I almost didn't make it here with Chapter Ten this week. Sleep is essential for my brain to piece words together coherently, and I've been having a terrible time falling and staying asleep the last few weeks. So, I hope you can ignore the typos, I will fix them later!
If you're new to Isiterra, you can catch up with all of the chapters here.
******Aria lay awake with Hunter stretched out along her side. Her mind was too busy making plans for the hunt to let sleep creep in.
Though she wasn't keeping track of the time, she did notice the light outside changing colors as twilight drew near. Hunter, you awake? She gave him a gentle nudge.
His tail thumped twice on the bed. Is it time to eat?
Yeah. If we hurry, we can save the girls the trip up here.
I'm waiting on you. He jumped from the bed and sat facing the door while Aria dressed.
She pulled on her boots, but didn't lace them up. Do you think I'll need my coat?
I'm planning to wear mine.
"Hunter!" Aria stifled a giggle. "I'm serious."
Bring it. If you decide you don't need it, you have the luxury of taking it off.
"Always so logical," she muttered as she buckled her belt. "Ahna, I forgot to ask if you brought-"
The rest of your knives are with the horses. I'll fetch them while you're eating.
"You have to eat, too."
Yes, but I eat like a dog, so I'll wolf it down.
"Oh ... Hunter," she squished his face in her hands and planted a kiss between his eyes. "You really must stop using the squirrels to test your material."
Hmmph, he snorted. You have your bow? Quiver? Assorted knives?
"Yes, yes, and," she pulled a bag out from under her bed and pulled four knives out. "Yes."
"Ah, that's at the stables too. Don't let me forget it." She opened the door for the dog, and locked it behind them.
Aria found Taura and Ziliena as they were leaving the Faire grounds to get her. "Where's Hunter?" Taura asked.
"He's retrieving something from the stables for me."
Taura and Ziliena both raised their eyebrows at her. He's bringing me some knives and rope.
"Well, I'm sure he'll be along soon then." Taura said. "Let's get some food and a table before they start the announcements for the hunt."
Aria fixed two plates, one with an assortment of meat, fruit and bread for her, and the other heaping with Hunter's favorite meats. She spotted Taura and Ziliena at a table, and joined them.
Hunter arrived with a cloth bundle containing the knives and rope. Thank you, Aria told him as she set his plate down. "I can get more if you're still hungry."
He looked up and wagged his tail while chewing a mouthful. Oh, no no. This is more than I should eat. Thank you!
Aria had more of an appetite than she realized, and was already halfway through her plate before she looked up and around at the crowd that had filled in the tables around them. Then, she saw Taura staring at her. "What? Do I have something," she dabbed at her face with a cloth.
"No. I was just wondering if you got any sleep? You look like phiinoe."
Ziliena almost snorted her foark out her nose.
"E'sareona, sis. Thanks. No, I didn't sleep. My mind ... ahna, it just keeps spinning."
"Just remember, you don't have to come in first place tonight, or tomorrow for that matter," Ziliena said. "You only have to make the first cut tonight, and be in the top 32 tomorrow."
A voice from behind her, standing too close, said, "So which one of you is the girl who claims to be a hunter?"
In a split second, Aria was on her feet facing him with a knife at his throat. "That would be me."
Hunter was on his feet at her side just as quick. He growled.
He put his hands up, and managed a nervous chuckle. "Whoa there, down girl."
Hunter said, Say the word, I'll rip his throat out.
No! They would kill you. I've got this. She pressed the blade against his skin, far enough to make her point. Then she twirled the blade a couple of times before returning it to her belt. She wouldn't let his eyes break from her gaze.
"Is there something we can help you with, Balthanor?" Ziliena asked.
"I was just checking out my competition." He grinned at Aria. "Doesn't look like much competition to me though."
This time Taura was faster than Aria, she grabbed her sister's wrist and stepped between them. Aria, stop. Ignore him. With her back still turned to Balthanor, she told him, "You'd best walk away now. I won't stop her again."
Aria heard his thoughts, and those of a few others for a moment before she remembered to shut them out. It was more than enough to solidify her determination to win.
I can't wait for them to lose to a girl! Ziliena silently cheered her on.
