Warning: This work has been rated 16+.
The fire crackled as Gideon poked at it with a stick. A burst of flame followed through the new crevices that the disturbance offered and licked at the untouched wood above. The flame left a trail of black behind it and moved greedily to any surface left.
To me, the flame represented my father while the wood was anything good in the world. A trail of dark blackness followed him just as the charcoal followed the flame. A trail of a soulless being. He was there at every possible turn, waiting to devour you as you tried to obtain freedom. Nothing was enough. No matter how many miles I travelled, I knew his influence would reach me as if I was still standing there in front of him, waiting for his next blow to land.
My eyes darkened when I touched the scar tracing the side of my neck. A reminder of him forever with me. Nothing would remove it and likewise, the memories of him would remain to taunt me whenever I felt safe. He would be there in so many forms. As a Ranger, as an attack, as a scar...
"So what's our next step?" Gideon asked while pulling out a basic map he'd acquired at the inn.
I watched him scour the paper with his eyes, taking in every detail. I smiled at his vigorous attempt to take in every detail. I knew him. He'd try and forget it by the time he put the map down. He was amazing when it came to working with his hands but when it came to being studious he was pretty well useless. I also knew how much he hated even the thought of studying something. I appreciated his determination to overcome the difficulty.
"Here." I said as I reached for the map. He handed it over and I had to chuckle at the obvious relief in his eyes.
I looked at it for a minute. I flipped over when I realized Gideon was reading it upside down. I snorted silently which received a glare from him. I got myself under control before looking at it again. We were travelling through the Forest of Raven which would naturally lead us on the South Coast of Zonvalon. At least we had luck geographically. We needed to get there so we could find a ship to leave this kingdom altogether.
"Well, we're heading in the right direction. The map, unfortunately, doesn't give too many details but I know that the main path here brings us out closer to the coast. From there, we have to head South a little further and follow the coast East. There are only a few towns along the way so it'd keep us hidden more but supplies could be a problem. I think that would be clearest and quickest way to get there." I said after a few minutes of studying the parchment. At least I had something I could contribute. I've been useless and even a burden up until now.
He nodded his head slowly and played with the scruff on his chin as he watched my finger trail along the map, giving him a visual picture of what I meant. I glanced at him as he continued to look at the map. His green eyes, hindered by the few strands of black hair, studied the map intensely. The sharp angle of his jawbone leading down to a very square, scruffy chin. I smiled, knowing he preferred himself to stay clean shaven. I couldn't say I agreed with him. I liked the way it darkened his face, letting his eyes take the spotlight.
Gideon stopped and looked at me. A confused look crossed his face as he asked with suspicion, "What?"
I smirked and replied as innocently as I possibly could, "Nothing."
He lifted an eyebrow suspiciously and I heard a mmm hm but he didn't say anything else. I was thankful because there was no way in hell I'd tell him what I was thinking.
"Okay, well I agree with what you were saying before. I don't like staying on the main path but if we keep making good time, we should stay ahead of Bernard's word. If we run into any trouble, we can re-access the situation and plan as such."
I nodded my head, "It sounds like the best thing to do at this point."
He made a sound of disagreement and with a shit disturbing grin, he said, "No, at this point sleep sounds like the best thing to do."
I rolled my eyes and punched his arm, "You know what I meant."
He laughed, the sound coming from deep inside his chest. I smiled at the sound. It was one that neither of us had the time to enjoy lately. The past three weeks had been consumed with only one thing in mind. We both knew how important it was to travel as fast as we could to get away. Everything was against us. Time, energy, contacts, money...the list could go on.
"But seriously, if we're going to see this through, we need to catch some shut eye while we can and get back on the road." He said with more seriousness in his voice.
I said nothing as I laid down on the blanket with my back to him and the fire. I faced the darkness of the trees surrounding us, watching the movements of the small animals scurrying through the night. I listened to the coyotes yipping in the distance as they closed in around their prey. The owls hooted and fluttered from one tree branch to another.
