Chapter 10



hey set out on foot since the elves had warned of thicker foliage that the horses would have a hard time with. Leaving Wildfire with the elves had been hard, but they'd promised to return them. He didn't know how or when they would do that, but he trusted them to keep to their word. Most of what they had was now carried on their backs. Even the women carried a load, though the men could have taken it for them. For some reason they'd insisted on helping. Well, it was better than refusing to do anything at all.

            Winterleaf distanced himself visibly from the group. The four of them traveled closely together, but the elf traveled aloof. It must have been an odd spectacle if anyone had been there to see them. If they were going to spend some "quality time" together on this mission, he was going to at least try to get to know who his moody companion was. Moving over closer to Winterleaf, he attempted to start a conversation.



            "Tell me, if you are so determined to hate us, then why did you volunteer to come?"

            His dark green eyes refused to look in Landon's direction as he made an effort to ignore him. After a minute or so of patiently waiting—he wasn't going to give up so easily—Winterleaf answered, "If I tell you will you leave me alone?"


            The elf sighed, realizing he wasn't just going to shake him off. "I only came because Starlight wanted me to. Only." He exhaled again as if he had gotten something off of his chest. It didn't seem like that was the only thing in Landon's opinion.

            "Only, eh?" he mused. "Usually when I do something there's always more accompanied reasons for doing it than I thought. Maybe we aren't so different." Those intense eyes found his for the first time and Landon thought if looks could kill; that one would have. But at the same time, he was beginning to think that all of Winterleaf's glares were that way.

            "I would never have agreed if I hadn't wanted to see what humans were really like," he admitted. "I wanted to see if you are anything like the monsters that murdered my parents. I just can't figure you out. You carry around weapons and yet you mean peace. How does that even work?" Landon was hardly surprised at this. In some small, insignificant ways they weren't that much different. They understood each other's motives. Winterleaf just went about it differently.

            "I carry a sword much for the same reason you do. In our world, there are good people and bad people. The people that killed your parents are not like me. In fact, they've been after me for quite a while now and I'm pretty sure that's saying something."

            Winterleaf looked fairly surprised at the news. "You're against the men who killed my parents?" Landon nodded. The elf shook his head, as if trying to convince himself that he didn't like humans. "It doesn't matter, anyway."

            "Maybe it does. Maybe we are more alike than you think. Maybe—" Landon tried, but Winterleaf interrupted.

            "So what if we aren't that different! You still will never understand my pain. They killed my parents!" Landon was out of patience. He had crossed the line.

            "How dare you say that I don't know what it feels like! They killed my parents, too!" A deep silence hung between them as they both stared straight ahead. Landon was too angry to talk at the moment, and Winterleaf wasn't about to further invoke his fury. He could almost hear the unspoken "oh" that weighted the silence.    

            "Can I see your sword?"

            Landon was somewhat taken aback by the suddenness of his request, but he took out his sword anyway. Winterleaf took it gingerly in his hands.

            "It's called Tempest," he told him, trying to suppress his varying emotions.

            Winterleaf smiled faintly. "Fitting for someone like you." It took Landon a moment to remember that he knew his secret. The weird thing was that he hadn't said anything. In fact, none of the elves had. Maybe it didn't matter to them; what you could and couldn't do. They accepted you the way you were.

            He saw that Winterleaf also carried a sword on his back. "May I see yours?" he asked, and the elf complied. Goldrush was what he called it, and it fit. The blade shone golden and the hilt was imbedded with emeralds and rubies. He wondered where he could have acquired such a weapon. When he asked the elf simply said, "I nicked it from one of the men in black. It was the one they used to do it." He didn't need to say what "it" was.

            After they examined each other's weapons and returned them, they walked in silence. It was a different kind of quiet than the previous. This one was a little more comfortable, almost friendly. It was a start.

            After a little bit of marching through the plants, they came to a small river. It wasn't terribly wide, but they happened to be at the rapids. Luckily, there were giant rocks protruding from the water all the way across. It still looked pretty dangerous. Winterleaf didn't have a problem with it. He jumped gracefully from rock to rock and landed safely on the other side as if it were nothing. Jeaine climbed up and Mark followed close behind, ready to catch her if she fell. Landon did the same after Chelsea. At first it was pretty easy, but the farther they hopped into the river, the more slippery the rocks became. It wasn't long before Chelsea slipped and fell into the water. Without thinking, Landon dove in after her. He had never really enjoyed swimming—especially after the incident in which he first met Chelsea—but he knew the basics. Survival skills were mandatory when you lived in the wilderness. They became even more so when you ventured with a person like Mark.

            The water was ice cold, and the rapids immediately tried to drag him down, but he managed to keep his head above the water. Grabbing hold of a boulder, he seized her hand and pulled her to the surface. Her hair was plastered to her face, making it difficult for her to see, but she was for the most part okay. Realizing that getting back onto the rock would be nearly impossible, he dragged her towards the shore. As the water became shallower, he picked her up and held her close, making sure she was as warm as he could provide being soaking wet. She appeared to be slightly in shock.

            Then she started laughing.

            He was starting to become concerned about her sanity when she said through a fit of giggles, "That was amazing! You know, if it wasn't so cold then I might actually want to do that again." Despite his worry, he began to laugh along with her. Maybe he was a little hysterical at the moment, or maybe the water had gotten to his brain, but seeing her laugh made him want to laugh, too.

            And then he kissed her for the second time for everyone to see. Pulling back because he was still waist deep in the river and quite thoroughly frozen, he continued through the water. When they reached shore they were greeted with blankets. After emptying his boots of water and receiving a clap on the back from Mark, they continued through the forest.



