Excerpt from Dark Ember
Tapping into her magic made her senses even more acute. Swift closed her eyes, listening for any sign that her boys had come through nearby. Precious seconds ticked by. She could hear the shrill song of forest birds, the fragrant river breeze teasing through the limbs of the mighty oaks above her.
She did not hear the swoosh of a portal, nor the thud of a heavy body hitting the ground.
On a groan, Swift rolled onto her belly, pushing her still-trembling body to stand.
Sharp eyes caught no clumsy human movement in the tree line. The portal must have knocked the boys away from her.
Getting to her feet, Swift adjusted her pack and weapons, taking a moment to gather her bearings. Her childhood had lived in these woods and the nearby city of Heversuch. No matter how much she loved her home, it was rare she came back.
Reaching into her pocket, Swift located her bag of gems, largely useless on Earth. It was always with her, though, since the other realms did not reject magic as the Earthers did.
Selecting a mottled green peridot from the selection in her bag, Swift re-secured the bag before concentrating on the gem in her palm.
She whispered a spell in her mother’s native Fae language, an entreat to the ancient forest to aid her in her search. Wind kicked up around her, the limbs of the mighty oaks above stretching as the trees communicated with one another. The peridot vanished from her palm, an offering received by the spirits of the forest.
Swift waited patiently for the spell to finish, the wind teasing at her hair. She pulled her hood up, not surprised when the wind blew it back again. For Fae, the forests always held special meaning. She was part of it, a sister in some ways, to the trees around her. They often teased the Fae as they might younger siblings.
A few moments later, the trees to the south bent slightly out of the way. Swift crouched, touching the damp soil beneath her feet as a thank you to the forest. Swift jumped into the limbs of the closest oak, following the little trail left by the trees.
With the grace of an Elf, Swift leaped from limb to limb, scrambling through the trees. The branches curved and entwined, creating a bridge for Swift to traverse. Her Fae blood sang at being surrounded by the untamed wild. Whispers filled the air, the trees entreating her to lounge among their branches, to scramble up the wide trunks.
Part of her, the part that would always be Fae, longed to merely scramble into the canopy, lie in the sun-drenched treetops.
Her mother, she recalled with a serpentine strike of grief, could often be found in these trees. Evayne had taught her only child the beauty of Fae magic from the day she was born.
Unlike the stern, rigid academia the Elves called magic, the Fae were children of nature. Whether of Earth, Air, Fire, or Water, Fae lusted for the wild, for the uncultivated.
Her father had not understood his wife’s love of the outdoors, but he loved her all the more for it.
Swift had been a child of two worlds from her first breath and reveled in it.
She continued south as the trees continued to bend for her, whispering more entreaties to come and play. Swift pushed the desire aside, knowing she had to get to her boys. She danced along the branches, eyes and ears straining for any sign of her human companions.
After only a few minutes, she heard the murmur of familiar voices, backed up by the babbling of a nearby creek. Swift increased her pace, finally laying eyes on Rex and Jonas.
They had found the Hever River, or more accurately, one of its thousands of tributaries. The water, fresh and sweet, would soothe any issues the portal left on their bellies.
Slowing her momentum, Swift crept into the tallest oak facing the clearing. She faded, as good hunters were wont, blending seamlessly into the massive tree.
The humans marveled at the forest around them, likely unable to name a time they had been this deep into the woods. Jonas, she noted, had procured canteens from somewhere and was studiously filling them with Hever water. Swift recalled that Rex mentioned Jonas spent time in the military, that would explain his penchant for being prepared.
“Where are we, you think?” Rex was asking as he stowed one of the filled canteens into his bag.
“Well,” Jonas said from his crouch at the shore. “Judging from the trees, lack of civilization and the creek here…I’m gonna say Vegas.”
Rex snorted at his friend’s joke.
“Swift said we were heading to a city.” Rex continued, his eyes scanning the tree line to the east. “But we look like we’re in the middle of nowhere.”
Jonas, having finished his canteen filling, stood. He swiped wet hands over the thigh of his jeans, glancing around the clearing. “And the mages said illegal portals were moody. We probably just got tossed too short or too far.”
“Yeah. At least we landed together.” Rex sighed, running a hand through his unruly dark hair. “I hope Swift is alright.”
Touched by the genuine concern in his voice, Swift couldn’t help but smile.
“You know Swift.” Jonas chimed in, obviously trying to assuage his friend’s worry. “She probably stopped to do something epic, you know? Save a virgin from sacrifice, end a war, kiss babies, shake hands. You know. Hero stuff.”
Amused, Swift plopped onto the branch beneath her, swinging her legs with a child’s abandon.
“That’s your job, Marine.” Her voice broke the stillness and they both whirled in shock. “I am merely a bounty hunter.”
“Ma’am,” Jonas shot back, having caught his breath. “I sincerely doubt you’re ‘merely’ anything.”
Swift lifted a brow, glancing to Rex. “Ok, I’m keeping him. He’s good for my ego.”
“I hope you have a side hustle,” Rex shot back. “He eats like a teenage linebacker.”