Ch 39 - Never Alone

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Rhianna had half carried, half dragged, Jenny away from the black lapping waters of the lake, through the darklings scattered like oil stains on the sand—some of them unconscious, some of them groaning, others sitting, immobile and staring.

Rhianna's heart pounded the whole way up the path, sweat pouring from her brow. Finally, she crested the rise. A hillock of grass and sand cut off her view of the lake shore. She stopped, collapsing in the sand, even though she knew the darklings could come at any moment, thundering over the hillock in pursuit.

Why they hadn't already was a puzzle. How long could the effects of her bells last? How long until they recover—would they recover? She felt another twinge of guilt for leaving Teasel on the beach.

The slow trek, dragging Jenny through the fallen enemy had seemed to take forever. The sun hadn't moved in the sky, but she didn't think the sun moved at all in this place. For all she knew day turned to night at the whim of the Fae.

It had to have been at least an hour since she'd rung those bells, but none of the darklings had shown any signs of stopping her. Maybe they were just biding their time, trying to figure out a way to disarm her.

She checked her pocket, reflexively. The bells were still there. She needed to keep going, but the thought of carrying Jenny with her muscles quivering like Jello made a small hysterical giggle escape her lips. She tried to stand, her muscles quickly rejected the idea.

She lay back, staring up at the sky and the unmoving sun. She couldn't stay here. A little hump in the land was not going to stop the darklings from coming when they finally decided to, and neither would her bells forever.

She rolled over and shook Jenny again, forcefully barring any thought of leaving her friend behind from her mind. "Come on, Jenny. Wake up."

Jenny responded with a groan, which was all she had done since Rhianna first picked her up.

Tears welled in Rhianna's eyes. She couldn't do this by herself.

Maybe she should go back there and finish off Grayson. Maybe the darklings would leave her alone then. But she couldn't bring herself to kill him, even for Gran. And if he fought back and killed her instead? It would be no different from abandoning Jenny.

She knew what it was like to be abandoned in a hostile place. She wouldn't do that to a friend. She dredged up a scrap of strength, got to her knees, put Jenny over her shoulder and heaved herself up off the ground. She felt like some kind of gladiator with her muscles straining from the effort.

After a short distance her stride began to waver again and she was certain the next step would be her last. But she kept going. After each step, she told herself, Just one more and then I'll rest.

She hadn't gone very far when she heard the thud of hooves.

"No!" More tears streamed down her cheeks and she surged forward in more of a fast stumble than a run. She lost her balance and fell to her knees.

She set Jenny down again, hugging her fumbling for the bells. Then she realized the sound of hooves was coming from in front of her, not behind.

A shining white horse came into view. Kasubia, with Gretch jouncing on her back, completely out of time with the horse's stride.

We are here now, little one, Kasubia said.

Rhianna laughed and sobbed at the same time, hugging Jenny for joy this time.

Gretch slid off Kasubia's back and rushed toward them as fast as her stiff, bow-legs could carry her.

"You're ok!" She hugged them both, squashing Rhianna so tight she could hardly breath. Then holding then at arms length she laid a hand on Jenny's brow with concern. "Is she ok?"

"I don't know." Rhianna wiped away her tears.

"She feels cold, shocky. How long has she been unconscious?"

"I have been trying to wake her up, but the darklings are just over that ridge, the best I could do was carry her."

Gretch looked at the grassy hillock, which was not nearly as far behind them as Rhianna had hoped. "And Gran."

Rhianna's eyes filled with tears again. "Gone," she said, and her throat closed up, preventing her from saying any more.

"I don't like how pale she looks. We need to get her back, quickly."

It was such a relief to have someone else making the decisions, to not be alone anymore. Rhianna couldn't even begin to express these feelings, so she just nodded.

Kasubia stepped up timidly and nuzzled her. I am so sorry about Pippa.

Her words seemed clearer, more sane, than the last time they had spoken. It was good to have Kasubia back to normal, or as normal as a talking horse could be. Though, considering they were in a magical fairy kingdom, rescuing a friend kidnapped by evil shape-changers who she had defeated by ringing bells, a talking horse was looking pretty normal right now.

Rhianna pressed her forehead into the horse's cheek, and blinked her tears back determinedly. "I was just starting to get to know her."

"Kasubia, can you carry all three of us?" Gretch asked.

I'm sorry Gretchen, two is the most I can carry.

Rhianna was just about to relay the answer, but Gretch was already nodding.

"That's what I thought," she said.

"You can hear her too?" Rhianna asked.

"Yeah. I did a spell, at your sister's grave. Her soul is part of me now." Gretch gave her an uncharacteristically shy look. "Technically, we're sisters. And that means I share the family powers."

"I guess we have some catching up to do." The concept felt strange to her. Sisters.

Doubly strange, was not being the only one hearing the horse anymore. But it was a good strange. Even though she had finally started to accept that she could talk to a horse and not be crazy, she felt incredibly vindicated to know for sure that it wasn't all in her head.

"So what now?" Rhianna asked. "Can we put Jenny on Kasubia's back and walk?"

"It would longer than is good for Jenny."

"So one of us has to ride with Jenny, and the other one has to take the long way home." The lump returned to Rhianna's throat. She didn't want to be alone again.

"You go, Rhianna. I will stay," Gretch squeezed her arm.

She swallowed the lump. "No. I am barely standing and I don't even know how to ride. I think I would fall off."

"I don't know how to ride either!" Gretch protested.

"But you made it all the way here. And I think the darklings are afraid of me now. So I have an edge." She wasn't any more eager to get on Kasubia's back than she was to be alone. And this was her responsibility. Grayson was her father in some twisted way. But did that mean he was also Gretch's father in an even more twisted way. She shook the thought off. "Jenny needs you Gretch. Just listen to me for once."

Gretch put her hands on her hips. "You should know by now that I don't do listening. I am a talker."

Rhianna hugged her and whispered in her ear, "Make an exception for me just this once...sis." She tried out the word, and liked the way it sounded—it made her feel like she could never be alone.

"Ok. But don't tell anyone. People will start expecting me to listen to them all the time."

Rhianna laughed into her shoulder and patted her on the back. "Ok. How do we get Jenny up on Kasubia's back?"

"That is the easy part. Right, horsey?"

Kasubia snorted and lowered herself to the ground. They got Jenny situated and Gretch sat behind her, holding on tight as Kasubia lurched to her feet again. She looked shaky but managed to stay seated.

Rhianna felt a sudden pang of fear for her. What if she ran into danger on the way back?

"Gretch, wait. Take these." She pulled out the bells, keeping them from tinkling and handed them up to her. "Stay safe."

"You too little sister." 

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