Angry eyes bore into Ari’s back. She ignores the owner, choosing instead to continue packing her bags. After her conversation with Lyrrel, she was able to gather a few things from her old home before rushing back to Crofton’s including travel bags and extra money from her mother’s belongings.
The bags hadn’t gone unnoticed by Crofton or his parents.
Crofton stands in the doorway of the extra room of his home Ari had been spending the past two nights in, his arms crossed over his chest.
“You’re just going to leave Kellahn, then?” Crofton finally asks.
“Leaving is the only option.”
“You don’t know that,” Crofton snaps.
Placing the final piece of clothing in her last bag, Ari stands up straight and glares at him as she closes it. “I do know. I have to find my dad.”
“Why? To tell him what happened here so he can run back and save the day?”
The words sting and Ari throws the bag in her hands onto the bed hard. “No, Crofton. You wouldn’t understand even if I told you.”
“Because the people who attacked this city may come back and you’re the reason why?” he says. Ari tries to hide her surprise, but judging by his expression, Crofton already saw it. “My parents thought that might be why and that’s why I’m going with you.”
“No, you’re not,” Ari says.
“Yes, I am. You’re not going anywhere without me.” Crofton motions his head towards his bedroom across the hall. “I’m already packed.”
“How are you already packed?” Ari asks with a smile.
Shrugging his shoulders, Crofton walks into the room, lowering his voice as though to keep it from any stray ears. “I knew you were going to do something like this. After my parents mentioned the people who did this might come back for you I figured better to be prepared.”
“Though we didn’t know you were listening to that conversation, Crofton Hila,” a voice says from behind.
Ari and Crofton jump and meet the eyes of Crofton’s father, Fleance Hila. Small laughter echoes down the hall from Mava Hila followed by indistinguishable words.
“What did mom say?” Crofton asks, his ears turning red with embarrassment.
“She said, you get the sensitive ears from me.” Fleance’s eyes land on Ari and he walks towards her. “You’re sure those who attacked will come back for you?”
Swallowing a lump in her throat, Ari nods. “I…my mother told me…through Lyrrel.”
Fleance’s eyes hide his thoughts, but a long intake of breath signals a decision made. His eyes bounce from Ari to Crofton. “Both of you grab your belongings and follow me.” He disappears through the door.
Hesitating only a moment, Ari grabs her bags and follows after. Crofton quickly runs to his room and grabs his bags, catching up quickly.
The three walk into Fleance and Mava’s bedroom. Fleance crosses to a chest in the corner of the room and opens it. He pulls out two weapons and something wrapped in cloth.
Turning to Ari and Crofton, he hands the weapons to Crofton. “These are made of stronger metal than your current weapons. They kept your mother and I alive during the war.”
Mava appears in the doorway as though on cue. “They’re also resistant to magic thanks to a few mages from the north.”
Staring at the weapons with wide eyes, Crofton holds them with extreme care. “Are you sure you shouldn’t keep them? I don’t want to lose them.”
“You were always meant to inherit them. I know how you fight and I know you’re ready to wield them.” Fleance pats his son on the shoulder before stepping in front of Ari.
He hands her the item wrapped in cloth. “This is something you may have use for on your journey.”
Confused yet intrigued, Ari unwraps the item carefully. It’s actually several items. There’s a blank medallion on a white gold chain, black paper, and a black ribbon. Ari looks at Fleance. “What’s this for?”
“Keep the medallion with you at all times. It may guide you to allies where else there are none. The paper you’ll learn what to do with when you need it. The ribbon is in case of an emergency and the cloth is to be given only to its owner who will provide undeniable proof, if he or she chooses to reveal it.”
“Very…cryptic,” Ari mumbles. She wraps the paper and ribbon in the cloth and places it in a secure place. The medallion she places around her neck, the cool metal resting on her skin lightly.
Mava appears between Ari and Crofton, pulling them into a tight hug. “Be careful, you two. Remember, some of the most dangerous things aren’t people. Keep plenty of water and food with you and ration it well. The last thing you want is to be hungry or thirsty in the middle of nowhere. Trust me.”
