Full Moon: Part Two
The thrum of unfamiliar voices was the first thing to emerge through the swirling blackness. Res latched onto the new sensation like a small child, its allure drawing him inexorably back towards wakefulness. He gasped for air and sat bolt upright, wildly scanning his surroundings. His first thought had been to warn the king but, judging by the ominous fog that blanketed the trees, he was already too late. What was more, it dawned on Res that he did not even recognise the forest around him. His hopes sank.
"Where am I?" he rasped, clutching his head as a wave of nausea passed through him.
"We were hoping to ask you the same question," a gruff voice replied. "What's your name?"
Peering through his fingers, he caught a glimpse of the heavily-armoured red Gelert to whom the voice belonged.
"Well, Res, my name is Galadorith," the Gelert informed him. "Since none of us know where we are, this is a survival situation and will be treated as such. I have been appointed leader."
Galadorith paused as if he expected Res to challenge his claim. Res just blinked, too preoccupied with his aching head to comment.
"By my estimates, we have been here for less than 24 hours. These are the other members of the group." Galadorith pointed to three 'pets huddled behind him.
"It's a pleasure to meet you, Res. I'm Ethel." An elderly Ixi stepped forward, smiling warmly.
"I'm Aber," a royal Uni announced, then jerked his head towards a blue JubJub. "This is Ari."
"And I believe we already know each other," came a smooth, familiar voice from the other side of the clearing. "Well met, Res."
Res glanced over his shoulder to see Seisan prowling towards him.
"You?!" Res exclaimed, leaping to his feet. His fists clenched in anticipation.
"Now, now." Seisan sounded bemused. "I know you missed me, but you were only asleep for a few hours."
"What is he doing here?" Res demanded, appealing to Galadorith.
"He was found the same time as you were," the Gelert replied stoutly. "You are both members of this group. I urge you to set aside your petty grievances, there are more important matters at hand."
"He attacked me!" Res protested hotly. "He's dangerous!"
"I never attacked you," Seisan simpered.
"Don't deny it!"
"You will control yourself!" Galadorith glowered, his eyes burning with such ferocity that any further protests died in Res's throat. "Seisan is a member of this group, and we must work together if we want to find our way out of here... wherever here is."
Seisan looked almost smug as the leader stalked towards a large makeshift shelter on the other side of the encampment. Res spun on his heel and stormed off in the opposite direction, lowering himself onto a log near the campfire. Normally, he would feel ashamed for reacting so childishly, but the injustice of having his concerns brushed off had been enough to push his anger over the edge. Moments later, the log creaked as Ethel joined him. She handed him a bowl of stew, which he accepted gratefully. He hadn't realised how ravenous he was until he started eating. Fortunately, Ethel did not seem to mind his silence, allowing him to savour the meal in peace. Once his hunger was sated, she tucked the empty bowl into a worn rucksack and regarded him with curiosity.
"You really don't remember what happened, do you?" she asked sadly.
Res shook his head. "There was a lot of smoke and everything looked strange, that's all I know."
"It was like that for all of us," the Ixi confided. "One minute I was in the northern sector of the forest, the next minute I was here."
"Are we still in Meridell?" Res asked hopefully.
"I'm not sure," Ethel shrugged. "I was a forest ranger in my younger years, but even I cannot be familiar with the entire area."
Res nodded; it was to be expected.
"Why would he bring us here?" Res pondered aloud.
"Seisan?" Ethel repeated, raising an eyebrow. "Are you still trying to blame him for this?"
"Well, he did knock me out," Res argued. "That doesn't exactly paint him in a favourable light."
"Oh, Res." Ethel nudged him gently. "Did you actually see him before you were knocked out? I think you might just be prejudiced against wraiths."
"I am not," Res denied the statement vehemently. "Of course I saw him. He's behind this!"
"If it would not be too much trouble," Seisan's resonating voice floated towards them, "could you keep the noise to a minimum? I need sleep to aid my recovery."
"Recovery from what?" Res snorted quietly.
"He was unconscious too, you know," Ethel replied, also lowering her voice.
"Probably just an act."
"There's no convincing you, is there?" Ethel chuckled softly. "I'm getting rather sleepy myself. Good night, Res."
