“Okay let’s talk,” Xaine replied. “What are we talking about?” he added after a few moments of silence.
“Just… Come with me,” said Nab with a nervous look on his face and walked farther into the woods. Xaine followed him.
They trekked through the wood for what seemed like a long time. The sun had begun to rise and Xaine could hardly see any stars above anymore.
“Am I finally going to learn where you’ve been going all this time? Or are you just taking me all the way out here so nobody can hear me scream?” Xaine said trying to lighten the mood.
At that moment, Nab turned around and Xaine was startled. For a moment he thought he just might need to summon his sword but once again saw the nervous look on Nab’s face and thought better of it. He had never seen Nab nervous before, he didn’t think they had anything to worry about. What exactly were they going to talk about?
“Look, Torin needs proof so…” Nab didn’t finish his sentence. He seemed to struggle with deciding to say something else then just turned around and kept leading Xaine further into the woods.
Xaine continued to follow for several more long moments of silence until Nab suddenly stopped. He raised his hand and his nervous look suddenly vanished. It looked as if he was doing something he had done many times before. “False alarm,” he muttered and continued walking. Nervousness seeming to engulf him again.
Finally Nab slowed his pace and brought Xaine to a small clearing. They stopped and Nab took a deep breath and swallowed.
“Xaine, this is Evala,” Nab said, gesturing to the clearing.
Xaine looked into the empty clearing thinking Nab was losing his mind, as he had just gestured to nothing. Then he saw movement on the opposite edge of the clearing. He saw a white gleam he seemed to remember from some time before. And then horror struck him as it fully emerged out of the woods.
The razor sharp teeth, long spines on it’s back and leathery wings were just as ominous as always. It was a darkgon. Except it was the strangest one he’d ever seen, and the confusing sight halted him from action. Instead of black like they usually were it was completely white. Finally taking action, he summoned his blade and edged back.
He raised the sword ready to send a shockwave at it. And even more surprisingly, it seemed to cower. Nab grabbed his sword arm and shouted.
“Wait! She’s not like the others!”
“What? What do you mean she’s not like the other ones, let me go!” And Xaine ripped his arm from Nab’s grip and Nab stood in front of him with his back to the beast.
“Well for starters, she’s not tearing us to pieces even though she’s had plenty of chances now!” Nab said and moved away from Xaine to stand right next to the creature.
Xaine finally noticed that it wasn’t cowering at all. It was submitting. As if she was trying to show that she was not dangerous. Xaine shook his head, he couldn’t understand it. She was a darkgon, all darkgons were death incarnate. They did nothing but viciously kill and destroy. But Nab was standing right next to her. Completely open for an attack and she did nothing.
Xaine took in her features once again and saw for the first time that she was covered in a thick net made of rope.
“Did you catch her?” Xaine said, more thinking out loud than asking.
“Yes Xaine, I caught one of the super intelligent creatures with a net that doesn’t even reach her legs. She just can’t figure out how to move since she’s got a few ropes on her back,” Nab said sarcastically. And the large creature nudged him as if rebuking him.
“He knows I’m kidding Eva,” Nab said again smiling and looking at her.
“But she’s a darkgon,” Xaine said.
“Wow, you are just bringing all the skills of observation you possess today aren’t you?” Nab jabbed again. “Yes Xaine, she is a darkgon, but she’s not like the others.”
Xaine was still at a loss for words, he paced back and forth and looked up at her and Nab multiple times still trying to find something coherent to say. So many questions came to him but even in his head he couldn’t word them properly. Xaine became aware that he was breathing very heavily.
“Xaine, you need to calm down,” Nab said. “If you continue like this you’re going to pass out.”
Xaine knew he was right even now he was getting light headed. He didn’t know what to do. Should he try to kill it? Should he try to kill Nab? Against both of them, he’d have no chance. And it was this close to the camp and nobody knew. Should he try to call for them? Xaine found a large boulder and sat down on it. Taking several deep breaths to calm himself.
“And I thought I was nervous when I decided to show her to you,” Nab said smiling again. It seemed like all of his nervousness was gone. “Honestly, I thought you’d try to kill her.”
Xaine looked up at him. “It’s not like I hadn’t thought about it, but I’m not exactly in a position to win here if you’re on her side. And it doesn’t look like she’s trying to kill me either.”
“Good of you to notice that. But you don’t need that sword, you know?”
Xaine realized he was still holding his sword. He stared at it for several moments as he was calming his breathing. He closed his eyes tight as if leaping for his life over a giant chasm, and unsummoned his sword. He opened his eyes and looked up at Nab. He could see the overwhelming relief that spread across Nab’s face.
