Rowan woke up screaming. The nightmares were finally back in full force. Flashes of pain and suffering so real, so visceral, that she could feel them now. She had dreamed of the eclipse in vivid detail, only every mistake, every moment of terror was punctuated by the touch of the Silent Sisters. Rowan’s back roared in agony.
That isn’t what woke Rowan up, however. Not even reliving her mother’s death was enough to grant her bitter release from the torment. No, that came from seeing Tehri broken and on the verge of death. She had been too late. She had failed. There was nothing she could do other than hold onto Tehri as the light faded from her eyes.
It felt so real. The pain. The loss. All of it. Rowan’s chest heaved as adrenaline continued to flood through her veins. She had to do something and she had to do it fast before her emotions got the better of her.
Rowan rushed out with Elan Fiir, a belt of knives, and a reflex bow with a quiver of arrows, practically her entire arsenal. The only thing she was missing from it was her short spear and buckler.
Alas, in her hurry to leave the tent, Rowan forgot to close the flap, exposing the insides to the autumn chill. If the screaming hadn’t woken Seres up, the sudden cold will.
Rowan on the other hand, was, more likely than not, significantly less bothered by it. That isn’t to say she couldn’t feel it; her feet in particular were suffering. She was only wearing underwear and a small night tunic, after all. No, the reason for her surprising tolerance was that a little cold was nothing next to her nightmares. Dealing with that particular horror took precedence over chilly toes.
Step one – cut down a tree. That seemed like it would be a good way to vent some trauma. Rowan stopped herself just before Elan Fiir bit into the bark of a particularly large silver pine. Already she was having second thoughts. The tree had done nothing wrong, and while she knew that it wouldn’t be able to damage Elan Fiir, she was less confident she could cut all the way through something quite so thick. Even if she could, there was the very real possibility that it would fall into the clearing and onto the tent.
Reluctantly, Rowan sheathed Elan Fiir and instead started stringing the bow. Even with her enhanced strength, the reflex nature of the bow made it somewhat awkward. She could have chosen the lighter, pre-strung recurve that she had brought with them to teach Seres. It would have made things significantly easier for her, but at the same time, it would have made things too easy; the recurve had a practically non-existent draw weight after all. The reflex on the other hand was on the cusp of being a war bow for a fraction of the size (it was no wonder that it was designed by a Ferran).
Once the bow was fully strung, Rowan belted Elan Fiir and a quiver to her waist before making her way out of the copse of silver pine so that she could loose arrows in the open grasslands. It would mean she’d need to travel further to recollect the arrows, but it also meant that she didn’t risk breaking any of the trees. Thankfully, she was still close enough to see or hear if anything out of sorts happened in the camp.
On the seventh arrow, Rowan heard movement from the tent. She snapped around with the bow at full draw, ready to shoot any trespassers in their tracks. It was only after she saw Seres’ head pop out of the open flap.
Seres had taken the time to wrap herself in a dressing gown before stepping out. Rowan saw Seres looking around, no doubt looking for her. Unsurprisingly, it didn’t take much time for Seres to find her considering Seres’ excellent night vision or the fact that Rowan was a beacon of Resonance.
Clearly concerned, Seres made her way to Rowan’s side.
“Are you okay?” she asked, “I heard you screaming.”
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to wake you,” Rowan replied glumly.
“What’s wrong? You can tell me.”
“I had a nightmare. A bad one.”
“It must have been. What happened? They’ve never made you scream like that.”
“I saw Tehri broken and dying in my arms. I saw my failure.”
Tears started to well in Rowan’s eyes.
“You haven’t failed.”
“Then why has no-one seen her? It’s been five years!”
The dams of her eyes gave way and the waterworks began in earnest. Seres stepped in to give her a warm embrace.
“There, there, Rowan,” Seres said softly, stroking Rowan’s back. “We’ll find her.”
Rowan dropped the bow and hugged Seres back, crying loudly into her shoulder.
After a couple of minutes, the weight of Rowan’s emotions brought them both to their knees. Even so, this was a much better way for Rowan to vent her feelings as opposed to aimless training.
Almost half an hour later, the tears finally stopped flowing. Rowan’s eyes were raw, her throat coarse, and her nose red.
“I think I may have ruined your dressing gown,” Rowan apologised with a rueful smile, looking down at the war zone of snot and tears on Seres’ shoulder.
“Think nothing of it,” Seres replied softly, “It’ll wash.”
“No buts, Rowan. You needed that. I will ask, however, that we return to the tent. Now isn’t the time to be training, the ground is hard as a rock and you’re cold to the touch. We can train together tomorrow if you want. You need to start teaching me, after all.”
It took Seres pointing it out for Rowan to realise that, yes, she was in fact, freezing. Barely moving while half naked in the middle of a late autumn night didn’t exactly do much to keep one warm, after all.
Rowan nodded her acceptance of Seres’ request and picked the bow up as she clambered back to her feet. As Seres started to walk back to the camp, Rowan was quickly reminded that she was missing something.
“What about the arrows?” she asked.
