The forest was teeming with life, muted jade light filtered through the trees and the warbling trills of birds filled the air. Birch and aspen grew closely together, their mottled bark giving the forest more shadows then the afternoon sun could possibly cast. Ahead, a woman seemed to materialize from the undergrowth.
She wore her long ebony hair in a braid down her back. The hair at her temples was gathered in two slender braids that framed her face, presumably to keep her hair free from the compact bow she had slung over her shoulder. Her sapphire blue eyes surveyed her surroundings alertly as she strode through the copse in silence. She wore a simple cream under-blouse with a moss green over-tunic and soft brown breeches. She wore soft leather boots that made no sound as she walked. She also sported the simple leather wrist guards of an archer. A small leather pack was perched on her shoulders beside her full quiver and a small bedroll.
Only her gently slanted eyes and ears which ended in delicate points, neatly hidden by the slender braids at her temples, revealed her true heritage. She moved lithely, running a slender hand over the trees she passed. Their branches seemed to reach out to caress her as she padded through the woodland. They whispered to her of sunlight and the cooling feel of rain as it quenched their thirst.
As she traveled alone through the heart of the large forest she stopped occasionally to listen to the chatter of the trees. Suddenly she felt a pang of unease from the forest. She frowned. Nothing had disturbed her sanctuary in years. She had purposefully sought out an area far from the intrusions of man and mage, deep in the heart of an ancient wood.
Hers was a dying race. The caretakers of this forest, a duty once belonging to her entire clan now rested heavily upon her, but for all her wariness she moved toward the source of the disturbance. Laying both hands upon the trunk of a large aspen, she soon determined that the intruders lay to the south. Nimbly she pulled her slight form into the tree tops, preferring to travel high above the forest floor as she approached whatever entity was broadcasting it's presence through her wood.
Nearing the general area she was surprised to hear the trees urging her to hurry. Very few things save fire would stir up a tree. She found herself guided to the edge of a small meadow. The bitter tang of blood reached her sensitive nose and she quickly nocked an arrow. As she watched, a small bloodied body was flung from the woods at the far side of the clearing. A large black bear lumbered after it. Even from her distant perch she could tell something was very wrong with the bear. Suddenly, its massive head swung around and she glimpsed its eyes. They burned with a demonic red fire, and in that instant, she knew. The beast was mage possessed.
Swiftly, she took aim, sighting down the shaft. There was no help for the animal. It must be stopped. The bear reared up on its hind legs as it prepared to finish off the body at its feet. She released the arrow. It seemed to jump the distance between them, burrowing deep into the animal's exposed throat. A gurgled snarl escaped it before it slowly collapsed forward, the fire draining from its eyes.
Leaping down from her perch, she moved forward cautiously, keeping an arrow in her hand, but did not draw the bow. The bear was quite dead, and she quietly mourned the loss of life. Then she noticed that whoever the bear had been trying to kill was not quite dead. From beneath the carcass, she could see a feebly struggling shoulder.
Hurriedly, she set down her pack and quiver, keeping her bow in hand. She moved toward the body. She shoved against the bear, eventually managing to shift the body enough that the person's head and shoulders were free. By now, his struggles had ceased as he fell unconscious. So, putting down her bow, the woman wrapped her arms about the small man's torso to pull him free. She turned him over gently to lay him on his back.
He had long, fiery red hair and although she was nearly positive, she brushed his hair aside to reveal gently rounded ears. 'Human.' The man had a deep cross shaped scar on his face and an empty sheath at his side. Glancing about the area she finally located the katana lodged firmly in the bear's side. Noting its location, she turned her attention back to the more immediate problem the man presented.
He obviously needed help; he was bleeding from multiple gashes on his extremities and had a large wound across his chest. He would bleed to death if his wounds went untended. 'Perhaps that would be for the best…' she thought. But then she heard the trees. For some strange reason, they didn't want him to die… As she thought, she gently examined his numerous injuries.
Pulling a small knife from her belt, she began to slit open his shirt to get a better look at the gash on his chest. He woke instantly. Despite his weakened and injured state, his hands flew to grip her wrists, holding her dirk away from his body. Pained amber eyes opened to stare with panic into her startled blue.
One word scraped painfully from his throat:"Please."
Finally free from her shock, she murmured, "Shh, it's alright. I'm going to help you."
Her crooning voice must have reached him, for slowly his grip on her slackened and he allowed his head to fall to the ground.
Speaking softly, she said, "I need to bind your wounds. Will you let me?"
