They continue walking farther away from Kellahn, deep into the plains surrounding the canyon. Tall, brown grass fills the land, dancing as a warm breeze passes through.
A herd of beasts leaps away as the group of three approaches, their long legs allowing them to easily jump great distances. Another herd of larger animals look up lazily from their grazing, but, sensing no threat from the group, lower their heads and continue eating.
Soon the rolling hills of grass change to the familiar hard ground surrounding Kellahn, but with the occasional pool of water. Animals surround the small pools, drinking greedily.
“There must’ve been rain recently,” Kemp states. “They’re filling up as much as they can before it runs out.”
“It’s nice to know we have an expert travelling with us,” Crofton grumbles. “Maybe you can tell us when it’s going to snow next.”
Kemp looks at Crofton, but stays silent. Instead he rolls his eyes and turns to Ari. “Karrion Desert didn’t receive much rain, but when it did, it was a mad dash for the residual water before animals drank it or it was sucked into the earth.”
“There was a time when the river that flows through the canyon nearly dried up. There was fear that it would never recover, but then the rains came and flooded the lower third of the city. Even our water mages had trouble controlling it,” Ari says.
“Sometimes the only thing that can control nature is nature.”
The land changes from hills to flatness, stretching for miles into the horizon. The tops of mountains can be seen, but they’re so far away they appear only as small bumps. The sun lowers in the sky, bringing cooler air, but the warm breeze continues blowing.
Finding a small collection of trees, the group rests and decides to spend the night. They create a small fire from the branches of the trees and prepare a small meal, their hunger only a mild annoyance.
Ari takes off her shoes and rubs the soles of her feet. The tension releases slowly, but the aching continues and she knows it’s only beginning.
“All right. We’re searching for you father, following the same path he took, and then what?” Kemp asks. “What do we do once we find him? Are we asking him to come back to your home? Are we telling him to stay away? What?”
Crofton glares at Kemp. “You’re asking a lot of questions about Ari’s father.”
“No, I’m asking why we’re going after him. The city was attacked by what looked like very powerful magic users so I can only assume two things. One, they’re going to keep attacking the city and we’re to get your dad to stop them or two, they’re going to follow us and the safest place to go with murdering magic users chasing you is one of the strongest mages in Myldea.” Kemp glances at Ari. “So which one is it?”
Putting her shoes back on, Ari smiles. “They’re chasing us. Does that change your mind about coming with us?”
A smile grows on Kemp’s lips. “Not really. I might’ve changed my mind if no one was chasing us. Too boring otherwise.”
“You’re making light of the people who killed Ari’s mother and hundreds of others. These aren’t some stupid gang members, these people are dangerous,” Crofton says, angrily throwing a stick at the fire.
“Being scared of them isn’t doing anyone any favors, either.”
“We don’t even know you. You could be one of them. You showed up about the same time as the attacks. A bit of a coincidence, isn’t it?”
“With that logic, I bet you make friends with every newcomer to your city. Besides, why would I’ve helped you in the forest if I were part of them? Wouldn’t I’ve killed you?” Kemp grabs for some food, but Crofton knocks his hand away.
“Maybe you’re supposed to come with us to find Ari’s father and then kill him.”
“What? Are you even listening to yourself? You can’t really think that.”
“I can. Betrayal can happen at any moment. Our city knows that very well…my father knows that very well,” Crofton says, his voice growing soft.
Ari throws her hands at both men, wind knocking them back and creating a small distance between them. “That’s it. I’ve had enough. I’m not going to be listening to you two arguing the whole way. I refuse to tolerate your macho, one-upsmanship bullshit or whatever this is about. If you can’t get along, both of you go back to Kellahn and let me continue on my own in peace.” She points at both. “Otherwise, make up and become friends quickly. This is your only warning.”
Staring at her with equal expressions of understanding, Crofton and Kemp look at each other. Kemp motions his head towards Ari. “She always this blunt?”
Rolling his eyes, Crofton holds his hand out. “You have no idea. I’m willing to trust you for now, but any sign of any kind of betrayal will change that quickly.”
Taking Crofton’s hand, Kemp laughs. “You’ll soon find all I want is to help any way I can.”
Sighing with annoyance, Ari takes her helping of food and eats. “Not exactly what I wanted, but I guess it’ll have to do.”
The three eat their dinner, small conversations occasionally breaking the silence. The tension between Crofton and Kemp lessens, but Ari knows it’ll still be a hard task getting the two to be friends…for the moment.