We set off the next day, heading towards the Nextan River. The journey there was uneventful, which I was starting to gain a strong preference to.
We reached the river about an hour after noon. I didn’t sense any patrol or sentry near the river, which I found suspicious.
I was in the process of announcing this, when a couple dozen sentries came from their post that was, I realized, a building built into the river. I guessed it was obscured from view because of the trees, making it so that others couldn’t detect it. I couldn’t sense it because my sense of feeling didn’t really work with water. Water had too many currents and moved too much for me to get any picture of it by feeling.
We stopped about a hundred yards away from the river. I realized that the sentries were part of the Royal Guard. This was beginning to escalate quickly in my mind.
I decided to just focus on the guards and let the others do the talking.
“Name and business,” the one in the front called. I guessed that he was the one in charge of that group.
Arion then started telling them a similar story as the one he gave at Destrian’s village so long ago. The head guard started nodding. I thought he was buying it.
At this moment, I could feel another person coming out of the guard post. He walked up to the front and started talking to the one in command.
The man spoke in a hushed whisper, it was so quiet that the others couldn’t hear it, but I could, saying, “The blond man is a wanted traitor. We are ordered to kill on sight.”
At this moment, the man who I presumed was in charge and I drew out our swords at the exact same time.
The main guard yelled, “Kill these people. They’re traitors to the crown.”
At the same time, I told the others, “It’s time to run away.”
They were around twenty-five members of the Royal Guard and four of us. All of them were expert fighters. While not trying to sound boastful of my skills but instead state the truth, I knew I was the only expert fighter out of the four of us. It was clear to me that our best option was to get out of there.
The others fortunately got the big picture too. We all started running head on into the forest as all the guards started charging forward and unsheathing their weapons.
The forest seemed like a great option because it was easy to get lost in there, so we could most likely easily lose the guards. The downside was we would most likely get lost in there too, which was why we stuck to paths and trails. In the end, I decided to focus on one problem at a time.
As we ran through the trees, some of the archers attempted shooting arrows at us. If they weren’t the Royal Guard, I would have found their attempt hilarious because at the speeds that both of us were heading at and the obstacles such as trees in the forest made it nearly impossible for you to hit a target. But these people weren’t normal archers. They, like me, practiced for ages with the bow and the different situations that you might need to shoot in, including chasing someone in the forest.
So, when the first few arrows came our way. I shoved Artemis a bit to the left so an arrow wouldn’t hit her. I sliced an arrow heading towards me while backwards running, and then I turned around and ran more.
My heartbeat was beginning to elevate and my breathing was heavy. I started to work on getting my heartbeat and breathing to a more regular pace. I couldn’t afford to get tried.
Arion started to sprint in front of us and take the lead. I thought he shouldn’t be able to keep the pace up for long, but I realized that he had a bunch of adrenaline coursing through his veins. It was helping him keep pace and would help him as long as his body kept supplying it. He started leading us throughout the forest taking on different twists and turns.
The Royal Guard was struggling to keep up. Their arrows were a lot more off target now, but some were still deadly.
“Do you know where you’re going?” I questioned Arion.
As Arion took a sharp left turn, he yelled back, “Yes, I do. I grew up around these parts. I’ve been here so much as a child, I know almost every inch of this forest. Zurex took me out to teach me how to survive in the wild.”
The Royal Guard for the most part were falling behind. Right then, there were about ten people though that were able to keep pace with us, despite Arion’s winding path.
I wasn’t sure how long this continued. It felt like forever, but I knew it was no more than ten minutes.
When I was beginning to wonder about how to end the chase, Arion started to run towards the river. He wasn’t turning at all. Then he started to slow down a bit as he approached a mini cliff that dropped down into the river.
“So, we’re taking a swim?” Artemis asked.
She replied, “That’s great, I always loved swimming. Just not in holy water.” She then wasted no time before jumping off the edge.
I started to slow down a bit more.
I’ll take my chances with the guards, I thought as I was coming to a stop near the edge. I would rather die fighting than drowning any day.
As I was turning around to prepare to fight though, I felt someone shove me off the cliff. I later realized that it was Arion, who I had stopped paying attention to at that point. Apparently Arion thought friends pushed each other off of ledges.
I didn’t have a lot of time to think as I fell. All I could really remember about the fall was two things. First thing was how I could sense the wind flowing past me as I fell. The second was I taking in a deep breath because I was sure it was going to be my last.
Then I hit the water and was submerged. After that there was only water, nothing else in my life, as the currents began to toss me in their path underneath the surface.
