Richard’s horse plotted through the undergrowth that was taking over the trail. They had been riding for nearly two hours. The sun had been up for a while. It was already getting hot.
He glanced at Brianna. She was tired and sweating too. Her eyes drooped in tiredness and exhaustion from the recent events. He knew that he had to look about the same as her, if not worse.
The end of the forest came into view. They were about to enter the swamp lands. It would be about another two hours of that. Richard was tempted to let them stop and rest. The thought of Katie being stuck in that prison was the only thing that kept him going.
“Richard,” Brianna said. He turned to look at her. “Do you think Katie will be okay?”
“Yes, I do,” he answered. She went silent again.
They walked past the last few trees and came out into the swamp lands. The ground under the horses’ hooves was wet and squishy. Plants and vegetation grew along the path they took. It was very moist here.
The horses’ hooves sunk a little in the wet ground. They plotted through the mush, not seeming to be bothered by it. Richard was glad for that much. He only wished they could go faster through here.
If he could, he would run them through the swamps. He knew, though, that doing so would put them in danger. They could sink into the mushy ground and break a leg. If that happened, they would have to walk to rest of the way.
Richard looked over and saw that Brianna was fiddling with bracelet around her wrist. She didn’t appear to notice that she was messing with it. When she saw Richard looking at it, she released it.
“How are we going to break into Hellio?” she asked him. Richard shook his head. He had gone over many ways he could get in, but none seemed possible. He knew it was stupid. His emotions were pulling into a fierce battle of how to save her.
He knew that if they captured her, she was of some use to them. So they wouldn’t kill her. At least, not yet. He intended to rescue her before the thought of killing her entered their minds.
“We will find a way,” Richard whispered.
“How long until the city?” she asked.
“A little over an hour and a half,” he replied. Brianna nodded.
“Richard,” she whispered again.
“What is it?” he asked her.
“Promise me you won’t risk your life for me,” she said. He turned to look at her, but she wouldn’t give him eye contact.
“What?” he asked in a heated voice.
“If we get into trouble and I’m likely to get killed, don’t risk yourself to save me,” she said.
“Why?” he asked with exasperation.
“Because Katie needs you,” she said with her eyebrows raised. Richard remained silent. He wasn’t going to promise her anything of that nature.
He noticed that she wore her traveling clothes. She had probably been staying up last night. Why else would she be wearing them? She had her cloak around her shoulders and her good black traveling boots on. Had she been expecting to travel?
Richard looked down at his own clothes. He was filthy. His clothes were covered in dirty and, in some places, blood. He hadn’t realized it until now. He ran his fingers through his hair. At least his hair was clear.
The sword that Myles gave him, the Divine Sword, sat on his hip. Brianna had his old sword around her waist. She always had her hand on the hilt, ready for anything. Richard was proud of her.
She wasn’t much of a fighter, but lately she seemed to be ready to kill anyone that stood on her way. She was truly a friend to Katie, by coming out here to save her.
They rode for nearly an hour in silence. Brianna looked like she were falling asleep on her horse. Richard felt the same way.
He let his head drop. Starring at the horse’s neck, Richard sighed in tiredness. He couldn’t think of a way to break into the prison. He also briefly wondered where he was going to look for Katie. The prison was huge.
“Richard!” Brianna said. He lifted his head so quickly that he felt it crack. Placing a hand on his neck, he looked up.
Standing twenty feet from them was someone in all white clothes. A hood covered their face, so Richard couldn’t tell if it were a man or woman. The person stood tall with a muscular body. The person was simply waiting. Was he or she waiting for them. He or she didn’t appear to be a threat, but Richard knew that looks could be deceiving.
Richard pulled the reins of his horse to stop it right in front of the person. Brianna stopped her mare next to him. He jumped down from his horse. Brianna made to do the same.
“No,” he said. “Stay up there.” Brianna settled herself with a huff. Richard cautiously walked forward until he stood nearly twenty feet away from the person. He placed his hand on the hilt of his sword.
“Who are you?” Richard asked.
