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Warning: This story will contain love between males, violence, and mild swearing.

Note: Here you are folks. Thanks to all who review. Hello and welcome to my newest followers/favorites/subscribers. I hope you will forgive me for my sporadic uploads. We've hit 100k word count! Thanks to everybody who has joined me on this journey so far.

The first stop was acquiring the horses. We flew for a few days until we reached an area that was near the mountains, but still amiable to Shamir's presence. Soon after we landed, Shamir began his whining.

"This is so stupid. We shouldn't even have to do this. Why is it only the two of us anyway? It would be a lot easier if we had more people."

"Well, think about it. One dragon is all well and good, but a whole group of you appearing at once would be unnerving even to the most open-minded of us. Especially given the rumors surrounding the kidnappings."

"I know. I just don't want to be here. I want to go home and make nice clothes and fly as much as I want. I don't want to travel all over the place looking for people. But no, you humans had to involve us in your scheming ways so now I have to clean up your messes so that other dragons don't retaliate."

I could tell he was just venting his frustration, so I let him go on. I only responded once he wound down into slight muttering.

"At least the company is good, right?" I asked with a grin. He only scoffed at me. "That's not nice. Just for that, I think I'll do the talking when we get the horses."

"I don't think so. They'll take one look at your innocent face and try to take all the money we have. I'm used to bargaining."

"Ah! But do you know anything about acquiring a decent horse? What do look for?" He grumbled under his breath, but didn't object. Although, I couldn't deny his ability to reason with merchants was quite good, so I suggested a compromise. "How about this? You do the haggling, I'll be the polite one and I'll help you pick out a suitable horse for yourself. You do know how to ride, don't you?"

"A bit. I've had to ride a horse for similar reasons as we have now, though it was many years ago. I'm sure it'll be fine."

It was not fine. With the first stable, they didn't want to do business with Shamir present, so we left on principal. He was still angry when we visited the second, so he started arguing with the owner the minute we stepped foot inside. I didn't even get a chance to look at the animals before we were asked to leave. Luckily the town was rather large, and thus had many places in which to purchase most anything, horses among them.

I pulled him aside before we entered the third stable, which looked to be in a more well-off area of town.

"Now, you are going to calm down." Shamir went to argue but I stared him down to silence him. "You are going to be reasonable and if these animals turn out to be of good quality, you will pay more than necessary if that is their price. No arguing or losing your temper. Got it?"

"I didn't even do anything that first time!"

"I know that. However, we can't let bigots cause us to be rude to others now can we? Consider how much prejudice you may have to put up with on this trip. They won't know you are a dragon, but you still look like you're Khandiran. Some people may have a problem with that alone."

Shamir looked legitimately upset by that. "Humans are stupid."

"We are at that, but you can't let our stupidity rub off on you. We can't afford that. Now, shall we?"

Shamir managed to keep his head the whole time, so the transaction went well. It was more expensive, as I thought, but the quality was likely improved as well. The horses were beautiful, well maintained creatures of varying temperaments. This was good, as some animals were afraid of magical ability.

I ended up with a dappled gray mare with a slight attitude. According to the stable hand, she was great for long travels so long as I didn't ride her too hard, which wouldn't be a problem. I loved most animals and would never think of abusing one just for the sake of a little made up time.

Shamir on the other hand, was quite decisive for not knowing much about horses. He immediately picked out a large gelding with a golden coat. We were told that this particular horse was strong but stubborn, at which Shamir laughed.

"Please. With any creature you just need to understand them. You humans like to pretend that horses work for you, when really they tolerate carrying you or plowing your fields so they can be fed and have a dry place to sleep. Now," he said as he turned to address the horse, "I need one of you to carry me where I need to go. It'll be dangerous and we may have to fight. I need a horse that won't get scared if I have to transform or use magic. I know that's a lot to ask for, so how about we make a deal? You help me with my little task then I'll take you home with me and you can run around to your heart's content. Sound fair?" Shamir held out his hand.

