“Y… you seem in much better spirits,” Lilly noted, upon Axra’s return. “Not that it’s my place to say.”
Axra put an arm around Lilly. “Don’t worry about it. Come on, we’ve got a library to go to.”
“Indeed,” Twila agreed. “If we hurry we can still make it before nightfall.”
“No need to rush,” Velvet said. “Won’t hurt to take our time.”
“You’ll be in your wagon anyway,” Bonnie said. “You aren’t the one who’s going to have to work.”
They headed back towards the entrance. The soldiers opened the gate to allow them to exit and they followed the tunnels back to the surface. Twila dispelled her darkvision spell and they stepped into the sunshine. Axra had to cover her eyes for a moment while they adjusted.
“Maybe I should develop a lightvision spell,” Twila said. “Make things less difficult for you.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Axra said. “I just needed a moment.”
They retrieved their horses and went back on the road.
“Hey, Bon,” Lysara said. “Which sounds better? “for our bright future I’ll strive” or “onward we’ll always journey. Hand in hand?”
“Don’t ask me,” Bonnie said. She trotted away from Lysara and closer to Lilly.
“N… not that it’s my business,” Lilly said. “B… but aren’t you, you know, hard on her?”
“Something about her bugs me,” Bonnie said. “I don’t know what it is, but every time she talks to me I feel… anxious. Somehow, flustered.”
“I… is that so?” Lilly asked.
“It is!” Bonnie declared. “I don’t even know if I like this feeling. It’s both uncomfortable and, in a strange way, wonderful.”
They stopped for lunch at noon. Lilly approached Axra.
“Just call me by name,” Axra said. “We’ve been friends too long for formalities. How many times are you going to make me say that?”
“S… sorry,” Lilly said. “A… Axra, it might be nothing, but I think we’re being followed.”
“Did you see someone?” Axra asked.
“Not see, no,” Lilly said. “But I’ve been hearing an extra set of hoof beats. I… I would’ve told you sooner, but I wasn’t sure until we stopped and I heard the sound of hooves moving away from us.”
“I wonder who it could be,” Axra said. “What do they want? And how should we deal with them?”
“Princess, Lilly,” Bonnie said. “Lunch is ready.”
“Lilly’s been hearing hoof beats following us,” Axra said.
“What?” Bonnie asked. She looked back the way they’d come. “Which direction did they go?”
“S… south east,” Lilly answered.
“Let me go have a look,” Bonnie said.
“It could be dangerous alone,” Axra said. “Take Velvet with you.”
“Understood,” Bonnie said. She walked over to the cooking fire they’d built, grabbed Velvet by the nape of the neck and dragged him along with her.
“So, where are you dragging me?” Velvet asked.
“Someone’s following us,” Bonnie said. “We have to find them and ensure that they pose no threat to the princess.”
“It’s a hassle, but I guess it has to be done,” Velvet said.
The two moved cautiously. They reached a small stream with a horse tied beside it.
“Do you see the rider?” Bonnie asked.
Velvet shook his head. “Wonder where they went?”
“Strange,” Bonnie said. “There’s no attempt to hide it. Almost as if… Shit, we have to head back!”
“Why?” Velvet asked.
“Just hurry,” Bonnie said.
“Where are Bonnie and Velvet going?” Twila asked.
“To check something,” Axra answered. “They’ll be back in no time.”
“Problem?” Twila asked.
“A possible one,” Axra said. “I’m sure it’s nothing to worry about.” Lilly drew her bow and moved in front of Axra. “Lilly?”
“F… footsteps,” Lilly said. “Several people are coming this way. P… please stay behind me.”
“No can do,” Axra said. “You need distance, so you should stay behind me.” She put a hand on Todberührung’s hilt and moved forward. Lysara saw the two of them preparing and moved close to Twila, grabbing her chakram on the way.
There were over a dozen of them, all armed.
“Who are you?” Twila asked, loudly. “What do you want?”
“Impure ones,” their leader said. “Prepare to be purged.” She nodded and they ran forward.
Axra rushed to meet them. Her blade slashed one’s mid-section open. She jabbed a second. An arrow flew past her head and hit an enemy behind her through the heart.
“Chain Lightning!” Twila cried. A bolt surged from one opponent into a second and then a third. All three collapsed. Fang flew from her shoulder and started breathing fire at the approaching foes.
Lysara moved to Axra’s side, taking an enemy down with her chakram.
“Barbarians!” a voice cried. An elf ran in behind their opponents, striking two down in quick succession. “Using superior numbers to try and overwhelm women is cowardly!”
“Shit, retreat!” Their few remaining enemies ran back the way they’d come.
“Th… the HL symbol,” Lilly noted, looking at the fallen enemies.
“These guys again,” Axra muttered.
“Are you alright, Ladies?” he asked. He was a bit scruffy looking with a thin blonde goatee and hair tied back in a ponytail.
“We’re fine,” Twila said. “Thank you for the help.”
“No trouble at all,” he said. “It’s a pleasure to help such lovely ladies as yourselves.” He bowed and reached for Twila’s hand, kissing it.
“What are you doing to my Twila?” Lysara demanded.
“My apologies,” he said, backing away. “I was just introducing myself. My name is Reginald Bitterleaf. At your service.”
Bonnie and Velvet returned shortly after and were quickly filled in.
“So, where are you going, Reginald?” Axra asked.
“I’m just a wanderer,” he said. “I have, unfortunately, no real purpose. You see, I was exiled from my home for a crime I didn’t commit. Ever since, I have been aimless. When I saw you besieged I couldn’t help but interfere.”
“Well, you certainly helped us,” Twila said. “Thank you, but we really must be on our way.”
“Where are you lot going exactly?” Reginald asked.
“The great library,” Lysara answered.
“Allow me to accompany you,” Reginald said. “In case you encounter more brigands.”
“We can take care of ourselves,” Bonnie said.
“Don’t be so hasty,” Velvet said. “It might be useful to have another sword along.”
“You just want to do less work,” Bonnie said.
“I agree with Velvet,” Lysara said. “We could’ve been in real trouble if he hadn’t shown up. I don’t mind him coming, if he stays away from Twila.”
“Then it’s settled,” he said. “Onward, Friends.”
Bonnie pulled Axra back while everyone else was moving.
“Be careful,” she whispered.
“You think they’ll come back?” Axra asked.
“Probably not,” Bonnie said, still whispering. “But it all seems too… convenient. I don’t trust our new companion.”
“Gotcha,” Axra said. “I’ll be careful.” She looked forward towards Reginald. Was Bonnie being paranoid? What would the enemy gain from having someone like him join them when they probably could have killed if he had fought with them?
It was nearly nightfall when they reached another mountain. They tied their horses near a stream and approached on foot.
“A… are we looking for another tunnel?” Lilly asked.
“No,” Twila said. “In this case we make a tunnel.” She stood in front of it, chanting. Light started flowing around her and she touched the side of the mountain. The surface split open, forming an opening. “Come on,” she beckoned. “It won’t stay open for long.”
They followed her, taking their first steps into the Great Library.