Chapter 4: We're Walking?!

Aira opened her eyes and groaned. The night had grown cold, and the ground was hard-packed. Was that a rock sticking into her side? She stuck her hand behind her and pulled out the sharpest, biggest rock that could have possibly found its way underneath her. What had she done, rolled around the whole camp in her sleep just fo land on the worst rock possible? Aira shook her head and stretched. She had woken Tal up three hours after he had gone to sleep. He had grumbled at her sleepily, chastising her for not waking him sooner, but had sat up promptly, his sword held lightly in his hands. 

That had been a slight surprise. Not, perhaps, that Tal had a sword, but that she hadn’t noticed it before. Where had he hidden it? Had he hidden it? Or was she being overly suspicious again? Ugh! She thought. Why can’t I trust him? Well, a quieter voice seemed to say, you did meet him. 

There was that. Speaking of… Where was the dragon? She looked around their campsite, craning her neck around the fire pit. There were their ashes, her cloak (she had used it as a pillow and of course had woken up five hundred feet away), and her water skin. No Tal. So. He left her after all. Only to be expected. Well, she better pack up and figure out what she was going to do now. Can’t rely on–

“Good morning!” the sing-song voice floated over the trees toward her. Tal, a string full of rabbits held in one hand, his cloak thrown over his shoulder in the other, came striding out of the trees. “I thought we might need a good breakfast. I didn’t smell any food in your cloak, and I, frankly, was supposed to arrive with the werewolves last night, so I didn’t pack any food either. This should serve nicely. Why don’t you get the fire started, and I’ll skin these critters?”

And, very matter of factly, Tal sat down on a nearby rock (much bigger than the one that had jabbed Aira in her sleep) and began skinning the rabbits.

She blinked. What a strange Creature. Shaking her head, she began piling sticks and logs for fuel in the center of the stones she had found the night before. Then, she sat back on her heels and extended her hands toward the pile of wood. Closing her eyes, she reached inside for the flicker of Nightforce she had and sent it streaming through her fingers at the sticks, concentrating on fire. A dark green glow surrounded her hands, and suddenly fire sprang to life around the wood. Triumphant, she looked up at Tal, who had finished skewering two rabbits on a long sharpened stick.

“Very good,’ he said gently, “I usually use flint myself. Dark Power–uh, you Newlings call it Nightforce, now, I believe–takes too much out of me when I use it to justify lighting a fire with it.”

She frowned, “But it’s not that tiring for me.”

“You are a full werewolf, correct? You should have access to more Nightforce than I do. I prefer to use other tools,” he smiled, and suddenly the stick with the rabbits rose in the air and hovered above the fire, seemingly on their own. Aira didn’t see a glow of Night or Dayforce around Tal’s hands. 

“How are you doing that?”

“I’m a dragon, remember? Telekinesis. Much easier for me than Nightforce!” Tal laughed at her expression and stretched his legs out, “Won’t be too much longer until the rabbits are ready. Then we better be on our way. I dare say it will take slightly more than a day to reach these werewolves on foot.”

“On foot!” Aira froze as she bent to pick up her cloak and gather her belongings, “Why aren’t we flying?”

“I haven’t had a rider for years. Very uncomfortable. No. We are walking.”

Aira protested loudly as she gathered her things and grudgingly took a rabbit on a smaller stick that Tal handed her. She complained as he kicked dirt over their fire and strode away, munching on his roasted rabbit. She protested as they walked until finally she merely grumbled under her breath, kicking up dirt as she trudged behind him.

The day wore on, and they headed deeper into the trees that had surrounded her clearing. The sun rose to its peak, and just as Aira began to feel hungry, Tal produced strips of dried fruit. They were tasty and rather tart. He said he had made it while she was complaining, citing some principal of water extraction she did not follow. Finally, she quieted and began thinking about her escape, and that led to worry. She had been very loud all morning. If they had been followed, someone could have heard her. Aira stole a glance over her shoulder and hurried closer to Tal, her heart beating. The shadows grew longer in the forest, and she imagined she could see soldiers with bows and swords sneaking along behind her and Tal. Had they been followed?

A bird fluttered out of the branches of a tree nearby, and Aira squeaked, latching onto Tal’s arm, then releasing it quickly, muttering an apology. 

“It’s okay, Aira. You can hold my arm if it makes you feel safe from birds,” he said with a smile.

“I think we are being followed,” she whispered, hugging her arms close to her chest.

“I haven’t sensed another consciousness as we have been walking, but if you’re worried, I’ll keep a sharp lookout. Who would want to mess with a dragon and a dangerous werewolf, anyway?”

Aira smiled weakly, but still tried to watch every corner. Something felt off. Maybe it was her imagination, but she really didn’t’ think so. It had to be real. The sun drooped lower, the trees blocking out all but the smallest streaks of light. She heard footsteps echo behind her. Were those theirs? Or the soldiers? Crying out, she whirled around, summoning her Nightforce to her hands and sending it straight through the trees.


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