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Chapter 9: Through the Night

    Naclia had been up for three hours since Aiden woke her at around one AM. It was hard for her to get up after only a couple hours of sleep, but she forced herself awake by dragging herself away from the campfire and out to the chilly night. Aiden had fallen asleep as soon as his head hit his pillow. She had found a perch in the same tree Aiden sat in earlier.

    After two hours, she didn’t think she could stay up any long, and the night had proven silent. Naclia climbed down from the tree as quietly as she could, being half-asleep, then shuffled over to Talen’s bedroll. She crouched down next to his sleeping body and poked the knight’s shoulder. “Hey, wake up,” she muttered.

    Talen shifted a bit as he felt the poking from Naclia. Turning over, his eyes slowly opened. “Mmm...what is it?” he mumbled. Though was able to make out words, he opened his eyes and a blurry vision came into a clear one, catching the sight of Naclia before him. “Oh Naclia it’s you, what do you need?” he asked.

    Naclia yawned before she answered. “Your turn,” she said. She was ready to turn into bed, but suddenly there was something large rustling in the bushes around the perimeter of the camp. She was alert again, trying to see what was stalking them. It might have been a wild animal, but it was big.

    Talen nodded, it seemed time had flown by quickly since he had fallen asleep. “Ahh...already huh?” he said, sitting up out of his bed, rubbing his eyes for a moment before he caught the sound of the rustling in the bushes near the camp. “What was that?” he asked before grabbing his sword that he left laying next to his bed. Getting up quickly, his hand was on the hilt, ready to unsheathe it.

    The rustling continued, accompanied by a few grunts and heavy breaths. “I think it’s an animal,” Naclia said, then began to sneak toward the bushes.

    Talen nodded to Naclia and approached the bushes alongside her, his hand still on the hilt of his blade, ready for anything that might come out at them. “Be careful, who knows what it might be...” he whispered.

    Naclia waved him off over her shoulder. She was the elf, and if it was an animal, she could handle it. Peeking behind a bush, she saw a bear foraging for berries or tubers with its hind end toward her. She had to chase it out of camp.

    “Stay back, it’s a bear,” she replied to Talen in a harsh whisper. The bear grunted as she spoke, as if she caught its attention.

    Talen nodded and stepped back, away from her, his hand gripping the hilt as he heard the bear grunt. He wondered if it was going to attack, or just leave.

    Naclia quickly snatched a leftover fruit from her pack and crawled toward the bushes. Projecting all her positivity forward, she approached the bear, making kissing sounds to gently get its attention. She disappeared from Talen’s view behind the bush.

    With a grunt, the bear turned around to see Naclia. She had made herself small by crouching, and offered the fruit in her outstretched hand. The bear recognized her elven attributes and seemed to relax a bit. Hesitantly, it took the fruit from her hand, and when she did nothing more, the bear relaxed further.

    “Good bear,” Naclia cooed, then reached out and patted its forehead while it devoured her offering sloppily. “Please leave this place. There are humans here who may hurt you,” she warned. While she doubted any of the people in the camp would actually hurt the bear, it knew humans were dangerous. It recognized the concept she projected to it, and slowly turned and wandered back into the forest, away from the camp.

    Naclia stood as the bear walked away, then returned into the camp. “There, no problem for an elf,” she said softly with a wink to Talen.

    Talen kept an eye on the bushes as Naclia went behind them, trying to keep his hearing alert in case he heard a scream or anything. But there was none, and after awhile, all he could see was Naclia returning from the bushes and winking at him. “Ahh, so I noticed, great work. I didn’t really expect it to go that way, but then again...I don’t know much about elves,” he said with a smile, standing up and walking back to the camp at her side.

    “Whew, now I’m all excited and I can’t go to bed,” Naclia said. “I’ll sit up with you for awhile. Let’s have a seat...” Naclia looked around camp for a place to sit so they wouldn’t wake the others. She noticed a log near the horses that they could sit on comfortably. “Come on,” she said, leading Talen along.

    Talen laughed softly, nodding in response to her. “Sure, it would be nice to have some company,” he said, smiling at her. He walked, following close behind her, as she lead them toward the horses.

    Naclia sat down on the log lightly, then crossed her legs under her. “It’s not too far from dawn, unless you’re really tired, then you won’t have to tag Rylan,” the elf noted.

    Talen shook his head and sat next to her. “No, I don’t think I’ll need to rest anymore. I can take the rest of the shift. But, while we’re up, there was one thing I’m curious about,” he said looking to the ground, then over at her. “I was wondering, when you said earlier that your family was did it happen? And if you don’t want to talk about it, I’d understand,” he said softly.

    “Oh, they were killed during the War of the Demon God. A lot of elves died then,” she replied. She was rather casual about it, but it was over fifty-five years ago.

