Naida wanted to quit. She wanted to give up, to crawl on home and mourn Kane in peace. She didn’t want to be in some god forsaken forest chasing after someone whose trail she may or may not be following. She didn’t want to be hungry, exhausted and aching. After sleeping on a bed of sticks the night before, Naida was wishing for the soft mattress and blankets which she had taken for granted. Instead, all she had was a tired horse.
And then, as if her day wasn’t going bad enough, it started to rain. Naida scowled as her wet hair became plastered to her face. She tried to sweep it away, but it stuck. With a sigh, she spurred her horse to walk a little faster, not that it did any good. She was getting drenched either way. The rain fell harder, in icy sheets which tore through the forest. After a terribly long time, Naida was shivering and miserable when she spotted a low overhang of rock on the side of a small cliff.
“Yah,” she said, steering her horse towards it. It was dry underneath, so that was something, at least. Naida got off of her horse and huddled in the small alcove, wishing she had a few matches for a fire. Her clothes felt like they weighed ten pounds, and hung off of her limply. Naida’s hair had come out of its braid and her boots were filled with water. At least the blood on her mace had gotten washed off by the rain.
Leaning against the sharp rock, Naida tried to get comfortable. It didn’t work very well. She closed her eyes, tried to sleep. That didn’t work very well either. With groan, Naida instead fell to thinking.
What was she doing out here?
Chasing the knight.
He killed Kane.
Okay. So that was that. And if she caught him, what would she do?
The faces of the men Naida had killed flashed through her mind. She had extinguished their lives like they were nothing. They had ceased to exist because of her. Because of her. Naida had been able to do it in the heat of the moment, but could she look the knight in the eye and take his life, with full knowledge of what she was doing?
She would be damned for that, wouldn’t she?
But then, she already was, wasn’t she?
And then there was Kane. Was this what Kane would want? Naida faltered. Did she really know?
Perhaps it was. He wasn’t here to ask, was he? Naida thought with a stab of anger and loss. But there was still something that was nagging at her. What did she get out of this?
Revenge. Satisfaction. Justice. Closure.
Naida frowned. Was it worth it?
Her mind said yes, but Naida couldn’t help but wonder if maybe this whole thing was a foolish, rash decision. After all, assuming she did kill the knight, and his companions let her live, then what? She would go back to her house, her family, and she would still be without Kane. Nothing she could do would bring him back. All Naida would accomplish by killing Cian would be taking another life. However guilty he was, this still made her stomach churn. Could she live with herself after killing someone in cold blood, premeditated and callous?
Something rattled the bushes just outside of Naida’s little alcove. She whipped her head towards the sound, but saw nothing but rain pattering on the leaves. Relaxing again, Naida leaned her head back against the rock when, without warning, a screech spit the air.
Naida jumped up so fast that she cracked her head off of the roof of the alcove. She rubbed it resentfully and frowned. Her headache had just been going away. Stepping forward cautiously, Naida peeked out of her shelter, up over the lip of the overhang and a startlingly blue monkey shoved its face in hers. Baring its teeth, it shrieked at her.
Letting out a cry of her own, Naida stumbled back, hitting her head off of the rock again. She swore loudly, but the monkey had disappeared. Leaving the safety of her cave, Naida stepped out into the rain and looked up onto the grassy ledge. She couldn’t see anything. Gripping the edge with both hands, Naida pushed up off of the ground and used her arms to pull herself the rest of the way up onto the high grassy area. She wiped her mud streaked palms off on her pants and then looked up.
Her jaw dropped. The trees up there were teeming with those powder blue monkeys, swinging from branch to branch, screeching and playing. If the rain had been any quieter, she would’ve been able to hear them from down below, and much farther away as well. There were so many that Naida couldn’t hope to count them, for as soon as her eyes locked on one, it would disappear, swinging behind a tree or up to another branch.
One of the monkeys hopped over, screeched, and ran off. Naida grinned. It was kind of cute. Then, a brave group of three darted close, screeched and disappeared as well. Naida frowned. More came, doing the same before running off. Something was-
There were no more monkeys in the trees. Only the sound of the rain beating filled the forest as Naida stood and looked at the horde of monkeys on the ground, staring at her. They no longer looked quite so cute and fuzzy. In fact, they looked downright deadly.
