Weston woke to the sound of Cas stirring the fire. Spook was watching him intently, possible scanning for mice and small game.
“Sorry if I woke you,” he said apologetically.
Weston waved his hand at the notion. “No, don’t worry about it.”
“I thought I’d begin by cooking us some breakfast.” His smile was bright against his dark skin.
Weston stood and stretched, rubbing his tanned arms with his hands calloused hands. He glanced around for Moon, but didn’t see his new friend anywhere. He hoped the strange Shifter Cat was getting some breakfast.
Eventually Kane stirred and sat up. Tinker immediately bounced onto his lap, coaxing a sleepy smile out of him. “I think these three might be our companions from now on,” he said, scratching just underneath the feline’s chin.
“I’d like to see them shift,” Cas confessed, eyeing Spook with pure admiration.
"I'm sure they will eventually."
The smells of their freshly prepared food must have reached Moon’s nose because the black cat, whom Weston now knew was a female, reappeared. She carried a field mouse proudly in her mouth.
“So what’s the plan for today?” Kane asked, taking a bite of breakfast.
“I think we should look around the beach for any useful supplies we might have missed in the dark,” said Cas, helping himself.
Weston nodded. “That’s a good idea,” he said, feeding a few of his scraps to Moon. “Then we’ll pack up and start to follow the banks until the Lake curves. Then I think we should try to cut through the forest like we talked about. It’ll minimize the journey.”
The other two soldiers nodded in agreement and continued to enjoy their breakfast.
Once they were finished they sat in silence. They all found themselves reluctant to head back to the beach, out of fear for what they might find.
Eventually Cas stood and said he’d start to look while they packed up the rest of the supplies.
Kane nodded sheepishly and Weston said nothing. He wondered how many bodies had floated onto the banks.
He’d seen a body wash ashore from the sea just once when he was nine. It was early and he was out looking for driftwood just a few yards away from his home. He remembered thinking someone must have fallen asleep on the beach the night before. But when he got up close he could see the man’s eyes were open and so was his mouth. He was covered in seaweed and his skin was all pasty. Weston remembered running all the way back home to his mother, barely able to tell her what he’d seen. Eventually she told him that the man was a Raygorian, of the Shadow Lands. She guessed he’d tried to get into Calaria by sea.
Weston shook his head at the memory, certain he never wanted to see anything like that again.
He and Kane continued to pack up slowly.
“Where’d you say you’re from?” Kane asked him, breaking their.
“Vali,” Weston told him. “It’s a small fishing port down on the Sapphire Sea. What about you?”
Kane stuffed his bedding into one of the packs. “I live in Therone with my family. I’ve got two older brothers that are in the first Regiment of the Rebellion.”
“Wow, Therone,” Weston observed. “That’s a big village, isn’t it?”
Kane shrugged. “Most of the generals live there, it’s almost like a Rebellion hub.”
Weston was about to say something else when they heard Cas shout from the beach. Both of them stood up and began to run. Once outside of the treeline, they could see Cas kneeling over someone.
They got closer and Cas looked up at them. “She’s not breathing, but I-- I think--” he stammered, his eyes wide.
Weston motioned him out of the way and examined the soldier. She had an arrow sticking out of her leg and Cas was right, she wasn’t breathing.
Something about her struck Weston in a way that he couldn’t explain. Her skin was pale, but despite her injuries her cheeks were red. She could only be a year younger than him.
Weston shook his head, snapping himself out of it, and tilted her head back with his hand. He pressed his lips to hers and breathed in two large breaths, feeling her chest raise beneath his hand. He then placed his hands just below her collar bone and pulsated her chest several times. He repeated this over and over again, sensing no change. About ready to give up, Weston breathed slowly into her mouth one more time.
When he pulled away, he found her eyes surprisingly open. She looked up at him with a strange expression, almost a look of wonder. Delicately, she placed a hand on the side of his face, her fingers soft like velvet. Weston found himself unable to tear his eyes away from her.
Quickly, though, her eyes closed again.
She was still breathing, though. He checked to make sure.
“It must be from her injuries,” he said, lifting her in his arms. “She won’t last for very long, we need to hurry.”
Kane looked across the vast lake, which could be considered by some as an ocean. “What will we do? Carry her?”
Weston looked down at her face, completely still. “I-- I don’t know,” he mumbled exasperatedly.
“Wait,” said Cas. “I--”
“We can’t just leave her!”
“No, no, we can’t,” Kane agreed.
Cas tried again. “I know what--”
“But how are we supposed to carry her the whole--”
“WAIT!” Cas shouted at them.
Weston and Kane snapped their hands at him in surprise.
“I think I found something that can help us,” he said with a grin.
Cas lead them up the bank and over a small hill. There, tied to a wooden post was a large pony. It was lazily grazing in the grass. The three of them smiled in relief at Cas’ find.
Soon they were all packed up and ready to leave. They secured the girl onto the back of the pony, minding the wound on her leg. Weston had snapped the end of the arrow earlier to shorten the stem.
They found another one of the travel packs on the beach so now all three of them had one.
With their bearings about them, they officially began their trek just before high noon. Eventually Moon found her way up Weston's arm and onto the top of his travel pack.
He smiled at her. "Making yourself comfortable?"
The cat licked his neck affectionately and then nestled herself into a black ball.
Spook was roaming freely, running alongside Cas, while Tinker was lounging on the back of the pony, just below the young soldier’s feet.
Weston stayed with the pony, leading it by the reigns. Every so often he’d check on the girl's breathing, making sure she was still alive.
He wished he knew her name.