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CHAPTER ELEVEN

Alone. Mile after mile had passed and Elisandrya had not seen a soul. Littlewater was far behind her, and an invisible dawn was fast approaching. She searched the eastern horizon for cracks in the cloud cover, seeking some sliver of elusive morning. Morningstar was slowing beneath her. His muscles trembled with wear, his breathing became more audible. She feared the Ghedia's magic of speed had taxed him more than she'd expected. The ground was soaked with rain. Lightning lanced overhead, its branches stretching for miles, well beyond the perimeter of the powerful, southward-moving tempest. Her stiff muscles complained, aching and demanding rest despite her willpower. With a gentle tug and a tap on Morningstar's sides, Eli slowed him to a walk.

The sudden silence that fell in the absence of his hoof beats was oppressive. Her pulse pounded in her ears, an almost deafening cadence that rattled her eyes as heavy lids tried to steady them. Resentment floated in her thoughts, of herself, of Rhaeme, and of Sameska. I should have gone into the forest with Rhaeme, she thought. This is a fool's errand, chasing ghosts and the fears of an old woman. Her head lolled back and she reached up to hold the threaded fethra around her neck, beseeching Savras one last time, one more chance. Then might she turn back to find Rhaeme's tracks and join him as she should have in the forest. "Savras, I was blind-" the prayer passed listlessly across her lips, dry despite the damp all around her, and she could not finish. A wave of slumber rolled through her body and jolted her mind with an answer to her summons for aid. The vision was quick but awoke her in an instant of shock. Wings, hundreds of wings flapped noiselessly in a small cage. A beast of feathers and wingtips, raging against the enclosed space, fluttered in her mind's eye. Shaking her head and rubbing her eyes, the image faded, but remained burned on her memory. "What could it mean?" she asked aloud. Morningstar huffed and snorted at her. "I wasn't actually asking you, Star." As the vague vision played through her mind, rolling in the miasma of lost sleep, a tiny pinpoint of light became visible ahead. It winked like a firefly in the charcoal darkness that ruled the Reach. Her hands immediately reached to touch the pommel of her sword, the bow at her back, and the stiff feathers on the arrows hanging across her shoulder. Though reassured of her own preparedness, the sense of alert brought her to full consciousness. Bandits were not unknown to lie in wait for merchants and lone travelers, but she had seen few of their like on this, the lesser used Low Road. Angling toward the dancing light of the distant campfire, she straightened herself into the stance of a hunter. Exuding authority outwardly, she was inwardly enthralled by the many-winged beast in the cage in her head. Savras was rarely clear, but he was never arbitrary in those insights he gifted to his faithful. Briefly, she wished Dreslya had come with her, but touching her sword's hilt once again, she was grateful to be alone. The monster of wings continued to flutter and beat against its prison. Unexplained and unavoidable, the sound of its freakish limbs matched the pounding in her ears.



***** | Bloodwalk | *****