Perpetual War: Chapter Three – Mission Briefing

The life of a gamayun is exceedingly difficult, with solace only coming in the time spent between missions. Natalia can only try to enjoy this time for as long as possible, the inevitable drawing closer with each passing day.

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Perpetual War:

Chapter Three – Mission Briefing

I believe the channels of the magical realm draw close with our own once more. Thus, the revival of a heavy use of magic is something I would highly recommend to you, Mr. President. It is true that magic is limited based on the supply of blood and the range of target, but there are plenty of tricks that can be performed to justify magic, such as powering machines that we cannot even fathom just yet. It is important that we do not shy away from the fear of the unknown or else we risk being left behind in the field of science! All I ask for is live subjects to use in my tests. If you give me enough time and support, I am confident I shall provide results that you will be most pleased with. So, please make the right choice. A few lives is a worthy price to pay if it means our advancement into a new age.

-Head Scientist Ozki, The Creation, Experimentation, and Purpose of Espers

Natalia hung her feet over the edge of the crate she sat on. She kicked them casually, the heels of her boots clicking together on occasion. The rising sun off to her left lit the sky a deep orange, light gray clouds promising more rain. From her vantage point on the crate, she took in the groups of soldiers going about their business, the occasional wagon of supplies being pulled by horse, volferd, or other pack animal. Beyond her immediate area she saw patches of grass that were brown and dying at the edge of the surrounding field of the encampment. The grass beyond was a dull green trying to grow in the cold and freezing rains that for the past few nights. The forest beyond had roads cutting through it from different directions toward the encampment. Her focus was on a particular road coming from the distant peaks of the Bosakil mountain range. The snowy tops hid the pass she had traveled on several days prior.

A gust of wind loosened a strand of blonde hair. She took hold of it and twirled the strand in her fingers before sliding it back behind her ears. Leaning back, she closed her eyes and just listened to the noise of the camp. The movement of supplies and weaponry for today’s assignments. The conversations of men and women about a variety of topics from small talk of the weather to discussions of being repositioned to the trench.

Come on, get here already. She nudged her pack that sat on another smaller crate beneath her. Leaning over she reached into a pocket for a black watch. Looking at the dials she sighed and placed it back into the pocket. “Almost out of time before the mission briefing.” She moaned and rubbed at her tired eyes. I wonder what my first mission as a gamayun will be? She glanced to the black talon patch sewn onto her coat’s right shoulder. Another breeze carried the smell of breakfast being cooked near the center of the camp. Her nose wrinkled at the spices mixed into the smell. “Soup for breakfast, what a surprise.”

She tightened her trench coat, securing the top buttons as another gust of wind blew in from the field set before her. Leaning forward she squinted her eyes at movement in the distance. A smile creased her lips as she recognized Revu among a group of several other volferd moving with a pair of trucks along the main road.

Taking care to not hurt her side, she eased herself off the crate. Once on the ground Natalia rushed off into the field, her braided hair bouncing, and boots squishing across the dew-laden grass. Her smile brightened as she saw Revu turn her head and let forth a loud squawk.

Revu tore away from the grasp of a handler and began to run towards Natalia. Another handler was dragged across the dirt before releasing their grip on the reigns. Another squawk filled the air as other volferds looked on with curiosity and let out their own chirps.

Laughing at the show, Natalia stretched her arms out and quickly wrapped them around Revu’s neck. “Oh, I’m so glad to see you Revu!”

With an open beak wrapped around Natalia’s right shoulder, Revu let forth a series of chirps, all high pitched and happy.

“Stop, that tickles!” She laughed at the touch of the rough tongue against the side of her neck. “Wait, not there!” Natalia pulled away as Revu neared her left shoulder. “Remember, I’m hurt!”

“Stop!” She commanded abruptly.

Revu titled her head and let out a sad chirp.

