The crisp air of early morning nipped at my nose, but the warmth of the fire kept the chill at bay. I had caught a small rabbit on my way back to camp and it was now cooking over the flame on a make shift rotisserie. The smell of it made my mouth water. I had forgotten how hungry I was till now.
I was weary, and with every passing day my thoughts became more jumbled and tired. When will this all end? I counted the days since Arsan and I had left the monastery. Only six days had passed, but it felt like years. I had changed, aged in a short amount of time, hardened to the world around me. I didn’t like the feeling and longed for the days I was hiding in the bell tower of the monastery with a good book from the library. I also longed for Delah, the only true friend I had ever known, but now, I didn’t even know if that was true. All I was left with was a half Artican I hardly knew, his sister who was weak from malnutrition, and a dark sarcastic fury who couldn’t figure out if she wanted me dead or wanted to cry on my shoulder. Somehow I thought I had the worst end of the bargain. I was so alone.
Arsan stirred and opened his eyes. The smell of food must have woken him. “Good morning sleepy head.”
He propped himself up on his elbow and looked at the rabbit over the fire. “Good morning, Tabri. How long have you been awake?”
“An hour or so,” I lied. I felt safer keeping my experiences from last night to myself. The only people I could rely on were quickly turning on me. It was better not to say anything.
The rabbit was finally done. Breakfast at last. I pulled it from the fire. Arsan and I stared at it for a few seconds. There wasn’t much meat on the tiny animal, and Ruan needed to eat as well. We only took three bites each, before saving the largest portion for her. She needed it more than both of us, and I was glad to give it to her. She was like my sister after all.
“I never got the chance to thank you for saving Ruan.” Arsan broke my thoughts. His words were quiet and grim.
A shaky smile slid onto my face. “There is no need to thank me.”
Arsan shivered from the morning air, and rubbed his hands together near the fire for warmth. He seemed to be weighing my answer, trying to think of something to say back. I went and sat next to him, to share my body heat and let him know that nothing else needed to be said. I would have done the same for anyone else. He should know that.
I held out my hand for him to take. Without hesitation he placed his hand on my palm and weaved his fingers through mine.
“I’m sorry about the ship. I should have been more careful. I didn’t think that others would know about you, or that they would try to use you for their own schemes.” There was a hint of a tear in Arsan’s eye. “I thought for a minute that I was going to lose you back there. That I was going to be alone again, but you came out of it stronger, and you saved my sister. Family means everything to me and Tabri you are part of my family now. I don’t want to lose you again.”
I didn’t know what to say. A tear fell from his eye, slowly rolling down his cheek. I subconsciously rubbed it away with my thumb, letting my hand linger on the line of his jaw. Why did he have to affect me so much?
All my feelings began to overwhelm me. Tears formed in my eyes. I tried hard not to let them fall, but they broke free anyway. A salty tear rolled down my cheek leaving a sticky trail behind. I couldn’t count how many times I had cried this entire journey. It wasn’t an emotion I was used to. This time it was Arsan who absent mindedly wiped the tear away with his thumb, his hand lingered on the side of my face. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath, trying to stop the flood of emotions that were welling inside me.
“Why is it that I can never leave you two alone for two minutes? It’s almost as if you like each other, or something.” Nell’s spiteful voice boomed through the camp. I pulled away from Arsan to glare at her. It didn’t seem to faze her already depressing demeanor, but it made me feel a little better.
Nell plopped down on the other side of the fire, watching me with apprehension. She knew what I was capable of now. I knew what I was capable of now, at least with my abilities. The whole deed was something to be determined. I realized I would have to be on my guard at all times, keeping my eyes on her. She would find the one moment I was weakest and use that to her advantage. The sooner she was gone the better.
We broke camp shortly after Nell’s return. The horses hadn’t wandered far in the night and they seemed well rested. I wished I could say the same. Fatigue was ever present. My eyes ached and a dull throbbing rolled through my neck and shoulders. Today wasn’t going to be easy, but I had to stay observant, keeping my eyes on my surroundings and Nell.
Arsan glanced at me every once and a while with a smile of hope on his face. It was comforting. I knew though, that he could feel the tension between Nell and I. He was keeping his distance from her deliberately, and I was pleased his intuition sensed the changes. The further Ruan and him were from Nell, the easier it would be to keep them safe. It was possible that Nell could tell he was keeping away too. She walked a few yards in front and to my left, keeping me between them at all times. She only glanced over her shoulder every once and a while to make sure we were still behind her. I realized I was scowling at her and shook the thoughts from my head.
“You look troubled.” Arsan was watching the expression on my face change.
I shook my head. There was no point in keeping this from him. “Nell and I had a disagreement this morning. It got… physical.”
A look of confusion crossed Arsan’s face. “Did she attack you?”