I smiled as the gelding walked out of his stable to meet Shamir. He patted the horse and grinned smugly at me. When the horse started chewing on his hair, Shamir didn't grin anymore.

We did eventually buy the horses, after giving Shamir a refresher course in horseback riding. He was surprisingly quick to remember how. Then I insisted we name them. I went with the name my horse already had, which was Adina. However, Shamir was having a difficult time. His horse had been sold to the stable without a name given.

"Is there a name in another language you know that would suit him? Or an attribute you could name him for?"

"What do you mean?"

"For example, I could have changed Adina's name to Argenta, for her coloring or perhaps something relating to her disposition. Or, if something like that doesn't suit, you could name him after someone he reminds you of."

He thought for a minute. "So I should name him after you then?" When I glared he continued. "What? He's stubborn and annoying just like you!"

"He's blond and huge and sturdy. I get knocked over easily. Or do you want me to answer every time you call for your horse? Or vice versa?"

"Yeah… that would get annoying after a while. Alright fine." He considered his horse for a few moments, circling wide behind him so as not to be kicked. Then he decided, nodding to himself. "Nika."

"What does it mean?"

"It means none of your business. Now come on. Let's get the rest of our supplies and go already."

I tried everything I could to get him to tell me. Irritating him, asking nicely… I even tried to make him tell by ways of seduction; he just laughed at me. I eventually let it go, intent on asking again later when he was a bit more pliable.

We then went to buy all the fittings for our horses, proper saddles and such. Once Adina and Nika were outfitted, we checked the map and set off further west.

"I hate traveling." Shamir complained for what must have been the twentieth time. We had been on the road a few days and had caught sight of the foothills of the Khandir mountain range, but this didn't deter his incessant protest of our situation. "I forgot how uncomfortable riding is. How are you not dying right now?"

"Maybe because I'm not a whining baby?" Shamir glared at me. "I'm used to riding horse on a regular basis. Not to mention I've had to ride on your back with no padding whatsoever. Your scales are worse than the saddle."

"Oh spare me. Which would your rather have, chaffed thighs or three times the journey?"

"I direct that question to your earlier complaining." I actually made him speechless. "That's what I thought."

"Yeah, but even with the horses, it's still twice as long," he grumbled.

"Shamir, be a dear and shut up about traveling. It does grate on one's nerves. Why don't we change the subject? What does Nika's name mean?"

"I really don't understand why you want to know. If I told you it's just a name, would you leave me alone about it?"

"Not a chance. You wouldn't make such a big deal about it if it were nothing. Come on. Please?"

"You promise you won't laugh at me?"

"I promise I'll try not to laugh at you. Any more than that I just can't guarantee."

Shamir sighed heavily. "It means victory, alright?"

I considered his horse and the name before nodding. "I can see it."

"I know right? He's like a great warhorse charging into battle with a thunderous gallop and free flowing mane, don't you think?"

"I think you read too many novels." I dodged him as he swatted at me. "Though he does have a certain… nobility to him, I suppose. Now," I said as I checked the map. "we should come out near the Tenart Village. It should be somewhere around here."

"Are you sure? I thought we were closer to Knollton."

His suggested village and mine were miles apart from one another. That made me the slightest bit anxious, though what he said next made me more so.

"Vincent, are we lost?"

"No, we're not lost, Shamir. I'm sure when we come out of these woods there will be a village and you will see that I'm right."

Shamir shrugged. "I'm not very good with navigating long distances from the ground anyway. I don't care either way. It doesn't matter where we enter the mountains, just that we do."

Luckily enough, we did come out of the forest soon after that, but I still couldn't tell exactly where we were. The sun was setting, but the sky was overcast so I couldn't tell where. Eventually we came up to a nearby town, much to my relief.

I wanted to assume I was right, but I couldn't let my pride get us truly lost. I was very uncomfortable as I rode up to a woman who was sweeping the doorstep of her establishment.

"Excuse me, ma'am?"

