Dominic N. Ashen

Arenas & Monsters

Art by jabberox

Arenas & Monsters

Chapter 1

“Have you gotten used to the bad jokes yet?”

“Can you really get ‘used’ to bad jokes? I have learned to tolerate them,” I jokingly reply. “I take it he has always been like that?”

“Oh yeah, since we were kids.” Michael nods his head next to me as we walk. “And then he always makes that stupid face of his.”

“Oh, I am quite familiar,” I tell the man, just before we both break into our best impressions of David’s trademark wide, toothy, I-just-told-a-terrible-joke-and-am-so-very-proud-of-it grin.

“Alright, that’s enough,” the man we are mocking says from his spot ahead of us, turning around and continuing to walk backward. “You stop encouraging him,” he says, pointing at me before aiming his finger at his brother. “And you’re just jealous cause I’m the funny twin.”

“I thought you were the hot twin?” Michael asks flatly.

“It’s a heavy burden, but I’m both,” David answers solemnly, before turning his face back and grinning, making me snort a laugh.

“That’s not even a joke!” his brother groans.

We are only three members of a group of ten (eleven, if you count my wolf companion, Sona) that have been traveling north together for the past nine days. We are an eclectic bunch, though most of them are human, the three exceptions being an orc (me), an elf, and the aforementioned wolf. We have passed through a few small settlements on our way to the village of Rakatune, which we should reach the day after tomorrow, but our ultimate goal is Manamequohi, a city that lies much, much farther north.

Michael is David’s non-identical twin brother. He is just a hair’s breadth shorter than David; I would estimate at somewhere around 1 ¾ meters in height. He is also a little stockier, with medium-length curly brown hair, compared to David’s which is short, straight, and black. He has a mustache, along with a good amount of stubble, as he has not quite gathered the courage to attempt shaving without a mirror yet. They share the same bright green eyes, along with many other facial features, which makes it easy to tell that they are related.

Since leaving Pákannon ten days ago, the two of us have been making it a point to talk and get to know each other. Before that, he and I were having a bit of trouble seeing eye-to-eye on some things, namely his brother’s homosexuality and relationship with me. Though to be fair, David says that he was not exactly aware of it himself until I awakened something in him. Of course, all of the issues between me and Michael could have been solved if David had simply told his brother what was going on, but that is not how my pup works.

For all of his complaining, I know the smile he wears under that grin is genuine. It is important to him that Michael and I are getting along. He spent those first few days stressing over his brother discovering his secret, all while watching the two of us continue to antagonize each other. Though I maintain that most of the antagonizing was on Michael’s part. In any event, we have become fast friends since, largely through telling stories about David.

The area we are walking through at the moment is lightly forested on our left and right, several dozen meters from our path. Off in the distance to our left are the Emerald Hill Mountains, a tree-covered mountain range that extends north to south almost the entire length of the eastern coast of Avural Ug’dol.

“I think we might need to take a break soon,” Adam, the team’s leader, comments from the front of the group.

“It’s too damn hot,” Elisabeth, who prefers to be called Liss, complains from her place next to him.

She is not the first person to complain, and I do not blame her. Though the first day of summer was only weeks ago, we are already feeling the effects. With the sun high in the sky, it is hot, and with no nearby trees to offer any shade, finding an area with enough shade to wait until the midday sun passes would be a worthwhile endeavor.

“Maybe we can find a place in the trees to have lunch and wait out the heat.” Adam looks to our left, already thinking of the same idea.

“Yeah.” Liss nods her head. “Let’s see what’s around the next bend.” 

Adam is a good man, and someone I have gotten to know well in the time since meeting him. A natural and charismatic leader, he attended the Northlake Academy of Knighthood alongside David and Liss. The three of them left together, each for their own reasons, though all were at least somewhat related to a general distaste for how the academy was run. He has blue eyes, short blonde hair, and I do not mind telling you, a very nice body. His height falls somewhere between mine and David’s, and I’d say the same is true for our muscles—though my pup is doing his best to catch up. Though at one time they evidently had very similar builds, these days David’s body is more suited for speed than outright strength.

