Chapter Four: Shadowed Paths

Athea hovered above the trail they had been following. She nestled herself between two branches of a white birch tree. She scanned the thick bushes below for Mayhem. Obediently he sat off to the right awaiting her cue. A silhouette of a man moved toward them.

She exhaled slowly releasing the fear quickly mounting in her chest. She remembered what her father always told her, “Without fear life would be predictable and that would be boring.” A small smile emerged. Quickly she swatted it away as if the foreign smile was an insect swarming her. She crossed her weapons protecting her chest. She readied herself: bending her knees and arching her back. Her solid hands held no signs of her quickened heart. The closer she edged toward her perch she began to make out the figure. She blinked, not trusting what she saw.  

“How can it be?” She whispered.

Without much thought she leaped from her limb and landed in front of a Nari. Tag paused at the arrival of Athea but did nothing. A blank stare washed over his face. She remained crouched down in a fighting stance with her scimitars drawn.

Silence.

Awkward silence.

“What are you doing here, Nari?” Athea spat between her clenched jaw.

His eyebrows furrowed and his lips parted ready to reveal his answer. A large gray wolf leaping next to Athea silenced him. Mayhem extended his neck and back legs readying himself for combat. He let out a low growl announcing his presence.

Tag smirked. He waited for Draco to make his appearance.“I’m on my way to the mountains, Athea.” Tag replied angrily.

“Why are you headed there?” Athea returned the hateful tone.

Whistling from above drew the attention of both Tag and Athea. Mayhem winced pulling his body closer to Athea. Her mouth fell open. Shock spread across her face. Draco’s wings pumped back and forth as he hovered above the group. His black eyes narrowed in on Athea.

“Who do we have here,” he roared.

Before Tag could respond, Draco descended from the sky. His large body  knocked over the tree Athea was originally perched in. Fire rushed from his extended jaw. The three trees closest to him engulfed in a fiery show. Tag stood motionless watching Athea and Mayhem seek cover in the bushes.

“Don’t worry about the Dragon. He is with me.”

“What do you mean?” Athea’s ashen face revealed her unbridled fear. A Nari and a river dragon?

“Yes, Nari. What do you mean?” Draco puffed his chest. He raised his chin and belched. Fire erupted from his nostrils lighting another tree. Only ashes left behind. He eyed the surrounding trees uneasily. He didn’t care for trees nor did he enjoy conversation.

Mayhem protectively placed himself between Athea and the two unwelcomed guests. She tugged at his gray locks in an attempt to put him at ease.

“Draco, this is Athea. She is from the Dagee tribe in the mountains. Chief Meshvar, her father, is the one that lead many Nari to their deaths in the War.” Tag curled his top lip up with anger. “My very own brother died in that war. He believed in your father.”

“My father is gone,” Athea’s voice cracked, “they are all gone.” She lowered her weapons but not completely. Her thumbs rubbed the hilts of scimitars almost as if she was coaxing them somehow. History and expectation are hard things to table when confronted with a sworn enemy.

Tag’s head shook back and forth in disbelief. “What do you mean, gone?”

“It was the Darkness. I was hunting. I returned to a gruesome sight. My tribe member’s bodies flung around in all directions. Blood soaked into the earth and the smell of burning flesh still forefront in my memory. Some were unaccounted for as if they just disappeared.” Athea stood strong as she relived the worst moments of her young life.

“My people are gone, too.” Tag’s gray eyes grew dark with misery.

“So, why are you headed toward the mountains then?” Athea gripped her weapons fiercely causing her white knuckles to bulge. She quickly snapped out of her saddened state and back into warrior mode.

Tag straightened his spine, “We are headed there because of this.” He pointed to Draco. His talons held the green glowing orb.

Immediately, Athea was captivated. Her poise relaxed as she focused on the oddity staring at her. “What is that?” Athea whispered.

Draco puffed out his chest and placed the magical ball on the ground. “I would advise you not get too close, Athea. Just ask the Nari what will happen if you do.”

Athea slowly exhaled. “What will happen, Tag?”

“Why do you call Athea by her name and me, Nari?” Tag pulled his hair out of frustration. He locked eyes with Draco. His rigid jawline emphasizing his temper rising.

