If Gil had stopped a moment to consider the options, the woman would have disappeared into the shining clouds, leaving him with no decision to make. But seeing his target fleeing, he took off in pursuit as if by reflex. Perhaps the months spent in the forest had developed some hunter’s instinct within him after all.
The softly glowing ground beneath his feet was giving but supportive. His footsteps made no noise that he could hear over the sound of his own breathing. The woman ahead of him did not look back, perhaps assuming that she had left him behind. Gil concentrated on keeping up to avoid just that.
After a little while she slowed to a steadier pace and Gil began to gain ground. Not used to maintaining this kind of speed, Gil found himself panting with the effort. Alfvin had hinted that what they breathed in this world may not be air, but the stuff of magic. Whatever it was, Gil’s body was gasping for more of it.
Even as he drew closer, he lacked the breath to call out. But apparently his laboured breathing was loud enough to draw attention on its own. The magic-hunter glanced back at him, then muttered something to herself. Gil couldn’t hear much over his own panting, but he thought he caught the word “idiot” before she turned her head back to address him over her shoulder.
“Looks like you’ve got a real death wish. Chances are you’ll get lost out here and never find your way back. But fair warning: get any closer than that and you won’t have to wait.”
Her voice was steady, holding only the barest hint of exertion. Gil altered his course to draw up alongside her at a respectful distance. Slowing to match her pace, Gil began to regain his breath, but it was a while before he felt composed enough to speak.
“Where… are you … running to?”
She looked back, as if trying to decide whether he was serious or not.
“Where do you think? There’s only one thing to do out here. I need to check the traps.”
Gil was alarmed. He thought immediately of the rumours about the disappearance of magic-gatherers like the one he followed now. The rumours that these disappearances were the work of some kind of dangerous native creature, living far out in the mist.
“Traps? What do you trap way out here?”
Again, the evaluating gaze. Eventually she decided that yes, apparently a person could be this stupid.
“What else? Magic, of course. Catch it, concentrate it, trap it in stone. Where did you think it comes from?”
Gil was simultaneously embarrassed and immensely relieved.
“No, of course that makes sense. I just never thought of it as trapping. I thought you meant… something else.”
That made her smile for the first time since Gil had met her.
“Somebody’s been filling your head with wild stories, haven’t they? ‘Here be dragons’, that sort of thing?”
“Something like that.”
She gave a snort which may have been the start of a laugh.
“And you came out here to see them for yourself? What an intrepid explorer. Mostly stupid, but also intrepid.”
“No, that’s… it’s not really like that. But I’m glad you seem to be feeling better.”
“Oh yes. It’s quite obvious that you’re too stupid to be any real danger to me. You’re a massive danger to yourself, but not to me. I’m almost certain you’ll get yourself killed out here. But now I’m getting curious to see just how you’ll go about it.”