Defiant: Chapter Thirteen

In last week’s post, I detailed my hopeful plan for the next few months.  Things are going well, and I’ve done nine of twenty-eight chapters of the third draft of THE DRAGON HERALD.

I’ve read a lot online recently about how to track progress writing.  Many people use word count, but that only works when you’re writing words.  Writing involves a lot more than banging out words at the keyboard.  Last week, Scrivener thinks I wrote 28,000+ words, which would be pretty impressive.  In reality, at least 27,000 of those words were from a prior draft.  I copied them into a new draft and BOOM – it looks like I have words.

The Timing app has been my fix for this for a few months.  It keeps track of how much time I spend in the software associated with writing (and other things, like Facebook), and I monitor my progress and set goals based on hours.  I’ve spent a little over eight hours on the third draft.  It does miss other activities, such as writing notes in my notebook, thinking of my novel in the car, and developing brilliant ideas that would create a masterpiece in the shower.  Those are hard to quantify, anyway.  I recommend it, as you might be surprised how much time you are (or are not) spending on a project.

Here we go to Defiant Chapter Thirteen!

Water squished at the bottom of Aida’s right boot.  She wasn’t sure when she’d stepped in water, but now a blister formed next to her pinky toe.

Luca stood at the bottom of the next hill and scanned the ground for a clear passage. His shoulders sagged as he examined the dense thorn bushes blocking their path. They had spent most of the day avoiding them, which wasted time and energy. “I think we’ll need to go around this hill.”

It was easier to walk around, but the hill extended out of eyesight in either direction. Thunder echoed nearby; there wasn’t time to waste. Aida walked to the right and looked for gaps. “Let’s just try to find a path through.”

“You’re only saying that because you haven’t fallen on one.” Luca’s arm bore the effects of his slip, with fresh scratches joining those from the battle days prior.

Sienna wandered off to their left, also scouting the hill. The brambles had increased as they traveled south after the plain, and their clothes all suffered. Nobody bothered to change as the spare set would only get shredded. They hoped the terrain would make them more difficult to track, or at least make their pursuers less comfortable.

Aida was not comfortable. Wet, muddy, and scratched in multiple places from the thick brush, she looked at the cloudy sky as rain started to fall again. They’d run for hours in the storm the day before. The three were too exhausted to travel through the night and found restless sleep under an old cedar. They had awoken early to begin searching for the trail to the east they’d abandoned when they’d decided to go north.

She adjusted the straps on her pack as she followed Sienna, and thought ahead to when they might rest for the evening. Aida hoped they could find a cave for the night. Hopefully one without a beast napping inside.

Aida tracked a squirrel as it darted under the brush, away from the three friends.  Most of the wildlife, aware of their presence, was already clear of the area.  Animals, much like the Tengarper, appeared to know when predators approached.

The feeling of being followed remained with Aida since the fight, which added to her anxiety and affected her sleep. It was a constant, dull thrum at the back of her mind. The ever-present but not quite definable sensation sapped her energy as they walked. She was as exhausted as she was when she’d shown up at Dominic and Zara’s house as a child, days after the attack on her family.

“Aida?” Sienna called from a few steps above. Aida had stopped and looked out in the distance and ignored her friend’s movement as she daydreamed of a dry shelter.

“You found a break in the thorns.” Aida continued to stare, though she moved her gaze to the patch of weeds growing through the thorns.

“You alright?” Sienna asked.

“I’m fine.” Aida shook her head to clear her mind and then started up the hill past Sienna. She’d had terrible dreams the night before during the few moments she’d slept. “Just a bit tired. We should find a nice dry cave to stop tonight.”

Luca slipped on the muddy incline and grunted as he fell. He crawled to his hands and knees slowly and then used a tree to help him stand. “Maybe we could find that cave sooner, rather than later.”

They made their way up the hill, crawling at points due to the slope and the mud, and rested at the top. The opposite side was lined with the rock cliff structures like the one Ferran went over with Aida’s help.

Did he die? He had been injured in the fall. His ikast, Chandi, hurried to his aid. Did she save him? Or did she return to the Kort camp, alone?

Aida realized she wouldn’t need to return at all. If Ferran died, Chandi would be free of the Kort, should she choose that option. Most ikast remained with their master’s house, but they weren’t bound after death to stay.

Did Chandi join Ferran willingly? Her anger could be evidence she did not. Aida hoped she didn’t have to face the wrathful Warrior again, regardless.