Despite his best efforts to stay awake, Res ended up enjoying a fitful night's sleep beneath the full moon. The new day did not give rise to any new knowledge that would help them in their predicament, but he still felt oddly cheerful and open to a new realm of possibilities. Seeing Seisan put a damper on his high spirits and incited him to butt heads with the wraith yet again. It was only after a tense breakfast that he had managed to settle down, determined to ignore his nemesis for the better part of a day.
As the first rays of sunlight trickled through the trees, Galadorith declared that it was time to break camp. Either the Gelert was holding a grudge against Res, or he had forgotten about him, because he was the only member of the group who had not been assigned a task. Noticing that Ari was struggling to dismantle the shelter by himself, Res approached him.
"Why does this have to be my job?" Ari asked miserably. "Why couldn't he ask someone with arms to do it?"
"I'll help," Res volunteered, which made the JubJub's expression brighten considerably.
They worked in companionable silence, discarding the lush branches that the shelter had been composed of. Res wiped away the sweat that beaded his brow as they completed the task, noting that it had been easier than he expected. Ethel, who had been waiting nearby, took the opportunity to give them their newly-filled waterskins and a canteen of leftover stew for the journey. It was time to leave.
Aber pranced into the lead, his gait sprightly. Next was Ethel, who walked with an air of weariness befitting her advanced age, facial features schooled into a picture of temperance. Res took his place behind her, with Ari following. Galadorith brought up the rear, on account of his strength and battle experience. If anyone tried to sneak up on them, they would be sorely dismayed to discover how outclassed they were. Seisan paid no heed to the order of the convoy, opting instead to drop in and out as he pleased. The Kougra seemed to take great pleasure in startling Res with his sudden reappearances.
"Blasted wraith," Res muttered after a particularly unexpected incident, which had resulted in him tripping over Seisan.
Annoyingly, the other 'pet didn't seem to be affected by the collision at all. He just purred in a self-satisfied manner that grated on the Draik's nerves.
It wasn't until the setting sun staked its claim on the horizon that Galadorith called for them to make camp.
"Res, you're on cooking duty," he instructed. "Ethel, get a fire going."
Res nodded, slightly concerned about his ignorance in regards to forest cuisine. He gathered a few of the more innocuous-looking greens that were growing nearby before returning to the newly-kindled bonfire. Ethel inspected the leaves with an expert eye, handing him a rock that was crudely shaped like a skillet. The heady coals sizzled in response as he fried the leaf strips. The taste was tangy and bitter; a stark contrast to the royal fare he was accustomed to. However, after a day of trekking through this unknown forest, he could not have asked for a more delicious meal.
Despite the warmth of the fire and the comfort of a full belly, Res couldn't shake the feeling that something was wrong. The feeling was apparently mutual, because Galadorith voiced the same thought moments later, to the agreement of everyone else present.
"If anyone is watching us, we will be ready for them," Galadorith said forcefully.
"Look at the sky," Seisan contributed unexpectedly.
The others stared at him.
"Look at the sky," he repeated. "Do you see anything... unusual?"
Even though he suspected it was a trick, Res followed Seisan's gaze, eager to make sense of the uneasy feeling that was gripping him with increasing intensity.
"I don't see anything," he sneered moments later, chiding himself for being so gullible.
"Oh," was Ethel's response, her voice small.
"Exactly," Seisan inclined his head towards her.
Res stared harder, screwing up his face in concentration. He could see the stars, and the moon hanging down in its full splendour, and...
Oh, Res thought, realising that the wraith had been right after all. The moon had been full for two days in a row.
"So either we are not in Meridell, or we are being deceived by some wicked sorcery," Galadorith concluded.
"There is a hermit who lives perhaps a half-day's march from here," Seisan offered smoothly. "A local guide may be able to assuage us of any concerns."
"But why is the moon still full?" Res asked, his head throbbing from the confusion of it all.
"That is of no concern to us tonight," Galadorith overrode his question with a stern glare. "Whether it is sorcery or a mere difference in equatorial position, we shall get to the bottom of it tomorrow. The hermit will tell us what we need to know."
His speech was brave, but apprehension punctuated every line that Galadorith delivered. "We leave at dawn."
As the congregation splintered off, Res returned his gaze to the sky. Whatever was going on, the full moon was definitely a bad omen.
To be continued...