“My name is Ari,” a female voice said. She reached up and pulled the hood free of her head.
Long dark brown hair tumbled down the woman’s back and over her shoulders. Her full lips tightened into a smile as she looked Richard up and down. Her round cheeks displayed the smile well. She had pale skin and deep dark eyes.
She took a step forward and her clothes swirled around her form. It was then that Richard noticed that she was wearing a dress. She was much shorter than he; at least a head shorter. She wasn’t slim, exactly, but she was overweight either.
She stopped right in front of Richard and smiled again. Her dark eyes searched his as he waited for her to say something. His hand still rested on the hilt of his sword.
“Perhaps you do not remember me,” she said in a silky voice that complemented her femininity.
“I’m sorry,” he said as he took a step back. She was stunningly beautiful.
“Of coarse not,” Ari said. “It has been many years now.”
“You wouldn’t mind explaining to me, would you? If not, we must be going. We are in a big rush,” Richard said as politely as he could.
“I know who you seek,” she said. “My baby sister.”
“What?” he said, confused.
“You are looking for Katie, no?” she said with a sly smile.
“How do you know that?” he asked, a little unnerved.
“I have my ways,” she said.
“What can you tell me about her?” he asked.
“Only that she was taken to Hellio. But, that is not important,” she said.
“Not important?” Richard repeated.
“No, not at all. The only important thing is that when you rescue her, you must not let her be captured again,” Ari said. “You need to understand that plays an important role in this struggle. If she is killed, which Lord Zarha plans on doing soon, then all else will fail. Even you.”
Richard starred at her for a long time. He found it strange that this woman came out of nowhere to warn him about something he already knew about.
“You might ask why I am saying this,” she said, reading his thoughts. Richard wondered if she read them through his eyes. “And you have reason to. But you will understand when the time comes.”
Richard nodded, not sure what he agreeing to.
“There is something else,” she said. She took a quick look at Brianna before leaning in the whisper in his ear. “She will betray you.”
Richard looked at her and saw that her was looking up at Brianna on her horse. Richard looked up for a moment before starring her down again.
“What do you mean?” he asked.
“I shall say no more,” Ari said. Richard hated people who were so unclear about things like this. “That is all you need to know.”
“Who are you?” he asked.
“I have already told you,” Ari said.
“No, I meant, who are you? Where did you come from? How do you know Katie?” he asked.
“I came from an island, which you probably never heard of, and probably will never hear about. I know Katie because she is my little sister; the same as you would know your own brother,” Ari said. She took a step away. Her dress flowed around her body with grace.
“But she never mentioned you,” Richard said. Ari started walking around Richard’s horse, towards the way them had come.
“No, I bet she didn’t,” Ari said. “I have not seen her for years, but she knows how I am, none-of-the-less.”
Richard followed her around the horses.
“Are you an elf?” he asked. She smiled, but didn’t say anything. She walked further away.
“Where are you going?” he asked. She turned her back and continued to walk. Richard took a few steps after her.
“Back to my home,” she said. “I probably won’t ever see you again. Tell her how you feel, Richard. And do not regret things that have already happened. All things were destine to happen and there is nothing you can do about it.”
“Wait!” Richard shouted to her. Her hair fluttered around in the light breeze. “I have questions.”
“Farewell, Richard,” Ari said. She took a step into the forest and turned back. “I trust you will treat my baby sister well.” And with that, she turned and entered the forest. Richard took a step forward to follow her. He blinked and when he looked at the place she had been, she was gone.
“Richard,” Brianna said from atop her horse. “What did she tell you?”
“Nothing very important,” he whispered as he starred at the place where Ari had vanished from. He turned and carefully climbed atop his own horse. “We must get to the city as quick as possible. Then we can go to Hellio and save Katie.”
Together, they urged their horse into a quick trot.
"This extract remains the exclusive property of the author who retains all copyright and other intellectual property rights in the work. It may not be stored, displayed, published, reproduced or used by any person or entity for any purpose without the author's express permission and authority."