Don't ask what it is about cause I don't know

No two relationships are the same. All of the examples I have to look at, whether it be my parents or a set of my married friends, vary wildly in the intricacies that make them successful. And those examples of not-so-healthy-relationships that I have to observe have provided many an educational moment that help me determine my ye's and neh's when it comes to relationships. I can point out things I like and don't like on both ends of the healthy relationship spectrum, but generally reserve asking questions for the couples that have a healthy partnership. You wouldn't ask a bankrupt person for financial advice so why ask for relationship advice from a pair who exhibits habits you consider toxic?

I know some of the people in my life have settled for their partners and it does happen, but I don't want that to be me. I do not ever want to feel desperate enough to settle for a man that loves me more than I care about him. I have had a relationship like that already and it is not something I would recommend to anyone.

The more I observe, the more I learn. And the less questions I ask, the more authentic interactions I see. Please don't fake a healthy relationship for the sake of your single friend who still are on the fence about legal commitment.

Going to college on an athletic scholarship was both a blessing and a curse for a few reasons. One of the blessings was that I had a group of pseudo friends already curated for me. I just had to figure out which of my 24 teammates were actually individuals I could tolerate in a social setting and who were worth the extra steps to avoid on campus. I would be spending too much of my time around these girls come spring, so it became a priority within the first semester to hash out who I only had to be civil with and who I could go out with on the weekends or ask to make a Lawrence run with. I did my best to stick with the same group of friends for those four years cause lets be honest, new people are exhausting and I didn't have the energy to try and make a whole load of new friends every year.

The biggest issue with these pseudo friends was that they were friends out of convenience. There was only one exception to this and she knows who she is because I actually have had this very conversation with her. I don't talk to 95% of the girls I was “best friends” with in college because we no longer live in the same apartment complex or have to spend 3+ hours together everyday covered in dirt and sweat. My love language is quality time and it is very hard to spend quality time with someone who lives far away or lives in a boring as fuck town and can only be fun after consuming alcohol.

I am sure most of them have realized this about me by now based on the fact the majority of my friends now did not go to Baker. Ironically, the majority of the people I would consider to be my close set of friends came from being around one of my teammate's family all the time. Friendships formed at small colleges like Baker remind me of high school relationships, they only work because they are convenient with few exceptions.

It was under the red light of anti-bug lamps at 4am during the summer of 2016 when I made the realization that I didn't have a plan for after graduation. I was working at a YMCA summer camp as a cabin counselor with the intent of avoiding not only my parents that summer, but also the “you can't start your senior year of college without a plan” conversation that seemed to happen every time I breathed too loudly around my father. It was both a blessing and a curse that my co-counselor and I were light sleepers, as there seemed to always be one camper in our cabin that snored like a grown adult with nasal congestion. A blessing because neither of us would have to be alone with our late-night thoughts, and a curse because we were sleep deprived the whole summer. Captain (my co-counselor) was working on her MA in English at Emporia State University, and she was filled to the brim with good advice.

“Have you ever thought about getting a Library Science degree?” Captain said while simultaneously swatting a June bug out of the air. “ESU has an accredited MLS program and if you really need to escape Kansas, they have satellite campuses around the country.”

It was in that moment as I lay in my hammock sweating sunscreen and wreaking of bug spray that the fog obscuring my view of the future began to dissipate. I now had a realistic plan that I could present to my concerned parental figures. Fast forward to 2018, I got a page position at Monticello when it first opened, and I started working on my MLS that fall. Now in 2021 I have graduated with my MLS and am working in Adult Services. My parents have a decent understanding of what I do here but will still admit they don't have a complete understanding of the specifics. Captain and I still talk every day even though she and her husband relocated to South Dakota. I will always credit her with giving me the idea that led me to a career I am passionate about.

Thoughts like these always hit me halfway through a blunt when I am in the middle of my favorite song. So it's a mood killer. What brought this existential crisis on you may be wondering? Make up, just make up. Wedding make up to be more specific and how other people reacted to it.