She turned to me with a surprised smile on her face. "Yes?"

"Would you mind telling me what village this is? My friend here and I are having a disagreement of where to go from here."

"Oh certainly. You're in Lenshaw."

We both looked at the map. Lenshaw was equidistant between his idea and mine. We looked up at each other and glared. I thanked the lady before making to move on.

"If you had to say, which is closer Knollton or Tenart Village?" Shamir asked. Of course he had to know who was more correct.

She thought a moment. "Well, they're both about half a day's ride from here, Knollton to the south and Tenart to the north. Though if I had to guess, I'd say Tenart is a hair closer, but that could be the terrain. The mountains curve inward to the south, so the road's a bit rough. Makes for slower going."

I beamed at that answer, though it wasn't much of a confirmation. Shamir was right, it didn't really matter where we entered the mountains. We would be searching them thoroughly unless we could get some rumor of where the girls could be. Shamir caught up with me as we continued on our way, but not before the woman called out.

"You all really ought to get a compass. Keep yourselves from getting lost in the future."

"We weren't lost!"

Despite my insistence, Shamir bought one anyway.

We didn't have anymore navigational problems, much to Shamir's smug satisfaction. We did, however, encounter a less anxiety provoking and more irritating problem once we were soundly in the foothills of the mountains.

"Bandits," Shamir stated with a hysterical incredulity. He looked like he wanted to laugh and be angry at the same time. The five men tried to appear menacing as they continued to brandish their weapons at us.

"Leave the horses and all your stuff and we might let you live."

"Wait," Shamir responded with the same gleeful irritation. "We might live? So if we give you everything we have, we still might be killed? Not a terribly fair deal if you ask me. What do you think Vincent?"

I couldn't help but encourage him. "Maybe you should haggle for a better deal?"

"Ooh, good idea. How about we keep the horses and our goods. You leave this area, and we won't hunt you down like the miserable beasts you are."

The edge in his voice made the younger two look slightly nervous, while the other three laughed raucously. Shamir shook his head, dismounted Nika and shook himself out as if preparing for a fight. I intended to join him, but he insisted I stay in my saddle. Feeling somewhat contrary, I dismounted anyway and took Nika's reins, drawing the animals a safe distance away. Leaning against a rock, I gesture for him to continue.

The group surrounded him, paying me no mind as they attacked in unison. Shamir, in a show of acrobatic skill, flipped over their heads to land on the other side of the road. The bandits grew irritated at his playful demeanor, and thus growing sloppy in their assault.

I watched with interest as Shamir incapacitated them one after the other with a series of unarmed strikes. He ended the skirmish with a kick to the final man's chest, knocking him to the ground with the rest of them. Then there was the trouble of what to do with them.

"We can't just leave them here," Shamir said, smoothing back his hair and panting with exertion. I couldn't help but notice how attractive he looked after a fight, or during one, if truth be told. He looked over at me with a knowing smile. "I know I'm distracting, but do focus Vincent."

If only the sarcasm were optional, I thought to myself.

I looked around to find anything useful, perhaps something to tie them up with. No such luck there, but I did find their horses nearby. Shamir beamed at me when I coaxed them down to him.

"Perfect. Now if we just find a way to make sure they stay on the horses, we can drop them off at the next town. I know there's one around here somewhere. Check the map would you please?"

I obliged him willingly, as he asked so nicely. Sure enough he was right, a village was on the map slightly to the south of where we were. Unfortunately, it was in an area marked dangerous for both Shamir as a dragon as well as myself as a mage. I looked up to tell Shamir this, only to see him using his earth abilities to shackle the men to their horses.

"Shamir! What are you doing?!"

"What? We can't let them get away right? What'd I do?"

I sighed. I supposed there was nothing for it. Besides, the bandits would probably keep quiet anyway, so as not to incriminate themselves.