“Oh, now don’t be so sad. You just can’t be so rough. She smiled and took the reins to start to guide Revu back through the field. “I do have to thank you a lot, girl. After all, I’d surely be dead in that town without you!” She pat Revu’s side. “I definitely owe you your favorite snack tonight. Hopefully the caretakers have some fresh slugs.”

Revu chirped at the word “slug” and let out a deep throated purr of delight.

Nearing the crates, Natalia brought Revu to a stop by her pack. Strapping it over her back she waited for the caravan to come into the encampment. Spotting the handler covered in dirt, she waved her hand to the man. “Thank you! You have no idea what it means to have her back with me.” She nodded to Revu.

The short man grumbled and kept moving on, guiding the volferds. The other handler, a skinny boy with dark brown hair chuckled and gave her a smile. “Don’t mind him, he’s just stubborn. We’re both glad to have brought your volferd back. She was a delight.”

“I’m glad to hear.”

The boy waved his hand and kept moving along with the rest of the caravan. “See you around, miss!”

“How kind,” Natalia smiled and turned her attention back to Revu. “Seems like you had a good trip back. It’s almost unfair.” With the rifle slung over her shoulder to rest besides her pack she began to guide Revu through the camp. “You get better rations then I do, you get a casual trip back through the mountain pass and what do I get? Shot twice.” Natalia reached up to poke at Revu’s beak. “You’re too damn lucky.”

Revu snapped her beak, missing Natalia’s finger, then moved her head to nudge at Natalia’s left shoulder.

She pushed Revu back with her free hand. “Now, now, I just think it’s fair I get to bother you a little after your vacation!”

Turning off the main path of the encampment, Natalia led Revu between several sets of tents heading for the row with Baranfel’s. “I suppose though we can’t play around anymore. The meeting will be starting soon.”

A low squawk echoed besides Natalia’s ear.

Waving her hand for Revu to back up, “I hate when you do that.” She rubbed at her ear, “I’ll get you your slugs later and I’ll take you somewhere quiet for us to both rest for a while. I think we both definitely deserve it after being separated for so long.” Searching along the signposts she found the one marked C7.

“I think I remember you, you’re the new gamayun that Kadir has been speaking of, right?”

Natalia turned around to meet eyes with an approaching woman adorned in a similar uniform, the black talon insignia along the shoulder decorated by a silver trim, signifying her rank as above Natalia. “Yes, Gamayun…”

“Yes, it is you!” She clapped her hands together and gave a bright smile. “I’m sure you don’t remember me. Our introduction was brief, but seeing how you’re here and alive… My name is Orsolya Gojsa, the Halcyon Gamayun of this area, but honestly who cares about such formalities. Just call me Orsolya, my dear.” Orsolya waved her thin, gloved hand before offering it to Natalia.

Natalia took the offered hand into her own and was forced to look up to meet Orsolya’s eyes. “It is nice to meet you, I’m Natalia Ludmila.” This is who Vakhno was talking about yesterday? she’s so skinny, how is she not freezing? Even with that black scarf.

“Is this volferd yours?” Orsolya turned her attention to the large bird standing behind Natalia. She offered her hand up to Revu’s beak.

Revu let out a small chirp and tilted her head away from Orsolya’s hand.

“Yea, she’s a bit shy to anyone new.” Natalia turned to Revu and ran her hand along the volferd’s beak. “Go on, girl, say hello to Orsolya.”

Revu retorted with another chirp and took a step back. She tilted her head so one eye was looking at Orsolya and studied the older woman. With another chirp she sat huddled behind Natalia, attempting to hide.

Orsolya lowered her hand and shrugged, “Suppose I’ll just have to grow on her.”

“You’ll win her heart eventually.” Natalia smiled and gently pat Revu’s head. “I remember some other gamayuns heading out when I did, were you one of them?”

“Yes, unfortunately my target never showed up along the road. Found out later that they rerouted.” She ran a hand through her black hair, cut short to just above her shoulders, a single strand of gray falling off to the wind. “Just a big waste of time. What about you, Natalia? Was your test boring or did you have some fun?” Orsolya asked with a coy smile, her hazel eyes regarding Natalia with excitement.