She was mildly surprised at her actions. Help a human? Why? But something in his eyes had stopped her. Somehow she couldn't just let this man die. He nodded imperceptibly and released her. Moving slowly, she finished slicing off his tunic, carefully removing the torn and bloodied fabric from the wound. By now, the man was breathing harshly through clenched teeth; his eyes glazed with pain. Looking critically at the scraps that remained of his shirt, she swiftly stripped off her over-tunic and cut it into strips.
Then she slipped an arm under the man's head and shoulders, saying, "I know it hurts. I need you to sit up so I can bandage your chest."
Lifting the man gently, she slid the remains of his tunic out from under him before slipping behind him and leaning the injured man back against her. He hissed in pain as the movement jarred his sluggishly bleeding wound. The injury was a claw mark: three ragged gashes stretching from the top of his right shoulder to the left side of his waist.
Taking her water skin in hand, she poured water over the wound, trying to wash out some of the dirt. Then she reached into her pack, removing a small skin of wine.
"This will sting," she murmured from behind his head as she poured the wine over the wound.
The man in her arm twitched and she clamped her arms about his shoulders, keeping him still. When he sagged back against her, she made a thick pad from her tunic and bound it in place over the cuts, applying pressure in hopes that the bleeding would stop. Finally, she had the major wound bound, and she freed herself from behind him and laid him gently on the ground. Amazingly, he had stayed conscious through her painful ministrations. Gazing critically at him, she washed and bound up the minor cuts and abrasions on his arms and legs.
Kneeling on the ground beside his prone figure, she murmured, "There, now at least you won't bleed to death."
Running a hand over her thin under-tunic, she absently fingered the numerous blood splotches on the cream fabric before turning her attention back to the man before her. His breathing was still heavy, but his eyes had cleared, and he looked a bit less delirious.
"You need water" she murmured and picked up the water skin.
She lifted the man's shoulders and raised the skin to his lips; pouring the water carefully into his mouth. When he had enough, he shook his head and she removed the water and tucked her bedroll under his head so he was somewhat propped up before laying him down and sitting cross-legged beside him. She figured that she had maybe ten minutes before he would pass out on her.
"Thank you," he rasped, his meager supply of energy already exhausted.
For a moment her cerulean blue eyes gazed piercingly at him before she spoke, "Who are you?"
"Himura Kenshin, May I ask the name of my rescuer?" his voice was low and rough reflecting the pain he probably still felt. It contrasted sharply with her musical lilting tones.
"I am Kamiya Kaoru. Why are you in my forest?"
Kenshin looked confused.
"Your forest? There's nothing here for miles…" he trailed off as she turned her head revealing the delicately pointed ears he had failed to notice until now. "Wood elf," he murmured in awe.
Elves were a dying race. Wood elves were among the most reclusive and secretive of any of the elves.
He was jerked from his musings when she spoke, "Yes, why are you here?" Kaoru persisted.
Kenshin jerked his head at the bear that lay about five yards from him, "Fleeing from that thing," he said, "no matter how many times I stabbed it, the animal wouldn't die." Then he shifted slightly to look at her, "how did you stop that beast?"
Kaoru gazed silently at him for a moment before she said, "My personal magic nullifies mage spells. Who sent the creature after you and why?"
Kenshin's eyes clouded and he felt a flicker of unease before he said, "I don't know."
Kaoru could sense the lie.
In a soft deadly voice she said, "You lie mortal. Who hunts you?"
Quietly, he said, "I mean you and yours no harm. That's all you need to know"
Her eyes narrowed for a moment, "I think that's for me to decide."
Kenshin met her stormy gaze and subconsciously flinched away from her anger.
"A powerful enemy. The mage Enishi," he told her, knowing he was at this dangerous being's mercy.
Kenshin sighed heavily, "I made a mistake a long time ago, and because of that I hurt the one person he loved."
Kaoru nodded, satisfied. The late afternoon sun gilded her profile.
"I will help you, Kenshin," she said, all anger gone from her musical voice.
"Why are you helping me? How can you trust me?" Kenshin asked, puzzled.
"I don't, but if you were a danger to me or mine, the forest would have allowed your death. It would anger them if I let you die here, though I can't imagine why," she said, gesturing at the trees around them. She smiled softly, "Perhaps I am merely bored with this existence."
Kenshin didn't think he was intended to hear her last comment. He remained silent, a bit cowed by this strange woman.
"Do you think you can stand? We need to set up camp, preferably away from the bear, in a more defensible position."
He nodded, willing to at least attempt moving. Kneeling by his side, she slipped a long supple arm behind him.
"Put your arm about me," she instructed. Carefully, she lifted him into a sitting position, then tightening her grip, said, "Alright, just lean on me. We're lucky you're small."
