The early morning twittering of birds roused her the following morning, only to find that her host had already abandoned her.
Aria stood up, letting her eyes sweep the camp site as she hastily fetched and fastened on the armor pieces she had cast aside that night. The fire was long since out, with only tendrils of steam rising from the smoldering remains. The leather sack she had emptied of its contents – a loaf of bread and a steel flask full of water – was no longer where she remembered leaving it. And near the plant shrouded boulder, only a shallow depression in the earth marked where the man known as Reon had slept.
“Damn,” she cursed under her breath as she tied the straps of her battered old helmet under her chin. Somehow the warm rays of the rising sun felt chilly against her skin, and the birdsong that filled the forest air sounded like the cries of creatures that had been disturbed by the waking of something foreign…something malicious and cruel. The shobatsu was out there, she could feel it in her bones and with a certainty she could neither explain nor justify, she knew the thing was out there, hunting for her.
I have to find a way out of here, Aria mused. Then with a swift look around, peering into the dense woodland around, she added; If I knew where I was, I could figure out a way to the Kami Road.
The only problem with that was, the one person who could tell her exactly what she needed to know was already gone.
“Reon?” She called out. Only the call of the waking creatures of the woods replied her, and after a moment, she tried again; “Reon?”
She shook her head, mentally chastising herself for her naivety. Bending over, Aria plucked up a loose blade of grass, and took a deep breath while holding the grass blade out before her like an ancient ward. Using your gifts for every little situation, she could almost hear a familiar elderly voice say, you really are a spoilt little brat.
Aria closed her eyes as she let out the breath she had been holding, and focused on a picture of the great road that ran the length of the land. She could see the smooth, paved, stone surface of the famous Kami Road, flanked along both sides at irregular intervals by giant stone statues depicting the great kami whose power was said to have raised the very road from the earth itself in a day and a night. She imagined into that picture, the large caravans and chitin-beast riders slowly making their way along the level path, with others on foot, laughing and chatting away with friends and loved ones on their journey…
The blade of grass perked up in her two handed grasp, and in that inexplicable way she had known since the age of eight, she could feel the thrum of arcane power in the air as the sorcery she weaved began to take effect. The grass around her began to whip around in a circular pattern, and she could feel the blade she held following suit…
Suddenly she felt sharp pinpricks on her flesh, and opened her eyes with a yelp, dropping the blade of grass as it disintegrated into wispy dust. She took off in a direction that she dimly recognized as being northwest, biting back her bottom lip to keep from screaming. Fear brought a renewed surge of adrenaline that allowed her to run as hard as she could.
In the distance, the shobatsu opened its eyes, and crowed wordlessly. It had found its prey.