Neither can I. Aria assured her.
Oh, not again. Sorry Aria, Ziliena warned.
Aria looked up and saw Ithitane walking over to their table. E'sareona, can't we eat in peace? She listened for his thoughts, and was surprised. He was coming to apologize for Balthanor's behavior. Okay, this is going to be interesting. she told her companions.
"Hi, um, good evening, ladies," he bowed his head.
"Hello, Ithitane." Ziliena smiled at him cheerfully. "What can we do for you?"
"Nothing. Oh, I, uh ..." he ran his hand through his hair an sighed. "I saw Balth being a jerk, and heard what he said when he walked back that way, and I wanted to...."
Aria smiled at him. "Ithitane, I don't hold all men responsible for the transgressions of one. You really don't have to apologize for him." She put a hand on his arm, and she felt he was being sincere. "We do appreciate the gesture though."
"Yes, Ith," Ziliena softened toward him. A little. "Thank you."
"Do any of you need anything? As long as I'm up, I'd be happy to fetch something for you, if you needed anything, I mean." he blurted. "Another drink perhaps?"
"That's kind of you, Ith, thank you," Taura said. She looked at Aria and Zilinea, "I think we're all fine." They nodded. "If you'd like to sit," she gestured to the empty seat across from her, "we have room."
A booming voice interrupted. "Good evening, brave hunters! Welcome to the tenth annual Iselos Malorian Hunt!" The voice came from a portly man on the musician's stage. "Please, if you would all take a seat, and take note. I have a few details to review before we begin."
Ithitane excused himself, and went back to the table with his friends.
"What was that about?" Aria asked.
Taura shrugged. Ziliena said, "I have no idea."
The crowd hushed as everyone took their seats and turned their attention to the man on the stage. Who is that? Aria asked ZIliena.
Ithitane's uncle, she answered. The one who runs the Iselos Inn.
He spoke. "Gentleman, and for the first time ever, Lady, tonight is the first in a five night competition to find the greatest Malorian hunter in the region. Maybe on the continent. And this year, we have the most entrants we've ever seen. Three hundred and twenty-two brave men, and one woman, will go into the forests tonight, but only seventy of you will move on to tomorrow." He paused, allowing a ripple of murmurs through the crowd. "If you do not make a kill tonight, you will be disqualified. If you come back after the third horn, at dawn, you will be disqualified. If you use anything but a knife, longbow or snare," he paused again, and then gestured from the crowd to respond.
"We will be disqalified."
"Good, we all understand each other." He looked down at a paper in his hand before looking back up at the crowd. "Now, we have made a few last minute changes to the rules for tonight, due to the overwhelming number of entrants." He paused again. "Now, with so many of you, we've decided to stagger the time you leave, and divided you up in groups based on what number you signed up on. So, the first fifty of you is group A, fifty-one through one hundred is group B," he went on to list them all.
Aria knew she was group B, and before she had a chance to wonder, the innkeeper said, "Then we drew groups to determine starting order. Group C will leave first, and have a fifteen minute head start. Group A will go second, ten minutes later Group F, ten minutes again before Group B, then five more minutes before Groups E, D and G in that order."
They're going to have forty-five minutes on me! Aria said.
It won't matter, Taura assured her. You'll be fine.
"Another concern was raised and addressed. And, I know some of you don't really mind, and some others are going to mind quite a bit. But, the facts are what they are, and a decision has been made. With more than three hundred of you tromping through the forest, for this first elimination round, the dogs will have to stay behind."
He allowed a few minutes for the grumbling. "Go on, get it out of your system. It's only for tonight."
Taura looked anxiously at Aria, I don't like this.
If she's telling you she doesn't like this, tell her I don't either, Hunter said.
"It's fine.I still have Dar to watch my back. And any Terressan crennas out there." Taura still looked worried. "Really, I will be fine."
The Malorian Hunt will commence in Chapter 11 - which I'm going back to right now. If you happen to see my muse, please tell her she needs to report for duty!!
I hope you are safe and well in your corner of the world, we're all still hanging on here in mine. Wishing you a beautiful day, night or some time in the between....