Chapter One: The Escape
Graceful, haunting clouds, danced into her room. The expelled ghosts of the flames slithered in deviously through the space below the door. Kari had just finished eating lunch and hints of roasting wood and faint yells could be heard from her second-story bedroom. Her window was open and faced the back of the grounds, she looked out and saw various attendants running out through the back door. She immediately became concerned. She ran to her own door but it wouldn’t open. She tried to push it but it wouldn’t budge. She had never once had any issues with that door and she knew it was more than suspicious. “Help!” she yelled. She ran back over to the window. She yelled down to the people below her to try and get their attention. One maid saw her and pointed her out to the others and they too began to panic. There was a loud bang from the other side of the door. . It sounded like someone was trying to break in. With one last aggressive push, the door swung open. The hallway, like a dam being broken, released clouds of smoke into the room. She coughed while trying to make out who saved her. It was a man who looked somewhat familiar. He had olive skin and dark eyes. She looked into his eyes and before she could process what she saw he interrupted her thought. “Kari!”. We have to go.” He grabbed her sword that was hanging on its mount by the door, threw it to her, and led her out. What’s going on she asked. There is an enemy faction attacking from the front, we have to get out of here.”
The halls were almost completely filled with a white haze. Like a haunting spring night in a dark forest. She tried not to breathe the air but it was hard to do while running. He led her into her father’s study, a room that she was rarely allowed in. Her brother and father were waiting there for them. They barricaded the door shut and quickly tried to usher her out the window. “What’s going on?” she asked, looking at her father. “No time to explain now. “Jeplin, here are the bags now go.” She turned to the man. “Jeplin!” she said,” I knew I recognized you!” “Let’s go,” he said, trying to hold back a smile. He gestured towards the window. Kari hadn’t seen Jeplin in several years. She grew up with him, he was close to her brother’s age which was only a few years older than her. He was like a second son to her father and he took care of him until he went away to the academy with her brother and she hadn’t seen Jeplin since. She had so many questions but there wasn’t time. Jeplin jumped onto the window ledge and leaped onto the balcony, she followed. Her father handed her a bag of food. “ Go wherever Jeplin leads you, and only trust him.” He said sternly. `` and be careful.” He hugged her then ushered her out the window. “Don’t worry we will see you soon.” She got onto the balcony and they ran down the steps from the platform.
Waiting for them below, was a black horse. Jeplin quickly clipped the bags he was holding to the horse. While he was getting everything ready he suddenly stopped and looked over towards one of the first-floor windows, he hit the horse on its hind leg and yelled “get down” he jumped onto Kari and protected her with his body. They hit the ground just as an explosion of flames and smoke blasted through the window. She could feel the heat on her face as though it were the hot breath of some foul beast. She closed her eyes. She could feel debris coat her. She stayed still until she felt Jeplin get up. He helped her to her feet and asked if she was alright. She nodded. Jeplin whistled and the horse returned. He boosted Kari on the saddle and jumped on behind her.
The wind burned her ears as they tore out of the yard. She had a lot of experiences with horses but she had never gone so fast while riding one. The sky around the estate had turned almost black from the burning of her home. She wanted to watch what was happening but before she could say anything they were completely out of sight. Jeplin remained silent as they rode. He was very focused and she didn’t want to distract him so she stayed silent too. While they rode she pulled food out of the pack her father gave her and ate.
They tore through the countryside. She held on and crouched down to avoid the harsh wind. The hum of the air passing her, silenced all other noises and any attempt at communication. She could feel the very tops of her ears becoming completely numb. She was alerted to them when she felt a pang of pain contouring their edges. She was grateful that the cold chill was only on her ears but it was still uncomfortable. She pulled a bit of the cloak that was awkwardly draped around her torso up to cover more of her body and lifted the hood onto her head. The hood was a welcome shelter for her wind-ravaged face. She could feel her ears and cheeks softening with the coddling from the thick fur.
Jeplin spurred his horse, not slowing or wavering. Kari, though uncertain was a bit excited, she had always dreamed of going on an adventure and it was already more exciting than anything she could’ve imagined.
Jeplin continued to look behind them as he rode. He didn’t dare say what he saw, but they were indeed fleeing.
