Alec threw his fan one last time, the sharp edges cutting through the creature’s skin like a knife. After him, Jaycee lept forward and swung at its legs. They both watched as the feral wolf collapsed, limbs contorted, and mouth foaming. A few seconds passed before either moved to check on it. They glanced at each other and nodded. With the final blow dealt, the two put away their weapons.
While Alec knelt down next to it, Jaycee checked the surrounding area for any more signs of beasts or humans. The night was tranquil once again, as if what took place was a fluke. Those who had followed them may have gotten lost, as no sounds showed they were still being pursued. He heard only the chirping of insects deeper in the forest growth.
“Come look at this.” He hunched over the wolf, fingers spreading apart the fur at a spot near its ear. “It’s festering.”
Intrigued, Jaycee got on his knees. He leaned forward, scanning the area near the animal’s ear. Curious, he checked behind its other ear to see another extensive black area that had migrated down its back. The surrounding hair turned white, its flesh rough to the touch, felt like the thorns on a rose. The stench emanating from the corpse was stronger than before.
“This looks different from before. It’s progressing faster than expected.” Alec stood up, eyes staring out into the obscurity beyond. “We need to hurry.”
Before Jaycee could question just what he was talking about, his companion had paused and peered at his face, staring longer than what one considered comfortable. Alec’s eyebrows scrunched together as his hand found its way to Jaycee’s forehead. Calloused fingers lightly grazed his skin, and an intense jolt of pain traveled throughout.
“This is a large gash. It must have been from when you fell. Come, I’ll look at it.” Alec reached into his robe and pulled out a small, silver, inconspicuous bottle. He popped the top off and tapped a little into his palm.
Jaycee wasn’t a big fan of medicine. As a child, it made him sick, and in his career there was too great a chance it contained poison. Trusting only himself is what had kept him alive. He stepped back as Alec brought his fingers with the powder to his wound. He backed off out of habit, his wary disposition giving him away. Alec hesitated.
“Ah, I see. Here.” Alec dipped his finger in and then licked some off. It tasted bitter as his lips puckered and nose wrinkled. “I need you. I’m not here to kill you. Even though I won’t force you, take it in case you change your mind.” He held the medicine out, allowing Jaycee to choose.
He pondered for a bit before ultimately taking it. “Thanks.” The words came out muffled, but loud enough for Alec to pick up.
“Anyway, we should keep moving.” Alec gave another glance at the vanquished wolf. There was a lot Jaycee didn’t understand about the world since being caged, but even he understood something was amiss. How could so much change in the little time he was gone?
With the dark of night as their cover, the two once again trekked off deeper into the trees, their foliage another mask for them to hide behind.
Hours passed by in the blink of an eye. The sky, clouded by dense orange cloud coverage, only gave away its morning light by shining through tiny cracks. Birds circled above them, wings spread wide as they dipped in and around tree branches with style and ease. Wildlife grew and thrived in areas that, to the naked eye, seemed unthinkable.
They traveled quietly, and not once did they stumble upon the military. Jaycee was unsure if fate was on their side, or if lady luck favored them and felt for their struggles. Already tired of the constant rush, a respite from what now had become normal would most likely be asking for too much. Sneaking a quick peek at Alec told him nothing of his fatigue. The man walked with extra pep in his step, like he’d just roused from a nap. Where all that energy came from was a mystery, one he’d never figure out.
A few more minutes passed, and Jaycee sensed the throbbing become more prominent in his shins. His body struggled to keep up with the amount of stress he was putting it through. Just as he was about to voice his need for a rest, Alec abruptly halted. His arm shot out, stopping Jaycee is in his tracks.
But what he was going to say never left his mouth. “What—” Alec covered Jaycee’s mouth with his palm, his other hand pushing Jaycee to kneel. The bushes covered their figures from view, yet left enough space to look through.
Before them, a group of soldiers traversed the uneven road, forming a circle around a man in the middle. His head was down, which made it impossible to distinguish who it could be. At the head of the pack stood a tall, slender man in a similar uniform. A bandana wrapped around his forehead, ashy-blonde hair sticking off in tufts, with a bow slung over his shoulder. Fioma’s symbol shone proudly on his chest.
Jaycee gently removed Alec’s hand. “How did they make it this deep in?” He kept his voice low to not alert them. Their heavy footsteps pounded across the rocky path. They evidently didn’t care if anyone knew they were nearby.
“They captured Leon.” Alec said it without concern, as if stating only a fact and nothing that had to do with him personally. Either he cared little for his subordinate’s safety, or he had a plan. “That man. I think I’ve seen him before.”
Jaycee took another glimpse at the lead soldier, but his figure had already gone too far ahead. If the guy they were escorting was Leon, then that meant their leader was powerful. The mercenaries under Alec hadn’t seemed like pushovers by any means.
Once they were out of sight, Alec got up, red robes swaying in the sudden breeze that ravaged forth, stinging their skin. Jaycee’s open wound hurt, and he fingered the vial in his pocket. He absentmindedly rolled it back and forth, considering.
“Let’s follow them.” Alec’s eyes stared straight ahead at the empty spot where the others had just been.