Pathfinder's Way

By: T.A. White
Chapter One

“For God’s sake, woman, the village will still be there if we take an hour’s break.”

Shea rolled her eyes at the soaring mountains before her. This was the third rest stop the man had called for since setting out this morning.

“We must be half way there by now,” he continued.

Maybe if they hadn’t stopped several times already or if they had moved with a purpose, but as it stood the group had probably traveled less than two miles. Half of that nearly vertical. At this pace, it would take an extra half day to get back to Birdon Leaf.

And who would they blame for the delayed arrival?

Shea. Even though it wasn’t her needing to stop on every other hill when they felt a muscle cramp or experienced shortness of breath. Since she was the pathfinder, it was obviously her fault.

She could hear it now.

The pathfinder sets the pace. The pathfinder chooses when to take breaks. Yada. Yada. Yada.

She hated running missions with villagers. They thought that since they’d gone on day trips outside their village barriers as children, they knew a thing or two about trail signs and the Highlands in general.

It was always, ‘We should take this route. I think this route is faster. Why is it taking so long? These mountain passes are sooo steep.’

Never mind it was her that had walked these damn routes since the time she could toddle after the adults or that the paths they suggested would take them right through a beast’s nest.

Nope. She was just a pathfinder. A female pathfinder. A female pathfinder who hadn’t grown up in the same village as them. Obviously, she knew nothing of her craft.

The man yammered on about how they couldn’t take another step. Any reasonable person could see how worn out they were. She wasn’t the one carrying the gear or the trade goods.

Whine. Whine. Whine.

That’s all she heard. Over the last several months, she’d perfected the art of tuning them out without missing pertinent information.

It was all in the pitch. Their voices tended to approach a higher frequency when they regressed to bitching about what couldn’t be changed. As if she could make the switchbacks approaching the Garylow Mountain pass any less steep or treacherous.

“We’ll take a rest once we reach the pass,” she said for what seemed like the hundredth time.

They had begged for another break since about five minutes after the last one.

She had a deadline to meet. Sleep to catch. Most importantly, she didn’t think she could last another half day with this lot.

“We’re nowhere near that pass,” the man raged.

The rest break obviously meant a lot to him.

“It’s just over that ridge,” Shea pointed above her.

Well, over that ridge and then another slight incline or two. It was just a small lie, really. If the man knew the truth, he’d probably sit down and refuse to take another step.

“That’s nearly a half mile away.” The man’s face flushed red.

Really if he had enough energy to be angry, he had enough energy to walk.

“Quarter mile at most.”

“We’re tired. We’ve been walking for days. First to the trading outpost and then back. What does an hour’s difference make?”

Shea sighed. Looked up at the blue, blue sky and the soaring pinnacles of rock then down at the loose shale and half trampled path they’d already traveled.

“You’re right, an hour’s rest won’t make much difference.” His face lit up. “However, you’ve already wasted two hours today on the last two breaks. You also wasted several hours yesterday, and the day before, and the day before that. We should have been back already.”

She held up her hand when he opened his mouth.

“Now, we are getting up that pass. We need to be over it and down the mountain by nightfall. Otherwise you’re going to have to fend off nightfliers. Do you want to fend off nightfliers when you could be sleeping? Or would you rather suck it up and get over that damn ridge?”

The man paled at the mention of nightfliers, a beast about three times the size of a bat that had a disturbing tendency of picking up its food and dropping it from a high altitude. It made it easier to get to the good parts on the inside.

“We’ll wait to take the break.” He turned and headed down to the last switchback where the rest of their party waited.

“Oh, and Kent.” Shea’s voice rose just loud enough for him to hear. “Please let them know that if anybody refuses to walk, I’ll leave them here to fend for themselves. Nightfliers aren’t the only things that roam this pass come nightfall.”

He gave her a look full of loathing before heading down to his friends. Shea kept her snicker to herself. Good things never happened when they thought she was laughing at them.