“Okay, now what?” said Xaine.
“Now we can talk, right?”
“Seems to be what are doing now,” Said Xaine returning Nab’s Sarcasm.
Nab smiled, “So we are.”
“You said we wanted proof, how does this prove anything? And if you’re trying to prove something why in the world did you bring me and not Torin?”
“Evala here thinks you’re the one we could trust. So far it looks like she was right.”
“Well yes, and no. She doesn’t speak like we do. She doesn’t use her mouth. She talks to the mind. She sends me pictures and feelings mostly. Not really any words,” said Nab.
“Are there others like her?”
“No, we don’t think so.”
“So you’re telling me, that you found the one friendly darkgon out of all of them and she talks to you in your mind?”
“Look, I know it sounds crazy, but there are other things that talk to the mind you know. They say dragons communicate that way.”
“Yeah, if they communicate at all, instead of just eating you. It’s not exactly easy to confirm the truth of that. You didn’t answer my other question either. How does this prove that we are on the wrong path?”
“Remember how I told you that the orb is used to control the other darkgons? Well, this is one way that she is special. She can fight the influence of the orb and she alone was able to say no,” Nab said, and seeing the unsatisfied look on Xaine's face he continued. “But, she can still feel the influence of it. She knows where the queen is. And the swarm is never far behind the queen.”
“So that’s why you are able to track them better than our trackers. Because it’s not you, it’s her. And she tells you where they are. That’s why you knew before we got attacked that day.”
“And why I know so much about the darkgons,” Nab finished Xaine’s train of thought.
“Great, so you found the one friendly man-eating beast among all the dangerous ones and she talks to you in your head. That’ll be easy for everyone to believe,” said Xaine.
“Look, we brought you here because we believed that you would listen to us before you tried to kill her. And we were mostly right. But not everyone else is going to feel this way. You know how those people get. We have to keep her a secret. But you can tell Torin that you’ve seen the proof and that you know.”
“So that way we will have two people that have no proof? What makes you think Torin will take my word?”
“Torin trusts you more than he trusts me. And if you say you’ve seen the proof he’ll believe you. You’re only second in command because you refused to take the lead. You know that he’ll listen to you. They think you’re the only one who can stop these things for good.”
“Nab, I know you want to keep this a secret. But we have to tell at least the leaders. They have to know what’s going on.”
“No! We have to keep Eva a secret. It’s not safe to tell them.”
Xaine looked at him, the worry back on Nab’s face.
“How long have you have you, uh, “ Xaine wasn’t sure how to word it he didn’t think they would appreciate him indicating she was like a pet, “been together?”
“I found her just after one of the queens died, so I’ve been with her since the beginning. We kind of look after each other.”
Xaine thought and didn’t speak for a few more moments.
“Look, they need to know, “ Xaine continued quickly from the look on Nabs face, “but they don’t have to know yet, I think. You’re probably right. If I tell Torin that I trust your judgment and that you’ve shown me proof he will most likely believe me.”
The two of them were silent for a moment. Nab didn’t thank Xaine but could see the gratitude on his face and took that as enough.
“So why do you have a net on her back?”
“It’s actually more like a saddle than a net.”
“You ride her?”
“When I’m not forced to hide her in the woods and snuggle up to one of your warriors on horseback I do. Those spines on her back make it a bit difficult so this is the solution.”
“Yeah I suppose sharp pointing things right on her back would do that.”
“By the way, she understands everything you’re saying. And she’s not fond of being called a man-eating beast. She’s actually never eaten a man before. Though if you keep insulting her she might make an exception.”
“Oh um, I’m sorry?” Xaine said, unsure of himself.
Before he realized it, the sky was already bright and they were headed back to camp. Evala stayed where she was in the clearing. And most of the way the Xaine, and Nab didn’t speak until when they were almost back to camp. Xaine heard a sort of coughing sound from Nab that sounded something like “thank you”. When he asked if Nab said anything, however, he got no response.
So now Xaine finally knew where Nab was running off to in the woods and why he didn’t want to be followed. The cat was finally out of the bag, Xaine thought. The horse sized, razor-toothed, poison spitting cat.
Just as Xaine was about to enter the camp again he stopped with the worst thought he’d had yet. Nab seemed to have noticed the pained expression on his face and looked down to see if he’d stepped on something.
“What?” Nab asked.
“Ailee’s not gonna like this,” Xaine said with a sigh.
After they had returned, Torin caught up with them very quickly. Xaine’s absence with Nab and his re-emergence from the forest did not go unnoticed. After Torin was done interrogating Xaine on where they were, he told them they had to come to the morning leadership meeting. Xaine had already gone through enough shock for the day he could barely believe it was only morning.
