We didn’t encounter any more trouble on our trek away from the house, but we were still sure not to drop our guards. By the time we stopped to rest we had long since left the city and headed into the woods, and the sun had risen high over the horizon, already beginning to lower once again. Up ahead, the faint trickle of a stream could be heard, so I suggested hiking a little further until we reached it. The weather was cool enough for long sleeves, but not cool enough to keep us from sweating on the journey. A nice rinse in the river and a good drink of water would do us both a lot of good.
As we reached the stream my eyes widened at the beauty of the landscape before us. There was a break in the trees that provided warmth and sunlight, bathing the small clearing in a golden glow. the creek glittered and the water looked so refreshing I was seriously considering just diving straight in.
However, we couldn’t afford to let our guard down that easily, so, instead, we checked the surrounding area before deciding it was a safe place to make a rest stop. Setting our weapons aside and stripping our clothes, we decided to take a quick dip in the river to freshen up a bit.
“Beat you in!” Elle snickered before taking off towards the river bank. Racing after her, I was glad to see her smiling again, even if only for a moment. She hadn’t spoken much since we fled the city, and I hated plunging her into the unknown again. Our life had never been easy, but I always tried to shield her as best I could. Ever since I was little, my goal had been to keep her smile in place no matter what it cost me. I loved her more than I could ever put into words.
Without relying on my shifter speed, Elle inevitably beat me, but I joined her in the river soon after she had splashed in, reaching to dunk her head underwater.
“Hey! Don’t be a sore loser!” She giggled after coming back to the water’s surface. I laughed and splashed at her playfully.
“What can I say? I guess I’m not used to losing,” I remarked, swimming away as she tried to return the favor and plunge me underwater. We laughed and played for another half hour or so before making our way back to the bank. With the sun so high in the sky we dried fairly quickly, putting our clothes back on and resting in the grass.
With Elle lying next to me, I gazed up at the blue sky. My mind quickly turned towards the events of the last 24 hours, and I could tell Elle had done the same when I heard a heavy sigh leave her lips. After a beat of silence, she asked the question I had been dreading to hear.
“So, what do we do now?” she asked slowly, still gazing up at the sky. I hadn’t told her what I had found yet, but I think she had figured out some of it herself. With the men in the alley, the fire, me coming out without Knox, and us taking off right afterward, I think she was able to connect most of the dots.
The thing about Elle was that, even though she seemed very bubbly and girly, she had a very mature side that was the main reason she had survived through our rough past. She took things as they happened, didn’t dwell, and moved on with her life. It was a trait I often envied. I had matured pretty early, but that didn’t mean I wasn’t sad about the way things had turned out or that I didn’t constantly beat myself up for not being able to give Elle a better life.
“Honestly, I don’t know what to do from here,” I told her honestly, “but I guarantee we’ll figure something out. And whatever it is, we will figure it out together.” I didn’t know if I said that last part more to reassure her, or myself.
I couldn’t lose her. She was the light that kept the darkness inside of me from taking over. I had felt it since I was a kid. There was this primal rage inside me that strove to come to the surface every chance it got. While it made fights a little easier, it also took a lot of effort to keep it tamped down. However, every time I was in Elle’s presence it was never at the forefront of my mind. Almost as if she scared it back inside of me.
“Could we maybe go into Lockhelm City?” She asked, bringing my attention back to our conversation.
I thought about that for a minute. We lived in a region called Lockhelm, which was ruled by the Council. The city where the Council resided was called Lockhelm City, which sort of served as the capital. There were many other smaller cities around Lockhelm City, but they were overrun by gang violence and rogue mages and shifters. One of these smaller cities was Euphom, where Elle and I had lived after fleeing from our father. I knew we couldn’t go back there, but I really didn’t think it would be a good idea to go to Lockhelm City either.
“I don’t think so,” I replied, “that’s a little too close to the council for my comfort.”
“That’s a good point,” she mused, “but maybe there’s another city like Euphom? Or heck maybe we could just head on over to Bernwill!”
We both laughed at that statement. Bernwill was the neighboring region, and we were constantly battling against them. The Bernwill Royal Council had been trying to overtake Lockhelm for as long as anyone could remember. The last few centuries hadn’t been as violent, so the general population wasn’t nearly as affected by the battles as they used to be, but we would forever be enemies. Needless to say, Bernwill was out of the picture.
“Well, wherever we go, I don’t think we should stay there too long. We will probably have to stay on the move for a while,” I said somberly.
Elle sighed. “I know, and it’s okay. We’ve been through worse.”
I almost shed a tear. I didn’t want her to be able to say that. Elle shouldn’t have had to grow up as fast as she did. I hated it, and most of all I hated that I couldn’t do anything about it. That was an enemy I couldn’t fight off, no matter how hard I tried.