I hold an equally high opinion of Elisabeth. She is only slightly shorter than Adam, and from what I have gathered during sparring sessions, her physical prowess is an equal match for his. She has brown eyes and short, red hair, a style she chose more out of practicality than anything else. She is a stoic woman who takes her work seriously, and I have come to appreciate her perceptiveness and attention to detail. She is also the only person to have taken an active interest in hunting with me—though I usually make David come with us as well.

As we near the bend and pass over a small hill, I can hear good news in the distance before we see it: a river. A refreshingly cool one from the looks of it, though that may be the temperature and humidity talking. It flows eastward down the mountain before turning and bending to the north. Its sight gives everyone a small burst of energy, everyone walking just a little faster.

“You wanna...?” Liss asks the unneeded question.

“Oh yeah, that’s where we’re going,” Adam says with a nod of his head, leading us toward the watery banks.

We set up camp a short distance from the river’s edge, behind a rocky outcropping that, while it may not provide complete cover from the road, should at least work for our belongings. It is more a collection of bags and backpacks than a camp, but it suits our current purposes. I grilled our extra fish when making breakfast this morning and stored them in my magical satchel, so they should still be warm when I retrieve them from the knapsack once we are finished swimming.

“Will our stuff be safe here?” Liss gestures to our collection of things.

“I don’t see why not, but just in case,” Piper, Michael’s fellow student at the Elven Institute for Arcane Studies, says with her hand extended toward the items. Her eyes and hand glow purple before a similarly colored pulse of energy extends out from where she has aimed, bathing our items and then us in the light. I have seen this before—an alarm spell. “There. Now if anyone comes near here who isn’t us, we’ll know about it.”

“I’ll do ya one better,” Riley, a druid and Michael’s other friend (though not a fellow student), says while making the same gesture, a similar effect taking place with green-colored energy. “That’ll keep away any unwanted animal visitors as well.” He crouches down, looking at Sona. “Except o’ course you, little lady.” He tips her an invisible hat.

“You have been doing that every night to keep bugs away from camp like I asked, right?” Piper asks the druid, finished with spellcasting.

Riley looks at her for a beat of silence, then looks like he is lost in thought for another. “Yes,” he finally says, flatly.

Piper narrows her eyes at the obvious lie. With her black hair and dark complexion, I initially thought she might be from the same region the institute is located, Alkebulan, but her accent is distinctly from Albion. The woman is a sorcerer compared to Michael’s wizard, which means she has naturally gifted abilities allowing her to detect and analyze the presence of magic. She can also alter aspects of her own spellcasting, making spells larger, last longer, or as she is more want to do, adding small flourishes like changing their color. She has been extremely polite and a capable teammate, but I would be lying if I said her personality was not a bit...haughty. I once overheard Elisabeth refer to her as “high-maintenance.”

Riley is unruffled by his friend’s glare. He has red hair and fair, freckled skin, and an accent that originates from the Eire, which if I’m not mistaken is a nation located on the same island as David and Michael’s home country of Lutheria. The man has been extremely friendly and jocular—and I’m not positive, but I think he may also have flirted with me a number of times. He is also a spellcaster, though not a student at the institute as he is a druid, meaning his magic falls under the natural category rather than the arcane. He met Michael and Piper while passing through the institute on his druidic pilgrimage and was working with them on a secret project that led to all three of them joining us two weeks ago.

The “secret project” is one that they had been working on for over a year and sounds far-fetched even to me—and I witnessed it happen: teleportation. Together, these three were able to utilize ancient elven monuments, a special type of crystal, and some incredibly complicated spellwork to discover a way to teleport between monuments across the globe. The attempt that led them to us was actually their first—and also something of a mistake. They had intended to only travel a short distance from their school, but they somehow traveled halfway around the world instead, to the monument we just happened to be visiting at the same time. 

We are still unclear as to how that happened, as the only thing that links our groups are David and Michael. By traveling so far, Michael’s group burned through all of the “fuel” needed for the teleportation spell: reponiam, a dark, smoke-colored crystal that can be used to store spells and other forms of magical energy. On top of that, as they were conducting this “experiment” under the cover of night, they arrived with only the items and clothing they had on them at the time. Manamequohi may be one of the only places we will be able to acquire the amount of reponiam needed to cast the spell that will take them home.