Once the meeting was called they reported on the training for the previous night, and what the plans for the next day would be. When they finally got to the direction they would be going, Torin seemed to know something was coming and looked up to Xaine as he indicated their path on the map they carried.
“We will continue on this path unless there is any more information we’ve obtained?”
Everyone including Nab followed Torin’s eye line to Xaine.
“Yes, as you all seem to know Nab and I had a discussion earlier this morning. We cannot say how, unfortunately, but Nab does have valid information. He shared it with me and I believe he’s right. We are on the wrong path.”
“So now we have two people who think we are going the wrong way with no way to prove it?” Torin asked.
Xaine looked at Nab as he heard Torin repeat nearly the same words he used.
“Yes, but Torin you know me and you know I wouldn’t agree to something unless I knew it was right. He didn’t just convince me that he has a hunch and we should all listen to it. He actually gave me some real evidence.”
“And you can’t share that with us?” Torin asked again.
“No, I’m sorry we can’t just yet,” Xaine said and involuntarily looked at Ailee.
Torin stood in silence for a moment. Apparently considering what to do. He then looked back up at the small group of leaders.
“What do the rest of you think?” He asked.
Ailee spoke up first. “I trust Xaine, I think if he believes Nab we should trust them.”
“Well, it is starting to worry me that we haven’t caught up with the scouts at all. Nab made a pretty good point last time but I was inclined not to agree without proof. But I know Xaine want’s to finish this mission and I know he wouldn't do anything to jeopardize everyone's safety,” said Galvin in agreement.
“Well, I’m reluctant just in case. But if you all agree that should change direction then I have to go along with it. I have no proof that the darkgons are still headed that way either and I can’t lead by myself. I’ve taken you all as advisors so I should listen to your advice,” Torin said conceding. “First thing’s first then, Nab how far off course are we?”
“Not incredibly far, but it will take at least a day and a half to reach them. Don’t want to attack at night so that’ll mean we are about two days off,” Nab gave the information quickly, clearly ready with it.
“Okay, now where are we headed?”
“The darkgons were about here,” Nab indicated close to where the report was. “But they’ve moved farther to the west now, more in this direction.”
“Okay so the plan now is to move the company out to the west. We’ll travel and train today as usual. Then on the next day we will try to rendezvous with the scouts and plan the attack the following morning, assuming the darkgons don’t move again,” Torin said.
“But wait,” Galvin spoke up, “Isn’t that area near the elves forest? Wouldn’t we cover more ground if we didn’t train tonight and traveled through? We could rendezvous earlier enough the next day to still launch the attack.”
“While Xaine was indisposed we sent envoys out to the other human settlements. When they declined help we also reached out to the dwarves and elves. Neither group hardly gave us an audience. If these things go into their forest then that’s their problem. We tried to warn them and they didn’t listen,” replied Torin.
Xaine didn’t much like the idea of letting them fend for themselves but at the same time they did try to do something and elves were supposed to possess powerful magic so they wouldn’t be entirely defenseless.
After packing up camp the company left. Though Torin said they would take a normal day, Xaine noticed that he did travel a little longer than usual. He thought, however, that it was not due to protecting the elves. He thought Torin most likely was hoping to make contact with the scouts to ensure they were still alive. Xaine couldn’t blame him. The lives of their own people had to come first.
After training, Xaine was back in his tent readying himself for sleep. It seemed like the reality of the situation was finally hitting him. Once he woke up it would most likely only be a day before the real battle. How many more from his town would die? Could they even complete the mission they were given with only about a hundred warriors?
Then his thoughts moved to Evala, what was she? He had given in to Nab’s insistence that she should remain hidden for now but how long could that continue? Xaine didn’t want her to be killed in the fray but then again she seemed to get through the last battle without being seen. He doubted that bringing her up now would help them win the battle. Nab was still relaying all information he could anyway so it’s not like they would learn more.
It felt strange worrying about a darkgon, one of the creatures that took his father’s life. Nab had said she was different than the others and it certainly seemed to be true. He’d never seen one before that didn’t immediately try to kill them. Then came even more uncomfortable thoughts. If Evala was good compared to the others. Were there more that were good? Was he condemning a new species to extinction based off of only a few experiences?
Then again, one of their own was onboard with the same idea. Evala had to know what they were planning to do and not only was she not stopping them she was trying to help them. It was as if she knew hew own race was evil. But somehow she wasn’t.
Xaine fretted over what was coming, he wondered if he even really was worried for the darkgons or if it was just fear of entering the final battle. Whatever it was, Xaine put it aside, lay himself down, and eventually drifted off.