Chapter 7 Part 2: THEY WERE TRYING TO KILL US
"Oh my gosh you just shot them!" Clandestine shouted.
"They were trying to kill us!" Matt shouted back.
"But you blew off that guy's hand!"
"I have slightly below average eyesight as is and it was dark okay? I was doin' my best!" he yelled, looking back at her briefly.
Clandestine huffed in frustration and distress. "Why are you yelling at me?!"
"You started yelling at me first!" he retorted.
"Oh." She looked down, falling into an awkward silence. He was right about that, and if they kept yelling it would only be more noise for the goblins to follow, and she didn't want that.
She looked back at the fading light of their campfire as is grew more and more distant, obscured by the cloud of dust that followed them in the darkness. With the dim moonlight as their only guidance, Clandestine knew Matt and her were likely to get lost. She was pretty sure they were following the path that led to town, but in the nighttime, there was little distinction between what was the road and what was just the rest of the desert. That, and she was feeling more than a little bit panicked at the fact that two goblins had come out of nowhere to kill them! She gripped her reins tightly and looked over at Matt. He was beginning to slow down a bit, since they'd made some distance between themselves and the goblins, so she led Billy to do the same.
"So... where are we now?" she asked, trying to get her eyes to adjust faster to the darkness.
Matt answered stiffly. "Away from the goblins."
"No, I meant like-"
"I know about as much as you do, Clandestine. It's dark. I'm tryna follow the stars, and not lead us back to the goblins, even if they are hurtin'."
Clandestine sighed, looking back again into the darkness behind them. She couldn't see the fire anymore. "Something just doesn't sit right with me about this... were those goblins from the farm, you think? Were there more we just didn't run into? You think they're mad about us beating them up? Like, if they just wanted the land, why would they come out here to come after us? I just-" She cut herself off with a frustrated grunt. "What if they go back for Laura and Kaleb? We should head back! We need to make sure they're okay!"
She looked to Matt expectantly, but when he didn't reply right away she frowned and pulled Billy up closer so she could get a look at him.
"Well?" she asked. "Let's turn around!"
There was another pause as she stared him down, and he kept riding in the same direction.
"I don't think they'll go back to Kaleb and Laura," he finally said.
"Because the goblins we fought were reluctant to use violence under the chief's leadership until pushed to do so by... whatever their reasons were. The ones back there sought us out to kill us when we were least prepared. I have - I have a gut feeling they came from their main clan or something."
"You mean we made the goblins mad and now they're sending goblins after us?" Clandestine asked, her voice rising again.
"I think so," he said much quieter than herself. "I don't know how determined they'll be at following us. I don't think they'd follow us into town but-"
"We're lost," Clandestine interjected. "I can't even tell where the town is."
"When the sun comes up I hope we'll be able to turn ourselves around but... yes. If we keep going like we are since we don't want them to catch up with us, yeah. But uh," he turned around and reached into his saddlebag as he started digging around. He pulled out something, but she couldn't make it out.
"Compass," was all he said.
"Ah." She looked down at her hands, chastising herself for not thinking of that. She grumbled, reaching down into her own bag as she pulled out her map. They might've been confused for the moment as to where they were, but together they could figure it out.
At some point, the desert dirt and sand had begun to turn into grass. Clandestine wasn't sure at what point it happened, but both of them were exhausted, and Billy and Elliot were exhausted, and everything was just terrible. The horses started to slow to a stop without any instruction, and she hopped off Billy, taking that as their cue to sleep. Wordlessly, Matt followed suit and they lazily reached to pull their blankets off the back of their saddles, only to realize they weren't there. Their blankets were on the ground, still at the campsite with the goblins. Matt sighed, and they both looked at each other with mutual disappointment and weariness.
"I think your compass is broken," Clandestine joked wearily.
Matt scoffed, but looked away. Clandestine frowned and held her hands together at her chest for a moment as Matt was checking on Elliot. She turned around to Billy, who was slick with sweat. She brushed a hand on his face as a way of apology for the sudden rushing in the middle of the night.
"Who'd've thought we'd have to be ready to run at a moment's notice," she whispered, looking back at Matt again out of the corner of her eye. He didn't look back at her. He was busy feeding Elliot something.
"I still feel like we should check on the farm," she said again, keeping her voice quiet so only Billy could hear. She sent another glance at Matt, as if he could overhear. He hadn't said it outright, but she had a feeling he really didn't want to do that. He'd probably say it was a bad idea, because they could end up leading the goblins to Laura and Kaleb if they were following them. She didn't want to do that if it put them in danger.
Clandestine let out a long sigh as she rested her forehead against the side of Billy's face. Billy let out a breath that sounded like he was blowing raspberries, as if mimicking her. It made her smile, and chuff a laugh. She gave Billy a pat on his neck as he reached down to munch on the grass.
And it was at that moment she had something of a mid-life crisis. Except she wasn't really at a mid-point in her life, and age was complicated, and she didn't really know how old she was. She was at least 100 years old, but she knew physically, she still looked like she was twenty-something years old.
