By the time he had come back with an armful of wood, everyone seemed to have mostly pulled themselves together. Savannah was building up a structure of twigs and branches with a determined look on her face. Kai dumped his wood by their feet. “The trusty Earth Shifter is going to make the fire?” he asked teasingly.
“The trusty Earth Shifter is going to attempt making a fire,” she agreed, then looked around. “Well, at least until Lexa gets back.”
She sat on the ground with her legs crossed and began rubbing two pieces of wood together. Her technique looked plausible, but nothing happened for a long time. “My servants did it this way,” she said, dark eyes focused. “They didn’t usually take this long though.”
Lucien had knelt down beside her, elbow resting on a knee, head cradled on his hand. “I’m sure,” he drawled.
“It’s your fault,” Savannah snapped, still rubbing furiously. “You’re making me nervous, watching me like this.”
Jayden had sauntered up and was watching with a somewhat amused expression. “You know, if I still had two arms, I could have done this for you.”
Savannah threw the sticks onto the ground and ran a hand through her blonde hair, leaving streaks of dirt in it. “I no longer care,” she announced. “We will just have to freeze for now.”
“No one’s freezing on my watch,” Lexa called, coming over to kneel beside the pile of sticks. After bracing the fingertips of one hand on the ground, she snapped the fingers of her free hand. A shower of sparks fell from her fingers, and they caught on some of the dry leaves. Within a minute a fire was blazing merrily.
“Were you watching this whole time?” Savannah asked, almost whining. “Why didn’t you come over earlier?”
“Because it was funnier to let you struggle,” Lexa said with a bright smile.
“She has a very good point,” Lucien said, and Savannah shoved him over.
Kai began unbuckling his pack. “Come on,” he said. “Let’s unpack our sleeping gear and arrange it around the fire. We need to get some rest. We have more travelling to do tomorrow.”
Everyone moved to obey. Most of them had done this before. Even Aurelie had grown somewhat accustomed to it, because of the ride back to the capitol. Kai kicked a rock into the darkness before laying his blankets down. Once they were all gathered around he found himself thinking that he truly was leading a bunch of children, though this time he wasn’t thinking it with exasperation, but rather with sadness. Kai wondered how many of them had truly thought about what the consequences of what they had just done would be.
“I never thought I’d be sitting in the wilds of the Air Nation with the Oracle, an exiled Fire Nation Princess, the Shadow Walker, and a dragon,” he said, staring into the flames of their fire.
Sydney turned on him. “What do we do now?”
He swallowed nervously as seven more pairs of eyes swiveled to stare at him. He wasn’t sure he liked being the unofficial leader anymore. There was too much responsibility here, too much riding on him not making a mistake. “We track down this Fire Nation troop, and the Phoenix.” Aurelie sighed heavily, eyes drooping. “Now though I think we should work out a watch schedule, and then sleep.”
“I can take first watch,” Jayden said. “We should probably watch in pairs. There’s ten of us, we’ll be able to keep each other up and there’ll be five shifts, so we’ll only be watching for about an hour and a half each.”
“We should work out who will stay up with who,” Kai said to the group, foreseeing some difficulty, but in the end, everyone seemed to split pretty easily into pairs. Cas volunteered to take the first watch with Jayden. Lucien said simply, “I’m watching with Savannah,” then promptly flopped down onto his blankets, not waiting for a response. Aurelie and Rowan, Asher and Sydney, Kai and Lexa.
Jayden stood, stretching, and went to sit against the dragon’s side. Cas gave a heavy sigh as he too stood. Once everyone was settled the dragon curled tighter around them, tail coming around to form a small barrier.
By the time everyone had quieted down, Aurelie was already snoring.
Cas put his hands on his hips. “Okay, come on, we need to set up camp.” No one stirred. Savannah was still trying to regain feeling in her legs. “You guys,” he sighed, turning to Kai. “Tell them, they listen to you.”
“Guys, come on,” Kai reinstated.
“Can we eat first?” Asher asked.
“We need a fire to cook food. And we need wood to make fire,” Kai said simply, and the green-eyed boy scowled. “You people,” he gestured towards Lucien and Savannah, “You go get some firewood. I saw a stream while we were flying. I’m going to catch some fish. The rest of you, set up camp.” He promptly walked away.
Asher flopped over onto the ground beside Sydney.
“We are really bad at this whole survival thing,” Sydney quipped. Then she reached down and grabbed Asher’s arm, trying to yank him upright. “Come on. You can’t just lay there. We have to actually set up camp.”
