She laughed, but it was not a pretty thing. It cut through the very core of a person with its ill intent. The bounty on the woman's head was quite a sum, and every hunter in the land had been waiting for the moment she turned up. Apparently, she had offended some lofty young lord, but a bounty's past rarely ever mattered. Especially not to Jack, who made his living off the misfortune of others. He rarely went to such trouble for a target, but the prize was simply too tempting. Strange that he had tracked her down in a swamp, sleeping on the ground when a town was only a mile away. When he'd held a knife to her throat and told her to come quietly, he had expected fear or perhaps anger.
He hadn't expected Mara Sweet to laugh
But here she was, laughing so hard the knife's edge pricked into the edge of her neck. She didn't even seem to notice. Her singular eye remained unfocused, looking off in the distance as if her attacker never existed. The whole bizarre situation was enough to make Jack pause--something he rarely ever did when on a job. He was not afraid, merely intrigued.
Suddenly, she stopped with such abruptness he almost that she choked. Rather, her eye swiveled with sudden clarity, meeting his gaze with a ferocity that sent an instinctual bolt of fear down Jack's spine. The woman's nostrils flared, as if she could smell it exuding
off him. He had a sickening feeling that he should have left Mara Sweet well enough alone. "You're quite lucky I find you amusing, you know," she whispered, grinning like a madwoman.
And then she was gone, and he held nothing but the humid air of that miserable fen
Mara watched the bounty hunter from a distance, waiting for his reaction. Most people ran away in fear when she pulled a trick like that. After all, sorcerers were hardly a commonality in this miserable world, and she was perhaps the greatest of them all. It's not everyday you unlock the secret to near immortality. She still bled like a normal person, but she had lost count of the years since she stopped aging.
But no, this man did not run away or go pale with shock. He simply stared at his knife, his brows knitting together in confusion. No...not confusion. Irritation
"I know you're still out there," he called out, his eyes roaming the landscape of the fen. The low trees and bushes provided excellent cover by themselves, but she'd already faded into the environment regardless. Despite being practically invisible, her eye narrowed when his gaze landed on hers and stayed there. Somehow, he knew where she was. It was so improbable, but...this man had magic
When he started chanting in the ancient tongue, Mara felt something she had forgotten after so many years...fear
. The tables had turned, it seemed. Impossibly, this man knew ancient magic, using a language that had once been revered as being from the gods. She remembered the fanatics' epeolatry
in the ancient days; they would gather around to hear sorcerers cast the simplest of spells.
She stared, even as the ground beneath her began move unnaturally. It changed and warped, dragging its way towards the man still chanting the ancient words. Even she did not know this spell, and it was certainly a long one. All the more terrifying. Beneath her fingertips, she felt the change from mud and dirt to an arenaceous
material. She dared to glance down, gaping as she saw actual sand
being drawn towards him. Transmutation...she didn't want to know why he was turning the ground into sand. Perhaps he had an affinity for it...
"Fine!" she yelped, leaping out from her hiding place. He stopped chanting immediately, and the ground slowly returned to its normal state. She tried not to notice the ring of sand that had already built itself around the man. It was the last part of the spell to disappear. Mara looked around, weighing her options. Somehow, without her realizing it, he had built a barrier around them. She had been trapped the moment she decided to stick around. Shit
"That wasn't so hard, now was it?" the man quipped. She bristled, realizing the irony of the phrase being used against her. She often taunted people with those very words; she'd done so to that young lord. "You've got a nice price on your head, Mara Sweet. Is that your real name? But...I think someone else would like very much
to meet you." He flipped the blade in his hand, the fear she had smelled earlier gone completely. She knew that if she refused, it would not be pretty. But if she acquiesced
to his demands...
"How old are you?" she asked. The man smiled knowingly.
"One thousand three hundred and four...as of yesterday..."