Of course that meant that as soon as we arrived into the town, one of the younger men was screaming about magic users to anyone within earshot. The townsfolk were on edge to begin with, as we entered the village, but at the mention of magic the tension was palpable. Mutterings could be heard in the square and children hid behind their stock still and gaping parents.

Shamir glared back at the detained men, all of whom were yelling about magic use or their innocence now. He muttered under his breath. "I knew I should have killed them." I almost wished they would have heard, perhaps it would have made them be quiet. Well, that or scream about threats, but they were already doing that.

Someone must have gone to fetch the authorities, for soon enough we were faced with an official but disgruntled looking woman and some guards trying to appear menacing. Finally the group behind us stopped their shouting.

"I'm afraid you gentlemen are going to have to come with me," the woman ordered.

Shamir sighed. "Look lady, we just brought these thieves here to be dealt with. We could have killed them," I slapped my forehead at his stupidity, "or tied them to the rocks to starve, but we decided to be merciful instead. How about you just take them off our hands, serve them justice and we'll be on our way."

"Why should we believe your word?" She gestured to him. "You clearly aren't from around here and your friend has a staff."

"That could be a walking stick or a stave for all you know. Where is your proof that we have magic?"

I hit my forehead a few more times as the bandits held up their stone encased hands. This was getting us nowhere.

"Alright. We're mages, fine. This idiots tried to steal from us and we took care of them. Like my companion said, instead of leaving them there to let fate decide their end we took pity on them and brought them here. We have no reason to attack strangers unprovoked, or we would have attacked you already and been on our way." I winced at my words, clearly idiocy was catching. "So are you going to let us through or not?"

There was more talk among the mob of people who had surrounded the horses. Some of them were yelling now and closing in, causing Adina to twitch nervously. I did my best to discreetly soothe her with my magic so she wouldn't bolt or rear up and hurt someone.

"Sarina, would you control your people? Rousing a mob won't do any good save for upsetting folks. Also, tell your men to calm down. I doubt these gentlemen would appreciate having to defend against your bigotry militia."

The woman, Sarina, frowned at the man speaking. He was uniformed, along with three others who marched toward us as the gathering parted for them. The man, along with the sole woman of the group, appeared to be Khandiran, with brown skin and dark hair whereas the other two men were blonde and fair. I thought it strange, given the strain between our two countries in this particular area, that all four of them would be from the same military squadron.

"Do mind your own business, Atiya. What goes on in this town isn't any business of yours or your little mountain rangers. Don't you have anything better to do? Why don't you go hunt down some trolls or some such thing?"

The Khandiran woman scoffed. "You know the way has been blocked in the landslide."

"Then why don't you all go clear it away?" Someone yelled from the mob.

"Yeah! Make yourselves useful for a change!"

The townspeople began to stir once again. I looked over to Shamir to see if perhaps he had an idea of what to do, only to see him slouched over in his saddle rolling his eyes in an exaggerated way. I couldn't help but marvel at his lack of composure.

Turning back to the scene, one of the other uniformed men was engaged in a heated argument with Sarina, while the woman and the other Evondine soldier were trying to hold back some of the more rambunctious civilians. The man, Atiya, looked almost as hassled as Shamir, though without the petulant expression. When it seemed he had had enough, he removed a glove, put two fingers in his mouth and whistled loudly. Even Shamir looked up in annoyance at that.

"Don't you think it would be… prudent, given that one of these gentlemen is an earth mage if the shackles are anything to go by, to ask them to move the rocks? It would take days and considerable man power to move them by hand. Magic would be so much simpler, yes?"

Sarina wouldn't budge. "You know we don't like mage craft around here, and for good reason. It brings nothing but trouble."

Atiya responded straight away. "So, what? You'll lock them up even though they've done nothing to deserve it, save have magical ability? And don't try to play the false imprisonment card. You know these guys have been plaguing travelers on the road for months. So what's it to be? Free the thieves, try to imprison the mages and take days to clear a path? Or imprison the thieves, as they should be, and use the mages' abilities to mutual advantage so they can get out of your hair that much sooner?"

