Chapter 8

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"Where are we going?" asked Yaalon as Agnez hurriedly limped along on her injured leg.

"Ceasixus Realm," she said staring forward, her expression giving away nothing.

"Why there?" Yaalon asked. Rockdog trotted behind him, alert, seeming to sense they were walking toward danger.

"That's where the gold came from. They must've taken her. But why? Why would the Ceasixus want her? It doesn't make sense. They don't just take one person. They attack everyone, kill, and steal women. Women! Not one girl."

Agnez stumbled as the pain in her leg exploded. Yaalon reached out and grabbed her arm before she pitched forward, helping her steady herself.

"You won't be any help to her if you hurt yourself more. Let's slow down, figure out what we're doing. Besides, how are we going to get to Llyr? I can swim there but you..." Yaalon slowed his gait and dragged Agnez to a stop. She tugged her arm from his grasp.

"You slow down. I need to get to my sister." Agnez turned to take a step and paused, the pain in her leg too much though she wouldn't admit it.

Yaalon pulled the salve out of his bag and motioned to a fallen tree off of their path. "Sit down," he said. "Let me reapply this."

Sighing, Agnez set her bow against the gnarled, broken tree and sat down. She sucked in her breath sharply as Yaalon pressed some salve to her wound with his hand. She looked up at the underside of the tree canopy. Iyhiri Forest, where she had lived all her life. Her home, her safety. She could hear the birds chirping and squawking. The river flowed nearby. The breeze rustled the leaves of the trees over her head. A small animal stirred the underbrush near them. This was her music. These were the sounds that soothed her to sleep as a child. These were the sounds that told her that all was well and she was home. But now...

"You know," said Yaalon as he applied a second layer of salve to her leg, "sometimes being bullheaded isn't the best way to get things done."

Agnez continued looking up at the canopy. "Oh?" she said. "I suppose you're going to make a suggestion?"

"Instead of running into who knows what, maybe we should take a minute and figure out some kind of plan. So we don't run into a clan of warriors and get dead." Yaalon bounced an eyebrow up and down as he lifted his head to look at Agnez.

Agnez pictured her sister's face and closed her eyes as hard as she could to stave off the tears that she wasn't ready to let someone else see. "I'll manage. I always do."

"Really? And what about that thing near the lake? You didn't manage that."

Agnez let out a sigh. "Okay," she said, "what do you have in mind?"

Yaalon put away the salve and held out his hands to Agnez.

She stared at him, not moving.

"Is everything a pain with you?" he asked, leaning forward and grabbing her hands in his. He pulled her upright so that they were facing one another. "Let me help, Agnez."

She stared into his silvery eyes. A tear, one of those she had tried to keep hidden, slid down her cheek. "She's my sister. She's my only family. I can't lose her. What if she's already..."

Yaalon cut her off. "Don't," he said. "Don't say it. Your sister is okay."

"How can you know that? You don't know her. You have no idea."

"You're right. I don't know her. But I'm getting to know you. And if she is anything like you, she's strong and resourceful. I'll bet you even taught her how to fight," he said as he turned away, letting one of Agnez's hands fall, and started back on the path.

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