They were not at the portal, though someone had surely killed all these fools. They had not been in the village, or the swamps and hills; and Malice was getting quite frustrated.
It had been hours since her blade had tasted the cold, metallic sweetness of blood, not that she was complaining; but her feet hurt, and Markus would not let her blink her way around. Their eyes had to stay sharp, they had to be able to see, hear, smell and feel their surroundings; and one could not do that when blinking in, unannounced.
‘How do you know what you’re blinking into? You don’t, and I have given far too much blood, I am useless to you, until I feed!’
Yeah, and arguing with the bastard was out of the question. Been there, done that; not a pretty picture. He had been good to go a few hours ago, but now.
Markus was a Vampire, one with royal blood running through his veins; but even he needed to feed. Problem was that the idiot wouldn’t feed from anyone, but Zahara.
“You good to go?” Malice asked him, as he put the cap on his flask and tucked it away in his jacket pocket. Brown, shoulder length hair, and a set of blue eyes that could ‘...entrap you in their gaze and never let you go!’
Or at least, that was how Zahara described them. To Malice, he was a fine warrior, but far from what she would consider bringing to her bed. He was a mated male, totally off the market, and that made him totally off Malice’s radar.
“They can’t be far, right?” He chuckled, and started off towards the mountains.
“They’ll probably find the base before they find the others!”
“Bathsheba will find them!” “But you told her to stay!” Markus cocked a brow at her.
“And she is damn near sixteen years old, do you actually think she listened?” Malice rolled her eyes.
“You go on ahead then! I’ll catch up!” Markus told her, “She’ll need you!”
“Like she needs a swift kick in the ass! She’s a walking talking bag of attitude!” Malice grumbled. “What happened to that sweet cherub face and those fat, pudgy fingers?”
“Pathen!” Markus growled.
“Exactly! He took those innocent little fingers and made the curl back into a fist, striking at my heart with words of ice.”
“No, Malice!” He shook his head, and pointed to a wall nearby. “It reads Pathen, in the old Vampire language!”
“But there is a strike through it.” Malice was confused, as that usually meant he had been tagged for a bounty.
“I thought they were working for him, not against him?”
“It would seem that we were wrong, at least where these Vampires are concerned!” He laughed, reading what was left of what had been written.
“Says he betrayed them! Sold them out to the enemy, and then left them here to rot... The rest is illegible!”
“So he tricked them into doing his bidding, and now they’ve flipped sides cause their asses got cut loose!” Malice grumbled again.
“Worthless cowards, I guess the money wasn’t enough?” “Watch your tongue!” Markus shot out, “Not all of my kind, are worthless and dingy!”
“I didn’t say that!” She blurted out in her own defense. “Just, some of them!”
“So we both have issues with our Kin, let’s have a party!” He chuckled, but a noise up ahead had them scrambling to the side.
Up a little further, in a clearing off the beaten path, was a small wagon, toppled over and spilling its contents all over the place.
“Looks to me like a trap!” Malice sighed.
“Yup!” Markus added,
“Should we ‘fall’ for it!” He chuckled quietly.
“Seems only right, since they went out of their way and all!” She smiled at him.
“So, do you want to play the injured fool, or should I?”
“You do it! I’ll hold the bow back here!” He grinned, pulling Madrina’s bow from his back, and readying an arrow.
“You know how to use that thing?”
“Of course, the pointy end goes into the bad guy!” Markus laughed, “Or so I have been told!”
Malice laughed, and then vanished from sight, appearing again just a little ways away. From there she moved through the darkness, staying in the shadows as she crept across the cold hard ground. Everywhere she looked, the corpses of warriors and civilians alike, littered the forest floor like a mass carpet of blood and steel.
Oh, to fall in battle, was the best way to go! She approached the cart up ahead, with its spilled food and broken wheel; and then she saw the shimmering facade.
If the Valkyrie didn’t know better, and if she was hungry enough, this would be almost too good to resist; far too good, to be true. Malice stalked the wagon, making sure to leave no barrel unopened, no chest left un-searched.
Everything seemed fine and dandy, and when she opened her mind, taking a deep breath as she unleashed her senses, she knew everything she needed to know and she laughed.
“Markus?” She called out for him, and then again when the Vampire did not reply.
