Kelsandra, Chapter 2

She didn’t have a plan; of course she didn’t. It felt like she was running from home, even though everyone who cared to know knew that she was leaving by the morning. Still, it had the same feeling as most would have running from home. Chasing something that seemed absurd and yet feeling freer and more scared with every step. Perhaps it was better this way, Kelly thought. No one would see her leave. No one she knew would watch her get lost and struggle to navigate the forest. It was definitely not her strong suit, though she hadn’t given herself a fair try until now.

The sky was clear, and so the moon lit up the night, which was fortunate, as in her lack of foresight she had forgotten to bring a lantern. Kelly made a note to stop in the next town to buy a torch, if it wasn’t only bandits who had access to them, and the next town was—she reached into her pocket for the map but then realized that she could barely make out the shape of Sterjin walking beside her, so how was she going to read a map?

No. All she had to focus on was going south.The early departure was only to get a good amount of ground between her and home before she lay down to sleep for a few hours.

The sounds of the forest were scarce and not imposing but as they were the only sounds around her, each one made her breath catch in her throat and she had to consciously even her breathing as she and her drake trudged along down the path.

Kelsandra knew that, at some point, they’d have to go off the path. To be found sleeping in a conspicuous spot would be both dangerous and embarrassing.

The hours went by quickly, but she could feel herself growing more and more tired as she veered off the path, preparing to rest for the night.

Unbeknownst to his owner, Sterjin heard a rustle from the bushes and he stopped, growling softly. Kelly staggered on ahead of him, towards the suspicious bushes, her projected path dangerously close to them. She didn’t suspect anything.

Sterj ran forward and, unsure what to do—they had never been in a dangerous situation before, after all—clamped his mouth down on her brown leather satchel. His teeth immediately tore through it and she stumbled sideways, crying out in alarm as her coins scattered around the short, patchy grass.

“Sterj!” she said quietly. “What is the matter with you?”

Sterj cocked his head toward the dangerous bushes and she looked over. Another rustle, and a silhouette passing behind one of them.

Kel immediately felt the need to vomit. All of the fear from the night, come to a head now. She didn’t know what she should do. Apologize to Sterjin, the same way she did when she accidentally kicked him in the side whenever she stirred at night in bed? Run, and undoubtedly get lost? The former might have been a similar mistake to the bag-tearing—though she had kept him as a pet for so long, and considered him a friend, they still had no idea how to communicate with each other under circumstances such as these. The latter would guarantee a completely sleepless night, now that they knew there were creatures, most likely people, who were aware of them and could follow them.

She would have to confront them head-on.

“Who’s there?” she said, grabbing her bow and, poising an arrow against it, stood ready. It felt so improper to be standing on uneven grass instead of stone or carpet as she had been during target practice, but then Kelly almost scoffed at the thought. She was more domesticated than Sterj if that was such a concern.

A man stood up and, when Kelly raised her weapon, held up both of his hands in what she assumed was a gesture of surrender, until she saw the pistol in his left hand. “Just need to—“ he said, lifting up his knees and then shaking out his legs. “I’ve been crouching for a while. What are you doing out here so late?”

He was barely older than her, from the sound of his voice, but she noted his red clothing and muffled voice, which caused her to assume he was wearing a bandana around his mouth.

She could shoot him. He was off-guard for the next few seconds; she could just shoot him and then run before he’d have a chance to use that gun. She wouldn’t have to worry about him, unless he had friends…

…Which must have been why Sterjin wasn’t attacking. He stood there beside her, on his guard, growling.

“Where are the others?” Kelly asked.

“I saw you glance down at him, your pet.” The bandit laughed. “It’s so easy to see inexperience in a ranger. You’re not only looking for confirmation from him, but you honestly know nothing, do you? You’re trudging around a drake on land, and yet he still has better instincts than you?”

“Hail Melandru,” mocked a woman’s voice as another human figure, similarly dressed, rose out of the bush beside the man.

Sterj hissed menacingly, and Kelly shot a glance down at him. He’d never made that sound before.

