AERY'S ADVENTURES: CHAPTER ONE - DEATH'S RIDGE

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Submitted Date 02/02/2019
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Sunset's shadows began to cast over the desert. Aery sat crouched behind a mud hut, scanning the village. Two Orcs barreled by, not even noticing the petite Elf shrouded in the shadowed corner. They whipped their heads every direction, looking for something - for her.

Aery clutched the dagger in her hand. Her bag was strapped tightly to her body; stolen Orcish rations to sustain her in this hellish desert. Another Orc ran in the direction of the others. Aery leaned further into the shade.

She had to make a decision. Straight ahead of her, she could see the bridge to cross over a deep canyon, at least 10 feet wide. The pathway to it was open without shelter - she would be exposed and an easy target. To her right, at least 100 yards away, Aery saw a flight of steps that led to the watchtower. If she could sprint there before being caught, she could jump out of the tower to the shallow valley below, and perhaps her attackers would not chase onward. She could also break her legs or her neck if she didn't land the jump.

Aery grimaced. Neither option seemed better than the other. She was fast, but not confident enough to think she could outrun a horde of Orcs. The third option was to sit where she was until nightfall. The Orcs were practically blind at night, and Aery could slip away quietly without a trace, as she preferred to do. The risk was that she could be found before nightfall, and she certainly couldn't shuffle around without being detected.

Her pointed, fawn-like ear flicked as she heard a muffled step behind her. Before she could react, a hand covered her mouth. How could she have not heard someone approaching? Orcs were loud and slow.

"Don't scream," A smooth voice purred in Elvish. Another Elf, here in this rural Orcish village? Aery deliberated if she should fight and risk the Orcs discovering her location.

"Relax," the voice breathed, "I'm a friend." Aery nearly scoffed. She couldn't even count how many times she'd heard that.

They heard more footsteps lumber past, and Aery flinched into her captor's body.

"We have to make it to the bridge. They won't chase us into Death's Ridge." Death's Ridge. Aery didn't know much about this land, but many of the natives warned her against Death's Ridge. She hadn't realized she was so close to it. An older Elven couple she'd stayed with for a few nights told her that anyone who entered the plains of Death's Ridge never found their way out. Did she really have a choice right now, though?

Damn, she thought. She was going to die, either at the hands of the Orcs or this silent Elf who'd seemed to appear from thin air.

"On my count," the voice murmured. The hand over Aery's mouth dropped to her wrist and grasped it firmly.

"One," Aery leaned into her crouch, ready to sprint. "Two… Three!" They dashed past mud hutches and small huts towards the bridge. Behind them, Aery heard shouting in Orcish tongue. She pushed forward, barely registering as an axe flew past her not 3 feet away, and buried itself in the dirt. She didn't even have time to look at the other Elf. They had another 100 feet until they reached the bridge.

Arrows began to pierce the ground around them. Shit! Aery thought as one landed beside her feet. She thought she heard a gasp, but she kept moving. They were crossing the bridge. The Orcish shouting began to fade into the distance. Just past the bridge lay a cluster of rock formations the pair could use for cover.

Footsteps still behind her, Aery quickly dove behind the rocks. She lay there, breathing heavy for what felt like hours. Finally, when she looked up, she saw her captor. Not an Elf… Aery's heart nearly dropped into her stomach. A human. The woman was longer than Aery, sprawled out on the rust-red ground before her. Her thick, auburn hair was in a tight ponytail. Red stain bloomed from her shoulder. Blood, Aery panicked.

"You're hurt," She breathed.

"No shit," The Human muttered, "I pulled the arrow out." Aery didn't know how to react. A Human, in these parts? It didn't make sense. Why was she really here? Was she a spy? An assassin? Should Aery help her, or flee? Humans are dangerous, her father's words echoed in her head. They're no better than Orcs. Aery flinched. She should leave the woman behind, and find her way back to civilization. The rations she had would barely last her a week, if she were alone. With two people, they would diminish even quicker.

She gazed down at the woman again. Her chest was rising and falling raggedly. Aery didn't think the wound looked fatal, but if she were stranded in this desert, the woman was a goner. Aery huffed, and kneeled down.

"Let me see," She murmured.

"It's fine," The woman grunted as Aery placed her small, pinkish hand on her chest. "Fuck, that hurts!"

"Relax," Aery breathed, and closed her eyes. A warm and light feeling flooded her chest as she focused. She pushed the feeling through her arms, and then her hands, and light manifested from her palms. Where her hand met the woman's shoulder, a red glow appeared, which then began to morph into blinding white. Aery heard the woman breathe a deep sigh of relief. After a moment, the light faded, and all that remained of the woman's wound was a small pinkish scar, though her linen shirt was still soaked red.

"Wow," the woman breathed, "A real priestess…" Aery's heart jumped. Now that her attacker was healed, would she slit her throat, or worse? For decades, Humans had been capturing Elves to enslave them for their magic. She grabbed her dagger from her waist and pushed into the woman's throat, still on the ground.

"Who are you, and what do you want?" She growled.

"Hey, I told you, I'm a friend," The woman chuckled.

"A friend, who just happens to follow me into the Yortut Village, and finds me trapped?" After a pause, the woman chuckled again, "Yes."