“For the love of... MARKUS?” She shouted this time. The bushes behind her parted, and the giant male appeared at her side. “So, not a trap?” He grumbled, still holding the bow up and scanning the area.
“Oh, it’s a trap alright!” She laughed, “But I think...” She paused for a moment, examining the intricate latticework of the Valkyrie style trap.
“Why, that little minx.” She chuckled.
“What is it?” Markus queried “Not what, who?” Malice corrected him.
“Bathsheba created this.” She added quite proudly. “I thought she was supposed to stay...” He started.
“Almost sixteen!” Malice reminded him with another laugh.
“I don’t know what you’re laughing for, I’ve heard some pretty bad horror stories about the teenage years.”
“Just back off, and I’ll handle this.” Malice grinned, and backed off about a hundred feet. She put up her own shield and picked up a rock.
“Fire in the hole!” She shouted as she tossed the rock at the shield. The moment the rock hit, the cart inside it detonated in a immense blue and white display electrical current.
The intensity of the shock wave surprised even Malice, as it sent her tumbling across the ground.
“Holy shit, asshole! You could have warned me that was coming!” Markus growled, pulling himself off the ground as well.
“I said, fire in the hole!” Malice rolled her eyes, and proceeded to check out the cart.
“Your daughter made that?”
“I’m just as surprised, and out right proud as you are! Little brat has some skills!”
“And an attitude to boot!” Markus shook his head.
“I watched her give Kember a what for, and then storm off, like she was all that and a bag of chocolate!”
“She what?” Malice’s face dropped her cool dude, and picked up with the glum chum.
“Fuck!” “Kember didn’t say anything?” Markus laughed, “Figures!”
“What do you mean, figures?”
“She’s not going to start a fight over it, so neither should you!” Markus cocked a brow at her.
“Oh, there won’t be a fight!” Malice laughed, “Maybe a few choice words.”
“Did you hear that?” Navina let out, “Over that way!” She pointed towards where the lash of light had let off among a small grouping of trees.
“We have to be close!” Kember added, “And that there, looks like the creek we followed.”
“We’ll have to tread lightly, the Angels may have given the all clear from the air, but there are shadows in these woods, and shadows harbor nasty things within them.” Lord Eroch sighed and shook his head.
“We should scout up ahead, see if we can find anything!” Lync cut in, “Navina and the others should rest.” He added, glaring at Kordahn.
“I’m fine!” Zahara let out, “If that explosion is anything.” But her words were cut short, as yet another kaboom, sounded off behind them.
“If those signs back there are any indication of what’s happened here, those could just be leftovers!” Her Father chuckled, and handed her his flask.
“Thanks!” She replied after taking a swig, and handed it back to him.
“We are heading North still?”
“North East!” Kordahn corrected her, and Lync glared at him.
Yup, her mate did not like her brother, and this was going to be an interesting night!
Navina had no idea where they were, or if Kember could even remember, being that it was dark; everything looked so different.
“Wait, how the hell do you know?” Zahara inquired, and even Lord Eroch turned to question the male with his eyes.
“I have seen the makeshift hut the Warrior made for them!” Kordahn replied, just as the sound of wings filled the air.
“My Lord?” Nissa called out as his feet touched the ground. “
They are hidden well, my Lord, and there are no fires to speak of their location!”
Navina could see the worry in his eyes, and for a moment, felt the heart ache in his chest. He wanted to find Madrina so badly, the fear and frustration was tearing him apart.
“You have found nothing?” Kordahn let out. “Well, we did find the base.” His second replied with a smirk, a male who stood a few inches shorter than Nissa, with hair the color of the sun.
“Or what was left of it!”
“Nyx and Euphamia, my Lord!” Nissa chuckled, “And a small hut, torn by the winds near the base of the cliffs.”
“Near the cave mouth, and the little creek?” Kember let out.
“There was a creek, yes!” Nissa replied, “But the place had been torn down, and the fire smothered."
“They were there, Nissa!” Kember told him, “Malice found that little hut, and covered it in branches so one couldn’t see the boards beneath it!”
“I wondered how they came to be out in the middle of nowhere!” Nissa’s second laughed again.
“Now I know!” “She pulled them from the wreckage, before she passed out! When she awoke, she ordered Markus to escort me to the portal. She said no matter what, one of us had to bring back help... and that was the last I saw of them; in that little hut, pushed up against the mouth of a cave.”