“I saw the coins scatter,” the woman said. “I wonder what other nice things she has.”

The conversation was clearly over, and both Kelly and Sterj knew it. “Hide,” she whispered, and the low growl in his throat ceased. She ran back and behind a tree as Sterj ran behind a boulder. They found themselves 15 feet away from each other, yet Sterj was barely 10 feet from the bandits, out of her sight. She cursed herself for not telling him to follow her instead.

“They always hide when I’m with you,” the woman said.

“Guns are different. They’re made us think differently. It’s so fun waiting for their little heads to peek around the corner.”

A pause, and then: “You are so sure of yourself, aren’t you?” she asked.

“Why else would I have said that?”

Kelly couldn’t sneak a glance at Sterjin without them almost certainly seeing her. She could hear them taking steps forward, toward her, but right beside Sterj, and they knew where he was. She’d have to fetch him and make a run for it—she had no idea how to convey through a shout what she wanted to do without risking him getting hurt.

Kelly ran across the small clearing, aiming for a tree a few feet behind her drake, but she heard the shot and screamed, terrified, though no harm at all came to her. However, at the scream, Sterj leapt out of his spot and bit the man’s leg. The man gave out a pained yell and dropped the gun as he fell forward.

Kelly looked out from behind the tree and saw the woman take a step toward the gun.

“Don’t!” Kelly said. She stood in the middle of the clearing with her bow and arrow pointed straight at the female bandit.

The man was whimpering now and Sterj kept his teeth gripped on his leg. “He’s going to take it off!” the man finally cried out.

“Stop, Sterjin. Let him go. Be caref—“ She saw the woman make a dive for the pistol and she shot her arrow.

The shot was perfect. The metal head went right through the woman’s palm, but only the head. By the Gods, Kelly thought. How did I do that?

The woman cried out in pain, but not loudly. She pulled the arrow out and walked backwards. Both of her hands were at her side, blood dripping from one of them. As dawn arrived, Kelsandra realized just how much blood there was. Sterj bounded to her side with it, so much of it, dripping from his jaw. She hated the smell of it.

Kelly said to the woman, “Take off that red handkerchief and leave it here. Don’t get any blood on it. Then both of you leave. Now.”

The bandit used her uninjured hand to untie the bandana that covered the lower half of her face. She tossed it on top of a bush and then untied the thick yellow sash around her hips. That one was dropped onto the man, who looked up at his partner helplessly.

“Take yourself back to camp to be healed,” she said. “Better tie it up to stop a bit of the bleeding.”

He breathed heavily while he pushed himself to sit up, taking the long fabric.

The woman didn’t spare anyone another glance as she ran off.

Kelly slid the arrow back in her quiver and walked over. She snatched up the pistol and stuck it in her belt, then the bandit’s mask. The man ignored her, barely making another noise as he tied his leg. The smell of blood was much stronger near him, and she held the red fabric over her nose and mouth, breathing through it. She had to tie the mask around her head when it came time to pick up the coins. Sterj didn’t do anything, didn’t make a noise, but he knew to stay out of the way. She had never known him to be so intelligent before. If they had never left, would she have seen him as a pet for their entire lives?

She didn’t speak as she led Sterj farther off the path, not caring which direction they were going at this point. When the sky was lit but the sun hadn’t shown itself yet, she pulled down the mask and it hung loosely around her neck.

“We should have taken shifts. For sleeping and—“

They kept walking. She looked down at him. He couldn’t understand anything she was saying; it was only during threatening times that he could.

The two of them came to a set of rocks beside a cave. “You sleep first,” she said to him. Kelly sat down with her back against the packed dirt hill and smiled at him as he lay down and quickly fell asleep.

2 comments

  1. Char-char O'Dell /

    That was so good!
    I couldn’t help but notice the only fic-writers are human rangers….must say something about how human rangers are the best rangers.

    Yes, your writing is really good. Can’t wait for the next one!

    • Alicia J /

      Thank you so much! It’s so great knowing you’re reading this, because I love your articles, and your poem was amazing!

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