She gasped then, her face so tight, her skin so cold. They couldn take her, not now, no she wouldn let them, but how could she ever think that they would come for so many and not for her? She shook her head, her eyes filling with tears, her heart racing, and she knew what she had to do. She had to try to make it out, and if she couldn , she had to at least make sure Iris was safe. She threw her head back, biting through the pain, hearing that loud thud, like a stone landing in an empty bucket, but she did not turn to see what she had hit. She was already running, her kills, her weapon left long behind her, her hand already in that top pocket of her thigh.

”Wow, Phe, ” he scoffed. ”That was really loud. ”

She froze, her eyes big and wide, her hand clenching into a tight fist, and she turned around. She stared at him, the metal of his hood sliding away into that collar around his shoulders, his body hidden in that strange material hed found to make his cloak. He smiled at her, the corners of his lips twitching like he was fighting back a grin.

”I couldve shot you. ”

”That was kind of the point. ”

He kept smiling at her, laughing a soft laugh almost like he was waiting for something. She could have shot him, she would have if shed seen him after hearing a branch snap like that. How would she ever have been able to explain to his sisters that shed killed him all because hed been playing another trick on her? She glared at him a moment longer, her shoulders so stiff, her mouth so dry, and then she realised that shed not seen him at all.

”How did you do it? ”

His laugh was louder as he opened his arms wide to show her his cloak. ”Made a few changes, ” he said. ”Didn think it would actually work against your Radar, but it looks like I won this round. ”

She studied it a moment, not seeing any changes in the material, her eyes flicking up to stare at the collar around his shoulders. He let her, the corners of his lips still twitching, that laugh now only soft as he tilted his head to the side and watched her.

”Youll show me later? ” she asked.

”Sure, ” he said, sighing as he sat down by the fire and stretched against the rock. ”I need to collect a few more things and then I have enough for my sisters and you two. ”

She nodded, staring at that collar, her mind already racing ahead and trying to figure out what he had done. She could only do it for a little while before she was rubbing at her eyes, that ache in her muscles back, her face stiff and tight. She shook her head, grabbing her crossbow, and sitting down beside him, but then she felt that elbow in her side, heard that laugh in his voice when he asked, ”Hows your head, Phe? That mustve hurt. ”

”I couldve shot you, Ash. ”

He did laugh then, wrapping an arm around her shoulders and holding her close, and she sighed, closing her eyes, and leaning up against him. She could sleep for a bit now, only a little, only enough to make the trek back home easier, but then she felt him go stiff, her eyes flicking open to stare up at his face. Shed recognise that cold light in his eyes anywhere, that darkness, that sharpness, and she sat up straight, her hand already at her chest, her eyes fixed on him.

”Who-? ” she started.

”They got the Rosehips, ” he cut in, his forehead lining in a crease as he stared into the flames.

”All of them? ” she whispered.

He didn answer, he didn need to, he was already reaching his fingers up to tap at his heart. She almost gasped then, she wanted to, not knowing what to say, not knowing if she could say anything at all even if she could find her voice. A whole family was gone, gone for no other reason than the colour of their hair and eyes, the same pale blonde and lilac of his and of hers. The people in The City called them Woodlanders and all this suffering, all this pain, was for something as simple as a name. She shook her head. When would it stop? When would it end and how much time would taking a family of four buy for the rest of them?

e here, ” she heard him whisper, watching him tap his fingers against his heart again.

e safe, ” she said, her voice a little tight and strained, her fingers tapping against her own.

That was all she could do for them now, just keep them in her heart and try to keep their memory free. She already carried so many names there, so many faces, and somehow she had to keep making room for more. There was a taste in her mouth then, something metallic and bitter, something that burned all the way down to the pit of her stomach, and it only got worse when he cleared his throat.

”We have to be careful, Phe, ” he said. ”And well have to come up with a plan. Thats one third of our territory, ” he nodded. ”Their farm was somewhere between ours, chances are theyll come back and branch out from there. Did… did any of them know where you live? ”

”No, ” she shook her head.

”Good, ” he nodded. ”I never told them either. We should be alright for a while. ”

”We should head back, ” she shook her head, and he reached a hand out to hold hers, sighing a big sigh as he squeezed it.

He knew she was right, she could tell just by looking at him, but he did not want to go and she knew why, she felt it too. They had never struck so close before, never this deep inside The Forests or into the land that they shared.

”Youll need help with those, ” he said, nodding towards those rabbits. She stared at them, her eyes flicking over her ten kills, and suddenly they seemed so insignificant.

”I can manage, ” she said.

”Itll be quicker with the two of us. ”

”No, go home, Ash. You should be with your sisters. ”

He smiled then, a small, soft smile, his hand squeezing hers again. ”If you couldn see me, they won . ”

She stared at him, wanting to send him away, wanting to say and do so much, but his life was his own and she could not tell him how to live it. She could only think of his sisters, so small and young, and what would happen to them if he was caught because of her. She shook her head, her eyes narrowing into thin slits as she stared at him, but he only laughed.

”Im coming, Phe. ”

”By The City, Ash… ” she sighed, crossing her arms over her chest and glaring at the fire. She was about to say something else, her forehead lining in a deep crease as she watched the corners of his lips begin twitching again, but then they were only staring. It had only taken her a second to react to that flashing on her armband, one quick flash of red and her fingers had pressed it. She did not stop to look at him, knowing that he had seen it too, but not knowing what he would do.

e heading for the house. ”

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