“Was there a cave?” Lord Eroch inquired, and then nodded his head after Nissa.
“Show me!” And with that, he and the Angel, were gone. Navina took a look around, watching as Lync and Kordahn faced off in a stare down, and Zahara waited for her Father to return as she and Kember chartered back and forth.
With the darkened skies, came the cold chill that whipped past each of them as they stood off to one side; the wild, coming to life all around them as they listened to the echoes in the wind
. “That’s so creepy!” Kember let out, shuddering as another howl filled the night sky.
“They’re just wolves! It’s not like these ones can change!” Zahara assured her.
“They’ll still try to eat you!” Kember stuck her tongue out, just as Lord Eroch returned.
“They were there!” He told Zahara, and was about to turn towards Kember, when a twig snapped in the darkness, followed by an arrow that he caught, right before it impaled into his chest.
“That will be the last mistake you ever make, unless of course you choose to run now!” The Lord of Darkness growled.
“Show yourself, and make your intentions known!” A figure emerged from the shadows, hood up and over its head that hung low.
“Please, forgive me?”
“For the love of everything that is sacred.” Lord Eroch stood there, and the female dropped her cloak.
“I did not know it was you, Papa!” She let out, her head still hung and her vibrant red streaks hanging in long locks about her face.
“Bathsheba? Where are the others?” Kember inquired, as Lord Eroch mouthed the female’s name in silence and awe.
“Hidden!” Sheba replied, glaring at her from the corners of her eyes. “Something set off my traps, it was no longer safe!”
“Then where are they?” Kember asked, as nicely as she could.
“Safe and warm!” The young female grinned, giving Kember only half answers.
“We need to see them!” Was this really happening? Was Bathsheba really cocking an attitude; now?
“Not until I know that it is truly you!” Bathsheba grinned, holding her blade out for Kember to take.
“You are a Witch, true?”
“Yes?” Kember glared back at her, “Are you asking for proof, cause I bleed for no one!”
“Then how am I to know that you are who you say you are? You could be some half with Shadow Bitch, out to steal my Father from me!”
“That is enough!” Lord Eroch shouted, appearing between Kember and Bathsheba.
“You know who I am, true?” He inquired with one brow cocked, and Bathsheba nodded her head.
“Then you know, that I won’t put up with anyone’s shit, right?”
“Of course!” Bathsheba sighed, and handed him her blade.
“You loose an arrow at me and mine, and then you ask for the blood of a female who has done nothing, but love and protect your Mother? Seriously, whatever it is, get the fuck over it!” He growled at the young female, and waited for her reply.
“You can’t talk to... My Mother will...”
“Your Mother will what? Thank me for teaching you some manners, so she doesn’t have to deal with your shit herself? And don’t you dare say another word, I have suffered far worse than you!”
“Yeah, her name’s Euphamia!” Zahara laughed, but then buttoned it when her Father’s glare turned on her.
“Sorry!” She giggled again, and Navina knew it was so true. Bathsheba stood there before Lord Eroch, hands on her hips and a wicked glint in her eye.
“Ugh, fine!” She sighed and waved her hand, unveiling the small cottage she had hidden in a bubble.
“See? That wasn’t so hard, was it?” Lord Eroch smiled at her, and made his way towards the door, nodding for her to let the walls fall.
“Ugh!” Bathsheba let out again, and with a flick of her wrist she took off into the night. Gods, how was Kember going to fix this? Bathsheba hated her, despised her.
Malice looked on up ahead, smelling the stench of death as they walked by the corpses that littered the ground.
The poor fools, too little too late. Joined the wrong side, they had, and she let out a soft chuckle.
“What was that?” Markus inquired, coming up on the path behind her.
“Uh, you really want to know?” She inquired, an idea popping into her head, that would make even the Insid regret, not burying the dead, and she made for one of the small huts that was still standing off to the side.
“Would you join me?” She grinned, shaking a small black bag in the air.
“I’m not in the mood for games, Malice!” He growled, taking in the savagery of the small village that used to surround them.
“Neither am I!” She glared back at him, and disappeared inside. Working quickly, she fell to her knees and emptied the small sac on the ground before her, and then drew the pentacle within its sacred circle.
Pricking one of her fingers, she let three drops of blood hit the soil, and raising her hands above her head, she felt the power building and her eyes began to glow like silver stars.
