Niana stared as the Rider rode away, abandoning her in the darkness. Some of the silvery gas that had poured from Zana’s wounds remained, though it had now condensed into a liquid form. Niana was scared now, the façade of courage gone. She now understood the fear that infected her people. As soon as she had heard the first scream, she had felt the fear spread like disease. And yet, her perhaps foolish curiosity took over again. She was desperate to know more about the Riders, particularly the one that saved them.
She began heading down the stream, using it to guide her way back home. There were faster ways to do it, but after her experience with the Riders, she didn’t want to risk getting lost. Despite this, she was still torn to take the shortcut. If the kind Rider was taking Zana home, she wanted to get to her quickly. She may have disliked Zana, but she did save Niana life.
Deciding, for possibly the first time in her life, that it would be better to be safe than sorry, she headed down the stream. The splashing of the stream was the only sound she could hear, and it gave her comfort. The woods were utterly black, the stream slightly illuminated by the starlight. It was her little piece of light and hope as she headed home.
The air around her had grown even more bitterly cold, now that the Riders had brought their night with them. She regretted falling in the snow because there was a small amount of ice in clothes. She’d be lucky if she didn’t freeze.
It was about two miles to get to their small settlement, a short distance for her, but in the dark it may have been ten. What scared her were not the sounds of animals scurrying through the trees, but the lack of it. Hearing the animals meant life, but silence meant death.
The image of Zana’s expressionless face as she was taken away remained in Niana’s mind. She had looked dead, worse than dead, and Niana knew that this was her fault. She made a silent promise to herself that she would never allow someone to be hurt for her again.
Niana blinked back tears of fear and kept her eyes focused on what was ahead of her, the moonlight stream curving off into the forest. Soon, she knew, it would join the larger River and then she would be home. She could find Zana and tell her that she was so sorry and would do anything to help. Saving her would make them even again. Neither would owe the other anything.
The sound of the stream changed and just by that sound, Niana knew she was almost home. It’s just around the corner, she told herself. You’ll be okay. The trees grew thinner, as she passed the next turn in the stream, giving way to the rocky hills and the river. The river was a mirror image of the night sky, dark blue and reflecting the light of the stars. A tower stood amongst the rocks on the hill, a burning fire at the top. That fire cast its light dimly of the little valley hidden within the cliffs.
Niana was used to this sight, but this time she detected the small change. On the opposite side of the river, a dark hooded man stood. In his arms, he held a limp figure with long dark hair. He set the figure down gently beside the river, arranging her limbs as if she could be sleeping. Though it was hard to tell, Niana swore that he looked in her direction, before he mounted his horse and rode off into the forest.
After seeing this, Niana sprinted the hundred yards to the bridge that connected the two sides of the river. Without slowing down, she ran across the large stone structure and to Zana. Once she stood by the unconscious girl’s side, Niana fell to her knees.
Zana’s sleek hair, as black as the night, framed her face which was the color of the snow around her. Her normally blue eyes were half open, but had turned silver. The shimmered like the stream in the starlight. She remained still, but chest rose and fell with life. She was alive.