Water hit the side of his face and he twitched. The water fell again and Keenin rolled over in irritation, off of the soft furs and onto the rough stone ground. Remembering where he was, he pushed away the furs and looked to the cave entrance. He had to use the washroom so he rose and stumbled closer to the light, passing the sleeping dragon as he headed for the trees. But before he got to the entrace, a large paw flattened him to the ground.
“Hey!” Keenin yelled out. “What do you think you’re doing?”
“A favor,” Clide said opening one eye. “Do you really want to leave so soon?”
“Why are you yelling?” Dia asked, slipping outside past Clide.
“He was going to leave without telling us,” Clide said.
“Ah. He was doing something rude again.”
You’re rude, Keenin thought back.
“I was going to use the washroom,” Keenin said annoyed.
And his leaving wasn’t their business. Although now he didn’t have a choice with the dragon’s paw uncomfortably pressing him into the pebbles on the ground.
“Are you sure that isn’t an excuse to run?” Clide asked.
“What would be the point in me running?” Keenin stated back. “You can fly after.”
Dia walked around in front to where he could see her.
“But aren’t you forgetting something,” Dia said.
Keenin didn’t own anything to leave behind.
“Aren’t you going to invite us to come with you?” Dia asked.
“You… want to come… with me” Keenin processed.
“Obviously,” Dia said.
“But you live here. You told me so.”
“I think you hit him a little too hard,” Dia told Clide.
Clide lifted his paw and Keenin got up, brushing away the dirt that had pressed into his skin. He was dismayed at the red welts that made him look he had a rash, but he supposed they would fade.
“Don’t do that again,” he told Clide. He turned to Dia. “And you. I don’t understand. Why do you have to come with me? You could go whenever you want to.”
“Idiot,” Dia said flatly.
“Please,” Clide said. “I was ready to leave yesterday. The only reason we didn’t leave was because Dia was too self-conscious, but now that we have a friend that knows how to be in society it’s no problem.”
“We like you better than we like this place,” Dia explained simply. “You’ve given us the best entertainment we’ve had in weeks. Besides, we are concerned about how you’re going to survive your trip home. Someone has to protect you from evil spirits,” Dia said.
“Exactly where do you live?” Clide asked. “I still might be able to fly you.”
“I’m not going home,” Keenin admitted. “I need to go to the city of Behoden. I’m supposed to start a new life.”
Maybe having these two was a good thing. Nobody would be able to kidnap him when a dragon was looking out for him. And maybe he would figure out how to help Tess.
“Are you still coming with me?” Keenin put the question to them.
“We were going to follow despite the destination,” Dia told him. “But Clide can’t fly near crowded places. We should go to Selendrum and look at some maps so we can decide how to travel.”
Right. Keenin didn’t even know where he was compared to his hometown.
“Then let’s go to Selendrum first,” Keenin agreed.
As Keenin now knew from experience, setting off on an adventure wasn’t as glorious as people thought, but this time became much less exciting as Dia took her time planning. First, they discussed shoes because Keenin had none and they were not going to patch him up every time a sharp rock came around. Keenin also got to keep one of the oversized white shirts which he reluctantly accepted while knowing it belonged to a dead guy he never met.
Then they spent twenty minutes discussing how to carry the trunk of clothes and all the furs with them while Clide traveled as a human. Eventually, the furs were tied up and strapped to Keenin’s back while Dia and Clide carried the chest between them. Dia also carried what she called the boost staff on her back.
From then on travel was slow going. Of course, there were some benefits to having friends around. They kept each other’s spirits high and he felt safe knowing that Clide could eat anything that got in their way, but they also seemed the type to attract attention.
“Keenin, stop going so far ahead,” Dia called after him.
Keenin stopped and looked back. Sure enough, they were separated by a considerable distance. He knew they should have left that heavy chest behind.
“Ya,” Clide said. “You try moving quickly on a full stomach.”
“I told you not to eat the rest of the deer carcass,” Dia scolded him.
“I hate wasting food. It would have attracted animals to our cave.”
“I don’t think it counts as our cave anymore, but with your scent there I doubt any animal would go inside,” Dia told him.