Time seemed to pass as quickly as they rode. When the sun began to set, a mix of glistening light and calming tones of grays and blues canopied the sky. The grandeur was overwhelming as they reached gaping, sky freeing fields. A large sea of unhindered sights. Wave after wave of long dry grass rippled methodically.
After eating on the run Kari drifted off to the images of beautiful amber seas of wheat and grass peeking from the newly melted snow, mimicking the soft mane of the horse that was dancing gently on her cheeks.
They rode for almost a whole day before they took their first true break. They both sat on either side of a roaring fire. The flames lashed upwards like fiery tongues. Jeplin finally finished setting up the camp and they sat silently for a moment, but she couldn’t hold back any longer. “Jeplin,” she said. I can’t believe it’s you. I haven’t seen you in so long.” He smiled.” I know I’m so glad to see you too. I’m sorry that the circumstances are so dire.” “What is going on?” She asked. “There is a faction that has been making its way into the south. They have been pillaging and setting fire to every town in their path...” “That’s a little more optimistic than what I had imagined.” “What do you mean?” “Well, I thought our home was targeted specifically but if they were just attacking everyone…” ”No, your assumption is correct.” He said. “They were destroying everything... in their search for your family.” “What?” She said, shocked. “Why would they want my family?” He looked up dramatically from the map he was reading. “You don’t know?”
Kari panicked a bit. “Know what? What am I supposed to know?” Jeplin took a deep breath. “It’s not my place to tell you, but it would have made it a lot easier if your father, had already done so.” She looked at the flames, they danced violently with the wind. “Your father was expecting this day, the day when people would hunt for your family, that is why he created a plan to protect you.” “Plan?” She asked while lowering her voice and leaning forward. The grass caressed her arms with their brittle bodies. “For years he knew that your home would eventually be discovered. We tried all that we could to protect you and Robert.” “Robert hardly needs to be protected...” “Now yes, but years ago he was very inexperienced, probably five or six years ago. Have you been taught any type of fighting tactics recently?” “I don’t know anything fancy, I’ve been learning sword combat for a few years now.” “Oh good, if something happens you will be able to hold your own.”
They both remained silent for a few minutes. The heat from the fire leaned towards her for a moment. “The whole intention was to put you through fighting lessons, then, and as soon as he heard the word of an invasion he was to send for me. I was then supposed to take you with me into hiding.” “Well, it sounds like everything worked out then.” “Not exactly.” He said, “there were other forms of fighting you were supposed to learn. Your father cut it much too close honestly, this war has been going on for so long he should’ve been ready.”
She started thinking about the day before. Fons was in the process of approaching, so her estate was celebrating the end of Hiems. It was the first hint of a warm day and the pond behind her house had melted. She ran through the field, letting the air engulf her, a freeing feeling compared to the dreary halls of her home. Whenever she was wandering out near her home, those freeing natural moments always led her to the same place, a small river that pooled at the edge of the forest. The river was decently shallow and it weaved in and out of the bottoms of trees, leaving the roots to create unique grasping hand-like sculptures.
The water had a silvery sheen that glistened and flickered around under the sun. Like its own breed of fish, the movements were fluid and constant. She held her dress up and lowered her leg slowly until her toes were submerged in the water. Testing the cool relaxing pool, she pulled her foot up again then re-inserted it even deeper than before. The icy water was refreshing, and it was easy to tell that Hiems was still clinging on to any physical form it could. She placed both feet into a shallow section. Standing, the water only up to her calves. She smiled. Though her home was well-equipped with luxurious amenities, nothing was more pleasurable to her than the simplicity of pure nature. That day, the air was clean. There were only a few hints of snow dusting the shadowy parts of the grass and the sun beat down warming everything else.
“We better keep going.” Jeplin’s voice jolted her back to reality, “Now, in the middle of the night?” She protested. “It’s the safest time, especially if we are being trailed.” She agreed. She honestly hadn’t thought that someone might be following them. It haunted her. She walked over to him as they tore down their camp and she hugged him. He smield and hugged her back. Ive missed you so much. She said. They mounted the horse in the same fashion as before and continued on their way.
They always ate while riding unless it was a good time to rest and start a fire. Jeplin was careful about where and when they stopped. She laid her head on the horse’s mane. She could feel the heaving of its breath beneath her. An oddly soothing rhythm that let her drift off again.
