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Aether Beasts

Chapter 253

Chapter 253

Katie Vesprin crouched lightly in the underbrush, her bow raised and steady. She calmed her breathing and spoke a silent prayer to whatever god would listen. Unlike most in her village, she didn"t worship any specific god, not even the goddess of the hunt which all the other village hunters worshipped. Perhaps it was a foolish mistake, but so far it hadn"t proven so. She brought back just as much as the others, and none could pick off moving targets like her.

Her current mark, however, was not moving. The doe looked to be fully grown and Katie imagined the smell of its cooking meat and the coin she might get for its horn. It was a pale branch deer, and though the horn looked like it would snap with ease, she knew from experience it was sturdy and perfect for making wooden tools and such. After all, her bow was partly made from the horn of a male pale branch deer. This doe"s branch would mostly be used for handles or maybe even a walking stick.

She could already imagine old Filla"s face when Katie borough the branch back. The old alchemist had been in need of a new walking stick and gods knew she would pay handsomely for it. Kaite would just need to get Miker junior to work on it, and they could split the coin Filla would give them.

That was just an idea, though. For any of it to come to fruition, she needed to hit the doe and hit it true. Otherwise, it would run off, and there was no way she would be able to chase after a pale branch.

With a deep breath, she pulled back the string of her bow, and slowly, uncurled her fingers. It was one of the first lessons she had been taught, Not to let go of the string, but to simply no longer be holding it. To relax your hand and fingers. To let it slip. It had been hard at first, but after so many years, it was easy.

The arrow flew, and the doe only managed a glance before it struck true, deep into the animal"s side. It let out a cry as it fell and began flailing about, its legs kicking back and forth fruitlessly.

Katie stood and made her way over to the deer, pulling her dagger out as she did. No need to let it suffer more than necessary. She knelt and quickly pierced where she knew the doe"s heart was with her dagger. It let out one last cry before stilling in death.

She sighed. Even after all these years, it pained her to see such beautiful animals die; but it was necessary. She needed to make a living and eat. Not just for herself but for those under her care. It was why she had taken up hunting. She had always been good with a bow, but in her youth, it had just been for sport and fun. It hadn"t been until her parent"s death, that it became her life, her trade.

She was a hunter, and a hunter must hunt.

As she pulled some cloth and rope from the pack on her hip, the air suddenly stilled and all went silent. She froze and hoped it wasn"t what she thought. She had felt this before when being stalked, but after a long moment, nothing happened. Then it suddenly became very cold, as though all the warmth had been sapped away.

The Herrin woods were fairly normal and most of its denizens were non-magical in nature. It was only when you got closer to the mountains that the more dangerous creatures appeared. She"d heard all manner of tales in her youth, but had grown out of them. She knew, however, that all stories had their origins.

She was about to continue with her wrapping of the deer when there was a faint tingling on the back of her neck. She spun and found herself staring at a crack in the air. It was jagged and shining faintly with blue and white light.

"Magic," she muttered. She"d seen magic before and she could think of nothing else this could be. But what was it doing here, whatever it was?

She was considering what to do when it expanded and a bright flash of light blinded her. She cried out and stepped back, tripping on the deer"s corpse, and falling on her back. She pressed a hand to her eyes and blinked rapidly as she heard a thud.

Her eyes cleared after a moment and she quickly got back to her feet, dagger in hand, and pointed at where she"d heard the sound. What she found was no beast. The crack was gone and in its place, laying on the ground, eyes closed, was a man.

"What in the hells..."

She"d seen all manner of strange things in the forest, glimpses of rare and unseen creatures when she"d ventured deeper than most ever dared, but never anything like this, and never this close to the village. She was only a few miles in. The strangest thing she"d seen here had been two animals mating. She smiled faintly as she remembered that day. She"d killed and bagged them both. It seemed even animals could get distracted by such activities.

She moved closer, stepping over the deer, her dagger still in hand.

The first thing she noticed was the clothing. It looked like a set of robes, but not like any she"d ever seen. It was more elegant, and more like a mix of armor and cloth. It was a mix of white, green, and brown, matching his trousers. It all looked very expensive and the type of clothing nobles wore.

"Or a mage," she mused aloud.

She moved her gaze to his face. He was handsome, more so than anyone else she"d ever seen. His dark hair framed a well-formed face with elegant yet masculine features. Her hand moved to his neck and she pressed two fingers to it. She waited and after a few seconds, confirmed that he was alive.

Katie brushed a hand through her golden brown hair and sighed. This hadn"t been what she thought would happen and she wasnt certain what she should do. Did she just leave? What would he do if he woke? He looked handsome, but she"d heard talk of what most nobles were like.

In the end, the decision was taken from her.

The stranger"s eyes snapped open and she gasped softly. Working with Filla and having seen her workshop, Kaite had seen uncommon eyes before from beasts, and even people, but the strangers were wholly unique and unlike anything she"d seen.

Violet orbs streaked with veins of gold turned to her with an intensity that made her freeze in place. She was suddenly regretting having come so close to him.

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