Chapter Two

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"Dammit, Ryn," I mutter. With one swipe of my hand I clear the words from the amber and stuff it back into my pocket.

"What was that?" asks the boy. "Did you get a message on that thing? What's it made—"

"We're leaving," I snap. "Try to keep up."

"Wait," he says. I turn back, ready to give him a piece of my mind, but the look on his face stills me. He seems younger all of a sudden, lost almost. "This . . . this is all real?" he asks. "I'm not actually fast asleep in my bed, dreaming some crazy dream?"

For a moment my frustration dims, and I see a confused boy standing in a world he was never meant to know about. I should at least try and be civil, shouldn't I? But then I think of what I'm about to lose because of him. I could be expelled, or, at the very least, suspended. All my training could be for nothing. All the blood, the bruises, the pain. The nightmares that come after having to kill someone. I may have gone through that for nothing—all because this boy couldn't just stay in his damn bedroom.

"Yes," I say, doing my best to keep my voice free of emotion. "It's real. And you have no idea what you've cost me by being here." I turn away from him and climb over giant, twisting roots as I head in the direction of the Guild.

"Hey, what do you mean?" he asks as he catches up to me. "What have I cost you?"

My fingers curl automatically into fists, and I force my words out between my teeth. "I am two months away from graduation, Mr Draven Avenue. Two months. That's how close I am to being the best guardian the Guild has seen in years, and you may have just ruined that for me."

I hear nothing but the sound of our footsteps, and then he says, "My name's actually Nate."

Well, clearly Nate doesn't get why I'm so upset. And why should he? He has no idea why that top place is so important to me, and I'm certainly not about to tell him. I stomp around the edge of a clearing where giant mushrooms are swelling as they soak up the silvery glow of the moon. "Do not stand on the mushrooms," I tell him. "They don't like it." And the last thing I need now is for him to show up at the Guild covered in poisonous goop.

An eerie howl vibrates through the air, rustling the leaves above us and causing a nest of tiny airhorses to take flight and disappear into the night. I quicken my pace. I can handle pretty much any creature we might come across, but having Nate with me would no doubt complicate things. I glance over my shoulder at him, only to find that he's stopped to watch the airhorses fly away. "Come on," I call.

He shakes his head and hurries after me. "This is incredible," he says. "I know I should be freaked out or something, but . . . wow."

I don't say anything.

"Hey, since you're magical and everything, are you also, you know, immortal?"

I don't know if he's deliberately ignoring the angry vibes I'm sending his way, or if they're simply passing right over his head. Either way, it's getting tiring. With a sigh, I say, "Faeries are not immortal. Old age catches up after several hundred years."

"Several hundred—wow. So you're actually old even though you look my age?"

I give him a withering look. "I'm seventeen."

"Right. Cool."

The forest thins as we get closer to the Guild. We move faster, but every time we pass something vaguely out of the ordinary—a group of pixies climbing onto each others' shoulders to reach a high branch; a lone faun looking a little tipsy—I sense Nate's reluctance at having to keep moving. I know he wants to stop and stare, but I won't keep Tora waiting any longer than necessary.

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