With the new information, she and Mark had actually started to bond. He was interested in how time developed as he was sleeping, and she was perfectly alright with telling him everything she knew around her.
They slept in the cave when the dimmed light disappeared altogether, and when she woke up the next morning, she realized two things; Mark actually wasn’t as scary as he first seemed, and that she was hungry.
Mark was still asleep when she woke up, so she had to find breakfast before he did wake up. Why he wanted to sleep after three hundred years of sleep, she didn’t know. As he slept, however, she opened up the survival pack she had and blinked at all the things in it. There were clothes, matches, first aid kits, bags and bags of emergency food and medication, empty pieces of paper (she assumed they were there in case she wanted to write up a few maps in the future), and as of currently, the box that had once held Mark’s ring. The bag was actually bottomless, thanks to an enchantment performed by some warlock she never knew.
She grinned at the food in the bag and pulled out a couple of bags, looking them over carefully. The food had already been prepared thanks to another witch, and she left one of the bags of food with Mark before carefully making her way outside of the cave with a spare change of clothes found in the bag.
She wasn’t sure if anyone saw her there, and she didn’t exactly think anyone would want to see her bathe, so she did her business in the pond-, which now looked more like a river as its stream coursed the valley smoothly.
When she walked back into the cave, Mark was already awake and done eating, though he looked up at her with a slight frown on his lips, “You wouldn’t happen to have any more food, would you?”
She couldn’t help but laugh at his words. He may have been hundreds of years old, but he was still a man, and men loved eating. Thankfully, for her, the enchantment stopped the backpack from running out of food, or else she'd really worry about how they were supposed to survive.
She sat down a few feet away from him and allowed herself to eat as well, though she continued to watch him curiously. He was obviously uncomfortable with her gaze and looked up at her with his cheeks slightly puffed out, and then blinked rapidly to make sure she was actually looking at him and he wasn’t imagining it.
“Is there something on my face?” He spoke with his mouth full and only then did she realize just how unattractive it was to see someone speaking with food in their mouth. She felt a little guilty for doing that to Cook Park, but she pushed that aside temporarily.
“Sorry, I was just wondering how you could have fit in the box.” She replied, looking down at her almost empty bag of food, consisting of rice and some sort of baked or curried chicken.
“We were cursed and put into our rings.” Mark answered anyway, and her head snapped towards him in worry.
“Don’t you want to be freed from the ring for good?” She asked, putting down her bag of food and frowning to herself as she thought of possible ways in which she could help him.
“Free?” Mark hummed and looked up at the cave ceiling before letting out a loose shrug, “Yeah, I’d like to be free, but it takes a boat load of magic for that and I don’t have that power on my own.”
She hummed as well and looked away in thought, thinking of ways she could help the guy. She didn’t know him well, and she didn’t have to free him, but a part of her said it was right of her to want to free him.
“Would one of the warlocks in town be able to help?” She turned to look at him again and felt her eyes widen when she caught him looking at her with an eyebrow raised in curiosity.
“You’d need the strength of several mages to set us free.” He said blankly, then gazing down at his fingers in dejection, “You could use us to set us free, but I don’t know where any of them are.”
She didn’t like seeing him like that, so she slowly inched closer and placed her hand in his hair. He jumped at the contact, and then stared at her in slight horror, but he started to calm down when she started running her fingers through his hair.
“I don’t know anything about you or the rest of the mages, but I’ll do my best to help you.” She spoke gently, and uncertainly. She honestly didn’t know why she wanted to help them, because she spent most of her time depending on herself.
Perhaps that was why she wanted to help Mark so badly; because she’d spent too much of her life being unimportant that as soon as an opportunity for her to help someone became available, she jumped at it.
“Why? What do you want in return?” His eyes narrowed at her, as if he both wanted to trust her and didn’t at the same time.
“Will you… be my friend until then?” She bowed her head and pulled her hand away from his hair, sure not to look at him in the face in case he would make fun of her or tease her.
“Your only request is for me to be your friend? Then you’ll help us find freedom?” Mark hummed once more and then stood up, holing a hand out to her.
She didn’t hesitate to take his hand, letting him pull her onto her feet, her half-empty bag of food flipped onto the floor as she stared at the male.
“You have yourself a deal!” Mark’s eyes suddenly brightened and he turned to the cave entrance excitedly, “Let’s go on an adventure together! I’m sure they’ll find the others as they go along.”
She felt taken aback by his sudden brightness, and she couldn’t hide back her own smile as she thought of how excited he was about the promise of freedom. She didn’t know how many friends he had that would be living with the same fate, and she didn’t know if she had what it took to free them, but she was certainly going to help them no matter what happened to her.
Pulling her hand away from his, she put her backpack back on and stretched out her arms before creeping to the entrance, “Mark, you weren’t awake for the past few decades, so I don’t think you know, but there are creatures everywhere around us that can kill us-”
“Don’t worry! I know martial arts, and with my magic, they won’t be able to come anywhere near us!” Mark shot her warning down easily and practically skipped out of the cave with her following carefully, her hands covering the pistols attached to her sides.
