Well, I'm aware I say this a lot, but reading it one more time can't harm: I LOVE your dialogues. Really, great job. Then again, this is the moment we've all been waiting for: the two paths finally meet. You have paved the way for, at least, a good piece of action, and it's stopped all too soon. Besides the issue with time managment that I mention below, I think maybe you could expand on this section by adding a bit of a fight here, both physical and mental (The earlier regarding Raeb/Dragana and the latter, Aeo/Dragana) to fully exploit the tension you've wonderfully built up to this point.
Dragana’s excitement was so strong Aeo could barely sense anything besides it. He still wasn’t sure exactly why they were after this man, or what he’d done to earn such animosity from Dragana, but this was obviously momentous for her. He caught hints of her thoughts punching through the emotions, and they all revolved around “the catch of a lifetime” and “finally” and imaginings of the sweet vengeance the Taronese would receive upon this man’s death.
They’d found the camp with a very small amount of effort. It had been abandoned only minutes before, and the footprints leading away from it were deep and clear. (Thus far, I’m having some trouble following the story with regards to time/space. Since we’ve been switching back and forth between the two groups, I’d strongly suggest adding a sense of time would immensely help in giving us a strong anchor point. Especially now that Dragana is ‘chasing’ after Raeb, so we can try to match both stories time-wise)
It didn’t make sense to Aeo. For someone who’d been hunted by the Taronese for so long – he didn’t know how long, but Dragana’s thoughts hinted at lifetimes – this was an incredibly sloppy retreat. Someone with no experience in tracking whatsoever could follow this trail. The man would have almost had to leave these evidences on purpose for the signs to be this clear. (Nice!)
He tried to tell these things to Dragana, but she wasn’t listening. Her emotions and bloodlust were so high that he couldn’t get through to her. She ran after the footprints recklessly, foolishly, in her haste to reach the man. (How long have they been on the chase?)
He’d hear her and run, Aeo thought. A rampaging elephant would be more subtle than she was right now. The man would have no trouble avoiding her and slipping away.
But Aeo wasn’t convinced that whoever left this trail wanted to get away.
Dragana crashed through the trees and entered a small clearing. A man stood on the other side as if he’d been expecting them.
Because he had been expecting them. He’d set up this entire scenario like a trap for Dragana and the Bok’Tarong. Aeo had no doubt of that.
He looked at the man, a faint tickle of recognition nagging at him. It took him a few seconds to place him, and when he did he chuckled slightly. That’s the man who hired me to kill the last bearer. He’s the one who led me to the Bok’Tarong.
He imparted these thoughts to Dragana, but she still didn’t hear him. Her heart was pounding and the hand that held Aeo was shaking. (Out of fear or excitement?)Her fingers gripped his hilt tightly. Her eyes were glued to the man.
Aeo knew he’d seen them, but he made no move to run. He just stared at Dragana as if he’d always known this day would come. There was peace in his strange, Hntaña eyes. (Again, solving the time issue would help here a lot. We know from the previous section that Raeb has made his mind regarding the Bok’Tarong, however, he seems awfully calm for someone who’s been ‘avoiding his fate’ for so long, unless he’s had the time to assimilate things proper.)
Dragana raised the blades, leveling the points at the man’s chest. Her emotions were clouded with incredulity – Aeo knew that she truly didn’t believe she was actually here, facing his man, with him apparently unwilling to defend himself. “Traitor,” she hissed.
“If that’s what you choose to believe,” the man replied. “It wasn’t my fault that the Hntaña attacked me. Do you think I would have chosen this existence? I would have gladly given my life for the Bok’Tarong.”
“You were never worthy to wield it,” Dragana said.
What are they saying? Aeo thought. Had he really been a Taronese warrior-in-training? (Perhaps it’s just me, but I’d like this brief dialogue to extend for another pair of lines or two, just to get to know more about Raeb’s past and, perhaps, his motives.)
He turned his spirit-eyes back to the man. He looked beyond the physical and saw the tendrils of the Hntaña snaking through his head, more than he’d ever seen in a single person before. He thought it was more than he’d even seen in ten peoples’ heads.
But through all of that, the light of his soul still burned clean and clear.
Something wasn’t right. Aeo could feel it. (I’d suggest rewriting this in the form of Aeo’s speech. Something like ‘Something’s not right’, which I believe would increase the impact.)
The Hntaña were unmistakably evil. They corrupted everything they touched, and their victims were lost as soon as they were infected. Aeo pitied the -taken but he could see that their souls were beyond redemption. He longed to kill the Hntaña and put the people out of their misery.
But Aeo didn’t feel that about this man. He was clearly -taken. Only an idiot could miss that. But he certainly wasn’t evil. (Hmm… very interesting)
Dragana pulled back to strike, but a female voice cried out, “Wait!”
