AUTHOR’S NOTE: Right, next chapter dedicated to Laura. Why? Because she’s my best friend and totally epic. Isn’t that a good enough reason? I’ve realised some of this may be influenced by The Hunger Games, even if the plot and idea is pretty different. Apologies for my total lack originality.

The shock appears to have had a detrimental impact upon my thought process, as it takes me several moments to register what has just been said to me. My mind is buzzing with numerous questions, but there is certainly no one in the vicinity capable of answering them. So, instead, I attempt to master the situation.

I take no more than a few blankets and a depressingly light purse of coins from inside our shack, but once outside I untether my goat, and loop the rope around my homespun belt, securing her to me. She may slow us down at first, but I know she will be worth her weight in gold, when it comes to survival.

I haven’t the slightest idea where we will hide. All I am certain of is that we will hide. To even consider standing and fighting would be foolish to the point of absurdity. But Xander seems to have a plan, so I follow him blindly. Suddenly I realise where he is taking us. To the forest, to our childhood haunt, to the very place where he, The Devil, first found me. I am about to protest, but my befuddled mind finally works out his reverse logic.

As we enter, a thick veil of greenery shrouds the rest of the world from us. The heavens open and a heavy downpour begins, but the leafy canopy above our heads offers some protection, and only a thin trickle fights its way through.

I have always loved the rain, so I push back the warm, snood-like shawl that shields my hair and most of my face, and allow the raindrops to dance on my face. Garaeli wails as the start to icy droplets splatter him, so I pull the shawl off all together, and swaddle it in it.

As we trek through the forest, dusk descends upon us like a dark blanket, quickly followed by the blackness of night. With the graceful agility of a cat, Xander scales the nearest tree, a broad oak, in seconds. I pass him Garaeli, carefully padded out by all the blankets, and tether the goat to the base of the trunk, where there is plenty of lush grass for grazing purposes.

My wet dress hampers me in the ascent to the wide bow, where my brother and child are now located; but I have climbed trees much harder than this one, and my slender limbs are surprisingly strong and lithe. In a matter of minutes I am sitting astride the branch, which juts out into the darkness, Garaeli cradled to my chest.

Xander prowls about like a restless guard dog, standing erect even upon the furthest, weakest tip; his poise perfectly steady, his legs set wide apart to balance him. He is silhouetted against the moon, a wiry black figure against its creamy surface. One hand is positioned upon the hilt of the short dagger that has not left his belt since he was first gifted it by a wandering peasant when he was fourteen. I don’t have the heart to tell him it will be defenseless against The Devil’s wrath.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: Slightly less of a cliffhanger? I’ve begun writing the next chapter. But now I stuck on it, so don’t expect it to be up any time soon.

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