Neytiri paced around the tent she shared with her mother asGriffinwrote out a message.
“You can’t do this, Mother. This is wrong and you know it.” Neytiri sat down on her bed and glared at her mother. “You can’t call on them for help!”
Griffinwhirled around to face her daughter. “You will remember your place, Neytiri. I am Head of this Clan, and I will do what I think best for it. Right now I think the best thing to do is call on help. Be it from ogres or giants, you will support my every stupid move. Understand?”
Neytiri nodded solemnly.Griffinturned back around and finished the letter. She signed her name and stood up, folding the paper in half. “Toss this in the fire, will you?” Neytiri took the letter and, without reading it, placed it in the furnace. She watched as the little slip of paper turned brown, then black, then to ashes.
She turned back to her mother, who was already writing a second letter.
“And who is that to?” Neytiri inquired.
“Drey.”Griffinspoke through gritted teeth and she clutched her feather pen sharply. She pressed the pen down hard and had to dip the tip in the ink pot every few words. Finally, she scribbled her signature and folded it in half. “Toss this in the fire as well,” she ordered, handing it to Neytiri. Neytiri did as she was told and then turned to her mother.
“And what exactly did he do to gain that much anger from you?”
“Nothing.” She turned away from Neytiri. “Go out with Jay to train Taki.”
Neytiri stared at Grinffin’s back for a moment. “Alright, Mother.” She whirled around and left the tent. She went in search of Jay and found him working with Taki and Traito.Tarawas standing off to one side, watching them. Jay was teaching Traito and Taki how to put together weapons when stuck without normal materials.
“Now, when you only have wood, you can shape it into a stake. And if you can find any metals, you can put them together to form just about any weapon.” Jay stepped back and watched as the two apprentices pieced weapons together with random different materials.
Neytiri went to stand besideTaraand crossed her arms.
“Writing letters,” Neytiri responded.
Tararaised her eyebrows, but didn’t question it. Just then, the flap ofGriffin’s tent opened and she stepped out. She looked around and made eye contact withTara.Griffincalled her over and Zarina and Spirit joined them.
“What’s going on?” Jay asked, stepping toward Neytiri.
“Girffin is making some kind of plan, but I don’t know what it is. All I know is the first person she wrote to was the headmistress of NightMare Scool.”
Jay’s green eyes widened. “What for?” he asked.
Neytiri shrugged. “I have no idea. Especially if this creature is some kind of Shadow Creature itself.”
“Uh, Jaydo?” Jay turned to see Taki and Traito had finished creating their new weapons. “What are we supposed to do with these?” She held her haphazard creation. Jay smiled. “Hey! Don’t you dare laugh at me! I mean, look at these useless things you gave us to work with!” Taki stood up with her hands on her hips, scowling at her mentor.
Jay shrugged. He was going to tell her something, but Girffin called out.
“Hunters and Huntresses. Please gather here to listen.” The Hunters all dropped what they were doing and formed a large group all around her. She was standing on top of a shelf Zarina had brought out from her own tent. “We will be heading out at dawn.” Some Hunters cheered, glad to be heading back home. “But we are not heading back home just yet.” Hunters all around began protesting.Griffinsilenced them all with a look. “Some of you may not have noticed yet, but the scouts we sent out eight days ago have not returned. It was a two day journey and they should have been back four days after leaving. Yet, double that time has passed and they are still gone.” She paused as this sunk in. “Tara, Neytiri, and Jaydo ran into a Budgekaki twice the normal size, completely black, and with wings.” Gasps rang out as people thought about what danger such an enemy could pose. “We have also discovered a new demon-creature, called the Darkness, which consumes everything in its path. We have allotted the loss of the two scouts, Kaita and Jyla, on this creature.”
“If we aren’t going home then where are we going?” one Hunter called out.
“Yeah, wouldn’t we be safest under the protection spells back home?” another questioned.
Griffinshook her head. “There is a place where our magic could be added to help keep us even safer than we would be back home.”
“And where is this wonderful place?” the first Hunter demanded.
“NightMareSchool.”Griffinspoke quietly and protests immediately rang out.Griffinlet them protest longer than she usually did. Then she clapped her hands and silence fell upon the gathered crowd. “It has already been decided.NightMareSchoolis the safest place for us right now. And besides that, with the help of the Shadow Creatures we could easily overpower this new threat.”
“Why don’t we just team up with Drey’s Clan and fight together?” an older Hunter inquired.
“Drey’s Clan will be meeting us at NMS,”Griffinreplied.
“Who’s Drey?” a young Hunter called out.
“The leader of the other Clan,” another Hunter replied.
“What other Clan?” a second younger Hunter asked.
Griffinsighed and silenced the crowd again. “Yes, there is a second Clan. It is run by Drey, their Head Hunter. You will all meet him and his Clan only days from now. I don’t want to hear anything about them until then.” She stepped down from the shelf and walked towards her tent with Tara and Spirit. Zarina moved her shelf back into her tent and joined them.
“Drey, eh?” Jay asked, turning to Neytiri with a grin. “Do you think this mystery man your mom hates so much could be your father?”