But her age wasn't what she spontaneously started to obsessively focus on. What was beginning to swirl around her head was the conversation her and Matt had two and a half weeks ago. They still hadn't talked about it since then, and she couldn't figure out for the life of her why Matt was so... fine with her having magic. She'd already run through all of the possible reasons as to why, but she had to ask him for herself.
She spun around and saw him leaning against a tree. It was hard to read his exact expression in the dark, but if he was feeling anything like her, he was exhausted but still too worried and stressed about being attacked to sleep just yet. It would've been his turn anyway, since she'd already gotten some sleep in.
She started to walk over and plopped down across from him. He didn't even look up.
"So... why are you so okay with me having magic?" she asked quietly, as if someone were nearby to overhear. She leaning in slightly to hear his answer and gauge his response.
He looked up at her with a blank expression. "Just 'cause they outlawed it doesn't make it wrong," he replied, matching her volume. "It was fine 100 years ago before the calamity, it's fine now. People just got afraid."
Clandestine's eyes fell to the ground at the mention of the calamity, and times before. 100 years ago... that was when she was alive, and living as a child. Sometimes she could forget just how much times had changed; when monster hunting guilds were a home for mages and hunters alike, and magic was normal and widely used. Back when Silva would bend the water and make it dance if she asked twenty times, and there were no guns, no mage hunters, no earth-shattering catastrophes that left the landscape forever changed. Back when she wandered the halls of the guild that was her home just to get into places she wasn't supposed to be, and got pulled out of rooms by the ear... when every guild member was like a parent, like a sibling. Like family.
But all of that was gone. When she woke up, she tried to find them again, but the building didn't even exist anymore, nor did the paths that led to it. Everything was just a shadow of the familiar, and all she was told was-
"It's just a remnant of the past. All things pass on, and new things come. The time of the guilds was over. It's just the cycle of things."
Clandestine looked up at the cowboy with tears in her eyes. She could feel her lower lip quivering as she tried to hold it back. She knew he didn't want to see her cry. He put his hand on her shoulder.
"Monster hunters are still 'round though. I'm sure you'll be a great one in time. Just stick to it," he said, ruffling her hair.
"But I miss them..." she croaked.
At that moment, she knew the cowboy would never understand. He gave her a look that she grew to know very well. The kind that adults gave to children when they didn't know what to say in response. The kind of look people gave you when they pitied you, but thought you were at least a little crazy. It was a kind of condescension masked by obligatory compassion that she hated, and it made her insides squirm. But at the time she had no words for it. She only knew that she had to keep her mouth shut, because in a world where magic was outlawed, and humans were estranged from it, no one would really believe that magic would've kept her alive and asleep for 100 years.
Even she didn't want to believe it, but it was true. It was her life.
Clandestine cleared her throat when she realized she'd been staring off into space for some time, rubbing her thumb over her kuckles. Matt was watching her with his token look she couldn't read. Nervously, she smiled, and laughed a little. It took her a moment to jump back in her memory to what he said.
People just got afraid.
"Ah, yeah, about that I guess uh, I mean," she stumbled over her words. "Why aren't you afraid then?"
Matt blinked idly. "I have no reason to be."
Clandestine blinked back at him. That wasn't much of an answer. "Unlike other people who are afraid because...?"
"They were taught that magic was the root of all suffering. That it was the cause of the calamity."
Clandestine's eyebrows drew together. "And you... weren't taught that?"
Matt shrugged. "I just know bullcrap when I smell it."
Clandestine laughed weakly, looking over at Billy and Elliot as if to have them join in on the nervous laughter. Naturally, they didn't reply.
"Look, Clandestine," Matt said, making her head swivel back around to look at him. "My parents were anti-magic like the majority of the population. I just didn't buy it. Alright?"
She found herself frowning again, but it was more a pout. She wanted a story, or a person; something or someone that had changed his mind. But all he was giving her was that he just figured it out somehow himself that not all mages were monsters like the authorities made them out to be. And, in some ways, she could understand that, but there was a part of her that was still afraid about it. About something - something she couldn't put her finger on. With a sigh, she bowed her head.
"I'm glad, really," she said. "I just-" she found herself fishing for something to follow the beginning of her sentence. She was about to say what she really felt, but knew that wouldn't be helpful, and found herself stumbling again on how to continue conversation. "-I-I just. Uh. You know the guilds, yeah?"
"Ah." And somehow she found herself at a loss. If she was going to talk about the guilds... well, maybe she could poke his brain a little, to see if he knew more than the few things she'd gathered in bits and pieces from other people over the years. He did after all, know her situation, and didn't seem too phased by it. Maybe - just maybe - he could fill in some of the gaps, since he already knew, because she kind of accidentally outed herself, and her mouth ran away without her (as it was prone to do). Taking in a deep breath, she leaned back a little, trying to prepare herself.
"Well, I guess I was wondering... if you know what happened to them?" she asked.