Trying his hardest to make no noise in the dense forest, Ray was concerned with how silent everything was. The insects and night time critters should have been shuffling around, chirping sleepily but all was muted. Even the air felt heavy with danger and ahead of him he caught the scent of something … unexpected. Pausing behind a large tree, he leaned around and saw Sari kneeling in a small clearing, her naked form bathed in the moonlight. It was beautiful to see, her form lithe and swaying slowly. Something dark had been drawn onto her arms and legs, across her brow and down her chest that glittered wetly when the light touched it. A mesmerizing moment passed before Ray realized that it was blood used to draw the runes onto her skin, her wicked dagger held in her hand as if in offering to the bright moons overhead. Her voice was low and husky, a dreamy quality to it that stirred his blood even though he didn’t understand the words.
At her knees lay several dead rabbits with their entrails spread out in front, the gore making an obscene circle that surrounded more blood runes she had drawn into the ground. Kneeling and bowing to the circle, her chanting continuing, Ray watched in horror as she drew the dagger across her arms and legs. Fresh blood added to the grisly scene, green light tinting the edge of the dagger blade as the final offering was made. Ray could tell it was coming to an end as the runes were smeared by her hands, the skin unmarked beneath except for pink lines of new flesh.
Realizing she would notice him now, Ray hid behind the tree and focused very hard on being as invisible as possible. If she caught him here, he wasn’t sure how well that life bond would save him … Footsteps were heard from her area, coming closer through the grass to his tree. The smell of coppery blood and something else tainted the air and he sucked in a breath to hold. Cloth shuffled along with the clink of metal, groaning of leather, and then footsteps retreated away.
Exhaling slowly, he listened as the footsteps turned toward the river they had been following. A long few moments passed before he made his way back to their camp and the cold dinner. Adding a few of their spices to the stew, he put it back on the heat and stirred slowly while he thought about the ritual he had watched. It was almost trancelike for her and he wondered if she was compelled to complete it. Was it a ritual to the dragon father? Or did the Satyxis have their own gods and goddesses that they worshiped. Serving himself fresh stew that had much more flavor to it, Ray leaned back against the large rock they had camped near to eat and mull over what little he knew about the Satyxis.
The journal he’d been keeping notes in had several more pages filled out with what he had seen before she returned, hair and skin still damp from the washing and wearing just her shorts and thin cloth top that normally went under her armor. He didn’t see any obvious markings from the ritual, not even the pink of newly healed scars. She was, however, a more obvious shade of purple when she sat down on the log, her bare legs stretched out before diving into the stew. Her appetite was returned as well as her good mood. If Ray didn’t know any better, he would almost say she was relaxed and at ease.
A nod of her head and she gestured to the two dead rabbits she had brought back, cleaned and gutted. “Found something for breakfast while I was bathing. Damn things startled me.”
A grunt as he added a few more lines to his journal, Ray looked her over again. “Your skin changes color. Do you know why?”
Looking down at her legs and noting she was indeed more purple than usual, Sari shrugged. “Moon phase. High emotions. Pretty normal but … You know, might be a bad idea now.” Turning her legs back and forth, she furrowed her brow in thought. “I’m going to have to work on my temper. Kind of not normal for women to turn purple on the mainland.” Pretty sure his eyebrow had melded with his hair, Ray watched a bit longer as she ate a second bowl of stew before adding more notes to his growing collection of Satyxis discoveries. This partner was going to be a wealth of information, if not the death of him…
Their remaining hike out to the tower was uneventful, Sari chatting a little with Ray about her life on the seas. Many of her stories involved some form of blood rite and he was starting to suspect she was exaggerating much of it. A few of her tales kept him up at night, wondering if such massive monsters actually did live in the oceans… At one point, their little camp nestled under pine trees near the tower they were sent to explore, Sari was in the midst of one story and a gentle rain started to fall. She paused, eyeing the branches over their head and then the dark clouds. “We’re gonna get wet tonight, huh.” A big smirk and she winked at him before poking their little camp fire.
It took him a good few seconds to realize just what she was referring too… And another several minutes to decide just how much of that would be a bad idea. She was lovely, sure, and definitely desirable … But she was -satyxis- as well. He hadn’t seen her with a partner but then again she had also been working pretty hard at being ignored.
The rain picked up while he was preparing their dinner, more rabbits she had shot and thankfully hadn’t used in a ritual. Sari, however, had left the campsite to stand on the other side the tree. Now and then, Ray heard what sounded like water splashing. Curious, he snuck over to look around the thick pine tree and got an eye full of Sari using the heavy rain to rinse off her skin. Stark naked in the rain, her long hair plastered to her skull and back, she turned and grinned mischievously at him.
“Going to join me? It feels great.” She held a hand out to him, the rain pouring over her tanned skin. The temptation was enough that Ray strongly considered taking that hand… Her playful grin didn’t help as he was sure what direction she was going to take it. Instead, disappointing them both, he shook his head with a chuckle and went back to keep an eye on their dinner.
This woman is going to be the death of me, one way or another. Not sure if I’m ready to meet that end yet. Poking the fire back into life sadly, he made sure the rabbits didn’t burn while she danced in the rain out of sight. When he called her over for dinner she arrived with her wet hair braided back and skin mostly dry, her blanket draped over her shoulders offering the only bit of modesty. She got dressed and he did his best not to stare before holding out her rabbit kebab.
They ate in silence to the patter of rain hitting the tarp he had set up over their little campsite while the trees help fend off more rain. Before going to bed, knowing full well he’d be the one waking Sari up, Ray looked over his companion and finally sighed before turning to her. “Hey… I’m going to be getting us started early tomorrow. Do me a favor? Don’t sleep with your gun in your hand.”
A snort and she gave Ray a less-than-enthused look. “Well, why don’t you just… not wake me at dawn?”
Knowing this was not going to go the direction he wanted, he sighed heavily and nodded his head toward the tower. “We don’t know how deep that goes, what we’re going to face, or how long it’s going to take us to get through. Starting early in the morning will give us more time to get through it. There’s a decent chance that they used mirrors to reflect sunlight through the tower so without the sun, we have no light except for torches.”
Not looking even a tiny bit convinced, Sari leaned back on her hands, ankles crossed and a bemused grin on her face. “Sooo… you plan to wake me at dawn anyway.”
Nodding, hoping she would see reason. “Exactly. Just… don’t have your gun with you. Or don’t keep it loaded…”
A shrug and she reached down to the pile of her stuff to work free her belt with all the pouches on it. Checking to make sure the latches are secure, she tossed the entire belt at Ray with a smirk. “All my rounds. Feel better now?”
A chuckle and he shakes his head, a hand held out. “I know you have one loaded. You always do.”
Rolling her eyes, she opened the breech of her gun and tossed the single bullet at him. “This just means I’m biting you in the morning.” A wider smirk and she leaned toward him with a wink. “Who knows. You might like it.”
He was starting to think that yes, yes he would like it but no chance in hell was he going to admit that to her...