Happy Friday! I hope you've been well since your last visit. This week, I present Chapter Nine of Quest of No Return.... (If you need to catch up on the previous chapters, you can find them here.)
Already familiar with the lands to the west of Iselos, Aria decided to wander south. The terrain was steeper,
rockier, and gave way to sudden drop offs at the edge of narrow ravine. A faded, but familiar scent of Malorian blood was ever present. So this is where they thrive.
A distinct snap behind her whipped her attention in the other direction. She was not alone with the crennas and the trees.
She jumped up, catching the branch overhead, and pulled herself out of view. She waiting, listening with her mind.
Somewhere near, Aria sensed a familiar presence, though she could not place who or what it might be. She waited, hoping to see who, or what, was following.
Nearly an hour passed before Aria decided to climb back down. Whatever she'd sensed had faded.
She started walking back toward town, when she heard the falcon's call overhead, Aria?
Hunter is waiting for you with the horses.
Thank you, my friend.
Will you need me tonight?
No, Dar. Not for the hunting, anyway. I would like you to keep watch for any foul play among the other hunters, though. Apparently some of them hunt people too.
I better go eat and catch some sleep then, You should too.
I will. Soon. See you tonight.
Aria burst into the stable, and the yellow dog leapt up into her arms, and began washing her face and neck. Oh, I missed you, Hunter!
I expected you to send for me the first night.
She put him back down, and knelt at his side. I needed you at the Cernaah, to take care of the crennas.
They have Kumar. He is more than capable.
But, he isn't you.
This is true. I leave big paw prints for him to fill. Fortunately, his paws are bigger than mine. Aria laughed. Finally. I wondered if you were going to break.
"Only for you," she scratched behind his ears. "Do you have something for Taura?"
Yes. He trotted back to Romburr's stall, and then back, with a book in his mouth. The squirrels found it tucked away in a tree.
"How strange," she mused, turning the book over in her hands. The leather cover was worn smooth and thin. If there ever was an inscription on the front, it had long worn away. "I'd better get this to her. I'll come back to get you before I go up to the room to sleep."
I'll be waiting.
She slipped Romburr and Illitz each a few sugar cubes and kissed Hunter on the top of the head. "See you soon."
Aria found Taura and Ziliena already at a table in the tavern tent, with a third mug waitng for her. She handed the journal to Taura. "From Hunter, with love."
She put her mug down, and flipped the cover open immediately. "Definitely Mother's writing."
Ziliena leaned in closer. "I don't think this one in encoded."
"I hope it has some clues to help understand Father's," Aria said. "Otherwise it's not of much use."
Taura looked up at Zilinea, then to Aria she whispered, "Did they ever say anything about Mother's family to you?"
"No, I don't think they did." Aria paused to take a long swallow of foark. "Why?"
Taura's eyes darted between them again. She wanted Aria to let Ziliena hear her thoughts as well. This says they were murdered. Our grandparents and their three other daughters, all murdered.
Ziliena's eyes widened, Aria's narrowed. "Does it say who did it?"
Taura's eyes were fixed on the book, scanning the next few pages. She looked up and shook her head. "She just refers to a 'him.' And says she and Father must stop him."
Aria looked around, and listened. No one was paying attention to them. "Will you take this back to Ziliena's to study?"
"Yes, we should," Ziliena agreed. She reminded herself, Don't think about the quest.
Aria heard. "What quest?"
Taura shot Ziliena a look. "It's nothing, Aria."
Ziliena lost control of her thoughts, and Aria picked what she was looking for right out. "You figured out they were on a quest? What quest?"
Taura pushed up her mental walls, shutting Aria out from her and Ziliena's minds. "We don't know yet, calm down." She reached out and took her sister's hand across the table. "You have to focus if you're going to participate in this hunt. I didn't want to distract you with bits and pieces of information we're not completely certain about." We were going to tell you as soon as the hunt was over.
"The only thing that would distract me is the thought you might be keeping something from me, Taura. Understand?" Her sister nodded. Aria shook her head. "You're right, I do need to focus. And get a quick nap in. Can you come wake me to eat before the first round."
"Of course," Taura smiled. "I'll see you soon."
Walking back to her room with Hunter, Aria fell into deep thought over the new revelations about her parents and her dreams. Hunter, nuzzled his head into her hand to let her know he was there to support her.
Funny how you always know Hunter, she reached down to scratch behind his ears.
Have you been seeing things again?
Seeing things? You mean dreams?
Yes. Well, dreams or premonitions? Have you been having them again?
Aria laughed out loud. Tell me, how does a silly yellow dog know anything about prophetic dreams? Out loud, she said, "We're here." She held the door open for him, and then led him upstairs.
One inside the room, he continued. You taught me to know Aria. I've heard your thoughts since before we met. That's why I came to you, he licked her hand affectionately. Tell me about this one, it obviously troubles you.
This one was different, old man, she sighed and sat down on the foot of her bed. "It was my mother, just as she looked on the last day I saw them. She said that I am to protect my gifts and that I am 'the one' whatever that means."
I hate it when you call me old man.
"Hunter, no tantrums!" she teased. She stood up and began to pace the room. "What did she mean; I am 'the one.' 'The one' to what?"
Tell me everything she said. From beginning to end.
Aria pulled out her journal and read back everything her mother had said.
One with an important destiny? The dog paced around in a circle five times before laying down. The most important destiny I can think of is probably-
"Nope, no. Stop yourself right there. I know where you're going, and there's no way."
No way what? No way you could be the one we've been waiting for?
"Is that really what you think she meant?" She couldn't say what came next out loud. You think she means I'm Ile Lumesare?
Don't you? It all makes perfect sense to me.
"No, Hunter, that's jahawi. Seriously." She paced even more frantically. "But she couldn't have...could she?" Aria stopped pacing in front of Hunter, and, knelt, taking his face in her hands. She couldn't mean that it's me!
Why not? Your own sister has suspected as much for some time now. And, Taura is probably the smartest person I know.
"It just ... it can not be. They would have told me; they should have told me!" And yes I caught that last remark.
You're the second smartest. I don't understand why you are so upset. He gave her one of his big doggy, tongue hanging out grins.
She stood again, tossing her hands up in exasperation. E'sareona!
You are the strongest person I know. And, the best Malorian hunter, as Iselos is about to find out. I couldn't think of anyone better.
She sighed, never ceasing to be amazed by the dog's undying loyalty and over-abundant optimism. "Let's get some sleep, and put it out of our minds for now. Like the smartest person you know told me, I need to be focused on the hunt tonight.