I watched and listened. Before too long, Gideon added to the sound as he drifted off into sleep. How he fell asleep so quickly was always a mystery to me. I'd asked him once if he just shuts his brain off and sleep and he looked at me like I was an idiot. Apparently, he never thinks so he didn't require his mind to be stopped. As you can imagine, I whole heartedly agreed with his reasoning. I'm pretty sure that was the time he'd dumped me in river beside us. I grinned, remembering that day. John had pushed Gideon in right behind me and that ended up with a wet Gideon trying to wrestle him into it himself. John easily escaped and pushed him in again. All the while, I floated in the river, laughing as Gideon tried again and again. He failed every time. John eventually just jumped in but what it took for him to get in was more then comical.
I drifted into an uneasy sleep. Aware of my surroundings but completely held by the strange scene my subconscious played before me.
John was there, standing in front of me with his back turned. He stood there, unmoving as the long, dark overcoat around his shoulders whipped in the wind. I watched him, fascinated by the sound of the course fabric whip this way and that. My eyes closed until all i could do was focus on that sound. My heart followed its rhythm as my breathing slowed to a calm, peaceful pace.
As I opened my eyes again, John was gone and I stood in his place. I looked around viciously, trying to find him. I cried out as I watched him below me, far down the cliff I stood on top of. He turned as if hearing me and smiled as he waved. His toothy grin stabbed my heart as I searched for a place to get down. No staircase. No rope. No nothing.
"John!" I yelled, panic creeping into my voice as I watched him take a step closer to the ship. A loud drumbeat echoed. A last warning to any remaining sailors on the dock. He took a step forward with his curly brown hair tussling in the wind. I stared into his striking blue eyes, hoping that somehow I could make him stay. Somehow keep him with me and close to my heart where he would always remain.
I scrambled to the edge of the cliff and hung myself over it. I fumbled for a foothold and when I was content with one, I started to make my way down. Carefully evaluating each step, I chanced a glance below me. Terror gripped me as I took in the magnitude of the cliff. My heart seemed to lurch into my throat. One misstep and it didn't matter that John was here. I caught his eyes as he stood there, horror filling them as he watched me attempt the climb. I inhaled sharply, putting all my focus on getting down faster.
My foot slipped and I screamed as I held on with only my hands. I tried to find a foothold before my arms gave out on me but every attempt failed. The dirt and rocks would come loose and fall to the base below. I cried out as my hands released the only thing keeping me alive. The screams of my fear echoed in my mind as I fell and I waited for imminent death to approach me.
The ground below became closer and closer as the wind tore tears from my eyes. I forced them shut just as I braced from impact and...grass! I opened my eyes again, laying there in grass. I looked around, completely amazed that my life was still my own.
I tore my gaze away from the grass and looked up to where John should have been standing. Instead, I found myself gazing down to the bottom of the cliff once again. I cried out in pain and frustration as I watched hi take a step on to the ship. Its' dark blue sails lowering as if to mock my attempt.
"Stop! Please, stop!" I yelled, my hair whipping around me wildly.
Follow me, Elaya. The wind seemed to whisper as I stopped begging.
I knelt down in the waves of grass, knowing he was going to leave me. I clutched my hands over my heart as a tear slipped down my cheek. The sails became smaller and smaller in the distance until I could see no more but the sun, setting over the endless ocean.
He was gone.
I jumped awake and sat up straight in my cloak. Sweat beaded down my forehead as my breath came in ragged gasps. I wiped away the sweat with my sleeve and scoured my surroundings. Nothing but trees and darkness met my eyes. Not a trace of a cliff, a ship or John. Gideon still laid there, snoring as he continued to sleep. I sighed with relief and laid back down.
Leave now...the wind whispered just as my head rested against my arm. A shiver ran down my spine and I felt the hair at the back of my neck stand on edge. My eyes shot open and I got to my feet, a new sense of urgency in my body. I didn't know what was going on but I knew we needed to leave right now.
"Gid! We need to go now." I said sharply as I shook him awake.
"Hmm, wha-" he mumbled as he opened his eyes.
"Get up," I said, already rolling my blanket as I watched our surroundings with new fear. I didn't know what I expected to see but I knew something was out there. It was stalking us, waiting for an opportunity to strike.