With our makeshift camp set up, most of us start to strip down. Given the weather and seeing as some of our group were stuck here with quite literally only the clothes on their back, most of us have been dressing as lightly as possible while still keeping defense in mind should something unexpected happen. We have already faced a group of bandits on the road once, which is the same reason we want to keep our possessions out of sight. For the more physical fighters, this means leather armor over some clothing and underbreeches, while the spellcasters are wearing robes over lighter armor, if they wear any at all.

Most of us strip down to our underclothes, with a few electing to leave on an additional layer. The men go shirtless, while Liss leaves her top half wrapped, and Piper has no qualms about displaying her brassiere. The two more modest members of our group, Corrine and Tsula, only remove their outer robes, happy to dip their legs into the cool waters, while Riley does the exact opposite, jumping into the river completely naked. Not to be outdone, David follows suit, the two skinny dipping while the rest of us either shake our heads or blush and look away.

Corrine is one of the original members of the group, meaning I met her at the same time I did David, Liss, Corine, Nate, and Adam—when I arrested them for trespassing and assault. Looking at her, you would never suspect she spent two months behind bars, but I am sure she did not expect to end up there herself. She is the shortest member of the group at around 1.6 meters in height with blonde hair somewhere between medium and long tied into twin ponytails on either side of her head. She is fairly soft-spoken and reserved, and refers to herself as a missionary but is also a cleric or priestess—a divine spellcaster. While her magical talents mostly lie in healing, she has also proven herself to be capable in matters pertaining to the undead, and I suspect there may be more to her story than she has let on.

Tsula is technically the newest official member of our group, though she initially joined us only hours before Michael, Riley, and Piper’s sudden appearance. She is a young elf woman from Pákannon with naturally tan skin and long black hair tied in a single braid that is often thrown over her left shoulder. “Young” is a relative term as she is technically older than me at the age of forty. However, because of the way aging works for those with elven ancestry, she ages much slower than most other species, both mentally and physically. This puts her closer to our other teammates, who are all in their early twenties, while I am thirty. She is the cousin of my good friend Nylan Adcaryn and a fledgling wizard in her own right, though I have only seen her in combat a handful of times now. She does not even carry a weapon, something I have implored her to remedy at the next village with a weapons shop. She is also very shy, especially when she is made the focus of attention, but as she has spent more time with us, she has grown more outgoing.

With two of our number already floating in the center of the river, the rest of us wade in slowly as we adjust to the cool temperature. The summer sun does little to heat the running water. Shady trees line the banks, and farther downstream I can see a lodge built by a colony of beavers. It is a peaceful setting, and soon enough, those of us who wish to are enjoying our time in the water, relaxing, talking, even attempting a few short swimming races. It is a nice way to spend the afternoon together. Sona even joins in, jumping into the river and splashing about, though she leaves before long, shaking her wet fur dry before laying in a sunny patch of grass.

“Hey.” David swims up to me excitedly after besting Adam in a race. “Didja see me win?”

“I did.” I chuckle at his eagerness for approval. “Are you enjoying yourself?”

“Yep.” He nods happily. “How about you?”

“Very much so.” I lean forward, lowering my voice so only David hears. “Any recent nightmares?”

“No, Sir.” David shakes his head. “Not since a few nights ago.”

David is the original reason we are headed for Manamequohi, and my main reason for being a part of this group at all. When I first met him, he was a loud, impulsive, overly dramatic troublemaker who seemed to actively enjoy causing me undue stress. He is still most of those things, but the main difference is that now, we are a couple, and all his flaws only seem to make me love him more.

He is mine, and I mean that in every sense of the word, though not everyone in our group is aware of that detail. After their arrest, David attempted to earn his and his friends’ freedom by challenging me to what he thought was a fight to the death. Instead, when he lost, he became my possession, literally. Though I have many regrets regarding this event and the way I treated David in those early days, meeting and having him in my life is not one of them.

