The blast from Aira’s hand met a light blue shield that sprang up around three armed creatures. One looked human, rounded ears and no fangs showing in his bared teeth. She had made the shield and so clearly was able to use Dayforce. The other two appeared to be werecats, both nearly a head shorter than the human with pointed ears and narrow fangs. They wielded short swords, and the human brandished a one-handed crossbow as she maintained her Dayforce shield.
Aira screamed and stumbled back into Tal. She had no weapons other than her Nightforce, and despite her accomplishment at the fire that morning, she was not very strong. What would she be able to do against steel?
Tal placed one hand on Aira’s shoulder and gently pushed her behind him, extending his other hand to the woman with the shield, “Good evening. May I ask what business you have here? With us?”
The woman snarled at his hand and pulled the trigger on her crossbow. The bolt shot at Tal’s face, and Aira opened her mouth to scream again when suddenly the bolt stopped inches from Tal. He flicked his fingers, and the bolt flew straight at a tree to his left. Then he motioned toward himself, and the crossbow shook in her hand for a moment before flying into Tal’s hand. He looked at it curiously.
“Is this one of the new automatic crossbows? It rearms after firing?” He turned it in his hands, “I do believe it is! Smart!” He set it down and placed one foot on it before crossing his arms. “Now. Shall we begin again? Good evening. What business do you have here?”
The woman’s mouth worked soundlessly, and she drew a long dagger from her belt before rushing at Tal and Aira. The werecats looked at each other and shrugged, dropping down onto their haunches, holding their swords loosely in their hands. Tal shook his head and glanced back at Aira, rolling his eyes.
“Madam,” he said as he shot his hand forward, freezing her in place, “This is an exercise in futility. I don’t know how you don’t seem to realize who you are dealing with, but I am no easy prey for you to ambush and steal from if that is your intention. I would like to have a proper conversation with you to ascertain what you want rather than stealing that information from your mind, which I could do very easily. I shall give you one last chance to speak with me, or I shall send you on your way. You shall not leave happy, I guarantee it.”
The woman growled under her breath and then finally sighed, “I don’t have business with you! I have business with that werewolf behind ya!”
Tal narrowed his eyes, “What business?”
“Bounty business! Her face is broadcasted from here Naidow to Nefti to Lartnek even. Nefti guards’ll pay good money to get her back.”
“I see,” Tal’s eyes flicked to Aira, and she felt her heart flutter.
“You hand her over, and I’ll see you get paid, dragon,” the woman said.
“Will you now? And if I don’t? What will you do then?”
“I’ll sic Ban and Thad on you!” she seemed to struggle to move, but however Tal held her would not let her budge.
“Just as you shot me with a crossbow?” Tal tapped the weapon with his foot.
Her mouth opened to retort, and then she closed it, scowling.
“No, I shall not hand over Aira, to you or any guard of Nefti. She is an ambassador on a diplomatic mission with me and is too crucial to just let go. Instead, I shall give you a choice. You may try and take her from me, or you will run away and not bother us again. Choose wisely. If you choose poorly, you shall regret it.”
Aira looked up at his face in wonder. He looked patient, his mouth held in a small smile, but his eyes were slightly narrowed, and if she just looked at them, he looked angry. Was he angry on her behalf? She had worried he might have turned her over to the bounty hunters, but instead, he seemed willing to fight for her. She shook her head in amazement.
“Alright! I will let you go now and count to five. If you are not out of eyesight by then, I will assume you are going to fight, and I swear you will end up far worse for wear! Ready?” he lowered his hand, and she nearly fell to the ground, now unsupported by Tal’s telekinesis, “One, two…”
The two werecats fled as soon as his hand lowered, the woman bounding after them before Tal had counted to three. He laughed as the darted out of sight and bent to pick up the crossbow, “Wait,” he said softly, “You forgot this.”
Chuckling, he turned to Aira and handed her the crossbow, “Here, a souvenir for your first life-harrowing adventure with Tal!”
She took it and frowned, “What? Shouldn’t we leave it so she can get it?’
“I’m sure she can find a new one. Besides, she was going to kill me with it. Such a smart weapon should only be used in self-defense or in defense of someone’s life, I think. Why don’t you use it? It looks like it has ten bolts preloaded already, and I can show you how to make more later if necessary. Grab the one in the tree, and let’s go. We should camp soon.”
Aira grabbed the bolt he had sent into the tree and stared after the strange half-dragon. Every moment she spent with him made her more and more confused. For one thing, he was so cavalier in the face of dangerous situations, and for another, he just accepted her the way she was and had just risked his life for her. Perhaps this Nailan person had something to do with it. He had helped her across the river to escape the soldiers, and then this Tal person appeared. Maybe. She hung the crossbow on her belt and trotted after Tal. She was going to have to think very hard about all of this.