54 Traces of Hope
⊱————- Ofris' PoV ————-⊰
My body felt heavy, far too heavy for me to even believe that I could take a single more step. And still, I continued forward. I somehow managed to fight my way through the underwood, one step at a time, while fending off thorns, roots and stones that couldn't stop trying to make me stumble.
Of course I wanted to take a break. Everything inside of me screamed to do so, but I knew I couldn't. She was still out there somewhere, in the cold, damp wilderness she had lost herself in.
I knew she had run away, from me and the crimes I had committed but also from herself and all the bad decisions that had come haunting her. It had been a week since then, a whole week in this nothingness, far away from anything that could provide her the warm and safe shelter she both needed and deserved.
A part of me already believed something had happened to her. It told me she had met a wolf or a bear, any kind of animal that wouldn't think twice of attacking her. Or worse, goblins and ogres that wouldn't even leave traces of her.
Maybe she would try to fight them, using the same tricks she had used on me. But that would only buy her time. And if she used it against those filthy greenskins, who knew what they would do to her. She surely wouldn't be eaten once her mana ran out and she turned back, but she wouldn't be safe either. It would be hell.
I couldn't stop these pictures from popping up in my head. For a whole week, I saw her being eaten alive by wolves, being buried under a falling tree or freezing to death while crying for help. The worst kind of nightmares were by far those which showed her with those goblins, crying and begging for them to kill her instead.
Once again my steps became faster. My whole body screamed, it burned in pain, but I couldn't accept taking a break. Not now. There was still daylight left. I could sleep when it was too dark to see!
Of course that was a lie. I had barely slept the last days. Whenever my body had allowed me to do so, I had continued charging forward, searching under each tree, in each bush and in each pile of leaves I could find.
Naturally, my body couldn't keep up with this torture for long. Whenever I sat down next to an animals burrow to check if she had maybe hidden inside of it, it prevented me from standing up again. It was just impossible. My legs were too weak, too heavy and too shaky for them to even listen to my pleads.
So I was forced to sit down or lie on the ground flat while the hours passed by and my mind once again filled with thoughts of her, with memories and fears.
All of this had lead to nothing. There were barely any traces of her to be found. And even the few that might be hidden in the underwood slipped my eyes, or at least I believed so. I had never learned to search for traces like the ones a clumsy fox would leave behind. Goblins and ogres, yes. But little, frightened pets?
It was three days ago that I had seen the last tracks of what must have been her. The imprints of her little paws had led me to a half-burned bush and feathers that were spread everywhere around the charred remains of what could have been a rather large raven. She had eaten from it, but not much. At least not enough to keep her warm and sated for more than mere hours.
Jack and the others had helped me at first, but their energy and patience had lasted only two days. After that, they had just given up, claiming they would send experienced trackers instead which would have a better chance at finding her than any of us.
They did send someone. But she wasn't close to anything I had guessed to see. Sahria was no tracker. She never really went on adventurers, living her life in the safety of cities and towns instead. Even if she wanted to, she couldn't keep up, and her powerful magic didn't change this the slightest.
In the end, she had still helped me somewhat. She couldn't search for strands of hair or imprints in the soft dirt, but she could track traces of magic, which had proven to be far more valuable.
It had been her that led me in the direction of Rika's last neal, claiming magic was used to bring it down. Naturally, I knew that much after taking as much as a single glance. It was obvious that magic was involved. But in the end, I wouldn't even have found it without her help. I would still be searching for nothing but a battered and possibly lifeless body.
She had given me the little hope I had prayed for and the determination needed to defeat the desperate cries of my body. Now she was resting in a makeshift camp, trying to fight the blisters and exhaustion the long travel had punished her with. But I couldn't sit down next to her. I just couldn't.
«She has to be here somewhere!»
I continued forward, following flashes of inspiration rather than searching for the traces I wouldn't find anyway. She would search for food, for clean water and a safe place to rest. There had to be a spring somewhere, a brook or a pond, anything that looked clear enough to drink from.
When I finally found water, I was close to collapsing on the spot. By now, I had probably defied any rule, written and unwritten, adventurers, hunters and soldiers would follow. If anything was to attack me now, I wouldn't even be able to fight back properly.
When my eyes turned to the muddy ground in front of me, the reddish light of the setting sun revealed a few dozen imprints to me. There were tracks of deer and hogs that had come to this place to drink, and even the small footprints of at least one goblin, but all of those paled when compared to the timid steps of a little animal that had come here a short while ago.
«It is her!»
I couldn't be mistaken. It couldn't possibly be a wolf cup or a young fox as either of them would be almost as big as their mother by this time of the year. They wouldn't look that small!
Tears ran down my cheeks as I slumped to the ground.
«She is alive...» This single truth echoed through my mind over and over again. «She really is alive...»
⊱————- Extra ————-⊰
Sahria: It hurts!
Sahria: Why does it hurt so much?
Sahria: Mana... I need more mana!
Sahria: Just a little bit more and I can heal it...
Sahria: Concentrate... concentrate...
Sahria: ... why is it so cold?! It isn't even winter!
Sahria: What was that? An animal?!
Sahria: Please come back!