As Keenin waited he tried to look at the torn piece of his map. Early that morning it had shown a clear path. Now it was a bunch of incoherent squiggles. He looked down the broad path ahead. The end had yet to be seen and Keenin had no idea how much longer the road went on. It gave Keenin the peculiar feeling that they could go on without ever seeing another person, but he couldn’t feel alone for very long when Clide and Dia stomped behind him.
“Shouldn’t there be more people on this road?” Keenin asked as his new friends caught up with him.
Keenin understood that animals might stay away because of Clide, but there was no reason for humans to avoid using such a good road.
“Why would there be?” Dia said as he walked beside him.
“It’s such a well-maintained road,” Keenin said.
“Ah, that’s not true,” Dia said. “The part of the road passing this forest isn’t maintained. It stays this way all year. Considering that the road connects the seaport to the ogre mountains I think it’s due to a spell that elves placed as a favor. It might also be related to the ruined city in the forest. Anyways, people find it creepy. Plus Clide and I have been causing problems. Because of some tricks, I played it’s rumored that a necromancer lives around here.”
“You don’t seem like any scary necromancer I ever heard of,” Keenin told her.
“You might remember that I was pretending to be a ghost.”
“But if you can see ghosts, can’t you summon one?”
“I’m not a necromancer,” Dia scolded him. “I’m an Esmer.”
“But what is that?”
“What does that mean?”
“You’re so pushy.”
“I thought we were friends,” Keenin reminded her.
“Fine,” Dia complained. “A person becomes an Esmer when they possess the body of a person who died in their place. Does that satisfy you?”
“So like possession.”
“No,” Dia complained. “That would involve a ghost to knowingly take over a living body. I didn’t get a choice. This young body is my sister. In my sister’s place, I must live out her lifespan and I won’t be able to die a day sooner than was intended. Seeing ghosts is the side effect.”
Keenin felt bad for asking. Dia must have felt guilty for being the one who remained alive. Seems he wasn’t the only one who got a bad deal from the god of death.
“Sorry. I don’t expect an answer like that. It must have been hard.”
“What’s hard is carrying the weight of this chest.”
Despite the weight of furs on his back, Keenin took pity on her and grabbed hold of the handle of the chest she held to add his support.
Dia made an escape by dropping her hold and skipping away down the road. It was really too much and he couldn’t move a step more under the combined weight.
“Finally,” Dia said stretching out her fingers.
Keenin glanced over at Clide who only gave him a pitying look.
“You shouldn’t fall for her sob stories,” Clide told him.
Dia ran further up the road.
“Now who’s slow!” she said.
“Uh, you realize that I have a ton of weight on my back,” Keenin said knowing Dia would not hear.
“Here let me see the map,” she said running back.
The chest thumped to the ground.
“Hey!” Clide yelled at them annoyed as Keenin held the wrist of Dia’s prying hand.
“I’ll give it to you,” Keenin said. “Calm down.”
He wasn’t about to have his personal space violated on top of everything else.
“Okay,” Dia said. “It’s just that adventure is pretty exciting.”
He could not be angry at her enthusiasm. Keenin took the map piece from his pocket and handed it over. She ran ahead with it. Keenin looked at Clide.
“Sorry,” he said.
“Don’t be,” Clide said. “This wasn’t a good plan from the start.”
“It’s not working!” Dia said shaking the paper and making Keenin very concerned for its safety.
So much for her being an adult.
“Go help her,” Clide said. “I’ll get this.”
Clide shook out of his human form and picked up the chest in his mouth. Keenin wondered how they would explain the dragon to other travelers. Dia had already run back to him holding the map between her hands to show the squiggles.
“I told you it shows where you want to go. You need to be decisive.”
“You show me.”
Keenin didn’t want to admit he too was lost, but he took hold of the map. It seemed to behave properly this time as three lines spread over the surface, to form an arrow.
“Though the forest?” Dia questioned.
The ink rearranged into a y with the longer line much thicker.
“What is that now?” Dia asked.
“I think a branching road ahead,” Keenins said.
“Can you move along before I drop this chest on your heads,” Clide mumbled around the object in his mouth.
They walked onward until the trees thinned and the land turned into rocky grassland.
“Which way?” Dia asked.