Another day passed and she began to conjure more questions in her mind. “Are we running in general or is there an end goal?” She said after finishing her breakfast, hoping this would not be a new constant. The wind almost completely muffled her question but Jeplin still heard it. “Do not worry, we are not going to be riding for eternity, we will be arriving somewhere soon.”
She felt very far away from home. The feeling of loneliness was spurred by the miles and miles of simple grass leaving the sky open to the eyes. Tears ran down her face but they were swiftly removed by the wind. She was grateful, she did not want Jeplin to see. . She did not like anyone to see her cry. She did the only thing she could, watch the scenery. They were leaving the open plains and venturing into the beginning of a dense forest.
Each tree was thin, tall, dark, and ominous. They all towered above them, bare leafless monsters. Her body slipped off the horse a bit but she was immediately held in place by Jeplin’s forearms. He never really seemed to be caught off guard by anything while riding, even though he was not accustomed to traveling with anyone.
The sunset on another day. Kari could see the signs of a village in the distance, the small dots of light danced on the horizon like fireflies. She hoped they were going to stop there.
As they got closer to the city they began to pass a collection of houses. The houses became more prevalent as they got closer to the city walls. The houses themselves were not very notable, walls were made of mostly dirt and clay, and the entrance to the city matched the dreariness via a decrepit stone pathway. “Viri Cinis.” He said pointing towards the city.
There were not many streets that she could see from the main road, and what she could see looked as though it had been ravaged by a fire or a very rough winter. Jeplin gestured for her to get off the horse with him and they started walking off the pathway.
They sneaked through the gate and immediately turned to an ally. They hid in the shadows until they reached a stable. He looked at her and before she could ask any questions, he answered them. “We are trying to lie low... you need a disguise.” “Why?” She asked. “I doubt anyone here knows who I am.” “This is a place where you don’t want to be noticed. You will understand once we start walking around. They’re not fond of Nobi or Women. The only gender they don’t give a hard time are men, all of the women and Nobi here are either related to a man or provide a service they approve of, like the innkeeper she’s a woman and she’s safe for the most part.” “That’s terrible,” she said. Yeah, but it’s not worth trying to redevelop this place, I’d rather these types of men stay in their own city and they pretty much do. “Why are we stopping here?” “I have to pick something up. Don’t worry we won’t be here long.”
He pulled a leather strap off of his wrist. “Pull up your hair.” He placed the hood from her cloak onto her head.
He then knelt in front of her and wiped his hands in the mud. He stood only inches from her. He needed to make her clothes less pristine. She looked at the mud, but her attention was drawn from his hands to his eyes. She looked directly at them. His eyes were a dazzling brown, she forgot how mesmerizing they were. . She continued staring almost to challenge him but he remained focused. His hands slowly caressed her face, leaving a few streaks on her right cheek. She had not expected the mud to be as cold as ice. She shivered. “No matter what happens, do not speak.” He said.
The streets were grimy and narrow leaving little room for anything. Each building was seemingly more disgusting than the one before. Her eyes darted back and forth trying to blend in and remain alert. They reached the more inhabited section of town and she realized why Jeplin took all of the precautions. The streets were covered in large obnoxious men, mostly drunk and covered in dirt. She stayed at Jeplin’s side. The slop that was supposed to be road clung to their boots and splattered with any movement. Everything was a disgusting brown and gray mess. Jeplin grabbed her hand as they approached what looked like an abandoned tavern. Kari carefully followed.
The inside was darker than the night sky, save for a few candles that hauntingly glowed in the corners. She jumped when she saw two large men attacking each other only a few tables away. Like wild animals, they clawed at each other to survive. Jeplin looked at her. It was his way of silently telling her to stay where she was.
He crossed to the bar and began talking to the man behind it. As the men got louder, she shrunk into the shadows. Her eyes remained on Jeplin. After a few minutes, he gestured for her to join them behind the counter. She slowly and carefully walked to him. She felt as though each person could hear her every move, the floorboards creaked with each assumption.
The barkeeper led them up an almost completely blacked-out set of stairs. Kari, relieved, placed her hand on the railing. In return, her hand was covered with soot.