    Talen nodded, giving a look to the ground again. “Ahh...the War of the Demon God, I learned about it when I was a child,” he said softly. But then, when he thought about how long ago it was, he noticed that she still looked like she was his age, if not a little younger. “Wait....that was like, fifty years ago!”

    Naclia giggled. “I guess you don’t know. Elves age far slower than humans, and we live ten times longer. I bet ya can’t guess how old I am,” she said with a grin. Normally elves didn’t like to tell their age, but Naclia didn’t mind so much. It would be fun to see him guess.

    Talen smiled nervously. “Yeah, I...never really knew that, no wonder you see the same elves for so long,” he said giving a soft laugh. As she suggested guessing her age, Talen became very nervous. “Umm...I don’t want to say something old and make it seem insulting, look about the same as me, so I would guess about...fifty?” he asked nervously.

    Naclia giggled again. “Ooolder,” she goaded.

    Talen smiled and brought a hand up to scratch his head nervously. “Umm...eighty?” he asked again nervously.

    “Ooolder,” Naclia repeated with a grin.

    He couldn’t help but blush a bit, she was obviously having fun with this, not like he minded. “Umm, a hundred?” he asked once again.

    “Still older,” she replied, giggling. He was getting close now, but she wouldn’t let him off the hook until he guessed one-hundred and twenty, or she got bored.

    Talen smiled, he couldn’t deny that he was liking this in a way, they were having fun together, and that was a good thing. “Well, I’ll go ahead and guess...five hundred?” he asked.

    Naclia glared at Talen sharply for a moment, but it was mostly just play. “A lot younger!” she growled.

    Talen backed up a little bit as she glared at him, that age obviously pinged something in her. “Umm, one-thirty?” he asked nervously.

    “Oh fine, that’s pretty close,” she replied with a giggle, completely dropping her upset expression. She leaned over and whispered in his ear; “A hundred and twenty-five. But don’t tell anybody!”

    Talen nodded, giving a soft sigh at finally getting the answer. He had no idea how long it would’ve lasted with his luck of guessing. “Well, I wouldn’t think of you as being that old,” he said giving her a smile. “It’s a promise, I wont tell anybody!” he said waving his hand at her.

    “Hmph! I’m not old for an elf!” she replied, turning away with a frown.

    Talen nervously reached over and placed a hand on her shoulder. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it that way. You are very lovely for your age after all, you’re not old at all,” he said with a smile playing on his lips.

    “Oh, you silly human,” she giggled and poked him in the chest. “You know, Eli is the same age as me, and Aiden is a year younger. It’s not that I look good for my age, I look normal for my age, and I’ll look this way for the next nine hundred years,” her voice became a little more serious. It brought up the subject of their potential relationship. She really liked Talen, but it would be a complicated relationship if she took it too far.

    Talen blushed a little bit as she poked him in the chest. “ I see, so you all are around the same age. I never would’ve known that,” he said, smiling nervously. “Well, how long have you and the others known each other?” he asked.

    “Eliamn hasn’t been much more than an acquaintance until now. Her family kept her very busy teaching her to become the next Keeper, so we never played as children. Aiden and I, however, were neighbors from childhood. He’s my best friend, and he helped me through the years after the war,” she explained. The elf yawned. All the adrenaline was wearing off and she was tired again.

    Talen nodded, listening in to every word she spoke. “Ahh, so you hardly know Eliamn, but you are still acquaintances, and Aiden, sounds like you two are close. I’m glad you’ve had people you can rely on by your side through the years,” he said with a smile and patted her on the shoulder when she yawned. “Getting sleepy again? You can go to bed if you want, I’m going to stay up the rest of the night since dawn is approaching.”

    “Yeah, but you might need more help with the wildlife,” she said with a grin. She was enjoying the chance to be alone with him again, so that was only an excuse. She yawned again, then laid her head on his shoulder. Sitting up straight was too much effort.

    “ do have a good point there, considering how bad of a situation it may have been with that bear if you weren’t there,” he said, looking down with a nervous expression upon his face. Even though he was a knight, he was still human, and he still had the nervous emotions any human would around a lovely woman. “Well, I wouldn’t mind having you around, but if you’re too tired, then I would suggest going to bed when you can,” he said, giving her a smile. He blushed deeply when she laid her head on his shoulder, not expecting her to move so close all of a sudden.

    “But bed’s so...” she paused to yawn, “far away.” Sleep was starting to take her over, and she found nothing wrong with cuddling up with Talen at this point. She scooted down the log and laid her head on his thigh, then tugged her cloak tightly around her. “’Night,” she murmured and started drifting to sleep.

    Talen laughed softly and nodded. “Yeah, I know how that feels sometimes,” he said, and he raised a brow as she scooted down the log, then blushed as he felt her head lay upon his thigh. “Umm G’night,” he said nervously, a smile playing across his lips.

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