat glowed.
Deep breath. Relax. Let the gas flow from the chest, fill the fire-cells with power, shape the fields in the mouth, and…
Ember exhaled sharply and blasted a bolt of white hot fire into the burrow with a roar. The hare died instantly, but Ember held the flame for several heartbeats to build up heat. Then she collapsed the burrow with a punch and left her snack to cook.
She felt drained.
The fire had taken the last of her power–not the best of decisions–so she shifted her color to pitch black, crawled up onto a ledge above the cave and stretched out completely, wings, tail-fins, arms and legs all flat on the ground, to soak in the sun.
Immediately she felt power flowing into her bones. She also felt a little bit of the high that sugar cookies had always given her as a child. She got even flatter and closed her eyes to slits, watching the clouds swirl in the deep blue sky above distant hills covered in forests of absurdly tall trees.
Somewhere out there was the village she had stolen the cow from, tucked away in a cleared valley in the hills at the base of the mountain range. If she focused her eyes enough she could just make out the smoke rising from the chimneys so very far away… well beyond any distance a human could have seen it at.
Ember had glided as much as she could when leaving her cave to get there, and had returned most of that distance on the wing as well, avoiding any tracks near her lodgings. She had also glided whenever possible while approaching the village, had come in from the opposite direction from where her cave was, and had flown at least one or two ten-felds when escaping. That should have been enough to make tracking her effectively impossible.
Of course, it wouldn’t do anything to keep word of her presence from spreading to other villages in the region. Now that they knew there was a Garagran there would be extra watchers on livestock, hunters specifically looking for her tracks, and countless eyes scanning the skies.
The next easy meal would not be so easy.
She blew out a long breath and lashed her tail in frustration.
Far off in the distance a strange column of white cloud appeared just above the treetops and… moved.
Ember focused on it, noting that the nearest treetops she could see were blowing against the movement of the cloud. No, not the movement of the cloud, the movement of its source. The cloud was coming from something traveling down in the forest.
She tracked its progress as it wound along the lowlands and into the foothills where the village was. When it emerged from the forests the column became clearer, angling back from a source that was moving very quickly. Ember watched as closely as she could, but the source remained hidden among the hills all the way into the village.
Shortly after it reached the village the cloud dissipated.
Ember began to feel nervous.
She roused herself and set her full attention on the distant point. After a short span in which nothing happened, she thought she saw a group of small grey-white clouds rise up from the village.
She searched for the little clouds but couldn’t find them again.
The sun lifted a hand closer to its zenith as she continued watching.
Something glinted in the distance.
Ember locked onto the glint and focused in as hard as she could.
She barely made out something fluttering far above the ground. Was that a human figure? With big, white, butterfly…
A Tixerie. A Tixerie dressed in sky camouflage with some kind of blue-white paint on its wings. And the glinting was a seeing glass. She remembered those from her brief tactical training.
If she had seen it glinting that meant the glass had probably been pointed right at her.
“Draksl!” she cursed and leapt down off the ledge, going white before she touched the ground, but she knew it was probably too late already.
While it was possible that the scout was terrible at his job and had missed her giant black form flattened out against the snow-covered mountainside, it was not the kind of possibility she was about to count on. Further, any army that could field a squad of Tixeries with seeing glasses was an army she did not want to be found by.
She grabbed her packs from inside the cave and draped them over the back of her neck just in front of her shoulders, then fiddled with the leather buckle, giant for a human but still somewhat small for her. It took her several tries to get the tongue to go through. Her fingers were shaking.
She had to calm down.
Ember took deep breaths, settling herself, and got the buckle closed. Then she headed out into the snow again and thought about her next step.
She could go back over the mountains and out of the region. That would be the quickest escape.
However, whoever these people were and whatever resources they had, they were still only looking for a Garagran, not for Ember Rehksskari.
On the other side of the mountains, that would not be true…and the Vohrskrain had ways of finding people that didn’t require seeing them.
Back over the mountains was not a good option.
Ember looked in the direction of the village, thought of the shapes standing at the windows.
She could blend in.
Not enough to live with them, but enough to hide out in the countryside. As long as the natives didn’t have anything like the Vohrskrain did she would look like just another trapper living in the forests.
At least, as long as it was winter. It was normal to keep hooded when the snow was on the ground.
She could just run. Keep low and move fast and leave her current location far behind. Hope they didn’t follow.
Something about the moving cloud told her that she wouldn’t outpace this army. Not in their home region.
She would blend in then.
After she put a few trackless ten-felds between her and the cave.