Outmatched Part 1
A clap of thunder ricocheted across the sky. Rain poured, washing the countryside in torrents. Night clung to the trees like spiderwebs.
I sat in the boughs of a towering oak, sheltered from the storm and the eyes of the caravan coming toward me. As the travelers wound through the woods they kept silent, with only their lanterns to give them away. A cloaked man astride a massive black horse led the march. His followers stayed close, forming a moving shield around their leader.
The man held his fist up, signaling an abrupt halt. I held my breath, waiting like the others. A crack of lightning cleaved the dark to reveal the intricately embroidered pair of doves on his cloak. A gasp caught in my throat. After three months of tracking, I’d finally found them.
The man motioned to his right and the caravan turned away, quickly vanishing into the inky night. I spread my wings and silently skimmed the treetops, keeping my gaze glued to the bobbing lanterns below. I gave a silent thanks to the feathered cloak keeping me aloft.
Drawing near to the lanterns I could study the stitched doves at leisure. Their beaded wings and gold-thread eyes twinkled in the murky light; their creamy foreheads touched in affection. Matching needlework appeared on the sleeves of the followers. They looked innocent, pretty even. I knew better. Just as I knew the caravan wasn’t on a mission of kindness.
Once every year, The Doves of Mercy made a pilgrimage from Penbough in the Southern Shires to Mottlewing in the North Climes to serve the town where the society was founded. They brought food, new medicines, and extra hands for the fields, according to their propaganda. But my ears still rang with tales of disappearing children.
The Doves had to be followed—I needed to know who they really were and why grief followed them around like a hungry stray. Answers to the society could lead to an answer for my own problem.
I shook the rain out of my eyes, gliding closer to the leader. If I could just see his face…
“Up there!” cried a voice.
An arrow whizzed past my ear, narrowly missing my shoulder. I dove for the trees; branches raked my cheek.
“The nerve,” I grumbled, as another shaft clipped my feathers.
The caravan kept moving—the arrows weren’t coming from them. My chest locked with panic. I slipped into some shrubs, trying to take deep breaths.
“She went down over there.”
“Search the area! I want her alive.”
Footsteps crunched all around. With no clue who could’ve followed me, I was trapped. I made a snap decision.
Carefully, I yanked a shorn feather from my cloak and held it to my chest. The feather ignited in silver flames that grew into a window with an inviting view. A warm hearth and plush bed beckoned to me.
I dropped the burning feather to the ground. A man in a crimson cap emerged from the trees, sword drawn.
“Stop right there, Hestia!” he barked.
A strained smile crossed my lips. “I was told never talk to strangers.”
More red-capped men emerged. They lunged. I stepped into the fire, engulfed by silver. Shouts of frustration trailed me through the window.