“Well…” Natalia began to reply before a whistle caught her attention. She looked past Orsolya, to spot Vakhno approaching with a smile across his face. He looks way to happy.

“I was hoping it’d be longer before I had to see this fool again,” Orsolya mumbled.

“Orsolya, it is great to see you have returned safely!” Vakhno proclaimed. “And you already met, Natalia, that’s great to see!”

Orsolya waved a hand in a dismissive motion. “Yeah, it’s great to be back. I’d love to chat, but the briefing is starting in a minute,” she replied and began to walk towards the large tent.

“Are we still having our rematch tonight? I told Natalia about how I defeated you last time.” Vakhno called after her.

“Oh?” Orsolya turned with a raised brow, “As I recall, you’re the one who lost.” She turned her attention to Natalia, “What other lies did he tell you about me?”

“Nothing else, just that he outshot you!” Natalia exclaimed with wide eyes at Orsolya’s sudden heated gaze.

“Really? Be honest, Natalia.”

“I’m being honest!”

Vakhno laughed and stepped between them. “And that you can be a pain, Orsolya.’

“Me a pain?” Orsolya gave Vakhno a scowl. “Do you even listen to yourself?”

With a dismissive wave of his hand, Vakhno added, “Let’s focus on the competition we three have tonight. I think it’s a great chance for us to bond over something we have in common.”

“Maybe…” Natalia said.

“Oh, come o—,” Vakhno began.

A loud squawk emitted from Revu as she turned her attention to Vakhno.

He jumped at the sound and stared back at the volferd coming out from her huddled form behind Natalia. “Is that yours, Natalia…?”

Orsolya placed a hand on Natalia’s shoulder, “Vakhno does make a good point. It would be good to spend some time together, especially now that you are a fellow gamayun. I think twenty-hundred hours at the usual spot where Kadir takes snipers to train. That should be perfect.”

“Um, yea, sure…” Vakhno wiped a bead of sweat from his forehead as he continued to stare into Revu’s eye.

“Fantastic!” Orsolya exclaimed slapping Natalia’s back. “Sound good, Natalia?”

Natalia looked from Orsolya to Vakhno, then to Revu who still stared at Vakhno before letting forth a chirp that caused the man to jump again. “Alright, alright, I’ll go. Especially if it means me beating both of you.”

“Another cocky gamayun, excellent.” She clasped her hands together. “Well, it’d be best if we move on. Sooner than later too, I think your volferd is going to cause Vakhno a heart attack.”

“Sure,” She took Revu’s reigns and led the volferd over to a wooden post near the tent.

Vakhno watched Revu walk by with wide eyes.

Orsolya giggled and slapped Vakhno’s shoulder, “Take a breather, Vakhno, the big monster is gone.”

Vakhno did as she said, taking deep breaths.

Orsolya smiled and walked off. “See you inside.”

Running her hand along Revu’s beak, Natalia gave the volferd a smile. “Stay here and I’ll be back soon.” Natalia stepped away and paused to look at Vakhno wiping sweat from his face. “What’s wrong?”

“I…” He shook his head and shoved his hands into his pockets. “Not a particular fan of those… things.” Vakhno looked away trying to avoid the volferd altogether.

“Thing? She’s called Revu.” Seeing no response from Vakhno she sighed and began to walk towards the staircase leading up to Baranfel’s tent.

She stepped up onto the platform and moved past the leather flaps of the tent. Within the room Natalia saw that the tables were still covered with an assortment of documents, the map from before at the center. She stepped forward to take her place between Kadir and Orsolya at the side of the table with Baranfel on the opposite side looking down at the map with a tired, but focused gaze. “Gamayun Ludmila reporting for duty, Stolános!” Natalia announced with a quick sweep of her left hand to rest over her right breast.