Not even Sarina could refute that logic. The people around us seemed to like the idea as well, though I suppose it was the lack of manual labor as opposed to being the just and right thing to do. Shamir, the fool, started clapping once Atiya finished his speech. I silenced him by leaning over and swatting him with my staff.

We hammered out a legitimate deal with Sarina and Atiya. We would stay the night, just the one, and in the morning we would move the rocks and be on our way.

"Good. The sooner you are out of these mountains the better." She slammed the door of the inn as she left.

Atiya and his group stayed behind, as they lodged at the same inn we would, being the only inn that would accept our patronage. We came to know the other three as Isra, the woman, as well as Adam and Bradley who were brothers. Apparently they were a part of the patrolling force of the mountains to protect the villages from beasts and humans alike. They were looking for the bandits we handed in before the rockslide hit.

"Honestly you two saved us from a big waste of time. Now we can finally go back to real work instead of chasing down idiots and moving rocks," Bradley complained. Adam rolled his eyes at his brother.

"So," I asked, changing the topic. "Is there going to be any trouble for us tomorrow? I mean, Sarina isn't going to go back on her word once she sees us use magic, is she?"

"Nah," spoke Bradley again. "You might get a bit of a crowd to watch you, maybe some comments for good or bad, but other than that she just wants you gone."

"In all fairness to Sarina," added Adam, "she has a reason to dislike magic other than blind hatred. Mages, psychics and the like come up here all the time to train with their masters. Caused a whole bunch of trouble. They figure just because they can mess with the elements that means that it's fine to do so without repercussion. They've started wildfires and windstorms and all sorts of disastrous things that the people who live here have to deal with. Not to mention when they mess with the fae around here…" he trailed off, shaking his head.

"You wouldn't be up here to train, would you?" Isra asked with narrowed eyes.

"Oh no, nothing like that," I explained hastily. "No, I obtained my mage craft authorization a few years ago. Not to mention I would never inflict the elements on other people if I could help it. I've had accidents in my time, but I always fixed them and most often it was at home in the first place. It made my parents angry, but no one else."

Shamir snickered at me, causing Atiya to focus on him. "And what does bring you up here in the first place? Surely you aren't merely traveling into Khandir. The southern roads below the mountains would be an easier way for that," he narrowed his eyes in the same way Isra had before. "Sight-seeing, perhaps?"

"Perhaps," Shamir replied in a clipped tone without averting his gaze.

"You may want to be careful. There are dragons around here, you realize."

"Only toward the south. You're much more likely to get rocs or earth fae up here. Well, that and people harassing you for your money and property."

Atiya actually smiled at that. "True enough. You've been through these mountains before then?"

When Shamir only hummed in response, I had finally had enough of the posturing. I pushed his head to the side and answered for him.

"He has, but I have not." I decided to use this time to see if I could obtain any information. "Perhaps you have heard the rumors? About the ladies being kidnapped?"

Shamir choked on the water he was drinking and looked at me incredulously. Isra leaned forward with interest and spoke up.

"Isn't that a dragon problem? Shouldn't you be looking further south?"

I held on to Shamir's clenched fist as I replied. "Yes, but we thought it would be a better idea to search the whole of the mountains. We have cause to believe it's a single source, rather than dragon kind as a whole."

"Wait, wait." Bradley held up his hands. "First of all, how do you expect to search an entire mountain range? It spans a thousand or more miles in it's entirety! Second, why would you think it's a single source? Clearly the dragons have seen fit to start up eating humans again, and are just working their way up."

I felt a wet heat on my hand. As I looked down I noticed that Shamir's hand had reverted to being covered in scales. His claws were digging into his palm causing it to bleed. I needed to end the conversation quickly.

"We're both earth mages, so searching the mountains by…well, for lack of a better words, communing with them, won't take nearly as long as searching with our eyes alone. As for your other point, perhaps you should ask yourself why they wouldn't just attack all at once. A single dragon could slaughter a village full of people in no time at all. Our major cities could be wiped out by a mere three or four in the course of an evening. So why kidnap? Why women? If they are working their way up wouldn't it be children first or the elderly?"

