Chapter 32:


Explosions of terrible screaming filled the crisp morning air like demented songbirds. Though they were a good distance from Burmehn Town, they weren't far enough away for the sounds of horrified men, women, and children to dissipate into blissful and quiet unknowing. Every few minutes, the eternal screaming would be punctuated by the maniac yell of what could only be a morglain. Every time this would happen, Elodie would clutch unconsciously at her wounded arm. She would also begin to pull at the reins, to turn and rush back to the city.

Leaving those people to be locked in what could only be a nightmare was difficult for Elodie. She absolutely hated hearing their shrieks of pain and dismay. In fact, she really wanted to go back and lay siege on the city. She wanted to kill all the morglains. She wanted to free them. She had already expressed her desires to the others, and they had all turned down the notion immediately.

"We've already got enough to deal with, let alone saving a city. We can't even save the Prince at the moment. And besides, what good would it do if another one of us was wounded?" That had been what Aria had said.

As glad as she was that she had been cured of the Cabroca poisoning, the fact remained that four had now become five: something she would have avoided at all costs, other than impending death. The newest addition to their group was headstrong, uncouth, and had absolutely no filter. And already he was greatly delaying their progress to Terhnhall, duly to his lack of a horse. He had offered to share Elodie or Aria's saddle with himself, but both had refused. When he had turned towards Darius and Arik, they both fixed him with stares that plainly said he shouldn't consider even asking.

"But I can't keep up with a horse," he had muttered under his breath.

"You should have thought of that before," Elodie had replied with a smirk. And she had kicked Su into a trot, leaving him far behind.

They were now traveling east along the lakeshore, heading towards the Dark Forest. Except for the pain in her arm, and the cries of the people that continually called her to turn around, Elodie was rather enjoying herself. She had managed to change her fingernails into a rather shocking shade of pink over a short period of time, and the dark figure of the man in the distance, running to keep up certainly helped keep her in high spirits.

"Hurry up back there!" she yelled behind her.

"Could you keep it down?" Arik asked as the man flashed Elodie several rude hand gestures.

"Oh sorry," she said sarcastically. "I should have remembered that you have a headache from your drunken escapades last night."

His eyes softened at her harsh words. Seeing the look on his face, Elodie immediately felt ashamed.

"I'm sorry," she said. "I shouldn't have…well…" He shook his head.

"Don't mention it," he murmured. "Lately I've just…"

"Been enjoying beer too much?" Elodie finished for him.

"Something like that."

"Why though? Is something…bothering you?"

"I-" he began, but stopped. "I don't want to talk about it. Not now." Elodie pursed her lips. To think she was going to let this go, after several weeks of drunkenness, the last episode resulting in their exposure to an unwanted party…

"I hardly find that an adequate answer," she muttered, re-adopting her sarcastic manner, adjoining with it a sort of dignified tone.

"Well it's not exactly your right to know, is it?" he shot back at her.

"I should hardly think that you still retain any rights. Not after you gave the secret away to that." She jabbed her thumb behind her. Arik flushed a deep red.

"Like I wanted him with any more than the rest of us."

"And yet," Elodie said, "I hardly remember you protesting as much as Darius about letting him accompany us. If I correctly recall, you just kind of stood there." This last statement was nowhere even close to the truth, as she knew. But her temper was getting the better of her. Arik turned from red to a blotchy sort of purple.

"Though it can hardly be my fault he was there. I wasn't the one who needed the antidote he possessed." It was Elodie's turn to flush purple.

"So I'm at fault for wanting to save dozens of lives? Besides, he probably would have followed anyways. You might not remember, but you basically screamed at the top of your lungs last night that Prince Aurin is missing."

"I-" Arik said, but then with a curious look that couldn't hide the smug smile on his face, he asked, "You're not on the rag, are you? Because you've been horribly touchy." Elodie considered this far too below the belt.

"Urgh!" she screamed, and kicked Su up a gear so she could ride next to Darius.

"What's the matter?" he asked her when she came up along side him. "You're not having your time of the month right now, are you?" Elodie just about flew at him.

"I'm joking! I'm joking!" he said to her. "Believe me. I don't want to know about that.

"I could hear every word you two said by the way," he added in an undertone. "I doubt there's anyone a league away who didn't."

"But it's his fault," she muttered, knowing exactly how childish and stupid it made her sound.

"Maybe," Darius replied, but she could tell he was only humoring her.

"Oh not you too!" Elodie drew Su away from him and settled a good distance to the group's right. This trip was turning more and more into less than what her lowest expectations had been. Truth be told, she hadn't known what to expect, but this shamble of a mess hadn't even been in the scope of things she had imagined could go wrong. She had gotten lost in a blizzard, had to deal with Aria's horrible personality flaws, had to watch Arik drink himself to sleep every night, and deal with the consequences of his drinking the next day, and now everyone thought she was having her monthlies.

Not that that last one would have bothered her much anyways, but the fact was that she had never had her monthlies. At nearly seventeen years of age, she hadn't experienced that which truly allowed her the title of woman. It worried her a bit. She hadn't gotten the chance to talk about the subject with her mother. She could have never gone to her father. Jisella was too far away now, and too immersed in a wedding anyways. And Aria…well, the thought of that conversation was downright laughable.

"Hello Aria," she said in her head. "Tell me, will I ever be a mother?" She snorted with laughter.

Elodie had never really given much thought about having children. She preferred to daydream about going on adventures involving monsters, invariable riches, and legendary honor and glory. While girls her age had been playing house, she and Brayan had been tromping around the surrounding countryside. Being a mother to dolls had been much to tame for their tastes.

Brayan. Elodie wondered how he was doing. During her time at the castle, she hadn't given him much thought, but now that she was out "adventuring," she wondered what kind of adventures he was having. Was he finally getting to live out those glorifying dreams they had created as kids? Or were his exploits turning into as much as a sham as hers were? She hoped that wherever he was, he was having a better time than she was.

Looking east, Elodie could now see the tree line of the Dark Forest. True its name, it was a dark strip against the rolling plains. Even though it was still winter, the dark line had a tinge of green to it, which made Elodie think it must be comprised of evergreen trees. Her eyes followed the dark strip to the north, to where grey mountains were barely discernable against the clouds. And somewhere in those mountains was the town of Terhnhall, where Prince Aurin was last rumored to be…and where Arik had grown up.

"I wonder…" Elodie said aloud. Perhaps she was letting her imagination run away with her thoughts, but, it seemed to her that the closer they got to Terhnhall, the more frequently Arik would get drunk. Quite forgetting her irritation with Darius, she relayed her theory to him.

"It's interesting," he relayed back to her. "But I can't possibly imagine why he would act like that. It goes against all logic that he would want to avoid his childhood home."

"Not all logic," she retorted, remember the bad times she had most recently encountered at her own childhood home.

"Yeah, I guess," he agreed. "But it still doesn't really make much sense."

"I just wish I could ask him and get a straight answer."

Darius was silent for a moment, but then, "Maybe you don't need to ask him…. Maybe you could just…listen."

"Listen? But…oh!" Darius meant for her to listen in on Arik's thoughts. There was something in that. But couldn't that be considered eavesdropping? Spying? And she liked Arik. He was her friend. If she was in his position, and he in hers…no, she wouldn't want him sneaking private information from her. But on the other hand, he seemed so beat up about whatever it was.

"I can't," Elodie thought to Darius. "Not yet anyways. It feels like…like…betraying him or something."

"Whatever you feel is right, of course," Darius replied, but Elodie couldn't miss the exasperation he felt towards her.

"I'll ask him again in the next couple of nights. If he still refuses, then I'll listen into his thoughts."