A bedroom was their destination. It was small, and only held one tiny bed made of clumps of hay and a fireplace. Not unlike the stairs, everything was black and dingy. Jeplin gestured for her to take the bed. “I have business to attend to. He handed her food. “Do not open the door for anyone and do not leave this room.” She nodded. She had no intention of leaving. She was exhausted. He lit the fire for her then left. She locked the door after him and climbed into the bed.
As night peeked violent thrashing and banging could be heard coming from the hallway. The noise woke Kari, she felt the walls shake as something hit the door. She sat up and knocked the empty plate beside her to the floor. She froze hoping the noise did not attract whatever was just beyond the wall. Everything was dark except the faint glow of the embers in the fireplace. The windows were not forgiving, she could feel the icy air slip through the cracks. She jumped out of bed and quietly tossed a log on its remains. The embers began to slowly catch fire again. This coerced her into grabbing the blanket off the bed and sitting there until they transformed into enormous flames.
When the violence outside her door became louder, she realized Jeplin had not returned. She got up to make sure the door was still locked. She leaned over to look through a crack in the door frame. Two men were standing in the middle of the hall illuminated by sporadic torches placed on the walls. They stood almost silently in that moment as if they knew she was there. The only noise was their heavy breathing.
That was when she noticed there were two other men. They were both leaning against the wall on the side she peered from. One man was very short and smoking an enormous pipe, the other was covered in blood and dirt. With a casual gesture from the latter, the other two men lunged at each other and the noise started up again. Kari jumped back, a bit startled at the pure strength and disregard for everything around them. The sparring seemed to be between friends, spurred by ale and boredom. After a few moments of them lashing around and destroying a chunk of the wall they disappeared into another hallway.
Her attention was drawn back to Jeplin’s whereabouts. She grabbed her cloak from the chair and carefully opened the door. She covered herself and slipped into the shadows. She walked, scraping her back against the wall. Bits of wood clung to her cloak, feeble, and useless bits that were no longer helpful in the wall’s construction. Kari remembered that the bar sat directly under the stairs. She only needed to step down a few of the steps to see who was sitting in the room. She was careful to make sure she wasn’t seen. The room was still as dark as when she walked through it earlier. About a dozen men were lumbering around and sitting at tables. That’s when she noticed Jeplin. She was relieved to see that Jeplin was alright. He was sitting at the bar talking to a man. The man was mostly covered in mud, it was a common theme there and seemingly looked upon as the standard. She looked at the man’s face, the mud on it glistened a bit under the very scarce light scattered by the way of candles. She continued to look at him, the mud was placed there intentionally to cover his identity. The clumps made him look inhuman. She looked at the rest of his clothing, all completely ruined. Despite the insane rumble of clatter from the men still attacking each other in a neighboring hallway, she was able to hear snippets of his voice. It sounded familiar though the stretches of quiet were not long enough to figure out who it reminded her of. Satisfied that Jeplin was fine she, as gingerly as before, made her way back into the room.
The fire had lost its fervor and was struggling to produce warmth. She grabbed some food and sat next to it and ate while stoking it. She wrapped herself in the blanket from the bed and lied down on the hearth. The flames grew larger and they began to project light onto the walls which were only hindered by the gray and crumbling cobblestone that housed them. She felt as though the structure itself could have been easily deconstructed with only one jarring motion. The walls were not only weak but grime-covered, mirroring the hallway. The dirt seemed to have been etched into each surface. It was clear water had long ago forsaken the room. The only location that seemed to have been touched by any water was the windowsill. Several trails of lighter dirt circled to and from the edges. They were the small divots eroded by the passing of raindrops. She looked out past the panes and saw the tree branches, flailing back and forth covered in droplets flickering aggressively. Sheets of heavy rain lifelessly fell from the sky, in turn peppering the window with hundreds of minuscule water particles. She watched the larger droplets slip down. They racked quickly, only praised by the sill itself. The water pooled at the edges and then overflowed continuing the journey down the wall. She was entranced by the intricate shapes left by the slimy trails. They revealed small waves of white among the sea of gray. Her eyes traveled to the floor and continued to travel across the room until something out-of-place caught her eye. A small knife was sitting in the shadow of the bed. She shifted her weight and reached for it. The handle was cold. She held it to the firelight. It was covered in mud, like everything else in the city. She sat up and began to scrape a layer of the dirt off. She looked to the bedside table where she saw the pitcher of water. Gathering the blanket like a large dress, she stood and brought the pitcher back to the hearth. She set the knife on the floor then poured water on it. She wiped it onto the blanket until it looked somewhat usable. When she had finished the warmth began to overtake her and she lied on the floor and let the flames hypnotize her as she slipped into an unconscious state.
