The Shadow Path, Chapter 6

As the adrenaline from that moment began to fade, Yasmina’s body began to grow fatigued. She could feel herself slowing down, but she felt it was imperative to keep running in case any villagers pursed them in the name of vengeance from what she just did. She began to run out of breath, and even though she didn’t want to get lulled into a false sense of security. Soon though, she had to succomb to her symptoms and stopped for proper respiration. She saw Aidan do the same behind her, but Ardeshir galloped up them with ease. “This is one of the few times I don’t miss my human body!”

Yasmina and Aidan wanted to respond, but they couldn’t quite muster up the strength to do so. Their silence incidentally gave them an advantage at that moment though. From a distance, they could hear people talking, so they quickly saw some luscious plants that were large enough to conceal themselves and sought safety in their cover. The three of them huddled together and put all of their concentration on quieting their inhalations. They saw the shadow of two broomsticks fly overhead, an Yasmina clutched her wand just in case. They heard Maysa’s voice grump, “Ugh, she probably stole a broomstick! She could be anywhere! From now on, anyone who enters Santach has to go through a much stricter vetting process!”

They watched the shadows turn around and head back in the other direction. For a moment, they didn’t move in case Maysa had set them up for a trap. As the danger seemed to have passed, Yasmina became aware of how close she sat to Aidan right then. She felt like she should feel awkward and want to separate, but she surprised herself when she realized that she had no desire to leave this position! His body was warm, and she didn’t notice how cold she was until then! His strong arm around her body made her feel safe somehow, like having a muscular shield protecting her. She had never been a very affectionate friend before, but if she lived through this quest, she now thought that she should incorporate more intimacy in her life.

When the coast seemed to be clear, Ardeshir ventured out first to double check. “You guys can come out now.”

Aidan came out first and offered a hand to help her out. After secretly enjoying the closeness of that instance, she felt sort of uncomfortable grasping his grip and hoped that her contemplation weren’t apparent. When they returned to the pathway, Yasmina saw nicks on his clothes that had resulted from Haben dragging him, and a surge of guilt soared through her. She wanted to apologize to him very badly, but before she could, Aidan ruefully told her, “I’m so sorry!”

“What?” Yasmina’s mind could hardly wrap around how he could regret anything when she felt the fault laid with her.

“I should have warned you about Santach,” Aidan sorrowfully admitted, “but they’re such a migratory tribe that I didn’t know that they had moved to that spot!”

“How can you apologize when you didn’t know that would happen?” Yasmina reasoned.

Aidan seemed to buy that logic, but he still didn’t seem to have let himself off the hook. “I know a lot of the monsters that live on the Shadow Path, and I should have educated you more.”

Yasmina wouldn’t let him take the blame for this. “No, I’m the one who’s sorry! I should have asked more questions about these woods, especially after all of the horror stories that came from here. The whole point of me coming to Duanolc is to help you, and I could be doing more to learn how to do that. If I had been more prepared, I could have thought of something better than what I did and we could have avoided that mess! I know it wasn’t the smoothest move, and I’m sorry!”

“No, I’m sorry!” Aidan insisted.

“No, I am!” Yasmina also insisted.

The two of them started to talk over each other with apologies, and eventually, Ardeshir reached a boiling point and yelled, “Enough!” They both stopped quarreling and turned their attention to him. He softened his voice while he exclaimed, “Neither of you are angry, so let’s leave it alone! You can learn about the creature of the area while we keep moving!” Without saying it out loud, they knew that he was absolutely right and agreed to let it go. They continued on their journey, and Yasmina kept her full focus on Aidan and Ardeshir as they reviewed what they know about the land.

Meanwhile, Kadera and the other two crones nervously craned their heads to view the expression on Daeva’s cace, fearing her wrath. Daeva, however, didn’t seem to have a reaction. She seemed flabbergasted at what she witnessed, and it took her a moment to realize that they were staring at her. She thought out loud, “She chose others’ happiness over her own! Why would she do that? She spent her whole life with nothing, and she had a chance to lead a normal life! Yet, she throws it all away to help a mortal! If she were to succeed, she would get nothing out of completing this quest. What could be motivating her to help a race of people who have only been horrible to her?”