The nightmares I am asking about are the result of a series of terrible acts that occurred... Spirits, it was not even a full month ago, though it feels like it has been much longer. That night, three and a half weeks ago, there was a mutiny among the V’rok’sh Tah’lj rangers. A cult of fanatics seeking some unknown power captured myself and David and a few others, brutalizing us for information. Finally, in an act of brave stupidity (my words), David threw himself into harm’s way to save our friend, Nylan.

And then he was killed.

But, as David has joked to his brother, “it didn’t stick.” Before the cult members had a chance to regroup, David was alive, awake, and looked very, very angry. He saved many lives that night, including my own, but the memories he was left with are fuzzy at best and traumatic at worst. Hence the nightmares. We still do not understand how he was brought back to life, but we are starting to uncover answers, and Manamequohi should hold more. We know that the sword used in the ritual and the temple it took place in are connected to Olympian myths of old, and so may David’s rebirth.

“That is good to hear.” I offer him a small smile. “I hope that continues.”

“Me too, Sir.” David nods before his eyes lock onto the riverbank behind me, going wide. “Is that a frog?” he whispers.

I turn my head to look. “I think so?” I am confused by the question, but before I can get an answer, David has leapt toward the bank, capturing the creature in his hands before it can leap away.

“Yes!” David hisses in a low voice, holding his captured prey in front of him.

“What are you going to do with that?” I eye the amphibian warily.

“Do you remember when I said I wouldn’t make fun of your fear of heights because it’s not funny when it’s something that really bothers you?” He looks over at me slyly.

“Yes?” I do not like where this is going.

“That rule doesn’t apply to siblings.” He grins evilly, then scans across the river for his brother. “Hey Mikey!”

“What’s up?” Michael turns around toward his brother, who is already headed in his direction. “What are you...” His eyes fall on David’s clasped hands. “What’s in your hand?”

“Nothing,” David replies innocently, still walking closer. “A new friend.”

“David...” Michael takes a step backward, then another. “This isn’t funny, David.”

“Aww, c’mon. He just wants to say hi!” David holds his hands out in front of him. “I bet he could jump from here to—”

GLACIO!” the brown hair wizard calls out, pointing the index and middle fingers on his right hand at his brother and firing a beam of frost-blue light. The water surrounding David begins to freeze, crackling as it hardens. Before he can react, David is stuck in a small glacier, an iceberg in the middle of the river. I immediately hear a cackle that is distinctly Liss-sounding come from behind us.

“S-so...c-cold...” David’s hands are shivering, the frog held within leaping to freedom and causing Michael to flail backward, his eyes darting through the water to catch where it has gone.

“Not to say that wasn’t deserved,” I start, quickly crossing to reach David, “but could you please defrost him before hypothermia or frostbite start to set in?”

“Right, sorry.” My words shake Michael from his frog search. “Calefacto.” He waves one hand toward his brother, the ice quickly melting.

As soon as he is “free,” David leaps onto me, wrapping his legs around my waist.

 “COLD!” I shout in surprise as his ice-cold groin meets my stomach. “Nargol’s Tusks, David, warn me!”

“Help, need warm,” David mumbles incoherently into my neck, still shivering. Somehow, this boy has the ability to be both infuriating and endearing at the same time. Or “infuradearing” as he or his brother might say.

Oh dear. I appear to be losing my mind.

“If you’re gonna fuck in the river, at least go farther downstream!” Elisabeth jokes as David siphons off my heat, displaying his shivering middle finger.

“Do that again and I’m leaving you as a David-sicle,” Michael warns.

I spend the next few minutes helping David’s lower half warm up, rubbing my hands along his legs, thighs, and rear. His front is still firmly lodged against my own, warming up as well. Once he stops shivering, he allows me to lower him from my waist and stands, still close enough to leech heat. I am just about to ask Corrine to ensure he didn’t incur any frost-related injuries when Sona begins to growl.