"Elaya, what's going on?" He asked firmly, quickly wiping the sleep out of his eyes.
"I don't know," I answered him truthfully, "Something is wrong, I can feel it. Please just trust me."
I looked at him long enough for him to give me one nod of his head before going back to getting ready to go. As he hid the traces of our being there, I saddled both horses and led them out of the trees and onto the path. I swung John's mottled cloak around my shoulders and mounted Akela, waiting for Gideon to make his way to me. Only a minute passed before he showed himself and mounted his own horse. Within five minutes of me waking up, we were both out and making our way out of the forest once again.
We went at a good pace for at least an hour. Gideon stayed silent behind me which I was thankful for. I didn't think he would trust me to this extent but I wasn't complaining at his willingness with so little information.
Go into the forest...the wind whipped around me. I jumped at the sudden whisper but immediately turned Akela into the trees. The bushes grabbed at my legs but I pushed Akela passed them, lifting one of the tree branches in front of me up and away from my face. The trees seemed to loom like monsters as they curled forward above me. I didn't let my fear stop me. I didn't know why but I knew it would be wise to listen to the wind.
"Elaya, it's getting to thick. We need to turn back. I'm sure the path will lead us out. Let's go back." Gideon said while clearly straining with his horse which had a bigger build then Akela.
I ignored him as I pushed Akela deeper. I twisted branches this way and that as I push them out of the way. I grunted as one let go to soon and whipped my face. I touched where it had left its mark and swore silently. We must have travelled for two miles began to doubt that the trees would ever end but I kept him going. Akela pranced nervously but just as Gideon did behind me, he followed my commands.
Finally, the trees broke their hold of me and I launched forward into an open field. A dark, starless sky unfolded above me, making it difficult to see in front of me. I turned Akela to the right, which I assumed was South. Without the moon to help me with direction, I hoped it was the right way.
Stop! It hissed urgently. I jerked my head around to see why and saw three flaming torches behind us. A distant shout held my attention as Gideon quietly snuck beside me, obviously seeing what was keeping me so still.
"They were seen in the forest along the main trail! They can't be too far in." I heard a gruff voice shout. The wind must have carried their voices to us. The torches were only little specks on the horizon. I watched as each torch disappeared into the treeline. I was very sure that was where the main path came out. If we had continued on it, we would have run into these men head on.
I breathed a shaky breath and stayed very quiet for a few minutes, making sure they were gone.
"Elly, what the hell was that?" Gideon asked, his voice barely betraying his fear.
"I don't know." I breathed, my eyes glued to the spot where the torches had been,
He grunted but didn't press it and said, "We need to go and we need to go now."
He turned his horse around to face South and kicked her into a slow gallop. I wanted to go faster, push Akela to his fastest, but I knew that if I did, I could easily hurt him. I stayed at the pace we were going and constantly looked behind us. We were downwind so I knew the sound of our horses wouldn't reach the men currently searching the forest. We had a few hours before they picked up our trail and headed in the right direction. I fully intended to put as much distance between us until then.
The darkness around us began to lighten slightly and I knew the sun would bless us with her light soon. A blessing or a curse, I couldn't decide. It would allow us to see better but it would also allow others to as well. A thought that didn't sit well with me. Especially since it was only mere miles between them and the forest.
There it was. The sun rose, filling the sky with shades of orange and pink. Peach, amber and rose, radiating hope, a new beginning. Another chance to live. The welcoming to another day. Despite the danger it brought, I was relieved to see it. A heavy weight lifted from my shoulders as I watched the pinks boldly dance in and out of the reds in the sky. An incredible sight to behold as it brings a moment of peace to the most troubled of hearts.
The fields around us were rockier than the ones before we entered the forest. A cold wind swept at my face, making my cheeks sting. I took a deep breath of the cold wind and I could smell the salt hanging in the air. I knew we would be close to the coast once we left the forest but I hadn't realized that I would be able to smell it. Taste it. A small smile touched my lips and as I knew the coast was closer. Many days ahead it was waiting for me. Calling my name as a mother calls her child.
It was the beginning of a new day. One I fully intended to see out. With a goal set in mind, I kept my eyes focused in front of me and didn't look back.