“Isn’t there a road or path we can take?” Sara asked, making her way through the brush as she followed Leon.
“No,” Leon answered, “We have no need for them, and they would only show you humans where to find us.”
“Then where are we going?” Sara asked.
“By nightfall, we should reach an outpost,” Leon said, “We can stay there until tomorrow.”
“And then where?” Sara asked, “The Netherworld?”
“No,” Leon replied, “We have to go to Vesuvia and see the Council. They need to know what’s going on, and they’re likely upset that I haven’t returned yet.”
“Vesuvia? Are we actually going to Vesuvia? That’s your capital, isn’t it?” Sara asked.
“Kind of, it’s the only city we have.” Leon said.
“Just one city? It must be huge to hold all of your people.” Sara said.
“Yeah,” Leon said, “Compared to what humans have here in Rhea. But I guess it’s not really fair since we’ve been here for ages and you humans made your first settlement...what was it, a little over a hundred years ago?”
“I’m not exactly sure,” Sara answered, “A hundred and fifty years, I think.”
“No way,” Leon said, “It can’t be older than me. I remember seeing the first human settlers.”
“What,” Sara said. “You don’t look a day past twenty-five.”
“I’m a hundred and forty-three.” Leon said, “You?”
“I just turned twenty-one a few weeks ago,” Sara said, “Do all Vesuvians age that slowly?”
“Pretty much,” Leon said, breaking several small branches in his path.
There was a brief moment of silence as Sara continued to follow, “How old do Vesuvians live?”
“Good question,” Leon said, “No one really knows.”
“You’re telling me no Vesuvian has ever died of old age? How is that?” Sara asked.
“Well, the oldest one is maybe two thousand years old.” Leon replied.
“So, every Vesuvian that came before him died of unnatural causes?” Sara asked.
“Yup,” Leon answered, “Please don’t ask me to explain all the different ways a Vesuvian can die. But I can tell you the eldest Vesuvian to ever live, an Orlok, died shortly before humans first stepped foot on Rhea.”
“What’s an Orlok?” Sara asked.
“One of the Vesuvian Houses, and now that I remember, an Orlok can be younger than me and still look ugly as sin,” Leon said, “They start out fine, but they go downhill fast.”
Sara laughed, “That bad, huh? How many Houses are there?”
“Seven.” Leon answered.
“That’s it? Which one do you belong?” Sara asked.
At that moment, Leon stopped in front of a narrow, five-foot deep ditch with a small stream running through it. He hopped down and extended a helping hand to Sara.
Ignoring the offer, Sara hopped down as well.
Leon shrugged and skipped over the narrow stream before making a scarcely believable eight foot leap up to the other side of the ditch.
It wasn’t until Sara crossed the stream that she realized the difficulty of the obstacle in front of her.
Leon knelt down and again extended his hand.
This time, Sara accepted, and with a quick pull by Leon, she was up on the other side of the ditch. As Leon turned to move on, Sara gripped his hand tight, “Which House?” she asked.
Leon gently pulled away, “All of them,” he said.
After several hours of travel, Sara and Leon came to a small clearing and stopped.
Sara was becoming exhausted. Stretching her legs, she could see several small buildings across the clearing and noticed dusk was fast approaching.
“There’s the outpost,” Leon said, still looking as fresh as when they journey started, “You can rest up there.”
“Leon, you’re not tired?” Sara asked.
“Not really,” Leon answered, walking toward the outpost with Sara close behind.
“I hope your beds are comfy.” Sara said.
“Just let me do the talking.” Leon responded.
When they reached the outpost, Leon knocked on the door.
A small peephole slid open and a male voice with an accent spoke, “What yous doing here?!”
“I’m escorting this human to see the Council, “Leon said.
“What’s the matter? Ya lost?” came the voice.
“The human needs rest.” Leon answered.
The peephole slammed shut and the door opened. Standing before Leon was a grungy-looking man of similar height, with braided hair down to the shoulders. Sara could see both of his arms were covered with tattoos, “Come in,” he said, stepping aside.
Leon entered and quickly looked around, “You alone?”
“Yeah,” the Vesuvian guard said, and then sitting at a table with cards laid out.
Sara entered, making sure to stick close to Leon as she examined the dimly lit room.
Leon pointed, “The bed is right over there.”
“Thanks,” Sara said, then walking over and sat at the edge of the bed.
Leon sat across from the guard, who was busy playing with the cards.
“What’s the Council want with a human?” the guard asked.
“Not much,” Leon said, “With everything that’s going on, they want to see if they can help.”
The guard laughed, “Help? Them?”
Sara ignored the insult.
“I take it you haven’t met many humans,” Leon said, watching the guard play, “They’re full of surprises.”
“I’m sure,” the guard said.
Sara rubbed her legs, though she never took her eyes off the Vesuvians.
“How far have you gotten?” Leon asked of the game, “I’ve never been able to win.”
The guard stifled a laugh, “Everyone knows that. You still got the fastest record for using all your moves at Neila’s Pub.”
Sara noticed Leon shift as if he wasn’t too comfortable, and that made her uncomfortable.
“Tell you what,” Leon said to the guard, “Why don’t you take the night off? I’ll cover for you.”
The guard looked at Leon for a moment, “You got no bloody argument here.” He stood up and walked out.
Leon walked to the door and locked it.
“He wasn’t too friendly,” Sara said.
Leon shrugged and lay on a bed across the room.
Sara lay down also, “I thought you weren’t tired,” she said.
“Sleep saves energy,” Leon responded.
Sara yawned, “Good night, Leon.”
“Good night,” Leon said before dozing off for several hours.
At some point in the middle of the night, Leon began to constantly shift in bed, making small grunting noises. Before long, he woke sitting upright, sweating and out of breath. He looked at Sara, only to find her staring at him. She was halfway out of bed with her halo in hand.
“Bad dream?” Sara asked.
Leon wiped the sweat off his forehead, “Yeah.”