Kelsandra, Chapter 15

The next morning, Kelsandra and Valgar ate breakfast at a table by the inn’s front door. Belszarus, the seasoned, slightly older charr and newest addition to their team, walked in. She looked around and, when she spotted them, mumbled, “Good morning,” and took a seat a few tables away.

“We’re getting there today, aren’t we?” Kelly asked Valgar.

Belszy had taken to scratching the top of Sterjin’s head with her claws, which he seemed to rather tolerate than enjoy.

“It’s close,” Valgar said through his last mouthful of bread and meaty soup. “The Bloodtide Coasts, I mean. That’s where Jayda lives.”

“Really?” Kelly said. “I’ve always wanted to go there.”

“Oh. Right. It must be the—fairy tale land for the aspiring pirate. Is that still something you want to do?”

Kelly narrowed her eyes. “Now, that’s something I definitely don’t remember telling you.”

“Belszy! Leave the poor thing alone,” he said.

“Why does he tolerate it? Is he slow-witted?” the charr asked, stopping the scratches and giving Sterj a final and rough pat on the head before withdrawing her paw. She looked to Kelly with inquiring eyes, and the human would have been angry if she weren’t so irritated at her friend for avoiding the topic. She had a feeling that it would happen more than a few times if she continued to bring it up.

Within a few minutes, they were packed up and heading down a path through and out of Lion’s Arch. Kelly immediately felt the chill. She spent the entire day’s journey tense and at Valgar’s side, but there was no conversation to be had. At least, not a conversation about anything particularly significant, otherwise Valgar, who knew the most about what they were doing, would have initiated it. Sterj followed close behind, with Belszarus deliberately slow in the back.

After a while of walking east, Kelly almost admitted out loud her extreme relief at their taking the southern road at the fork. The temperature would only continue to drop the closer they got to Lornar’s Pass, and she wasn’t ready for it, despite having spent her childhood in the extreme cold.

While the sun was still very high, they approached water. Sterj leapt in, as he usually did.

Facing the water, Kelly rocked back on her heels and then landed on her backside, rolling her ankles. She still had to break the new shoes in. She wouldn’t dare to admit that she had mostly bought them because of the way they looked and matched her trousers, and it was easy to do so as their material allowed for better protection, so there was another presumed reason for getting them in the first place.

“Watch for pirates?” Kelly asked Valgar and Belszy, mostly in jest.

“You see that piece of land in the distance?” Valgar asked, nodding his head, though no one was looking at him.

Kelly looked across the water. A blurry island.

“That’s where Jayda lives,” Valgar said.

Kelly rolled her shoulders backwards to stretch them. “She has a house there?”

“Not a house.”

“What—“ she began to ask. “Well, I guess we’ll find out soon.”

“We have to keep moving,” Belszy said.

“I agree,” Valgar said.

Kelly stood up. “I have no problem with that.” She was aware of how inferior she must have appeared, the human trying to keep up with the creatures made to move and fight.

Valgar made sure his staff was secure against his back. “Don’t stop to fight anything.” Then he dived into the water and began swimming across.

Belszy and Kelly followed, but with a big space between each other. The occasional brushing up of Sterjin’s scales against Kelly’s side or arm was a comfort to her, and when she came up to the surface to check where she was, her pet seemed to disappear. Each time she tread water for those few seconds, even as the island came into good focus, as well as the figure on the beach, Kelly felt as if he was no longer there with her. He could swim away during those few seconds, and she would barely see his tail trailing behind him as he did. When she found the shore and as she waded up the beach, Kelly even considered that there was a small chance the drake wouldn’t be joining her. When she turned and he wasn’t there, her breathing quickened and she spun around one more time and then took a few steps deeper into the water.

“Sterj,” she breathed, softly so the others wouldn’t hear.

A splash, and Sterjin bounded out of the water. He grumbled, ran a little past Kelly, then turned to face her.

Seeing a small line of blood trickle down his face and the drake’s heaving, tired body, she realized the cause of the delay and fully embraced him around the head and neck. It was almost involuntary, and the feeling was familiar. Kelly hadn’t given him such an embrace since the last days of using Sterj as a domestic pet. Perhaps it was another thing he’d had to tolerate.

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