He had to make a decision. The rocky path looked slightly less cheery than the open field and it was logical that crops for towns and cities were grown on open ground.
“Straight ahead,” Keenin said.
Dia looked at Keenin and down at the map piece in his hand.
“Are you sure that’s reliable?”
The hollow thump of the chest hitting the ground distracted them. Clide wrapped his wings around himself to take his human form.
“Don’t drop it,” Dia said.
“Someone is coming,” Clide replied, pointing a finger to the grassy planes.
They all looked towards the swaying stalks of grass. A lone white horse was running across the field.
“A horse. Your eyesight must be broken,” Dia said.
“Not the horse. Don’t you hear them?”
Soon after Clide said this a loud rumbling was heard and a group of beastly humans broke from the cover of the trees running full speed after the horse.
“What the hell is that!” Keenin said.
“Berhanu, a tribe society known for having the horns and strength of bulls,” Clide informed him.
The horned and leather-clad humans started to close in on the horse. It looked like they were ready to kill.
“Shouldn’t we do something?” Keenin said.
“Let them eat,” Clide said. “That’s a brutal group to deal with.”
The horse stumbled.
“There’s a person out there!” Dia shouted, pointing behind the wild group.
It was true. A man in shining armor was feebly running towards the bull men who chased the horse.
“What is he doing!” Keenin panicked.
“We can’t let the horse die,” Dia said. “Clide you need to save him.”
“You want me to expose myself?”
“Now!” Dia said.
“Fine. I’ll help it,” Clide said unfolding his human guise and bounding forwards like a puppy wanting to play.
Dia started running after him and Keenin followed her, leaving the chest of clothes behind. The bullish people saw Clide charging towards them and scattered in all directions. As Keenin and Dia caught up they saw pieces of horse meat scattered in the area of the attack. The man in armor didn’t seem to notice the dragon as he ran to the spot where his horse had died.
Clide tried to stop his run, tripped, and slid to a stop in front of the stranger. The knight stumbled back in alarm, but he saw his opportunity. He drew and lifted his sword for a blow.
“Be gone beast!” he cried.
If any of them had stopped to think they would see how hilarious and nonsensical this was. It was impossible for the man to scratch anything except the dragon’s nose. Yet the scene blundered forward.
“Wait!” Keenin yelled, waving his hands. “That’s my dragon!”
“Wait!” Die copied.
The knight looked at them, blade held up, and ready. Clide closed the eye he had opened and didn’t move. The knight remained frozen as he regarded them. Dia stopped in front of him breathing heavily, as she rested her hands on her knees. Keenin stopped and fell down on his butt, the weight on his back making it too heavy for him to stand in his condition.
“How is he yours?” the stranger asked curiously.
“He just is,” Dia said before the horse and man they had been ready to save.
“We trained him,” Keenin added.
“Well your dragon looks stupid,” the stranger said sheeting his sword and turning away to look for other business, supposedly to track the tribesmen of Berhanu.
“You think that’s funny,” Clide said standing. “Well, your horse looks dead.”
“Oh my god! Murphy,” the man said remembering.
He looked around more wildly and after locating the horse’s severed head, rushed to its side to kneel down and brush his hand against the side of its face while making calming noises.
Keenin thought it was disgusting. Clide innocently sniffed at a nearby severed leg.
“A magical beast,” Clide observed. “Not unicorn.”
Keenin wondered what the dragon was talking about.
“Are you feeling alright?” Dia asked the stranger.
“No. My horse. Save my horse,” he said turning to her and clutching her hands with his bloodied ones. Dia made a disgusted face and slipped her hands out of his.
“It’s a horse,” she said. “Get a new one.”
“I can’t. This was a gift from my friend,” he said clutching the horse head. “He’s very important. I know. You must help me bring him to Selendrum. They can revive him there,” he said looking at them hopefully.
“You’re crazy,” Dia said. “You were almost mauled and that’s what you think about.”
Keenin would have asked how they were going to do the reviving.
“Murphy couldn’t help it,” the knight said. “He hates injustice and evil so he tried to charge them first.”
