He kept his bow held out before him, eyes scanning the barren desert around them. Ever since the Sand Cobras attacked them, Gavin had been paranoid they’d appear out of the sand again. He was terrified of being caught off guard again.
Ronin rode close by, his leg brushing against Gavin’s every once in a while. He glanced over at Ronin, his chest tightening. Thanks to Fallon’s healing magic, she had closed his wounds and prevented infection. Unfortunately, the Ranger was still incredibly weak due to the amount of blood he had lost.
When they were attacked, the Cobra using earth magic had used the desert to consume many of their already meager supplies. They were now running low on food and supplies, and between the four travelers, their horses, and Lyssa, they had two, maybe three day’s worth of water, and the next oasis wasn’t for several days.
He sighed, his head throbbing dully. He looked over at his other companions, frowning. Fallon’s shoulders were hunched forward, her head bowed as she squinted against the bright sun. Ren was sleeping in the saddle, her body moving along with the horse’s movements. He turned his gaze to the skies above, watching Ren’s dragons soaring above them.
“Fallon,” Gavin croaked. The elf jerked her head around, copper eyes widening. He shook his head and said, “We’re fine right now, but it’s almost noon. We should stop and rest for a while.”
Fallon nodded and glanced over at Ren. She frowned, reached over, and poked her arm. Ren cried out and jerked awake, spooking her horse. She glanced around, eyes wide as she assessed the situation. When she realized they weren’t in immediate danger, she glared at Fallon. “What is it?” she snapped.
“Would you call Nyra down for us?” she asked. “It’s almost noon.”
Ren nodded, and they all pulled on their reins to stop the horses. Gavin reached out and took Ronin’s reins, stopping the horse for him. Ronin gave him a confused look through bleary eyes, and Gavin leaned over to press a quick kiss to his cheek. “It’s time for a break,” he said.
Ronin nodded and dismounted, stumbling as his feet touched the ground. Gavin nearly leaped from his saddle as he hurried to Ronin’s side, catching him before he fell. Ronin mumbled his thanks, and they unsaddled the horses and began setting up a temporary camp.
Moments later, Nyra landed heavily on the earth, followed closely by the younger dragons. They each greeted Ren, and then Nyra laid on her stomach and stretched her wings out over them. The travelers huddled under the shade she provided, sighing in relief. The young dragons rested on one side of Nyra, while Gavin and the others stayed on the other side. He watched Ren as she leaned against Nyra’s side, folding her arms and closing her eyes. Fallon checked the saddlebags and supplies, counting their remaining stock.
Gavin handed Ronin his canteen. He gave him a grateful smile, then drank some of his water. Gavin took only a few sips before handing the rest of his to Ronin. He frowned, staring at the canteen held before him before looking up at Gavin. “What’s this?” he asked.
“Well, this is called a canteen,” Gavin said. “And inside of it is a lovely thing called water. It helps keep you hydrated.”
Ronin rolled his eyes. “I mean, why are you giving me your share?”
“You need it more than I do,” Gavin said, pushing the canteen toward him again.
Ronin shook his head. “No,” he said. “You need it just as much as I do.”
Gavin frowned. “I’m not the one that lost a lot of blood,” he snapped. He sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose, squeezing his eyes shut. “I’m sorry,” he murmured. “I didn’t mean to snap. Just… please take the damn water. It’ll make me feel better.”
He opened his eyes, staring into the depths of Ronin’s green gaze. The Ranger nodded reluctantly and took the canteen.
They rested until the hottest part of the day had passed. When Gavin woke, he saw that the others had gotten as much sleep as he had, which hadn’t been much. He had tossed and turned in the heat, even though he was covered in shade from Nyra’s wing.
They continued to travel, slowly dying in the heat and from lack of water. Ronin continued swaying in his saddle, his body threatening to topple over onto the sand. More than once Gavin reached out to steady him. Fallon and Ren continued to suffer under the heat as well. Gavin’s throat was dry, and his tongue felt thick like cotton. He was parched. He wanted nothing more than to have a sip of water, but he didn’t dare take any. Ronin needed his water more.
Soon, he found himself falling asleep in the saddle. He blinked furiously, gently slapping himself and shaking his arms to get his blood flowing. Don’t fall asleep, he fiercly told himself. Don’t… fall asleep…
Try as he might, he couldn’t keep his eyes open, and soon, he was falling into oblivion.
Gavin cried out and jerked upright in the saddle. Then he realized he wasn’t in the saddle. He glanced around, taking in his surroundings. It was nighttime, the stars overhead winking at him. He turned his head, relief flooding over him when he saw Ronin leaning up against his saddlebag, sleeping.
It was Ren who had woken him. Gavin rubbed a hand over his face and said, “What is it?”
Worry creased her face as she pressed a hand to his forehead. “You’re burning up,” she murmured. She reached behind her and held out a full, thick canteen sloshing with water. “Here,” she said. “Drink this.”
Gavin shook his head. “No,” he groaned. “We don’t have much left.”
She smiled and then laughed. “Gavin, look.” She jerked her chin, gesturing behind him. He looked over his shoulder and gasped in surprise. There were dozens of campfires spread unevenly before him, surrounded by people. Some of the people at the nearby fire gave him strange looks, but otherwise, they kept to themselves.
“Where are we?” he asked. “What happened? Where’s Fallon?”
“Out there somewhere,” Ren said, gesturing to the people. “She said they’re a nomad tribe called the Nisham. They found us earlier today, and they offered to take care of us.”
Gavin laughed in relief. Of course, he thought. The Nisham were a tribe of nomads who were good samaritans. Some thought their only purpose in life was to find those who were dying in the desert and help them. They had helped Gavin and Daragh when they were fleeing to Azkadia several years ago.
“How’s Ronin?” he asked.
Ren smiled. “He’s doing fine,” she said. “He’s had some food and water. All he’s doing now is resting.” She stared at him for a moment, pondering. Then she said, “You should probably get something to eat. And drink the damn water, won’t you?”
She thrust the canteen into his hands again and stalked away. The enticing smell of cooking meat drew him closer to a nearby fire. He gathered some of the meat into his hands, then returned to Ronin on wobbling legs. He sat beside him, tearing ravenously into the food. He drank the entire canteen of water, unable to care that he was spilling some down his neck.
He gasped for breath as he finished the water, then tossed the canteen onto the sand beside him. Feeling very full and sleepy, he stretched out beside Ronin, using an arm as a pillow. Sensing him nearby, Ronin stretched an arm out over Gavin, pulling himself closer. Gavin shut his eyes, falling asleep to the deep, even breathing of his best friend.
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