I let my words sink in for a moment then switched gears and slammed my free hand on the table. "Now if you all don't mind, we've been on horseback and sleeping on the ground for many days now. I think my companion and I need some rest."

I pulled Shamir up from the table, doing my utmost to hide his still scaled and bleeding hand. As we went up to our room I could hear Bradley speak.

"They can talk to rocks?"

Shamir transformed into his half form as soon as I closed the door and locked it. He paced as he ranted, all the while waving his hands about wildly. I rolled my eyes as he bandied his blood-soaked hand about, getting the liquid all over the floor.

"Come here would you?" I called as I grabbed a cloth from the vanity in the room.

He snatched his hand away from me. "I can handle it myself," he assured me. Then he began licking the self inflicted wound.

"He's just ignorant, you know. Not in the willful way either. Most humans haven't seen dragons or heard of them save for tales of knights slaying them or the extremely rare helpful dragon. These rumors have been going on for years. It will take time and proof to expose the truth."

"Proof? What kind of proof do you suppose we'll get? The kidnappers will just go before your monarch and spill their guts, will they? No. And when they don't what do you think is going to happen? When this whole trip is over and we've saved the girls and caught the culprits, Rashin and his ilk are going to ravage human cities for this perceived slight on dragon kind. Those stories will become truth and the whole thing will be a mess."

I shook my head at Shamir. "Such a defeatist attitude, Shamir. How unlike you. What would Dai say?"

"Dai would be annoyingly chipper and say we could do anything we put our minds to. Were Dai here, he could probably get everyone to fall in love with him and there wouldn't even be a problem in the first place." Shamir sighed and held out his hand for me to bandage.

"Are you saying we can't do it?"

"I'm saying it's a mess."

"Yes," I punctuated with tying the bandage tight. "It is a mess. But one we can overcome. Humans are weak creatures. It may not even take torture or threat of death to get someone to talk. In fact, that's even less likely to get a desired affect. There are likely those among the kidnappers who don't want to be doing it in the first place. Then there is whoever is pulling the strings. Perhaps we could find them. Furthermore, do you honestly think none of the girls will vouch for us once this is over?"

"They've been given up by their families and handed over to strangers for who knows what purpose. They may have been tortured or enslaved or something else entirely. Would you want to be involved with the situation after getting out of it?"

"I would like to think that one or two may be strong enough to help us prevent this from happening to anyone else. Now come," I ordered as I kissed him on the forehead. "We need to stop talking about this and get some sleep. We have an audience to entertain tomorrow."

The next day we set off after replenishing our supplies. I was surprised to see more hospitable people among the merchants. Shamir insisted it was due to our helping open up their trade routes, rather than some 'epiphany of equal treatment.' He said all this within earshot of the shopkeepers, who rather than being offended and denying it, look embarrassed and quickly went to other tasks. It saddened me to see Shamir's cynicism proved right.

When we made to leave we had quite the entourage. It seemed as though the whole town had gathered to watch us take down the blockage. Unfortunately, this made leaving in an organized fashion quite difficult. Atiya and his group were luckily out in front of the horde of people and thus were able to direct them out of our way.

I was taken aback by how far we had to go. We traveled all the way from the village in the foothills to the base of the mountains. The road went from being pounded dirt with numerous offshoots to only a small pathway weaving between the enormous rock formations. There we saw our problem.

The landslide had not only moved the layer of dirt, but rocks and large boulders in the way of the road. Normal humans could move the dirt and stones with time and effort, but the huge slabs of rock would need a team of horses to even attempt to dislodge them. It would almost be easier to form a new way altogether.

I dismounted from Adina to properly survey the situation before we began. Shamir damn near jumped from Nika's back in excitement to use some of his energy. He would have moved the blockage straight away had I not stopped him.