They hadn’t been playing with her.
They had been marking her.
Naida turned and jumped from her ledge straight onto the saddle of her horse. She landed with a thump and a grunt, but didn’t have time to worry about gentleness. Kicking the horse in the side, she screamed, “Yah!” and Naida and her horse set off in a random direction at a sprint.
The monkeys streamed down over the side of the overhang like water flowing over a cliff. They screeched, jumped and ran, using their arms and legs to gallop behind her. Naida urged her horse to go faster. Out of the corner of her eye, she spotted a blue blur in the trees, and a monkey swung off of a branch and caught her horse’s tail. The horse whinnied in pain and kicked out with its hind legs to dislodge the monkey. Naida slid forward, gripping onto the reigns for dear life as they slammed back to the ground. The monkey was still hanging on. Naida swung the mace up from her belt and smacked the monkey in the side of the head. It let go.
There was a coating of purple blood on her mace blade.
“Faster,” Naida hissed. “Faster!” The monkeys were closing in. There were so many of them that Naida couldn’t see the ground behind her, only a swarm of blue. She tugged on the reigns, making her horse weave in and out of the trees, hoping to lose them.
To try and lose a monkey in a forest was hopeless.
To try and lose a hundred monkeys in a forest was a hundred times as hopeless. Still, Naida had to try. Her horse’s breath came in ragged bursts, but it kept going. It must have realized the gravity of the situation. Or maybe it just didn’t want its tail pulled again. Regardless, Naida was thankful.
With another quick turn and a gallop down the side of a rocky hill, they gained a few seconds of breathing room. Still, the monkeys were far too close, and there were too many of them. With the slightest hesitation, they would pounce, and Naida and her horse wouldn’t stand a chance. Hooves pounding hard into the dirt, the horse galloped until a monkey’s hands grasped its neck, pulling at its mane. The horse shook, screeching, then reared up and
She flew through the air, hitting the ground with a thump and crashing right through it. Naida landed flat on her back, dazed and tingling from the impact. For a moment, she couldn’t feel her limbs, she couldn’t feel her head. And then there was the pain. She could feel her body now, but she certainly didn’t want to.
Naida lay there for a moment before slowly bushing herself up onto her elbows. She touched her leg and felt blood where the mace had swung into her from its place on her belt. Her head hurt more than ever, and she felt like every inch of her body was bruised. Wincing, she sat up and looked around. Her eyes adjusting to the dim light, Naida wasn’t quite sure what she was seeing at first.
It seemed that she had landed in some kind of underground tunnel. It was dark, but she could make out stone walls. The floor was dirt, which was fortunate, for if it had been stone as well, Naida might have broken every bone in her body. That was if she hadn’t already.
Through the thin light streaming down from the hole Naida had punched with her body, she could make out a few runes on the wall. Frowning, she stood up, ignoring the pain which flared as she did so. Walking stiffly towards the wall, Naida ran her hand over the flowing symbols, her ring making a clanging sound against the stone. Immediately, several lights lit up, spanning the length of the corridor she was in and beyond. They faded into specks far down the long hallway.
Naida frowned. Should she try to make her way back up to the top? But for what? Her horse had surely been overtaken by the monkeys by now, and it didn’t have any supplies worth salvaging. Of course, if she were on the surface, she could go home, but for some reason that plan wasn’t as appealing without a horse to ride. Naida’s third option was to follow this corridor, see where it led. What would it hurt?
Limping, Naida set off down the hallway, hoping she was making the right choice, even if it meant abandoning her revenge plan. Though she would never admit it to anyone, Naida was secretly relived that she wouldn’t be faced with the decision of whether or not to kill Cian. Either way, she couldn’t see that ending well for her state of mind.
As her footsteps echoed off the stone walls, one thought kept circling around Naida’s mind. She pushed it down, but it resurfaced. She knocked it away, but it snuck back in. Finally, she gave in and let it reverberate in her mind. The thought which Naida expected would haunt her for a long time.
You’ve let Kane down.