Chapter 3: Anxious: The Cows and Me
was nice to have a stomach full of food. Clandestine never ate too
heavy when she was on the road, though some days she didn't eat much at
all. Monster hunting could get you good money when you were registered
in a city guild and committed to that city, but she'd tried that sort of
life for a few months and didn't take well to it. It wasn't that she
didn't like working with other people, but she found it too
constricting. City-paid monster hunters had more protocols and
paperwork, and while it was mostly for good reasons, she could never use
her fire magic in a sticky situation, and she never did feel fully safe
within a city's walls even if the point was to keep the monsters out of
was, monsters were inside city walls too. They just took a different
shape - one that looked a lot more human than anything else.
could remember a time when magic was a natural part of life. It was as
common as breathing, as normal as having a bite to eat, or going for a
walk. No one bat an eye if you used your magic to stoke a fire, to stir a
pot of soup, or to smooth the path out before you. But something
changed in the past 100 years that scarred the world forever - both
literally, and in every sphere of society.
called it the calamity. She just wished she knew what that really
meant. At her age, it was hard to ask questions without sounding like an
she'd pieced things together here and there. Magic was illegal. Mages
were hunted. They'd built a worldwide business on the bones of the dead
just to enforce the law. There was a war, there were disasters, but none
of it ever added up. Then again, maybe these sorts of things were never
supposed to. Every version of the story seemed curated by the side that
won, always painting people with magic as the villains. And, well... she didn't fall on the winning side. Not on this side of history.
past few years she'd been able to get by. It was a clumsy effort,
adjusting to all the changes, but she'd settled into a rhythm that made
sense. Freelancing as a monster hunter allowed her to pass under the
radar, kill monsters, keep people safe, and do something that at least
made a little impact in the world.
It was all she had. She didn't want to lose it.
everyone finished their food that night, things settled down pretty
quickly. Gregor said they rose with the sun, which meant they'd have to
be up early, so they wasted no time cleaning up and pulling out their
helped clean off a few dishes while Gregor reassured her that she
wouldn't be expected to do anything but keep a lookout for monsters and
any creatures that could cause trouble.
Kenneth and Percy were the first to go to sleep, finding spots to curl up a
little ways from the fire, but still in the light. Gregor lingered and
explained that they slept in shifts, and they'd just fold her into the
rotation, putting her at the end for the night.
was kind of nice, though, to be around cowboys. There was something
about it that was strangely comforting, and she couldn't help but think
of the cowboy who found her and helped her get back on her feet all
those years ago. Of course, she never did get his name. Neither of them
had talked about their pasts, but it had been for the best in the end.
It hadn't been relevant. At least, that was what she told herself so she
could make peace with it.
never knew what happened to him after he left. She didn't know why he
even left in the first place, either. But she supposed that was part of
life. People leaving.
Or, particularly, leaving her.
tried to find a comfortable position on the ground, tossing and turning
a few times until she settled on her side with her blanket pulled
around her shoulders and her legs curled in. She always slept with her
sword near her side, usually on the ground, and she kept it in view,
Just in case.
found herself facing the horses, all of them lined up in a row, with
Billy on one end and Elliot on the other. She didn't get the other
horses' names yet, so they were just horse one, horse two, and horse three for now.
Her eyes followed Matt, who was evidently on the first shift.
went over to Elliot and seemed to be intentional as he looked around like he was checking if everyone was asleep. She closed her eyes for a
moment, feeling a bit childish as she waited a few long seconds before
opening them again to see what he was up to.
out, it wasn't anything that exciting. Of course, she didn't know what
she expected. If he was going to turn her in it'd probably be when they
reached town. There wasn't much he could do in the plains unless he
tried taking things head-on himself, and he seemed pretty avoidant, to
say the least.
took out a brush, it looked like, and started brushing through Elliot's
mane. Though they were a few feet away, she could overhear him softly
talking to Elliot. She couldn't understand what he was saying, but it
Awh. That was kind of cute. For a guy who might want her dead, anyway.
turned his head, looking out over the plains again. This time, his gaze
swept faster than she was able to hide her face, and she felt her
cheeks burn when it looked like his eyes landed on her.
Well, this was embarrassing.
pretended to make a snoring noise, grunting as she rolled over to the
other side and hid her head under her blanket, cringing at herself. Her
face burned and she pinched her eyes shut, wondering if she was going to
regret all of this.
she should've called it at the start. Maybe she should've taken the
risk and asked what he'd seen. She supposed she still could. She just
needed to find a way to frame the question so he wouldn't be suspicious
if he'd, in fact, seen nothing.
was stupid. She was overthinking it, wasn't she? No, she couldn't
afford to not overthink her literal livelihood. Not when the
stakes were so high.
She sighed, muffling the sound in her blanket.
just had to figure this out before she got to Bone. And in the
meantime, all she had to do was keep an eye out for monsters.
It was going to be okay.