‘I’ve never been on a slope like this,’ Amber muttered as she kept on skidding and falling on the slope.
Saphira just lolled her tongue out happily, wagging her tail as she pricked her ears up inquisitively whenever she heard a sound. She withdrew her tongue and perked up fully, staring to the side when she heard something that sounded like a mouse squeak. She wandered off the path curiously, unknown to Amber, and jumped in between the boulders that stood by the pathway, growling when she found a small brown mouse and kicked up some dust to try and catch it. When Amber turned around, she blinked when she saw Saphira right behind her, the mouse dangling from its tail in her mouth. She frowned.
‘Put it down, it might be carrying something,’ she said ‘You know how a lot of diseases spread and that mouse might have a new incurable one.’ Saphira whimpered, flattening her ears and dropping the mouse sheepishly. The mouse squeaked as it landed on the ground and scampered off. Amber blinked curiously at it. ‘I wonder how a small thing like that managed to survive out here.’ Saphira sat down, staring up at Amber with round blue eyes. Amber’s lips quirked as she continued to walk down the mountain. Saphira perked up and followed her eagerly.
Amber winced painfully as she stepped on a jagged rock with her bare foot then stubbed her toe when she moved it away. She whined and hopped about, biting her lip to prevent any curses that she had learnt off her father. Saphira whimpered and licked her toe compassionately and Amber shook her foot out gently to shake away the pain. Saphira flattened her ears and gently pushed Amber into the direction of a rock that was big enough for the both of them to sit down on. Sighing, Amber sat down on the rock and wiped the sweat off her brow with a tired sigh. Saphira lay her head on her lap and Amber smiled, tickling her ears. Saphira lolled her tongue out happily and wagged her tail when Amber began to ignore the pain throbbing in her foot. Amber sighed and leaned back, wiping her sweaty brow.
‘I’m exhausted, we’ve been at it for about three hours, surely?’ she moaned as Saphira grew into her human form and sat beside her tiredly ‘I swear it looked so easy going up and down mountains according to my father’s stories of his missions.’ Saphira took out an icicle from her torn pocket and offered it to her. Amber glanced at it warily. ‘What is that for? It looks dangerous…’ Saphira laughed.
‘It can be but at this size and sharpness, it wouldn’t do much harm so you don’t have to worry about that little detail. Haven’t you seen an icicle before during winter? There were lots of them around my home and I collected them all the time when I was a little girl,’ she said with a small reminiscing smile and when Amber shook her head she gasped ‘What, seriously? You’ve never see frozen water before? Not even a sheet of ice over water? You must have at least seen some snow perhaps? Come on, if you haven’t seen any form of ice, you’ve got to be kidding me…’ She pouted disappointedly when Amber showed no signs of recognition. ‘You have not had a proper winter if you haven’t seen frozen water.’
‘Water can freeze?’ Amber said with a bewildered frown and poked the icicle warily ‘I never thought that could be possible…’ Saphira gaped and then realised while smacking a hand against her forehead.
‘Oh, I completely forgot about your upbringing! You grew up in a village in the middle of a desert so ice must be foreign to you!’ She giggled to herself and held the icicle up to the sweltering hot sun and above Amber. ‘Tilt your head up and open your mouth wide.’ Amber did so and water began dripping into her mouth. She let the water fall into her mouth until the icicle was half melted and swallowed, grateful from the drink. Saphira giggled as Amber spotted that she had dribbled slightly onto the blanket. Amber grimaced and wiped her mouth with the blanket before smiling at Saphira.
‘Thanks for that, I appreciate it,’ Amber said as she licked her chapped lips gratefully and wiped more sweat off her brow. Saphira smiled sympathetically and devoured the rest of the icicle.
‘So, you’re looking for your father?’ she said tilting her head to the side ‘Sounds like a tough quest if you’re going to go to the Queen about it.’
‘Yeah,’ Amber nodded ‘Mother is safe at my friend’s home but I have no idea where my little brother is. I hope he’s alright, he gets distressed very easily.’ Saphira smiled kindly and placed a hand on Amber’s shoulder.
‘Well, you only have a little brother to worry for,’ she sighed ‘I have two triplet sisters, both who are younger than me. I have double trouble when I worry about them. One is enough but two can be quite a problem if you’re the eldest.’
‘And I suppose you know where both of them are then?’ Amber smirked knowingly with a raised eyebrow. Saphira giggled and winked.
‘They should be faking the fact that I’m there with them,’ she whispered with a mischievous smirk ‘I gave Teresa, the middle sister, a wig made out of my fur. She decided to dye her hair into a variety of colours so we look nothing alike now. It was a bit of a shock from our father, he loved Teresa’s hair in particular. The youngest, Victoria, looks like me, but she isn’t that good at acting. All she needs to do is pretend that she’s keeping fit by going outside and staying out for about half an hour.’ Amber giggled.
