Ch 40.1 Soaring

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A/N: Short chapter warning! Blame daylight savings and my poor spasming back. I am so tired, I literally just broke this chapter off at a decent stopping point. Ch 40.2 coming soon. Thanks for reading!

Rhianna watched Kasubia ride away, and wondered if she'd made a mistake. She couldn't have made any other choice, but now she was alone and undefended.

The horizon behind her hid a host of enemies who would be coming for her shortly. Or, maybe they wouldn't. Maybe they would be too afraid to face her. If she was lucky.

Either way, she started walking. The path was strange, like gravel, except sparkling. She picked up a handful of the gravel and discovered it was made up of semiprecious gems and gem dust. She wiped dust off the sloping facet of a small amethyst. It glittered in the sun, but the color reminded her too much of the mask so she dropped the treasure and dusted her hands off.

One of the plants lining the path had butterflies in place of flowers, fluttering at the end of a stem like a tether holding them down. Rhianna felt bad for one little orange and green butterfly that seemed to strain so much against its tether, yearning for the sky. Would it hurt, or help to pick it? she wondered. She resisted the urge and kept going.

Her luck didn't hold. She hadn't been walking long when she heard the rumble of hooves and the scream of the darkling's horse form. She broke into a run and didn't look back.

Adrenaline kicked in and she discovered a hidden reserve of energy that she hadn't thought possible after the events of today...or tonight. She kept forgetting it was still night time at the farm, at least she hoped it was.

She would have to wait to calculate the time difference. The darklings were gaining on her. She ran flat out as fast as she could, and they were still going to catch up. Even if she could keep this pace up forever, she was doomed. 

She knew she couldn't. Her chest was burning and her mouth filled with sticky spit that did nothing to ease her dry tongue. Her lungs pumped so much air that it couldn't all fit in her throat at once and she choked more than breathed.

Finally, her legs gave out and she stumbled to her knees, crushed gemstones biting just as painfully as regular gravel into her shins.

She wheezed, trying get her breathing under control. For a moment she thought she might be about to black out, as the edges of her vision began to darken. Then she realized it wasn't the edges of her vision it was the edge of the horizon. The mass of darklings thundering toward her like a storm cloud.

She closed her eyes, grateful that Gretch and Jenny got away. What will they do to her? Kill her? Maybe she could bargain. She was no more use to Grayson, now that the mask had fallen off.

The mask.

Maybe if she put it back on she'd have the power to fight them.

It was still in her bag, but the thought terrified her. She'd never felt as close to the madness of her mother as when she was wearing that thing. It was poison, not power.

She had almost given up hope when something rustled in her pocket. She jumped thinking a mouse or some miniature fairy out of a Disney movie had climbed in when she wasn't looking.

As soon as she held her pocket open to peer inside the swan feather shot out, launching up into the air, stopped, and then drifted down toward the ground.

It grew larger on its way down, then began sprouting more white feathers. The thing taking shape swelled and lengthened and unfurled. One stretching part became recognizable as a neck, and then an orange beak popped out of the end. Then two webbed feet popped out another end. Suddenly, just as it was about to hit the ground two wings fanned out and it landed gracefully before her.

But it wasn't like any swan from the human world. It was enormous; its wingspan as long as she was tall. One of those wings was dipped before her.

Rhianna knew an offer of help when she saw one. She threw one leg over the swan's back and settled into its warm feathers. As soon as she had her arms gripped firmly around its neck, it launched into the air.

She cheered her victory as they spun on an updraft, higher and higher above the terrain below. The swan trumpeted, joining its voice with hers, then winged off in the same direction as Kasubia.

The darklings became a tiny wavy black line far below.

Rhianna laughed and her heart soared with the exhilaration of flying. She didn't even worry about what would happen if she fell from this height. It didn't seem possible. The swan trumpeted again, echoing the feeling in her heart.

Then she looked down. Not only was the black plague of darklings still after them, but they seemed closer. 

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