The only things I could sense were cold and water. The currents pressed up against me, making it so I lost all sense of direction. My hearing was completely disorientated. It could hear faintly echoes of actual sounds as they tried to move through the water. But with the water’s currents, I couldn’t tell at all what direction they came from. I couldn’t see a thing. Not only was I blind, I felt blind.
The pressure was building up in my lungs. I was helpless, unsure of what direction was the way up to the surface.
I then felt someone press up against me. I realized it was Shade. I reached for his sopping wet fur and clung onto it, because it was my only lifeline.
He then started to move in a direction that was actually below me. I followed him, and within a moment I broke out to the surface. It felt amazing to be able to take a deep breath in.
Shade was pushing on, so I continued to cling onto him, but now with him as my guide I could swim. We managed to reach the bank rather quickly.
I felt my sense of touch come back alive once I stood up on the solid earth. I found out that we managed to make it through the river to the other side.
“Thanks,” I whispered to Shade. He responded by licking my hand.
Arion and Artemis were already on the shore. I couldn’t hear them that well because there was still a bit of water in my ears.
“Well, let’s not wait for the guards to catch up,” Arion told us. “Let’s move.”
We did just that. We started to run into the forests once again. My senses were still a bit off. I keep bumping into things and losing my balance for about the first ten minutes because to me the world was a bit fuzzy and out of balance. Eventually I then gained my equilibrium back and was able to hear and touch the world as I always do. After that, it was easy to move on.
We continued to travel for a couple of hours, but by then it was evening and night was approaching fast. We found a place to camp for the night.
As time went on, I realized Arion was thinking through events and trying to make sense of them. It was easy for me to figure out what he was trying to solve. He was wondering why I needed Shade to guide me through the water when it looked like I was a perfectly fine swimmer. He was wondering why I didn’t just look for the light coming from the top of the water and swam up to it. He was suddenly wondering about a lot of strange occurrences that he never really paid attention to, but now sensed they were somehow related, that there was one big explanation to describe all those events.
The thing was there was one explanation that described them all. One I didn’t share. One I didn’t acknowledge. One that was so difficult for people to believe that they never even considered it a possibility.
That night at the campfire, Arion paced back and forth, trying to piece it all together. I wasn’t facing him at all. In fact, I kept trying to think of excuses to leave. I couldn’t help but to wonder what would happen once he figured it out, since in the past it was never good when others knew my secret. I didn’t want to know if it was going to end up that way again.
He knew better than to ask me. I would deny that there was anything weird about the occurrences. So he and I both knew, if he wanted to know he had to figure it out himself.
Artemis and Shade were unaware of the whole situation. They just sat completely unaware of the puzzle that Arion was trying to solve, the puzzle I wanted to bury so deep no one could ever find it
At one point, Artemis asked, “Arion, are you alright?”
In response, he simply murmured, “Just trying to make sense of things.”
As the time dragged on, I felt a pressure build up inside of me. I didn’t know what to do. I wanted to run away and never have to face that problem. Leave behind all that mess, but instead I stayed. I could feel dread falling on me like a mighty downpour. It was only growing with time.
Arion continued to pace. With each footstep, my dread increased. The pressure inside me was building up. All my emotions were screaming at me to get out of there, but instead I sat there. I felt unable to move as if some unseen force wouldn’t let me leave.
The pressure hit its maximum when Arion then stopped his pacing. He paused, and I felt like I was stopped with him, both of us unable to move. For a moment, he stood there speechless, I guessed because the truth was probably a lot for him to comprehend. I felt so much pressure with the emotions that were raging inside me; dread and fear was the strongest. They were about to burst, and I didn’t feel like I could do anything about it.
Next, I felt Arion slowly turn around to look at me. I didn’t turn around to face him. I didn’t need to pretend anymore. I could tell as he was standing still that he just stopped to study me for a few seconds.
The world stopped for a few seconds as he finally whispered his finding out loud, “Oh my … You’re blind.”
The pressure then burst. I could feel it all coming down. I was exposed. My heart was racing. My secret was out that I worked so hard to keep. It was now replaced with a feeling of emptiness because what was hidden inside me for so long came out so quickly. After three years of completely hiding it, someone found out.
Instead of hinting at all these feelings I was then experiencing I simply replied, “Took you long enough.”
Artemis was silent for a moment before she asked what was going on. Arion simply answered that he figured out I was blind as he sat down.