‘I guess that lets you take advantage of having triplet sisters then,’ she grinned ‘I wish I had a twin sister. I would have loved to have that twin bond and confuse my parents whenever I had the chance.’
‘Yeah,’ Saphira sighed wistfully with a thoughtful smile ‘I love my sisters a lot. I hope they’re not missing me too much. I know that I’m missing them.’ Amber smiled as she stared up at the sky.
‘Well I know that I’m missing my baby brother,’ she sighed thoughtfully ‘I bet he’s missing me quite a bit too.’ Saphira grinned and turned to her.
‘You must really love him, right?’ she said ‘I would like to meet him, he sounds cuter than Cody.’
‘He is,’ Amber said immediately ‘There is nothing cuter than Jasper. But don’t tell him that, he’ll throw a tantrum. But that makes him even cuter.’ Saphira began laughing loudly and sighed, shaking her head with a wide smile. They both quietly sat for a while, regaining their strength until Saphira perked up suddenly. An unfamiliar piercing screech entered Amber’s hearing range and they both looked at each other with confused looks. It came again and Amber’s brows furrowed when she failed to recognize what creature it came from and what kind of screech it was.
‘What was that?’ Saphira paled as she stared up the mountain.
‘A Croft’s Raven…’ she whispered softly.
‘A what?’ Saphira gaped at Amber.
‘You’ve never seen a Croft’s Raven in the desert?’ she asked in disbelief with wide eyes ‘They’re known to be quite common in barren places…’ When Amber shook her head, Saphira groaned softly, grabbed her and pulled her behind one of the large boulders, shaking with slight fright. Amber looked at the ground when a large shadow swooped over them then looked up, her jaw dropping in astonishment. A giant black bird with red and green tips on the feathers of its wings flew across the mountain and perched on a large grey boulder a few metres away from them. Saphira’s breathing was quickened, faint and light as Amber stared at it in wonder. She had never seen anything like it. It was much bigger than the small village she lived in and its wing span was roughly five metres long. Its beak was black and pointed white teeth could be seen when it opened that beak to let out a caw. Its caw was ear-splitting. It echoed throughout the wasteland and Amber covered her ears to avoid damaging her sensitive hearing while Saphira let out a small pained whimper and bared it. Its dark green eyes shone in the sunlight and scanned the area, ready to strike down any prey. Its large golden talons gripped the boulder it was perched on and slowly rolled it away, its head craned to look down at what was beneath. Saphira let out a growl suddenly and Amber craned her neck to see what was underneath. Her golden red eyes widened suddenly when she saw a young woman with black hair and pale skin underneath the boulder, her leg mangled and bloody.
‘Xeann!’ she gasped and lurched forward but Saphira held her down firmly. The Croft’s Raven turned its head sharply when Amber made an annoyed grunt and scanned the area carefully before bending down to peck at the limp vampire. Xeann made no moves to indicate that she was alive and Amber tried to lunge forward to rescue her but was pulled back by Saphira again. ‘Let me go!’ Amber snapped with a harsh whisper at the young werewolf.
‘Don’t make any sudden movements,’ Saphira hushed Amber as they watched ‘It’ll get you if you do that. I can’t believe it! Croft’s Ravens shouldn’t be that big! The Nightmare Blanket must have altered it…’
‘My friend is over there,’ Amber whispered as she nodded to Xeann ‘She’s the one who took me to Vigour Village in the first place.’ Saphira glanced back and bared her teeth when she saw the sight of her.
‘You’re friends with a vampire?’ she whispered venomously ‘Are you actually being serious about this?’ Amber held up her hands in alarm when she remembered vampires and werewolves did not get along well. Saphira sighed and shook her head. ‘I’m going to risk my life for a vampire,’ she murmured to herself ‘My dad’s going to kill me for sure if he finds out. …Although, he is going to kill me if he finds out that I’ve been running off to get Cody for four months anyway…’ Amber winced and covered her ears when another deafening caw echoed through the air. Both girls looked from behind their hiding place and gaped as Xeann clung onto the Croft’s Raven’s feathers, one of her curved blades deep in its eye. The large bird took off into the air and flew around blindly in an attempt to shake Xeann off. Xeann’s grip began to weaken and she pulled her blade out of the eye, causing the Croft’s Raven to screech in pain. She fell and Amber hastily untied the blanket away from her body.
