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Chapter 9 ~ Rena's Ghosts

K i a n

The sun is beating into the back of my neck, but I don’t ask to stop.

I glance over at Rena, but her silence still fills the space. She’s been like this for three whole nights now, ever since we left Draäl.

I haven’t heard one peep out of her and though I don’t like to admit it, her silence is beginning to unnerve me a little. There are ghosts swimming in her eyes and I don’t know when or even how she’ll come back to the world of the living. She hardly eaten a morsel or even had a drink in hours, nor will she take it even if I insist.

The question is on my tongue dying to be let loose, but I hold it back, letting it swim around my head.

What has her so shaken?’

We’re headed northeast towards the lost library in the Ruins of Chadim but our route through the Talmahi deserts are anything but simple. I’m expecting anything to happen, it isn’t exactly the safest place around.

Back in Aldevia, I was told tales about the tunnel worms with teeth sharper than razors, the snakes which could poison you, the scorpions and any other deadly creature that would live in this dry and dreary place.

As we ride, slow but steady, I pull the Chronicle of territories from my satchel, brushing my fingertips over the worn leather before opening its pages to read the runes in order for us to locate the library. It doesn’t seem far now, about a few more days ride or so.

Pulling my focus from the book in my hands, I avert my attention, glancing over at Rena. She doesn’t acknowledge me, simply staring ahead at nothing and I wonder what it was back there that has her so wound up and frightened. She looks so lost.

I don’t bother to ask. I know Rena well enough now to back off a bit. If and when she’s ready, she might want to bring it up, though the chances of this ever happening are slim. For now, I’ll just have to ignore the pent up questions playing in the back of my mind and let her be.

R e n a

I have a family.

The thought spreads through with a warmth I’m not used to. I’m no longer alone in this world. I have a mother and siblings. I know where I come from, why my hair is brighter than flames and my eyes the colour of silver.

The thoughts play on repeat in my head, I feel slightly dizzy as they spin around my head in circles. I can’t get them to stop. They won’t leave me, not even for a minute.

I don’t know whether to laugh or cry, shout or stay mute.

Should I even be feeling this way. I know where I come from, I know who I am but this path I’ve taken leads me elsewhere, to a bigger purpose.

I doubt I’ll ever see my brother or my mother again.

As for my sister, I have hope.

I will find her once I’ve helped Kian. I vow I will go back and find her.

I contemplate this plan in my head. Its ludicrous and more dangerous than words can manage but I have to do it, she needs to know she isn’t alone.

How old must she, does she look like me. I wonder what reversed runemark she bears.

Question after question fills my head until it’s pounding.

Maybe it’s the sun burning down on me, making me feel lightheaded. Somehow I highly doubt it.

I don’t know where we’re headed and to be honest, right now I really couldn’t care less. My mind is on other matters, far more important than our current destination. Though fate is seems has other plans. Stars begin to float into my line of vision, the world beginning to sway and spin.

Maybe I was wrong, maybe it is the heat.

The stand of thoughts slip from my head, the last thing I feel is the sensation of falling as I collapse into darkness.

K i a n

I hear Barnie screeching in the sky above but I don’t bother to look up at him or even back to check on his owner , until I hear an odd thump.

I turn in my saddle and suddenly gasp, when I see Rena face down in the sand.

“By the Gods!” I shout, jumping off my horse and running over to her, Barnie swooping down to join me.

I pull her out of the sand and turn her over. She’s pale considering the tan on her face, bringing out freckles. Her eyelids flutter but don’t open, her chest moving slightly with wavering breaths. To my utter relief, she’s still breathing, she’s just fainted. I quickly grab the horses’ reins and stand them beside Rena, Barnie fussing over her as I tie their reins together.

I decide I’ll have to set up camp here. There is no use trying to go any further with Rena in this state.

As I pull out the tarp, I glance over at Rena, her red curls tumbling over her shoulders, spread out like a halo of fire. It’s grown lengths since that day in the marketplace.

The image of Maya suddenly appears in my head sending a wave of pain squeezing at my stomach and I turn away quickly, averting my gaze.

Why does she constantly remind me of Em, no matter how hard I try to push her into a part of my mind locked away until I’m ready, she’s there. It reminds me once more of leaving her behind, of losing her. I miss her.

As I look up to the clear skies, I wonder how long it will be until I the pain subsides.

I shake my head, clearing my thoughts and focus on setting up camp. It’s too hot to be standing around daydreaming.

R e n a

I wake up with my head pounding and my eyesight blurry, I’m not moving but it feels as though the ground sways beneath me. My mouth is like dried out sandpaper, my throat tight from the heat. When everything settles, I let myself take in the surroundings. I’m in the tent, lain out on my back and stripped down to my tunic.

