We creep through the woods, my heart racing and pounding in my ears. I stop, standing at the edge, knowing that one more step will bring me face-to-face with whatever might remain of my home village. I take a shaky breath, Emilia’s hand on my shoulder.
I’m with you, wee one.
I nod, taking that last step, eyes closed, steadying my breath before I look.
The village is still there, in part, grass and young saplings sprouting out of decayed cabins. The singed wood has moss growing on it, the trail through the center of our tiny village overgrown. I take a step closer, sniffing the air, opening up my senses to the forest that hopefully hasn’t forgotten me.
After a minute, a fox trots out and sits, waiting. I smile and beckon Emilia to follow. The fox takes us through the village and into the woods beyond. We follow for almost half an hour before the fox stops, yipping at a tree. I nod, reaching in my pack and producing a bit of dried meat. The fox takes it gently, twitching her tail before scampering off into the woods.
What’s up there?
I don’t know. I asked the fox to take us to the owls.
Be careful, Neyra.
I smile and start climbing, slipping up the tree quickly. Near the top, I see a large nest. I approach it carefully, not wanting to disrupt a mother. Pulling myself up the last branch, I peer in.
I recognize the owl in a second, gasping and jumping into the nest.
She turns, letting out a soft hoot, shifting as best she can. Closer, I see that her wing is bent at an unnatural angle. I suck in air, looking in her eyes as I reach out.
She cocks her head, and I place my hands gently on the break. Taking a deep breath, I focus, pulling energy from the forest around me. I find the break and begin sewing the wound together. It’s a fast process, the healing glow subsiding as I open my eyes. She hoots again, testing her healed wing and nuzzling my hair.
What happened, Tirial?
I get the strong image of an empty nest, of thieves that took her young.
Can you take me to them?
She sends me the image of swords and fire, of the wound she got.
Don’t worry, Tir. I’ve got a friend down there who will help us. She’s very powerful.
Tirial cocks her head again, turning and shaking her back for me to get on. I take a deep breath and climb onto her back. In a whoosh of air, we’re off, spiraling down through the trees to land in front of Emilia. She smiles at me, reaching a hand out to Tirial.
Made a friend, Neyra?
This is Tirial. She was my mother’s companion. Thieves took her young. Will you help me get them back?
Of course, wee one.
I smile, looking between Tirial and Emilia.
Let’s go kill some thieves.