“Don’t change the subject, Tag, what happened when you touched that, that sphere?” Athea moved another step closer to Draco. Mayhem nudged her leg in the opposite direction but she waved him off. He let out a low moan and remained by her side.

Tag shifted his weight from leg to leg. “It repelled me into the air. I don’t really remember but that’s what I was told,” he replied unfazed.

“So, how does all of this send you to the mountains?” She inched closer unable to look away from the swirling hues.

“Well–” Tag groaned watching the orb swirl with now blue and green.

Athea knelt down digging her right hand into the dirt beneath her feet. She uttered the words, "Truth fallen. Air and bone." Her eyes widen. Specks of blue and green speckled her hands, hues brighter than they just were..

The orb lifted off the ground hovering over the four of them. They all stood tongue tied with eyes transfixed on the ball. Mayhem defensively snarled.

A new projection displayed against the bark of a nearby tree.

“Is that me?” Athea’s mouth hung open as she watched herself on the bark of a tree. Her stomach churned. Bile slowly crept up her throat. The displayed images were of the four of them on a trek through Genrya. Athea could tell by the split, dead trees and crusted, dry earth. Genrya a barren wasteland full of obstacles created and sustained by magic to ensure no one would safely make it to Eldercrest.

The orb fell to the ground as quickly as it shot up into the sky. The colors that whirled around the sphere were now permanently blue and green. Somehow the presence of Athea created another color.

Mayhem’s loud howl disrupted Athea’s dreadful thoughts.

“What is it? Are you okay?” Athea fell to her knees and pulled Mayhem closer. She nuzzled his neck trying to calm him. She knew what frightened him. It’s the exact thing that she feared. “Don’t worry about me. You and I are together for the long haul.” She stroked his gray hairs until his heart rate slowed.

“Do you know this place?” Tag asked solemnly.

“I do.” Athea nodded while wiping a tear from the corner of her eye. The thought of losing Mayhem, her only family, gutted her.

“Do you think we need to go there?” Tag paced between Draco and Athea. Lines of worry creased his forehead.

“Yes,” Athea mumbled. “It seems as if we are being directed into Genrya.”

“Okay then, that is where we shall go.”

Athea took a step back. “Together?” Her mouth twisted into a smirk. “I don’t think so.”

Mayhem looked at his master wagging his tail.

“Memories are lost. Change is necessary. We face extinction,” Draco hissed. “Do you ever wonder what’s it like when the darkness takes you?” Her yellow and orange eyes glistened with words held back.

“It keeps me awake,” Tag admitted. His eyes move toward the thick of trees and endless night.

Athea couldn’t help but feel close to him. His words spoke her own truth. She glided her finger across the edge of her scimitar remaining silent.

Tag stepped closer to her, disregarding her wolf watching him. He put his hand, palm to the sky. “You do too.”

Athea had no intention of touching hands but his true words softened a small part of her. She sheathed her weapons eyeing both Tag and the dragon. “I take first watch. We should rest. Tomorrow will be a long day.” She pushed past them with Mayhew hugging her side. Her eyes first set on Tag, “I may at any point change my mind and kill you.” Athea turned to look at the dragon. A rush of fear ran up her spine. She didn’t fear much. It was trained out of her. Athea knew the dangers of being in dragon company. His large green-scaled face and yellow eyes revealed no emotion. “You look ridiculous in the forest,” Athea mumbled before heading deeper in the forest.

“We are setting up camp,” Tag called after her.

“Not here.” Athea continued toward the thick.

“How is deeper in better?”

“You know nothing of my parts Nari,” Athea snapped continuing on.

Draco released a throaty chuckle. His mouth pulled back at the corner resembling a smirk. “I’m not sure how I feel about spending the last of my days with you two in this earthy stench.”

A displeased groan escaped Mayhem’s mouth.

Athea stroked his head.  I have no idea how this will end. She bit down on her bottom lip, hard enough to hurt. Her shoulders remained raised, but her confidence was dwindling. Her home lost, now she’s traveling with two enemies based on a stone. Traps and parlor tricks were a skill strengthened by magic. As she led them deeper into the woods in hopes of finding passable shelter, the notion she was being tricked settled in her stomach.

Tag and Draco followed uncertain whether they’d be killing each other by moon fall.



Next Chapter: Chapter Five: Drawn to darkness