I have no idea how I got here in the first place, but my head’s spinning enough to rid me of the countless questions on the end of my tongue.

My head lifts of its own accord, the weight of a hand holding it up myself unable to due to my current lack of strength. Another hand brings a shallow clay bowl to my lips. I don’t argue when I feel the cool water brush against my lips and I begin to drink in huge, rapid gulps.

“Whoa, steady there Rena” I hear as the someone holding the bowl tilts it for me.

My eyes flicker up to meet Kian’s.

I don’t know what makes me choke first, the water caught in my tightened throat, either the sudden acceleration of my heart beat or the intenseness of his gaze.

Either way, I end up spluttering, my cheeks and neck burning with the heat and embarrassment.

I feel Kian lift me into a sitting position, holding my shoulders as I cough and splutter unable to control myself. His gaze burns into me, the worry in the green of his eyes latch onto me, leaving me feeling even more humiliated.

“Are you feeling ok?” I hear him ask once I manage to calm the coughing.

I look up to see his face filled with concern. I quickly avert my watering eyes and nod, brushing the loose red curls out of my face.

“I’m fine” I manage to croak, nodding my head.

I feel his hand slip away from my back, his fingers sliding down the thin fabric of my tunic, sending shivers up my spine. I glance over at him, and he gives me a small smile, his eyes warm.

“What happened?” I ask him.

“You collapsed, fell off of the horse” he says, the colour of his irises darkening as he recounts it.

That would explain the blackness and the sensation of falling’ I think to myself.

Out of the corner of my eye, I see him watching me. I turn to face him, to find he has a sympathetic look on his face. I must look a state, I can feel myself trembling under my calm demeanor from lack of food or water or maybe something else.

“You going to tell me what has you so wound up?” he asks me eventually, tilting his head to one side.

I look away. “I-“.

“It’s ok to let me in,” he replies putting a hand on my shoulder.

I quickly turn to face him, about to reply with something slick. But as soon as I see the knowing look in his eyes, I fall short and my fast comeback disintegrates in my mouth.

I sigh and look down at my hands.

Trying to find the words, I stay silent for a few moments. I hadn’t realised he would have noticed. I’m so good at hiding my emotions yet now I’m not so sure, with Kian having seen past my façade.

“Back there, in Draäl, I ran into my past,” I say, my voice quiet as I stare down at my hands.

When I finally glance up to Kian, he says nothing but his eyes are bright and soft, gently urging me to go on. Once again I have to quickly turn away as my neck begin to burn.

“Rena?” I hear him asks tentatively.

“Nothing, it’s nothing?” I snap.

As soon as the words leave my mouth in that horrible tone, I immediately regret it.

I hear him let out a deep sigh as he turns his back to me.

“You should get some rest” he says over his shoulder as he leaves the tent.

I watch him as he rapidly disappears from my view and a heavy feeling settles down on my stomach. I let myself fall back, my hair comforting my head and neck.

As I lie there staring up at the ceiling of my tent, wasting time, my eyes now and then glancing back at the entrance hoping he’ll come back.

But he doesn’t and as I wait, slowly my eyes slip closed and I fall into dreams of the great Gods Odin and Thor.

K i a n

I don’t know what’s going through Rena’s mind but even I can see its eating away at her. She doesn’t seem too keen on sharing and I don’t have the effort to even attempt to retrieve it.

She can keep her secrets.

Trying to understand her isn’t one of my main problems, I seem to read her well enough for now.

I’m pacing back and forth outside, a distance from the tent, as streams of vulgar thoughts rush through my mind. Back there with Rena, I keep losing myself, catching myself, having to hold back.

She’d been blushing again. It was only momentary, but my quick eye caught it and I can’t help but wonder what goes through her mind when I’m near.

It’s becoming harder for me to keep a reasonable distance, now that I can’t seem to get the possibility of holding her close out of my mind.

One minute more alone in that tent and I would have done something stupid. Just because we’ve left Aldevia behind doesn’t condone the oldest of rules.

Impure and Halflings could never be.

For as long as I can remember I’d been taught that Impure and Halflings could never mate or even be together. I never saw them together as lovers, or ever understood the reason for it, but it was the most severe of rules and if disobeyed would result in living the rest of your days in the depths of the pitt.

I continue to pace up and down, fiddling with Rena’s dagger, my mind elsewhere when I hear a sudden thundering noise, drone out the blaze of the sun and the silence over the sands. I stop in my tracks, the dagger caught between my thumb and index fingers, as I try to listen more closely to the sound.

I don’t see anyone for miles and so I find myself staring at the ground. As I do this, the ground starts to shake and tremble beneath my feet. The sand kicking up into the air. Panic begins to grab at me as the ground starts shake even more violently, but I can’t will myself to move.

The only thing I can think about clearly is Rena and her safety as my mind calculates our danger.

