14. Whatever is Coming
We slow down after about half a day, Eko now walking around the soft grass. There would be no way for Jakko to catch up to us and that thought alone made my chest ache. Even now, as we rode on, I couldn't find a reason good enough as to why I decided to leave him behind. I had made my mind up so easily, in a cloud of faulted judgement. But now, there was no going back.
"Ugh, can we just stop for a moment?" Thijs spoke from behind me, wiggling his body uneasily, "I don't think my body can handle sitting in this position much longer."
I patted Eko right behind the ear and he came to a slow stop, stretching his front paws forward as he laid on his stomach. Thijs and Sarn climbed down in a matter of seconds, stretching their limbs before they took out their flasks and drank. I climbed down slowly, chuckling at their obvious relief of being separated from the beast.
I stood in front of Eko, stroking the fur on his cheeks, thanking him softly for his help so far. He seemed to be the only one I could find comfort in, even if he homed sharp teeth behind his beautiful fur. He simply yawned, looking around the woods, his ears flicking as he listened to the wind. I lifted my head up to the air, feeling the breeze against my skin.
"C-can we stay the night here?" Sarn asked from behind me, his eyes frozen on the creature.
We had about five hours left of traveling to get to the pools and now, as I held Eko's fur in my hands and smelled the sweet air, I was in no particular rush to leave such a beautiful place. I nodded, sending both Sarn and Thijs a smile.
"Great!" Thijs exclaimed, taking off his pack and settling on a fallen log, "I'll start on dinner."
"Here." Sarn reached over, slowly, his eyes still on Eko and handed me his flask of water, "You must be thirsty."
I nodded my thank you and took the flask, throwing back my head and swallowing the last of its contents. But a pain shot up from the back of my throat to my jaw taken over by a tingling sensation.
It felt as if pins were endlessly pricking my gums and my tongue. I stood there, stretching out my mouth and my lips until the pain became bearable again. It couldn't possibly mean what I thought it meant, I refused to let my heart beat with that hope. It would only be devastatingly heartbreaking if it wasn't true.
I turned away from Eko and walked toward Thijs and Sarn with my eyebrows still furrowed in confusion. I sat down on the log next to Thijs with a loud sigh and dropped the flask by my foot.
If what I thought was happening, was actually happening, then that means I would have a normal life again. One day. My heart began to beat at a speed that it only ran at a couple of times in my life. I couldn't wait to tell-
"Aria?" I looked up from the ground, meeting their worried eyes, "Are you okay?" Sarn must've asked for the thousandth time.
I frowned deeper, nodding, realizing I would never be able to tell Jakko anything ever again. Dastan. I should've thought 'I can't wait to tell Dastan', but that wasn't the name etched into my brain.
They looked at each other before they shrugged their shoulders and continued working on our dinner. I stood up and began working on our sleeping areas, setting down the blankets and nets around us. Eko silently walked back from the depth of the woods with blood soaking his paws and the fur around his mouth.
Sarn grunted as he stood up, looking at him frozen in his spot. I chuckled at him as his face paled at the sight. Thijs chuckled as well, "At least we'll be able to sleep knowing he'll be able to protect us." Sarn nodded, still not looking away from the beast.
I looked over at Eko one last time before we moved to sit around the fire, ready to fill our bellies with Thijs's cooking.
An hour or two passed before we were laughing until our stomachs ached. Sarn sat down after playing out how he and Thijs had first met, both of them ending up in a mess.
"Now, I think you told some parts of that story differently than what I remember." Thijs looked at Sarn with teasing eyes, "Maybe I should-"
We all spun at the loud roar vibrating form Eko's throat. He jumped over to us, crouching in front of me. He placed himself between us and the woods, his ears up and ready to catch whatever sound would give away his enemy.
I walked back toward the men, huddling with them as we watched the woods, though none of us could hear or see anything. A low rumble began in E chest, growing as the hairs on his neck stood up. His claws came out from their hiding place and embedded themselves into the ground. Whatever was coming our way, he was not happy about it.
For the first time since I left his side, fear traveled through me. I was truly terrified that I had made the wrong choice. It wasn't just a doubt anymore, I knew.