Ashera: Chapter 4
Ashera arrived back from scouting duty late at night. Much had changed since Bear's leaving a year ago. The Elder no longer sent out search parties after Saria or the missing members. He didn't say it, but he thought they were dead. Ashera didn't agree-she knew, somehow, that Saria was alive-but she didn't speak up. She was 20 now-still without a title. In the past year, the joking, bubbly girl had almost disappeared. Her face had sunken in with sorrow and her eyes were perpetually circled in black.
The rest of the tribe suffered, as well. After sending out so many of their members and having none come back...they weren't doing well. Ray of Sun had passed just after Bear had left, so injuries and sickness had to be dealt with by less experienced healers. The once-thriving elf tribe was now hobbling through life-and there was nothing Ashera could think to do to help them.
Ashera bolted up in bed, remembering what Bear had said to her that passing day. He'd said that everything he did was for her. What did that mean? Then it had just seemed like a proclamation of love, but there was some underlying message that Ashera couldn't decipher. She'd had thought of these words almost everyday and she still couldn't figure out what they meant.
But then she thought of something else Bear had said to her on the day of him leaving-something she hadn't thought about since he left. She heard his voice in her head as if he was right beside her, saying it into her ear. "Keep living. If too much time passes then come find us. You'll figure it out."
Ashera nodded. Too much time had passed. Almost no one else in the tribe thought that Saria, Bear, or any other elves they'd sent out were alive. Ashera was the only one left-and she knew what she had to do.
An hour later, Ashera snuck through camp, a backpack on her back. She continued forward. It was not yet sunrise, so as long as she avoided the morning guard, she'd be fine. Even if someone spotted her, she didn't care. As long as they didn't try to stop her.
She was now approaching the edge of the west woods. There must've been less then a mile until the border. She was almost there.
A lithe figure hopped down from a tree above Ashera, causing her to halt in her tracks. Fox shoulder-rolled forward. Usually, she'd hold a nocked bow with her, but now she just looked up at her curiously. "You don't have scouting duty, do you?"
"Liar. You had it last night," Fox said. "What are you doing out here?" She spotted Ashera's back. "And why do you have a pack with you? Are you going somewhere?" Her eyes narrowed as she came to the realization. "You're going after Bear, aren't you?"
"I'm going after Saria. I just hope that she and Bear are in the same place."
"Ashera," Fox said running after her as she started to walk away. "You can't go after them."
"They're-" Fox trailed off, wincing. Ashera scowled.
"No, say it."
"Say it," Ashera said. "Say what you and everyone else in the damned camp thinks. Say that they're dead. Say that I'm crazy for thinking that they're alive. Go on, say it."
Fox sighed. "We need you here."
Ashera laughed bitterly at that. "I'm a 20 year-old human without a title. You've never needed me."
"I have," Fox said. "You're my best friend, Ashera. Please, see reason."
Ashera hesitated for a moment. "Come with me."
"Come with me to save Saria and Bear," she said. "It's my little sister and one of our best friends. I know that I can't do this alone. Please, Fox."
"Please," she said. "We've been inseparable since we were small children. You were my first friend. I knew you when you were Fiakle. Come with me. We can do this, together."
Fox sighed, "Fine. But only because you're going to get killed if I don't come."
Ashera was already hugging her, beaming into her shoulder-elves were a bit taller than humans. "Oh, Fox," Ashera said. "Thank you so much."
"I just hope you're not wrong," Fox said grimly. "Let me go back to camp and grab supplies."
"There's no time," Ashera said. "The sun's rising. They'll see us now. I have enough here to last a little while and then we can always find a way to get more."
"This is so incredibly stupid."
"Do you have Aloria with you?"
"I got a ride from Star in Sky," Fox said. Ashera cursed. "We can't even go back and get her?" Ashera shook her head.
"We can't be seen," Ashera said. "Or else we'll be stopped."
"I saw you."
"Well, I didn't know you were there," Ashera said, causing Fox to grin. "There's a reason why you're called Sneaky Fox, you know."
"I know," Fox said. "I just didn't know I was that good."
"Yeah, yeah whatever. If I had your stealth then I'd have snuck out with no problem.
Fox chuckled. "So, where are we going first?"
"Away from here."
The pair had walked for most of the day, stopping to set up camp as the day neared evening. As they set up the shelter, Ashera told Fox, "I'm so glad you decided to come."
"Because you don't have to set up a shelter alone?" Fox asked. "I don't know how you'd function without me here, you're really bad at this."
"That too," Ashera said. "But mostly for your friendship. I was devastated when Bear left and if I had to leave you..." Ashera sniffed and wiped a tear away from her eye.
"We need to find a way to get supplies," Fox said. Ashera was thankful that she changed the subject. "There's that human city nearby, right? The one that you came from?"
Ashera shuddered. "I don't know if I want to go there," she said.
"Well we don't really have a choice," Fox said. "Have you ever had contact with humans?"
Ashera shook her head. "You?"
"I wish Bear was here. His first quest was in Harle, right?"
Fox nodded. "He'd know what to do, that's for sure. He always had a plan." There was silence for a moment, no sound except for the crackling campfire.
"I guess we have to go," Ashera said, not wanting the silence to go on for too long. "I say we leave early tomorrow morning and get in and out as quickly as possible. I think it's just south of here."
"I think so too," Fox said. "There!" she said as she placed a final branch on the shelter. She sighed. "Goodnight, Ashera," she said.
"I'm glad that I'm here too," Fox said. "Even if it's going to get both of us killed."
And with those words, the night was still.
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