Chapter 16

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A New Bond

Sprinting through the forest as fast as she could, Fraya span around with her bow firing off arrows at the vanghouls who were closing in on her. Their mobility through the woods was unmatched by anything she had ever seen. Bushes, branches, and even fallen logs that littered the landscape were pushed aside and powered through as if by an avalanche on her tail. Many of them also evaded her shots in quick, tactical dodging maneuvers as they spread through the forest like wildfire.

Desperately trying to keep pace with the vanghouls, a winded Feregreth rushed after with his readied sword. Even through the dense foliage, he could make their leader, the one she had referred to earlier as Nekada. He was easily the tallest amongst them and was rapidly closing in on her. Sizing the beast up, the captain knew that a single strike from his axe would split a man in half. Nekada’s continued attacks only heightened the fear of such a fate as he grew closer to her by the second. Fraya was leading them into an ancient part of the forest where vegetation was so dense that light could barely pass through. The rain was starting to let up, but the fog, especially in this area was thick to the point where the ground almost disappeared. It didn’t take long before the vanghouls lost her and became cautious of their surroundings. The booming voice of Nekada flooded the air as Feregreth came to a halt behind a tree, taking cover to prevent his own discovery as he had finally caught up to the chasers.

“There is no escape, Aeran’thil! These are our lands, there is nowhere to go that we won’t find you.”

Nekada was a menacing beast with hollow cheekbones and sharp ears that could pick up sounds from afar. His entire body was covered in scars, and unlike his fellow warriors, he seemed exceptionally stronger.

A sudden grip to his shoulder and a hand covering his mouth sent a chill down the captain’s spine. As he was spun around, a moment of reprieve was felt as his eyes landed on Fraya. She moved a finger to her lips, gesturing him to remain silent as she pointed to the searching vanghouls. As the noises from the beasts got further away, she pulled on his jacket and swiftly moved in the opposite direction. The terrain was unfamiliar, but there was no time to move slowly with the vanghouls spreading out. As the twigs and leaves rustled beneath their feet, the sound of something coming from the mist behind them became evident. Glancing back at the shadows that appeared closer by every second, the mossy ground below them suddenly cracked open as they had ventured out onto a ravine. Falling through a small gap that went deep down into a subterranean river, the two restrained themselves from shouting despite the horrific fall. Hitting the water hard, the captain fell unconscious from the blow. Fraya managed to keep herself awake even though she got severely bruised and swam back up to the surface. She began looking for Feregreth immediately who was sinking to the bottom as a result of the weight of the armor. Taking a deep breath, she submerged down in an attempt to get him before he vanished into the darkness below. In a swift and elegant manner, she got a hold of his hand and tried to pull him back up, but to no avail. As the air was leaving his lungs, terrified, she began to unstrap the heavy armor on his body. Trying to keep her mind focused, she kept removing the armor piece by piece as the water got colder the further down they got. Eventually, she got the last part of the equipment off and started swimming back up with her arm around him.

Helping him up onto solid ground behind a waterfall further down the cavern, Fraya hastily tried to help him cough up all the water he had swallowed. Luckily, he managed to wake up and turn over on his side, emptying his lungs in shock. She sat on her knees, staring at him with grave concern, and without saying anything she put up a small circle of rocks. The branches and bark that had fallen through the gap above were perfectly dry, and by utilizing twigs to ignite a flame, she managed to create a campfire for them to get warmed up.

After a short while of getting his mind back on track, he glanced over at her while leaning back on his hands. With a very gentle and thankful tone of voice, Feregreth uttered. “Thank you…”

“I’m so sorry.”

“Why? You have nothing to be sorry about. Thanks to you I’m…”

“This is my fault. My family is responsible for all of this. My grandfather was…he was the one who banished the hybrid. I wish I didn’t believe what Arthouras said, but it adds up. All of it. We’ve been taught to protect the natural way of life. I knew there was something between our people, there were too many similarities. But this? I can’t…”

Getting back on his feet while pressing the water from his attire, he slowly began walking over to her. Her gaze met his, but her eyes dripped with tears that slowly cascaded down her cheeks. Gently, he went down on one knee next to her as he said, “Listen to me, you had nothing to do with that, Fraya. You’re carrying the burden of others. Those are mistakes made by those close to you. You don’t have to shoulder that.”

“I trusted him even though people have questioned him time and again.”

“He’s your grandfather, of course, you would trust him. I too have been in a situation somewhat similar with my own father. He was always giving me the best chance, but it usually came at the expense of someone else. I’ve tried to make amends for his sins, but there’s only so much that can be done.” Slowly raising his hand, he caressed against her cheek. With his calloused thumb he gently wiped away the tears on her soft skin.

She closed her eyes as he spoke in a soothing and calm voice. “I’ll help you with whatever you need but, know that even though your family has made mistakes, you can’t carry that on your shoulders. We can try to mend the relationships between our people, but the vanghouls may take a while to convince. I’ll do my best to persuade the general, you have my word. But know this, I’m here for you.”

Fraya didn’t speak, instead just considered his words and kindness. An adoring smile fell to her lips as she looked into his ocean blue eyes that resonated with compassion, unlike anyone she had ever met. She gently leaned into the hand on her cheek, nuzzling against his strong palm. Moving in closer, Fraya brought a hand to rest upon his chest. Feeling his heartbeat rising as she was coming towards him, she swallowed a little in hesitation. Carefully taking the next step, she continued to move closer until she pressed her lush lips to his in a gentle embrace, that she found was blissfully answered. Taking a moment to break away from the kiss, she looked once more into Feregreth’s eyes. No words passed between the two, not that there were any words to convey. In those quick seconds, enough was expressed in the silence to understand what they both wanted. Laying back and guiding him with her, Fraya smiled with happiness as every concern drifted away from her mind. Right now, there was no war, no conflict, no worries about the future. There was just the two of them, and at that moment, they wrapped up together and allowed the passion to take them.


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