Artemis then let out statements of disbelief as I sat with my back to them. I kept silent. I didn’t want to face them especially when they now knew one of my biggest secrets. I really wanted to leave, but I just sat there quietly though.
This continued on for about a minute when Shade came and sat by me, resting his head on my lap. Shade either didn’t understand what was going on or didn’t care.
After a while, I heard Arion murmur, “Of course he’s color blind. He can’t see, so he can’t see color. He needs to be guided while swimming because he can’t see where he should swim towards. He didn’t see anything in the forest because he can’t see anything. He also can’t read because he can’t see the words on the paper.”
I sighed as all the moments I was worried about, he managed to piece them together.
Artemis then asked me, “You’ve been blind all this time? Since the day I first met you, when I asked you to join the Society? All that time? Two years?”
“Yes,” I responded, finally bringing myself to do something. “Believe it or not the whole time you’ve just been assuming I could see. I didn’t tell you I was blind, so you just thought I could see. But I never lied; I never said I could see. Since I’m a dark elf I can move perfectly in the dark. So being blind is just always being in the dark.”
“Okay,” Arion spoke up. “Now that we’ve established that. How about you tell us why you keep your blindness a secret?”
“Does it really matter?” I responded louder than I meant to.
“Well, I guess not, but I would like to know why you go around pretending you can see,” Arion stated.
“Why should I go around announcing I’m blind?” I replied standing up and starting to walk around a bit. “It doesn’t matter that I can’t see. Something that no one can seem to understand. What I feel, what I hear, no one else can experience that. In a lot of ways, it’s superior to sight. You know that I can sense a lot of things you don’t. But no one can understand that.
“Instead everyone believes I’m some beggar in the street asking for money or food, or maybe some guy that lives off his family. I’m helpless because I can’t see anything. They treat me like dirt and expect me to beg for scraps. When in reality, I could do almost anything that they can.
“That’s what everyone tried doing to me when I first lost my sight. Oh, when I could see I was perfectly able to get by and everyone tolerated me, but people turned so quickly. If I had let them get to me, I would have starved to death! So I left the first opportunity I could, and no one has dared guess that I was blind! Because. It. Doesn’t. Matter.”
I stood there breathing heavily after my rant. I wondered why, then I realized that at moments I started to yell during it. I lost it and got into it, showing more emotion than I was used to. I felt feelings I couldn’t understand as I tried to figure out why I lost so much control right there. I couldn’t make sense of it.
I was so distracted by this that I almost didn’t notice Artemis get up and stand in front of me. I was very confused, and it only got worse as all the sudden she hugged me. I literally stood there and didn’t move a bit as I tried to make sense of reality.
“What’s this?” I questioned.
“It’s called a hug, Raven,” Arion answered. “It’s what people do to show affection.”
“I know what I hug is,” I snapped back. “I want to know why I’m getting one.”
“Just consider it something weird I do to try to make things better,” Artemis told me. “It just felt like you could use one, since people were idiots to you.” She then squeezed a little tighter before letting go.
I just stood there feeling very uncertain about everything.
“I think you broke him,” Arion told her.
Artemis then started to chuckle a bit as she said, “I think I did.”
She continued to chuckle a bit, and Shade joined in (though it was a pant, I thought it was his version of laughing). Eventually Arion was holding back a laugh.
During this I was very confused why they would be laughing. I thought they’d be furious at me keeping secrets from them, or demanding more information and explanation about my blindness. I was unsure what to do, so I just sat there dumbstruck.
Artemis then stopped laughing and commented, “You are full of surprises, my friend. It’s great though. I enjoy it. It certainly has made everything a lot more exciting.”
“No argument there,” Arion commented. “Raven, are you going to be okay, or are we breaking you too much?”
“I don’t know,” I answered. “I’ll let you know when I find out.”
“Okay then,” Arion replied.
After a pause, Artemis murmured, “Is it that late already?”
“Yes, we should probably get some rest,” Arion responded.
“Okay, see you all in the morning,” Artemis told us as she went to sleep next to Shade.
“You should probably sleep too,” Arion told me.
“Yeah, I guess,” I replied. I then started to lay down, still feeling a little unstable.
“Raven,” Arion murmured. “Just so you know, you are still the same annoying but strangely amazing friend you were yesterday.”
“Stop,” I told him. “I am so done with this right now.”
“Okay,” Arion responded with a chuckle. “Good night.”
I then tried to fall asleep and was surprised to find that utter confusion helped me fall asleep a lot faster than I thought it would.