Neytiri grimaced. “Please don’t say that.” Neytiri had already had the thought, and it didn’t comfort her in the least. Her mother applauded herself on having raised both Neytiri and Jay without any man, and Neytiri felt proud of the fact herself. Plus, if her mother despised this man so much, he must have done something to hurt her, and Neytiri didn’t want to call any rude man her father.
“Hey, sorry, Ney. You know I didn’t mean anything by it, right?” Jay rested a hand on her shoulder and seemed to apologize with his beautiful leaf-green eyes. Neytiri found herself looking into them, seeing their childhood reflected there. He stepped back and removed his hand from her shoulder and the connection was lost. “Well, I’m just going to go help Zarina get ready to leave, okay?” He turned and walked away and Neytiri found herself rooted to the ground, watching his back.
“Hey, Tiri, could you help me over here?” Neytiri shook her thoughts and turned to see Zaiko calling her over. He was with Astrid and the two looked quite happy together.They would make a cute couple, Neytiri thought to herself,and at least now he won’t be bothering me as much.
“What do you need help with?” Neytiri asked as she approached them.
“I was just wondering if you could go out and catch something. I already sent out Riina and Sebastian. But you always manage to catch the best meat.” Neytiri smiled and nodded, walking away. She turned back as she neared the edge of camp and saw Zaiko and Astrid sitting with their heads close together, smiling and laughing. Neytiri smiled.
She took an arrow from her quiver and strung it in her arrow as she headed into the woods. Her cheetahs followed her out of camp. She caught sight of a deer soon after entering the woods and brought it down as soon as she had seen it. She hung her bow on her quiver to free her arms and hefted up the large deer. She placed it between her cheetahs’ backs and helped steady them. The three made their way back to camp as the sun was setting.
“Wow, that’s great, Neytiri!” Zaiko exclaimed as she came close. She dropped the large deer on the ground beside him and headed toGriffin’s tent. Sarafina and Sarabi followed her back and made themselves comfortable next toGriffin’s wolf, Storm, outside the tent.
Inside,Griffinwas sitting in front of her desk. The tents packed themselves, for the most part. They were enchanted to turn tiny enough to fit in pockets when the Hunters were in traveling mode. That way camp was easy to set up and take back down.
“What’s wrong?” Neytiri asked, letting the tent flap close behind her as she walked to sit on the bed behindGriffin.
Griffinsighed and turned to face Neytiri in her seat. “I know you don’t agree with my decision to turn to Berret. But Tara and Spirit do. Zarina takes your stand. With such divided advice, should I not go through with this?”
“Mother, you have to do what you think is right. Being leader isn’t easy, as you already know. You have to make choices that will affect everyone. You just have to be strong enough to resist those who would oppose you for the bettering of your Clan.”
Griffinnodded and smiled. “You’ll make a wonderful Head Huntress one day, you know that, right?”
Neytiri shook her head. “Don’t even speak like that. I could never rule this Clan the way you do.”
“No, you couldn’t. You’d rule it the way you would. As a much kinder and more focused leader.”
Neytiri shook her head. “I doubt I could. I’m not nearly as strong as you are.”
“Strength isn’t everything, dear one.”Griffinstood up and walked over to the bed to sit next to Neytiri. She placed a hand on Neytiri’s lap. “You don’t have to worry about anything for a while, Daughter.” She smiled. “I’m still alive and kicking, and as long as I’m alive, I will remain Head Huntress of this Clan.” Neytiri nodded.Griffinglanced outside. “Now, I think it may be time for both of us to get a good night’s rest.NightMareSchoolis hardly half a day’s journey from where we are now.”
“Half a day? That makes it awfully close to our Hunting Ground, doesn’t it?” Neytiri questioned, surprised by the propinquity of the Shadow Creature academy.
Griffinnodded. “And what’s wrong with that?NightMareSchoolbreeds the best Shadow Creatures. The ones who tend to aid us in our search of those gone bad. We don’t have to be their enemies all the time and in every situation, Daughter.”
“I know. But it’s simply so natural to think of them as our enemies. It’s difficult to think they could quite possibly help us.”
“I know, sweetie. But sometimes we have to put aside our prejudices in order to work together for our common good.”
“Mother, can I ask you a question?” Neytiri looked her mother in the eyes.
“Of course, dear. Anything.”
“What is your relation with this Berret? Why do you trust her?”
Griffinthought a moment and her blue gaze drifted away from Neytiri. It seemed to drift away from the present and look at a scene from the past.
“I was your age when I met her. We used to be the closest of friends,” she began.
“Close friends with a Shadow Creature?” Neytiri recoiled.
“Things were different back then. There weren’t such strong and harsh lines dividing Shadows and Hunters. In fact, Berret and I went to the same school as young girls.”
“A school for Shadows and Hunters?” Neytiri looked at her mother with an expression of curious interest; beginning to wonder what time period her mother was even from.
Griffinnodded. She shook her head and seemed to come back to the present. “Anyways, that’s how we know each other. I would trust her with my life if I ever had to. She’s quite honest and trustworthy, and her school is the only one that brings out Shadows as honest as her.”
Neytiri nodded. “Okay. I guess if you trust her, then I can as well.”
Griffinsmiled. “Thank you, Daughter.”
Neytiri smiled back and stood up. “Well, if we’re leaving at dawn, I might as well get some rest, huh?”