“Arise, children of the abyss! Arise, ye honored dead! Come forth, and avenge your murdered wives and children. Come forth and avenge your friends and loved ones. Arise now, warriors of the light, and cleanse their filth from your lands; one last time!” Her hands were waving about as she cast her magic, and Markus watched as the energy flowed from her hands like a glowing fog.
Wherever it landed, the corpses would rise; one at first, and then a dozen. He looked on in amazement at the small shack, as the ghostly fog radiated outward, and more of the dead began to rise.
Zahara had told him of the Valkyries and their relationship with the fallen, but this was the first time he had seen her magic in action, and Malice chuckled.
“Brains!” The voices of the dead rang out, and Malice couldn’t help but hold her gut as she howled; Markus on the other hand, didn’t seem to find it funny at all.
“Oh come on, Nyx would love this shit!” “I am not Nyx!” He huffed back at her. “And it would seem that the tales the Elder’s told the young are true, you can bring life, from death!” Markus remarked, and Malice watched the shudder run through him as he peered out of the doorway again.
“Well, I’m not a God, if that’s what you’re implying!” Malice sighed as she made her way past him and towards the path they had taken.
“It’s more of a parlor trick, compared to creating an Einherjar. I’m just using the spectral energy to reanimate them, and any Insid or Vampire not fast enough, or too stupid to know when to run, deserves to be eaten.” She grinned and made to lead the way, only to find her footing misplaced and a pit of razor sharp spikes staring back at her. The only thing holding her back from certain doom, was the Vampire.
“So, does this make me the hero, this time?” He chuckled, hauling her back from the edge. “And that, is the only downfall with your little side show; they, floated over, the danger you almost landed in!”
“Oh, for crying out loud!” She shook her head, but there was no denying it, he had saved her life. “I swear, that little She-Devil and I are going to have words.”
“Who, Mia? Or Bathsheba?”
“Both!” She glared back at him.
“Someone had to teach her how to lay those traps!” “And you think yelling at her is going to solve anything?”
“What are you, a shrink? Gods, Markus, she was just a baby a few weeks ago, and a few days ago, she was five!”
“And now she’s running around like a miniature version of Mia, and what? That scares you?”
“You’re bloody right, it does!” She spat back at him. “Five to fifteen, over night?”
“From what I’ve been told, back in your temple, she would have been fully trained by now, and would have completed, not one, but two of her initiate quests.” Markus cocked a brow at her, as the crowd of Ghosts took to the trees.
“But she has never set foot in the temple! She knows nothing of our ways!” Malice shook her head. “She’s an insolent child...”
“Who managed to outwit you, Malice! First Justicar of the Celestial Order, and her own Mother. She almost took you out, twice!”
“The wagon didn’t count.”
“But this pit does!” He laughed. “You gotta give her props for that!” Props, yes; after she had given her a nice long chat, and straightened that attitude out.
Nyx and Mia had attitudes enough for everyone, she didn’t need her daughter giving her any.
“Hey? Up ahead!” He pointed out, as someone took off running from behind a wall. Malice could see the tail end of the cloak as it disappeared into the bushes, only to emerge a few seconds later, followed by one of her spectrals.
“See, totally handy!” She laughed, and carried on towards the poor bastard as Markus groaned.
“Let’s go, Nissa!” Lord Eroch bellowed, and the Angel followed him towards the door of the small cottage; weary of what he might find. Kember led the way, stepping over the small foot bridge and across the little patio. The handle was but a few feet away, when it opened for her, and she took a step inside.
“It is safe!” Ben called out to her from inside.
“My sister would never leave us in a place that would harm our Father!” He smiled at her as she popped her head in for a look-see and felt an odd sense of relief. “Come, they are awake?”
“Madrina?” Nissa called out to her, only to hear the sweet, innocent cries of a newborn child; and then another, as the curtains parted.
“Oh Gods...” He gasped, and fell to his knees with tears in his eyes and his female came forward, carrying not one, but two of the tiniest little things he had ever seen.
Kember smiled, rushing to help Madrina sit down in a nearby chair with a child in each arm and the Angel crawled forward and rubbed his head in her lap.
Nothing mattered more in that moment, than the intense bout of love that he had for her and the young she had bore him; and the glow he left off as he received one of them from their Mother’s arms...
