He knew his pursuers were somewhere in this stretch of forest, but he didn’t know where. He dared to think they hadn’t spotted him yet, either, so he had a chance at a breather, crouched in the damp rot under an old log. He tried not to think of the centipedes crawling up his pant legs.
Sirith peered out through the ferns, listening for the calls of the birds to return. The animals always knew when something was up in their stretch of the woods, and if they were relaxing, than the threat had moved on, as well. A nuthatch across the way started peeping, and Sirith deigned that was good enough, carefully shimmying up out of the hollow under the log and giving his pants a good brushing.
His passage had left a trail of fresh dirt dragged from under the log and several bent branches. It couldn’t be helped, but Sirith could make it a little less obvious. He began forging a trail in the other direction, artfully leaving footprints on a bare patch of earth here, tugging a hair from his head to leave draped on the branch there, just so; his hair was finally starting to grow back after being shaved, a shiny new whiteness against the dark brown of his skin.
He continued laying the trail down into another ditch, where he fancied a cluster of brambles would seem like an appealing hideaway, but he knew he couldn’t stay there. Reaching up, he pulled himself into one of the overhanging trees with his good arm, and crawled as far up the trunk as he dared, until he felt the branches swaying in the wind at the top of the forest canopy. He resisted taking a moment to breathe in the fresh forest air, thinking of Jalinde with a sudden pang. He crawled along the boughs as silently as a tree snake, going off in yet another direction from where he came.
See if his pursuers could figure out that puzzle!
His thoughts bent back Jalinde’s way, wondering if she’d be proud of his forestry skills, and he felt another wallow coming on. Before he could get too deep in his daydreams however, a sharp scent in that canopy wind broke through his thoughts.
Sirith popped his head out of the trees again. In the distance, hidden from even the high Glooming Tower by the curve of the hills, a curl of smoke was stretching lazily into the sky. Wood smoke, with the smells of cooking, but there was also something sour about it, like burnt flesh.
Sirith knew that scent; he had been working with it all around him for the past few years. There was demonspawn in the hills; he was sure of it.
He was just as sure he would be blamed, and he changed the angle of his course yet again, to take him deeper into Bataklik and away from the mustering demonspawn.