At the thought of having to carry a dead horse, Keenin inspected the pieces of horse lying about. Six or did you count all the gooey bits too. Keenin remembered the time Bodwin made him gut a bird-lizard. That disgusting smell and disgusting texture of–he raised his hand and threw up in it. His stomach turned again, but before his disgust overwhelmed him Clide’s wing was between him and the scenery. Keenin inspected its webby texture and started to calm down.
“Thanks,” Keenin said.
“I’ll pay you,” the stranger was saying.
“Not a chance,” Dia said.
“I think it might be good to get some money,” Keenin said.
Clide lifted his wing to peer at Keenin as though to ask if he too were going crazy. Keenin himself was surprised that he would consider such a thing, but it was obviously a long way back to Behoden. It would good to hire a ride.
“An understandable intention, but how do we carry a dead horse?” Clide asked them.
“In the box,” he said pointing to the chest they had left behind.
“That has my clothes,” Dia said.
“The clothes are too heavy to carry anyways,” Keenin observed.
“He is right about that,” Clide said. “And money is nice.”
“Dragon’s don’t need money,” Dia observed.
“Please help,” the knight said to Dia.
“Fine. You guys do what you want. I’m not helping. Besides. You can’t fit a horse into a trunk of that size.”
It wasn’t long before Dia’s attitude brightened, though she was forced to help. They bundled the clothes in one of the larger pieces of fur and gave them to Dia. Meanwhile, Clide continued to carry the furs. As for how much horse could fit, well, only a bit of head and hoof had made the cut, but their knight companion did not seem worried.
“Can we do something about this smell,” Keenin asked as he and the knight dragged the chest of horse remains.
The sun was beating down ruthlessly and the smell was starting to give him a headache. The scent of smoke would be much nicer, burning horse. He shook the thought from his head before he did something irreversible.
“Yes. You could walk further back,” Clide joked.
“Don’t you still care about the money?” Dia said.
Damn, Keenin though in response to the jokes. The jokes were not helping.
“What about the bravery of my horse. Does anyone still care about that these days?” Murphy’s owner said.
“Bravery killed your horse,” the dragon pointed out.
These word jabs continued for the duration of their trip. If there was anything Keenin learned that day it was not to put a righteous man and two bored immortals together.
The town called Selendrum was full of religion. Every second person on the street was either saying a prayer or preaching about the gods. Every intersection was decorated with a statue to the gods and every vendor sold religious symbols. The people themselves were as mixed and confusing as the number of gods that had been crammed into the city.
“Try not to offend anyone,” the knight said quietly as they walked through.
“How?” Dia asked.
He need not have told them. Except for Dia’s reply, none of them had spoken upon entering the city. Now his two new companions crowded close behind Keenin. Townspeople started to complain about the smell as they walked by. Clide took hold of the chest handle with Keenin and Dia did the same on the other side with the knight. Like this, the four of them made their way up to a fort-like structure in the center of town, which in truth was a temple surrounded by large black walls. The walls were full of square holes fitted with skulls, giving the impression of a sealed dungeon, but its double door entrance stood wide open and the guard standing at the gate barely looked at the people walking past.
The knight that led them didn’t go to these doors but rather a much smaller closed door to the side. Here was a guard leisurely sitting on a chair.
“As a knight of the realm I ask for your services,” their knight announced.
He pulled out a carved piece of wood and showed it to the guard.
“Marcus Sullivan, is it?”
“What about them,” the guard said pointing to Keenin’s group.
“They are in my care. I require them to carry my belongings unless you want to.”
The guard gave them a distasteful look and took a notebook from his pocket to make a record. He showed this to the knight Marcus.
“Sign here and we will send you the bill. And if you fail to make all the installments we reserve the right to send assassins. Agreed.”
Keenin saw the words 500 gold pieces written on the page and suddenly realized that he might not get paid, but he didn’t dare say anything. Of course, Marcus accepted and even spread ink on his pass to make an impression on the paper.
“Be sure to watch them. If the children get in trouble with the priests your law won’t protect them,” the guard warned as he unlocked the small door.
The guard pulled the door back enough for them to pass through and then shut it behind them with a resounding thud. They were now in the public courtyard where gardens of black roses hugged the perimeter of every wall, with gaps only for the stone walkways. Keenin would have questioned the existence of such flowers if he had not met so many strange things before now. From where they stood on the side path they could see the large statue towering beside the main walkway, a large dark figure wrapped in cloaks with the only discernible feature being the sapphire stones in his eyes.