She could hear the hissing as soon as the two of them left the cave. They had probably become curious when seeing the sudden river form in a part of the forest that shouldn’t have had any running water.
Before she could even draw her gun, Mark held up a hand and swiped it over the air, and suddenly, time stilled. She stood in shock at the now frozen scene ahead of her, and Mark turned back to her with a wide grin.
“It won’t be still for too long, so let’s get going!” Mark didn’t wait for her to agree or disagree and started walking, sure that she wouldn’t refuse now that there wouldn’t be much danger.
As the pair started getting closer to the town barrier, she reached out and tugged on Mark’s shirtsleeve. Mark hadn’t expected that and jumped slightly before turning back to her.
“What if one of the others are in the town barrier as well?” She looked around them again and squinted her eyes, hoping she could see something or another.
Mark blinked as if he hadn’t thought about that before, and ran a hand through his hair, “You’re right, I haven’t thought of that before.” He reached out and took her hand in his again, flashing her a grin, “I’m going to let time run its course. We’ll have to run, unless you want to be caught by those things.”
She nodded, and Mark swiped the air with his free hand before breaking into a run. She was fast, but because Mark had longer legs than she did, she had a slight bit of trouble keeping up with the mage.
The hissing started up again, and when she threw a glance behind her, she gasped when noticing that they were actually just a few meters behind them.
“Crap.” Mark hissed to himself, looking back at them as well, “My powers won’t be complete until I’ve been reunited with the others, so I can’t do much.”
“Leave it to me.” She assured him, reaching for one of her pistols and allowing Mark to drag her along as she shot blindly at the things behind her.
“What are you aiming at?!” Mark demanded, and though his voice held amusement, she knew he was inwardly panicking that they had yet to outrun those things.
She wanted to slap him for pressuring her, since it was hard to aim as they were running in jagged lines to get those things that were gaining in numbers away from us. Only then had she noticed that they were running straight towards the town’s walls, and she turned back to look at Mark.
It was as if Mark felt her gaze, for he started speaking to her again as they continued running, “I figure they’re more concerned about the town so they’ll stop following us when they get further.”
Shaking her head, she couldn’t help but tug on his hand, “Yeah, they’ll stop because there are plenty more of those things outside of the barrier.”
His logic didn’t make sense and would most likely get her killed, so she persistently tried to make him turn around or at least go another way, but he kept running; and soon, they passed the border, finding themselves in a desert that stretched out for miles.
The worst part about it was that there was no place for the two of them to find cover.
The best part was that surprisingly, the desert didn’t seem to have any of those things around. Apparently, Mark’s words were right, and she noticed that those things had gone back the second they noticed they were leaving the barriers.
She stopped running as soon as she figured they were safe from any harm and replaced her pistols in their holsters, taking deep breaths as she waited for Mark to do the same.
“Why… did… they-… stop?” She panted, leaning forward with her hands on her knees as she stared up at Mark.
Unlike her, Mark looked unaffected by all the running they’d just done, and looked as if he could run for another few hours without tiring himself out.
“I’m not sure.” Mark said as he let his gaze wander around their surroundings. Other than cacti and wind, there was nothing in the desert. She was getting a little worried that perhaps they’d be stuck in the same place for a long time, “Come on, let’s keep going!”
Disgruntled and tired, she followed Mark, who had still been holding her hand as if she’d get lost should he let go of her. She was far too exhausted to get angry about it, though, and kept trailing after him, even though her body was sore. The two of them walked continuously without getting anywhere special.
The male next to her was far more excited about the adventure than she was, it seemed, as he kept going even though neither of us knew what to expect, and his slight skip was still present as they walked forward. He was like a giant child, and she didn’t know what to feel about it.
Finally, as the sun was starting to go down and the winds started getting chillier, Mark and she started seeing what was like an oasis nearby. She knew Mark was disappointed because it wasn’t a resting place of one of his brothers, but she was relieved that they’d found a place of resting for the night. It was starting to get freezing cold in the desert, and she needed to find a way for us to set up a fire and rest in warmth until morning came.
Despite his whining and stubborn callings of, “I’m not tired” and “I want to keep going,” Mark eventually gave in to her demands and the two of us pitched up a tent she had found in her bag of never ending supplies. There was no way for her to light a fire without timber, however, so the two of us simply huddled together to stay warm that night.
"Charlotte? Thanks again, for agreeing to help me find my brothers.”
Mark’s voice was soft, and she supposed it was because he noticed she was slipping into dreamland. She wanted to stop him from thanking her, since she wasn’t sure of what she could do for him or his brothers, but she had suddenly felt too tired to speak and allowed herself to drift off into her dreams.
Only to find herself in a field of wind turbines.