Lightning flashed as the rain started to fall. It didn’t take any time for the sprinkles to turn into sheets of water. Aida always liked thunderstorms, but this wasn’t the best situation for one to happen. She gazed at the sky. “Let’s get off the hill before that gets any closer.”

“But be careful.” Sienna pointed at the mud. “Try not to fall off anything, Luca.”

“I’ll work on it.”

They slid down between two of the rock formations after Sienna suggested it’d be safer than trying to walk. Pebbles dug into Aida’s arms and legs, aggravating her damp skin. Luca pulled his muddy pants free from his backside as they walked; he’d already been complaining of chafing. There was no way to avoid getting wet, though.

“There.” Aida pointed to a place the rock above overhung the hill below. It created a little indent in the vertical face several paces deep. It looked to be a perfect shelter. The night would still be cold, but they would be out of the rain.

Sienna nodded, and Luca led the way. He climbed from tree to rock until he was even with the overhang and then moved left along the incline. As he traversed the muddy hill sideways, he slowly put one foot next to the other as he grabbed on to hanging tree branches for support. Thankfully, this area was free of thorns. Only sharp rocks threatened them, should they fall.

“Look for animals,” Sienna suggested from behind Aida as they climbed. Luca nodded; he’d already been searching the area.

The sky flashed brightly again, and thunder rumbled above their heads. Aida carefully placed her foot on a rock, only for the rock slide out from underneath her. She grabbed at a nearby bush, but her hands slid off the branch, taking the leaves with it. Aida fell on her side and grunted as her sword jammed into her trunk. Mud, leaves, twigs, and rocks found their way under her shirt on the way down. She slid several paces before she came to a stop, banging her shin into a moss-covered tree.

“Aida!” Luca called from above.

“I’m alright.” She stared down at her body, now covered in more mud. Leaves and twigs attached themselves to her tunic and trousers. Her pant leg had rolled up as she slid, which allowed more debris to cover her leg. Blood welled along some of the scratches. She held on to the tree as she hauled herself to her feet and righted her lopsided pack. “I’ll come back up.”

Sienna let out a startled yelp from above, and Luca yelled. Fear of another beast attack flooded Aida’s mind, and she jumped up and ran up the hill.

The mud gave way beneath her feet, and after three paces her foot slipped and she fell again. The slide, as well as the debris, was still the same. She returned to the place she’d started, against the tree.

“Luca?” Aida yelled up against the rain.

“Boar.” Luca poked his head over the edge as lightning illuminated the hillside. “Just surprised us. It’s dead now.”

Aida sat for a moment on the cold, wet mud, sulking as the rain fell.  Most of her body felt sore, and various spots stung from the very recent scratches.  She was so tired that she wanted to sleep right there but hauled herself to her feet to rejoin her friends.

She slowed her climb up the hill this time and used tree trunks as handholds as she worked her way back toward her friends. If she was wet, muddy, and cold, her friends probably felt worse. Why had they come with her on this dangerous journey? She sighed and tried to let the thought go. The day had been miserable, and the night didn’t look much better.

Finally, she scrambled back to the same level as their rock shelter for the evening. She moved left carefully and avoided the spot she’d fallen. Luca was already at work gutting the boar, and she grew distracted by the gore. Her foot slipped again, but she grabbed a tree trunk before she fell. Aida stepped on to the level rock and hurried to the back, away from the rain and the mud.

Luca continued his work in the dim light, occasionally highlighted by the lightning. He wiped water from his brow with blood-covered hands as he used a knife to prepare the boar. So much blood.

Sienna walked along the back of the indention, bent over as she examined the crevices. “Just looking for any of its friends.” Her voice cracked, and she held her left arm tightly against her side.  Her neck muscles tensed and released in the dim light as she tried to manage the pain. “I fell.”

“Do you think we can risk a fire?” Luca asked, oblivious to Sienna’s injury. “We’ll need to cook this.”

Sienna tried to sit against the back wall, but without the help of her left arm, it was more of a fall. Her head bounced lightly off the rock, and she closed her eyes against tears. “I don’t know about the fire. It would be easy to see since we’re so high up.”

“If anyone is around,” Luca replied. They hadn’t seen anyone since the Calas attacked, and they were not on a trail.

“That trail lies somewhere south of here,” Sienna said. “If anyone is on it, they might see us.”

“It is south of us.” Luca wiped the blade on his pant leg. “We’re facing north. Besides, I thought we were headed to that trail because nobody would be on it. It should be empty.”

“Less full might be a better description. Remember, we ran into Connor on the same trail on the other side of the village.” Sienna gazed out into the rain and diminishing afternoon light. “It looked well used on the west side of the village; who knows where it goes to the east.”

