Vera looked at the twilight scenery of the snowy mountain outside the cavern. It somehow brought with it a feeling of boundless majesty.
“How are your injuries? I was lucky this afternoon and managed to catch something again,” said Kurdak as he waved the snow rabbit in his hand around.
“I’m fine… more or less. I can move somewhat now,” answered Vera, smiling.
Her face had a tinge of red now. It had now been three days since they jumped off the cliff. Over the past three days, thanks to the extensive care Kurdak gave her, her injuries had recovered really quickly. Most of her wounds had scabbed and it seemed she would completely recover in a few more days.
We really did it! thought Vera when she reflected on how hopeless she had been just a few days earlier.
Being badly injured and lost in the mountains, a harsh environment with chilling temperatures, she felt there was no way she would ever leave. It was true; she’d despaired immensely in the beginning, but Kurdak hadn’t. The crude and rough-looking man had taken care of her patiently the entire time. He hunted, cleaned her wounds, and wracked his brains for ways to give her hope every day.
Now, something not short of a miracle had happened. Even though Leguna and Annelotte hadn’t been able to find them, Vera’s injuries had mostly recovered. It seemed she would soon be able to think of a way to leave.
When Kurdak had asked her to trust him, she’d promised to. He hadn’t let her down. They managed to weather the worst.
“Here, you should be fine after having another potion.”
Kurdak took a bottle out of his vest and handed it to her. He looked slightly pale and the hands that held the potion shuddered ever so slightly.
He looks incredibly tired, thought Vera as she looked at the fatigue on his face he tried, and failed, to hide.
She accepted the potion.
“Why d’you have so many potions? Instead of buying so many, you could’ve bought a few more real elementary potions.”
“Well, it was cheap and I couldn’t resist. I got these for just 50 silver on the black market. Real elementary potions cost ten gold a piece! I thought it couldn’t hurt to buy a few more just in case. I’d forgotten about them entirely, until two days ago. I didn’t think they’d be this effective!”
Kurdak smiled as he sat down on a rock next to her.
“But they taste horrible. They’re raw and salty, nothing like the sweet-and-sour taste of the real things,” said Vera, furrow-browed.
The bootlegs Kurdak had given her not only tasted incredibly bad, they weren’t very effective either. It was no wonder they were 50 silver. Even so, taking them would save her life, so she downed them despite her complaints.
“It’s already a wonder they work. Stop being so picky,” countered Kurdak as he put the empty bottles away and leaned against a wall. He let out a long sigh.
Vera looked at the exhausted man and felt a little guilty. She shifted and cuddled against his chest like a kitten.
“Thanks… for the last couple of days,” muttered she, head buried in his chest.
“Sheesh, where’d that come from? I’m your party leader, and you’re my woman. I have to protect you!” probed he, smiling.
This was the first time he’d stated their relationship directly. He didn’t know whether she would accept him or not.
“Tch! Who’s your woman?!”
Vera clicked her tongue. She felt her cheeks heat up ever so slightly. Kurdak’s joy soared when he heard her not-so-serious rebuke. He decided to strike while the iron was still hot.
“It’s only a matter of time! Don’t even think of running away!”
Vera could feel how hard his heart was beating and realized that even the crudest men could have moments when they felt anxious. As she listened quietly, her experiences over the last couple of months flashed through her mind.
Kurdak, Leguna, Annelotte, Cyranos, Eve…
“Thinking about Leguna?” guessed Kurdak when she stopped talking all of a sudden.
Vera nodded lightly.
“Yeah. I wonder how Ley is doing. We haven’t seen him for three days. I worry he will run into a great snowfiend.”
Kurdak patted her head gently.
“Don’t worry, Ley will be fine. Don’t forget he single-handedly finished off a few orcs. While he normally acts like a coward, he’s actually quite reliable when it counts. Also, Annelotte should be with him. Leguna will be fine if she’s with him.”
Vera looked oddly at him.
“You’re usually pretty reserved when it comes to Annelotte. Why are you suddenly so confident in her?”
