Chapter 3 Water

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The forest, which lies between the Redlands and the coast, bears old magic. Perhaps even as old as the Forest of Spirits. Try as I might, I can’t locate the center of the forest’s magic. However, many since we’ve entered the forest have reported terrible nightmares. I’ve had several myself, but it’s hard to believe the forest’s magic is to blame. Mages, yes, but not the forest itself.

Though I’m sure Meah would disagree with me.

I remember her speaking of the spirit of the forest and how it was the one who gave the Seers their magic, but it was a single entity. True, there could be something similar involved in this forest, but if the rumors I’ve heard from the traveling caravans are true…

I may have made a mistake entering these woods.

“Helpful, dad,” Ari grumbles, closing the journal. Out of everything in the journal, this forest was the one thing her father gave little detail on.

It didn’t make sense.

She opens the journal to the same page, flipping it over to see if she missed anything. But there’s no more information about the forest. In fact, as she reads through the words again it seems there are less.

The forest, which lies between the Redlands and the coast, bears old magic. As old as the Forest of Spirits. Try as I might, I can’t locate the center of the forest’s magic. However, many since we’ve entered the forest have reported terrible nightmares. I’ve had several myself, but it’s hard to believe the forest’s magic is to blame.

I’m sure Meah would disagree with me.

I remember her speaking of the spirit of the forest and how it was the one who gave the Seers their magic, but it was a single entity. If the rumors I’ve heard from the traveling caravans are true…

I may have made a mistake entering these woods.

A red dot is now at the bottom of the page. She stares at it, certain it wasn’t there before. Something about it made her skin crawl.

She struggles trying to remember what words are missing, but even as she strains her mind more words disappear.

The forest bears old magic, as old as the Forest of Spirits. I can’t locate the center of the forest. Nightmares plague my sleep.

If the rumors I’ve heard from traveling caravans are true…

I’ve made a mistake entering these woods.

The red dot is larger, taking up a third of the page. She touches the dot with her finger. She feels liquid and when she pulls her hand back she sees blood on her finger.

A hand explodes from the red dot and grabs her wrist. She screams and tries to throw the book away, but the hand’s grip is too strong.

“Ari!”

“Ariana!”

She wakes up.

The journal is lying upside down next to her and her arms are at her sides. Sitting up, she grabs her wrist, remembering the feeling of the hand. She stares at the journal next to her and carefully picks it up. She turns it over and her father’s familiar handwriting covers the pages.

“Ariana!”

“Stop calling her that. Her name is Ari,” Crofton’s irritated voice says.

“Her full name is Ariana,” Vico responds, calmly. “She answers to both.”

“But she prefers Ari.”

“How do you know she doesn’t prefer Ariana?”

She hears a body slam into the tree she’s laying against. Several leaves fall on top of her as she hears Crofton’s angry breathing. “How the hell would you know what she prefers?”

“She answers to both, so maybe she prefers both.” Vico’s voice remains calm. “Are you going to hit me?”

“Thinking about it.”

Standing, she appears from behind the tree. She sees Crofton holding Vico against the tree with one hand and his other clenched into a fist at his side. Vico’s expression mirrors his calm voice, but she can see his hand dancing close to his knife.

“Ari,” Crofton quickly moves away from Vico. “Why did you wander off without telling anyone?”

“Are you all right?” Vico asks, speaking over Crofton. “We were worried something happened to you.”

“I…Tal and Indra knew I was out here,” Ari says. She turns to the camp, but all she sees are trees. She turns in the other direction and again can only see trees. “Wait, where are we? I didn’t go that far from camp. I could still see it.”

“You apparently decided to go for a walk,” Vico says.

“What do you mean? Sleepwalking?” Crofton asks.

“Let’s head back. The others will be relieved to know you’re safe.”

She nods and walks between the two. “I’m glad you found someone else to argue with constantly,” she whispers to Crofton. She grabs Vico’s hand and walks off, dragging the confused man with her.

Crofton watches the two walk away, shock and anger mixing. He turns to the tree and kicks it angrily before stomping after them.

“I’ve made a mistake entering these woods,” Ari whispers the words her father wrote.

Pulling his hand free, Vico stops her. “You and Crofton need to talk. I’ll head back. When you’re both ready, Link and Sten said the groduns are ready to continue.”

Catching up to them, Crofton freezes when he sees Vico leave Ari behind. “Where’s he going?”

“We need to talk.”

He stares at her and she can almost see the thoughts racing through his head. His eyes narrow then widen before meeting her eyes. “Okay. Let’s…talk.”

“Do you remember Nani?”

“Do I remember Nani?”

“Do you remember what he said?”

“We need to learn to communicate better. And we did.”

“Did we, though? I feel like there’s even more you’re not telling me.” She waits for him to respond, but he only stares at her. She avoids his eyes and observes the forest around them. She laughs quietly and smiles. “Not exactly like the forest back home, is it?”

“A lot of things are different from home.”

“Why? What’s changed? Why are you always mad at me now? I mean, you were always annoyed with me before, but now you act like you…hate me.”

“I don’t hate you.”

“You just hate my magic,” she says, bitterly.

He steps closer to her. “Do you want to communicate or do you only want to hear what you want to hear?”

“I want the truth.”

“Do you really?”

“Yes.”

“I don’t think you do.”

“I do.”

He hesitates before moving close to her. He locks eyes with her and takes a deep breath. “I hate your magic. I do. But that’s not what I’m angry about. I’m jealous.”

“Of what?” she asks, fighting to not back away.

“Of Vico.” He waits to continue, choosing his words carefully. “I saw you two that night with the musicians.”

Her eyes widen as she remembers that night. Talking with Vico and… “You saw us?”

“I saw you. You want me to communicate. Fine. I was jealous of Kemp when we first met him because I thought you would leave me behind. But when he started following Vesna around like a lovesick child I was relieved. Relieved he wasn’t going to take you away. I got careless and comfortable hanging out with Guto and didn’t notice that caravan, scavenging, rat was after you. He snuck his way between us and I was too distracted to even realize it.” He clenches his fist and releases a frustrated groan.

“How could you choose him? We know each other better than anyone else!” His breath catches in his throat and his mind races. “I thought we did.”

“Crofton,” Ari tries to speak, but he grabs her arms tightly.

“I thought after I apologized for what I said you understood…I knew you were still mad, of course you were still mad. But…I love you, Ari. I’ve always loved you. And I know you love me…you did love me, before Vico forced his way between us.”

“Stop.”

He tightens his hold on her arms. “You wanted to hear the truth. I don’t hate you. I hate Vico.”

She throws his hands off her and falls back against a tree. “No more. I don’t want to hear anymore.”

He moves close to her, but doesn’t touch her. “It’s your turn, Ariana. Time for you to tell the truth. Do you love him?”

“Crofton, I…”

“Do you love him?” He leans close to her face. “Do you love me?”

Her heart races and she feels fear filling her. She shoves him away and runs. She needs to get away. She forgets which direction Vico walked away, but she doesn’t care. She needs to get away.

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