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With a loud splash she dived into the water and was instantly carried
away by the current. She tried to fight it, but it was too strong; all
she could do now was avoid hitting anything and hope for a miracle,
but the miracle never came. Instead, a rock appeared a few metres in
front of her. Driven by the power of despair she swam as if hundred
dragons were after her, but despite her efforts she couldn’t avoid it
completely. The sharp rock cut into her hand, sending pain shooting
through her whole body. It hurt like fire, but at least she survived.
For now. The next rock was already in front of her, but this time
Laiva managed to get away in time. At least the cold water numbed her
hand and it seemed to prevent her from losing too much blood as well.
She evaded another one of the rocks. A few minutes more and she would
be done for; trying to shake off the dragon had been too exhausting
already. Well, at least she seemed to have shaken it off, although
that didn’t really make much of a difference; she doubted that being
roasted alive was any worse than drowning. That was it, she couldn’t
keep her head above the water any longer. Just as Laiva wanted to give
up struggling, the streambed broadened and the canyon walls gave way
to flat, sandy shores. Using the last of her reserves, reserves she
hadn’t thought she had, she pulled herself out of the water. However,
she wasn’t alone. Waiting her, and carrying her backpack in his mouth,
Then Laiva blacked out.
It could have been worse; the cut wasn’t as deep as Laiva had thought
at first and in a few days she would be able to use her hand again.
For now she had put some ointment on the wound and bandaged it with a
strip of cloth she had kept in her backpack. Laiva wasn’t very fond of
using the ointment, but it was in any case better than risking an
infection. Having done that, she performed the location spell; it was
one of the first you learned, especially when you grew up in the
woods. It summoned a little glowing arrow, pointing home; that way you
couldn’t get lost and parents tended to be a little bit less annoying
than usual. However, the spell could point to any other place as well,
as long as you had a strong enough mental image of it. While Laiva had
naturally never been to the oracle before, she had seen enough maps
and pictures of it; that almost worked as well. The little arrow span
for a few seconds until it settled for downstream; so they could
follow the river then. At least they wouldn’t have to worry about
fresh water and the way was somewhat better, but what they’d
definitely have to watch for were hungry carnivores.
The fire hardly illuminated the thirteen figures in their black robes,
but even so the tension could be felt. Things hadn’t turned out that
‘She entered the hill lands.’ one said.
‘So she entered the hill lands, what about it? What is all
this about anyway? Shouldn’t we do something instead of standing
around a fire and talking nonsense?’
‘Shut up, you are disturbing the tune.’ another one hissed.
‘I don’t care, I couldn’t care any less. You know what I
think? We should get him out.’
‘We should get him out?’ one of the figures said, desperately
trying to keep up the usual procedure.
‘I mean, what do we have to lose? I don’t think we have to
worry about collateral damage in the hill lands, have we?’
‘I guess not…’
Things turned out better than Laiva had expected; her hand was healing
quickly, she showed no signs of fever either and despite the bad
reputation of the hill lands, there hadn’t been any further incidents.
They hid in the nearby forest when the occasional dragon showed in the
sky and the other animals weren’t any real danger if you knew how to
deal with them; mostly by giving them a wide berth. However, things
had changed in the last few days. They hadn’t seen any more animals at
all and it was almost as if they were hiding; undoubtedly a bad sign.
What troubled her most, however, was that Mynor seemed more alert than
usual, nervous even. Something was going on and from time to time she
even had the sensation of being followed; for now it was nothing more
than a feeling, but surely something to keep an eye on.
‘Has he entered the hill lands?’
‘He has entered the hill lands.’
‘Some villagers got in his way before he reached them…’
‘Then let us wait.’
‘Let us wait.’ responded the 12 other figures as one.
The night was pitch black and the strange glowing mushrooms growing on
the trunks of the ancient trees were the only source of light. It was
hardly enough for Laiva to see where she was running, but she didn’t
have the time to concentrate on casting a light spell. It had been a
reflex; she had jumped up and started running the very moment she had
woken up, and probably that was the only reason she was still alive.
She had felt that something was coming, something not to mess with,
felt it all the time during the past days. Laiva didn’t know what had
happened to Mynor, but she thought she had seen him fleeing as well;
she just couldn’t say for sure. Frankly, she couldn’t say anything for
sure except for the fact that she was being hunted. Laiva couldn’t see
nor hear her pursuer, but she knew it was there, right behind her. It
was much worse than feeling the hot breath of some beast against her
neck. It was a feeling of fear, unknown, cold, impersonal fear. Laiva
stopped; perhaps that was the most stupid thing to do in her
situation, but she’d always been told that nothing was worse than the
unknown. Only fools are never afraid, but you should always fear for a
reason and not for the sake of it; one could die of fear without ever
knowing what was really after her. She composed herself and slowly
turned around. There was nothing; just the usual vegetation,
absolutely nothing to be afraid of. No pursuer, no deadly beast, not
even so much as a moth.