CHAPTER 49 - The Promise (2)
Treya sat comfortably on the tree limb, her back resting against the trunk. She had her hood pulled low enough that it hid her face, but not so much that she couldn’t see. She casually searched the surrounding forest for prey while she tried to sort through the maelstrom that was her mind.
Part of her wanted to forgive him. He hadn’t even done anything wrong, exactly. In fact, if he hadn’t taken out those people, she might have tried to.
It was the other part of her that she was having trouble reconciling with. The deep, primal, unavoidable fear that overtook her whenever she closed her eyes and saw him wearing that wicked smile as blood flew from his fists.
She shuddered as the memory hit her, nearly causing her to fall from the tree. She reached out to wrap an arm around the trunk to keep her balance. The sudden motion must have startled a nearby animal because she heard the sound of something running away through the foliage.
“He is not even here, and he manages to make everything a mess!”
She looked around, hoping nobody heard her talking out loud to herself. Such a bad habit, she really needed to overcome it. With a self-satisfied smile, she returned her attention to scanning the forest for potential food.
“Not like anyone would be this deep in the forest, anyhow.”
A sudden voice startled her, the memorable cadence creating goosebumps all over her skin.
“But if I wasn’t this deep in the forest, I wouldn’t have found you, ya know?”
This time, Treya fell from her perch. Honed reflexes took over, and she was able to grab a hold of the branch she had been on moments before. As she dangled with her feet a dozen feet above the ground, Alex looked up at her and smiled.
It wasn’t the smile that assaulted her despite her best efforts. It was a warm, genuine, friendly expression, like when he had first called them friends in the castle. He walked below her, waving as he did so. Once beneath her, he held out his arms and crouched a bit.
“Right, so I wanna make a deal. I save you, and you help save me. Whaddaya say, Treya?”
The conflicted woman stared at him between her feet. That turmoil raged in her mind, fueled by the confusion as to how he was able to find her so easily. She had done everything she could to cover her tracks over the last 24 hours, and it made no sense to her.
“Why are you here, Alex? Surely there are better uses for your time, yes?”
“I guess that depends on who you ask.”
“Like me. I think we should just let you go.” ALICE sounded as irritated as ever, to the elf.
“Yeah, but since when do I ever listen to you?”
“Not often enough, that’s for sure! Imagine how many fewer scars you’d have if you would just obey me like a good boy.”
Treya started to laugh. A small giggle, soft at first but slowly building to a full-bodied effort. Here was the man she had originally admired from the moment she saw him. The one who killed Flare Wolves, saving her life, and cracked jokes when the situation got serious. In that moment, Treya made up her mind to at least hear out what Alex had to say.
She didn’t think she’d be convinced, but she owed him the courtesy of hearing his side of the story, didn’t she?
She let go of the tree and began to fall towards the waiting arms. As she fell, she spied another figure approaching in the distance.
Aundell thought to herself about how nothing could remove the smile from her face. Every time it seemed like it would vanish, she recalled Alex as he destroyed the demons who had angered him so. The sheer beauty of a man fighting for his beliefs with naught but raw strength brought thoughts to her mind that would be better off left not spoken aloud.
She continued to walk through the damaged village, restoring fatigue to the survivors as they exhausted themselves from rebuilding. In only a few days, the recovery was astounding, and several of the structures that had made it through the fires were looking complete. One had been set up as the temporary town hall and was the focus of most of the activity in the village.
Aundell smiled and waved at the people leaving the front door. They returned her happy expression, and she was struck by how resilient these humans could be. Such an atrocity had happened, and many of their loved ones were dead, but they could still smile so… wholly. Her own kind grieved for no less than a decade when they lost a family member. It was easier to do so when you could live for millennia, she supposed.
She passed through the door before it shut behind the villagers, finding a well-lit but bare room walled in with stone. A rough, makeshift table had been built, and Celia sat behind it, looking like she’d been there for the last four days straight. Celia looked up and gave a weary smile. The grin faded quickly when Aundell latched the door behind her, ensuring nobody else would interrupt.
Still wearing her bright smile, Aundell stepped forward and placed her hands on the table, staring into Celia’s eyes.
“You and I, Princess? We need to talk.”