I smiled, remembering the conversation that started the whole thing. “Yes, but it wasn’t unprovoked. I needed to see how far she would go. Plus, now I know that my magic works against her mist form.”
I was watching her again, my eyes intense with aggression. I wanted her gone, but now was not the time.
Arsan drew his horse closer, so we were riding in arms reach of each other. “Be careful, Tabri. She’s a bomb ready to explode. Who knows what she is planning to do next. She’s very powerful and has the support of the Ancients, there’s nothing she won’t do to accomplish what they have set out for her.”
“It was only a test, to see what she would do and…”
“Please, Tabri. Promise me you’ll be careful.” Arsan interrupted.
I agreed quietly. I wasn’t planning on provoking her again, but something would happen eventually and I needed to be ready.
As we spoke quietly, the forest began to darken and the trees turned into brambles, thick and unyielding. This looked familiar. As we moved forward I knew this perpetual darkness from my dream. I had been here before and it scared me.
My horse bucked, almost throwing me to the ground. I managed to cling to my saddle, but the mare wouldn’t move forward. She pranced on the edge of a thick mess of brambles, whinnying and shaking her main. “Whoa girl, calm down.”
Arsan’s black horse moved uneasily behind me. Something was spooking the horses, but I couldn’t sense what it was. Maybe the darkness was too much for them, or they smelled something close by that scared them. Whatever it was, it was lost to me. “Nell, can you see anything nearby that would spook the horses?”
She glanced around the forest, but shook her head. There was nothing there. I gave the mare one more nudge of my heel to try and get her moving again, but it was no use. She wasn’t going to budge.
“We’ll have to go on foot the rest of the way.” Arsan was already on the ground, helping Ruan from her saddle. I felt bad that she would have to walk, but what choice did we have? As soon as we had dismounted, the horses bolted back the way we came. The sound of their hooves on the hard ground echoed back to us. I listened until I couldn’t hear them any longer. The quiet without their steady rhythmic trot seemed deafening.
“Stop lingering and move your asses.” Nell plunged into the darkness of the brambles, slicing away at the low branches as she went with her invisible sword. She really knew how to lighten a mood. The thought almost had me laughing out loud.
As the brambles thickened, darkness began to consume us. The sun was only able to penetrate the heavy canopy in spots, forcing us to stay close so no one would wander off. I didn’t like being this close to Nell, but since I didn’t trust anyone else to get near to her, I had no choice but to stay within arm’s reach.
It was taking us hours to slash through the thicket. Whatever way we turned a massive wall of vines halted us, soaring feet over our heads. Some directions were impenetrable all together.
It was disheartening to think that we had come this far.We were so close to finding my people, and yet we couldn’t get to them because of this over grown mass of plants. I wished I could do something more, but every time I reached out with my magic nothing happened. I couldn’t see anything. I couldn’t feel anything beyond our small band of misfits. We were going nowhere, lost in this mess of brambles.
“Can’t you find us a way out of this, Nell,” groused Arsan from the back of the pack.
“If you hadn’t noticed, dog. It takes time to cut through all these vines. So keep your wining to yourself and let me work.” Nell grunted out the last words with a slash to an inch thick vine in front of her. She stopped in her tracks to glare at him. “Unless you wanted to take a turn in the lead?”
Arsan scowled at her but didn’t respond. She was grumpy as usual, maybe even a little more so than normal, but poking at her wasn’t going to help anything. She was the only one of us with a weapon able to cut through the brambles. She also had the ability to never tire, so it only made sense for her to be in the lead.
A warm tingle shot through my chest for a split second, then vanished. I sucked in a sharp breath and shook my head trying to clear the feeling. I must be more tired than I thought. I was letting the magic pulse wildly with in me. Control yourself, Tabri. Control yourself. The warm tingle shot through me again, causing my step to falter once.
“Are you ok, Tabri?” Ruan was right behind me. Thankfully, she seemed to be the only one who noticed my strange reaction. This magic was still so new to me I didn’t know what it was doing.
“Yes, Ruan thank you. I’m fine. Just tired, that’s all.” She snuck up to my side the best she could and grasped onto my hand. There was a warm smile on her face, one of happiness and love. She had looked this way ever since Arsan had cradled her in his strong arms after our escape from Farenan’s camp. She was glad to be back with her brother, and frankly, so was I. At least I knew he would keep her safe and I didn’t have to worry about her as much anymore. But that smile she held on her face was infectious, and soon I was grinning back at her.
The warm tingle throbbed through my chest again. This time it was more intense, almost painful. My hand shot to my chest subconsciously. Something was wrong, I could feel it. The magic was trying to warn me that something was near, something dark and evil, and it was coming for us.
“Are you sure you’re ok?” Ruan’s concerned eyes stared at me. That look, the same one that her brother gave me. I couldn’t resist it. “You don’t look well.”