“Ugh. Hungry,” said the small, hoarse voice of Ruby. She was still down, but had started moving.
“Ruby! Are you awake now?” Va’il asked.
“Here, drink water,” Va’il said, and handed a skin filled with water to her. She drank it and then fully opened her eyes. She looked at the wretched figure of Va’il, and then gasped when she saw the bearan.
“I’m not going to do anything to you, miss,” the bearan said, taking note of Ruby’s frame of mind. “Eat and drink something first. It’s safe.”
Va’il nodded, and Ruby accepted the food and drink without word, and stayed silent until she had her fill. Va’il watched her the entire time, but didn’t intrude upon the silence.
“So,” Ruby said once done, “who are you, what happened, why, and where are you taking us?”
“I’m Derlik, and I’m taking you to a safe place. The only one I know outside of Rising, since you wouldn’t be safe there.”
“That’s what he thinks. He’s the bearan that attacked us before, but he’s saving us instead of killing us,” Va’il said.
“Not comforting. Or acceptable,” Ruby said, her temper returning with the rest of her senses.
“It is what it is,” Derlik said.
“Well, I’ll accept it for now if Va’il says so. But I’ll return to Rising eventually. Where are you taking us, if you are saving us? And again, why?”
“He won’t talk about who ordered him to get us. I’ve already asked. I can tell you more later,” Va’il said.
“As you said. I won’t answer why. But where we are going, that’s easy. My hometown, in Grizz,” Derlik said.
“Grizz? Wait! No, we can’t! That’s a vast distance across the continent!” Ruby said.
“Yeah, it is. That’s where we’re going. If we rush, I think it’ll take a month now. Probably longer. I know the route very well, though. Provisions and stables abound upon the road leading there, so it shouldn’t be too rough. Once we get there, you’ll be saved,” Derlik said.
“Saved? Saved? Ha. Va’il, we shouldn’t put up with this. Let’s ditch him and rush back. It shouldn’t be that hard,” Ruby said.
“I thought so too, but he has a point. And the trip back, even from only here, would be long and perilous. On foot, Ruby. Maybe I could, but what about you?” Va’il asked. He was considering the problem seriously. He knew all they had to do was travel west, but there were additional problems. Assuming they went the correct direction and took the right roads, it would still be more than a week before they returned to Rising, at the best. He was surprised at how far Derlik had travelled during their long sleep, but considering that Derlik didn’t have to stop often and had a healthy team of horses, it wasn’t unbelievable. That amount of travel time on foot would be difficult, if not impossible, for Va’il alone. Assisting a human along the way wouldn’t work.
That was all assuming they went the correct direction, and that the path they were currently on did somehow connect to a road or town that’d lead them in the right direction. Also, Rising was surrounded by natural barriers. If he didn’t find the tunnel connecting Farrow to Rising, then they would be unable to cross over the steep mountains without problems. Going around the mountains wouldn’t work either. They went far north and south, and after the mountains were the northern forests and southern river. There were more issues, too many to deal with, too many things that could go wrong.
“You’re giving up? Va’il! Besides, there’s something that’ll help,” Ruby said while looking at the bag next to her. “It seems he took my bag along when kidnapping us. There is something that will make the journey a lot shorter. It’s really fortunate these were brought with us.”
“And if the people who commanded him found you, what then? He’s a guard! Not a foreigner or ruffian! A guard! That means it could be someone who commands a lot of people, someone who could find you before you make it home. I want to go back too, but if going back means your death, I cannot risk it,” Va’il said. He was very attached to the idea of returning to Rising, no matter the risk to himself, but couldn’t deny the danger that would face Ruby.
“I’m a noble. A high-noble. I can get guards as soon as I arrive. Besides,” Ruby said, and then started to look away and mutter, “I already will have the best guard upon my arrival.”
“Ruby,” Va’il said, not hinting at whether he had heard Ruby with his sharp ears or not, “I don’t want to risk losing you. I hate it too. I want to go back, now. I think we should, anyways. And if there was danger, so be it. But, still, the risks are too great.”
“I’ll have you, won’t I? To protect me?” Ruby said, wanting Va’il to hear what she meant, understand, and respond.
“Yeah. Yeah you will. I will.”
“I’m not sure.”
“Hey you two,” Derlik said, jumping into the conversation he couldn’t avoid hearing, “it would still be foolish, now.”
“Now? Yeah, that’s it. Let’s wait a bit. Wait for a while, and then return. Okay, Ruby? They probably are on guard or still looking out for us since Derlik isn’t there. Wait until it calms down, okay?” Va’il asked.
“Yeah, that’s fine. We can wait a bit, then return secretly once their guard is down. Once they are sure we’re gone. Even the people we care about. Our friends and family,” Ruby said. She smiled, but her words cut with harsh truth. Va’il had avoided thinking about his friends and mother, knowing the reality in front of them was too much to handle at the moment.
He could only keep his composure by thinking that, at the least, he was still around and able to return. Even if others thought him gone, he could still return. He ached when he thought of Mai’ou crying, fretting over him, and considering him lost. The scars on his shoulder sent jolts of imaginary pain through him, reminding him of just how upset his only parent was. But the thought of her rejoicing and crying out of relief and happiness at his return was enough to bring a smile to his face.
“But there’s something else. Derlik, what about you? You’re going to be gone for a while. And missing, right after you were left with us. Won’t they be suspicious, whoever they are? Aren’t you going to be in trouble?” Va’il asked.
“Not something you need to worry about. I’ve already taken care of my own issue. I can say, you’re probably right about waiting. Give it a while, and circumstances surrounding you will change. Still doesn’t mean I’m going to turn back any earlier. Grizz is your last stop,” Derlik said.
“Really? So, how, how do you know circumstances might change?” Ruby asked.
“That’d involve telling you our secrets. I won’t do that.”
“How infuriating!” Ruby said.
“Get used to it. And try to go back to sleep until morning breaks.”