59 comments

Submitted on 07/14/2020

Categories: Adventure Drama Fantasy

The forest was dark and dense, shadows gathering near snow drifts and around the bases of icicle-bearded fir trees. Felmine took the first step into the Blackwood, knife in her hand. The knife dripped blood onto the snow, and as the wind whirled around her, she bent and shook ice over the crimson.

She turned and followed the tracks in the snow. Two white-eyed snow hares, she thought. She stood at the hooting of an eagle owl. At her waist, fastened with silvery black leather, was another jagged black-bladed knife, glimmering in the starlit shadows, wicked magic thrown into silhouette by the star light between the treetops. Sister to the bleeding one in her hand, sister to the knife that had taken the life of the Nash Mir not half an hour ago.

Half a mile away, half a mile behind her, a young man in heavy dark furs sprinted through the snow. She heard him. She knew that he could find no tracks, no broken branches, nothing that might indicate where the assassin of the Nash Mir might have gone.

She could hear him from far away, even through the blanket of the wind and the river. He stopped, breathing heavily, gasping, groaning, and started running again. She heard each step taking him deeper into the snow, louder and more careless, and she guessed each step must be bringing him closer to exhaustion. She, however, had been trained to swallow exhaustion, to make it disappear or even spur her on to greater speed. She would not fail.

Felmine discarded her bloody knife at the edge of the river and buried it under a snowdrift with a prayer. She rubbed off the bloodstains from her fingers with hard-packed snow. From there she walked, half bent over in the shadows, on her black-booted feet and gloved fingers, toward the center of the wood. Through the snow, under the delicate icy arms of larch branches, past arm-thick icicles and rock-solid snow drifts, against hard ice-speckled wind that bit at her, sliced at her, drove shards of knifelike sleet through her clothing and into her skin.

Darkness crept up around her by the time she reached the far bend in the river. The water began to slow, ice thickening, as both Felmine and the river traveled north. It was the Ob River, or part of it, and she and the river were heading farther north than she’d dreamed was ever possible.

She heard the man crashing behind her and smiled. The fool.

“Fool,” she breathed. “To think he could track me.”

She was the best tracker and huntress ever trained by the RAVEN program. No mere security guard or bodyguard could dream of tracking Felmine when she didn’t want to be found. She rubbed her black gloved palms together and breathed into them. Thin black branches whipped in the Siberian wind, past her masked face. She had wrapped a thin black shawl around her mouth, nose, and up to her forehead, leaving her eyes free, and over the shawl, up her scalp, she wore a tight black hood. It was designed to hold the scarves in place and to allow her to melt into the darkening shadows. On her back was a flattened pack, black and as weightless as a palmful of starlight. Her hands were gloved in thin black cloth. Unsubstantial in this cold, but she rubbed them again and thought, I can manage.

She had always managed.

She could hear him again. He had stopped. The man knelt at the river’s edge. She could not know what he was thinking, but she knew she had pressed him hard; surely a soft city-dweller was tiring already. She was banking on this. Felmine herself was trembling, breath coming shakily as she bent and sprinted, slowed and jogged, through the icy tundra with a backpack. He could not even see her, he was running blind.

For now, fatigue might force away the hard-tongued grief that threatened to overcome him. She had killed his master, his leader, the Nash Mir. For mindless men like him, she had just destroyed his sense of purpose. Only the black sense of justice and of vengeance pulled him forward now, into the depths of the Blackwood.

Felmine smiled. She was nearly there. Behind her the wind rushed across her tracks, like the ocean on the sand, and the snow was as clean and bare as if she had never been there. She had chosen this night for its wind and growing storm, and she knew she had chosen correctly.

“A clear night might’ve been easier to travel in,” she mumbled, and then fell silent. Perhaps the man was near enough to hear her, though she doubted it. He could barely go five steps without crushing a twig or crumpling through snow, making enough racket to scare a lustful moose.

Nearly there, nearly to the safe house.

For a split second she wondered why RAVEN leaders—the orchestrators of the assassination—had chosen a safe house in the heart of the Blackwood, the most dangerous forest in all of the mother country. But then her training kicked in and her mind clamored answers.

Safety.

Far away.

You alone can get there safely.

Well hidden.

And: who are you to question what the leaders say?

RAVEN’s leaders were god to the rest of the program. What they said went. Throughout training, one learned to obey as well as fight. To doggedly finish a mission, as well as how to plunge a knife into the right artery.

