The Ties That Bind Us

The moon is rising steadily in a star-dusted sky when Leona’s fingers start to turn numb. The air is bitter cold despite her thick layers of wool, every breath emerging in a puff of vapor which temporarily obscures her vision. The wind screams like it wants to tear Leona from her perch, send her plummeting down to the forest floor below, and the icy branch refuses to grant her any semblance of a footing. Her pack is probably exacerbating the problem, but Leona would rather fall herself than relinquish it. She clings to the tree like it’s a lifeline, her body pressed flat against the trunk and both arms wound tightly around its reassuringly solid weight. She’s squeezing her staff tight enough to hurt—as if that could possibly keep her panic at bay. The rough bark scratches her cheek with every rise and fall of her chest, but that small discomfort is worth it for the way her heart skips a beat whenever her foot starts to slide.

She refuses to look down. It’s a dizzying drop down to the ground, and Leona is beginning to think that perhaps she shouldn’t have chosen the tallest, sturdiest tree she could find—no matter how necessary she knows it was.

It isn’t all bad at least. From here, she can see the lights scouring the forest for her, weaving in and out of sight between the densely woven branches. They're not moving in a uniform scouting pattern, but the unpredictability just makes them far more dangerous. Back and forth, turning randomly and doubling back on their trail, she knows they are weaving a web to ensnare her.

Leona needs to wait until they’re past her fully, until there’s only an miniscule chance of discovery, but she’ll freeze if she stays here any longer.

She takes a deep breath and closes her eyes. The wind is still screaming around her, a thousand discordant voices howling in unison as it tears viciously at her clothes. She reaches for it in her mind’s eye, a succulent treat in one hand with a bridle hidden behind her back. It snatches at the offering immediately—and Leona pulls.

And the wind is bound.

She opens her eyes. The wind has faded away into a gentle murmur, but Leona can still feel it fighting against her, clawing and tearing away at the bond connecting them. It takes all she has to keep it from struggling free.

She’ll have to do this quickly. Leona carefully disentangles herself from the tree, clutching her staff tightly to her chest. It’s just her balancing on the branch now. No more handholds, no illusion of safety.

Don’t look down.

In her mind’s eye, Leona is a vortex—pulling everything inward, sucking the wind into her body. And ever so slowly, a sense of weightlessness overcomes her. Leona can feel herself rising into the air, her boots just barely brushing the branch. Her hands clench her staff, knuckles turning bone-white, and her heart lodges in her throat. Then she drops like a stone.

The wind whirls around her on the way down, forcing the branches to part before her. Her eyes sting with the force of it and it’s all she can do to keep her eyes open, rapidly

blinking away the reflexive tears. The ground is rushing up towards her and if she misses the right moment she’ll be dead.

Then she pulls—the wind straining under her hand, screaming furiously—and for a brief second of calm, she is suspended in the air, illuminated under the pale light of the moon.

And then everything goes wrong.

The wind breaks free, their thin bond shattering, and for a moment Leona’s terror is real as she falls with nothing to catch her. The ground rushes up to devour her whole and Leona squeezes her eyes shut.

The impact knocks her breath from her body.

Her head hurts.

But the fall wasn’t high enough to kill her.

Slowly, Leona stirs on the ground, fingers digging into the earth, into the rotten leaves. Her vision is swimming. She can see her staff lying in front of her, but she can barely muster the strength to raise her arm.

There’s a shout in the distance.

Leona's eyes fly wide. She forces her body to cooperate, clambering to her feet as her breath comes in short, ragged gasps. Every part of her aches, but she has to keep moving. She can’t let them catch up to her.

Not until she’s reached the river.

Interested in seeing more of this story? Then stay tuned…

By: Samantha Batt


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