The sun rose quickly on the next day. They could see the bright sky peek into the stable as they reunited with the horse after their elaborate breakfast. At the peak of the stable where the two parts of the roof met, a column of light beamed down. Tiny particles stood suspended in its wake. Like a feather floating on the surface of a pool of water, each moment became more saturated and weighed down by the water itself. Jeplin cupped his hands before the horse and it nimbly ate the meal he offered. Satisfied it turned and began to drink out of a trough of dingy water.
They exited the stable and were immediately slowed by the sudden burst of cold air. Kari could barely breathe, the weather’s icy destructive fingers held onto her throat. It was a large step back from the nice weather they had been getting glances of in the days previously. As they rode, she dreamed of the beautiful fire she was huddled next to only moments before.
The nip in the air slowly dissipated as the days passed. One day it actually brought a rare hint of warmth. The dirt and sweat weighed on Kari more with the glare of the sun. Jeplin, taking advantage of the opportunity, stopped the horse at the bank of the lake they were racing past. Surprised by their deviation, Kari staggered off the horse too grateful to question his choice. She immediately collapsed at the bank. The fresh breeze that danced off the water soothed her. Jeplin pulled the packs off the horse and set everything under a tree that hunched over a corner of the water.
Jeplin had an affinity for confining himself to trees, he felt they were great assets if ambushed. Kari sat up and pulled off her mud-caked boots. She had brown stockings that went to her knees that came off with them. She pulled them out and tossed them into the water.
She watched Jeplin as she dipped her foot. Jeplin followed suit and beg sim to remove some of the acutrements that he was wearing. He dropped his cape, his weapons then he slowly untied each piece of armor. He left with his undershirt and pants on.
When he walked towards her she looked away.
The river glistened under the sun, nothing could have been more welcoming. He slowly waded into the water. The water soaked his clothes and caused his shirt to cling to his chest. Kari’s eyes were drawn to him again. His skin was white as snow and his muscles wrapped his body elegantly. ” Is it cold?” she asked. “A bit, ” he said, pulling his other clothes into the water with him. He dipped the clothes, completely engulfing them. She slipped her whole body into the water. Covered up to her chest, she pulled off her pants to wash them. She rubbed the dirt off by hand. Jeplin was not as thorough, he took off his white shirt and let it float around while he sat chest-deep in the water. Her face turned a pale pink from looking at his bare skin. She noticed the smattering of scars covering his upper body. He was very attractive. She slowly sneaked over to him while her eyes were closed and she splashed him. He jolted upright and chased after her. They laughed like they had before he left for school.
They had spent many summer days playing in the water while her brother read a book on the land near them. She stepped further into the lake allowing the cool water to touch her shoulders. She lifted her legs and she sunk below the surface. The cool hands of the waves caressed her face gently. She stayed still holding the feeling in her memory then let her feet touch the ground again and returned to the sun-drenched air. Jeplin followed suit, though his approach was less graceful.
After a bit, she pulled herself out of the water and lay on a blanket, leaving her bare legs vulnerable to the sun,
Still in the water, Jeplin had created a distance between them. She couldn’t imagine how anyone enjoyed the sort of aggressive swimming he was indulging in. He began his journey back and she, in turn, closed her eyes to enjoy the warm sun on her cool wet body. Her eyes remained closed as Jeplin pulled himself out of the water. He knelt on the ground equidistant between her and the tree and started a small fire. She opened her eyes as he was lying his wet clothes on the edges of the fire to help in the drying process. She laid her pants and socks down in the same manner and returned to the blanket.
Her body was tired, it seemed no matter how much time she was given to rest, the traveling still took its toll on her in the same manner. The wind whistled swirling around forcing the blades of grass to dance in sync with each other.