“I’m assuming your last stop before heading out will be to see Altan and the Lito’s?” Fleance asks. The blank stares greeting him make Fleance sigh. “They have a record of the road your father travelled until his letters stopped coming. You weren’t just planning on going out there without any directions?”
“Sort of slipped the mind a little,” Ari says.
“I had a feeling.”
“We’ve already sent a message to Altan and the Lito’s,” Mava interrupts. “They’ll be waiting for you two at the northernmost tower at the edge of the city. Do you know where that is?”
“You mean the one they rebuilt after the brush fires five years ago?” Crofton asks.
“That’s the one. Now get going.”
Crofton hugs his mother and father one last time before he and Ari leave. As they walk, Ari plays with the medallion around her neck, eyeing Crofton. “Are you still sure you want to leave? There’s a chance we may never come back.”
“I said I was going with you and I meant it.”
“But won’t you miss them?”
“Of course, but that’s nothing compared to what you’re feeling. If there’s anything I can do to help relieve what you’re feeling, I’ll do it and I know my parents would agree. It’s insane for you to think you could just leave on your own without anyone.”
Ari blushes. “A simple yes was all I was looking for.”
The walk through the city is quiet. Not a soul is walking around or can be seen in the many buildings. The city feels empty. Even when they reach the section where they were attacked, the gangs seem to be gone, as though hiding.
Climbing to the top of the canyon walls, a strange sound fills the air. Hundreds of voices echo from ahead, beyond the buildings built along the edge of the canyon. As Ari and Crofton reach the northernmost tower the sight of almost a third of the city’s people greets their eyes.
Turning as a single entity, the crowd spots the two and silences. Standing at the head of the crowd is Altan, Cal, Bon, Lyrrel, Ringan, and a number of familiar faces Ari’s seen come and go from her home. Nearly all of the slaves rescued from Bloodfall Arena and their families have come to see Ari and Crofton off.
Stepping forward, Altan holds out a notebook wrapped in leather. “Ari, Crofton, you two are beginning a long and perilous journey. We wish you safe passage and the guidance of the gods.” As Ari takes the notebook, Altan smiles at her. “Your father was quite descriptive of the path he took until he ceased contact. I think he knew you would be following some day.”
Opening the notebook to the first page, Altan points to a small map. “His first stop was in the Redlands to the northeast. There are a large number of caravans that pass through the desert just south of the Redlands. I’m sure any of them would be willing to let you tag along until you reach them.”
Ari holds the notebook to her chest. “Thank you.”
Eyeing Crofton, Altan gives him a nod. “Knowing she’ll be traveling with someone we all trust gives us extra confidence you’ll succeed in this.”
“Thank you,” Crofton says softly, nodding his head.
Altan steps back, holding his arms wide. “All of us who have been directly touched by your mother and father’s kindness and strength wish we could join you, but the gods have declared this to be something you alone must do. We shall continue rebuilding and growing the power of this city. All we truly hope for is that one day you will return to us.”
Cal and Bon step forward holding out packages. “Some additional supplies to help you along the way,” Bon says.
“It’s a little from everyone, but even a little goes a long way when your out there alone,” Cal adds.
The two hug Ari and Crofton before stepping back into the crowd. Ringan approaches and wishes them luck, shaking their hands. Several others among the crowd yell out their blessings on the two as Lyrrel walks forward. He no longer wears the robes Ari is used to seeing him in. He wears brown and green clothing more suited for movement and travel. A bow and quiver of arrows are strapped securely to his back and a hood covers his head.
“I would like to share with you words your father said the day he left,” Lyrrel says, straightening his back. “‘Some say the hardest part of any journey is taking the first step. I know this to be false. The hardest part of any journey is never having the courage to ask someone to take that first step with you.’ Stay strong and remember to take care of each other.” He holds his hands out and Ari and Crofton hug him.
“Be safe on your own journey, Lyrrel,” Ari says.
“I’ve made the trek many times, though this will be the first time alone and at a rush, but it’ll be good to get these older bones moving.”
With the final goodbyes, Ari and Crofton turn away from their home and take their first steps.