”…8,9,10, ” she muttered to herself.

Nine rabbits and one pheasant with poor luck and bad timing.

That was good, much better than she had anticipated and much more than to be expected this time of year. Winter was around the corner, looming over them like an ever-present, ever-foreboding dark shadow, and they could dry the meat and trade the furs. If she were home, she would have been smiling, a content, uplifting smile, but she wasn . She was in some clearing much further off her land than she should have travelled, much deeper into territory that was not her own and far from the lines they had all agreed upon, but she could not say that she was sorry. She sighed, a deep, long, sigh and she rolled her stiff shoulders. She shouldn be here, but now she had ten kills and she could feed them both. She heard a crack, her eyes darting, almost too quickly, almost painfully at the sound, but it was only her little fire.

And by The City, she was tired, that ache in her muscles only growing stronger whenever she thought of her long trek home with her sackful of kills. It wouldve been easier if shed only had that sack, but she had something far more important to carry. Her crossbow was beside her, silent and still, seemingly asleep, with one grip of her practised fingers, it would come to life, humming with that sweet crackle of current. It was a weapon many had fought over and many had asked just to take a look at, but it was hers, and one of only two things that truly kept them both from starving.

She jumped when a log crumbled in her fire, her heart racing, her fingers brushing up against that scar on her scalp, deep and bumpy and somehow always as painful as the night shed got it. It was only in her mind, she knew that, but somehow she always found herself cold and breathless, her mouth going dry whenever she touched it. She had sliced into her own skin, her hands not as skilled, not as steady, as they were now, but steady enough to slip in those Implants, all scratched and singed from remodelling and reprogramming, and all for that Radar that fell over her eye with a small, crisp click.

She reached for it, that small, metal box just below that scar, and released it with a sigh. She shouldve cleaned it earlier and now it was getting late, later than she should be letting it get. She reached a hand into one of her many pockets on the leg of her suit and pulled out a soft cloth, running it over the green glass of her Radar and polishing it. No one would be able to tell how many hands had held it before her, not with how it shone in the dim light of her fire, not with how smooth that silver, metal box was now. She sighed again, twirling it between her fingers and clicking it back into place. She hardly felt it anymore, barely noticed that glass panel, waiting by the side of her eye for her to need it, but she felt a little twinge in her muscles when she stretched, her joints cracking, but ten kills. She nodded as she studied them, counting them again, and then she took a moment for herself, leaning up against that cold stone behind her and closing her eyes. She would be home soon and then she could sleep for real and pretend like this day had never happened.

This time she heard a crack, a loud, resounding crack from deep in the trees around her. She was behind the stone so quickly, her crossbow humming against her fingertips, that glass panel over her eye and scanning, but she saw nothing, nothing but trees and trees for as far as she scanned. She gripped her crossbow tighter, her heart racing, her stomach burning. She just wanted to see something, anything, a stray deer, one of the others, anything but nothing. Her eyes darted again, her Radar following and her heart thumping. It was time to run now, she knew that, better than she knew anything else, but she did not know which way to go.

Her hand slipped from her crossbow, reaching the top pocket on her thigh. She did not want to use what was inside, she still had so much to do, she still needed to get those kills home and make sure Iris was safe, but she did not see what other choice she had. Shed just about managed to flip open the flap when she felt those arms around her chest, squeezing her so tightly, his voice so deep, like a rumble of a beast, when he spoke in her ear.

”Theres no need for that, little lady. ”

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