‘Come on!’ she urged as she threw one end of the blanket to Saphira ‘We have to catch her before she’s hurt even more!’ Saphira, feeling that the threat was significantly less now due to the Croft’s Raven’s blindness and ignoring the fact that she was helping a vampire, took the end of the blanket and the girls ran underneath Xeann to catch her before she would land on the ground. Once Xeann felt her soft landing, her eyes flew open and the first thing she saw was Amber. She lurched forward and hissed in pain as her mauled leg protested against her sudden movements.
‘What are you doing here?’ she asked sharply as Amber began to tie the blanket around her injury ‘You were supposed to be taken back home!’
‘I got kidnapped by some werewolf,’ Amber muttered with a soft growl at the memory of Cody ‘Stupid idiot got me when I was still recovering…’ Xeann rounded on Saphira with bared fangs immediately but Amber pulled her away. ‘It was a different werewolf. Saphira rescued me from him.’ Saphira snorted and nodded firmly to confirm that it was true. Xeann gave Saphira a mistrustful look before looking up when she heard an enraged screech from the Croft’s Raven.
‘I think I might have got it angry,’ she murmured as the Croft’s Raven landed on a boulder, nursing its eye sorely. It turned on them suddenly, blood trickling down the side of its face.
‘Run!’ Saphira said as she helped Xeann up with Amber and they began running off.
‘Don’t bother!’ Xeann hissed as she tugged both girls back ‘It’ll catch us anyway and we’ll make it angrier! Angry Croft’s Ravens means more painful deaths for its prey and victims.’
‘What would you suggest then, vampire?’ Saphira snapped at her ‘Would you rather get eaten?’
‘I suggest you take up a straight blade, not mine, they’re curved, and throw it into its heart, wolf!’ Xeann snapped back.
‘Does it look like I have a blade on me?!’ Saphira raised her voice.
‘Saphira, you could make an icicle!’ Amber suddenly snapped her fingers as she got a sudden idea ‘It can be sharp and big enough if you make it like that and it could do the job to finish it off!’ Xeann pulled the girls down to the ground suddenly when the Croft’s Raven swooped to grab them. Its angry deafening caw echoed in the air and Xeann breathed a short sigh of relief as the Croft’s Raven landed on another boulder to tend to its eye more.
‘That thing can fly faster than sound when it’s angry enough,’ she muttered softly as Saphira stared at Amber.
‘If you know good enough water source around here that could have me make an icicle big enough to throw and kill a Croft’s Raven, you’d better tell me now because I don’t know how I could make an icicle to kill a giant bird without the right amount of water,’ she said with a raised eyebrow. Amber bit her lip and threw her head up at the sky with a groan when she couldn’t come up with an idea. Xeann looked up and saw the Croft’s Raven land on a boulder with a better view on its prey, still tending to its eye.
‘So you can control ice then, young wolf?’ she said to Saphira. Saphira nodded stiffly with a soft growl to the vampire. ‘Could you summon hail perhaps or, even better, snow?’ Saphira blinked and straightened up.
‘I could but it might not last long,’ she murmured, not liking the fact that she was talking to a vampire. Xeann sighed.
‘Well it might weaken the Croft’s Raven for a short amount of time,’ she said with a firm nod ‘They really hate cold weather. And perhaps you’ll be able to have enough water to make that icicle.’ Saphira sighed and nodded.
‘Sounds like it might work,’ she said and stood up, throwing her arms in the air. The temperature dropped abruptly that Amber snuggled into Xeann’s cloak immediately to keep herself warm. The Croft’s Raven noticed the drop in temperature and curled itself into a tight ball to preserve its body heat when it began to hail. Xeann pulled her hood up to protect her head from the hail and snow and sheltered Amber in her cloak, her arm around her in a way that reminded Amber of her mother. Amber remembered the sandstorms that would pass through the village on the odd occasion. When she was just a little child, her mother would always bring a blanket around her and her father and they would snuggle into each other to avoid getting sand in their faces. Amber never realised how much she had missed her mother’s embrace. She hugged Xeann back tightly, hiding her face from the world to hide her tears.
When the hail stopped after ten to fifteen minutes, Saphira crouched down and let the hailstones roll towards her. She melted them and froze them to make a large icicle which she would pick up and hold like a javelin. The Croft’s Raven instantly noticed the change in temperature and unfolded its wings to examine its surroundings. Its good eye swerved around the place and locked onto Saphira, seeing the icicle and immediately detecting the threat. It cawed angrily and its talons picked up the boulder it was perched on and began carrying it towards her. Amber gasped but Saphira didn’t even flinch from the threat. She narrowed her light blue eyes, pulled her arm back carefully and threw the icicle towards the Croft’s Raven. It cut through the air and buried itself deep into the giant bird’s chest. The Croft’s Raven cawed in agony and dropped the boulder it was carrying. Saphira stepped back as the boulder landed in front of her. Blood splattered on the ground beneath the Croft’s Raven and it fell with the boulder, landing a few feet away from Saphira. Amber whimpered softly and Xeann’s eyes flashed.
