A moment later, Kimar appeared on the other side of the small fire ring, startling Danielle. No sound of footsteps—just “poof,” and there he was! She did notice that, just a moment before he appeared, there was a little rustling of the leaves and pine needles beneath the spot he parted to. He walked around the crackling fire and handed her a small tin bucket filled with water, as well as a loaf of bread as long as her arm and a round of whitish-colored cheese, the kind her mother bought from time to time for holidays. Danielle wasted no time in digging in to her long-overdue meal. With no knife, she had to take bites out of the cheese round, as if it was an apple. She followed up with a chunk of the bread loaf and washed it all down with a swig from the bucket. She repeated the process, eager for the growling to stop. A bit of fruit would have been nice, but she wasn’t complaining.
“We regret not providing you sustenance until now,” said Ercen, smiling. “You see, we find nourishment from the earth and sky, from stone and cloud.”
“Hmphf,” mumbled Danielle, mouth stuffed full of cheese and bread. So many bits of bread had fallen around her lap, it looked like she’d had a small snowstorm go over her.
Ercen and Kimar said nothing else while she ate. Kimar’s attention was directed towards the sky above, his amber eyes casting a slight glow, scanning the stars, back and forth. Danielle noticed the moon beginning to peak over the treetops. Ercen, she noticed, seemed amused at watching her consume her very late dinner with such vigor.
Finally full, Danielle put the leftovers on a flat rock. “Thanks. That’s the best cheese I’ve ever tasted!”
“Are you strong now?” asked Kimar.
“Huh?” replied a puzzled Danielle.
“Are you strong enough to go?” he clarified.
“Um, I guess so,” she replied, a great weariness washing over her. “If you mean, am I full…yeah. I am. But it’s really late. I’ve been gone for hours now. My folks are sure to be frantic, my mom, especially. I just want to go home and then go to bed. Do I really have to go with you in search of—of whatever…” Her voice trailed off.
“Child, we are going to your home. We must retrieve the Key of Kahrnahrgx at once.” Ercen answered with an urgency in her voice that snapped Danielle back from the drowsiness stealing over her.
“Your parents are in grave danger, Danielle,” grumbled the deep voice of Kimar. “If you are strong now, we must go at once.”
Reaching out his left hand to Ercen, Kimar took Danielle’s left hand in his right. As soon as Ercen completed the circle by taking Danielle’s other hand, they parted without a sound. A few leaves and pine needles floated down onto the small fire and the leftover food that was lying on a flat rock. A family of local mice enjoyed a delightful feast of leftover bread and fine-tasting cheese.
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