“Well, aren’t you two cute?” A voice has all of us turning and looking toward the riverbank holding our belongings, seeing what looks like a young man, no older than a teenager, standing in front of them. He turns and looks at the growling wolf, smiling arrogantly. “Oh, calm down, I’m not hurting anyone.”

“Who are you?” Adam is the first to act, already walking toward him.

“Just a traveler, like you.” He looks between us all with a feigned innocence in his eyes.

“What do you want?” I ask next, not trusting him. More than the obvious, there is something about him that is off.

“I suppose that depends on what you all have here.” He begins to look down at the objects around him. “Ooooo! A spacious satchel.” His hands move to grab my bag by the straps.

“Hey!” David shouts, already rushing to exit the river. “Put that down!”

“Or what?” the boy taunts, just before turning and running into the forest with an almost supernatural quickness. Sona quickly takes off after him, barking loudly.

“Get back here!” David shouts as he rushes off to pursue him as well—completely nude.

“David, Sona, wait!” I call after both my pups as I start to give chase as well in nothing but a wet loincloth.

I am not nearly as fast, but I am no slouch—I was Ranger Captain, after all. I manage to keep the three in my sight, Sona and David slowly gaining ground on the thief. Sona is closer, but just when I expect her to start nipping at his heels, the boy turns around and blows a white powder from his hand into the air behind him. Sona has no choice but to run right through it, no doubt inhaling as she does. Her movements start to slow, until she comes to a stop, her body swaying and then falling to the ground. Some sort of sleeping powder.

Before I have a chance to warn David, the thief does it again, aiming for him on his other side. I curse myself as the cloud hits him the way it did Sona, expecting him to react the same way. Instead, I hear what sounds like an angry growl, right before David starts to run even faster. The boy hears the same growl and turns, looking back in surprise before desperately attempting to escape his pursuer.

It is a pointless exercise, David tackling him into the ground a few moments later and sending my bag flying to the side. The two bodies tumble on the ground, the attempted burglar fighting to break free of David’s hold. Coming to a stop, I hear another growl as David slams him into the ground on his back, pinning him by the shoulders. He struggles in his grip, looking up at him irate as I finally catch up.

“What are you?” He looks at David closely, right before I see one of his pinned hands turning, opening palm face up to release a bright flash.

I barely have time to close my eyes and shield myself from the worst of the light attack, but David takes the full brunt to his face.

“Aaahhh!” he cries out as he falls to the ground on his back, hands moving to rub at his blinded eyes.

“David, it is alright. I am right here.” I press one hand to his chest, my eyes busy looking through the forest for any sign of our would-be bandit.

“What happened? Who was that and why can’t I see?” David’s eyes look around at the trees and sky above us, unfocused.

“Not who—what. He was omi’kan. Fay.” At least, that is what I believe, given what we witnessed.

“He’s a fairy?” David confirms.

“A jogah. A type of forest nymph,” I explain as I help him to stand. “He used his fae-magic to put Sona to sleep and blind you before turning invisible and running off like a coward!” I shout the last part into the open forest, hoping he can still hear me.

“Where’s your bag?” David attempts to look around. “Why can I still not see?!”

“It is only temporary, but Corrine or Riley can assist if it does not wear off soon.” I look around, spotting my bag lying against a tree. “My bag is here.”

“Phew.” He relaxes slightly as I help him to walk over to it. “Are you sure he didn’t take anything?”

“It would be extremely unlikely,” I tell him as I throw it over one shoulder while he hangs onto the other. “Without knowing what is inside, the only way to retrieve anything without wild guessing would be to turn the bag inside out. That would cause all of its contents to spill out.”

“Then I stopped him!” David smiles proudly to himself.

“Yes, you did,” I say with a chuckle. “Now come. We need to help Sona.”

I aim us at where Sona lays sleeping, people already walking toward us in the distance. Elisabeth and Nathaniel, from the looks of it, both clothed but still visibly wet. Liss has something bundled in her hands, and the two meet us at Sona’s unconscious body.

“Here.” Liss tosses the bundle to David, which turns out to be a pair of pants.

Unable to see, David feels the clothing hit his side, his hands flailing as he manages to grab one pant leg before it hits the ground. “Thanks.”