Aeo saw a young woman – no more than a girl, really – run to them and place herself between the man and Aeo’s blades. She too had the tendrils of the Hntaña, though they were fewer and far smaller.
Dragana stopped her thrust, but barely. Anger simmered in her red-streaked eyes. Her voice was deadly calm. “Step aside, girl. This is not your business.”
Aeo took another look at her. She was -taken also, but Dragana hadn’t recognized that about her. How did she miss it? (Instead of the question, how about rephrasing it to sound like her bloodlust/anger was blinding her to even the most evident of facts?)
“No,” the girl replied. “He isn’t what he appears to be.”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about, girl. You’re in over your head.”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about! You’re willing to kill him without question when he’s the only one who can help you!”
Listen to her, Aeo whispered to Dragana. I think she’s telling the truth. (I’m wondering both why does he suspect that and why.)
“I don’t need any help, especially from a traitorous -taken.” She pushed past the girl and prepared to strike at the man, who hadn’t moved during this exchange.
Aeo couldn’t let Dragana do this. There was more going on here than she saw – than either of them likely saw. She drew her elbow back, tensing her muscles, settling her weight. She took a breath, preparing to strike on the exhale, when Aeo set the force of his spirit against her strike. He held the blade steady as she pushed, and no matter how badly she wanted to stab this man, Aeo wouldn’t allow it. The Bok’Tarong was not moving. (Wow… very nice giving Aeo a degree of control over the sword! However, I’d say this fragment would flow better with the rest of the scene if this turned into a battle of wills. Right now, it sounded too easy for Aeo to restrain the blade, while I would prefer to see him strained, having to fight against Dragana’s immense desire to kill Raeb.)
Dragana tried again, with no better result. She strained against the blades, her anger turning to rage as she was restrained. “Let the blades go and let me kill him!”
This is a mistake, Dragana, Aeo said. He tried to be gentle but forceful in his tone, hoping it might break through her anger.
“I’m going to kill him, whether you say it’s a good idea or not! You don’t understand what he’s done or how long we’ve been searching for him. He will die, no matter what you do. Now let go!”
She was screaming at him and wishing very bad things to happen to him for denying her. Aeo knew he wouldn’t get through without matching her ire, so he did his best to scream right back at her. Damn it, Dragana, listen to me! I didn’t argue when you left the -taken breeders to chase after this guy. I trusted you when you said this was more important. Trust me now when I say don’t kill him.
“You don’t understand,” she said. She wasn’t screaming anymore, but there was more than enough venom for the words to sting.
You’re right, I don’t understand the past that made this man so hated. But I do understand the present, and what’s right in front of us now. Whatever this man did, it hasn’t tarnished his spirit. His soul is free from the Hntaña. He must have a reason to bring you here (I’d say ‘lured’ would fit better.) and to stand before you, with my blades pointed at his heart, and not run or plead for his life. A hunted man who does that either wishes to die or has a plan, and I don’t think this guy is ready to give up on life just yet.
When Dragana didn’t reply, Aeo continued. Just give him a chance, Dragana. See what he has to say. If you still don’t believe him after he’s said his peace, then we can talk about killing him.
Dragana gripped the Bok’Tarong so tightly that Aeo gasped. Her teeth clenched and he felt her simmering rage, but she lowered the blades. “Explain yourselves, but make it quick.”
The man placed his hand on the girl’s shoulder, gently pushing her aside from where she still stood guard. “My name is Raeb,” he said.
“I know who you are,” Dragana replied. “You are a traitor to the Taronese and a servant of the Hntaña.”
“I was enslaved by them, but my mind remains my own. The Hntaña do not control my thoughts or my actions.”
“How can I believe that? An Hntaña would say the same thing so that I would drop my guard.”
You can believe it because I say it’s true also, Aeo said.
The man – Raeb – seemed to understand that Dragana was speaking to the blades, because he didn’t interrupt.
Dragana thought for a moment, then nodded. “Okay. I don’t know how you’ve managed that, but I’ll suspend my disbelief for a little bit.”
Raeb smiled and nodded his thanks. Aeo thought he sensed a great flood of relief from him.
“So what does a free-minded Hntaña-taken want with the Bok’Tarong?”
The girl spoke before Raeb could explain. “He means to destroy the Hntaña. We both do.”
That made Aeo pause. He felt Dragana’s thoughts whirl and ask for advice, but he didn’t have any to give. He was as confused as she was.
Raeb nodded. “If you would agree to a truce, I will explain our plan over dinner.” (I feel this sentence breaks the tension you’ve managed to build.)
Aeo felt Dragana’s hesitation, but he nudged her to agree. “All right. But if I suspect this is a trap, I will kill you both.”