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16. Deformities and Eerie Lights

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Chapter 16. Deformities and Eerie Lights

“Not again,” Jacob groaned.

The light was muted, the trees dark . . . and shriveled.

“What is it?” Aloren whispered.

“The trees look the same here as they did in the infected forest.” Jacob surveyed the scene before leading them out of the tunnel. The air was heavy and dark, the sunlight barely visible, making it appear to be almost nighttime. “Are you still holding on to Akeno?”

“Yes, he’s here.”

“Grab on tight, just in case.”

After making sure no one waited for them in the trees, Jacob guided Akeno and Aloren out of the tunnel. The trees were so thick that getting through them would be next to impossible. There wasn’t a path, and the forest came right up next to the wall. Rock outcroppings were everywhere.

“Can you guys see yet?”

Aloren took several deep breaths. “Yes,” she said. “Why is it so dark?”

“I’m not sure. It wasn’t exactly like this in the infected forest.” Jacob turned to look at his friends. “Akeno, can you see?”

The Makalo didn’t answer for several seconds. “Yeah, I can,” he said finally.

“What’s the matter?” Jacob did his best to sound casual—hopefully Akeno was just being cautious.

“I’m waiting to see how I’ll handle this.”

“And?” Jacob mentally crossed his fingers. If Akeno flipped out here, it’d be nearly impossible to keep the group safe. The trees looked worse than in the last forest—they were shorter, more gnarled, and because they grew so closely together, they almost appeared to be one huge, squat tree. With boulders everywhere, it would be dangerous enough without the Makalo running off.

Akeno slowly shook his head. “I can feel negative emotions, but they’re nowhere near as strong as before. I think I’ll be fine. Maybe the potion helped.”

 “This place gives me the heebie-jeebies, so if you guys can see well enough, let’s keep moving,” Jacob said. “There isn’t a trail here, but I’ll bet if we stick close to the wall, we’ll come across some kind of path eventually.”

“We’ll follow you,” Aloren said.

Jacob looked down at her hand, still clutching his. “But I might need to use both my hands,” he said, almost hoping that wouldn’t be the case.

“Oh, sorry.” Aloren pulled away.

Jacob smiled, then noticed how worried both she and Akeno looked. He put his left hand on Aloren’s shoulder and his right on Akeno’s. “We’ll be fine. Things will work out.” He looked Aloren in the eyes. “No need to stress, okay?”

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