I've had all but the last few paragraphs done for a while now. Shame on me.
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Despite Pike’s wishes, they traveled in the daytime. Pike insisted he was more comfortable in a forest at night, but was overruled by the two desert dwellers and Ekuar refused to take a side. They argued that there was shelter now in the trees and so would be better to travel in the light so they didn’t trip on an unseen root, or run into a beehive, etc. He got used to it, and usually ended up taking quick naps during the day on Hotburr and then taking first watch at night.
Their first real trouble occurred on their eighth day; Shenshen was gathering some plants and roots that Pike had pointed out to her, and didn’t notice the creature creeping up behind her. It was a large lizard or frog”¦ it was hard to tell, but it had claws and teeth and slimy skin, and made a bubbling growl before it leapt for her. She saw it in the last second and screamed, managing to roll away from a blow, but ripped her skirt in the process. She scrambled for her sword, as her spear was out of reach, but fumbled, dropping it into the marshy grass. She frantically searched for it, but the creature reared back, intent on striking. She squeezed her eyes shut waiting for the blow, but heard only a loud wailing screech instead.
Her eyes opened, and she saw Rayek with her spear. He’d jabbed the creature in the side, but it was still moving, and it was angry. Rayek yelled at her to go, but her leg felt twisted, and it was difficult to get up. She managed to get to a tree and pull herself to her feet as she watched Rayek try to stay out of the creature’s way. He’d had his dagger in hand now, as the spar was still jammed into the thing’s side, and made slashes in the thing’s skin, but nothing seemed to slow it down.
After a few moments of fighting, Rayek locked eyes with the creature and his eyes flashed strangely. The creature halted and that gave him a window to drive the blade deep into the lizard’s chest, causing the thing to topple over to the ground, limp.
Rayek pulled the dagger out, and wiped it on the grass, then brushed off his scrapes, hissing only at one long gash on his arm, and then made his way to Shenshen. “You should have run away.”
Shenshen shook her head. “I hurt my ankle. I’m just glad you were here to help.” She was about to say more, but her eyes opened wide when she saw the creature moving again. It took a swing at Rayek, knocking him to the ground, before yelping and falling limp again. Pike pulled his spear out of the beast and quickly asked if the other two were all right.
Shenshen, her heart racing, only nodded. Pike then turned to Rayek, and offered his hand to help him up, but the hunter swatted it away. “I don’t need your help!” He snapped.
To that, Shenshen shook off her shock and glared at her companion. “He just saved your life! How can you be so rude?!”
Rayek huffed, getting to his feet. “I didn’t ask to be saved.”
“Neither did I.” She frowned, poking him in the chest. “You’re going to learn someday that other people besides you have worth, your way is not necessarily the best way, and maybe people do nice things for you not because they admire you, but because they think you’re worth something.” She turned away, crossed her arms, added softly, “And maybe you will realize that Leetah wasn’t the only person who cared about you.” Without waiting for a response, she walked away.
Rayek stood there a moment, speechless, then slowly regained his posture, and crossed his arms. “She’s just as huffy as her sister.” He then looked over his shoulder at the Wolfrider as if expecting an answer.
Pike, almost surprised that he had even been acknowledged, hesitated a moment, then pulled the second spear out of the creature, and decided on a reply. “You’re welcome, black hair.” He said with a frown, and followed Shenshen.
For days afterward, Shenshen refused to speak to Rayek. At first Pike thought she was being silly, as all her actions did was make Rayek brood even more than usual; but then he remembered when Joyleaf and Bearclaw had a fight that drove them apart just before they Recognized. He laughed at the thought of what Cutter might say to Rayek being compared to his father.
Although he thought she was being foolish, Pike did his best to cheer Shenshen up by giving her flowers, or telling her stories, or even just keeping her company at night. When the forest became less swampy and drier, Rayek and Ekuar took to sleeping in caves while Pike and Shenshen stayed outdoors; Pike because he wanted to, Shenshen because she refused to stay with Rayek.
There were days of silence, only broken by Ekuar trying to lighten the mood, where Pike wasn’t even sure why they were still traveling. They’d found Rayek, and yet they were moving away from the Sun Village. Annoyed with the actions by the other two that he couldn’t seem to understand, he thought of turning back”¦ but he was no leader, and he didn’t want to be alone. For all purposes, Shenshen was his chief now”¦ until they returned.
But the discontent between the Villagers didn’t last. As they traveled, the air became cooler and the season was in its change. Already Pike could see some of the leaves changing their colors. On a particularly cold night, while Pike and Shenshen were looking for a spot to sleep, a quiet call came from the cave nearby.
She turned around, at first in anger, but it soon melted away when she saw the look on Rayek’s face. It was close to the look he’d had at his defeat at the Bridge of Destiny, and even Pike couldn’t help but feel something for him.
Shenshen waited for a reply, but Rayek only looked away, as if annoyed at himself for speaking. After a moment, she walked to him and he looked at her, and whispered something that even Pike couldn’t quite catch. Shenshen snapped back at him and put her hands on her hips, but Rayek only stared her in the eyes and said softly, “I don’t want to be alone anymore.”
In that moment, Shenshen’s heart went out to him and the two disappeared into the cave, which closed behind them, no doubt Ekuar’s doing. Pike only watched it happen with a heavy feeling in his gut. Something about the exchange, while in the Holt with his own tribe, would be a normal thing, this felt like a loss to him. Shenshen’s people didn’t play by the same rules the Wolfriders did, and Pike felt more lost and confused than ever.
Suddenly, so much so that he nearly fell off the limb on which he perched, came a quiet, shaky, untrained sending from the cave below. **I win, Wolfrider**