“I’m reserved because I’m confident in her,” said Kurdak helplessly.
“What do you mean?”
“Whatever, there’s no harm in telling you. Just don’t tell Ley,” Kurdak said after a pause, “Actually, Annelotte is a member of Moonshadow. My best guess is she should be a high-ranker.”
Even though Vera was surprised at first, it made complete sense when she thought about it.
“Remember how I was able to defeat Orwen? She’d given me a lot of information on him before the duel. I’d spent most of my time studying it in the two days before the duel,” explained Kurdak.
“So that why,” mumbled Vera, nodding, “Since she’s helped you, why are you still so reserved?”
“She’s acting in Moonshadow’s interests. Orwen was troublesome for the guild and they wanted to eliminate him. They just borrowed my hands for it. I just happened to be involved, so they dealt with Orwen through me. They were the ones who got off cheap,” said Kurdak with a cold smile.
His remarks weren’t far from the truth. Before the duel, Annelotte had bet ten thousand gold coins in the underground casinos on his victory. She managed to force a payout of six to one to drop to five to one with her bet alone. Even though Kurdak thought he’d struck gold with his bet, she was the biggest winner. The poor man who thought he’d made a killing would never know how Annelotte was secretly smiling at him coldly.
“That’s not the main reason, though. This is only a feeling, but I think the orcs’ attack in Nightsong Forest had something to do with her, or with Moonshadow, at least. I’ve always thought Cyranos’s death had something do with her. Maybe, she knows something.”
When she heard his name, Vera’s heart pained. The quiet yet incredibly attentive man had left them for good.
“It’s been more than two months, right?” sighed Vera.
“Yeah… Two months,” mumbled Kurdak, before his expression distorted badly.
“Darn it! It’s been two months!” Kurdak hurriedly pushed Vera aside and stood up in a hurry.
Initially shocked, Vera soon realized why he’d shoved her away. Today was the next full moon!
Freaking hell… No wonder something felt off tonight! thought Kurdak.
After a quick thought, be decided they had no choice but to part temporarily since they didn’t have any rope to tie him up.
He quickly approached Vera, stroked her slightly-terrified face, and said, “Don’t worry, there’s still time. I’ll leave right away. Stay here for the night. I’ll go as far as I can and come back tomorrow. If I don’t get back by noon, start a fire, make it smoke as much as you can and I’ll come. Here’s the fire starter.”
Vera took it.
“What if I left instead? You’ve been taxing yourself too much lately, I am well-rested. I can find my way back just fine.”
“No! You’re still injured. You shouldn’t go about in the wilderness! No more buts!”
Though she wanted to say something else, Kurdak’s mind was already made up. She opened her mouth slightly but couldn’t say anything in the end.
Having made his preparations, he hugged her.
“Don’t worry, it’ll be fine after tonight,” consoled he as he left.
“Be careful. I’ll be waiting,” whispered Vera.
“I’ll be back, don’t worry. I’m a man of my word.”
Kurdak gave her a last look, smiled, and left.
Vera noticed he was on the brink of losing control, his footsteps were very rushed.
Several dozen minutes later, the bone-chilling howl of a werewolf echoed up and down the mountain. Vera remained crouched in a corner of the cave and buried her head in her arms, feeling rather distraught.
The howling rang out from time to time and she tried her best to stay calm and focused on the thought that it would all be over by sunrise. But not long after, another low bellow could be heard from another direction.”
The cries of the two fiends got louder and louder. It sounded like they were getting closer and closer to one another.
She could no longer keep her worry for him suppressed. She ran towards the howls as fast as her feet would carry her.
The fiends’ cries overlapped and became ever more deafening. The isolated injured whimper could be heard occasionally. It made her even more anxious.
The snow was approximately one foot deep. As her injuries had just recovered, it was incredibly difficult for her to run in the snow. Her wounds risked tearing open again if she was careless. But she didn’t care about it at that moment. The two fiends’ roars were getting fainter by the second. It sounded like the battle was coming to an end.
She ran faster the closer to thought she as. When she finally arrived, the sight that greeted her almost made her black out.