‘Feeding time,’ she decided with a nod ‘Finally, I was getting worried that I might go ballistic if I was starved any more. A bloodthirsty vampire is one ugly creature that no-one would want to meet on the street. Help me up, Amber.’ Amber got to her feet and slung an arm around Xeann to lead her to the dead bird. Saphira was already on top of it in her wolf form, plucking a few feathers off the dead body before getting her maws deep into the flesh and tore at it hungrily, blood spilling and trickling down the large carcass. Amber let Xeann lean against the side of the Croft’s Raven and her eyes widened when she saw Xeann’s sharp white fangs extend and sink into the corpse, drinking the blood thirstily. After a few moments of feeding, Xeann opened her eyes and pulled away, blood trailing down from her mouth. Licking her lips, she turned to Amber. ‘Shall I cut you a slice?’ she offered while taking one of her blades out of one of the sheaths. Amber’s stomach growled for food but Amber seemed unsure.
‘I don’t think it’s that healthy to eat raw meat,’ she said. She always made sure to cook meat once she had a hold of it back in the village. It wasn’t hard given the heat of the sun… One of the upsides of living in a small village in the middle of a vast desert is that if there is a black out or an unexpected shortage of electricity suddenly happened around the village, all you need to do to cook your food is to leave it out in the sun. The village was too poor to install solar panels so they had to rely on power sources from villages around the outskirts of the desert.
‘If you fall ill, we’ll deal with it once we reach the next village,’ Xeann shrugged indifferently ‘Now, I’m not really one for scavenging but you really shouldn’t look a gift unicorn in the mouth. Take it from me.’ Amber hunched her shoulders apprehensively before nodding in agreement. Xeann dug her blade into the body and carved out a nice slice of meat. She placed it in Amber’s waiting hands before sinking her fangs deep into the flesh again and continued feeding. Amber stared down at the piece of meat uneasily before ripping a piece off with her teeth and began eating. After a few bites and a swallow, she began to eat it more vigorously.
‘It isn’t that bad,’ she commented. Xeann pulled away from the corpse and laughed.
‘No, I don’t think anyone has ever thought of making a dish from a Croft’s Raven,’ she mused thoughtfully ‘No-one has ever considered making any dishes from Abnormal creatures. You know, this blood is really rich and filling, I should bottle some.’ She pulled off a couple of gourds from her belt and began filling them with blood. Amber took Xeann’s other blade to carve some more meat off the bird.
‘This could last us a few good days!’ Saphira stuck her head out of the hole she had made in the corpse in her human form, licking her lips away from the gore and blood that she had discovered inside the Croft’s Raven. She went into her tame wolf mode and burrowed herself further into the Croft’s Raven, her little blue tail poking out of the hole, wagging delightfully.
The girls fed on the Croft’s Raven until there was nothing but bones, a pool of blood and organs. Xeann let her cloak be used as a makeshift bag to carry the leftovers for the journey and was helped up by Saphira and Amber.
‘I do hope the blood will wash off that,’ she sighed in dismay ‘It’s my favourite cloak.’
‘Now what?’ Saphira huffed as she was in charge of carrying Xeann while Amber held the heavy bundle of meat.
‘We travel to the town named Magia Town,’ Xeann said and nodded to the dead forest before them ‘We just need to go straight through this forest to reach it.’
‘Why can’t we go back over the mountain, it’s closer,’ Amber suggested.
‘With this leg, I’ll only be a burden,’ Xeann said as she nodded to her leg ‘Going downhill will be better and Magia Town might be where Vienna is. And you’ll get a closer look of the Queen’s Tower.’ Saphira shuddered at the mention of the tower.
‘I hate that tower,’ she whined as they began going through the forest ‘Why does it have to be so impossible to get to?’ Xeann let out a boisterous laugh at her whine and Saphira winced when it assaulted her ears.
‘You know, honey,’ Xeann grinned at Saphira wickedly ‘Sometimes I wonder if you’re a proper wolf at all if you have a childish whine like that.’
‘Sometimes I wonder whether you are at all feminine…’ Saphira counteracted with a snarl. Xeann let out a warning hiss in contempt.
‘Excuse me, you mutt,’ she snarled ‘I am as feminine and civil as you can get with vampires.’
‘Break it up you two,’ Amber sighed tiredly, realising that it was going to be one long journey with these two ‘If we’re all going to travel together, let’s do it peacefully.’ Both vampire and werewolf growled at each other before turning away moodily.