Kadera and the other two witches looked at each other and shrugged. Kaddera suggested, “Perhaps he promised her riches?”

“I think it’s deeper than that,” Daeva conjectured. “No prize would make these obstacles acceptable! Figuring out her motivation could prove key to her demise!”

The two others didn’t know what to do or say, but Kadera came up with a thought, “Why bother figuring it out? Why don’t we just go down there and kill them?”

Daeva answered, “There would be no point if their will is strong enough. They could ellude our attacks, and chasing them would end up becoming time consuming. If we figure out their will, we can figure out how to manipulate them enough so that they have none.”

“We could make them our slaves!” one witch remarked.

“No, they would be easier to kill!” the other one rebuked.

Daeva concluded, “Either way, they would give us no more trouble. Whatever challenges wait for them on the path, let them take place. We will let these events unfold for now. Everyone has their weaknesses. If we are to do battle, we must learn theirs or we could end up not faring well But perhaps we will get lucky and they will perish before they even get here! Either way, victory will be ours!”

As Yasmina, Aidan, and Ardeshir walked through a thick, wooded sections of the Shadow Path, Aidan advised, “So, if you sense that the Comeheistear are around, make sure you don’t let them go into your mouth!”

Yasmina laughed, “Why would I let a monster go into my mouth?”

“Well, obviously you invite them in!” Aidan chuckled. “Let me rephrase that, if you sense a Comeheistear around, don’t open your mouth at all! Don’t scream or talk, keep your mouth sealed tight! If it gets in, it’s almost impossible to get it out!”

“That’s so creepy!” Yasmina shuddered.

Ardeshir added, “But if they’re dead, then they can go in your mouth! Makes a good snack!”

“Ew!” Aidan and Yasmina said simaltaneously.

Aidan commented, “You’ve been a cat way too long!”

“Tell me about it!” Ardeshir agreed.

Yasmina offered, “I can try to turn you back into a human.”

“No!” Ardeshir reacted. She looked a little astonished at his denial, so he explained, “I mean, I appreciate the gesture, but I would need a human body to switch into. Besides, I don’t think you’re ready for that kind of spell. With the power you’ve shown, you definitely have the potential to perform great magic like that, but so far, none of your spells seem intentional.”

Yasmina concurred with his assessment, so instead she stated, “I’m ready whenever you’re ready to teach me!”

“Don’t you think it would be a bit of a knowledge overload after all those lessons we gave you?” Ardeshir questioned.

Before Yasmina could answer, as they stepped onto a part of the path surrounded by fields, a huge gust of wind whisked them off the ground! They landed on the floor with a thud, and when they looked up, they saw a cloud with a somewhat human shape to it hovering above them! Yasmina, Ardeshir, and Aidan split up, and the cloud monster went after Aidan first, spinning him in the air violently. Ardeshir instructed, “It’s a Gaoth an Deamhan! Run!”

Ardeshir zipped twoards the woods, but Yasmina lingered. “What about Aidan? How do you defeat-?”

The wind picked her up, and between the awful shrieking noise and the rapid movement, Yasmina could hardly think. As she spun, she saw that Aidan was slowly picking himself up after getting slammed against the nearest tree. She expected to do the same, but instead, she began to rise in the air! Suddenly, the wind disappeared, and with her support now gone, she quickly plummeted towards the ground! She screamed and braced for impact, but Aidan caught her! The impact made them both tumble down, but before they could pick themselves up again, the wind grew closer. Just when they thought they would get sucked in once more, Ardeshir returned with a small, uprooted plant in his mouth. To their astonishment, the wind clung to that plant! Yasmina realized, “Wood absorbs wind!” She saw that the tree that Aidan fell against had most of its roots above the ground, so she commanded, “Cut open a door!” Aidan did just that as Yasmina grabbed Ardeshir, whose sapling was starting to falter. All three of them made it to the cover of the roots just in time! They watched as the Gaoth an Deamhan got absorbed by the tree!

Once the forest became quiet again, Aidan, Ardeshir, and Yasmina cautiously left the tree. They studied the path ahead, and everything seemed suspiciously calm. Yasmina inquired, “What will we do if there’s another one of these in the fields?”

“We pray,” Aidan replied grimly. Having no other choice otherwise, the three of them nervously moved forward on the path again.

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