Finally she managed to get him standing. He had to lean heavily on her and he was breathing heavily again, but he was standing. Eventually, Kaoru managed to half walk, half drag him to the edge of the clearing. She was supporting almost his entire weight and his breath was bursting through his teeth in ragged gasps.
"Just a bit farther, there's a small clearing just through these trees."
The clearing in question was little more than a break in the trees. It was filled with chest high thorn bushes; yet as they moved forward, the thorns bent away from Kaoru's body, opening a path to the grassy area at the center of the briar patch. Kenshin's eyes widened as he watched the bushes move, but soon they had moved into the sheltered area at the center of the glade and Kaoru laid him onto the ground. He lay where she left him, breathing hard through his nose, trying to think past the burning pain in his chest and the dizzying lightheadedness he felt.
Distantly, he heard Kaoru say, "I'll be back with my things."
He was suddenly alone. Feeling vulnerable, he struggled to place his hand on the hilt of his sword… but the sheath was empty. His eyes shot open before he realized that even if he had his katana, he couldn't stand up without assistance, much less protect himself.
The irony of the situation was not lost on him. Over a month spent fleeing a psychotic mage, only to end up weaponless, injured, and in the dubious care of a creature that by all rights should hate him. He must have displeased the gods in some past life.
A rustling sound reached his ears and he tensed, hissing at the pain his actions caused. But then the brush parted, revealing Kaoru. She had her bow and quiver as well as a small pack and her bedroll. In her hand, she held his katana.
"Where did you find that?" he asked, his voice weak.
Glancing over at him she replied, "It was imbedded in the bear's chest."
"May I have it back?"
"No," she said, and as she bent setting down her belongings she felt vaguely amused that although he could not possibly use the sword, he wanted to be armed. "I'm helping you. I don't trust you," she informed him as she walked over and removed the sheath from his belt.
Standing, she slid the blade home and placed the sword at her hip. Turning away, she set about making camp.
First, she laid out her sleeping roll beside him saying, "Can you shift onto this? You won't be able to stay awake much longer and you'll be more comfortable."
Under normal conditions, Kenshin would have protested, but at the moment he lacked the strength. With her help, he moved onto her bedroll. Despite the warm rays of sunlight, Kenshin felt chilled. He must have shivered, because Kaoru placed a hand on his arm and frowned.
"Blood loss, this isn't good." Gently she wrapped him into the blankets, "try to rest. You'll feel stronger when you wake."
Standing, Kaoru set about making a fire ring and collecting wood. Then she slung her bow and quiver over her shoulder.
Walking over, she laid her small belt knife beside him saying, "I'm going to hunt. Try not to make any noise and the briars will keep you safe from most mundane dangers. I make no promises about possessed wildlife."
And she was gone, just as silently and suddenly as she had appeared. Finally, Kenshin could no longer resist the inviting call of unconsciousness and felt his mind slip into darkness…
Moving silently, Kaoru stalked forward, trying to get within range of the gray rabbit that was sitting beneath a small gorse bush about twenty yards ahead of her. Her mind was whirling, 'What am I doing? Helping a strange and possibly dangerous man who is currently on the run from a mage who wants him dead. Yes Kaoru, this is the wise decision.' She had no idea why she was helping the human- 'Kenshin' she corrected herself, but somehow even the thought of leaving Kenshin to fend for himself sickened her. She frowned thoughtfully. Her emotions were always influenced by the forest, but why did they feel so strongly about this insignificant human? She could feel it; the protectiveness and interest the forest felt toward him… strange… her forest tended not to care about the short-lived sentient beings that wandered through it. This man was different, almost as if he were somehow in tune with the woodland… like she was…
Drawing her bow, she took aim swiftly. The shot flew true, hitting the rabbit. It was dead before it realized it was injured. She walked swiftly over, freed her arrow and threw the rabbit over her shoulder. Dismissing her thoughts, she moved quickly back to the glade she had left Kenshin in. She was in too deep to back out now.
Yay! Another drabble! I just had this scenario pop into my head, so I wrote it out. I'm kinda stuck on where to go with this, so updates may or may not be prompt, sorry ^_^ and so due to my current blank, I'm willing to take suggestions. So drop a comment. I appreciate them.
(P.S. Hey ya'll it seems like it's been forever, but thanks to Angel Dragoon's most generous offer I have been induced to look at this old story again in hopes of fixing all those irksome things like commas and typos that this un-beta'd story is rife with. My most humble apologies, I do believe this is one of the first stories I wrote that was even worth a public audience. It makes me happy to know I'm making it easy to read. Personally I can't stand a story with typos so my own laziness/inability to catch my own mistakes is rather ironic...or fated... whatever... So, on and off I will be replacing chapters with beta'd ones. I am practically positive no substantive plot changes will be made.)