The sky was dark.
Ronin leaned back against the boulder he'd made his camp beside that night, his eyes focused on the handful of tiny lights breaking up the dark expanse above him. According to the elders, there used to be a lot more of the night-crystals in the old days, before the world had ended and then began again. They told stories of a sky filled with lights, both small and large, and days where it didn't take a fire for there to be warmth. They even claimed that the day sky's color had changed, that once upon a time it had been something other than the red he had always known.
Then again, the elders told many stories, and sometimes he wondered which ones to believe. Not all of them could be true. Some of them had to be nothing more than tales that they told to scare the younglings into behaving.
He shivered, pulling his cloak tighter around him before turning his attention back towards his campfire. It was large enough to keep him from freezing, but he'd purposefully kept it as small as he dared. Mutates tended to wander the plains at night, and he didn't want to risk drawing their attention if he could help it. A person never knew just what kind they might be, not until it was too late. Some were harmless but others, well, better safe than sorry.
Ronin glanced up at the darkness spreading above him again and let out a quiet sigh.
It looked like he was in for another long night. He'd set up the alarms and wards at varying distances around his campsite, just in case anything got too close, but he didn't dare sleep for more than two hours at a time. It wasn't safe. An hour or two of sleep followed by that same amount of time awake would at least let him keep a watch out for any danger in the distance. It was better than nothing.
Hopefully he'd catch up with Kiya and Jorel within another day or two. He was getting tired of traveling alone, the days and nights blending together. It had been too long since he'd left the village, too long since he'd had another person around to speak with. He wasn't the type who liked to be alone for weeks on end without anyone else around.
Sometimes he wondered what he was doing, volunteering to follow them. No one had expected him to raise his hand when the Matron had asked who would be willing to go. He'd never been the type to wonder about the world outside their walls, after all. He'd left that to the learners and the hunters and storytellers. And yet in that moment, as the Matron's dark eyes had looked out over the gathered crowd and asked her question, he hadn't hesitated. He'd been as sure as anything that it was the right choice for him to make.
Looking back, he suspected that he'd temporary gone head-touched. An oath was an oath, though, so here he was and here he'd be until he found what he was looking for.
Or until he died trying.
Ronin looked back up at the sky one last time, watching the night-crystals twinkle above him. Then he leaned back and closed his eyes, trying to make himself as comfortable as he could.
It would be morning soon enough.