“I wouldn’t take anything he says to heart.”
The man didn’t look up, glassy eyes staring down at the dirt, the muddy trail of footprints that led away from him. He recognized the expression, a quiet admittance of the most unfavorable sort laced with a deeper sorrow. Finally, the man only nodded slowly and his eyes rose slowly. “I know.”
Daniel had seen Aurora angry before, enraged to the point of madness or even the times when instead he only sat quietly, brooding in something that he struggled to understand himself. He knew that Aurora would come back, likely hours from then, but he never stayed away forever. Something brought it back, be it sentiment or something else, Daniel didn’t really know.
Silas smiled bleakly. “I don’t understand him anymore. It’s laughable now, but coming here, I thought things would be the same.”
The man nodded. “I don’t blame him. When I returned from the Dravara, I was like him too,” he paused, shaking his head, “scared…among other things. There wasn’t light, just me and the dark.”
They walked inside and Daniel took a seat while Silas dragged one of the chairs over, straddling it and resting his head atop a pair of folded arms on the back of the chair. He huffed, breathing out a sigh and blowing a stray bit of hair back from his eyes.
Daniel cleared his throat. “I’m not meaning to pry, but,” he paused, running a hand up to hook around the back of his neck, “those scars, did they come from her?”
The man was quiet, brow furrowing before his head jerked in a miniscule nod. “Why do you ask?”
He smiled politely, shrugging. “I was just curious.”
Silas sat up fully before Daniel could dwell on it for long, bracing his arms against the back of the chair. “I don’t know how to help him. He can’t do this alone, none of us can.”
“Don’t blame yourself. He doesn’t sleep and that alone is enough to drive a man-“
“Mad?” Silas laughed, eyes rolling. “Believe me, it isn’t. Does he eat?”
“No, he wanders, takes walks when he can get away from Fina. Occasionally he collapses when he has stayed awake for too long. He has terrible dreams,” Daniel answered with a huff, “I don’t know what else to call them. He seems to me like a lost caus-“
“He’s not a lost cause.” The man braced, looking as if about to stand before he slumped his head down again. “At least, not yet. I’m missing too many details to know what to make of him. What happened? Before the Dravara, I mean.”
Daniel stammered, clamping his mouth shut and trying not to visibly wince at the question. Cocking a brow upward, Silas sat straight slowly again. “So, something did happen. Two years is a long time to avoid capture.”
“It is,” Daniel agreed. “I’m really not sure I should-“
“If you value my brother in any way at all, you’ll understand how important this is.”
It wasn’t the words, not entirely, that were so convincing. Rather, it was the way he spoke them, the tone and the worry that came along with his expression. Despite his height, the man wasn’t threatening.
He was tall enough to where it looked like he’d need to duck to walk beneath a doorway, but he had a gentleness about him. And yet, there was something else, the dark shadows beneath his eyes, the weariness in his gait and the wornness well beyond his age that shone in his gaze that made him into something of a walking tragedy.
“I don’t expect my brother to tell me.”
He crossed his arms in front of his chest, shifting in his chair. “Aurora killed someone, a friend.”
Silas blinked. “A friend?”
“You sound surprised.”
“I didn’t expect him to make any. Him having you was surprising enough already.”
“Well, yes, he had her too. The Dravara came for us and she ran while her father tried to distract them. Elizabeth,” Daniel said half in a sigh, “she got in the way of a shot and…died a few minutes later.”
He didn’t even recognize the look of horror on Silas’ face before adding, “He didn’t know it was her, he really didn’t. The gun went off and he couldn’t stop it…it just happened.”
“It just happened,” Silas echoed, looking somewhere between ill and appalled.
Daniel frowned. “Are you alright?”
His voice came quietly then, fading. “What was her family name?”
“It’s been years. I really don’t remember.”
It wasn’t a lie an in fact, it took him a moment to even remember the layout of the inn, the rooms and the hearty smell of ale that never truly left his nose. He shrugged. “Her father’s name-“
Silas was on his feet then, chair sliding away from him. “No, don’t.”