“That statue is death,” the knight informed them.
“He looks so gloomy?” Keenin asked.
“Well, he is death. The matter of resurrection must ultimately go through him.”
“Is that really what the death god looks like?” Dia asked.
Keenin would have thought she knew since she herself had died, but apparently not.
“Nobody can tell. I’m sorry you had to see this. I’ll make sure this resurrection ceremony goes as quickly as possible.”
Isn’t this too easy, Keenin thought.
They continued through the courtyard and upon entering the main temple they saw what you might expect to see in a church, people of religion wandering around in dark robes. Someone who had been lighting candles by the door approached them.
“What service have you come for?”
“This,” the knight said turning his head to the chest between them.
Keenin was almost glad that the knight did not say aloud the bit about resurrection.
“I understand,” the robed figure said. “Follow me.”
He said that, but the space they were in was entirely open to the public. In from of the onlookers, the chest was handed over and arranged open in the middle of a circle situated under a skylight in the middle of the room. A symbol was drawn, a donkey on a chain and a knife were brought out.
“They aren’t going to…” Dia started to say.
The priest started chanting. Dia looked away from the scene. Keenin understood and he too looked away for the animal’s sake, although he was curious how this worked. The chant ended with a loud shout. Keenin heard the rattle of a chain and assumed that the donkey had fallen to the ground dead. He and Dia looked to the ritual site to observe the resurrection.
But the goat wasn’t dead yet. It was still held in place by the chain it had been brought out on. The chanters had paused at the sound. The sound of a chain slipping sounded again. Dia looked up to the ceiling and he followed her gaze. A huge chandelier above was… Dia shoved him hard and he stumbled back right before the metal chandelier crashed down.
Keenin stood in shock at the place he had been standing. There was something wet on his face. He wiped it off and found blood on his fingers. Dia lay in a horrifying tangle under the fallen chandelier. Her body was crushed, back broken, organs burst, blood leaking out, but at the end of her arm, her fingers twitch.
He felt doubly horrified that she would still be alive. She would have been better off dead, but he remembered what she had said about being an Esmer. Not dead. Even if he waited she wouldn’t be dead and these people would find out. The only thing he could do was get her out of it. He moved forward slowly and grabbed one of the curving metal light fixtures to pull the chandelier off, but it stayed fixed in place. He realized that he couldn’t move it so he reached for her instead.
He couldn’t figure out which part of the crushed body he should touch and he didn’t want to hurt her so he instinctively grabbed hold of the staff tied to her back instead. Maybe he could use leverage. Like before the flaming figure appeared in front of him, this time sitting on a curving metal candlestick. The sight of it made him angry. ‘How dare you’ he was going to say, but it had already understood. There was a flash of white in which Keenin let go of the staff and the chandelier and the flaming figure disappeared. It had not occurred to him that it could remove metal.
He now saw that Dia’s freed body had started to put itself back together as the blood that had flowed outwards flowed back in and her joints popped back into place. The process was disgusting and unnatural, but he wasn’t going to complain if his friend was alive. It wasn’t long before Dia sat there as good as new, the only thing ruined being her tattered dress which was no longer stained in her blood. Of course, everyone stared.
“I really liked this dress,” Dia told him.
“Demons,” one of the priests said quietly.
They all looked at Keenin now. Just imagine if Clide had taken this opportunity to transform because this was surely going to happen next. Keenin was waiting for the group of priests to start chanting the word demons in unison, but they were distracted by the rise of another corpse, the bits of horse were piecing themselves back together from inside the box, and the missing parts filling in.
“Murphy your back!” the excited Marcus said.
Nobody noticed that the poor donkey lay dead.
“I don’t mean to interrupt,” Murphy said. “But where am I?”
“It’s a miracle,” one of the priests now said.
“It speaks,” said another.
“The voice of our god,” still another said.
“Did anyone consider that it’s an evil horse,” Keenin put out helpfully.
“No. It was allowed life,” the priest who had called him a demon said. “We should hear what it says.”
Keenin could not see what the big deal was. Sure, the horse lived, but wasn’t that the point.