She awoke to the sound of Jeplin shuffling through some scrolls. The sun was still high in the sky. She sat for a moment then spoke. “What are those?” She asked. “I picked them up in the tavern.” He responded. He paused for a moment. He was debating whether or not he was going to tell her the truth or not. “Your father sent them to me, I was supposed to receive them while I was at your estate but as you know things were difficult when I arrived.” She was immediately caught off guard by the mention of her father, she had tried to avoid the topic of her family to stave off the possible bad news. She couldn’t help but smile thinking that at least one of them survived. She thought about asking follow-up questions but the sound of a loud squawk from a bird caused Jeplin to stand up very quickly. He leaped from his seat gracefully and effortlessly, almost as if he was floating, and made his way up the tree. “There are a lot of birds.” He suspiciously commented as he jumped down. “We should leave.”
The continuing good weather made traveling more enjoyable, but occasionally a warm endeavor. They mostly traveled at night for the cooler temperature and the cover. When they did move during the day, they tried to make quick jumps into any water they came across to soothe the pain of the almost desert climate.
The terrain was uneven, some spots were very flat and barren and other spots were covered with plateaux and large rock formations. Despite the differences, all the hues were in a similar tannish vein. The path that they had been dedicated to, led to the edge of a cliff they had been climbing upwards towards all morning. Jeplin stopped the horse only inches from the edge, he looked down, he observed every crevice, like a hawk hunting for prey. Kari saw a smattering of little huts dotting the dry light brown grass below.
The color and textures were all the same, though the land below did look like it had once been lush and vibrant. The sand was minimal and dead stumps scattered the plain. Jeplin hit the horse with his heel, steering him down the cliff on a small narrow pathway. Their pace remained the same, slow, and cautious, even after they made it to the bottom.
The wind was still, the dry grass was silently erect and unwelcoming. They approached a cluster of huts and Jeplin jumped off the horse. He gestured for Kari to stay as he disappeared into one of the huts. The hut was like all of the others, small. There was about enough room for three people to lie down comfortably. The roof on their particular unit was made of thatch with a clay base that had started to crumble. She looked at the ground and saw the fresh pieces of clay scattered about in the grass. The fact that the clay had not changed shape or melded with the dirt, spoke to the frequency of rain, or the recent nature of destruction. She looked up at the sky. It was uncomfortably vibrant, with a dark clump of clouds approaching from the horizon. She was not fond of extremely dark weather. Jeplin exited the hut with a new bag in his hand. He looked to the horizon, following Kari’s gaze, and then began to take their bags off the horse. They claimed a large, abandoned hut for the night. There were two beds, small rectangular-shaped clumps of straw covered by old worn blankets. Between the beds, which were on opposing sides, was a terracotta lid. She kneeled and picked it up. To her surprise underneath was a hole filled with food. She took out two apples. She bit into one and gave the other to the horse. As she stood in the open without any trees blocking nature’s true hand, she felt a shift. The silent still wind began to swirl around her. She looked behind her at the impending storm clouds. They had traveled considerably closer. She closed her eyes. She could smell the moisture in the air. The horse finished the apple and made a noise trying to draw Jeplin’s attention. Jeplin poked his head out of one of the doorways and waved the horse off. Satisfied and excited he tossed his head back causing his mane to flutter as he danced off playfully through the valley. Jeplin finished his search and started a fire. Kari sat down. She enjoyed the dusty ground, the dirt was packed tightly and was eroding with each gust of wind. Jeplin joined her
As he cooked he told her the history of the land they were on. “Believe it, or not, this whole arid-looking desert was once a thick prosperous jungle, a jungle with plants that were very valuable. Not valuable necessarily because of their monetary worth but because of their properties. There were several plants from here but the two that were the most sought after were, a Sana bush and a tree called a Ligsang.” Kari listened intently. “The Sans bush had leaves, that when mixed with water, could heal wounds very quickly. It was helpful to stop bleeding and saved many lives of those who knew how to use it. The Ligsang tree was much rarer, the Sana bush was like any other plant, so it could be moved and replanted anywhere but the tree. It housed nectar inside that looked exactly like blood. The hard part about the tree was that it looked like any other tree so finding the nectar was almost impossible.” “What is the nectar?” What could it do?” Well, the bark of the tree was actually ore that could be fashioned into a small disk or any shape really, when melted and dried. The object could summon some sort of power, though it couldn’t conjure anything just release the power those who held it had already. And even more importantly, The blood sap inside the tree could stop it. The “blood” could stop the power release, and if the tips of arrows were covered in the juice, it turned a regular arrow to a deadly messenger of death.”