The MUA spun me around in the chair and the woman I saw in the mirror was not me. It could have been the hair pulled back in an up-do or the button up shirt we all were wearing to get ready that made this image a stranger. Bright red lipstick and darker eyebrows than I would normally go with were confusing sights and the light ethereal eye shadow scheme didn't fit me. And yet I was bombarded with compliments from old teammates and my parents.

It isn't like I don't dress nice and look like I am a put together adult, my chosen aesthetic is just a little darker than the average midwestern woman's. I like to take my token goth friend role seriously when it comes to dress up events like a rehearsal dinner or birthday dinner down town. It's a tough job, but I am the only one who can pull it off.

This candy apple off the shoulder gown and full glamor make up combo really threw me and the other girls who were accustomed to my black attire for a loop. Was this what I could look like if I abandoned my lack of desire to wear make up or need for chains and black fabric? Would I be more successful in dating if I appeared like a “normal” human? Maybe. But then other aspects of my personality wouldn't make sense and I like to alert potential suiters in advance so they aren't surprised when they find out I find cannibalism fascinating and aim to start collecting oddities when I have my own space.

And that was when everything came crashing down and my happy high had turned into a sad one.

My friends' parents love having me around and I provide plenty of entertainment through funny stories and well timed puns, but this whole unrecognizable make up make me think about whether or not the parents like me because I am a reminder of what their children could have turned out to be. It's like when their kids make them mad for whatever reason they can think “well at least they aren't her.” Being a parent to an angry closet goth is hard I get it. And I know there is no way that this thought of my friends' parents only liking me because I am the representation of what they didn't want their kids to be is absurd, but hey that is paranoia at its finest.

He was there.

The Groomsman from my best friend's wedding. We walked together down the aisle to stand by our friends as they said their vows. In my head, my imagination ran through all of the different scenarios that I would have liked more than what actually transpired. The dream scared the hell out of me.

Still leaning over the bar at the wedding venue in the red bridesmaid dress I was trying to flirt. I am just as bad at it in dreams as I am in real life. There was a pop in my mouth and a molar came falling out onto the bar. No blood, just tooth. I was able to grab it off the bar before the Groomsman turned around to hand me another Busch Lite. He flipped a towel over his shoulder the same way he did at the actual reception and tried making conversation that came out as intelligible mumbles. Another pop in my mouth and I could feel yet another tooth rolling around on my tongue. One after another, my teeth feel out of my gums. I wanted to swallow them as to not freak out the Groomsman, but he would find out eventually. It's hard to have a pretty smile with no teeth.

I woke up in the middle of the night and checked the stability of every tooth. I communned with my subconscious trying to understand the meaning of what I had just experienced and came to the conclusion that situational lust is a dangerous thing to validate. It makes us hide the fundamental pieces of ourselves that someone might find unattractive just for a brief, organic injection of oxytocin.

It really is an honor to be asked by a friend to stand up at the altar with them on their wedding day. Even more so when they are confident (and trusting) enough in your ability to write a welcome speech for the ceremony. I'll never admit to them the fear that grew in me with each step down the aisle. One step closer to having to open my mouth and spew forth the words I wrote with them in mind. Would it be funny enough? Would it be meaningful enough that they will want a copy to read on their anniversary? Of course they and everyone else in the audience who already knew me were prepared for something witty sprinkled with deep thoughts. I nailed it of course, managed to exit, and shotgun a beer with a Groomsman I thought was attractive enough to avoid eye contact with until I was drunk.

But even through all of that there was still one thought lingering in my head: I'm the last one.

The last of my close friends to finish school.

The last of my close friends to leave their parents house.

The last one to find a partner that is worth going through the theatrics of marriage all for the sake of love and the chance at a new KitchenAid mixer.

