Chapter Nine

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Follow the Leader

"What? What is it?" Evangeline shouted unsure of what was happening.

She scanned her surroundings rapidly in search of the scream. Everything appeared normal. The men were asleep, snoring as loudly as ever and the camp seemed undisturbed. Heaving a sigh of relief, she felt herself relax a bit. Perhaps she had only dreamt it.

Leaning over to grab her waterskin, she noticed that Ryhan was gone. Panicking would only make things worse so she forced herself to calm down before getting up and searching for her. Losing control of her powers only happened when she was distraught or panicked and she could not allow herself to be either.

There had been no signs of a struggle at camp, which meant that Ryhan must have gotten up and left on her own. She listened intently to her surroundings, sensing nothing out of the ordinary she headed toward the tree line. Using their connection, she tried to call out to her. An image of a fallen tree and Ryhan sprawled on the ground flooded her vision.

Rushing into the woods at night and alone was not a smart thing to do but she did, without hesitating. Another scream echoed off the trees. This time she recognized that it was Ryhan. Sprinting faster she willed the forest to aid her in her search. Asking for help with her mind and heart, she felt its response in the lack of obstacles in her path.

She did not have a clear idea of what direction she was heading, but could tell that she was getting closer to Ryhan as the connection between them grew stronger. The next scream was so close it stopped her in her tracks.

"Ryhan? Where are you?" She called out.

There was no reply. She spotted a fallen tree to the right and slowly approached it.

"Ryhan?" She called out softly. "Are you there?"

She scoured the immediate area and found no signs of her. Confused she called out to her again. Nothing. It was possible that there was more than one fallen tree in the forest. She turned to head back and felt something hard hit her in the back of the head. Before she could face her attacker, she heard the branch crack as it hit its target again.

Evangeline fell to the ground as the world spun around her. Her head felt full and fuzzy and it was hard for her to focus. She held her head in her hands hoping it would make her feel more stable. It did not, and she cursed aloud when she pulled her hand away and found it covered in blood.

Uncertainty and fear began to creep into her thoughts and she felt herself starting to get overwhelmed. She crawled over to the tree, and leaned against it. Her head throbbed a lot when she sat up, but it dissipated quickly. Using her calming techniques, she steadied her thoughts and emotions. She was not sure how much time she had, but she was not going to be useful in that condition.

She pictured the wound in her mind and sensed a crack in her skull, but that was not the worst of her injury. Going deeper, she found a part of her brain that was bleeding, pretty badly, and went to work on healing herself. It took longer than normal and it was hard for her to concentrate for fear of her attacker returning. When her vision returned to normal and she felt like she had done as much as she could do for herself, she stood ready to face whatever was out there.

Scolding herself for not being more aware of her surroundings, she proceeded carefully back toward the beach. She would go back and get the rest of the crew to help her search when the sun was up and they had the advantage. When she reached the campsite, Ryhan had returned. Muddy tears streaked her face and her clothes were torn and shredded in places.

"Are you alright?" Evangeline asked, rushing to comfort her.

"I don't know what happened." Ryan replied franticly. By then most of the crew was awake and Ryhan had become conscious of their stares.

"Where have you been? I was worried, I went looking for you?" Evangeline wanted the truth before the crew started asking questions she couldn't answer.

Ryhan's eyes filled with tears, "I don't know! I just woke up in the middle of the woods. I don't know how I got there. I ran back here as fast as I could and you were gone too. I didn't know what had happened." She cried.

Evangeline wrapped her arms around her and tried to be comforting.

"Were you dreaming of him again?" She asked already knowing the answer.

Ryhan nodded, wiping her face and gaining composure.

Evangeline thought she looked angry, and seeing her angry was much better than seeing her helpless. At least if she was angry she could fight back. Evangeline told Ryhan everything that happened after she woke up and waited patiently for her to explain her side of the events.

"Just take your time, tell me what you remember as it comes to you." Evangeline encouraged her.

"I was dreaming about the city of Aurora and a man named Adaro. He was in some sort of underwater cave where he kept souls of the dead to do his bidding. It was awful; they were trapped, bound to him, by some sort of dark magic. They could not move on and were miserable existing there in a place they don't belong. It was painful to see.

"The man, Adaro, he didn't look at me or speak directly to me, but he knew I was there watching him. I could not leave. I tried to wake up. I tried to do the things you told me, but I had no control. Then Axiom was there and he was laughing that wicked laugh of his, sending rakes of painful chills up and down my spine. He whispered something in my ear."

She paused as if she weren't sure if she wanted to say any more, but continued after a long hesitation, "He said, 'You will never escape, no matter where you go, who you hide behind, you will never escape who you really are and the power you have.' and I screamed.

"I screamed because I was afraid he was right and because I wanted him to be right. Adaro looked at me after that. He looked right into my eyes," She shuddered and suppressed a sob, "his eyes were pure black. Like they were made of nothing, just a deep void that could suck the life out of you if you stared at them too long.

"But he was handsome at the same time and smiled as if he were tempting me to do something. Wanting me to give in to something that only he could offer me. Only I wasn't sure what it was. But whatever it was, it felt...GOOD. And I wanted it. I tried to resist, I fought as long as I could, but then I just took his hand.

"Axiom was gone and all I could see was those dark eyes in front of me. Sucking me in. I panicked, screamed, and unleashed my powers letting go of all control. I felt the heat on my skin, but there were no flames."

She was sobbing hysterically and Evangeline reached out for her but Ryhan swatted her hand away. She could feel Ryhan's desperation to finish and so she let her continue.

"There were no flames. At first, I did not understand, and then Axioms voice was in my head. 'Don't you know what happens to fire when you drown the flames in water?' His laughter was unbearable. I was suffocating. Not only suffocating, but all my strength waned, I could not fight. Everything went dark and then I woke up in the forest."

Evangeline gave her a few moments to collect herself. She was not sure how to respond to what Ryhan had just told her, or how to help her keep Axiom from entering her dreams. Adaro was a mystery as well. The only thing she was sure of was that they needed to get through this journey and back to Bastriean as quickly as possible.

Sitting down next to Ryhan she told her as sincerely as she could, "We will figure out a way to keep him out of your head. I promise."

Ryhan angrily replied, "Yeah? How? Because your little technique isn't working."

"I know, but maybe the elves have some sort of herbal remedy, or some knowledge of a way that will work. I will find something." She told her.

Ryhan said nothing just worked with the crew to gather up the few supplies they found. Evangeline gave her some space. She knew it was only a matter of time before Ryhan started taking her anger out on someone. Only she had hoped it would be the enemy instead of her. She seemed to be unraveling more and more each day and Evangeline was worried about her.

Ryhan needed rest and some proper training, but unfortunately, Evangeline could not give her that yet. She hoped that Ryhan could hold on to herself, long enough to get where they needed to go.

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