Once, her tutor had let go of the safety rope when she was climbing the outside of a city building in the dead of night. She had shrieked, hanging ten stories above the rushing lighted streets with one hand, and then grit her teeth and swung her legs up again, pulled herself to the top. Her tutor did not smile, but instead clapped her on her aching shoulders and said Job well done. Now, go back down.

And she had done it.

Felmine stopped at the base of a thick black tree. She pulled her hand from her pocket. In her hand she clasped a small whirring metal circle. On the back it bore a canvas handle, under which she slid her hand, twisting her wrist so she gripped the handle with the back of her hand rubbing against the metal circle. She guided the metal to the tree trunk, and it attached with a shink sound.—Proof that the tree was metal, as she had suspected. Only if she looked closely was she able to tell that the carefully detailed bark was really melded iron. Well hidden, indeed. The safe house, or at least its base, looked exactly the same as every other tree in the Blackwood.

With the other hand she took a cloth bag out of her other pocket. Inside was resin. She rubbed it to the bottoms of her boots and returned the bag to her pocket. 

Felmine pulled the connector circle as high as she could reach, then leaped upward, other hand braced against the trunk for support, legs scrabbling for a minute before connecting, sticking from the resin, and holding tight to the tree trunk.

She began to climb. Her knees bent and toes contracted, finding little blemishes in the sounding of the metal, around the bark, gripping them, pulling herself upward. She grunted with each pull, and gasped when a brown-backed hawk flew past, just underneath her. Shaking her head and smiling slightly, Felmine pulled upward.

Again the crashing started up behind her. She knew the man was exhausted. His face would already be numb and his fingers would turn a gentle purplish blue. From the glimpse she had caught of him as she fled the city, she knew he was not dressed for the tundra. His were city clothes, superficially thick and not long-lasting.

Suddenly the noise of the man halted. She stopped as well, hanging with burning fingers and cold toes. She listened. The wind whipped eerily around her and distorted her hearing. Silence. The cracking of the brush. He had fallen.

He had crumpled to his knees, knowing he could not succeed. Russian man destroyed again by Russian weather.



Felmine kicked her feet up and crawled upside down along a branch. Her boots began to slip; the resin must be wearing away. 

That was quick, she thought, and crawled faster.

Then there was open air and her hand waved. She shook. Fire snaked up her forearm and past her elbow.

“Ah,” she breathed between her teeth, and broke off a strangely curved branch that was close to her face. Instantly a sleek panel emerged from the hole where the branch had been, and Felmine cocked her head at it. She gritted her teeth, and with her hand trembling down by her side, holding herself upside down, holding the metal connector, she tapped in the password.

Nash Mir dead.

A small, deep whirring.

“Enter,” said a plastic voice.

Felmine closed her eyes and released a sigh. She hoisted herself upward and over the branch, and shook hair and sleet from her eyes. She balanced on one knee and one foot, hand still gripping the canvas handle underneath the branch, and crawled forward. Cut into the metal trunk was a circular door, compact and perfect.

It slid open as she approached.

“You will stay there for a day and a half,” the tobaccoey voice of the RAVEN operative had said. “You will be provided with one meal. You will not exit the safe house until the full thirty-six hours have passed. We will contact you and extract you when the hours have passed.”

She had nodded.

“If we do not contact you,” he had said listlessly, “You will remain in the safe house, entering and exiting for hunting and whatnot, with the tools we leave you, for as long as you can. You may choose to finish your life there.”

Felmine lifted herself inside, and fell into a warm orange room full of clicking machinery, an open message-scroll, and a table set for one. On the tiny metal table in the middle of the room, there was a bowl of soup, no longer steaming, half a loaf of salted black bread, and a silver communicating device, the size of her palm.

Felmine grinned. RAVEN had been right. No one would find her here.


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59 comments

Cece Lin
20:52 Jul 21, 2020

Felmine is total badass! (Plus, that's a cool name - I hate trying to come up with names and avoid them most of the time...) I really liked this. I also wrote for this prompt, but this was truly "in one chase scene".

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Zilla Babbitt
13:57 Jul 23, 2020

Thank you! Yeah, names can be hard. I usually have a list going that I can pull out in a moment of panic.

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Avery G.
00:46 Jul 16, 2020

Great job! I really liked the story and how it was building anticipation until the end. You are an amazing writer!

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Zilla Babbitt
14:38 Jul 16, 2020

Thank you!