“What happened to them?” She points between David and Sona.

“I believe our assailant is a member of the fair folk,” I tell them as I kneel next to Sona.

“Shit, really?” Nathaniel comments, trying to look anywhere except David’s naked form.

“Yeah, he blinded me with a magic flash,” David starts as he struggles to pull on the pants blindly, hopping on one leg, “right after he knocked Sona out with some fairy dust.”

“Fairy magic is the worst,” Nathaniel complains. “‘Fairy dust isn’t even real! It’s just ground up potion ingredients.”

“Looked pretty real.” David sounds skeptical.

“Woodland fay have the ability to ‘activate’ the properties of magical plants,” Nathaniel starts to explain. “When you make a potion, you have to activate the ingredients, usually with magic or some other kind of magical ingredient. Fairies can do that all on their own, so they just dry out and crumble up some hypnograss and then boom, sleepy-time fairy dust. It’s like making a potion without the actual potion.”

“And because of that, it is little more than a magical poison.” And seeing as I am a low-level nature-aligned spellcaster myself, I should be able to wake Sona up on my own. I place both hands on the sleeping wolf’s side. “Ikma’lota.” As I cast my spell, my hands start to glow a dim forest-green before Sona’s body does the same, processing the sleeping weed much faster than it would on its own. She starts to stir, and I move back as she stands on unsteady legs.

<Thief!? Where?!> She growls as she looks around, offering a weak bark to the trees around us.

“Gone. But we stopped him,” I attempt to soothe the confused canine. “Thank you for your help.”

She sniffs the air, looking around warily as she regains her senses. She offers a few more barks of warning to the forest but otherwise accepts my explanation. With one pup healed, it is time to fix the other. Ready to help David back to camp, I stand, and when I do so, both Liss and Nathaniel’s eyes move to my waist, Nathaniel’s going wide as he quickly looks away, blushing, while Liss has no trouble meeting my eyes, looking very amused.

“Guess I should’ve brought you something to cover up with too,” she jokes, and I look down to see that the thin, white fabric of my underwear is doing very little to hide the green contents within, especially when wet. Shit. “You two can walk behind us.”

We make our way back to camp to find the rest of the group gathered around our belongings. Some people are still drying off or getting dressed while others are inspecting their things to ensure nothing else was taken. Adam sees us approaching as he finishes pulling his shirt over his head and walks to meet us.

“Did he get away?” He looks at us, disappointed.

“Yeah, but we got our stuff back,” David responds in his general direction.

“That’s good, at least.” Adam steps closer, inspecting David’s unfocused vision. “What’s with your eyes?”

“He blinded me with magic,” David answers flatly. “Can someone point me at Cory?”

“Over here, David,” the priestess answers cheerfully. With David handed off, I retrieve my own clothing.

“Hey! Get away from there!” In the middle of pulling on my pants, I stop to see Nathaniel shooing Sona away from his bag, which she had been sniffing at quite intently. She scampers away, offering an annoyed huff in the mage’s general direction before laying down in the grass once more.

Nathaniel is the final “original” member of David’s group that traveled together across the ocean from Lutheria, landing on our shores only a month before our first meeting. He is just about as tall as David, though much lankier, with messy brown hair and perpetual stubble. He is something of a polarizing figure; while an adequate spellcaster and team member, his personality can be somewhat lacking. He is similar to David: perpetually snarky but lacking the charm that allows my pup’s humor to land better. While he seems to lack much formal training, he has proven to be exceptionally knowledgeable when it comes to magical creatures. He and Liss are also in a relationship, though it seems to run hot and cold at any given moment.

That makes Sona the eleventh and final member of our group and a somewhat unofficial one. She is a young female wolf with a beautiful black coat. We met purely by chance, just before we arrived in Pákannon. We had stopped on the road for a brief lunch and were in the middle of some sparring when we heard a yelp of pain coming from the forest. Tracking it to the source, we found poor Sona with her paw caught in a bear trap. Corrine and I were able to work together to calm, free, and then heal her, and I assumed that would be the end of it. Then a few days later, when the ten of us were facing down the threat of an uktena—a giant, deadly snake—she reappeared, attacking and distracting the serpent to give us time to regroup and slay it. After that, I realized that we had bonded—a magical connection formed between a natural spellcaster and an animal. The bond connects us, allowing us to communicate and understand one another with more than just words. So far, it has been a wonderful partnership.