“Dear Murphy. Tell these people what you stand for,” Marcus said calmly.
“Certainly. I must go to fight evil and I will not stop until it is vanquished. Since you all seem of good intention I will be off,” he said trotting out the doors.
A minute of silent contemplation passed.
“Wait! You’re supposed to wait for me,” Marcus said running after his mount.
“Then the children are innocent?” a priest questioned.
“As you can see, there are no demons,” Clide said with finality.
Clide took hold of Dia and Keenin’s hands and pulling them out the door. They met Marcus and his horse outside the temple. Murphy the horse had finally let the knight climb on his back.
“I almost forgot to thank you for your time,” Marcus said down to them.
“Getting us out alive is good enough,” Clide said. “Why don’t you go.”
“I will, but this first,” he said taking the medallion from his pocket. “Take this. If need be, please use my name to gain the aid of others.”
“A man always repays his debts,” Murphy announced.
“Can we sell it for money?” Dia questioned.
“No. You might be arrested, but wait.”
This time he reached down and took off his boot. Marcus shook it out over the ground and seven silver coins fell out.
“It’s not as much as I promised, but it’s all I have right now.”
“Then why do I feel cheated,” Clide remarked snidely.
“Say what you want,” Marcus said pulling his boot back on. “I’m not removing the other boot.”
“There you go Keenin,” Dia said. “Pick up that money. You can hold onto it for us.”
Keenin picked it up to stash in the pockets of his new pants.
“I thought you wanted it,” he told Dia.
“I don’t have pockets and neither does he,” she said indicating Clide.
In fact, Clide did have pockets that came with the outfit his human disguise was wearing, but Keenin supposed the clothes must have been the equivalent of a shiny set of scales.
“Just tell me one thing,” Keenin said looking up at the knight. “Why does your horse talk? It’s not really a miracle is it?”
“That’s right.” Murphy the horse said. “Bask in my glory.”
“Of course not,” Marcus answered. “He is a divine horse that used to belong to a druid friend of mine, but the man asked me to take care of him.”
“So that’s why you couldn’t let him die,” Dia said.
“He’s also a very motivating creature. Anyways, I should be off,” the knight said tapping Murphy’s sides. “I must not let Iscara’s army take the city. I should warn you though-”
As Murphy had already started walking away the end of Marcus’s speech was cut off as the two disappeared into the crowd.
“I hope that wasn’t important,” Dia observed.
“They deserve each other,” Keenin added.
“Let’s find somewhere to sit down,” Clide prompted.
None of them moved.
“Better yet,” Dia said. “Find me somewhere when I can change out of these clothes.”
The events of that morning had been a little too much to bear. They wandered through the city, trying to avoid being gathered into a church, or prompted into prayer, until they saw some boxes stacked behind a store and decided to rest there, pulling down some of the wooden boxes to sit on.
Keenin put his hand in his pocket and pulled out a piece of salted meat. It didn’t look as good as it had that morning, especially after seeing that dead horse.
“You had meat. I’m starving,” Dia said.
Keenin reluctantly handed it over and she ate it.
“Don’t we have more of this?” she asked.
“Umm…” Clide said.
“No. You didn’t eat that too, did you?”
Dia had made sure to wrap some of the meat in one of the old shirts to bring with them.
“I’m sorry. I look small like this, but my body is much bigger. I couldn’t help it.”
“We should find food,” Keenin said getting off his crate.
“But we just sat down,” Dia complained.
“My wings are cramped. Let us rest first,” Clide agreed. “Maybe we can fly partway to Behoden. We defiantly can’t stay in a place like this.”
Earlier they had swapped bundles so that Clide now carried the heavy furs and Keenin the clothes. Clide took advantage of this to lie down on the pile.
“Either way we need to find a map,” Keenin told the dragon.
“It’s too bad that map piece your yours doesn’t work right,” Dia noted.
When she aproached, Keenin thought that Dia wanted the map piece, but she pulled at the bundle of clothes tied to his back.
“Are you trying to knock me over,” he said as she yanked so hard he stumbled.
“I need a dress,” she said.
“Then untie it first.”
“They’ll get dirty,” she said finally yanking a dress free and pulling the other fabric half out of the bundle as well.