Do I even want the latter? It seems like a lot of work for little reward and financial losses. But what do I know. It isn't like I have been in love with someone before. Love seems to make people do weird, uncharacteristic things and I don't want that. I know who I am and who I want to become so why would I let someone into my life who is going to make more changes than what I have already prepared myself for?

The risk of being wrong about a partner also weighs heavy when trying to decide if married life is something I want. I had to spend all this money to legally tie myself to someone, and now I have to spend more money to legally split? I like just being able to say “fuck off” and that be the end of it.

a cynical view? yeah. But it is how I feel after watching all my friends do it. Don't even get me started on kids.

Must Have Snacks (Dread pt.8)

Lady Ambermane stood out on the balcony over looking the forest that surrounded Autumn Hill. The leaves danced in the breeze flashing brilliant reds, oranges, and yellows. She could see the rooftops in Autumn Hill and several chimneys were already billowing smoke, lightly scented with bacon and sausage. Lady Ambermane deeply inhaled as she commanded the breeze towards her and a sudden wave of wind crashed onto the balcony. The delightful smell was making her hungry. A knock at the bedroom door startled her. She made her way inside gliding over the stone floor in her night clothes.

“Ah, good morning Johannes,” Lady Ambermane said coolly, barely peeking out from behind the door. “My first engagement of the day isn't scheduled till after lunch.”

“I know, my lady,” Johannes replied with a bow, “but Iliana has returned and I figured you would want to speak with her as soon as possible. Your breakfast should be on its way up.”

“Very good,” Lady Ambermane replied, “have Iliana wait in the sitting room for me and try to keep her away from her brother in the library. Carberos doesn't need to be antagonized this early in the morning.”

Johannes gave a quick bow and trotted off down the stairs. Lady Ambermane took a seat at her vanity to start getting ready for the day. Her auburn hair was still wrapped up in a head scarf and her eyes still sat sleepily in her skull. She rubbed her eyes with the back of her hands and pulled out a hand mirror to make sure all the sleep had been rubbed away.

She was shocked to see her face had a purplish-grey tint starting to come through and her bright amber eyes had yellow spots beginning to form in her irises. Lady Ambermane quickly put the hand mirror away and frantically began combing through her dresser drawers. Once she finally found the jar she was looking for, Lady Ambermane sat on the side of her large fourposter bed and shook out three teeth. She labored to keep herself from eating the whole jar. This supply was only for emergencies.

Lady Ambermane could feel her skin and eyes revert to their normal state once she swallowed the first two teeth. She rolled the third one around in her hand for a moment and contemplated if she needed another. There were still bits of gum attached to the molar, this added extra flavor in Lady Ambermane's mind. She decided to treat herself seeing as she was going to have to be civil with Iliana Winterborne. She tossed the tooth in her mouth and froze the second her taste buds made contact with it.

Visions of what someone else was seeing, or had seen, invaded her mind and she had to steady herself on the bed. It took a great deal of focus to try and make out what was going on. This phenomenon only occurred when she ate a piece of someone who is still alive. The vision was fuzzy and she could see two boys asleep on the ground under what appeared to be a yurt. The vision changed as the person moved closer to the boys and woke them up as the sun began breaking through the opening in the roof. Lady Ambermane could make out red and yellow leaves. This tooth was from someone who was out in the forest. She focused back on what was going on, whoever this was woke the boys up and convinced them to follow out the back of the yurt. One of them mouthed a question Lady Ambermane couldn't decipher and they all looked up to watch a strong breeze roll through the tree tops. Whatever was going on here had happened this morning. That was the same breeze Lady Ambermane had summoned to smell the breakfasts of the Autumn Hill residents. The vision turned suddenly and centered on a horse, then back to these boys. They seemed to be crying. Lady Ambermane tried her hardest to hear what was going on, but it seemed she would be stuck with pantomime and lip reading, which she was bad at.