“Here.” Aida found a deep crevice in the rock floor. “If we put it here, it would be more difficult to see, from any direction.”

“And if we hurry,” Luca rushed to look, “it could be burned down more before total dark.”

“There’d still be the smoke, and a beast might still come.” Sienna didn’t move from her spot, and the argument in her voice faded.  “Fine. If you can find some dry wood.”

Luca set off to search on the other side of their tiny new home.

They were all tired and cold. A fire and a warm meal would raise their spirits, at least, even if they did risk another beast encounter.  They hadn’t seen one of the massive creatures since the one that interrupted their breakfast and ran them off earlier, though.

“Don’t fall, Luca.  It hurts.” Aida returned to Sienna. “Your arm?”

“It might be broken.” Sienna touched the skin on her arm, which had already started to swell. “I almost passed out from the pain when I fell. I guess I won’t be using the bow anymore for awhile.”

“Good thing you got better with your sword.” Aida chuckled at her joke, though she worried.  Sienna’s skills with a sword remained poor, at best. The loss of Sienna’s bow in a fight was a significant problem. “Let me get some wood for a splint.”

Aida left for the side of the hill, treading slowly on the wet ground in the darkening afternoon. She didn’t need much, however, and quickly returned to splint Sienna’s arm in place.

Luca stared at the process upon his return, arms full of firewood. Concern lined his eyes and face. “Found some fallen wood under another cliff.”

“I’m fine Luca; make your fire,” Sienna said.

Luca stood for several seconds before he shuffled to the rut in the stone and set up the wood. He lit the kindling with his flint and muttered, “Never would have happened at the village.”

Sienna leaned back against the rock wall and closed her eyes. Aida felt pain from her, sitting this close, but she knew her friend wouldn’t complain.  Her friends hadn’t said much that she could take as condemnation for leading them on this ridiculous journey.

Maybe Aida should send them back to the village. They might be safe with Kian if Aida wasn’t with them. The Kort might leave them alone. It was wishful thinking. Cugat wanted Aida as an ikast, and she could guess Ferran wanted her friends dead. There was no going back.

Was Zara safe?  She hadn’t attacked the Kort, but now the Warriors were after her ward and probably wanted her children dead.  Aida shook her head; Zara would know what to do.

Aida leaned against the rock. Why was she so tired? She had some sleep, even if it was disturbed.  The dreams held rest at bay, even if she was asleep.

She focused on something else.  “Did you think any more about the Calas who attacked us on the trail?”

“I don’t know what village they came from,” Sienna said, “but I think it must have been close. They didn’t look like they’d traveled far. The Kort supporters extend farther into Calas territory than we thought.”

“I wonder how far,” Aida said. They needed to find the trail again and then head east to locate the Temple before more of the Calas who supported the Kort found them.

“We’ll make it, Aida.” Sienna turned her head and smiled. “We’ll find the Temple, and they’ll know what to do.”

Aida grunted, not so sure. “I should have left earlier.”

“And gone where?”

“West. I wanted to go over the mountains and attack the Isma. Kill some of those who had killed my parents.”

“I knew you wanted to go West earlier, but you can’t be serious about Isma.”

“Very serious.” Aida wiped at some mud on her trouser legs, aware it was useless. “I didn’t tell anyone because I knew you’d argue, but I was planning to go this year. I stopped so I could see the Kort and find out if they knew anything.”

Sienna laughed. “Could you have even made it over the mountains?”

“They did.” True, they’d had an army. They’d had support. They had a plan and a map. “Too late now, I guess.”

They rested against the rock wall and watched Luca work on the fire. The storm slowed and settled into a steady rain. It would be a cold night, but not as windy.

“How did they come over the mountains?” Sienna asked.

Aida took a deep breath. She’d wondered the same thing. She’d walked to the edge of the mountains once on a trip to see the family home. The range was massive, and without a good map, she would be lost within a day. Her father had said it was brutally cold, with little food available. “I don’t know.”

It wouldn’t have stopped her from trying though. She was at the peak of her power and skill as a Youth, and it’d be the only opportunity to take revenge on anyone associated with her family’s death. If she didn’t die in the mountains, she would die when she attacked, but she didn’t care.

Instead, she was headed the opposite direction, as she fled from a life as an ikast she didn’t want. Her friends were in danger, they were lost in the wild, and there was still a good chance the Kort would find them.

“I’m glad you didn’t go.” Sienna smiled over at Aida. “You would have missed this adventure.”

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