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Felim couldn't sleep. Shocker. For the first time since leaving the outpost, that deep and oblivious unconsciousness refused to descend. He lied on the rumpled, paper-thin blanket and tried to count the holes in the ceiling. A steady yowling carried with the wind and he closed his eyes, loving how the sound coiled and flowed within itself. The two outpost soldiers were on watch outside, one at the front and one at the back of the shack. Felim had finally learned their names. Because they had worn hooded cloaks since leaving General Etain's regiment, he'd assumed they were both male--especially considering they dwarfed him in height--which was really saying something. Before everyone had bedded down for the night, they had removed their cowls in unison to reveal the fact that not only were they female, but identical twins. They had the caramel skin most Narisians possessed, accented by striking violet eyes. Their names were Emili and Myrel Dorien. Something about the way they'd stared at him... as if they were sharing a private conversation about him in their heads. It wasn't a sinister feeling that he got, just an uncomfortable one. Like they knew his secret at first glance. It made him less inclined to get to know them better. Then there was the fact that they persistently did everything--everything--in unison.

He shivered and smiled. It was colder up here at night than in the desert and it filled him with joy. The dirty scholar's tunic he wore did little to chase away the icy chills running over his skin. A shifting of fabric made a soft whoosh behind him. Felim's heart fluttered, but he wasn't alarmed. A flash of black slipped through the doorframe and was gone. His eyes scanned the sleeping forms about him. Ceres. She had been the one to leave. Her absence reminded him of the corberries. Felim still hadn't thanked her.

Careful not to make a sound, Felim stood up and immediately had to bite his tongue to keep from groaning at the protestations of his flaming riding muscles. Every creaking step was sure to wake up at least one person. Rolling his eyes heavenward, he grit his teeth and hopped lightly to the sturdiest looking boards until he had slipped out the back. Thankfully neither of the twins was in immediate sight. Perhaps their circuit had taken them elsewhere. Whatever the reason, Felim was glad not to have those eerie violet eyes on him.

Felim was tired and nearly fell off the cliff three times. On his fourth stumble, he caught the sound of an amused, stifled laugh. Standing up and patting his trousers off, he locked eyes with Ceres. She sat on the stone bench up ahead, resting her elbows on her knees and her chin in her palms. Something was clearly on her mind, but her everlasting optimism still shined through. Felim swallowed the saliva in his throat and stared at her openly for several seconds. Ceres didn't look away or make a welcoming gesture. She just stared right back.

Finally, Ceres shook her head and laughed softly. "Can't sleep?"

Her eyes flickered with the dappled moonlight breaking through the lush foliage, momentarily drying up his mouth. He gathered himself and said, "No."

He leapt from the path, trying to clear a particularly nasty bunch of roots, but only succeeded in slipping in earnest. He waved his arms maniacally trying not to fall off the edge and careen to his death. Damn those bands that diminished his natural agility! Stronger hands than he would have expected caught him about the waist. All the blood rushed to Felim's ears and everything pounded in his body all at once. Ceres had caught him fast in her net.

Up this close, he could tell that flecks of gold and amber mottled her honey irises and that her lips were smooth and supple. He wondered if she'd ever kissed anyone before. Ceres' scent swirled around her, a combination of citrus, rain, and the summer wind. Felim blinked and shook his head, standing upright and setting her away from him. Ceres blushed feverishly.

"Thank you," he said. "F-For that and for the corberries."

Ceres waved a hand, chuckling, "Don't mention it. What are friends for?"

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