She was close to being bored with this vision when the tooth owner pulled out a broken piece of mirror from their bag and looked into it. Lady Ambermane grew furious as she looked into the eyes of Adlana Winters, still free. Adlana then reached into her own mouth and tore out another tooth and dropped in onto the ground. The deserter's cure made it easy for her to do so. Her body was rotting from the inside.

Lady Ambermane spit the tooth out into her hand and set it down on the bedside table.

“She thinks this is funny,” Lady Ambermane growled to herself. “Messing with the balance is not a game.”

She quickly changed into a casual outfit of forest green linen pants and matching tunic before gracefully making her way down into the sitting room. She ran into a maid who was carrying her breakfast and took the tray of food from her and continued her descent. Iliana was eating her own breakfast by a window that overlooked a greener part of the forest.

“Did I wake you?,” Iliana laughed seeing Lady Ambermane's casual appearance. “I'm not used to such a relaxed look from you. The head wrap is a nice touch, makes you look human.”

Lady Ambermane rolled her eyes and sat down at the other end of the couch Iliana was sitting on and placed her own tray of food on her lap.

“Your report please,” she said glaring at Iliana.

“Nox is almost done with the wolf situation,” Iliana began, “she said there were two or three more left and she should be back in a couple weeks. I personally think she deserves a break afterwords since she's been out there for a couple months now. All of the summons flyers you had made were taken and I wasn't able to find any of the parties, so it would be safe to assume they have either been killed and collected or gave up. All the constructs have been destroyed so we are in the dark as far as surveillance goes, at least until more can be made. I didn't run into any of your personal hands so I have nothing to report about my dear aunt.”

“She's still out there,” Lady Ambermane sighed finishing her breakfast. “She seems to have found two men camping out in the forest which would mean that one of the bait parties is alive. My hands will take care of them and their bodies will be used for new constructs. As for Adlana, I have faith she will be dealt with soon and this wild goose chace can be put to rest.”

Iliana sat in silence. The two men Lady Ambermane mentioned could have been the brothers, but there was no mention of seeing Nox. What she found concerning was that if it really was the brothers, then Adlana was hiding near Nox's camp which would explain why the wendigo came despite Iliana hanging around. The scent of old bones would be very enticing to a starved beast.

“I may have an idea to where Adlana is and where she'll be heading,” Iliana finally said.

Lady Ambermane cocked an eyebrow inquisitively.

“And why would that matter? The bait party will bring her here and when they try to ask for a reward, the two men will be disposed of and our operation can resume,” Lady Ambermane said taking a sip of her tea. “The balance will be maintained.”

“If there are only two of them escorting her she could still get away,” Iliana replied.

“My hands will find them and keep watch from a distance. And I am sure if Nox were to come across the party she would make sure Adlana makes it here. You can go now.”

Lady Ambermane dismissed Iliana and left the sitting room to go get ready for her other meetings. Iliana sat on the couch and sighed. If Adlana makes it back and spills the truth of how she escaped, it wouldn't just be the throwaway mercenaries who lose their lives, it would be Iliana as well.

Throwaways (Dread pt.7)

Nox sat silently across from the boys fiddling with her bow's string. The fire's reflection danced across the bright ivory bones of the weapon's limbs. For the first time, the boys were able to take a more focused look at Nox's face. Her half-orc heritage was easily recognizable by her tall, muscular body and strong hands, but her human side showed more in her face structure with the exception of stout canines peaking out from her lower lip and pointed ears that had been run through with multiple piercings. The slight grey tint to her skin barely stood out against the bow due to the fire's light and her yellow eyes blended in with the wisps of flames that danced in the air. Her thick black hair had been braided to keep it out of her face, but the day's events had caused numerous fly-away strands to hang messily around her face.

“The three of us will leave in the morning and head for the mine,” Nox said in a monotone manner.

“What about Marine?,” Arlo asked looking Nox in the eye. “We have to find her.”

