by Belinda Roddie
"Honestly, that isn't an appropriate knife for that."
Quinoni straightened up from her kill. Beads of sweat formed on her forehead, threatening to drip down the scraped shield of her eyepatch. Blood browned what was once silver. She looked at the ornamental blade in her hand and furrowed her brow.
"It's a Phreeback dagger," was her curt reply. "It's meant for survival."And with that, she wiped its blade onto the grass and left a trail of red across the foliage.
The small elk was skinned and cooked over an open flame, all carefully monitored by Barkelee, who still had not said a word since discovering Mistress Kor's death. He simply hovered over the fire, occasionally adding more fuel in the form of dry brush or small sticks. The three were now only two or so miles away from the East Barronia border. With luck, they would be back in civilization in one more day. It had been six months since they had traveled to West Barronia, with stories and scars to show for it.
As for Arvey, she wouldn't be the same again, either. Although she had endured far less physically and emotionally than her comrades - Quinoni's loss of her eye, Barkelee's trauma, others dead at the hands of both the Mischiefs and their allied tribes - she would return to the east without family or a home. She was no longer the scrawny girl she had been when she first started out. Now, the muscle rippled under the dark skin of her arms, her biceps taut and her abdomen bulging with brawn. She was not buff by any standards, but she now looked intimidating enough - and she had the kills to prove it.
Not that she had wanted to. None of them had. But the consequences of their journey had been dire, and Arvey had Mistress Kor's last journal to prove it. All of its scratching and unfinished thoughts as her once beloved mentor's mind unraveled.
It would be up to Arvey O'Nithian to return to Dolfhagen University and inform the chancellor of the dean's demise. It would be up to Arvey O'Nithian to explain why they could not retrieve her body, and why they had to return from their trek so early. It would be up to Arvey O'Nithian to address the student body and report on the morbid events. And it would be up to Arvey O'Nithian to finish Mistress Kor's series of books, bringing her story to a more appropriate end.
She didn't want to do any of that. But considering she had nothing else, she didn't think she had much of a choice.
She hardly ate the elk meat, letting the hot food dangle from the bone that hung between her fingers. Quinoni, of course, devoured her share, while Barkelee silently nibbled on his. He wordlessly excused himself and returned to his tent, where he pulled the flaps tightly closed and withdrew from the setting sun.
That left the two young women alone together, and as they put out the fire and cleared away the mess, they sat side by side on the grass, not speaking or touching. Quinoni's one good eye settled on the western horizon. She stared at endless miles traveled, only to be confronted with chaos rather than adventure - or perhaps those two were one and the same after all. She stared at the shadows where her bloodline's settlements lay, hopefully peaceful once more, with a new chief. Arvey reached a hand out to squeeze Quinoni's fingers. In the next moment, they were kissing.
Their lips remained locked and moving against one another for quite some time, the heat exchanged between them warm but stammering, like short staccato breaths accentuating their wandering tongues. Arvey clung to Quinoni, palms pressed against the bulky shoulders, the moisture lingering on her face. On and on they kissed, embracing and letting their mouths dance, before Quinoni's body sagged, and they were both clinging to each other, crying softly in the still, summer air.
The remaining sunlight draped them in gold, but only for a moment, and the grass only bristled because of slight shifts in the sparse wind. Arvey had buried her face into Quinoni's tunic, trying desperately to muffle her sobs, which had slowly devolved into heavy, wet sighs. Quinoni's fingers had twisted themselves into Arvey's hair, cuticles intermingling with follicles, the dampness of their breathing coinciding with the cooling of the plains around them.
When they had calmed down, they did not loosen their hold on one another. The embers of the fire held a lingering red glow, but by the time the moon rose, that color, too, would be extinguished.
"Where will you go after this?" asked Quinoni suddenly, her voice husky. The air whistled in her nostrils. She did not move to wipe her tear-stained face.
Arvey inhaled, shuddered. "I don't know. What about you?"
Quinoni chuckled. "I'm an aggressor now. Maybe they'll need me as a professor at Dolfhagen. Or maybe I'll just start my own business like my father. I feel like a quiet life is what I need more now."
"Maybe," mumbled Arvey.
"...Want to come with me?"
Arvey didn't answer. Quinoni disentangled hand from Arvey's hair. She drew the ceremonial Phreeback blade out from its sheath and offered it hilt-first. Arvey gripped the ivory handle. It was cold and smooth in her grip.
"It's beautiful," she said.
In the tent nearby, Barkelee was snoring. Above their heads, the sky was painted turquoise. And the smell of charred bone, splinters, smoke, and valley stuck in their noses, the remaining fumes of an ill-fated journey.
This week's prompt was provided by Allie Kilzer.