Part Eight

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Rucksacks were packed with all the necessary equipment for a long walking journey. Dried meats and other foods, flasks of water, clothing and blankets. There was a medieval substitute for a first aid kit packed in one, a map in another. There were other things buried deep, but Eli didn't remember what they were.

He had a sword in a sheath attached to his belt, an image he had dreamed and daydreamed of as a young boy. He played imaginary games as a knight, fighting against armies and evil kings and winning over princess's hearts. The normal things for a kid to do.

He never thought that one day that image would come true, even if it wasn't in the way he imagined it. There was no army, an evil Mage instead of a king, and there certainly was no princess. For that, he was grateful. He would have preferred a prince.

As he thought the words he found his eyes drifting to Korian, who was still sorting out the packs. There were two of them, one for each of them. When he saw Eli looking, he smiled and waved him over.

Eli wandered the two short metres to the little table Korian was standing at, watching the other man attempt to shove a badly folded shirt into a rucksack. He stifled a laugh, shaking his head at the man.

Korian shushed him, eyes narrowed jokingly. "How are you feeling?" he asked, face twisting in concern. Eli had been quiet the last couple of days since the funeral. Even Eli himself didn't know why. Part of him was still guilty, his self-hatred at letting Amos die felt like a rock in his stomach. Another part of him was nervous for the journey ahead, finding the sword, defeating the Mage and saving the realm. It was a lot to pile on the eighteen-year old's shoulders.

"I am..." he trailed off, struggling to think of the word. He hadn't been taught the one for overwhelmed. Maybe Amos thought he wouldn't have a use for it. "Tired," he substituted instead, finding that it didn't quite convey his feelings, but it was the best he could muster.

Korian stopped what he was doing, reaching up and placing a hand on Eli's shoulder. It was something he did a lot, and Eli was beginning to find comfort in it. "It will be okay," he said, hand drifting down Eli's arm before pulling away. "Nearly done. Then we go."

Eli sighed and nodded, turning away from his newfound friend. He needed some fresh air. He wandered outside, his sneakers squeaking against the wood. They were up in the tree base in the forest, had been since the funeral. It was safer there than in the village. For all they knew, the village was being watched by the Mage. The forest was also still mostly alright.

The Mage's attack had sapped some of the magic from the forest, enough to make some of the shrubs wilt and the leaves fall. It was not bad enough for them to need to move somewhere else, but soon it would be. The sap of the magic would spread and soon enough the forest would be as dead and dismal as the one Eli woke up in almost three weeks ago.

As far as he knew the village still wasn't going well. They had about two months' worth of food before they would begin to starve. Korian had told them that he would gather as much magic as possible on their journey. Mostly so that he could protect himself and Eli, and help the village as much as possible when they got back.

Eli had noticed how weak Korian was looking since the Mage had attacked. His skin was much paler than it normally was, and he was struggling to lift things. All Korian had told him was that he was unused to not having magic within him. Eli hoped that during their journey he would begin to feel better as they got to a livelier place.

He sat on the edge of the platform, looking out over the trees. On the other platforms buried within the leaves of the tall trees, he could see other people wandering around. There weren't many, as the base wasn't very highly populated. Korian had told him that most of them had run from the Mage's castle with him as the city was being sacked. They helped build the base from the little tree house it used to be.

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