Karina awoke to the sound of screaming and nearly jumped out of her bedroll. She looked around at the camp in a panic. She and her crew of Caravanners were stopping for the night while traveling south. There were a few tents put up around the one fire they made. Some were sleeping under the stars, the others in tents, but no one was awake except the sentry. Karina figured she must have been dreaming. She took note that they were still in the desert on their way South to trade goods for some Northern merchants.
The North is known for its quality ice and thick furs, so everyone was trading to get ready for a cold winter that’s brewing in a couple of months.
In mid-summer, it is warm enough for her to sleep under the stars without pitching her tent. The sky is clear, and the night is still, not a gust of wind to rattle the shrubs that grew in the sand. It was the perfect night to see the constellations.
The camp sat on a rocky ridge that was the worn pathway to the Southern Forest region. Right out of sight from the road so that any passers-by won’t get any ideas of robbing the caravan crew. They were a few days ride to see some real trees and have freshly cooked meat. The rolling hills are perfect for grazing animals to roam and hunt. Until then, the group survived on herbs and some domestic jerky that they packed from the Northern Ice field.
Karina scanned the horizon again until she saw a dark figure in the shadows on the edge of the camp. She soon realized it was only Jenson. The sentry shift changed every 4 hours, and right now, Jenson kept watch on the perimeter. He is one of the best watchers of the group and has incredible eyesight at night. He always knows when raiders are coming, like a mouse keeping an eye on the sky for owls wanting a fresh meal.
Karina got out of her bedroll, which was a sweaty mess. “Must have been an intense dream,” she thought. Jenson, of course, already knew she was walking over.
“Hey, Karina. Couldn’t sleep?” Jenson asked without even turning to her.
He was always an elusive creature, and the girl never quite understood his mannerisms, but he pulled his weight in the group. Karina still had a crush on him but gave up on any indication of them being together. He never showed interest, and there was something off about him. Jenson’s brown eyes seemed to have so much more going on, even though they looked like any other Western man.
He was tall and broad-shouldered. Not too muscular but built, and his skin was tan like sandstone. He wore Western armor, made of a reinforced leather breastplate, with a metallic shine. He had his sword strapped on his back and throwing knives strapped to his chest along with his beloved dagger. Jenson never left his tent without a weapon on him. He says that he needed to be ready for any attack.
Karina loved to admire him since he had long dark hair pulled back into a high ponytail with tiny little braids. Beads of yellow and red intertwined in his hair, indicating where he was initially born, the Western Desert Mountains. The group doesn’t know why Jenson left his hometown, and no one seemed to care enough to ask.
Everyone in the group was from a different region and represented their culture respectfully, even spoke different accents, but that made them work well together.
Karina stood by Jenson, watching the horizon for any sign of raiders. The campsite they picked for the night had the higher ground to have the advantage against any raiders. The chance for an attack was slim to none, but something still bothered her. Who was calling her name?
“Did you scream my name? I swore I heard someone say my name when I woke up.” Karina wondered since she is confused about the whole ordeal.
It didn’t feel like a dream, and the way she bolted awake made it seem like trouble was happening. Like raiders invading, but there was nothing.
“No, I didn’t say your name, and I heard nothing. Maybe Lamont is talking in his sleep again. He is sleeping near you.” Jenson replied, nodding over to the lump sleeping on the ground.
Karina turned slightly to look at Lamont, pondering if the voice she heard was his. It is true, Lamont is terrible at sleeping through the night, always having night terrors unless he has some personal medicine to unwind. Often requests to be on night watch shift. He is the same age as Karina but had seen so many atrocities from growing up in the Eastern Plains that Lamont has terrible dreams that woke him up. He would scream in terror so loud that it would wake most of the crew. Of course, he never called Karina’s name out in the middle of the night. Why would it be different this time?
After a few minutes of deliberating, Karina didn’t want to dwell on it anymore. She was exhausted and, after that scare, didn’t want to sleep.
“Maybe…. Hey, I can finish your shift for the night, if you want? I don’t think I can sleep anymore.”
Jenson didn’t answer the question and became strangely quiet. He stood there, leering into the darkness. His action worried her, the man was the best at night watch, and his leering made her believe that there was something out there. Karina stared into the darkness, only using the light of the moon to try to see into the miles of desert.
“What is it? Raiders?” Karina asked with a slight panic in her voice, but Jenson only shook his head.
“No, nothing out there but mice.” He turned and gave a reassuring smile.
Even in the night, Karina could see his perfect pearly white teeth. It always melted her heart. He put his hand on her shoulder.
“Go back to bed and watch the stars; your exhausted and need your strength. You might fall asleep again.”
Karina just stared at him and shrugged. She felt compelled to agree with him and his logic. “All right, I’ll try.”
Karina traveled back to her bedroll and laid down, looking at the stars. She remembered when she was a young girl; her father would show her the stars when they lived in the Northern Icefields. Though her childhood was a bit fuzzy, she had crisp memories that she would look back on to give her comfort. Now, in the desert, all the constellations seem different. Some she can still find at this time of year, like Gaia the warrior, Thyr the Lion, and Fredrik the shepherd.
As she laid there, her mind started to drift. She could feel her body become cumbersome and the sensation of sleep overcoming her. She turned her head in time to see Jenson standing close to her, starring. Then she drifted to a peaceful sleep.
Jenson watched Karina for a while until he felt like the girl was asleep. He hated using his abilities on the crew, but sometimes it was for the best. He left to patrol the perimeter of the camp. Jenson was concerned about Karina hearing someone calling her name. He told the truth when he said, ‘I heard nothing’ because he could hear everything, but he did feel a shift in the night. The wind changed for a split second, and that was unusual. Jenson distrusted any and everyone. If something new or different happened, he examined it until he found a suitable answer.
For example, the one tuft of grass that grew out of a crack in the rock. It bothered him and made him suspicious. Nothing grows in the desert except for shrubs on the outer rim. In the middle, there is nothing but sand; not even animals can survive. The crew decided to camp where no plant should grow through the rock even if there were close to the outer regions. Of course, as he monitors the perimeter of the camp, that tuft of green grass is on it his mind. Well, that problem and what had happened with Karina.
The girl awoke from the dead of sleep, saying she heard someone say her name was highly unusual. Ever since he met Karina, he had an instant connection with her. They got along great, and he could see being with her, but it would never work out, so he kept his distance. She is different from the others, her mind is sharp, and her aura is strange to him. He could read anyone that came near him, but she was an enigma that he had a hard time deciphering.
Jenson continued to watch through the night as he thought of who was talking to Karina and the strange grass that grows. Before he knew it, the sun was rising, and the camp started to stir. He couldn’t dwell on it anymore, so he went to wake everyone to start the new day.