“Right at this fork, and then we’ll almost be there,” Link said.
“Right? But that leads east. Rising is to the west,” Va’il said.
“I know, but sometimes you have to take a roundabout way to get where you want to go safely,” Link said.
“I think when we came here, Derlik came from the west side. Can’t we go the way we came?” Va’il asked.
“He probably went a way more familiar to him. He probably has connections outside the cities we know as well. As nobles, it’s a bit more difficult for us. We can’t make friends with those in lower places, after all. Besides, it’ll be easier to be supplied in the larger cities, and to travel on safer roads,” Link said.
The group had travelled north for a day, and gradually took various paths to the northeast over the next few days. After five days of travel, they were going in direction the sun rose, no longer towards the north.
“When is the next city?” Ruby asked on the seventh day.
“We’re actually just an hour away, at this point,” Link said.
“See how the ground has smoothed out compared to two days ago? It means the road is far more travelled. So you can be sure we’ll be there soon. I’m sure we’ll even see the city soon, just over the next hill,” Greta said.
The city soon came in view. It was an enormous city, with giant walls that used to be standing. They had great gaps in them, a shoddy version of what greatness they had once been.
“It’s Belorma. The once-great city. How it’s fallen! But it’s still a wonderful city, even though it isn’t what it once was,” Link said while shaking his head.
“Was it demolished by Grip?” Ruby asked.
“Mostly, yes. But it’s fine. It no longer needs its walls, as it no longer fights. But it is still large, and the best city to go to, for now. But I suggest you stay and wait for us. Greta and I will get some provisions, and then come back. Once we have a few clothes, we can cover your human looks and have you enter. It’s nothing out of the ordinary,” Link said.
“All right,” Va’il said.
The group got closer to the city, and then stopped while Link and Greta got ready. They left the provisions they had with Ruby and Va’il, saying that they would come back with far more on their own horses, and then left.
Va’il and Ruby silently watched as the two bearans took their leave and entered the city.
“What do you think?” Ruby asked.
“About what?” Va’il asked.
“How long will it take for us to get home? I know it’s going to be a while, but how long, do you think? It took a month to get here, and that was with the persistence of Derlik. I know how fast we went with him. It was far faster than this, though that’s a different matter,” Ruby said.
“And we were going in a direct route. He went in as straight a line as possible, based on the roads he knew,” Va’il said. He nodded wearily as he considered the tiresome last few days.
“That can’t be helped. Link and Greta don’t know a better way. Well, they say this is better, overall. It’s silly to think of it, but I can’t help but think that if mother was in my shoes, she’d insist on going the most direct route possible, without exceptions. She cannot be appeased by any means. Sometimes that’s great. Mostly not. I’m easier than her, I guess. Much more accommodating,” Ruby said.
“Accommodating? That’s a lot like getting used to something,” Va’il said. “Maybe it would be better. In fact, it would be. Why didn’t we insist, Ruby?”
“We wouldn’t be helped by them otherwise, that’s why.”
“And who said we need help?”
“Well, we should accept it when possible.”
“It’s in the air again,” Va’il said, his voice becoming quiet. “I knew something was wrong. Look towards the city.”
“What about it?”
“It’s filled with humans.”
“And we’ve been betrayed, again,” Va’il said, his eyes opening wide and his voice dropping. He pointed towards the city gates. Ruby squinted to try and see what Va’il was talking about. But it was soon obvious. A large group of human men were riding at the sides of Link and Greta. The nets and weapons held by most of the riders, including the bearan children, were enough to tell Ruby the truth.
Link was pointing a sword in the direction of Va’il and Ruby and yelling. Greta held a net and wore a malicious smile. Va’il could hear her yelling at him off in the distance, telling him to try running while they gave chase in a twisted game of cat and mouse. The Laloo children had fooled them, and led them directly to an enemy stronghold, where they could hand the Rising children over in person. No doubt about that existed in the minds of Ruby and Va’il. Neither waited to confirm it in person, nor did they need to. It was the terrible truth that the entire Laloo family had been deceiving the teens since the very beginning, since the very moment the Laloo family heard of the existence of Va’il and Ruby from the innocent Tico and Spand.
Va’il and Ruby didn’t hesitate to gallop in the opposite direction. They headed directly west, the sun still at their backs.
The minutes passed, but Va’il and Ruby didn’t once turn around. They didn’t need to see how close the mob was. The yells grew, telling Va’il that something had to be done. The road soon veered to the southwest, but the teens left it in favor of the sparse forest. It was full of trees that were thin and spaced far apart, thus wouldn’t be good for hiding in or losing their pursuers. However, the rough road ended up slowing down the mob just enough so that they didn’t gain further ground on the teens.
The horses were tired. Va’il knew it, but hoped they could hold out for long enough. How long, he didn’t know. Fortunately, the teens were lighter than all of the riders in the mob behind them. Grown men and large bearans didn’t make for quick riders, but their horses had rested longer. They didn’t fall behind, nor did they gain ground, but instead stayed at a close distance behind the teens. They had the advantage, after all. It was land they were more familiar with, and their numbers allowed them to pursue without worry.
“Go ahead!” Va’il said.
“What?” Ruby asked.
“I’ll hold them back. Go ahead. Go!”
“I said go!” Va’il stopped his horse and turned it around.
“Va’il!” Ruby turned her head, but didn’t stop her horse. She wanted to, but didn’t. She kept going, no longer looking back.