His voice came again in a rasp. “I’ve heard enough.”
For a while, they fell silent. Daniel leaned forward in his chair, briefly resting his head in his hands as he thought. He’d considered before just how much he was to blame for, how much could have been avoided if he only listened. And yet, something held him back from placing the blame squarely on his shoulders.
There were some damages that couldn’t be undone and some horrors far too beyond his reach to stop.
“Continue…after what happened with her,” Silas said finally, “Elizabeth, after her.”
“We were with the Dravara for a very long time. He hated me, but I don’t think he had anyone else to blame for what happened. I let him down, I think. We had our differences and I tried…” He trailed off. “Or, I guess I didn’t try. But Aurora, he saved my life. I didn’t remember it, not for a long while, but I know he saved my life after my party had been killed.”
Daniel looked down. “Retrieval party…if you know-“
A snort. “I know what it is.”
He couldn’t bring himself to look up again, only nodding in understanding. “Aurora isn’t a lost cause, you’re right. He’s just lost. Even when we were with the Dravara, even early on, he was set up to fail.”
Silas stayed silent.
“I knew him,” Daniel said, pausing to correct himself quickly. “I know him and this isn’t right. Aurora just…was given up on by them, by everyone, before he ever had the chance to prove himself.”
Silas looked up, frowning. “You seem to really care about him.”
“He’s lucky to have you,” he continued. “Aurora needs someone like you, someone who loves him even now when he can’t do that himself. The two of you-“
Daniel cleared his throat dryly. “Can we continue?”
A smile flickered across the other man’s face. “Of course. I was just going to say that there are others like me and my brother. I don’t know if you heard what we were saying, did you?”
“Some,” he admitted.
“The road is safer than most and I’m sure Aurora would be more inclined to come with me if you rode with us. You and your daughter will be completely safe. The resistance is south of here, far away from the east.”
“She’s so young,” Daniel retorted, “and I really don’t want her to be involved-“
Silas shook his head, raising a hand. “She won’t be. You can go back home again as soon as we reach the resistance, but right now, he needs you.”
Daniel stayed silent, only nodding.
“Come with us. It’s only a few days and I can get another horse if you don’t have one for my brother.”
“The horses aren’t an issue. I have another that belonged to Sarafina’s mother.”
The man smiled. “Well, if you don’t want to burden the beast, he can just walk.”
“That works too. But I really don’t think he’ll agree to coming with us. The only way I see him traveling is if you tie him to the back of your horse,” he joked, gesturing towards the door. “I have some spare rope in the barn.”
Silas laughed. “I’ll speak with him. He’s stubborn, but he’s not impossible.”
Daniel chuckled. “Now, I find that hard to believe. He’s probably the most stubborn person I’ve ever met.”
A snort and the man shook his head. “Not anymore.”
~ ~ ~ ~
“You really won’t?”
Three times Aurora had already answered him and it didn’t change despite the pang of guilt that rang through him every time he repeated the same word. He shook his head, hands slipping into his pockets and hat falling forward to cover his eyes. They had talked at lengths about it once Aurora came back and yet, nothing changed.
Silas obviously wasn’t eager to give up.
Aurora didn’t understand the significance of a change in location. Heading further south would do nothing to fix him, mend something that, at least in Aurora’s mind, was far too shattered to even attempt repairing. He understood why Silas wanted so badly for things to return to a state that neither one had seen in ages. Years ago when Silas had come back from the Dravara, Aurora wanted the same thing.
Change, he thought, even if it had been only to save themselves, wasn’t always a good thing for either of them.
The night before, he hadn’t slept. It wasn’t unusual and in fact, it was how most nights went, but something felt different. Memories, twisted hauntings that never went away, weren’t what kept him awake. Instead, it was simply guilt.
He couldn’t decide which was worse.
“You still have that bastard?” Aurora said after a while, looking up at the grizzled stallion Silas stood saddling.
