Tracker

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It was dark; too dark to continue following her in any kind of safety—especially alone in the woods. Robin glanced at his surroundings: trees, trees, and more trees. He’d have to set up camp in one of them. It was too risky to stay on the ground. Damn her.

The job was becoming irritatingly slow. He’d catch up to her during the day, and then lose her again after nightfall. Apparently she was foolish enough to travel in the darkness—a downside for both of them. After all, he was supposed to bring her in alive.

It didn’t help that Jay was following him, as well. The man may have been a drunk, but he was relentless. Robin had already turned around several times to confuse his tracks and lead him astray. He hoped that his latest efforts had succeeded. I don’t need an amateur to deal with on top of it all.

His eyes scanned the branches above as he looked for an appropriate spot for the night. It had to be high enough off the ground, but at the same time close enough to other trees so that he could potentially escape if surrounded. There.

Robin jumped, grabbing one of the low hanging branches. His abdominals flexed as he curled his body, pulling himself up into the tree. He was just about to lean back against the trunk and tie himself in with his rope when something made the hairs stand up on the back of his neck.

He closed his eyes, letting himself listen. There was the whisper of the wind, the rattle of branches, but none of the night life he was accustomed to. There was no hoot of an owl, no scuffling of a rodent in the underbrush, no sleepy murmurings from daytime creatures.

She probably doesn’t even realize what she’s walked into.

Robin cursed silently and opened his eyes, scanning what little he could see of the forest. There was no movement: nothing. He grabbed the branch he was sitting on and swung himself to the ground, landing silently. He stood, putting a hand to the hilt of his sword as he began following his quarry once more. It was slow going, but he valued silence over speed at this point; besides, he could always run if he heard her screams.

Five minutes went by, then ten, then fifteen. Robin kept himself alert, his eyes shifting over the rough terrain as he listened for the sounds of tearing flesh, of shuffling footsteps. He felt adrenaline pumping through his veins, making him jittery as his heart pounded.

The sound of voices made him stop. He closed his eyes, listening. They were faint, but definitely coherent. If he were to guess, they were about fifty yards away. Robin dropped into a crouch, presenting a smaller target as he approached the voices. He kept his sword sheathed; a stray beam of moonlight on the blade would give him away. Ten yards away. He slid behind the trunk of a tree, listening. Now that he was close enough, he could hear two distinct voices—both male.

“He said to wait here.”

“He’s taking longer than he should. We should check.”

“We can’t just leave the goods, Dur. Tak and Danny can take care of themselves.”

“But…”

The argument continued, but Robin was no longer interested. Illicit business? Most likely; but it wasn’t his problem. He pushed himself away from the tree and continued his silent trek through the forest. If I’m lucky, those two morons won’t attract any more attention with their talking.

A twig snapped. Robin jerked his head to his left, crouching down again as his hand went to the hilt of his sword. He waited, then heard footsteps. One of their colleagues? Robin pressed himself against another trunk as a dark figure flitted between the trees, moving toward the sound of voices. There was a pause, and then the conversation began again in earnest.

“Tak! Where’ve you been?”

“We’ve been waiting ages. Is Danny okay?”

“Yes, but there’s been a development.”

“What?”

“There’s a girl.”

If Robin was in the habit of smiling, he would have. Instead, he slipped away quietly, his eyes seeking out the man’s tracks. There: a cracked twig, the slight movement of leaves. He glanced over his shoulder briefly to make sure the three men hadn’t heard him; he then carefully began following the markers. Like a trail of crumbs.

It took him much longer than he would have liked. There was little in the way of natural light, but Robin wasn’t foolish enough to use a match to brighten his way. That’s how people got killed. Instead, he took it slowly, backing up and retracing his steps when necessary. He had walked about thirty minutes when he heard the scream.

It was abrupt, cutting through the silence of the forest like a knife. Robin found his heart suddenly pounding as he darted toward it. She just had to cause problems. Just as suddenly, though, it vanished.

Robin stopped, listening hard. It wasn’t as if the scream had tapered off; it had disappeared entirely. It was as if someone or something had started and stopped the sound without any thought to how screams worked. Slowly, other sounds emerged: the sounds of someone running and breathing hard, the sounds of prey.

He sprinted in the direction of the noise, his arms pumping at his sides as he moved as quietly as possible. He was close now, so close. He could feel it. A slim figure appeared in front of him, a trench coat flapping behind it as it ran. Robin bowed his head slightly, forcing his legs to keep up with hers. So close.

He leapt and grabbed her around the waist. She gave a muffled yelp. Almost too late, he noticed that she had a knife. Robin quickly let go at the last instant, rolling away from her and avoiding the blade that would have pierced his liver.

She was on the ground now, scrambling backwards on all fours. She probably couldn’t even see who he was.  He unsheathed his sword as she stood shakily, her knife held out in front of her. At least she has the decency not to shout.

Her voice hissed through the darkness, a vain attempt at whispering, “Who are you?” Her vision must be worse than I thought.

Robin advanced, keeping his own voice quiet, soothing. Disarming her would be tricky, “Someone who wants to help. Sheathe your weapon.”

She was silent for a moment before responding, “…Is that you, Tattoo Guy?”

A pity. I was hoping this would be easy. He slowly took one step forward, then another. He couldn’t let her escape: not again. If he feinted to the left and she tried to block, he could give her a punch to the gut on the right, hopefully strong enough to incapacitate her. He switched his sword to his left hand as he continued to advance.

That’s when Robin heard the sudden footsteps, the shouting, the sound of a door slamming shut. That’s when all hell broke loose.

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