Navari trudged in the snow. His feet were numb. Something he quickly got used over the past few months. He shuddered. The wind blew by, easily sifting through his jacket and kneading him bone deep. Navari closed his eyes and thought about a warm fire. It took a moment, but that was just enough to keep his teeth from chattering.
“What’s your name?” A girl asked. She wore a woolen cap, some thick black boots and a pair of pants that was stuffed into them at the hem. And though her coat was not new, it looked thick and warm. Warm. She looks so warm. I should have taken that jacket too. Navari sighed. Navari caught sight of the crossbow that was gripped tightly in her hands. Even when he grabbed her and pulled her against the tree, she never let that thing go. If he were her, Navari would have done anything to get himself free. And that would need two hands.
With a sigh, Navari stopped and looked over his shoulder. “Why are you following me?”
The girl he had held against a tree only minutes before had been at his back for a mile now. He frowned. “Do you really insist on following me? I see no benefit in it for me.”
“Hmph. There is an obvious benefit. You’re going to the city, right? How are you going to get in? You can’t possibly be a native dressed like that. You would have never come out here if that were the case. And they won’t let you in so easily. The city’s economy is already bad. If they see you, they will think you’re just another street beggar, and that won’t bode well with the officials. They’ve been trying to clear the streets as of late…” And not finishing her sentence, the girl looked up.
“So? Are you saying you can get me into the city?”
As if he had interrupted her daze, the girl looked back at Navari. “Of course I can get you into the city. You get me out of this forest alive. I get you into the city. And I’ll even throw in a hot shower for you for free.”
“And maybe even a breath mint,”Navari heard her mumble.
Navari closed his eyes, ignoring that last comment. A hot shower. It’s been so long. What the girl bargained was definitely not enough for him to take her along. It was too dangerous. She was unskilled, and one slip up on her part could end up with both of them dead. But as he thought long and hard about it, he was ultimately sold. “Fine. But you must follow my what I say when we are out here.”
The girl nodded and smiled with a cheeky grin. “It was the shower that sold it, right?”
Navari nearly stumbled. He took a deep breath. “Girl, what’s your name?”
The girl’s mouth twitched. “Shouldn’t you introduce yourself first. I’ve asked you that question three times now.”
Navari hesitated. Before he saw no reason to it. He would leave. She would leave. They would probably split ways and never see each other again. But now that they were traveling together, it was different. Except… It’s been months since I’ve spoken to another. Years even since I’ve spoken my own name. It made him uncomfortable. As if just saying his name opened himself to something strange.
“I’m called Navari.” He finally said. But as the words came out, it was like something inside him broke free.
Navari just shook it off. I can’t be muddle-minded now. And he started north again.
The girl rushed up, coming to Navari’s side. “Name’s Alaina1AlainaWow's. So Navari, how did you keep us hidden? There were tracks, but it wasn’t that thing didn’t look our way, but almost like it couldn’t. Do you know what it is? Do you know how to kill it?
But even with the onslaught of questions, Navari did not speak. He kept on walking, and the girl frowned.
“Come now. We’re partners. At least until we get to the city. Shouldn’t we at least act with some pleasantness?
“Stop talking. You’ll give ourselves away.” He said, finally.
Alaina frowned, and her tongue made an audible click. “When we get to the city, you’ll have no reason not to answer my questions then.”
Navari gave her a side glance. He sighed again, but put no more thought into it.
The two walked on for a long time in silence, and as the night was coming to an end, and the sky was just starting to brighten, they reached the northern passage.
Just keep running. Just keep running. Braen’s body swayed, his steps staggered as he ran. Just keep running. Over and over those words ran his thoughts, his haggard breath puffing out wispy clouds in the air. It was hard to go fast for him as areas would have deep snow. And the areas that didn’t would be elevated, forcing him to put in just the same amount of effort or even more. Braen skirted trees, climbed rocks. He pushed himself to the very limits.
They’re right behind me. I must get out of here.
Suddenly, a broad road came into view. It was black, and not a speck of snow was on it.
“I made it! I finally made it!” Braen laughed. A resurgence of power ran through him. He pushed himself harder and harder than he thought possible, his tired feet now flying off the ground. I’m almost there. I’m almost there!