In a quick jolt I come back to myself and begin to run towards the tent, the sand slowly my pace. But before I can reach it, the sand parts underneath my feet, dragging me into the abyss below and swallowing my cry.

R e n a

I don’t know what wakes me first; the unearthly squealing noise or the ground trembling beneath me. The sound has me sitting upright with a cold chill running down my spine, even with my hands covering my ears the squealing still pierces me.

It has a thousand voices all calling at once, screaming in anger in one continuous identical cry. Then I hear a shout. It’s barely audible compared to the screeching, but I make it out and recognise it instantly, my blood running cold.

Scrambling out from under the shelter of the tent, not letting another moment go to waste, I rush outside running until I almost fall into the huge gaping gap before me.

The gap is deep and wide stretching a few hundred metres in every direction. Though it’s not a deep as I first thought it’s still a hefty climb, the sand dry and slippery. That’s when I see it, right at the bottom of the crater, in the centre of the gaping hole, I see a huge and ugly creature rearing what looks to be its its head down at a small figure.

I try to focus on the figure but though I don’t want to believe it, there is only one person it could be. As I stare down at the young man battling the beast, my blood runs cold.

It’s none other than Kian.

K i a n

I try to stand my ground, but against this huge beast, it’s proving extremely difficult. The sun it high in the sky blazing down on me, ripping me of energy.

The beast I’m up against could only be described as a male tunnel worm I’d read about before. Blind, huge with an ill looking gray tinge to it’s skin, and several rows of teeth in a colossal jaw covering the majority of its face.

All I have to defend myself is Rena’s dagger, the heat and exhaustion sapping my energy and aura. So far I’ve kept it at bay, and also my distance, but I won’t be able to keep it up. A huge gash hovers over my brow, cuts and bruises formed from ducking and diving onto loose rocks and jagged stones in the sand. My tunic covered in the red tinge of blood.

Just as the tunnel worm is getting the upper hand, I see a rush of what looks like fire from the corner of my eye.

Suddenly Rena is standing beside me with nothing but a sly grin on her lips and light dancing in her eyes.

She flashes the smile my way, before grabbing the dagger from me. I watch, frozen as she runs up one side of the huge ditch and onto the back of the tunnel worm, the dagger now casting off an eerie glow.

As the tunnel worm attempts to attack Rena, I dodge its twisting body. She takes this moment to shove the dagger into the worm’s skin. It pierces a few inches of skin but by the look on Rena’s face it’s enough.

A strong pulse pierces the air, through the beast, then through me sending me sprawling backwards as I try to regain my feet, realising the pulse came from the dagger, still glowing in Rena’s hands.

Blood spurts from the beasts jaws, its huge mass falling with an almighty crash. Sand flies up and the world shakes from a moment from the sheer weight of it. I slump to the ground, too tired to move, a mixture of blood and sand collapsed in a heap.

Blood leaks into my eye from the huge gash on my forehead and the cuts and bruises covering my body throb with pain and ooze blood. My eyes catch Rena as she slides of the dead tunnel worm and makes her way towards me, sand and blood cover her as well but I stop panicking when I realise it isn’t her blood.

She puts her hand out to me and I gladly take it, wincing slightly as I go.

“Come on, let’s go get you cleaned up,” she says as she drapes my arm over her shoulder.

R e n a

“Hold still” I say impatiently as Kian flinches again, making his body ridged.

He hasn’t said anything yet, but by the way he keeps squirming I can tell he’s in a lot of pain.

“I’m almost done,” I tell him softly, my tone soothing.

My mind retraces the afternoon’s events and I can’t help but be surprised at Kian’s actions. I never thought he could be so brave, I hadn’t expected it from him at all.

I guess there is much more to Kian than what I originally thought.

As I clean and tend to his chest wound I catch him grimace. I mumble yet another apology and finally finish mending his wounds.

He looks like some kind of war hero. Bandages wrapped around his head and chest.

He smiles at me wearily. “Thank you”.

I return the smile and tell him to rest for a while.

As he lies down, I make my way outside to find the horses. They’re a few metres away from the tent. I can only assume they got spooked from the tremors and the sound of the tunnel worm.

I bring some water over to them and sit beside them as they drink their fill.

As the sky darkens, I begin to pack up our things again.

Glancing quickly over toward the gaping crater a few metres off, I think of the dead corpse, and pray that no others will follow.

When I finally slip back into the shelter of the tent, I find Kian sound asleep.

Guilt swarms my chest as I awaken him, but we must be on our way, the risk of staying is too great.

Once he is awake, he looks at me quizzically and I smile at him unable to keep it to myself.

I hold out my hand out to him. “Come on, it’s time to go”.

He nods in agreement. Looking up at me, he grins as he takes my hand.

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