But there was no point in throwing myself a pity party when we needed to come up with a plan. After thinking on it for a few minutes, I decided it would probably be best to try and find another city like Euphom. That way we could at least get some shelter for a bit and go from there. We had been walking for long enough that I knew we were a safe distance from Euphom, so I felt comfortable stopping for the night, but we would have to head out early tomorrow morning in case anyone was on our tails.
Relaying the plan to Elle, I watched as her face turned into one of concentration. She might have been more of a girly girl than me, and she may not be as good of a fighter, but she was damn smart, and she knew how to use it to her advantage. Her insane memory and incredible hacking skills had saved our ass more than once.
“We probably shouldn’t go to Hienlaw, since that would be too predictable of a place to look if someone was trying to find us. The next town over is Ferndall, so we could probably go there, although it looks much smaller on the map, so there’s probably a lot more gang violence. We could still probably find a motel to stay the night in, though, and go from there,” she commented, amazing me with her maturity and quick thinking.
“Sounds like a plan, sis. I’ll take the first watch so you can get some shut-eye and we will head out tomorrow morning,” I replied, sitting up and leaning against the nearest tree to support me. With a sigh, Elle put her hands under her head, relaxing into the sounds of the night and letting them lull her to sleep. I stayed awake most of the night since I didn’t need much sleep and only woke Elle up a few hours before we would have to leave.
I had never required much sleep, and I guessed it had to do with being a hybrid of some sort. Elle groaned as she woke up, sitting up and reaching over to pull her sword closer to her so she could take watch. Laying down in the grass, I closed my eyes and let the darkness sweep me away.
“Ad, wake up” Elle’s soft voice floated into my consciousness, rousing me from a perfectly good dream.
“Five more minutes” I groggily replied, reaching to grab the covers and pull them over my eyes, only to find that there were none. Then I remembered we weren’t at home. As everything came back to me, I sat up slowly, sighing with the realization that it wasn’t all a bad dream.
“For someone who doesn’t need much sleep you sure aren’t a morning person,” Elle chuckled, handing me my quiver and bow. I stood slowly, donning my weapons as the haze cleared from my mind and I woke fully.
“Alright, let’s get on with this. Which way to Ferndall?”
“Follow me. We should only be a little less than a day’s walk away,” she replied, heading off with enough bounce in her step to make me question her sanity. How could someone be so chipper in the morning?
We walked the majority of the day before we finally reached Ferndall. My growling stomach almost had me barging right into the town square to try and find the nearest café, but I knew we couldn’t afford that kind of attention. Instead, we found an old alleyway to enter the city through, stopping to take a moment and get our bearings.
As we left the alley, we inconspicuously converged into the small crowds on the street, searching for the nearest motel. It only took a few minutes to find one since the town was so small, and as we strode up to the front desk, we were greeted by a burly man with a cigarette dangling out of his mouth.
“Y’all here for a room?” He asked, blowing a puff of smoke out of his mouth with the words.
“Yes, sir. Just for tonight,” Elle covered the social interaction considering I was never really one for pleasantries. Within minutes, she had secured us the key for one of the few rooms offered by the grungy motel. Murmuring a quick thanks, Elle led the way to door 13, inserting the key and twisting the lock.
“13, Elle? You couldn’t get literally any other room? You had to get us the unlucky one?” I asked incredulously. The last thing we needed right now was more bad luck, and the number 13 was definitely cursed.
“Oh, hush. You know I don’t believe in all that crap and you shouldn’t either you sissy.”
“Sissy? Really? That’s the best you can come up with?” I chuckled, deciding to give up and just accept the unlucky room. At least it was a bed for the night. Rolling her eyes at me, Elle just turned around and locked the door, making sure to place a couple of wards on it so no one could enter.
Her mage gifts had always been stronger than my limited amount of magic, and she also had more shifter capabilities as well. However, she didn’t have the runes like I did, so I guessed that might have something to do with it.
Setting my bow and quiver down, I headed into the bathroom to take a quick shower. The room was definitely not luxurious, and there was no hot water, but at least it was a bed and a roof to cover our heads.
“We can figure out a plan tomorrow morning. For now I just want to relax for the night,” I said, walking out of the bathroom and looking up to see a large spread of cheese, meat, and crackers on the small bed.
“Elle! How did you get this?!”
She looked up at me with a smile on her face and replied with a small shrug.
“Elle, you can’t be going out alone in a place like this! What would happen if someone decided to jump you?” I scolded.
“Oh come on, Ad! Give me some credit. No one even saw me. I stuck to the shadows until I got to the bakery, and it was only a few minutes.”
I knew she was stealthy, but it still scared me to know she went out on her own. In the end, though, I was starving, so I let it slide. We had eaten some berries on the walk, but not enough to truly fill us up, and we were both famished, so the food didn’t last long. At least we were going to bed with a full belly tonight.
Elle left to go shower and I crawled under the covers to get some rest. It wasn’t long before I heard her soft footsteps come closer and the dip in the mattress let me know she had crawled into bed behind me. Her breathing became slow and even soon afterward, and I let the soft sound of it lull me to sleep along with her.