Hey guys! Super sorry about the wait :( I have had nothing but trouble with the staff of my community college, they dropped me from an online class for dumb reasons and all kinds of stuff. Anyway, yeah, I've been busy trying to fix all that. So here is chapter 18, split into two parts, hope you enjoy, and please leave a review!

Chapter 18:

Part 1:

Dirty Water

Fenrir awoke mid-day to find the others already up. Evalette was assisting Icerara as he tended to his hand, Aerin had somehow found her way up a tree and was watching the area with her large eyes, and Valeria was… nowhere to be found.

"Aerin, where is Valeria?" he called up to her where she perched on her branch like an all-seeing owl.

"She left not too long ago. She went to look for something to eat; sleep alone will not keep us going."

"And no one thought to go with her? What if she is captured?" he replied, slightly annoyed.

Aerin paused for a moment then glanced away. Fenrir rose and, after straightening his torn and blood-stained tunic and tightening the buckles of his boots, he started out from their small clearing and into the dense forest. The fallen leaves crunched beneath his feet in a cacophonous chorus as he brushed branches aside, pushing farther in. He kept his head on a swivel, searching for Valeria but more importantly watching closely for any sign of White Fire activity in the area.

He took a deep breath of the thick aroma of the woodland, allowing himself the small joy of such freedom. Freedom from the claustrophobic stone walls of the prison they had escaped from. He quickly became distracted, taking the forest in through his senses. His eyes closed and he could see the almost blinding light from the dense life that surrounded him. He reached out his mind and poured a tiny amount of energy into a plant vine that shone in front of him. The light grew brighter and when he opened his eyes, an unnaturally large flower had blossomed before him. He smiled at the simple but beautiful effect that the magic had.

Remembering what it was that he was supposed to be doing, he shook off the distraction and continued his way through the forest. After a few minutes, the sound of running water caught his ears. He followed the sound, knowing that if Valeria had gone out for food, water would have been the priority. Soon enough, he found a small creek. The sparkling water threw light across the nearby trees as it rolled and tossed over the stones and pebbles at its bottom, reflecting the faint beams of sun that broke through the thick forest canopy. He kneeled to take a few handfuls of the crisp, cool liquid, realizing how parched he actually was as it wet his dry lips. Once he had had his fill, he got to feet and began walking along its bank, following the flow upstream to find its source.

After possibly a quarter of an hour, at which point the thin creek had thickened into a continuous stream, he spotted its origin. It was either a large pond or a small lake, but either way, he would have to remember to tell the others. Moving their "camp" as it were to the edge of the water would give them a reliable source of food and water for the next day or two while they rested. Obviously they were weak with hunger and thirst, and trying to get to Elesmera in their current state would yield little progress.

Emerging from the forest into the small clearing that surrounded the water's edge, he spotted Valeria.

Or rather, Valeria's bare back while she bathed in the pond.

Fenrir's cheeks grew white hot. Her black hair cascaded down her back like a silk ribbon, her shoulder blades protruding ever so slightly as she bent over to wash herself. The water was just below her hips, hinting at her figure but thankfully veiling it from sight. She rose her left leg out of the water to wash it as well, slender, yet toned from the trials of battle, her outreaching arm conveniently covering her chest from his view, though little else was left unexposed. Just as she began to move to a position that surely would have shown all, he quickly shook off his childish shock and averted his gaze to the grass below him.

He winced as he heard her gasp when she spotted him. He could not think of anything to say to help the situation as he listened to her hurriedly leave the water and gather her clothes.

He thought he felt something crack as she punched him across the face.

"You may have the appearance of an Elf, Fenrir, but you really are a human child aren't you?" she scolded him.

He stuttered blankly, only increasing his foolishness.

"I would think you would have the decency to say something when first you spotted me, rather than watch like a typical human." She continued.

Fenrir could almost feel the heat of her anger. Or maybe that was still the embarrassment in his cheeks. Either way, he scrambled for a reply.

"I-I-I saw nothing, I had but just arrived when you noticed my presence, I assure you…" he mumbled as best he could. The most foolish of court jesters would be scholars compared to his idiocy right now.

"Well, unlike you, I have more important things to do than gawk at the opposite sex, so I will be off now. Go bathe yourself, rest assured I will not have the indecency to watch as you did. We need to have at least some dignity left when we return to Elesmera. Kidnapped or not, it would not do us well to arrive putrid and covered in filth."

Fenrir nodded dumbly at her words. He went to the water's edge, but did nothing until she was an ample distance into the forest. After he had waited a sufficient time, he had calmed considerably, and his thoughts were in order again. He began to undress but paused as a thought drifted into his mind.

I drank the water downstream that came from this pond… and Valeria was…

He bent over and vomited into the grass.

Chapter 18:

Part 2:

A Huntress Compromised

Valeria stalked off into the forest toward camp. Her embarrassment could almost be felt in the air around her.

Why does it bother me so?

The Elves were modest people, but the sight of one another bare was not so troubling as it was right now.

She glanced back through the forest towards the pond and glimpsed Fenrir's scarred, toned back as he lifted his shirt up and off his body.

Valeria choked as her breath caught in her lungs. She scolded herself for her immature actions.

Why were relations between them so strange?

For a moment, the obvious truth slipped into her thoughts, but she quickly shook the childish emotion away.

It is not possible to have feelings for him. I am a proud Huntress, a crown jewel of Elven warriors; I will not succumb to this foolery.

She leaned against a tree and slid down to sit at its base. Even while she spoke these words to herself, she could not bring herself to believe that they were true.

She cursed herself once more. Whether or not she had an emotional attachment to him, which she did not, she could not allow it to compromise her as a warrior. Such emotions would cloud her judgment, should Fenrir ever be in danger, and would likely cost her dearly were she to attempt to save him simply because of emotion , rather than his honest tactical value, of which there was little.

Ancestors damn it all, what am I doing?

She pushed all thoughts of him aside and tried to focus on something else. She grasped her long black hair and attempted to wring the remaining water from it, then tied it into a small bun. She had gotten dressed in such a hurry that her still-wet skin had stuck to her clothes, bleeding through at some points and causing it all to feel damp and tight, so she shook it loose and tried to fluff it back out. Her figure was still uncomfortably visible, but in all honesty, with Fenrir away from the camp, no one else minded her, and surely she would be dry before his return.

There he was again, infiltrating her thoughts once more. Annoyed, she whipped her hunting knife from her belt and threw it into a tree in front of her, retrieving it as she walked past. She chuckled slightly at her attempt to solve her problems by stabbing a tree.

Who is the foolish one now, Valeria?

She sighed and continued her walk towards camp in silence. Upon her arrival, she spoke to no one and instead lay down on her designated sleeping spot in the grass and leaves. She was distantly aware of Aerin asking whether she had found any food, and Evalette asking about her brother, but she ignored both of them. She simply stared up into the vibrant green canopy of the woods, focusing on the rays of red sunlight that shone through like stars on the night sky. The crimson light from the setting sun relaxed her, and she allowed her mind to wander blankly.

Some time later, Fenrir returned, he too desiring silence. They shared a quick glance at each other, but looked away as the air filled with almost palpable awkwardness. The rest of the fading day drifted by in silence, and soon the other Riders gave up on trying to ask about food. They all retreated to their chosen sleeping areas, and the night closed in on them, and they were enclosed in the unembarrassed, emotionless, uncaring blanket of the dark forest.