NMS ~ Chapter Twenty-one

Neytiri walked ahead of Jay and Rhea with Sarabi and Sarafina on either side of her. The cold breeze blew her long braided hair back and made her shiver. There was snow on the ground and in the trees. The sky was overcast and Neytiri hoped it wouldn’t snow while they were out.

“Hey, can we make camp for the day? We’ve traveled quite far, and quite honestly, I’m pretty tired,” Rhea said, quickening her pace to walk beside Neytiri on her right side. Sarabi growled.

Neytiri glanced across at her with a calm expression as she forged on. “We’ll go on for another few hours before stopping for the night,” she told Rhea. Rhea’s shoulders sagged and she fell behind. Out of her peripheral vision, Neytiri saw Jay smile and comfort Rhea. Neytiri scowled. The witch was an oversized spoiled baby. Berret had turned her into a principal’s pet who knew nothing of life outside the school.

“Can we at least stop to eat?” Jay asked. From his voice Neytiri could easily tell he made the request on Rhea’s behalf rather than his own. Neytiri sighed and stopped.

She turned to face her companions. “Fine, but make it a quick meal.”

Jay scooped some sandwiches out of his backpack and handed one to each of the girls and kept one for himself. They sat in a triangle as the cats went out to hunt. They ate in silence and didn’t even look at each other throughout the meal.

“It feels weird to be so far away from the school,” Rhea commented, breaking the silence.

Jay nodded. “You’ve never known anywhere else, have you?” he asked.

Rhea shook her head. “I’ve been raised there my entire life.”

“Sounds…exciting,” Neytiri commented lamely, finishing her sandwich.

“Not really. You just go through the same routines every single day. Classes, work, life in general. Nothing in comparison to the traveling life of a Hunter. It must be amazing!” Rhea smiled in enthusiasm.

“Walking around al day fighting monsters and never knowing a real home? Not sure how that’s much better.” Jay looked down at his half-eaten sandwich.

Neytiri stood up. “Hurry up and finish that, Jay, you’re the one who made us stop to eat.” She turned around as Sarabi and Sarafina returned. Mufasa was right behind them. “Ready to go, girls?” she asked her cheetahs. Mufasa growled in response. “And boy?” she grinned as the large golden lion appeared to nod his head and smile.

Rhea and Jay got to their feet and the three began to walk again.

“Are we trying to get toLakanaLaketoday or something?” Rhea asked after a while.

“If you had ever been on travels, you would know it’s best to cover as much ground as you can each day. Otherwise you simply get left behind and you’ll never make it where you’re trying to go.” Neytiri quickened her pace and left Jay and Rhea behind. For some reason she was losing her temper quickly and she wanted to stay away from her friends in case she got angry and yelled at either of them for something.

Neytiri halted as she reached the top of a large hill. She looked out over it and gasped. Jay and Rhea ran to catch up with her.

“What’s wrong? “Jay demanded, reaching the top of the hill. He and Rhea were both silenced by the sight in front of the,

“That is one very large forest,” Rhea commented.

“Sekai forest,” Neytiri murmured. “It’s rumored to be filled with ghosts and Budgekakai and monsters from Greater to lesser.” As Rhea stared at her in horror, she grinned. “Let’s head in there, shall we?”

“Ooff, I willneverunderstand Hunters,” Rhea muttered as she followed Neytiri and Jay, who had both dashed off ahead with their cats. Neytiri felt the cold air against her as she ran down the hill. With Jay by her side she felt like nothing could ever go wrong and they could remain in this serene world of grass and wind and flowers forever.

But as they slowed as they reached the bottom of the hill, Neytiri remembered that they were on a mission to find crests to help their friends defeat the Darkness. There was no time for happiness and bliss. They were in the middle of a war, and they had to keep themselves focused.

Rhea came to a sliding halt beside Jay and he helped steady her. Sarabi, Sarafina, and Mufasa had padded on ahead and entered the forest.

“Come on, guys,” Neytiri rushed ahead. As she reached the beginning of the forst, she came to a stop. Through the trees she could see nothing because of how dark it was and how thick together the tree grew.

“How do we even get through there?” Rhea asked. Just then, Sarabi’s head popped out from behind one tree. Sarafin and Mufasa came out from behind another.

“What’s it like in there?” Neytiri asked them. Sarafina seemed to shrug, and since she didn’t growl or snarl, Neytiri took that to be a positive sign. “Let’s get going then, troops.” She led Rhea and Jay around trunks and over fallen logs. They seemed to walk on and on forever and Neytiri could no longer tell what time it was as the sky was completely covered by branches and leaves. She couldn’t catch a glimpse of a single star or shred of sky.

“I’m pretty sure it’s well pastmidnightby now,” Rhea muttered.

“You’re right, we should probably make camp,” Neytiri replied, stopping and swinging her backpack off her shoulders to get the tent out.

“Seriously?” Rhea asked, eyes excited.

Neytiri nodded with a smile. “Congratulate yourself on your first day as a traveler.”

Rhea smiled. “I probably would have died without you two. I have no idea how you Hunters travel like this all your lives!”

Jay grinned. “When you’ve been raised a Hunter, it comes more naturally.”