“Or we at least have to find her body,” Xander mumbled. Arlo directed a furious gaze at his brother. “What? You really think she's going to be alive after getting dragged off that thing?!”

“We won't know until we find her,” Arlo growled at Xander, “and I am not going to think about the worst case scenario.”

“Worst case scenario?” Xander laughed. “I hate to break it to you, but we are already in the middle of the worst case scenario. Our friend is missing and most likely dead. And we are stuck in a forest with two women who will probably kill us as soon as we fall asleep.”

Iliana laughed from outside the tent and quickly clasped a hand over her mouth to keep quiet. Nox turned her head and shot Iliana a displeased glance.

“See, Arlo,” Xander yelled gesturing out to Iliana who was leaning against the tree tending the fire. “She doesn't care what happens to us and neither does Nox. If she did, she wouldn't have left us alone here in the first place.”

“That's an unfair assumption,” Arlo said quietly, “Mom wouldn't be happy to hear how...”

“Do not bring Mother into this,” Xander growled. “She isn't here. Ya know, I'm done. I'm tired, so I am going to get some sleep before I die in the next 2-6 hours. And I strongly suggest you do the same. We will need all of our energy to get to the after life, and I'll see you two ladies in the Nine Hells.”

Arlo watched his brother struggle to unpack his sleeping roll and quietly unrolled his own.

Nox waited until she thought they were both asleep and slipped outside taking her bow along. She made sure to seal up the entrance and took a seat next to Iliana who was re-braiding her own long silver hair. The two sat in silence until crickets could be heard chirping among the grass.

“This isn't like you,” Iliana said while she poked at the fire with her foot. “Helping travelers has never been on your to-do list, let alone giving them shelter.”

“I didn't think letting them be mauled to death on the road into Autumn Hill would be wise,” Nox said while she started unbraiding her own hair. “Once I saw where they were headed from the summons they had, I figured using them as bait for the rest of the pack, that happens to make their den in the mine, would help me finish them off easily. There are only two or three females left based on the Warden's knowledge so it would have been easy to pick them off before one in the group got killed.”

“Which summons do they have?” Iliana asked with a concerned look on her face.

“The one regarding your aunt Adlana.”

Iliana groaned and rubbed her temples.

“Eight of those summons were sent out,” Iliana began, “they were meant to attract throwaway mercenaries to be a distraction so the actual hired hands could come collect Adlana without the obvious danger coming after them. Please tell me they at least weren't seen by anyone in town.”

“No, we were still an hours walk away from the nearest inn and night fell as soon as we got off the road. The only ones who have seen them are you, myself, and the wendigo. If they leave this forest alive no one important will know.”

“What about the Construct Sentries? They are supposed to be patrolling every square inch of this forest during Del'Inora and Del'Althor's absences.”

Nox looked at Iliana confused.

“The wolves have been destroying the Constructs, that male hanging from the tree tore up the last of them today. The wendigo had been telling them to, according to Warden Del'Althor. Lady Ambermane wanted the wolves gone before she had more Constructs made and let loose. Did no one tell you why I was here?”

“Do you honestly think Ambermane is worried about keeping me informed? She's more concerned with her niece and nephew successfully returning to Autumn Hill married with kids on the way. Then she'll worry about this Construct issue and then maybe me. You think she'll use the throwaway mercs for parts?” Iliana said to change the subject.

“It would make the most sense,” Nox sighed trying to finger comb her hair out. “If parties who took the summons were in groups of 3-5 then the necros would have anywhere between 24 and 40 bodies to work with. Two birds, one stone.”

“So what are you gonna do with the grumpy human and the half-elf who can't decide if he has a spine or not?” Iliana asked.

“I don't get paid enough to be lumped in with the necromancers' job,” Nox said raising her hands up by her face. “If those two get themselves killed it'll be from their own doing. I'll just be close by to take advantage of it if the opportunity arises.”

