By the time the sun had risen above the horizon, Loria and I were sitting by the fire with everything we needed for our travels. I had my gun slung across my back, and in her hands she had the backpack filled with our basic necessities.
"First aid kit?" I asked.
"Check," she replied.
"Enough food to last us a while?"
"Well, what else is in there?"
She gave an exasperated sigh before rifling through the bag again. "I don't know, Bay. We've been through this five times already. We have everything we need."
"Are you sure?"
"Yes, I'm sure." She sounded rather annoyed now, probably from her lack of sleep. I, on the other hand, had slept like a baby.
After we had gone through our materials a few more times and had as much coffee as we could hold, it was time to venture out.
"Ready?" Loria asked, pulling on the backpack and standing by the opening in the rock.
"As I'll ever be," I responded meekly. I watched as she turned to the side, slipping through the crack with ease. I followed close behind, though not as skillfully, due to being a bit taller and broader.
I can tell you one thing for sure – I hadn't missed the wind at all. It was blowing with more force than the day before, with a chill that cut right through you. I just knew that we were going to get snow one of these days. That definitely wouldn't help us on our journey.
As usual, Loria walked a few feet in front of me. We didn't talk for quite a long time. The sun was already high in the sky by the time I mustered up enough courage to say something. "Thanks for showing me the way," was the only thing I could come up with at the moment.
She just looked back at me, brown eyes seeming to search my soul, before staring ahead again. "I'm only doing it for the reward. As soon as we reach Ralor, you're on your own," was her response.
That was fine by me. I wasn't looking for a friend. I just needed someone to take me where I needed to go. I only wished that the person that I found were a bit more personable.
I should have known. I should have known that Zarek would do everything in his power to make this trip hard. He would do everything that he could to make it the most painful, troublesome, difficult thing I had ever done. I should have known the second that I saw him.
When Loria and I stepped into the clearing, I knew something was wrong before I had even laid eyes on him. Sure enough, there he was. He was standing coolly by the river that ran through this part of the woods, watching us with deep purple eyes. "Hello there," came his creepy and smooth voice. His tone wasn't alarming or loud. He seemed as calm as he could be; that's what frightened me.
"What do you want, Zarek?" I asked, trying to keep my cool. I knew that he was up to something. I stepped in front of Loria, who looked just as confused as I felt, just in case he tried to pull anything.
"Why, I simply came to check on my favorite game piece." Game piece? What was this, chess?
"What do you mean?" I barked.
"You know exactly what I mean. This little game that we're playing? No? Let me refresh your memory." Before I could protest, he had disappeared and reappeared only a few feet in front of us. "As of right now, you have twenty nine days to get to the capital city, Ralor. I will meet you there. But don't get me wrong, I'll most certainly be checking in on you to see how you've been doing throughout your journey." He let out an airy laugh.
I balled my fists, glaring at him. I'd never asked to be a part of this game, and I certainly didn't want to play.
"Now, let's see. I'd say that you've just made your move by choosing this girl as your guide. Good job. But now it's my turn." He held a hand out and snapped his fingers. I didn't have time to question this motion before he spoke again. "Good luck." With that, he disappeared into a cloud of smoke.
What had he meant by all of that? He was acting like this was a real game, like there were actual turns involved. Or maybe that was how it was supposed to be?
That's when I felt the repetitive, hot wind at my back. Hot? No, it was freezing outside. How could the wind be hot? That's when the realization hit me. It wasn't the wind at all, but a breath.
Loria and I both turned around at the same time. I was met with my reflection in the glassy, golden eye of a giant beast. So now dragons were Zarek's idea of a fair turn in the game?
What had I gotten myself into?