“Twenty some years now,” Silas grumbled. “He kept me alive and now I’m taking care of him. Why wouldn’t I still have him?”
“Should you still be riding that thing? He’s looking gray now,” he continued. “I always thought he was the worst behaved horse I’d ever met when I was younger. Certainly, I thought, you would have traded him for something younger now.”
“Is that what you did with Luna?”
Aurora shook his head. “She died during one of the bad winters in the east. The cold took a lot of men’s horses that year.”
He reached a hand out to brush over the silver in Aero’s mane when Silas didn’t respond, sighing softly. “You don’t have to leave. If you want, I’m sure Daniel would give you the spare room for a while. Even if it was just until…”
“Just until what, you change your mind?” Silas responded bitterly. “We both know that isn’t going to happen, is it?”
Aurora looked down again, shrugging.
“You don’t have to leave,” he repeated.
Silas stepped back, reaching for his horse’s reins. “That’s where you’re wrong, little brother. As much as I hate leaving you, I’ve got work to do and things to handle.”
“I don’t want to lose you again-“
“You know, there is a very simple solution to that,” Silas replied expectantly.
Aurora snorted. “I can’t.”
“There are others like you, like us. To them, you’re something of a hero-“
Silas didn’t respond, only shaking his head and reaching to adjust the position of his saddle for the fifth or sixth time. Stalling, Aurora thought, he had to be. With a huff, he reached beyond the collar of his shirt to pull the compass free, slipping it over his head with some difficulty. “If you’re going, take this. It will do you more good than it does me.”
Turning, Silas stared down at the small flash of silver in his hand, expression softening. He glanced up, grinning. “You kept it?”
Aurora shrugged. “It was all I had left.”
He reached out carefully, sliding his hand over the surface of the compass and to the crude ridges that covered the back, a design that Aurora still couldn’t entirely make sense of. However, Silas only reached to close Aurora’s hand over the metal again, head shaking.
For a moment, they were quiet and Silas’ arms wrapped around him tentatively. “Three days, that’s all I’m asking you.”
Aurora shoved him away weakly.
“She will eventually know what happened. Evander, she’ll know you’re alive and when she does, she’ll fix that. I can’t let that happen. Daniel already agreed to come with us, Sarafina too-“
He was cut off when Silas raised a hand, silencing him. “It’s only a matter of time and if she finds you here, she’ll kill all of you. I’m not coming here selfishly. I just want you to be safe. That’s all I’ve ever wanted, Evander.”
Silas’ hands dropped from Aero’s reins, one moving to rake through his hair. “Please, I don’t want to find out that they took you from me forever. You’re all I have left too, alright?”
Flinching, Aurora took a step back. Never, not once in his life, did he ever expect to see Silas again and part of him, even if he felt horrible for it, believed things would have been easier if he hadn’t. He stared down, too shocked to say anything beyond something of a weak apology.
Silas’ jaw clenched. “I’ve had to bury enough friends and family because of what I got myself into. Don’t make me bury you too.”
It wasn’t until Aero pawed at the ground with an impatient snort that Aurora even let himself blink. Silas climbed wordlessly into the saddle. A tight pull of the rein and Aero spun, facing the road ahead of him.
“Take care of yourself.”
Silas tapped his heels against his horse’s sides and Aurora watched as they sprang off down the road, disappearing beyond the trees. He swallowed a lump in his throat, letting the compass fall through his fingers until the chain caught on one of his fingers. He curled a knuckle, a sigh ratting in his chest. Alarm and something more difficult to identify flashed in his mind and he did his best to quell them, closing his eyes to take in a shaking breath.
Three days was hardly any time at all.
Aurora’s head rose and he turned, facing the barn and then stalking off towards it quickly. His hands closed over the handle, rough grain scraping over the rugged bandages that still encircled his hands. His eyes flashed to the cottage.