“Plenty of sleep helps most soldiers. And it seems to help you, Ludmila, except you forgot your cap once more,” Baranfel said with a simple glance up before returning to his focus on the map.

Kadir let forth a laugh and slapped Natalia’s shoulder, nearly sending her to the ground. “Come on Baranfel, you can’t be too hard on the girl. She’s finally a part of our group. Which, if I recall, the altálonos approved of.”

Straightening herself, Natalia took a small step away from Kadir so as not to make it obvious, rubbing her left shoulder from the sting of pain. “A tad unnecessary…” she mumbled.

“Bah,” Baranfel waved his hand. “That still does not excuse her from military protocol.”

“Baranfel,” Orsolya chimed in, “Your attempts at keeping order among us gamayuns is both admirable and amusing. Natalia is destined to be just as rowdy and ill-disciplined as the rest of us. Your attempts will fail on her just as they failed on—”

“Gamayun Dymtrus reporting as ordered!” Vakhno exclaimed, standing at attention with his left fist over his right breast. “Now, how long is this briefing? I have preparations to be made for tonight, Stolános,” he said with a grin.

Preparations? Seriously?

“Like I said,” Orsolya continued, “Your attempts failed.” Orsolya shrugged as she walked over to a chair to sit in. Her rifle laid across her lap. She raised her heavy boots to rest on a crate, several sheets of paper billowing off to the floor.

Baranfel’s hands curled into fists before relaxing once more with a deep exhale of air. “Honestly, why the altálonos doesn’t let me discipline you lot is beyond me.”

“Did I miss something?” Vakhno asked.

Kadir moved to the left side of the table, his arms crossed as he studied the map. “He sees the results of our missions, Stolános. You’re just unfortunate enough to see us before those missions.”

“Apparently,” Baranfel said.

“Uhh…” Vakhno lowered his hand, looking about with a quizzical stare.

Walking over to stand opposite from Kadir, Natalia took care to not block the view of Orsolya, who sat by the wall of the tent.

“Stolános?” Vakhno asked.

“Shut up, Vakhno,” Baranfel spat. “And get your ass over here so I can start this damn briefing.” His voice was strained with sudden frustration.

“Right!” Vakhno quickly hopped to the side of the table opposite of Baranfel. “Sorry!”

Natalia looked over the map, spotting the large square denoting the encampment’s location. Surrounding it were splotches of a faded dark green to symbolize forests. A thick line to the north ran the entire length of the map, another thick line a few centimeters further north. The pair of parallel lines symbolizing the trenches of the Derdainia and Yenvark.

“Are you completely aware of the full battle map, Ludmila?” Baranfel turned his attention towards her, “Or should I assume that your knowledge base is limited to fighting?”

She gulped at feeling his heated gaze aimed at her, but quickly turned her full attention to the map once more, “I am aware of the five nations in this region trying to stop us in our goal of defending our home and regaining control of the Primordial Tower at the heart of the Glodan Plains.”

“It seems you do pay attention to some lessons.” Baranfel crossed his arms, “Much better than Vakhno’s first briefing.”

“Mine?” Vakhno tapped his fist against the table. “If I recall I did just as well!”

Orsolya snorted a laugh.

“You must have forgotten, old lady!” Vakhno called out.

“Old?” Orsolya growled starting to sit up.

“Enough!” Baranfel slammed his hand on the table before Vakhno could respond. He eyed both gamayuns with narrow eyes.

Kadir leaned slightly forward to gain the stolános’ attention. “Please continue, Stolános Baranfel.”

Nodding, Baranfel turned his attention back to the map. “The winter solstice is fast approaching and before this occurs, the altálonos would like each of you to give support to the front line where espers are desperately needed before conducting this year’s final operation. The target will be several key locations against the Yenvark Union behind their trench line.” He ran his hand along the map, north of the jagged trench lines. “It is important you reach your targets swiftly and with caution. There are reports that Swenork are giving passage for Luncal’sha to come in from the east where the Bosakil mountain range merges with the Glodoran mountains.”