“Fair enough. Do you want me to do something with your hair while I'm here?” Iliana offered.

“Is it safe for you to focus on something other than the fire?” Nox questioned. “It is the only thing keeping the wendigo away.”

“It won't come back,” Iliana replied taking up sections of Nox's hair. “It knows I am here. It has failed to find a meal at this camp site and probably will fail to find what it's looking for at the other camps in the area, so it has most likely returned to its cavern for a scheduled feeding curtesy of our lovely employer.”

“Is that what you're going to tell Lady Ambermane when you go back in the morning?”

“Yeah,” Iliana sighed, “except I'll leave out the part where you decided to help a group of potential organ and limb donators for your own personal gain. But I'll tell her you're almost done with your job, the last of the Construct Sentries is out of commission and you will be return to the estate in a few weeks.”

“I'd appreciate that,” Nox replied, handing Iliana something to tie her braids back with.

Nox and Iliana fell asleep against the tree to the sound of a crackling fire and the echo of crickets just like the pair were accustomed to on any night. The boys were snoring inside of the yurt which was the perfect cover for someone to slip out from inside a large basket near the rear of the yurt without being detected.

Actual Stranger Danger (Dread pt.6)

The elven woman was starring icy daggers into the yurt while blowing black smoke rings into the fire. The trio was still huddled at the back of the yurt, contemplating what could be their final moments.

“What if this the the person Nox was talking about,” Marine whispered to the boys, “she said earlier someone else would be here.”

“We almost died once today,” Arlo replied, “I don't feel comfortable taking another chance. Plus she sneezed out fire, who's to say she can't do it again and this time get us caught up in it.”

Xander was mouthing something only he could hear in his head.

Why is it all the women we have met today are scary. Why couldn't we have run into more normal ladies like the Honey Pot innkeeper?

A howl somewhere in the forest came drifting through the trees startling the trio. Xander scooted closer to Arlo and Marine. They began trembling against the back of the yurt. The elven woman outside looked in the direction the howl came from and blew a long cloud of black smoke from her nose that enveloped the area around the fire. Once the smoke dissipated, she was nowhere to be seen. The druid staff laid close to the entrance and Marine thought about going to grab it, but Arlo wrapped an unsteady arm around her before she could move.

Marine looked up at Arlo. She could see tears beginning to form in his eyes and she slowly turned her head to check Xander's condition. He was no better off.

The smell of forest rot began to creep through the canvas of the yurt. The air was dank with the stench of rotting wood and mold; like after a thunderstorm. It brought back vague memories of autumn when the leaves would change colors and fall, but there was something heavier in the mix of smells. It was ominous and foul. A stench that the trio had yet to truly experience. Animal corpses had a distinct sour smell to them that permeated in small areas, but this was not the scent of animal decay.

Marine slowly pulled her shirt up over her nose to try and block the putrid smell from burning her lungs and tried to crawl to the entrance of the yurt to grab the druid staff that she had left outside. The boys were too afraid to stop her.

A cold wind suddenly whipped through the camp, extinguishing the fire outside and a great flutter of wings echoed somewhere in the distance. Marine froze on all fours just as she reached the entrance. A deafening silence overtook the campsite and the trio could hear their hearts pounding in their ears. Marine's weak darkvison strained to make out the shapes of the trees and that of the wolf that was still hanging from the tree, slowly dripping blood onto the ground. Each drop hit the ground with the force of a hammer on hot iron. The fire inside was too small to make much of a difference in her sight and only cast weak shadows against the tree opposite of her.

There was no sign of the elven woman or Nox. Marine thought about calling out to her, but reason told her otherwise. The smoldering remains of the campfire in front of her gave off little light for her eyes to work with. Vague grey tree shapes were all she was able to make out. No humanoids in sight.

The stench was worse outside and made Marine gag. She quickly reached for the staff to pull it back inside, but the second her hand wrapped around it, something else pulled from the other side and ripped her from the safety of the yurt. She didn't even have time to scream.

