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I could hear the merry chatter of three men. A fourth one remained quiet, but his leather boots rubbing across the stone gave him away. Their bonfire crackled, illuminating the hollow mountainside cave they were camping at. I had been tracking these men all day along the steep mountain paths, masking my presence with the help of some magic.

When they decided to rest, I was lurking right above them on a ledge. With them, they had a brown dray horse and three maidens, neatly tied up and gagged. These men were human traffickers, wanting to strike a good deal in Ha’s Embrace. You see, women were highly sought after in that region, and a man’s success was visible by the number of female slaves that were in his household. Exotic women from beyond the steppes were particularly valuable. If these guys succeeded, they’d be able to live a life in luxury. At least for a few months.

Contemplating my situation, I knew that I stood no chance against four grown men, even if they weren’t highly trained. These were the types who’d readily sacrifice their wares to survive. Since my mission was to bring back at least one girl alive, I had to come up with a plan to reduce their numbers before actively engaging in a battle. Quietly, I crawled away from the scene and scouted the area for inspiration. Yes, it was dark. But being bonded to a deity does come with its merits. All my senses had become superior. Even on a new moon’s night, I could see into the distance and make out the number of potential attackers.

I almost gave up, when I noticed a few large plume feathers at my feet. And with large, I mean really large. Like Roc-sized large. This brought a grin to my face. While Rocs rarely bothered to hunt humans since they were too small of a prey, these gigantic birds were known to fiercely protect their nest. And Nu forbid their hatchlings were stolen. Pleased with my idea, I began ascending the steep slopes of the mountain, using the same technique as Violet did when she walked up the house wall when we had first departed on our adventure. Silently, I landed on the edge of a large plateau that was the home of a Roc.

The nest itself was so large that you could fit several homes next to each other. The intricate construction of twigs and young trees was as tall as I was. Carefully, I jumped onto the top of the nest to take a better look. The blue sprinkled eggs were half my size and pretty heavy. The Roc was nowhere to be seen or heard. I decided to steal an egg. Now, if I didn’t know how to use magic, I wouldn’t have been able to even make an egg budge. But here I was, conjuring a small circular array that was bursting with red energy. Every time the lines wavered, they gave off a slight fizzing noise, tickling the palm of my hand. I held this magic circle against one of the eggs, and surely, it was slowly raised from its safe haven. After a while, I finally held a Roc egg in the air. Satisfied, I slowly descended back down again towards the crooks, who were already dozing off. The bonfire had already died down and only a few embers kept the group warm. The horse had walked deeper into the cavern and was used as a resting pillow for the girls.

Suddenly, I heard an ear-piercing screech cutting through the night. The Roc had already returned! The group immediately woke up, raising their weapons in alarm. I used this moment to roll the egg like a bowling ball into the center, right next to the bonfire. They gasped at me in horror. “You!” One of the older ones screamed. He charged at me with his spear. But I easily dodged his drowsy attacked by simply stepping to the side. He would have fallen to his doom hadn’t a giant bird head appeared seemingly out of nowhere, screaming in anger. I had shielded myself from its scream by applying magic to my ears, but these men were far from being gifted. They held their ears, shouting in pain. What a concert! Anyway, my first attacker more or less stumbled into the open mouth of the Roc. The Roc swallowed the poor guy, and, I swear, I felt like it was choking on him for a moment. The bird squeaked and flattered up and down nervously. I used this chance, to close in on the remaining three, drawing my blade.

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Robyn Cardona

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