“Bosakil? Did Luncal’sha show up at Bosavan?” Natalia asked.

“Yes, they arrived shortly after your scouting mission and they’re currently fighting our forces there trying to claim the town.” Baranfel scowled at the interruption. “Now then, stay silent while I continue.”

Natalia lowered her eyes from his gaze. “Yes, sir.”

Seeing no further response, Baranfel continued, “As I was saying, Luncal’sha is being given passage, and it is safe to assume that they will be attempting to make headway into setting up an encampment at the edge of the Glodan Plains. The majority of their forces should never draw near you, but care should still be taken for any scouts that they may send.” Baranfel reached a hand towards a stack of envelopes by his side. “As usual, I shall give each of you a private document detailing your mission. You are expected not to share any details with one another, unless you are paired together.” Baranfel took hold of the envelopes and began to pass them around. “Be sure to review them carefully. Altálonos Voss expects nothing less than a complete success in your assigned tasks.” He finished by throwing the final envelope to Orsolya.

Catching it, Orsolya ran a finger across the red seal. “My, did Altálonos Voss get a new stamp? It looks sharper.”

The red seal, the same as my promotion letter.” She ran a finger along the surface depicting an osprey clutching a sword in its talons with wings spread wide. I wonder where he sent me for my first mission as a gamayun? She hid the envelope in a pocket.

Ignoring Orsolya, Baranfel returned to the map, his right hand resting on the paper. “All of you are to report to the lacespauts designated in that letter and travel to the frontline tomorrow as support. Once there you will be given word on when to begin your objectives as listed in those envelopes.” Baranfel took a deep breath before turning to head back to his desk.

Natalia spotted the mug atop the wooden surface of the desk that Baranfel took hold of. Is that alcohol as well? I guess I never did notice Baranfel had also chosen such a poison. Is it poison though if he isn’t an esper?

Baranfel took a long gulp of the contents within. “I should also add that replacement blood vials will arrive for you before setting off from the trench lines.”

Another vial, do I really want it? Natalia felt a tingle course up her left arm as she thought of the vial cutting open her palm.

“Anything else we should know?” Vakhno asked, his fingers itching to rip open the envelope.

“Yes, I was getting to it,” Baranfel said, pausing to place the mug back down. “Study the map given to you with your orders and have a full understanding of it. With the oncoming winter, you may be given secondary objectives out on the field before you are allowed to return. I can’t stress enough the importance of speed or else you risk becoming trapped by the snow.” Baranfel returned to the table, his arms crossed. “I should also add that when you are behind lines to always keep an eye to the sky for Ghosts. There have also been reports of a Leviathan in the area. Caution is very important if you want to make it back alive. Any questions?”

Vakhno shot his hand up, waiting to gain Baranfel’s attention before starting to speak, “Yea, hold up one moment. A Leviathan? Are you serious?”

“I am.”

Lowering his hand, he stuffed his hands into his pockets. “Alright, just making sure I heard right and that we are all agreeing to be suicidal on this mission. That’s all.”

Baranfel looked to the others. “Anything else?”

“What’s a Leviathan?” Natalia asked.

“Important questions,” He retorted.

Natalia lowered under Baranfel’s gaze. That isn’t important enough?

“What about those Ashakuriya freaks and crazed Oligany?” Orsolya asked.

Baranfel looked to the west side of the map, thinking before he responded. “As it currently stands their locations are not near you. What else?”

“What of our three absent Gamayuns?” Kadir asked.

Baranfel took another deep breath, considering his words. “Gamayuns Ishtal, Stervok, and Lovkin are still under orders out in the field. You needn’t worry about them.”

“When did they last report? Do we know if all three are still alive?” Orsolya sat up in a rush.

Natalia glanced in Orsolya’s direction to see the woman with narrowed eyes directed at Baranfel.

“As I said, you needn’t worry about them,” Baranfel repeated dryly.