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Aqsa Malik
16:55 Jul 15, 2020

Considering you're number one on the Reedsy leaderboard, I figured it was only right to finally check out your stuff haha. Straight off the bat, I love the way you phrase your descriptions-the imagery is so vivid and you really bring all the scenes you describe to life which is amazing. You also have no grammar or syntax mistakes, so this story was literally perfect in that sense. The premise was also quite interesting, and I love how serious you make RAVEN out to be-even the way they worded their instructions was super professional...

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Zilla Babbitt
17:46 Jul 15, 2020

Thank you very much for this detailed review! I went back and read the beginning and I understand what you mean. Thanks for critiquing :). This is one of my favorites because I love reading about the dark and windy tundra-- and this is a modified version of a novel I'm writing, so when it's published you'll get to know more about RAVEN! (I modified it to fit the chase scene part of it; in the novel, Nash Mir is a place not a person, but I thought the name might work). Anyway, thanks again.

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13:20 Jul 23, 2020

Can you tell us what you are going to publish the novel on? Like, are you publishing it on ReedsyDiscovery or something else such as Bloomsbury, or Scholastic?

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Zilla Babbitt
13:21 Jul 24, 2020

I'll have to talk with my friend (we're writing together) but I think we'll go the more traditional route with queries and agents.

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14:02 Jul 24, 2020

Ok. Thanks! When it comes out, I'll definitely be on the lookout for it! What will the name of the novel be?

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Zilla Babbitt
16:48 Jul 25, 2020

So far, we have two working titles. "Blackwood" and "The Lantern". But those may change.

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14:37 Jul 14, 2020

Ooohhh...I thoroughly enjoyed it...as for a beginner in writing, i look up to your writing style, they way you describe things in such intricate manner..😊💙

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Zilla Babbitt
13:18 Jul 15, 2020

Thank you very much!

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16:29 Jul 15, 2020

O.M.G. Zilla, you keep amazing me with every story you write. I would love it if you would check out my new story, "Our treehouse" Thanks :D Juliette

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Zilla Babbitt
14:47 Jul 16, 2020

Thanks! Sure thing.

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Eva B
20:30 Jul 24, 2020

I loved the detail and the idea. I look forward to seeing more of your stories!

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07:02 Jul 24, 2020

I liked the strict rules and regulations of RAVEN. It makes it look like a super-secret organization like SHIELD or VILE (From Carmen Sandiego).

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Zilla Babbitt
14:15 Sep 03, 2020

Thanks! Also... the sequel is out! "Sugar Freedom."

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14:20 Sep 03, 2020

You're welcome! Oh, okay, I'll read it right now!

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Laura Clark
12:12 Jul 23, 2020

This was wonderful! The attention to detail was incredible and I really enjoyed how effortlessly skilled she was. There was absolutely no question of whether her pursuer could catch her (though I was half expecting a twist where she’d underestimated him). Very well controlled too. If you have time and are interested, feel free to check out mine.

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Zilla Babbitt
13:57 Jul 23, 2020

Thanks so much!

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B H
16:24 Jul 15, 2020

This was so amazing. I loved the intricacy of your writing. I have just started and this really helped me. Would you mind going through my story whenever you have time? I would love to know what you think about it. Thank you so much.

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Ranya Navarez
20:18 Jul 14, 2020

That was amazing! Wonderful job, Zilla! The instructions that RAVEN gave her about what would happen after she killed Nash Mir makes you feel like there is more to the story, leaving it off at a cliffhanger. Is RAVEN going to extract her after 36 hours? Or are they not? If they don't, will Felmine survive or will she take her own life? (I think I read that part right; correct me if I didn't.) Or will she decide to change her life if RAVEN never comes for her? I know story doesn't answer those questions, and it doesn't have to, but it definit...

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Zilla Babbitt
13:18 Jul 15, 2020

Thank you so much! I really didn't intend to imply that she could take her own life; I meant that she could live there the rest of her life. But actually, perhaps that fits with the RAVEN program!

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Ranya Navarez
16:57 Jul 15, 2020

Lol! You're welcome!

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Zilla Babbitt
14:15 Sep 03, 2020

Thought I should let you know I actually did write a sequel, it's up now. "Sugar Freedom."

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Ranya Navarez
23:35 Sep 04, 2020

Yay! I've been super busy lately, so I'm actually behind on several of your stories, and on the stories of many others. But I would love to read them as soon as I can!