“May I present to you, my beloved, your daughter Ellandra!” Madrina smiled as he held the child up. Little tufts of snow white hair protruded from her head, and her emerald green eyes lit up like the jewels themselves when she gazed up at him.
“By the Gods, she is perfect!” He squeaked, and didn’t care as he took in her sweet beauty.
“And Espiria, her sister!” Madrina finished, and cuddling the infant against his chest, he peered down at the innocent little female nestled in against her Mother’s breast.
“She has your red hair!” He grinned in joyful surprise, as the blood red curls poked out from beneath the blanket.
“And her eyes?”
“Like yours, though she loves her sleep, so they are rarely open!” Madrina sighed, running her fingers across the babe’s soft cheek, and a little smile appeared and the milk began to dribble.
“She knows you are here!”
“Kember, please?” Nissa called for her, handing her now sleeping Ellandra, before he reached for his little redhead.
“My Gods...” He gasped, as the little female opened her eyes for him,
“You are a beauty!”
“I too, would like to see the young.” His voice echoed from the door, and he made his way inside.
“I am, after all, their Papa!”
“Father? You have come too?” Madina smiled at him, “Then, we can all go home?”
She asked, as she watched him kneel next to the bed, in which lay a very tired and sick Rehoboam.
We will all be going home, just as soon as your sister returns!” He replied, laying the back of his hand against the male’s forehead.
“He’s too warm for my liking.” And he hissed, as he pulled back the bandage around his leg.
“It is festering! He may lose it...” “You can’t be serious?” Ben let out, “You can’t take his leg!”
“If we don’t get him back to Sanctuary soon.”
“We will get him there!” Kember approached Ellandra, and handed the young to her grandfather.
“Come with me, Ben! We need fresh water to clean your Father’s wound.”
“Oh, I think she needs a change.” She heard Madrina say, before the cool night air, slapped her in the face.
“We shouldn’t go far!” Ben told her, his bow out and at the ready. “We need to stay close by for when Bathsheba returns!” He added.
The walk was short, and silent; and when the banks of the water were in sight, she could take it no more.
“I am sorry that she left!” Kember sighed, making her way down towards the shallow creek.
“Why would you be sorry!” Came a voice she did not expect.
Madrina?” Kember let out as she spun about, dropping the pitcher and throwing her arms around her friend.
“What are you doing out here? Where did Ben go?”
“I sent him back to wait with his Father!” Madrina replied, climbing down into the creek with her as Kember filled the pitcher; and began washing her hands, arms and face.
“Why?” Kember stopped again.
“Because I wanted to!” Madrina cocked a brow at her.
“Seriously? I gave birth, I didn’t die!”
“You could have!” Kember shot back, remembering the way she had screamed in pain, writhing as the contractions took hold of her.
“I’m fine, Kember, and the children are fine! They’re more than fine, they’re perfect!”
“And Nissa?” The Witch let out. “I am absolutely shocked...” Madrina paused for a moment, “You didn’t tell him about the young... Why?”
“Because at that moment, he already had one female to worry about, he didn’t need to add two more!” Kember sighed, and continued filling the pitcher.
“And, it was your job to tell him; after all that work, that was your right to share, not mine!” She grinned, “You’re victory dance!”
Malice was so far from impressed, that she could have blown a hole in the side of the mountain.
“What the hell is going on around here?”
“Malice?” Lord Eroch’s voice filled the night’s sky.
“Fuck, finally!” She replied, “Someone to talk to!”
“Hey? We were chatting!” Markus let out, before locking his lips against Zahara’s.
“I meant, someone who won’t talk back!” Malice glared at him. “And I don’t?” Lord Eroch laughed,
“Come, your mate awaits you!” “And my children?”
“Mother!” Ben appeared out of nowhere, and Malice shook her head.
“I bloody well knew it!” She sighed, “Does your Father know you can do that?” She asked her son.
“Uh, no! He’s been pretty out of it!” Ben replied, and hung his head.
“Yeah, let’s not tell him right now, okay?” And she made to turn towards the, once small hut that was now a cottage.
“What the hell? I leave, and come back to this? Where is your sister? I thought I said no magic?”
“You did, but that was back on the ship!” Her son grinned at her, “And we were protecting Father!” Malice couldn’t argue with his logic.
“So where is your sister?” She inquired, after hugging him close.