“I need to change my dress. No looking,” she said leaning the staff against the brick wall of the building and ducking behind a stack of boxes.
Clide got up and stacked up some more boxes to hide Dia. Keenin tried to reach behind him to fix the bundle and Clide was nice enough to help him retie it. Then the two stood with their backs turned, waiting for Dia to change.
“I’m sorry that I got you hurt,” Keenin said to Dia.
“Please don’t start with that,” Dia said, “You were the one who would have died and it’s not like you can predict that a chandelier will fall on your head.”
“Why am I so unlucky?” Keenin asked.
“Here,” she said tossing the soiled dress at him. “Burn it. I don’t want it.”
“People will notice the flame,” Keenin said.
“Here. Let me,” Clide said taking the bundled garment.
He shoved it into one of the empty boxes right before Dia emerged in her new dress. A worker opened the door to the back of the shop and spotted them.
“Hey. What are you people doing?”
“Leaving,” Dia said, grabbing the staff from the wall and continuing to walk away. “Sorry to bother you.”
They picked up their bundles and took to the streets again. Dia held the staff close to her like a comfort object, but perhaps she was trying to prevent it from knocking anyone, thus creating another magic display.
“Dia are you mad at me?” Keenin had to ask.
She didn’t say anything. Keenin noticed that the sun was getting low in the sky. It was the time of day when he would be looking for an easy steal. He looked around out of habit, but the shopkeepers were clearing out their merchandise. Even the indoor shops were starting to clear out.
“Maybe we should find a hotel,” Keenin suggested.
He knew their money was precious, but at least Dia would stop complaining. For a girl that had been living in the woods, she had some interesting expectations. Dia stopped suddenly and Keenin almost ran into her back.
“Something smells good,” she commented.
Keenin scented the air and followed Dia around the corner to a meat bun stall. The sight of the doughy round pastries seemed to lift her sour mood. He took a coin from his pocket and walked up the merchant.
“I’ll take as many as this can buy,” he said.
The merchant regarded the coin, then he picked up a cloth sack and started filling it to the top.
“If we wanted to get to the next town over, what is the fastest way” Clide inquired.
“By cart,” the merchant said. “Near the gates. Here.”
The merchant exchanged the package of meat buns with Keenin. As they filled their mouths with fluffy bread and tender meat they slowly walked back to their resting place behind the store and sat behind the piled boxes. Keenin finally got the chance to lay down his burden. Dia gave him a new sour look.
“The ground is dirty.”
“Is that all you have to say to the person who kindly carried your stuff all day?”
“You gave my chest away. It’s what you deserved.”
“I didn’t tell you to come with me. If you don’t appreciate my kindness, you can start back tomorrow morning,” Keenin told her.
“And I didn’t expect you to almost get killed!”
“Gods. Can you two just quiet down? You’re going to attract the entire neighborhood,” Clide said as he sat against the building. The package with the remainder of the meat buns was held hostage between his sticky fingers. Not wanting to apologize to either of them, Keenin turned away from Dia. Maybe he shouldn’t have said that, but she shouldn’t have been angry for no reason. Keenin left the bundle of clothes against the wall where Clide had put the furs, picked a relatively clean spot on the ground, and curled up uncaring.
“I’ll hurt my back,” Dia said.
“Then use the furs,” Keenin told her irritated.
Dia didn’t reply, but he heard the nearing crunch of gravel.
“Did you forget something?” he asked her moodily.
“No. I’m warding the area to keep away ghosts, so just stay there.”
Keenin opened his eyes and watched as she bent down to trace something in the dirt above his head. He was tempted to call her a liar for complaining about the dirt, but knew that would get him nowhere. Besides he was tired. He might as well just…he reopened his eyes. Dia was drawing the third symbol.
“Is Tess still-
“She’s here,” Dia said with a sigh.
“Can you talk to her for me?”
“I’ll remind her that she needs to leave.”
“It’s not what you meant, but what has to be Keenin. I won’t make friends with a person who doesn’t belong here.”
It was cruel, but Keenin knew she was right.
“Sorry. I’ll just go to sleep. Try to relax.”
Chapter 14: The Dragon and The Girl