Pathfinder's Way(7)

By: T.A. White


“Who cares if there are red backs?” Dane said with the food still in his hands. “You just said we have to get to Edgecomb as fast as possible. If we run into any problems, we’ll just kill them. Their pelt fetches a nice price in the Lowlands.”

“Maybe you could flirt them to death, puppy,” Witt drawled, giving Dane a dismissive glance. Shea hid a grin. “Red backs are incredibly difficult to kill. A boomer’s lead won’t penetrate their hide. You have to get close, with knives or swords, and cut them open.” Witt stood and mimed a slash in demonstration. “They’re bigger than us, faster than us and one hit will crush your chest until you’re exhaling blood.”

Dane held Witt’s gaze, his mouth set in a disgruntled line before bending and picking up his pack. Shea kept her gaze focused on the map while Dane busied himself fussing with its straps.

Witt squatted down next to her. “I’d like to say the boy is entirely wrong, but if James and Cam were taken by Edgecomb, they don’t have a lot of time.”

Shea nodded and rolled the map up before sticking it in her pack. “No, they don’t. A day or two at most.”

“How long would the detour take?”

Shea quirked her mouth and shook her head slightly. “Depending on the trail sign, anywhere from a couple hours to half a day.”

“You’re the pathfinder so we’ll follow your lead.”

Witt stood and walked to his pack where he finished arranging the last of his supplies.

“I am the pathfinder.”

All that meant was that if she made the wrong decision, she would be the one with blood on her hands. She scrubbed a hand over her face and turned to the other two as they settled their packs on their backs. The long barrel of a boomer stuck up over Dane’s head from where it was attached to his pack. Witt’s weapons consisted of two short swords on either hip.

Looked like everybody was ready.

“Pathfinder.”

Shea turned to see Elder Zrakovi watching her sourly. Taller than her by a few inches, he was a burly man whose muscle was just beginning to turn to fat with age. She knew it must bother him to have his son’s fate resting in the hands of a woman he’d done his best to get rid of since she arrived.

“I trust that, despite our differences, you’ll do your job and bring my son back.”

She nodded shortly. The gate was raised just high enough for her group to walk under it.

“Don’t screw this up,” Zrakovi said as she passed under the gate.

She raised a hand in acknowledgement and adjusted her pack one last time before lengthening her stride to catch up with the other two.

There was one thing the elders had gotten right. Shea’s presence here was a punishment. But, it wasn’t them who was being punished.





Chapter Two





Shea quickly took the lead and set a punishing pace as the other two fell in single file behind her, Witt bringing up the rear. They had a lot of ground to cover before nightfall. It would take the rest of the day to reach the stretch of cliffs that marked the Highland border.

Reaching them would be a test of the group’s stamina and endurance. In essence, it would be a gut check. Doable, but not fun.

The cliffs, often referred to as Bearan’s Fault, spanned nearly the entire border. Most of it so steep it was as if a god had lifted the Highlands up onto a shelf, setting them above their neighbors. They were the reason people called everything above the cliffs the Highlands.

Not exactly original, but descriptive.

Approaching them always felt like walking off the edge of the world.

Located on the most southwestern edge of the Highlands, Birdon Leaf claimed some of the only habitable land in a mountainous territory pitted with ravines, steep hills and granite monoliths. To live up here, one had to be stubborn. And maybe a little crazy.

Not many had the sheer bone headedness to settle out here on the edge.

Food was scarce and company even more so. Unless you could do for yourself, well, it didn’t get done. People here were independent, hard headed and convinced that the only way to do something was the way their grandfather’s grandfather had done it. As a result, they didn’t welcome strangers. Even ones they asked to be here, like Shea.

The first leg of the journey was easy enough. They were lucky Birdon Leaf was situated on rolling hills. To the north was a pair of mountain ranges so high that snow covered the tops nine out of the twelve months. To the west, deep ravines bit into the land, creating a spidery network of valleys and ridges throughout the Highlands.

One of the reasons pathfinders existed was because it was so easy to get lost up here. It was as if the land itself didn’t take kindly to outsiders and tried to push out any it sensed didn’t belong here.

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