“How many are out there?” Seres said, turning to give Rowan a contemplatory look.
“That’s too many to just abandon,” Seres sighed.
In response, Seres started walking off into the darkness with a confident smile.
“Let me help you find them,” she called back confidently. “Two pairs of eyes are better than one.”
“Yes?” Seres replied, turning back slightly.
While maintaining the most neutral expression that she could manage with her tear ruined face, Rowan pointed in a completely different direction.
“The arrows are over there.”
Rowan couldn’t be 100% sure, but she just knew that Seres was blushing at that moment.
They arrived in the town of Baromiir just in time for a late lunch, the next day. Baromiir was the first of the three major settlements along the Telma River. Overall, it wasn’t a particularly exceptional town. There was nothing in the way of unique or specialty resources to set it apart from anywhere else.
If it wasn’t for one very specific fact, Rowan doubted it would have ever grown to be more than a village. The fact in question? Distance and trade. Baromiir was a days travel by boat from Telmaris, the next major town, Like Baromiir, Telmaris was a days travel from Feldran, the mountain city that would mark the end of the first leg of their journey.
Both Baromiir and Telmaris served as waypoints for trade to and from Feldran. It was instantly clear how Baromiir served that particular purpose. Anyone that spoke Midiran would know before they even reached the town. True to its name, Baromiir featured an exceptionally tall bridge that spanned the entire width of the river. It was easily tall enough to let a mast sail under it, and it also connected the two halves of the city along with a ferry service. The town also had several places to moor a boat on either side of the river.
The two girls went past the bridge as they made their way to an inn on the far side of town which had been kindly recommended by one of the guards. Rowan marvelled as she saw the bridge up close. She had been too young to fully appreciate it the first time that she had seen it. Now she had no such issues. The full length of the bridge spanned an impressive chunk of the town’s width and even then, it was ridiculously steep. It also had two side ramps that turned away from the main ramp to allow access from the river road.
Both Rowan and Seres saw countless people using the bridge, giving them a solid idea of what effect it could have on those that used it every day. One such example came in the form of a rather anomalous Ferran man who was pushing a cart up one of the ramps. For the most part, he looked fairly normal with the exception of his legs which were the size of tree trunks.
“I didn’t even know that was possible,” Seres muttered quietly upon seeing it.
“Tell me about it,” Rowan replied, not even trying to hide her horrified awe.
After the bridge, they arrived at their destination, “The Three-Eyed Hunter”, a rather large inn with an attached stables. To the locals, it probably seemed like a fairly innocent name for an inn. To Rowan and Seres, however, it was mildly terrifying, especially after they saw the sign. It seemed as if the owners had named the inn after the Vhoraks, one of the most voracious predators in the world. The horror of it all was made even worse by the rumbling of their stomachs.
“Shall we?” Rowan asked in attempt to hide the ferocious roaring, her face rosy from embarrassment.
“We really should,” Seres replied.
With their minds set, they rode towards the stables and handed off their horses to the stablemaster. They were then free to enter the establishment, and they didn’t even need to carry their packs. As part of the stabling service, a porter was provided. With that in mind, they took their first steps towards the inn’s entrance.
As soon as they walked through the door they were greeted by a plump Ferran lady with an extremely bright and energetic smile.
“Welcome to The Three-Eyed Hunter,” the woman said cheerfully, “I’m the owner, Klei. How can we help?”
“Hi, I’m Rowan and this is Seres. We were hoping to stay the night and get some food.”
“Of course! We have a few different tiers of room available. From the way you are both dressed and all the stuff you have with you, I won’t even suggest the communal rooms. That leaves the private rooms and the suites.”
“Private will be fine,” Seres replied.
“And will you be needing two rooms or just one? You aren’t lovers are you? It’s totally fine if you are. We just ask that you aren’t too loud if you decide to have sex in the wee hours. Only the suites have noise absorption crystals.”
“We’re not lovers, no,” Seres laughed while Rowan fumbled around.
“I thought as much. You look too much like sisters or something.”
“Close enough,” Rowan muttered.
“We get that a lot,” Seres clarified. “And we only need one room.”
“We only have doubles, if that’s okay?
“I think we can manage with…”
“We should get a suite,” Rowan interjected.
“Oh?” Klei and Seres asked simultaneously.
“I’ve been suffering from nightmares,” Rowan explained to Klei. “Last night it was do bad that I woke up screaming. You said the suites have sound absorption crystals. Less risk of disturbing your other guests.”
“That’s a good point,” Seres admitted. “What other facilities to the suites come with?”
“A bedroom, a communal space, a restroom, and a bathroom with full plumbing at the very least.”
A the mention of a bath, the two girls shared a look and said, “Why didn’t you start with that?”
Within moments they were renting a suite for the night. Not long after that they were in the common room feasting on succulent roast lamb, rosemary potatoes, feather greens, and carrots cooked in red wine. By the end of it, Rowan had almost forgotten that she was supposed to start teaching Seres how to defend herself. She eventually concluded that lessons would need to wait until after their meal had settled.