Orsolya squeezed the chair’s arms. “Well—” She began before stopping herself as she pulled herself back, her hands returning to rest.

Baranfel nodded his head. “Any other questions?”

Vakhno knocked on the table twice in quick succession. “I have one more,” he said, straightening himself, his hands resting on his hips. “I’m personally curious like Orsolya, as those three were expected back two days ago. They’re late. Especially when you consider the fact that they left four days prior to Natalia’s and Orsolya’s missions.”

Baranfel’s brow furrowed. “Need I repeat myself again?”

“Relax with the persistent questions,” Kadir said to Vakhno. “Stolános, ignore them. They’re stubborn and loud.”

Baranfel shook his head. “Terribly so.”

Two days late… Natalia retreated a step, distancing herself from the stolános as she stood in her thoughts. Will I return on time? Her hands dug into her pockets, squeezing the envelope. She glanced towards Orsolya to see the woman biting her tongue to stop herself from speaking out.

“Well then, I assume that is that. You have the entire day to prepare yourselves for your objectives.” Baranfel slowly turned his gaze to each Gamayun. “I expect to see each of you return. It would be a shame for Imperial soldiers to die all alone among the enemy.” He stopped to look at Vakhno, “Even if I detest them.”

Vakhno gave a big grin in return, “You just can’t get enough of my charms, stolános.”

“Definitely…” Baranfel grumbled.

“Do not concern yourself, Baranfel,” Kadir said, beginning to make his way to the tent’s entrance, half dragging Vakhno along. “We’ll return like always.”

Baranfel simply nodded and began to roll up the map and return to his desk to take hold of his mug.

Will I? Natalia watched Kadir leave. Her mind wandered as she absentmindedly followed behind Kadir out of the tent. Her hand rubbed the side of her stomach where she was still sore.

She was suddenly taken out of her thoughts by a shake of her shoulders.

“Oh, come on, Natalia,” Orsolya said. “This is no time to get cold feet. You’ve gone out alone once, what’s another time?” Orsolya laughed, wrapping an arm around Natalia’s shoulder and guiding her out. “You just have to be confident.”

Looking up, Natalia felt confused at the big smile across the older woman’s face.

“You’ll do great, I know it.” Orsolya said, twisting Natalia around so the two of them faced each other.

“I hope so,” Natalia said.

“You clearly managed in your last mission. You’ll manage again this time,” Orsolya said. “Besides, this mission will be easier.”

“Why’s that?” Natalia asked with a raised eyebrow.

Orsolya’s smile seemed to brighten even more. “I already skimmed my report… And well, what do I find? That we’re paired up!”

“Wait, really?”

“Yep. It’s not terribly uncommon for a new gamayun to get paired up. What luck that you get to learn from the best!” She grinned. “Come on, go ahead. Look and see if I’m right.” She began shifting a hand towards Natalia’s pockets. “Otherwise I’m going to look myself!”

Natalia lightly slapped the woman’s hand away and turned around. Reaching into her pocket, Natalia quickly tore open the envelope to scan the top, spotting her name beside Orsolya’s.

Orsolya came up close, peaking over Natalia’s right shoulder. “I hope you’re ready. It sounds like we’ll be out there for quite a while.

She continued to scan the paper, her eyes moving with a growing urgency as she found no detail about anything related to a volferd.

The older woman raised an eyebrow as no response came from Natalia, “Well? Aren’t you excited?”

“We’re going on foot the whole way?”

“Well, of course. How else are we going to sneak behind enemy lines?”

Her fingers ached to crush the paper. With a deep exhale of air, she calmly folded the paper and placed it back into her pocket before stepping down the platform.

“Natalia?” Orsolya said, “Are you okay?”

“Yes, I’m fine. I just… I just need some time alone.” Natalia reached a hand out to Revu to caress the volferd’s beak.

Orsolya straightened herself and placed her hands on her hips. “You don’t look fine right now.”