“Wow.” She said thinking about the forest that was once there.” “Sounds dangerous.” He nodded. There was a mad search for the trees a decade or so ago and they burned Tye forest thinking that all would be left would be the Ligsang because their bark was molded like metal, but it didn’t work and everything was destroyed.” “That’s sad she said touching the ground with her hand. Well fortunately this was not the only jungle on the continent. There are more out there that have been seen by few.”
The night came swiftly along with dropping temperatures. It shocked her to learn that the desert was very cold at night. Jeplin sat and watched the fire for a long time, only occasionally glancing away to look at Kari. Her face was still and pale like it was carved out of marble. He contemplated lifting her up and carrying her to the straw bed, but he wasn’t sure if she was more comfortable where she was. When the fire died down he finally decided to go to bed. As he stood he heard a wolf howl and that made his decision for him. He scooped Kari into his arms and effortlessly carried her inside and placed her on the pile of hay, then covered her with several blankets.
The sun did not break away from the clouds the next morning. Kari woke to the delicate pitter-patter of raindrops bouncing off the roof. She ate breakfast then ventured outside. The air was still cold. She wrapped her cloak around her tighter as she knelt by the remnants of the fire. She looked around for flint. Assuming Jeplin had some in one of the bags she slipped back inside to search for it. She saw he was passed out in the corner. He was hidden mostly by hay and a blanket. She smiled looking at his head overcome by the brittle dry cushion.
Moments later the fire was reborn. It flickered as though it was trying to dodge the raindrops. She sat by it, hoping the rain would not get any worse. The fire reached its towering peak potential just as Jeplin began to stir. She turned her head and their eyes met. He greeted her, “The weather seems to be getting worse.” He commented. Kari looked up, she noticed the sky was getting darker. “It looks like it has not rained here in a while.” “Yes it is good in a wider sense but it makes traveling harder for us.” “Oh.” She said realizing she had not considered how rain would affect their riding. “Does that mean we have to stay here?” She asked, not sure what answer she actually wanted to hear. “No,” Jeplin said, “No matter the weather we must continue.”
They gathered their bags and the sky released a waterfall of rain onto them. They quickly ran out of the hut as the mud roof melted. The horse was running to them as they escaped the mess. They hopped onto him and Jeplin spurred it as fast as he could, as though he was trying to try and outrun the storm. Lightning whipped across the sky, a haunting white color that somehow was able to reach every corner of the horizon with its bright blinding flash. The thunder that followed shook the ground and pushed the horse to gallop faster. Kari’s senses were reeling. Jeplin held her as they entered the middle of the storm. His face was stoic and fearless. His black cape whipped in the wind trailing behind him. His neck was the only thing that kept it from flying off into the storm itself.
There was a loud horn coming from the direction they were heading. Jeplin was ready. He drew his sword. Kari looked at him, her blue eyes even more vibrant against the darkness. He spurred the horse faster. Through the dark curtain of rain, she saw a string of men holding out swords. All of them were riding white horses. Jeplin stopped his horse a good distance from them but still within viewing range. With his free hand, he took Kari’s cloak and covered her completely. “Do not move, and close your eyes.” He said to her. She obeyed. She could hear the men shouting, but in a language, she did not understand.
Jeplin yelled back. She heard the men again, almost like they were taunting him. They began to move. They were charging them. Kari was not sure why Jeolin wasn’t running away. She wanted to see what was happening but the cloak was covering her and she dared not move it and distract Jeplin. She could only see the muddy ground and the horse’s hooves tearing it apart.
She shuddered as she felt and heard Jeplin’s sword hit another. The clang of metal echoed, hauntingly matching the thunder. Jeplin pulled the horse with his left hand and swung with his right. He danced effortlessly around all of them. She looked down again and watched man after man hit the ground. She could not believe what she was seeing. He swung around which caused her to grip the horse’s neck tightly but without Jeplin’s arms around her, she slipped a bit and her cloak flung around her. She heard a rumble followed by a bright light. By the time her vision had been restored, he pulled her back onto the top of the horse. They stood in the middle of the field surrounded by dozens of dead bodies. He covered her eyes again and they rode off.
