D- stepped to her side. Her arm passed around the seer’s trembling shoulders and drew her in for a tight embrace. In a low murmur she spoke of how it was the season of the marsh’s red colouring. That in the desert, it was the season for travelling and crossing. How in the plains, it was the season for the first growth. “And it has been nine months since the White Clouds arrival,” she added softly. Her hands now rubbed up and down the seers’ shaking arms. “When do you last remember?”
“Nothing,” the seer said in a hollow voice. “Nothing.”
“You remember something,” CH- said sharply.
“Nothing, nothing. Nothing! No-”
D- shushed her, leaning back to hold eye contact. “We are the season of the marsh now. That is all that matters.”
The seer shook like a leaf in the wind. “Nine months,” she whispered brokenly.
I began stepped back from the seer. In a sidelong glance I gestured to Ch- to come with me. D- stayed, comforting her and keeping her mind in the moment. Ch- followed me, grumpy as she stamped over twigs and underbrush. Her hackles were raised, her fangs bared.
“That seer knows something!” she hissed as we drew to a halt in the clearing of the White cloud. “She must!”
“But what?” the words slipped from me. It took me by surprise. It had seemed so effortless. Now, of a sudden, it felt impossible to speak a sound more. I wrung my hands. I gulped and tried to form the stories, the words to frame every picture and thought. It was hopeless. I shrugged and lifted my hands in the gesture of not knowing.
Ch- scowled. “If I knew, I would tell you! She would have told us! But all we know is that something is not right! She has been missing- how could she not know that the tribes have united? Has she been in league with the White Clouds?”
Or she was one who was taken and now she’d returned. A shiver of excitement ran through me. COuld it be that we had met our first survivor? Wondering this I stared away from Ch-. I took in the trees with their red trunks. Took in the whisperings of the wind and H- stalkign towards us. “Here they come,” he murmured under his breath. we stiffened and turned. Indeed, D- was approaching. Their arm was around the seer, walking her as one would walk a frail or sickly person. As they approached D- beamed with pride and the order for us to echo their happiness. I put on a large grin in hopes that I would be right. Let this be our first revenant. Let this be a surivivor with some clues.
“Welcome the new member of our party, Ale,” D- said proudly, patting the seer on the shoulder.
“Welcome,” Ch- said most unwelcomingly.
“We-w-w-w-,” I nodded and gestured wildly in greeting. H- chuckled and greeted her.
“Welcome. As you can tell, our bravest and best can not talk very well.”
“Hm! I speak just fine,” Ch- muttered savagely under her breath. Somehow, that made me smile. Ch-‘s comment, albeit insulting, felt harmless and boisterous. Charming, even.
“Ale will be travelling with us,” D- said cheerily. “I wish us all to get along.”
“We will,” H- said solemly.
I nodded, once again stuttering through the words. My sweaty palms wrung over my trident as if squeezing the words out for me. “W-w-wwe will!”
“Hnh,” was all that Ch- said. “We shall see.”
D- drew in an exasperated breath at this breach of politeness, but what was to be done? The seer turned pale beneath her scales, but did nothing. if anything she drew closer against D- for comfort.
And so, Ale was added to our group. Little was known of her. She walked huddled in her robes as if cold or frightened. That first day, we left the tracks of the White Cloud and continued onwards into the forest. Our pace was much slower than the frenzied rush our tribe had fled with. Now, we’d not even left the reaches of the mountains and trees by nightfall. As before during the day, we drew camp hastily but not in the marks of the Clouds. This time we nestled the tent in shadowy safety and made sure to light no fire.
The seer was put in the tent to rest wholly through the night. Us others took turns in watches of two to dwell awake. It would have been a relaxing time if somehow it hadn’t been so fearful. The air seemed tinged with danger. The birds refused to sing, and the crickets wouldn’t play. H- was crouching a few feet from me while I stood and looked around for any signs.
“I can’t sleep,” Ch- said as she threw her blankets off her and rose ingratefully. Beside her, d- was sleepign fitfully. With a scowl and huff Ch- rose and walked soundlessly to H-‘s side. There she crouched next to his hulking form. “What’s the matter with this place? THere is no sounds, no breeze, no bugs.”
Indeed, I realized with alarm, even the bugs seemed to have fled in fear. Whatever was wrong?
“We are walking into a trap.” Ch- said. Then, pointing to the tent, she lowered her voice. “It is all since she has arrived. The birds flee our arrival. The animals of four legs turn away at the sight of her. Even the trees don’t want to touch her. Something is wrong, and it is her.”
I tilted my head to the side, but did not know what to think.