The boys looked at each other with their mouths hanging wide open, tears and snot streaming down their pale faces. Terror immobilized the pair and they could only sit holding one another counting the seconds till it was their turn to be dragged away. Xander's mind immediately blamed the elf for dragging Marine away. He knew she had no intention on waiting for Nox to return. What was taking Nox so long anyway? Had she too also fallen victim to this rouge elf? What about the person she had mentioned eariler? Did this fate also befall them?

Arlo's eyes grew empty and cold. Too much was happening too quickly for him to be able to process what he should do rationally.

“Marine?,” Arlo called out hoarsely. More of the putrid air flooded his lungs making him cough. He tried to crawl to the entrance despite his fear and Xander grabbed on to him and slowly shook his head. “I go find her, Xander.”

“You can't leave me here,” Xander whispered while choking back the terror in his voice.

A deep growl rumbled through stillness and heavy footfalls shook the ground outside behind where the boys were huddled. Xander no longer believed it was the elf tormenting them. The pair slowly turned their heads in vain to try and see any sign of what was stalking them in the night, but the small fire only cast shadows of objects inside the yurt against the canvas. With each massive thud, the boys twitched and held on tighter to one another.

Suddenly, the boys could hear lighter footfalls coming from outside.

“Iliana now!,” Nox's voice roared and a great blue flame erupted around the yurt.

A feral scream pierced the night air as who the boys assumed was Iliana slid into the yurt. She was the elf from earlier with the glowing blue eyes. Nox quickly followed inside with her bow drawn and pointed out the entrance. Nox's nose and mouth were covered with a black cloth, presumably to keep the smell out of her system. Iliana turned her gaze to the opening in the top of the yurt and started to take in a deep breath. The boys looked up in horror to see a pair of large, glowing yellow eyes staring down at them.

Xander and Arlo screamed at the top of their lungs as Iliana let loose a burst of blue flames from her mouth directed through the top of the yurt and into the monster's face that was looming over them. The creature let out a terrible yelp and fled. Nox was ready to chase it down and finish it, but Iliana grabbed onto her cape to hold her back.

“We aren't prepared for this,” Iliana said desperately while black smoke streamed out of her mouth. “Wait for day break, then we can move. If I keep the perimeter burning then we will be okay.”

Iliana slipped back outside and Nox unnotched her arrow. She pulled her face covering down and sniffed the air. The stench had subsided. Nox looked at the boys and then around the rest of the yurt.

“Where's Marine?” she asked with a noticeable amount of worry in her voice.

The Plan (Dread pt.5)

Arlo and Xander sat inside of the yurt trying to find it in themselves to get some sleep, but the situation they had gotten themselves into made them too nervous.

“What if Nox actually tries to kill us,” Xander whispered. “You saw the size of that bow and how easily she was able to hoist me off the ground, with one hand I might add.”

“You think if she was going to kill us she would have done it already,” Arlo replied while looking through his bag for some snacks. “I don't get the feeling we have anything to worry about from her. After all, once she found out where we were going she was more willing to help.”

“That's the one of the things that concerns me. What if she wants the contract for herself and is going to use us to find the old lady and then off us once we have her?”

Arlo scrunched his face up in thought. That was a possibility, but taking a look around the yurt he had a theory that Nox wasn't interested in the contract.

“Look at all these wolf pelts,” Arlo said gesturing around the yurt with a piece of jerky in his hand. “I'm guessing she's here to do some hunting and not search for missing elven grandmas.”

“But why would she have said that staying here put ~us~ closer to where we might find the lady?” Xander said. “Also give me some jerky too, I'm hungry.”

Arlo tossed his brother a piece and peered over at the entrance to the yurt. The opening in the canvas wasn't big enough for him to see all of what was going on outside, but he could see Marine sitting by the fire with the staff in her hands and the tree where the wolf carcass was hanging.