“I don’t get it. How’d he get through our alarms?” Adam asks once everyone seems to have settled.

“He was a fairy,” Nathaniel answers him.

“Oh, bloody hell,” Piper grouses.

“What’s the big deal about fairies?” David asks the mages.

“The way fairies use magic... See magic, is different from us,” Tsula answers next. “It’s almost like a different type of magic altogether with its own set of rules.”

“And they’re not exactly the most forthcoming bunch, so there is very little we actually know about it,” Nathaniel adds, normally the one to have more information on a topic like this one.

 “They love their damned loopholes,” Piper complains, crossing her arms. “I’ll just have to make sure my next alarm spell doesn’t have any.”

Our time swimming may have been ruined, but we still need to eat lunch. Once our bellies are full of fish, we pack up and return to the road. Though we are on guard after our riverside encounter, the rest of the afternoon is thankfully uneventful, and when the sun begins to set, we find a nice place along the road to set up camp.

With the tents stood up and the campfire roaring, we settle in for the night. Several alarm spells are cast, ones that the casters insist will cover creatures of fay origin as well. Dinner is a simple one of trail rations, but I will do some hunting in the morning. That should hopefully keep us fed until we reach Rakatune. After a little more talking and relaxing, everyone begins making their way to their tents to turn in.

David and I lucked out tonight, pulling the first and second watch shifts respectively, and while we would normally take advantage of the time alone, our thief from earlier in the day has us on edge. Or at least it has David on edge as he spends most of the first twenty minutes pacing in a circle around camp, eyes locked on the perimeter. After I point this out to him, he finally takes a seat next to me, rolling his eyes. An hour later, nothing has happened, and my shift is over. Corrine is already exiting her tent to replace me, and David has another half-hour before Riley replaces him.

“See you in a bit,” I mumble against his lips as I kiss him goodnight.

“I don’t get how you can sleep when that guy is probably still out there, waiting to steal our stuff again,” he grumbles back.

“I have you to keep me safe.” I ruffle his hair, amused at the paranoia. “Goodnight, David.”

“G’night.” He gives me a less-grumbly kiss before I leave him.

I enter my tent, undressing before crawling into my bedroll. It has been a long day, several of them in fact, but if the worst I have to worry about tonight is another attempted theft, I will take it. Closing my eyes in the darkness of the tent, I lay my head back and drift off into unconsciousness.

David and I are running in a forest. Running from...something. Wait, what are we running from? How did we get here? I look over to David on my right, who looks panicked as he dodges between trees. With my eyes no longer watching where I am going, my body slams into a tree ahead of me, and I bounce off, falling to the ground.

“No!” David rushes to help me stand, pulling me to follow him. “Come on, we have to hurry! He’s almost here.”

“Who? Who is almost here?” I resist his tugging, needing an answer.

Before I get one, a different sound fills the air, the sky turning dark as David looks around in fear. Music, like chimes, or bells, or maybe a music box of some kind. But the notes sound wrong, the pitch off or distorted. And it seems to be coming from all around us with no clear source.

“It’s too late,” David whispers. “He’s here.”

“I don’t understand, who—”

Black tendrils erupt from the ground around us, breaking through the earth and wrapping around our limbs and torsos. Before we have the chance to fight back, we are lifted into the air. As I hang there, I see another tendril reaching for the sword on David’s back, pulling it from its scabbard as it raises David even higher. As they hold his limbs away from his body, I realize in horror what is about to happen, unable to do anything but scream as the sword is plunged into David’s chest.

I wake with a shout, one loud enough to wake David who was asleep next to me, and possibly the rest of camp. After looking around in a panic, I realize in frustration that I was having a nightmare, and pound the ground with a fist. Dammit. That is what I get for tempting fate right before bed.

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