"I have a hard time believing that. Why are you really here? If you think you can kill me -"

"Relax," The woman interrupted, "I'm not here to kill you. If I had wanted that, I certainly missed my opportunity."

"Then tell me what you're doing here!" After a long pause, the woman met Aery's eyes. They were deep green, and yet, they reminded Aery of fire. It sent chills down her spine.

"I followed you from the last village you raided. I wanted to see where you were headed." A small smirk crawled on her lips.

"Oh, so you just 'happen' to stumble upon an Elf in Orcish territory, and you decide to follow her?" The woman smiled at Aery's question.

"Curiosity killed the cat, but satisfaction brought it back," She winked. Aery didn't understand.

"What are you talking about? Are you speaking in tongues?" This brought a guffaw from the woman, and Aery blushed. "How are you speaking Elvish, anyway?"

"I speak many languages." Aery rolled her eyes. She'd get more information talking to an Orc. She didn't know what to do. It was likely she could outrun the Human, due to her injury. Could she navigate Death's Ridge alone, though? What if the woman was lying? She could be waiting for nightfall to bleed her out. Or worse, more Humans could be hiding and waiting to capture her. The woman's eyes followed her as she weighed her options. What a mess, she thought. Her stomach growled.

"Hungry, huh? I figured you'd have to be pretty desperate to steal from Orcs," The woman joked.

"Yes well, it's not as if there's a lot of options out here."

She laughed again, "Well what if we share?" The woman sat up, ignoring Aery's dagger. She reached behind her. Aery hadn't even noticed the satchel on the woman's back. She pulled out a canteen, and Aery's throat began to burn in thirst. She had water, but no chance to drink since being discovered. The woman took a large gulp, and passed it to Aery. She eyed the woman suspiciously, still clenching her dagger.

The woman rolled her eyes. "Come on now, it's not poison." After a moment of deliberation, she tucked her weapon away, and snatched the canteen from her. She began guzzling the sweet, refreshing drink. The woman pulled out some leaf wrappings - the kind Elves of the Southern region used to wrap food. She revealed scraps of dried meat, but also some white cheese and bread. Aery's mouth began to water.

"I don't know about you," The woman didn't look up from her preparation, "but I'm starving. I'm sure we can make something out of our rations. And don't worry," she said when she felt Aery tense at the sight of her knife, "It's just to spread the cheese."

"I should leave," Aery began sitting up herself, "It's not safe here."

"Any safer than the village you just raided?"

"You're not safe," Aery barked, "You're Human, I know what your kind is capable of." The woman froze, and after a moment, chuckled.

"Listen, if you want to wander Death's Ridge with no sense of direction, that's your choice. But if you want to survive, I'm the best option you've got."

"How do you figure?"

"Because I know how to navigate through it."

"And I'm just supposed to take your word for it?"

"You don't really have an option." She's right, an annoying voice chimed in Aery's head. She was no safer staying with this stranger than if she wandered the desert alone. Either way seemed to spell death. She wanted to cry, or laugh, or scream, she wasn't sure which one.

"Just sit and eat, you need to recover your strength," the woman chatted without looking up from her bread and cheese. "That healing spell must have taken a toll on you." She wasn't wrong. Aery felt fatigued, and hungry. She said nothing as she continued to watch the woman prepare the food. Eventually, the Human handed her a sort of sandwich - white cheese smeared on the bread, with jerky on top. Aery restrained herself from nearly snatching it from her hand. She bit in, and almost moaned. She hadn't had food from home in a long time. They quietly ate together, savoring the taste. When they finished, Aery studied the woman.

"What is your name?" Aery asked after a few moments of silence.

"Jane," The woman replied.

"Well, thank you, Jane, for the food. And for the help."

"I should be the one thanking you -" Jane paused, waiting for Aery to introduce herself.

"Aery."

"Aery, what a beautiful name. Thank you, Aery, for healing me," Jane smiled. Aery looked away. "What are your plans, now? Still going to take off into the desert?"

Aery glanced to the sun that had just dipped below the mountains in the distance. She could slip away in the night, but where would she go? She had heard the dangers of Death's Ridge, and it wasn't just the extreme heat, or lack of water. Monsters were said to prowl in the night. Could she really navigate such a vast, dangerous land on her own?

"We can camp here tonight," she sighed, "no use in traveling at nightfall." Jane smiled again. They didn't have much to work with for setting up camp. Fire was out of the question; the flat land would give away the smokey beacon to anyone within a few miles. They found a small area of even ground amongst the rocks to lay. The sun had disappeared and taken almost all of the light with it. Aery had her head on her bag for a pillow, and was looking up at the stars. Many were red and twinkling. The Orcs did not have much to brag about on their land, but their sky was filled with beautiful, colorful specks of light that even her homeland could not rival.

Jane lay a couple of feet away from Aery, a little too close in her opinion, but she said nothing. It was beginning to get cold anyway. Aery wondered if she would wake up in the morning, or if her head would be mounted on a pike. She couldn't do much either way, she would just have to sleep for the night. Her eyes slowly closed, and sleep overtook her. An auburn haired woman with fiery green eyes danced and laughed in her dreams.

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