The door opened a fraction of a second later and Aurora swallowed the fear bubbling up in his chest. He and Silas had been separated once, ripped away and forced onto paths neither one of them ever wanted to tread. And while the path that lay before Aurora was still one he dreaded to walk on, doing it alone was infinitely more terrifying.
Aurora felt something of a smile creep across his lips, spreading into a grin. “Tell Fina we’re going to Aldyra.”
“South!” Aurora replied, throwing the doors open and ducking inside.
~ ~ ~ ~
He hadn’t traveled far before the road was swallowed by darkness and Aero had too much of a difficulty picking his way along the path they traveled. A fire was built and Silas slumped down beside it, Aero standing half asleep nearby. Silas leaned back against the saddle he rested against, eyes staring up at whatever shreds of the sky he could make out through the canopy above him.
Traveling was the one thing in his life he was able to get used to. For years, he was something of a nomad with no sense of final destination, no constant place to return to once the day was done. He didn’t mind and after a while, it became more normal than anything else ever could. And yet, the one thing that was always missing was Evander at his side.
The fire crackled, sputtering in the darkness that was otherwise silent around him. His arms crossed over his chest, a cold breeze rustling the mess of dark head on his hair.
“Vex it all,” he murmured.
Leaving, riding away with one last plea for Evander to follow still stuck in his throat, choking him, was harder than he thought it would be. For a while, exactly how long he didn’t know, he’d waited a short distance down the road. As soon as Aero’s hooves struck the main road, he stopped. But, after a while of waiting without so much as a sound from the cottage in the distance, he’d gone on.
It was only an hour or so before he stopped again.
All of it, the change in Evander and the bullet likely still nestled in his belly, was his fault. He could have stopped it, stopped everything that ever happened to him if he’d only acted sooner. Evander never would have been hurt, tortured much in the same way he had been ages ago.
Briefly, he considered that it was her fault, not his.
The thought didn’t last but the more he thought about her, the more a mix of rage and fear burned in his chest. A cold, white heat and a sense of terror that accompanied her name was there until his mind was brought back to Evander again.
Silas rose fretfully with a grown, hearing Aero whicker as he pushed himself up to his feet. He walked over, running a hand along the swayback of the stallion and down to the gray speckled muzzle. Evander had been right when he said the horse was old, but Silas didn’t have the heart to get rid of him.
He leaned back, turning to rest against the shoulder of the horse and tilting his head back to look at the sky again. It wasn’t until Aero snorted, shifting nervously and moving to where Silas could no longer rest against him that he looked up. He reached a hand forward, patting the horse’s neck reassuringly.
“What is it?”
The horse pawed at the ground, head tossing and tugging back at the rope that secured him to a nearby tree. Silas frowned, moving to smother his fire, crouching and shoveling dirt into the sputtering flames. For a while, he was still, eyes peering out into the darkness while he reached for the pistol still strapped to his side.
Silas rose slowly, looking back to the horse. “False alarm, old boy?”
The words left his lips and a snap rang out, the glow of a nearby lantern catching his eyes. Silas slunk forward carefully, catching sight of the figures on horseback and watching as one of them broke away from the group to head towards them. He moved to Aero, running a hand over the horse’s neck and willing him to be silent.
They grew close and Silas reached for his knife instead, watching as the figure dismounted carefully. Silas slid forward, dagger between clenched teeth. They stopped, mouth opening to speak, but didn’t have a chance before Silas’ weight slammed into them and the figure was throw to the ground.
The blade gleamed against their throat.
“Move and I’ll do it.”
A grin. “Silas, calm down…it’s me.”
He had half a mind to swat him.
“Evander,” Silas scolded. “I could have killed you.”
Stepping back, he sheathed his knife and held out a hand for him to take, hoping the shake in his hand wasn’t as noticeable as he thought. Evander stood slowly, grinning still at him. Silas’ arms went around him the instant he was on his feet.
“I take it you weren’t expecting us?”
Sighing, Silas let go. “No, but I’ve never been happier to see you, little brother.”
Aurora smiled something true. “And the same to you.”