He watches her drift off to sleep, not surprised it doesn’t take long. He’d seen how her pace had slowed, the circles under her eyes darkening. He noticed it long before he did.
The brands on her skin send a shock of memory through him. The symbols he adopted during his time, knowing their beauty whether on flag or flesh. The reminders of those he witnessed receive the marks. Though he never saw it done to such an extent. How angry the elder must have been to cover her so liberally. How he must have wanted everyone to see her shame.
He glances towards the rest of the group, but they’re still distracted by the expansive sea. Some even venture close to the cliff edge, peering down at the crashing waves, no one noticing the two missing.
Kneeling down, he stares at her sleeping face. He sees them. He sees their resemblances in her face. Even how she speaks reminds him of those two. Rage fills him and he reaches a hand towards her, wanting to take the throat and squeeze the life from her.
The thought is loud and sharp in his mind. He jerks back, his hand rising to his head. Wincing, a low laugh rumbles inside of him. “Didn’t like that, did you?”
He feels the desperation, an almost gnawing at his mind.
Let me out.
“Oh, getting a bit demanding now. Upset I so easily traded places with you?” He stands, moving to the edge of the wagon.
We have a deal.
Jumping off, he stretches his arms over his head, cracking his back. He enjoys the feeling of a body again. How long did he stay trapped at the bottom of that hole? How long did he fester in the darkness?
“You need to be patient. I’ve done you a favor, you know.”
He feels the curious mistrust in the single word. Turning to the wagon so he can see Ari, he smiles. “Solidifying your bond. Reminding her who is truly the one there to hold her up.”
Silence. He senses thoughts flashing, followed by subtle agreement.
Let me out before someone notices.
Crofton gasps, quickly running to the wagon. He leans over the wood to check Ari. He doesn’t see anything he may have done to her, but it only calms him slightly.
He feels him, watching from inside. The ease with which he took control…he covers his right eye with his hand.
He needs to pay better attention.
“You all right?” a voice asks behind him.
Jumping, he quickly turns and sees Vico standing a few feet away. His eyes move from Crofton to Ari back to Crofton.
“Ari hasn’t been sleeping. I convinced her to rest.” He tries to keep his voice calm, wondering if the other man heard him. “She nearly fell over from exhaustion.”
“She hasn’t been sleeping? Why didn’t she say anything?” Before Crofton can respond, Vico slaps his leg. “Of course she didn’t say anything. She’s as stubborn as Vesna.”
Crofton bites his tongue, not liking the friendly tone the other man uses when speaking of Ari. Not wanting to start an argument with Ari sleeping, he tries to walk past Vico, but the man grabs his arm.
“I thought I heard you speaking to someone.” Vico’s grip is tight, not allowing Crofton to pull away.
Crofton’s heart pounds in his chest. Could he have heard everything he said? His hand slowly dances over the hilt of the dagger on his belt. The very dagger he used to kill three already.
Releasing him, Vico gives him a friendly smile. “I’ve seen you tossing and turning lately. You two are both stubborn, but you understand the importance of rest. If you need a little nap, too, no one would mind it.”
“When Vesna loses sleep, she tends to lose what little filter she has. Once I overheard her talking to a fly. It wasn’t an interesting conversation, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard someone threaten to pluck each hair from something so tiny. Rest if you need it.” He shrugs his shoulders. “But you’re your own man.”
“Where’s Ari?” Tal asks, walking up to the two. “Are you two having another fight? Are we going to have to go looking for her again?”
“She’s sleeping on the wagon since she hasn’t been able to sleep at night,” Crofton answers, happy to talk to someone else. “I told her we’ll wake her when we reach Marpidium.”
“Which brings up my next question. Do we know how to get to Marpidium?” Tal asks.
“Follow the coast,” Vico says.
“Thanks, I figured that,” she says, giving him an incredulous look. “Which way? We can’t risk heading the wrong direction. There’s no time and no telling how much distance we have between the ones following and us. They could be closing in now for all we know.”
Crofton shakes his head, garnering curious looks from Tal and Vico. He waves his hand to signal it’s nothing as Vico turns to Tal.
“My guess is to head west,” he states, crossing his arms across his chest. “Deirak is northwest of Myldea. I’d only assume the main trading city would be located at the northwest point of the continent.”
“That’s assuming we’re actually east of the northwestern most point. How confident of that are you?” Tal asks.
“I agree with him,” Crofton says. “Our best chance is to head west.”
Eyeing the two men, Tal slowly nods her head. “Glad to hear you two agreeing for a change.”
“Don’t get used to it.”
“I don’t plan to. Shall we head off?”
Gathering the group from the view takes some encouragement, but soon they’re back on the move. After assurance from Crofton they won’t wake Ari, those pulling the wagon soon pick up a brisk pace.
They follow the cliffs for several hours, birds flying overhead out to sea for food only to return to the cliffs and their nests. The blue sky and saltwater air revive the group. New energy fills them as they feel this step of the journey coming to an end.
If they can reach Marpidium.