“Psst, Marine,” Arlo whispered harshly startling Marine. He waved a piece of jerky trying to summon Marine inside so they could talk. She quickly came and joined the boys after seeing the jerky.

“Do you have a plan for getting out of here?” Xander questioned Marine sounding worried.

“We get some sleep and head towards the mine in the morning,” Marine replied with a mouth full of jerky. “With any luck we find some obvious signs of where the old lady is or maybe we will get lucky and Nox will come with us to do the tracking.”

The brothers looked at each other and then back at Marine with a scowl.

“There's no way she can come with us,” Xander said. “We can't trust her.”

“She saved our lives,” Marine said sounding offended. “And she is letting us stay in her, uh, home for a night. For free.”

“But why is she?” Arlo asked. “She clearly finds us annoying and is probably just using us so she can collect the reward for the job we accepted.”

“First off she finds Xander annoying,” Marine snapped. “And secondly she's clearly in the area for hunting and will make her money off selling the wolf pelts. Why else would she keep so many in here? Also Arlo, you're the one that asked for her help.”

“I asked her if she would take us to the nearest inn,” Arlo spat defensively, “I didn't think she would skip formalities and bring us home.”

Marine took an aggressive bite of her jerky.

“Look around you,” Marine said gesturing around the yurt, “Nox is obviously a hunter by trade and this is how she makes a living. She is clearly good at her job, so why would she want to make a career switch.”

The boys quietly ate their jerky and looked at all the pelts neatly folded around the yurt.

“So you aren't bothered by what her bow is made of?” Xander asked Marine. “Bones are not what I would consider a normal material to make bows out of. I may not have picked up much during class, but I do know that bows are generally made of wood and not spinal columns.”

“You are being awfully rude to our host who happened to save our lives. I for one don't think it is wise to openly judge someone for their choice of weapons. We don't even know what type of bones it's made of. It could be made out of the wolves for all we know.”

Marine knew deep down it was better they didn't ask the question.

“Marine, you told her our names and she hasn't called any of us by them,” Arlo said offering another piece of jerky to the other two. “Doesn't that worry you?”

“Yeah, it is like when farmers don't name their live stock because they don't want to get attached,” Xander explained. “It makes killing them easier. Where is she anyway?”

“She left to go get rid of the wolf guts so they wouldn't stink up the camp,” Marine said taking another piece of jerky from Arlo.

“She left?!,” the boys exclaimed in unison.

“We have to leave,” Xander said jumping to his feet, “make a torch out of the staff using pelt scraps and lets go.”

“Now that wouldn't be a very good idea,” an unfamiliar voice laughed from outside.

A cold shiver of pure terror tore through the bodies of the trio and the fire outside suddenly went out. The trio scrambled to the back of the yurt and looked in horror out the small entrance to see a glowing pair of icy blue eyes staring them down from outside.

“You want to try and fight them too, Marine,” Xander said sarcastically, “or maybe we can ask them nicely if they have any cold mead to spare so we can have one last drink before we are all murdered.”

“Cut it out, Xander,” Arlo spat trying to hide the fear in his voice.

“How about both of you shut up,” the voice outside called, “stealing from the Blackwood Estate is a serious crime in these parts.”

Marine scrunched up her eyebrows and pulled out the summons flyer from her bag.

“We aren't here to steal from the estate, we are here doing a job for them,” she replied with confidence holding up the flyer. “Nox saved us on the road and is letting us stay here for the night.”

The glowing eyes blinked twice and the individual sneezed letting out a burst of blue flame that reignited the fire outside revealing a pale skinned elven woman leaning against a tree across from the yurt. Even with the fire going again her eyes were glowing the same icy blue and black smoke was streaming out of her mouth which was turned up in a sinister grin.

“We will see to the truth of that when Nox returns,” the woman hissed, “until then, start thinking about what your last words are going to be.”