Thia kept her focus on Jinaari’s back. Night had started to creep through the forest, though it would be an hour before the sun set. The dense woods created a canopy that made the light fade faster.
The paladin held up one hand, and she stopped. He whistled out three distinctive notes. “What are you doing?” she asked.
He turned around and looked at her, one finger against his lips. Instantly, she started scanning the area. Was something about to attack them?
From the path in front of them, the same three notes echoed back at them. Jinaari nodded, “Come on,” he said, “they’re here.” He raised his voice, calling out, “In the camp!”
“Come to the fire and eat something,” a male voice retorted.
He led her around a large boulder, and she saw the campsite. A small fire, sheltered by the rocks, burned in the center. A pair of tents sat to one side. Two people, a man and woman, both rose to greet them. Instinctively, Thia checked to make sure her hood was up. “About time you got here,” the man said, clasping Jinaari’s arm in greeting. “Caelynn was getting worried.” He inclined his head to the pink-haired elf.
“I was not,” the woman shot back. Her face, curious, looked past Jinaari to Thia. “I thought you were going to bring Kathra?”
“That’s another story,” he replied. “Adam, Caelynn, this is Thia Bransdottir. She’s a priestess of Keroys. She’ll be joining us.”
Thia muttered a greeting, keeping her hands covered. Her hood was still up, and she stayed out of the firelight. If they didn’t see her until the morning, she might live through the night.
“These are the two we’re going to work with,” Jinaari whispered. “Try relaxing a little sometime.”
Adam looked at her, his head cocked to one side. “Welcome, Thia. If you travel with Jinaari, you’re welcome to join us. Are you hungry?” he pointed at the pot suspended above the fire.
“Any trouble so far?” Jinaari asked as Caelynn handed her a steaming bowl of stew.
Thia took the bowl, watching the elf to see if she reacted to her dark skin. The woman simply smiled and moved to where she’d been sitting earlier. That’s a good sign, she thought. Stop being paranoid. Keroys sent me here. He wouldn’t have done so if they would shun me immediately. The warmth of the stew seeped through the bowl, making her realize how cold her hands had gotten. Turning slightly, she found a rock nearby big enough to sit on. She kept her head down and began to eat.
“No, which bothers me,” Adam said. “Whatever’s taken over Tanisal, it’s not friendly. We’re not going to encounter a warm welcome.”
Jinaari nodded, “We saw the cloud from the ship. Whatever Drogon’s doing, it’s not natural.”
Thia ate in silence, listening to the others talk. It was obvious they knew each other well, and it made her feel even more out of place. “Who’s Kathra?” she asked.
Adam turned to her, “An old friend of ours. She’d traveled on things like this with us before. When we decided to come here, I sent word to Jinaari. I was hoping he could talk her into joining us.”
She lowered her head. Even if Keroys had decided she was the one to come, she wasn’t who they wanted.
“Kathra refused, Adam. She’s done. She blames herself for Flink’s death, won’t set foot outside of her convent now. I went back to the chapterhouse. I’d just dismounted in the courtyard when Drakkus and about a dozen others came over.” He took a deep breath, “Next thing I know, Garret and Keroys both appeared, flanking Drakkus. Garret tells me to go by the cloister in Almair, pick up a priestess of Keroys. I’m not arguing with the will of two Gods. It would be stupid.” He snorted, “That’s Alesso’s job.”
“Alesso? What’d that jackass do this time?”
“Tried to force his way into the job, for starters. Then tried to attack Thia at the docks. I chastised him.”
Adam looked at her, then back at Jinaari. “Why would he attack her?”
Jinaari put his bowl down, “Thia, show them.”
She hesitated, then removed the hood from her head.
Caelynn smiled, “I love your eyes!”
Adam’s gaze was more calculating, and she fought the urge to hide again. “I get it now,” was all he said.
She noticed his hand move, as he went to reach for something and stopped himself. Shifting her gaze, she saw the staff lying on the ground next to him. A warlock? They hardly ever leave Helmshouse! Swallowing her fear, she shifted how she sat, hoping he’d stop looking at her. The cloud was ominous; knowing a warlock had been sent to help deal with it told her it was even worse than she’d imagined.
“I don’t know about you gentlemen, but I’m exhausted. Thia? There’s space in my tent for you. I even have an extra bedroll.” Caelynn gestured toward one of the tents.
“Thank you,” she muttered. She wasn’t really tired, but she did want to get out from under Adam’s scrutiny. It was obvious Jinaari trusted them both, so she was fairly certain she wouldn’t wake up and find she’d been left behind. But would they trust her?
Once inside the tent, she shrugged out of the chain shirt and laid down. Her pack was soft enough for a pillow, and the cloak would keep her warm enough. Caelynn looked at her, “Get some sleep,” she said. “We’re likely to make it into Tanisal tomorrow. That’s when things will get interesting.” The elf closed her eyes.
Thia looked up, trying to get comfortable. The pad was thin, and she could feel every pebble underneath her.
“Are you sure about her?” Adam’s voice was low, but she could hear him easily.
“Garret and Keroys both are. The priest said she was the best they had. She healed me at one point.”
“Alesso got in a cheap shot.”
“I don’t know, Jinaari. She’s Fallen. They’re not known for holding to laws or vows.”
“She’s also human, Adam. On our way here, we got jumped by a pack of Dangreth. She turned them into ash faster than I could blink.” There was admiration in his voice. “I only took out two…she took out ten. Keroys instilled his hatred of the undead in her. She asked if we’d be encountering more in Tanisal. I think she’s looking forward to wiping the city clean of anything evil.”
“Where’s she from? Humans and the Fallen rarely interact, let alone mate.”
“Don’t you know?” Adam asked.
“I do,” Jinaari paused, “and she trusted me enough to give me an answer. I’m not going to betray that. I don’t think she told me everything, not yet. Her life this far hasn’t been easy, even at the cloister. Trust isn’t something that she blindly gives. You gotta earn it. Garret said I had to keep her safe. From what, I don’t know. But I made a vow to him and Keroys to do that.” He paused. “She’s not like what Alesso and his kind think, Adam. She takes after her human side. As long as you show you’re okay with her heritage, trust her, she’ll come around. And she’s damn good at magic.”
“I can do that. I wasn’t expecting what I saw. That’s all. If you trust her…. If the Gods do…. Then I can.” He chuckled. “Caelynn won’t care. She’s just happy to have another woman with us. I wouldn’t be surprised if she was telling her stories about our bad habits before we hit the gates of the city.”
“Speaking of the city,” Jinaari said, “what are we looking at?”
Thia shifted on her pallet, and drifted off to sleep. Whatever was coming, she’d find out soon enough.