“Everyone else is just flopping though,” he complained.
“I am not useless, I am hungry,” he grumbled. “And I am laying on a rock.”
“Then move,” she said, and she yanked him up. He begrudgingly began to unpack.
“Come on,” Lucien said, nudging Savannah. “We need to get wood for a fire.”
Savannah considered arguing, but didn’t want him to go wandering off on his own. So she followed him through the trees, picking up dry sticks as she did so.
“Should we send someone to get them?” Aurelie asked over the fish cooking in the fire. When Savannah and Lucien hadn’t returned by the time Kai got back with two armloads of fish, a few of the others had retrieved some firewood instead. “They’ve been gone a long time, and it is getting dark.”
“No,” Kai said sharply, turning his skewer so his fish cooked evenly. “They’re fine.”
“But — ”
“Fine,” he insisted. “Who wants fish?”
Rowan wandered over to the fire and brought back two fish, holding one of the skewers out to Aurelie. “He’ll be fine,” he said, somewhat stiffly, as Aurelie took the fish from him. It was as though talking about Lucien physically pained him sometimes. “If anything happens to them he’ll just travel out of there.”
“Hmm.” Aurelie hummed under her breath in acceptance and then nibbled at the fish. After a moment she pulled back. “There’s bones in this!”
“Well, yes,” Rowan said, mouth twitching. “It’s a fish?”
“I know but.” she blushed, pulling a sliver of skin from the fish. “I’ve never actually eaten one that had the bones left in.”
“Oh.” Aurelie looked between his fish and Aurelie’s. “Do you want me to take the bones out for you?”
“No!” she said. “I can eat them! It’s okay.”
“Well, uh,” he began, but Aurelie was already biting into the fish. Something caught in her throat and she started to cough, and Rowan’s own fish dropped without thought onto the ground beside him.
“Oracle?” He grabbed her shoulders, shaking her lightly. “Are you okay?”
She waved at him. “I’m fine,” she managed to get out before hacking again, trying to clear her throat. Perhaps she wasn’t supposed to actually eat the bones.
“Are you choking?” he asked frantically. “I think the Oracle is choking!”
She hit him with the wineskin. “I am not choking.” She coughed again, and a tiny bone came flying out. She made a triumphant noise.
As he continued to fuss over her — unnecessarily, as Aurelie pointed out — Savannah and Lucien finally returned. Aurelie cried out happily, jumped to her feet, and raced over to scold Lucien about taking so long to collect some sticks. There were leaves in Savannah’s hair. “Did you fall?” she asked, peering at them.
Lucien reached up and brushed the leaves from Savannah’s hair. “Yeah, she fell. Tripped over a tree root. You’d think an Earth Shifter would be more in tune with the ground.” Savannah punched him in the side.
Aurelie cocked her head to the side. “Her back’s all muddy too.”
“She fell a couple of times.”
Aurelie squinted. “Where is the firewood?”
Savannah suddenly looked down at her empty arms, and Aurelie could see a flicker of genuine alarm in her aura. “Aw, crap. We forgot it.”
Aurelie pursed his lips at her and said in a sing-song voice, “Cas and Kai aren’t going to be happy with you.”
Lucien frowned, then jerked his head to where the fish was cooking over a fire. “Apparently you didn’t need us for the wood anyway.”
“It’s the principle of the matter,” Aurelie said. “We sent you to get firewood and you didn’t come back with any. If we don’t all pull our weight then-”
“Aurelie, leave them alone,” Lexa called as she walked past them towards the fire. “They’d been doing the naughty. Just let them be.”
Aurelie whipped her head from Lexa, to Lucien, and then between Lucien and Savannah. Savannah’s face was bright red. Aurelie spluttered, “You two — ”
“Let’s have dinner, shall we?” Lucien asked brightly, looping his arms around both Aurelie and Savannah, and teleporting them around the fire.
“There are fires on the horizon,” he announced, once he had sat down. “The Fire Nation army is definitely coming.”
“The Fire Nation army is always coming,” Asher muttered. He was sitting with his chin propped in his hands, elbows resting on his thighs, staring at the fire with a sullen expression.
“It really is on it’s way now,” Lexa said.
“Yes, so,” Kai said, clapping his hands together to get everyone’s attention. “I think this makes it even more important that we change up the watch assignments.”
“I like the watch assignments,” Cas said. “I think we should stay exactly like we are.”
“I second this,” Savannah added, and Kai shot them both a look.
