Kitch stopped, listening intently. Overhead, the quarter moon glittered through the heavy cloud cover. The beast stalking her was still.
She dropped to one knee and touched a tree root, holding it, feeling it, until she had bonded with it. She mentally followed its root network, knowing everything that touched it as if it was touching her, as if the roots were part of her own body.
It wasn't on the ground. She searched the branches of the tree. Nothing. It was as if the beast had never existed. She frowned and reached for another tree's root then froze. Hot air blew across the back of her neck. Without hesitation she rolled forward, coming up in a crouch and whirling around.
The beast was there, hovering three feet in the air, pupil-less eyes staring at her. It lightly stretched a clawed foot downward and then landed on the ground as easily as stepping down from a stair. Its lips curled back revealing yellowed fangs to join the tusks she had already noticed. It flexed its paws and started toward her. She threw a handful of mineral rich dirt at it. The dirt connected with the beast's shoulder and it stopped, stunned, as it wasn't dirt that hit but a small, rough, knife blade.
She scowled when she saw she had missed and then ran, using the distraction wisely. Seeing her moving, the beast charged. She threw a hand behind her and the tree roots rose up, causing the beast to leap over them, until it decided against leaping and settled on running in the air. That's when her tree smacked the beast in the face by its own volition.
Kitch skid to a stop, surprised. The beast roared then screamed, shuddering. Kitch crouched down, scooping up two handfuls of dirt. There would be no missing this time. She waited. The beast was trembling as it came forward. Then it leaped, closing the distance between it and her in the space of a few heartbeats. She threw the knives, hearing three soft tumps of connection and then the beast was on top of her.
Its chin was on Kitch's cheek, oozing drool and blood. She cringed and started shoving the enormous creature off her. Suddenly she heard the sound of an arrow being released and it burying its head its target. Don't be shooting me, she thought, urgently. I don't need anyone else trying to kill me.
She squirmed partway out from under the dead beast and heard a quiet grunt of understanding. A moment later, a dark figured man was pulling the creature off of her. She got to her feet and stared at the man.
He wore a long dark coat with numerous, large pockets. All his clothing seemed to be black or some other very dark color. It was hard to tell in the dim light of the moon. His boots were sturdy, meant for hard work, and he had gloves tucked in his belt. A hat sat on his head at a casual angle, casting shadows over his face and nearly shoulder-length dark hair.
He heaved the beast upward and she noted the crossbow bolts buried in its forehead and back and also noted, with some satisfaction, that her two knives were stuck neatly through its heart, right where she’d meant them to go.
“Not sure who killed this,” the man grunted.
“I did,” Kitch said.
“Oh?” he asked, skeptically.
“I was closer,” she said.
“You were under it,” he said agreeably.
“Thank you by the way.”
“For almost shooting me,” she said.
He paused. “Didn’t know you were actual,” he said finally.
“You didn't know I was actual? What does that even mean? You didn’t know I was real? How did you manage that?”
“I'm used to apparitions.”
“Naturally,” Kitch said, affably. “Well, I would've assumed that you were an apparition as well.”
Even with his face obscured by shadows she could see him scowl. “I didn't have to save you,” he said.
Kitch leaned forward in complete seriousness. “Are you in the habit of saving apparitions?”
His mouth twisted in a grimace and he tipped his hat.
“I'll be going,” he said, walking past her.
Kitch sighed, faintly disappointed. “What is it?”
He stopped and turned around. “Hmm?”
“What is this?” she asked, nudging the dead thing at her feet. “The thing that decided to stalk me and try to kill me.”
“Ah. Yes, I see now. A borwan. What a self-explanatory name,” she said blithely.
“Part boar, part wolf…and part man.”
“Which part?” she asked. The thing looked completely animal, feral and deadly.
The man moved over to the borwan and knelt by it. He pushed his fingers through the fur in its chest, and then, to Kitch's astonishment, into its chest. His hand disappeared and then he pulled it back out, clutching a blood-covered, hard, blue-gray rock.
“This part,” he answered.
“What is that?”
He shook his head. “Not sure. Witch’s witchiness, maybe. Borwan are witches.”
“Don’t know the technical name,” he said crossly.
“And so you use witchiness?”
“In educated circles it is called witchcraft,” she said sweetly.
He paused, taking in her sentence with all its implications. “Mm. They never told me that.”
Kitch smiled reassuringly. “I’m sure there were a lot of things you weren’t told.”
“I know,” he said darkly.
“What are you going to do with that?” Kitch asked, nodding at the blue stone.
He shrugged, rising to his feet. “We don’t have a use for them. Yet.”
“You keep them?” Kitch asked, surprised.
“We can’t destroy them.”
“Destroying them is the easy part. How do you manage to keep them not be Consumed?”
“Easy?” he echoed incredulously. “Have some experience with witches?”
“Most don’t know how to destroy them.”
“That's only because they don't take the time to find out.”
“Only a witch would know how.”
“Or a WitchHunter. Like you.”
His expression hardened.
“You are, aren’t you?” she pressed.
He hesitated, just a moment. “Yes,” he said quietly.
“And a Hunter. Not a huntsman,” Kitch clarified. She had to be absolutely certain.
Another pause. “Yes.”
Kitch sighed and leaned against a tree. “Naturally.”
He stared at her intently a moment before speaking softly. “Wyfreda.”
“What?” she asked.
“I…” she trailed off, not sure of what to say. She could hardly deny the claim, but neither could she admit it. That was just as dangerous.
He tipped his hat. “I'll leave you then.”
She watched him leave then shouted after him. “Don't believe that witches can be good?”
He stopped but didn’t turn. “It's not my job to believe either way.”
“That's no answer.”
“It's mine.” And then he vanished into the dark.
Kitch frowned thoughtfully, then glanced at the corpse lying next to her. “Time to move on. This dear friend will be attracting all sorts of things, not to mention what I'll be attracting.”She swiftly bonded with the tree the creature was lying near and then walked away as the tree roots quietly dragged the body underground.