Chelsea sat with the others around the fire, waiting for Landon to return with something to eat. Her clothes were still a little damp from falling in the river earlier and she worried she would have dirt stuck to her rear from sitting on the ground. Pulling her blanket closer around her, she examined the faces that the fire illuminated. Landon had surprisingly persuaded Winterleaf to join them in their campfire, but he still remained distanced. She was proud of Landon for reaching out to him. She'd wanted to do the same, but she was intimidated by his silence and kind of busy being infatuated with Landon.

            Mark and Jeaine sat across from her, snuggling and kissing. She was glad they had hit it off so quickly. They were such a cute couple.

            As if to reverse her thoughts, Jeaine said, "You and Landon are such a cute couple, Chelsea. Too bad he isn't here right now."

            "I don't know what he sees in you, but whatever it is it must be worth getting past the prickly part," Mark teased. They both knew he was kidding. It seemed at times that their friendship was in their arguments.

            "You know, Mark," she mused. "I cannot bring myself to believe that you really, truly hate me." Mark just smirked, for once not making a snide retort. She had caught him.

            "What about Landon?" asked Jeaine. "He's a nice guy, but he seems....troubled. Like he's carrying a burden or something." Mark shifted uncomfortably.

            "I don't blame him. He has a lot on his mind. I'm surprised he took his fate so well. I would have peed my pants I'd been in his shoes. Or his pants, however you want to put it." He stopped, as if realizing he'd said too much. Jeaine looked confused.

            "His fate? What's wrong? Is he going to die or something? He mentioned something about Blackmasks chasing him. Why?"

            Chasing me, Chelsea thought, wondering why he would think they were after him.

            "I'm not at liberty to say. Those are his secrets to tell," Mark said faithfully. "But don't worry; he's not a criminal or anything." He furrowed his brow. "Well, not really." She was wondering what he meant by that when Winterleaf spoke for the first time.

            "Wait, he didn't tell you?" he asked, addressing the women. It was obvious Mark knew. Suddenly, she felt resentful that he had told the men, but not her. Telling herself that she was in no position to be angry, she shook her head. She was such a hypocrite.

            Mark laughed lightly. "There is so much even you don't know about him, Winterleaf." How much was he hiding?

            "The way you talk about, it seem like his secret is quite a big deal," she said, fishing for some answers.

            "It is," he answered mysteriously. "I sometimes wonder if he's telling the truth, but he almost never lies. It's I don't even know.  Knowing him, nothing would be able to tear him out of Tiltook unless it was urgent. When he sets his mind to something, he doesn't stop. That man is driven. His sense of responsibility overrides everything else. Except maybe you, Chelsea." She felt surprisingly relieved that Mark thought Landon liked her that much. Mark had known Landon since he was little, he knew him better than anyone. That kind of thing was best heard from his best friend.

            "That's nice to hear," she said, smiling faintly. "Well, you can tell him that I think he's the most amazing person I've ever met. Yes, even you, Mark." He ran his hand through his hair absentmindedly, as if he was thinking about something else.

            "Yeah. Landon is a living legend," he said offhandedly, but his words held the weight of importance. Something about the way he'd said it suggested that he'd meant more than what she'd heard. Almost as if he'd meant it literally.

            Her speculation was cut short by Landon himself arriving, completely oblivious to the fact they had been talking about it him the moment before. He tossed down two rabbits and told Mark to cook it. He refused, saying that he hadn't the slightest idea how to cook a meal you would want to put near your mouth, so Jeaine took the initiative and started to cook the rabbits. Landon plopped down next to Chelsea and immediately took her hand. Feeling sleepy, she rested her head on his shoulder and waited for the food to be done. Normally, she would have insisted on helping, but at that moment she wanted to stay next to him forever. Besides, Jeaine would have disapproved if she'd abandoned Landon for something she could handle by herself. She was very supportive of their relationship.

            Dinner was much better than the usual, probably because Jeaine had cooked it. Before, either the men had done it or her, and she wasn't much better. She lacked experience in that certain area.

            Winterleaf didn't eat any meat, but he took whatever else they offered him. Plus he'd gathered a little bit of vegetables for himself along the way.

            When they were done eating, they set up their beds. Winterleaf had found a clearing that had a good view of the stars for them to set up camp. Mark and Jeaine, of course, slept close together—Kodan curled up next to them—and Winterleaf climbed a tree to sleep in. That left Landon and her a good enough space to themselves.

            She snuggled closer to Landon as a chilly breeze swept through the clearing.

            "Do you not like the wind?" he whispered, so as not to wake up the others. He looked slightly amused.

            "Only the cold wind," she whispered back. He laughed and a warm breeze found its way under her blankets. Maybe Mother Nature was listening in on their conversation.

            She lay there for a while, staring up at the stars. "The stars are beautiful here. They aren't near as bright in the city."

            "You live in a city?" he asked cautiously. He was testing to see how far he could go without prying.  After that entire conversation about Landon behind his back, she felt she owed him a hint.

            "Yes. It's pretty there, but nothing comparable to the scenery here." This was the perfect opportunity to tell him the truth. It was on the tip of her tongue, but she hesitated. She didn't want to ruin a moment like this.

            "I used to think that the stars were the most beautiful thing on earth," he said, pulling her closer into his arms. Her heart did a little flutter. "And then I met you." They kissed, and she thought she had never been happier. She was too wooed to worry about secrets at the moment.

            Unfortunately, that wasn't going to last very long.


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