Neytiri set up the tent as Jay and Rhea took sandwiches out of Jay’s backpack. They all sat down inside the tent with Sarabi, Sarafina, and Mufasa. Neytiri tossed some meat to the cats while Jay passed around sandwiches. Neytiri leaned back against the side of one of the beds and took a bite of her sandwich.

“So, if we continue at this pace, we’ll make it toLakanaLaketomorrow night, and from there theKatakanMountainsare only a day away. It’ll take three days from there to the Misai Glaciers though….And then five days to walk back down from there…”

“You’ve got it all planned out, don’t you?” Rhea asked. “I might just pass out after we reachLakanaLake.”

Jay laughed and pushed her lightly. “You’ll be fine, Rhea. Neytiri and I are here, and we’ll get you back to your mom safe and sound. Don’t you worry.” Jay winked and Rhea smiled.

Neytiri stood up and grabbed her bow and arrow.

“Where are you going?” Jay asked her, standing up and blocking her path to the entrance of the tent.

“I can’t sit around here,” Neytiri told him, stepping past him. “I need to get some fresh air.”

“Why are you taking a weapon?” Rhea asked.

Jay and Neytiri both turned to her with criticizing looks.

“Hunters always carry their weapons, they’re ready for anything at anytime,” Jay said, sitting back down out of Neytiri’s way. She left the tent and snapped her fingers to call Sarabi and Sarafina. The two cheetahs dashed out into the forest. Neytiri followed them slowly, glancing around.

Neytiri looked up and jumped onto a branch in a nearby tree. She looked down and saw Sarabi and Sarafina stalking a small elk. She hopped from her branch to a branch in the next tree. She climbed to a higher branch. She reached the top of the large tree and looked up at the sky. She leaned back against a crook of the tree and stared at the stars and smiled. The cold breeze blew her hair back and gave her a shiver.

She wondered how Rhea was going to make it back to the school in one piece when she had barely made it through the first day of traveling.

Neytiri sighed. She kept trying to tell herself she didn’t notice it, but sitting out under the stars by herself she couldn’t lie to herself.

She had seen the way Jay looked at Rhea when talking to her. And if she pretended she hadn’t noticed the way Rhea looked back, she might die.

Neytiri shook her head and sighed. If Jay wanted to date Rhea, that was his choice. Who was she to stop him? If her best friend wanted to date a witch, she wasn’t going to stop him. That was his choice to make.

She stood up on her branch and jumped straight down to the floor, landing on her feet. She stood up straight and looked around. Sarabi and Sarafina came running out of the woods and stopped in front of her.

“Ready, girls?” Neytiri asked, scratching each of their heads. They purred as the three headed back for the tent.

Neytiri froze as she heard high pitched scream.

“Let’s go!” Neytiri went running for the tent, dashing along beside her sheetahs. They reached the clearing where the tent was located and Neytiri saw that the tent was destroyed, Jay was sitting up in a tree and Rhea was nowhere to be seen.

“What happened?” Rhea demanded. Jay hopped out of the tree and landed beside her.

“I have no idea. It was a werewolf. Rhea told me to stay away, but she got on its back and it took her away…” Jay looked startled. This was an expression Neytiri was not used to seeing on her friend’s face.

“Why would she go with it willingly?” Neytiri asked, assessing the damage done to the tent. “And what happened over here?”

“How should I know? They’re both Shadows, maybe they knew each other. As for the tent, the werewolf attacked us first. Rhea and I fought it before Rhea seemed to recognize it.”

Neytiri nodded. “Where’s Mufasa?”

“I sent him to track the werewolf and Rhea silently.”

“Alright, good.” Neytiri stood up from inspecting a broken arrow from Jay’s quiver. “Well, this rather ruins the good night’s rest I was looking forward to. Now we have to go find the kid.” Neytiri unstrapped her bow from her quiver and looked to Jay, who was still standing where he had landed. “You coming?”

“You don’t like her very much, do you?” he asked, not moving.

“Jay, this is hardly the time. We need to go find Rhea seeing as how she’s a crucial part of this mission.”

“Answer the question,” Jay demanded, crossing his arms.

Neytiri sighed. “What do you want me to say? That I don’t like her?” Jay didn’t move. “I don’t care enough to have an opinion, okay, Jay? She’s a mission partner and that means I’m bound to her safety. I’m not going to let her run off with her werewolf boyfriend. So come on, lover boy.” She began walking in the opposite direction from where Jay was standing.

Jay stepped toward her, green eyes glinting harshly. “Lover boy?”

Neytiri sighed and turned back to face him. “What?”

“Why are you calling me ‘lover boy’?”

“Oh, like you weren’t being obvious enough for me to notice?” Neytiri asked.

Suddenly, Jay’s eyes hardened and his jaw clenched. “Oh, so now you’re interested in my love life?”

“What is that supposed to mean?” Neytiri asked. “Now is the first time you’ve ever had a love life!”

“No thanks to you!” Jay cried and suddenly stopped himself. Neytiri stared at him for a moment.

“No thanks to me? You don’t mean…” Neytiri gasped, blue eyes wide in shock.

Jay was nodding. “Right, you never once noticed. Not once.” Jay stalked on ahead of her. “I’m going to go find her, you can come with me or you can stand there gaping like a fool.”


The End

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