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Zilla Babbitt
00:31 Sep 05, 2020

Thanks! No rush of course :)

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Jn Park
14:09 Jul 14, 2020

How would I explain how I feel right now? I'm a quick scanner. I usually don't go reading from line to line. But something unique -something that cannot be described only by beautiful or amazing or nice-pulls me hard and makes me read from word to word. Whenever I read your stories, I realize that this is no joke and that I'm dealing with something professional! (Are you a proffessional? Don't tell me that you're not.....I won't believe it!) I would like to know more about what happened to Felmine. Her character is very odd yet intriguing.

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Zilla Babbitt
14:23 Jul 14, 2020

This means so very much to me! I am so happy to have gotten a skim-reader to read thoroughly (I'm a skim reader myself most of the time). As for professional... I don't know. I've been on Reedsy about a year now and I'm working on a novel and I've sent out stories to magazines. I'm so glad you like Felmine! This is an adaptation of a novel I've just started to write-- I've gotten about thirty pages now-- and so I guess you will get to know more about her! Thanks again, very much.

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14:41 Jul 14, 2020

Would you mind mentioning about your released novel on your bio? I'd love to read it. And could you also tell me what your book is about? I'm just curious, but it's fine if you don't want to disclose anything at this moment☺ Have a great day ahead!

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Zilla Babbitt
14:44 Jul 14, 2020

Oh, thanks! It's not released yet, the one I'm talking about. It's not even finished! But when it is, I will be certain to mention it :)

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14:51 Jul 14, 2020

No problem!

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Rhondalise Mitza
15:55 Jul 14, 2020

Yeah, let me know, too, Zilla! I'd love to read any novels you have written or are writing. You have your fan club here on Reedsy for sure.

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Ranya Navarez
20:21 Jul 14, 2020

Yay! I'm so glad that there is more to the story!

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John Del rio
16:18 Aug 23, 2020

so well written like all of your stories that i have read so far. Felmine Heroine/Anti-Heroine? the semi-fantastical setting: "Siberian wind" and her pursuer being defeated as so many others have been; by the "Russian weather", is intriguing. i am a big fan of fantasy fiction. i wonder/hope that the organization RAVEN is an acronym, like S.P.E.C.T.R.E. i wonder how long Felmine is going to be in the safe house. i also want to know more about the " soft city dweller" who was pursuing her. even though she has a lot of disdain for city dw...

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Zilla Babbitt
14:17 Sep 03, 2020

Thank you! This one is actually part of a novel I'm writing. "Assassin"'s sequel is up now, a continuation called "Sugar Freedom."

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💙 sarah 💙
13:42 Jul 29, 2020

This was super cool! It reminded me a lot of Jennifer A. Nelson's writing, and Felmine is a super cool character! Have you by any chance wrote any other stories about Nash Mir? I'd like to see why RAVEN wanted him dead.

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Zilla Babbitt
14:18 Jul 29, 2020

No short stories, but this particular one is based off a book that I am writing with a friend. In the book, Nash Mir is a place not a person, and Felmine is working against RAVEN, but it's the same style, people, and world.

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💙 sarah 💙
15:08 Jul 29, 2020

Oooooh ok.

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Khadija S.
12:44 Jul 20, 2020

A wonderful story. A particularly beautiful aspect, is that we aren't really specifically told which organization is the one we should be rooting for.

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Zilla Babbitt
13:57 Jul 23, 2020

Thank you!

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Aurora De boer
00:09 Jul 20, 2020

sounds great I like the aspect you took it from writing your story, and I just overall thought its was a captivating piece of writing.

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Corey Melin
02:08 Jul 17, 2020

A story of anticipation with superb imagery that kept you reading to the end

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Zilla Babbitt
01:02 Jul 19, 2020

Thank you!

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Sav G
02:34 Jul 16, 2020

Loved this story and the anticipation that it built throughout this story. If you’re free, please check out my story too as I’m new to Reedsy:) no pressure. Keep writing!

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Timothy Li
01:13 Jul 16, 2020

The suspense made this really enjoyable! :)

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Zilla Babbitt
14:38 Jul 16, 2020

Thanks!

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Rodrigo Juatco
18:09 Jul 14, 2020

You have a very descriptive writing style. As an aspiring screenplay writer, I appreciate that. Good story. Well written.

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Zilla Babbitt
13:18 Jul 15, 2020

Thank you!

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Felicity Pathis
14:38 Jul 14, 2020

You are an amazing writer! If you have time, could you look at some of my stories and give a bit of feedback? No rush.

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Zilla Babbitt
13:24 Jul 15, 2020

Thank you! I certainly will when I have time :)

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