Freeing Revu from the wooden post, Natalia took the reins and began to lead the volferd along the road. “I’ll see you later Orsolya.”

“Come on, Natalia! You can’t possibly be sad because you have to leave your mount behind.” Orsolya stepped off the platform and caught up to Natalia’s side. “You don’t need it for this mis—.”

“Revu is not an ‘it’!” she spat and gave Orsolya a fierce gaze.

The woman backed off a step, eyes wide with surprise.

Revu looked at Orsolya with a curious golden eye before turning away with the gentle pull on the reigns.

Her head and shoulders lowered as her focus became a haze along with her dazed walking. Her grip on the reigns tightened as she desperately wanted to hold on forever. Her pace began to speed up as she felt a growing urge to escape this loud place. The rush of men and women all around her going about their duties caused her heart to race in fearful anticipation of the upcoming mission that would take her far away. The curious eyes of others assaulting her from every direction made her want to curl up and hide. A growing heat took her and caused her to breathe heavier as her heart raced. To find somewhere she could be with her only true friend in this dark place.

The touch of tall grass around her legs began to guide her further away. Her boots crushed the damp grass, the blades springing back up weakly in her wake. The warmth of surrounding tents and curious eyes became replaced by a chilly wind across the open field. The stench of bodies, firearms, and tasteless food became more distant with every step, instead she smelled hints of a clean air that only a forest could give. Her pace only became faster as she glanced up at the waiting tree line set out before her.

She reached a hand to the nearest tree and smiled at the touch of the rough bark against her fingertips. “Let’s rest in here while we can, okay?” She looked over to Revu who gave a low chirp.

Moving into the forest depths, the sounds of the camp became replaced by the growing tranquility of silence occasionally interspersed with the sound of animal calls and movement. The only other noise was her own boots crunching along fallen leaves. A slight chill hung between the spaces of the thick trees of the old forest. Roots and rocks poked above the leaves that lined her path.

The sound of a flowing river guided her deeper into the forest. The rays of sunlight became twisted and darkened in places where the branches grew thicker and the remaining leaves still blew gently in the high winds. Along the branches a set of spiders watched with beady eyes from their webs. On the ground, small furry brown rodents ran from hiding place to hiding place with every step of the heavy volferd. A pair of crows high up in the trees cawed loudly before setting forth on the wind with black wings spread wide.

At the river’s edge, she stared out at the clear water racing across the smooth stones beneath. Her heart came to a slow, steady beat. Her foggy focus replaced with a calm energy that took her completely. With a deep breath she relaxed her shoulders and gave a thin smile.

Releasing her hold on the reigns, she set her rifle up against a boulder, and knelt by the riverside. With her hands free from their gloves, she submerged them into the water, feeling the gentle current between her fingers. Reaching to her side she unhooked her canteen, filled it with the clean water and drank from it eagerly. She dunked the canteen into the water several more times before finally sealing it shut, her thirst quenched. Natalia sat back and watched Revu lap at the water with her own eager thirst.

“I’m going to miss this.”

Revu turned her head and chirped before returning to the river for more water.

“We were out there for so many days alone. It felt like I was a kid all over again, growing up with you.” She brought her legs close to her body and hugged her knees. “How long will it be before I’m with you again?” Natalia buried her head into her arms and shook back and forth slowly. “Will I even return? I almost died without your help. What will I do without you?” She bit her lower lip, stifling any tears in the corner of her eyes.

A chirp was followed by a low purr.

She looked up to see a golden eye taking her in. Natalia tried her best to smile before reaching up to hug Revu’s head. “Before I leave, I’ll make sure the stolános knows to not send you away. You’re my precious Revu. Not just some animal to be sent off to die.”

The volferd lowered herself to the ground and continued to nudge her head up against Natalia, purring all the while with comfort and delight.

“Let’s rest for a while. Just me and you, for as long as we can.” Natalia said. Her hands ran through the black feathers as her head lowered further besides Revu. “Rest until I have to go.”

 

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