The crimson archer was on the move for an hour before he was confident that no one would chase him from the cottage. He didn’t suspect that the man or girl would come after him, but there was always the chance that there was a beach patrol after such a violent storm. They would be checking for wrecks or castaways, and no doubt stop at the cottage, either to see if there had been anyone picked up like himself, or simply to take a break. From what he had learned, there were very few people who lived along the coast, because of the large storms that came through every fall, and now, into the winter.
The archer had passed through forests and hills, and now as he came to the edge of the forest he spotted a trodden dirt, or in this case, extremely muddy, road. He pulled the thick map from his side pocket and found the road quickly. It ran parallel to the shoreline for most of the way, before winding inland. But he didn’t want to go inland. To the west ran a river, at the mouth of which sat a city built within the rocks, indicated on the crude map as a green smudge. The Emerald.
He turned west, and in what had now become a quite foggy and bleak day, began his trek towards the city. It would take him the better part of two days without any delays or detours. He doubted very much that he would spot much than a few inhabitants of the land. This area of Astoria was a dismal, cold place most of the year, especially when heavy winter set in, bringing heavy snowfall and bitter winds. Even now at the beginning of winter, the winds were already prevalent, and the temperature chilly.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
The archer had been right about the lack of human inhabitants. The animals, not so much. It was getting towards the end of a very short day, but in the darkening light he saw the hawk soaring above, eying a downed prey from above. It spiraled several times and the archer tried to keep it in his sight as he picked up his pace from a brisk walk to a quick jog. He had provisions in his sack to eat for three days, but he wasn’t about to turn down the chance of fresh meat.
The forest was thick with foliage and rocks and trees, but the archer could the drop off coming up ahead. He stopped at the top of it to survey the surroundings. Just like the hawk. There was a clearing beneath the ten-foot drop. A placed pool of water sat in the middle, and around it grew little clusters of plants shaped in four-pointed stars. Each leaf was almost a foot in length, and drooped over the edge of the two-foot tall stalk. It took the archer less than ten seconds to spot the prey, a rabbit, hobbling to the safety of a crevice. It didn’t appear to have been assaulted, but its hind legs were dragging limply.
Might have jumped over the edge of the drop. Well, let’s get a meal before that hawk does.
They struck at the same time. The hawk dive-bombed for the meal. The archer leapt off the drop for the rabbit. Just like the hawk. They collided. Hawk against Hawk. The bird slammed into his hand with talons extended, slicing flesh. The archer grunted, and with one swift motion snatched the bird’s wing as it zoomed past, and slammed it to the ground. For a few moments it laid stunned on the ground. As Hawk picked up the rabbit, the befuddled bird limped away.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Hawk had decided that the watering hole was as good a place as any to make camp for the night, and now had a crispy, brown piece of rabbit roasting over a toasty fire by the pool. The aroma filled his nostrils and the heat of the fire warmed his face, the only part of his skin uncovered. As soon as the sun had dropped the temperature had gone away with it, and was now below freezing. Hawk could hear a breeze blow through, but the drop-off caused most of the air to pass over the watering hole.
He had been wearing warm fur gloves which he now pulled off, seeing that the meat was cooked. Although it was hot, it felt good in his hands, and after sprinkling a dash of salt on the meat, he took a tender bite out of it. The warmth of the food invigorated Hawk, and he devoured the meal quickly. Then, after adding a log to the fire – he wasn’t afraid of the smoke attracting this deep in the woods – he pulled a heavy fur blanket over his body and, using his sack, and a pile of pine needles he’d taken from an evergreen, he hunkered down to sleep.