Kelstrin woke with a start, his eyes catching the morning sunlight. He blinked a few times, reaching up to touch the light layer of dew that had settled on his body during the night. He tried to sit up, but hissed in pain as he looked at his shoulder. A clean roll of gauze had been wrapped around his wound, a makeshift sling keeping his arm in place. He pushed himself up with his right hand, looking at the damage on his shirt and shaking his head with a smirk.
He looked around and saw that Frederick was nowhere to be found. He frowned and leaned back on his hand, hearing a crinkle of paper. He looked over his shoulder, seeing a crudely tied parcel with the twine sloppily holding the ends in place. He took it into his lap, undoing the string and watching the paper unfold as his shoulders relaxed. He sorted through the garments before finding the feathered hairpin. Putting it to the side, he uncovered the second item, his fingers tracing the ornate designs. A soft smile crept on his features before he realized the time, wrapping up the package with one hand and tucking it under his arm.
He struggled to his feet, swaying from blood loss as he rubbed his face. He looked at the ground and saw footprints, the small holes within the print giving Kelstrin a good indication of who left them.
He clambered up the side of the hill and back onto the main road, the morning breeze catching his hair and tickling his cheek. He followed the prints down the road, the pattern suddenly vanishing from the ground. He double-checked, seeing that two sets of wheel treads were fresh, but they broke off in a fork in the road. A sign post read QUEENSBURY- 24 MILES while the other read EDELBURGH- 74 MILES.
He kneeled down, tracing the muddy tracks as he looked at the roads. He closed his eyes, his lips quivering with words. Within seconds, his eyes flew open and he began to race down the left side of the fork pointing towards Queensbury, the pain in his shoulder forcing him to quell his excitement after a few yards dash.
"Jeff! Can you hear me!?" He shouted, pressing another gauze pad to his comrade's bleeding side.
All around Frederick echoed a cacophony of screams and explosions, bodies strewn across the land like fallen leaves as the ground was torn up. Jack and Phillip flanked his sides as he tried to bring Jeff back to consciousness, rifles pointed in the smoky haze of midmorning bloodshed.
"Major! We can't stay here for long!"
"Nor can Jeff. We need to get him back to camp!" Frederick wound up Jeff's wounded side within seconds, adjusting his military cap with sanguine hands, "Phil, on my left. Jackie, take up the rear. Bayonets up!"
Frederick shifted Jeff onto his shoulders, struggling to his feet as Jeff groaned.
"Stay with me, Jeff. We're bringing you back behind the line!" Frederick turned and began to make his way back, Phillip probing the smog while Jackie trotted backwards behind them.
They found themselves in a darkened wood, the edges of battle within their eyesight as they trudged through. Jeff gave a soft moan, trying to form a sentence as Frederick hushed him. Phillip kept his eyes to the ground while Jack trailed the canopy with his gun raised. An alien scream caught their ears as a tree branch turned back into a Mystic, diving down with a bone dagger in his hand.
Phillip caught the Mystic by the shaft of his rifle, flinging the dark-skinned warrior to the ground and skewering him through the chest. Jack saw two wolves charging at them from behind, light spiraling around their paws as it grew in intensity. Jack fired, hitting the closer of the two square between the eyes while the other leapt into the air and clamped his jaws down on Jack's firearm. Both fell back, struggling as its fur began to turn into spikes. Phillip struck the wolf with the butt of his rifle, the creature yowling before he flipped his weapon around and stabbed the Mystic through the throat.
"This is insane!" Phillip huffed, helping Jack to his feet.
The three came upon a clearing in the forest, the ground scored with smoking ash and bodies scattered, mostly in pieces. Jack and Phillip rushed forward, covering the ground as they made it to the other side.
"All clear, Major!" Phillip hissed, waving Frederick over.
He jogged across the stretch of land, Jeffery gripping his side. Frederick couldn't shake this horrible feeling like someone or something was lying in wait. Perhaps one of the corpses was a Mystic, waiting for him to get too close. Maybe they were hiding underneath the ground to form from sediment to swallow him whole like a whale.
As his foot pressed into the softened dirt, a spiral of bright white symbols exploded underneath the sole of his boot, surrounding him. Without hesitation, Frederick shifted Jeffery into his arms and hurled him towards Phillip and Jackie.
Both caught him in time to see a bright light envelop Frederick, his shrieks of agony ringing out in the foggy morning.
Frederick woke with a start, swinging upright as he looked around to see straw littering across his legs. His pupils were dilated, heart hammering as if attempting to tunnel out of his chest. He realized he was still sitting in the back of the hay cart of a traveling farmer, sunlight peering through the cracks in the boards.
"You alright back there?" came a voice from the front.
"Yes." Frederick cleared his throat, dragging a hand over his face, "Where are we?"
"Bout halfway to Queensbury. Hey, you mind if we take a quick stop? I promise I won't be long."
"You're the driver." Frederick called back, wrapping the ends of his cloak around him and finding a new comfortable position.
The cart came to a halt soon after their conversation ended, Frederick paying little mind to his environment as he tried to drift back into eventless sleep. A midway tavern sat snug by the road, the owner pushing the upper half of his door aside to greet the farmer.
"Good tidings, Jim!" he called.
"Same to you, Brian!" Jim replied, taking off his hat as he approached, "Too early for a flask of jiln?"
Frederick turned over onto his side, pulling his legs in. The motion caught the innkeeper's eyes, thumbing at farmer Jim's cart.
"Nah, traveling doctor. Said his mount ran off last night and needs to get to Queensbury immediately."
"So you're stalling the poor doc's time?" Brian replied with a smirk.
"Depends on how fast you get me that jiln." Jim retorted.
"Aye, aye." Brian said, waving a hand towards Jim as he vanished from sight, "Have you gotten word from the capital?"
"Nah, although it's not hard to notice what's going on there."
Frederick opened his eyes, scarcely breathing as he eavesdropped on the conversation.
"I heard there's some sort of Mystic riot going on." Brian called from within.
"My cousin tells me actually that the Helgabon was sighted."
"Oh please!" Brian returned with the flagon in hand, "I highly doubt this is the beginning of the End of Days."
"I'm not terribly religious myself, Brian, but it can't be denied something strange is afoot."
"Maybe I should give you half a flask then." Brian smirked, pretending to draw his hand back.
"Ey ey now, I pay fair and square." Jim laughed, exchanging a few coins for the flask, "May He watch over you, Brian!"
"And you as well, Jim! Get moving; you don't want to keep the doctor waiting."
Frederick lay stiff in the cover of hay, his mind lost in thought as the cart jostled back to life and continued down the road. He was already a wanted man for questioning, and now this- he began to regret leaving Kelstrin on his own, unconscious by Pineglade Lake. He banished the thought- he was a Mystic. He broke the law. He risked his life for foolish ends and now was facing the consequences. He was not Frederick's responsibility.
He buried his face in cloak, hugging his knees as he tried to enter sleep again with little effort.