The rain continued and at that point, they were completely soaked. After they left the bodies far behind he removed his hand. There was blood dripping on her face, displaced by him. She had so many questions, she was impressed, shocked, and proud of him. She wasn’t really sure what happened exactly, but from what she saw it was a feat. They did not stop for quite a while, they ate on the horse and Kari tried to sleep there too. They eventually stopped a day later.
The sky was bright even with the sun hidden partly behind the clouds. They sat in front of the fire, this time they were side by side. She wanted to comment on what happened in the field and how he killed so many people but she wasn’t exactly sure how to articulate her words because she wasn’t exactly sure what she saw. She looked at him and she saw his hand had a large slash across it and it was bleeding again. He was trying to wrap it with one hand and she grabbed the cloth from him. “Let me she said. She knelt in front of him and she started cleaning his injury. “I saw a bit of what happened but I don’t know exactly what happened she said, I don’t know what you did but I know it was amazing she said. He smiled. She gently wrapped his hand so that he could still use it without the bandage falling off as easily. Thank he said. She smiled back at him and returned to her seat.
Days passed and they did not stop to sleep. Jeplin was holding in more and more rage since the encounter. Kari relished the time they took to hunt, it being the only time there was a break since they typically ate while riding whenever they wanted. They finally made their way to a forest. It was not a particularly pleasant one, but it was not totally ravaged and she was glad for the change of scenery.
Kari looked ahead, the moon was hauntingly bright, and flashed through every space between branches. Almost as if it was always watching her. Kari chose not to look exactly in front of them. She was amazed at their swiftness dodging branches and rocks, and she trusted him, but it still made her nervous. She couldn’t see Jeplin’s face either, since he was sitting behind her but it was a blessing she couldn’t because his expression would have terrified anyone who looked upon him, especially her. He was angry. They were being followed, very coyly but they were nonetheless. He tried his best to lose the tail and he was eventually successful. The horse jumped over a large depression, and Kari, who was not watching, slipped. She braced herself on Jeplin’s arm. Her soft warm hands snapped him out of his thoughts.
The beginning of Fons was boldly showing its head in every way possible. The morning was full of dew-covered plants and the sounds of birds chirping calmly. The morning air was sweet and cool. They entered a section of the forest that was filled with oak trees. The leaves were a bright green under the prevalent sun. The branches and tree tops created a thick canopy and many shadows were left dancing below them. To Kari’s surprise, they began to slow down. She bent over to see what they were approaching.
They had reached a crude clearing nestled in the depths of the forest. Even with all the destruction the light barely made it through. There was a cluster of mud houses. They were made of similar materials to the ones they had just recently stayed in, but they were more formal. Several had a square shape and taller walls, some even had windows. They looked like they had long been abandoned, and most of the clear bits were overrun with ivy and weeds. She hoped they would not be staying there long. She was not sure how comfortable she could be in the rotting houses. Jeplin stopped the horse. She had the shocking realization that they might have reached their final destination. She looked at him. He hopped off the horse and pulled off all of the packs. After he helped her down he turned to the horse and touched its nose in a goodbye gesture. It quickly fled. She watched it dance into the darkness. She was drawn back to Jeplin when she heard the rustling from his feet hitting dead leaves. She followed him.
They stopped outside one of the smaller huts. Kari looked around at the others wondering why he seemed set on that particular one. He placed his hands on the odd metal handle and pushed, but nothing happened. He removed his hands and wiped them on his pants. She noticed that a large chunk of the knob was missing. He touched her shoulder signaling for her to move back. She obeyed as he swiftly kicked it open.
It split down the middle and the locking mechanism broke. Like the outside, it was littered with old ruins and plants. The walls seemed to be melting from erosion. The rest was almost engulfed by tree branches. Little bits of sun bled through the singular window leaving the dirt that was stirred up by them, dancing in the air. Jeplin knelt. He wiped his hands across the floor. She knelt to help but he stopped. It was a door. It blended in with the floor and the only determining factor was the metal handle, it was small and covered with mud. He wrapped his fingers around it and pulled. The door flung open.