“Uh....” He started avoiding eye contact. “She’s gone off!”
Kember cut in, as she and Madrina returned with a pitcher of water and a load of blankets.
“It’s my fault! I’m sorry!” She shook her head, and handed the pitcher to Madrina.
“What did she say to you?” Malice asked, her hand rising to Kember’s cheek as they were left alone outside the small cottage. “Talk to me, my love.”
“Oh Gods...” Was all Kember could get out, before her arms were around Malice’s neck, and she was nuzzled in against her neck.
“I have missed you!”
“And I have missed you!” Malice whispered, running her hands through the female’s dark hair.
“Thank the Gods that you are safe!” And Kember held on tighter. “What is it?”
“I just want to go home! This place gives me the creeps!”
“You’re a Witch, you’re supposed to like creepy things!” Malice laughed. “
Only the things I can control!” Kember sighed, accepting Mal’s kiss upon her forehead. Malice let go of her hand, feeling the deep seated need to check in on her husband.
She had been gone far too long, and with the help of the others, they would now be able to get him off this horrid little rock.
There was something bothering Kember though, and Malice glanced at her lover, watching as she went to Madrina the moment they got inside; and taking one of the twins from Nissa’s arms and sat down to snuggle, Malice swore she saw tears in her eyes.
A moment later, and Madrina was right beside her, with her long white and red hair hanging about her face.
“He is stable!” She told Malice, though there was concern in her voice.
“Bathsheba has done quite a bit to keep the infection down.” She added, hoping to offer the Valkyrie some solace.
“Reh?” Malice called out, feeling the tug in her heart as he continued to slumber.Marena. Kember. Rehoboam. Those names ran rampant through her mind, and there was nothing she could do to stop them; for they were the names of those she had loved, and had ruined.
‘You must not think like that!’
Now there was a voice she had not heard before, and her eyes rose to the male who stood off in the corner. Who was he? Who was he to tell her what she needed to do?
‘My name is Kordahn! And you need not fear me, for I am Kor’Mhia!’
“He will sleep through the journey!” Madrina’s words brought her back to reality, and Malice managed to pull her eyes away from the male who looked so much like Marena.
“You’re sure?” She asked, shaking her head. “As soon as the others return, we can leave!” Madrina smiled as she rose to her feet, the spitting image of her Mother, and now a Mother herself.
“Thank you!” She replied, and turned back to Rehoboam, leaning in to leave a kiss upon his cheek.
“I will be back, my love, and we will see you to Sanctuary!” She whispered in his ear, and rose to her feet, turning to face the male in the corner, but he was no longer there.
“I will return!” She told Lord Eroch, and cared not to wait for his reply as she made her way out the door. Bathsheba was out there, as cunning as she was, she was not Malice, nor Mia, whom she had come to idolize.
Despite what everyone had said, her daughter was still a child, and she was out there all alone. With one last look at the small cottage, Malice raised the walls of Bathsheba’s illusion, and made off into the darkness of the forest.
It couldn’t be that hard to find the young female, she was after all... But Malice stopped, the feeling drifting over her as she stood a midst the tall trees.
“Show yourself, and be done with it!”
“I have nothing to be done with!” His voice replied, and she shuddered.
“Who, are you?” Malice inquired, palming a blade, just in case. “And what are you doing here?”
“My name is Kordahn, as I’ve previously told you, and I am here for my sister!” His hood dropped, and she could see the long black hair that fell down his back, and those green eyes, so much like...
“Your sister...” She mumbled, as the male came closer. “...is Navina?”
“What do you know of her?” Malice growled at him.
“What do you?” He countered with a sly smirk on his face.
“Nothing I want to tell anyone about!” Malice let out an awkward laugh.
“Why do you follow me, and not Navina?”
“She has her male to protect her! I am not needed for the time being!” Kordahn the mysterious, replied.
“Trust me, I don’t need your protection!” She rolled her eyes and turned back to the path.
“The night is cold and dark, and your daughter could be anywhere!”
“Wait, how did you...” Malice turned back, glaring at him once more.
“Mind reader!” He laughed. “Come now, two sets of eyes are better than one, and the sooner she is found, the sooner we can all leave this place!”
“Fine! But don’t think this makes us friends!” She cocked a brow at him, and listened to him chuckle as he followed along behind her.