"Even mages would need to show a little exertion. If you just go and move it all yourself, people are going to know something's off."

"They don't know anything about magic though," Shamir whispered back. "Can't you just let me do this so we can get on our way?"

I shook my head. "We've made them all suspicious enough already. We don't want to be followed right? By any travelers or Atiya's group. So we need to act normal."

"Why does everything have to be so damn complicated?!" he yelled this time. I looked back at the crowd of people, who were now looking at us intently. I tried to placate him so we could get this over with.

"Fine. You can do it yourself. However, you need to make it look like we are working together, making arm movements and such. Make a show of it. You're good at that, right?"

Shamir pursed his mouth at me, not know whether to glare or laugh.

"You two doing alright over there?" called Bradley. Shamir did glare at that.

"I do not like that man."

"Oh, he's harmless. We'll be out of his company soon enough anyhow. Shall we?" I gestured toward the rocks.

We both made it a point to gesture and move about as Shamir pulled the rocks and dirt aside to a secure location. I was glad he got my meaning, taking his time with it and furrowing his brow in mock concentration when he could have easily drawn it all back into the mountain in a mere minute. We both pretended to breathe heavily with exhaustion once it was all finished.

I'm not sure what I expected. Thanks, cheering, at least some type of acknowledgement. No, instead the villagers came up in groups, examined our work, and either turned back to their town or went about their way down the now clear path. No thanks were given, not even a nod our way. I looked over at Shamir and he shrugged as if to say 'I told you so.'

"So where are you two headed?" Atiya asked as they caught up with us.

"We figured we would head north on the Evondine side of the range and make a sweep south and west." Shamir looked at me with irritation for telling them, but I felt it was better to tell them the truth than for us to have to pretend to go one way only to double back later.

"And you're sure you won't need any help?"

Shamir opened his mouth to say gods only knew what, but I slapped my hand over his mouth before he could start an argument. "Shamir here isn't so good with people. I'm used to it, but he would offend each of you in turn before the night was through."

They seemed to take that as a good enough reason. Adam and Bradley went on ahead and Atiya spoke to Shamir. Isra pulled me aside just before we made to leave.

"You're headed in the right direction. There has been talk of caravans full of women being taken into Khandir through these mountains. Atiya and I were sent as part of a group to find where they're getting through. We have people at the borders south of the mountains, so they must be getting in from here. We just don't know where."

I tried to respond, but she silenced me. "We are too thinly stretched to be of much use and anyone who has possibly gotten close has disappeared. We need help with this. I don't know how you have the information you do, but I don't care. Atiya is too proud and suspicious to actually ask, so I will. You and your friend have skill. Help us."

Shamir had looked over at us in curiosity by this point. I shook my head at him before answering Isra.

"Of course we'll help. That's the whole reason we're here. This situation needs to be stopped and the sooner the better. Do me a favor though? Try to be careful. I'm sure you can handle yourself in a fight and all, but they are taking women."

She twitched with slight irritation in a way I had seen Kat do a thousand times before. I tried not to laugh as she answered. "I'll do my utmost. So long as you two do the same."

"I'll try to rein in Shamir," I said more for his benefit than hers, as he was walking up to us at that point. Naturally he scowled.

"And I'll save you when you inevitably get yourself into trouble," Shamir replied as he handed me Adina's reins. Isra actually cracked a small smile at that.

As we rode away down the newly cleared path, Shamir fussed at me.

"We don't need them. Why did you have to involve them in the first place? I knew this whole thing was a bad idea."

"Look on the bright side. We have help now like you wanted."

Shamir scoffed. "That is not my idea of help."

Just FYI, I have a tendency for making large, sprawling worlds in my stories with lots of characters both important and not-so-important. I apologize if getting them all right is difficult. So! Next chapter may or may not include faeries. They have not deemed me worthy of a straight answer. Then again, this is a slash story, so straight isn't really what we're looking for, yeah? *exaggerated winky face*