The quiet gave him time to consider. The world whispered around him, air heavy with the summer insects chirping and crooning to one another, before it disappeared into a dull hum. He could hear the sound of the wood in their fire, breaking and splitting as the heat popped the dried bark, and he could hear Naz writing, and those two sounds put the rest of the world far away.
Varlaine wondered what she wrote about so often. He’d caught her scrawling notes in the book nearly every night on their journey, sometimes briefly and others for an hour or longer. Eryn’s curiosity over it disappeared quickly, but it gave him something to think about while he studied over the magic tome he had smuggled from the castle. On one occasion, he thought he heard a quiet hum while she took the evening watch, but the woman certainly did not seem the musical type. So, he had blamed the noise on the wind.
Now, he was uncertain. A scar inside her throat, not out? How could one achieve that? His first guess was outlandish: perhaps she had been a singer, once, and she’d sang too much, too strongly, and ruined her voice. It was hard to picture her as such, in all her armor and attitude, so he waved that possibility away. Whatever it was that had happened to her, she didn’t want to discuss it openly. That raised even more questions, but none of them slipped a sliver of doubt in her intent, at least not for him. Perplexed at why he trusted her so strongly, and wrestling with the conflicting thoughts of whether to try to know her better or leave the mercenary well enough alone, he wished for nothing more than something to distract him from his conundrum.
“Trouble,” Naz said, plainly, pulling him abruptly from the reflection. When he looked away from the sky and towards her, she was already rising to her feet and reaching behind her, to draw up her sword from its sheath. Varlaine shifted to see what she was referring to. At the edge of the clearing they had set up in, through the treeline, he could see Eryn, running as fast as her legs could carry her out of the forest and towards them.
Quickly, he scrambled for his spell tome, hands quickly flitting through his pack while Eryn closed the distance. By the time he found it, Naz was standing with her sword at her side, casting her eyes around and trying to evaluate what had put the griffon rider into a panic. She did not have to wait long, however, because the cyan-haired girl arrived by the fireside quickly enough, panting.
“What’s going on?” Naz asked, guarded but direct with her tone.
Eryn gasped in air, pain evident on her face. Her lungs looked to have caught fire by the way she winced when she took in a ragged breath, bent double and clutching her knees. But she managed to lift an arm and point backwards, towards the way she came. “Someone… in the forest… chasing me…”
Naz frowned and moved past the teenager, facing the woods head on. She walked with purpose, each step carrying her forward in exactly the same distance, until she stationed between the threat and the two youths behind her.
“Varlaine, don’t use your magic unless you absolutely must. Hold it as a surprise.” She shot backwards. He nodded his head in agreement, and the winded Eryn hunted around for her axe. She found it, and the trio faced the treeline to see what emerged together, braced for a fight.
Then, a figure broke through. He wore plain looking clothes, a leather plate over his chest, and had shaggy, sandy hair. He looked for all the world like a bumbling fool when he caught sight of Naz and the others, and Varlaine had to take a moment to process why the man looked so familiar, having not seen him for a week.
Nicomenda lifted his hands up in surrender, blanching as Naz didn’t lower her guard, and kept them up as he approached the group.