In the soft light of early morning, the group of wielders finished the last of their tasks needed before setting off. Farren was helping Dusan carefully onto a horse, tender touches of reassurance drawing out the process. Camp was almost deconstructed and nearly all horses outfitted with saddles and gear for the final stretch of the journey to Palat’a Virna. Kirsi looked away from her brother and Farren’s reunion and back towards the woods. They were still down a Spirit Wielder.
Krys kneeled low, searching for vibrations, and Kirsi watched closely, feeling useless for the second time in as many days. The earth wielder had spent the intervening hours detecting the tremors sent by the Khaantul’s flight, ensuring she did not go too far. She had not gone more than 50 yards into the pitch black forest, but she had also not returned to camp. Now she remained still, invisible to him and his abilities.
Lysandia appeared, intricate braids woven throughout her blonde, waist length hair. The older woman examined the young healer to her left, remaining quiet in her appraisal.
“She’ll come,” Kirsi said unprompted. But doubt burned in her mind as the woman’s hate-filled face flashed in her memory. They’d sent word to the capital that they’d found the Spirit Wielder and leaving without her wasn’t an option. Even if she wasn’t the savior, leaving her in unfamiliar woods wasn’t something Kirsi could bring herself to do, even to a Khaantul.
Kirsi finally glanced at the fire wielder who was now watching the forest for their quarry. The red of Lysandia’s serpent tattoo wrapped around her arm, camouflaging the remaining blood from her injuries that Kirsi had healed two days prior. The healer shook her head slightly to banish the memories of the horde of Vadek that surrounded them after they had accidentally crossed into the territory.
When they’d heard the gunfire and clashes nearby, they knew another Vadek attack had occurred. The boom of air wielding was unmistakable and drew them to the scraps of the bloody scene. Kirsi had expected the blood and the injuries, but a panicked Khaantul wielder unaware of her powers was beyond what the amateur healer predicted.
The horses grew restless as they lingered, their riders feeling the same as they waited around an empty camp.
“We need to go,” Lysandia said before turning from Kirsi and walking toward the horses. The tall woman rarely spoke, her more animated twin frequently taking the spotlight. So when her sharp alto was heard, Kirsi and the rest of the wielders in the clan learned to listen. Looking at Krys, Kirsi bit her lip in thought as the other wielder shook his head. He was not picking up any vibrations. The healer walked to the center of the clearing, next to the smoking remains of their fire.
Observing the silent line of trees, Kirsi paused, gathering her thoughts, translating them carefully into the foreign language of their guest.
“I know you are frightened,” she began, voice carrying through the wall of green and brown around her, “but you cannot stay. There are many things worse in forest than us.”
The thicket remained quiet, but she felt hidden eyes. Kirsi considered the little she knew of the woman, curling the knowledge into her next words.
“Come to Palat’a Virna. Prove that you are not what we say. If you are not wielder, you get supplies and horse and go home.”
Silence stretched. Kirsi was about to coordinate a search with the others when she noticed movement. Slipping out of the grove to her right came the Khaantul woman, sleepless apprehension fresh under her eyes. Her face was purposefully expressionless, her light eyes hard as flint as she moved past Kirsi without looking at the healer. She marched to the horse where Lucian sat.
“This is my horse,” her demand was clear, and Kirsi translated it for Lucian, attempting to calm the fire wielder’s temper at the slight. He finally moved to another brindle pony, sulking as he mounted the animal.
The Khaantul sat high on her dusky steed, back straight and chin angled loftily for the first time in the last three days. But Kirsi saw the quiver of her shoulders, the too tight hold on the reins. Scratches from her flight into the woods marred her soft features when she turned to look at Kirsi.
“Let’s get this over with,” she said, her voice as cool as her expression. The brunette dug her heels into the horse, leaving the Juri’a to follow in her wake to Palat’a Virena.