But even with that power, it had taken everything that he had. He was drained. And after a few seconds, Braen stopped running. He sucked in the air like it was life itself. And for him, who felt like he would collapse at any time, it probably was.
Badum. A light, but clear sound pricked at his ears. It was not like the wind or the shifting snow; or the panting of his breath. No. It was… different.
Braen looked behind him. Badum. The sound came again.
No. Not now. Not while I’m so close. Don’t do this to me!
Braen’s eyes shifted back onto the road. Forty meters. Just forty meters. I can make it. He launched himself off the ground, pushing himself far more than he had ever done. Forty meters. Thirty-five meters. I can do it. I can do it!
Badum. Badum. Badum. The sounds grew louder. The ground began to tremble, and Braen’s heart shook.
“No! I will not die here. I will not!” He roared.
Sifting out of the darkness like a looming specter, a dark figure burst out. It was broad and mean. It clamored forth on its hands and feet like an ape. But it was no ape. It had twisting horns on its head and spikes along its arms. The fur on its body bristled and swayed.
Its maw opened wide. A black wispy vapor poured out of it, trailing behind as it surged towards him.
Braen took glances back. He could see the approaching figure. It was big and the mouth was like a twisting darkness that exuded a coldness that was far more penetrating than the wind.
It’s gaining! The distance of an initial sixty meters from when the creature first came into sight cut short to fifty in an instant.
Come on. Come on. You can get there! Get there! Braen screamed in his mind. Twenty-five meters. Twenty meters.
He looked back. The creature was thirty meters away. He was so close.
“Aaahh!” Braen roared as he pushed himself. His arms pumped themselves like pistons, his legs swishing fast.
Fifteen meters. Ten meters.
And then suddenly…
A hollow wail echoed from behind. It pierced Braen’s heart, and his body froze. Braen stumbled, twisting to land hard on his back and into the snow. He tried to get up, to push himself back to a sprint, but it was hard. Though the effect the wail had on him was not as strong as the one in the clearing, Braen eventually got up.
But just as he got his feet under him and looked up, the giant mouth was meters from his face, the creature coming at him with full force.
Braen brought his arms out, crossing them in front of himself. It was reflex. But how could skinny arms of a boy block the dominant force of a giant creature such as this?
In one quick moment, the creature rammed him, the gaping maw clamping down on his left arm. The teeth were not as sharp as the first one that popped out in the clearing. It was more like molars as it clinched down on. As it bit Braen with a powerful force, It shook its head fast, flinging him back and forth until Braen’s arm tore off and he was flung far, landing onto the black gravel road.
The creature chomped on the arm as it looked over at him.
Braen’s vision turned fuzzy. He could see the glowing white eyes stare at him.
“Even if I can’t finish you off, you will die.” A harsh soft voice tickled Braen’s ears.
It can talk? But the question was fleeting. Braen felt cold, but a small wet warmth seemed to spread on him as he laid on his right side. But that feeling soon went away too. He felt numb. He was in shock.
He was not sure what just happened. But the darkness around him grew, his vision becoming more and more blurry, and within moments that very darkness consumed him.
Navari looked at the wall with wide eyes. They had been traveling on the road for an hour now. The bright sun finally peeked over the eastern mountains and landed on the tips of a large wall miles away. The wall ran three hundred meters high and was made of stone. But that wall did not go completely around the city.
No. The wall was only a hundred meters wide. Enough width to block the end of an entire bridge that ran for miles deep into a sea.
Navari was not sure how large a body of water it was. He could see no other side. No other land at the far reaches. A light mist hovered over the water, and at the end of that bridge was a city built on elevated rock, spanning for hundreds of miles.
It was not just one elevated rock and one city. Many giant mountain-like rocks jutted out of the sea. There were tens of them. Some high; some low. Each had some sort of city or structure built upon them. Besides the single bridge that connected the city behind the wall to the road Navari and Alaina were on, there were many more that connected that city to the various other cities.
Navari heaved a sigh. He could see some airships flying between the cities or towns. It’s been so long. He felt nervous. Scared even. The sight of Alaina’s city spurred the memories of his past and Navari did not like that. But there was much he did not like. He needed to enter the city. There was much he needed to do, and there was just not enough time.
Alaina walked a bit ahead. She turned to him and smiled.
“So? Shall we go?”
She laughed and headed down the clear open road and towards the bridge.
And Navari followed her.