“Considering you both just sleep through your watches, I don’t blame you.” Cas huffed as Jayden made a noise of agreement. “The point of two people being on watch is to keep the each other awake, and I am tired of waking up in the middle of the night to pee and seeing that both people on watch have dozed off. So.
“First thing’s first. Aurelie is free from watch duty. I’m not going to put her through that when hse’s been feeling so out of sorts.”
“Sorry,” Aurelie said sheepishly. “I think I may be getting sick. Either that or all these visions have just drained me.” At that moment she cracked a wide yawn, emphasizing the point. Rowan fought down a wave of worry. She’d had been sheltered for years, it would make sense for her to get sick after being dragged all over the place.
Kai waved his hand, dismissing her apology. “One person would have to watch alone, since we’ll be at an odd number. But the point still stands, we need to figure out a new watch schedule.”
“We can all pick someone who we won’t mind poking awake,” Savannah suggested. She eyed Cas as he said that.
“No, don’t trust them,” Jayden muttered under his breath.
Kai nodded. “We’re going to do this randomly.”
“Oooh are we going to close our eyes and throw rocks, and whoever the rock hits is our new partner?” Sydney asked.
Asher gave her a look. “Is that how you chose partners in Healing school? What kind of suggestion is that?”
“It was the first thing I could think of.”
Kai cut in, “No. Just. No. Here,” he pulled out an empty leather pouch, “everyone give me something small, a personal item. I will draw two out at a time and that is how we will pick partners.”
They all floundered for a moment, looking at one another to see what they were putting in. Rowan dug around in his pockets for his Air Shifter badge; he’d taken it off his uniform when he’d changed garb, but kept the badge as a memento of sorts. He dropped it into the pouch and watched as the others put similar trinkets in; Sydney, Kai, Asher and Jayden all followed his lead and put their Shifter badges in. Savannah dithered, searching in her pack and eventually coming up with a coin from her nation. Cas slipped his hands up to his neck and under his collar, unlatching a necklace Rowan didn’t even know he wore. The pendant was simple moonstone. Lexa worked a simple gold ring off her finger.
Lucien sat blinking at all of them. “I don’t really have anything to put in.”
Savannah reached up and tugged the hair band she used to hold her hair back off of her face and dropped it into the bag. “There, that can be yours.”
“Thanks,” he said softly, almost drowned out by Kai, who had closed the pouch and was now shaking it to mix around the belongings. It jingled as most of its contents were metal.
“Please don’t scratch my necklace,” Cas griped. Rowan saw that his hand had latched onto Jayden’s arm. And the way Jayden’s face was strained told Rowan that the necklace had meaning to both of them.
Kai stopped his shaking and then stuck his hand in the bag. He drew out Cas’ necklace and Savannah’s coin with an amused look. Cas groaned and Savannah snickered. “You and me, kid. You and me.”
This time Kai drew out his own badge and Asher’s. Next he pulled out Rowan’s badge, and tangled around it was Lucien’s hair tie. Rowan’s breath hitched, and he stiffly took his badge back, staring down at it like it had betrayed him.
“Rowan and Luke!” Aurelie said excitedly, like the prospect pleased her. Rowan could not summon the same feeling. Lucien turned to look at him and grinned. Then Aurelie whispered something in the golden-eyed boy’s ear and the two of them laughed. Rowan’s hand curled into a fist around the silver of his badge.
He dimly registered Kai announcing Sydney and Lexa being paired up. Maybe if he was lucky he could get through the entire watch without having to actually say a word to Lucien.
He looked over to see Lucien grinning at him again. He hadn’t been too lucky lately.
“You tangled the chain,” Cas whined, trying to get the knot out of his necklace. Jayden took it from him and skilfully untangled it while Cas pouted.
Asher said, “Well, now the watch is settled, we should try to sleep. Who is taking the first one?”
“I usually do,” Lucien said.
“Okay, great,” Asher replied.
Rowan blinked. “Wait, I didn’t — ”
“Okay, so Lucien and Rowan are first,” Kai declared. “Then I think Lexa and Sydney a couple of hours later. Then Cas and Savannah, and then Asher and I. Jayden, you’re okay with going last?” Jayden nodded; Rowan got the feeling that Jayden was most comfortable with kicking everyone awake when morning actually came.
“But I didn’t agree,” he protested weakly, but everyone was already moving, talking quietly as they made their way to their beds to catch some sleep before they were woken for their guard duty. After a moment he sighed and gave in, starting to get to his feet.