CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO: The City of Ailes

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CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO: The City of Ailes

The morning air was crisp and cool, leaving Story quite thankful for her warm cloak. She fingered the soft, green wool with her fingers and forced herself not to look over at Eirnin while they walked. Even the thought of him made her cheeks flush and a small smile cross her lips.

After the troll attack yesterday, Adair had come bursting through the trees before they’d had a chance to talk about, well, anything. She’d grabbed Story by her hands and pulled her over to the mound of rocks that had been the troll, demanding she tell her everything that happened. Eirnin chuckled and promptly abandoned her to go recover her bow if it had survived the attack—which it had.

The evening passed in the usual way: with Eilath and Adair singing and playing while they all sat around the campfire eating sweet rolls and a stew made from the wild game Eirnin had caught. Eirnin was attentive as always and sat next to Story, as was customary, betraying nothing of what had passed between them both before and after the troll’s attack. She would have gone to bed believing she’d imagined the entire kissing event if, just as she was settling down for the night, he hadn’t pulled her behind a tree and stolen a quick goodnight kiss.

She’d had a hard time falling asleep after that. Her mind kept replaying the events—well, the kisses really—over and over again. She had long since given up on berating herself for being a “silly girl.” She was a girl after all, and this is what a girl did when a boy kissed her. Girls over-analyzed everything and also tried to remember every single moment of what passed.

Despite her lack of sleep, she was not groggy in the least. The cold air and her pointed awareness of Eirnin’s location and proximity to her at all times kept her alert. She didn’t want things to be awkward or weird, and from what she could tell, he was completely at ease with the way things were between them now. The problem was she wasn’t sure what they were exactly. When they weren’t teasing or purposefully baiting each other, it seemed pretty clear that they liked each other. But beyond that, she didn’t know.

A terrifying thought struck her—had they “bonded”? Was that all it took? A simple kiss? No, Eilath had said something about a ceremony, so that couldn’t be it. And besides, she didn’t think it was allowed. What had Eirnin said? Bonding outside of the elf race was simply not done. She frowned at that memory. So what was he playing at, flirting with her and kissing her? It couldn’t be to manipulate her into restoring the tree; she’d already decided to do that on her own.

Though if she restored the tree wouldn’t the social taboo of being with someone outside the elf race be lifted? Since they’d be immortal again? But that only brought up another problem—she’d eventually grow old and die, while Eirnin stayed forever young.

Really, you’re jumping the gun here, Story—you’re only seventeen, and you barely know the guy, and already you’re considering future compatibility? It was just one kiss. Ok, two actually.

She sighed; this entire train of thought was pointless. Regardless of how she might currently feel about Eirnin, she was going to leave Ailionora eventually—so it was a relationship ultimately doomed to failure. It would probably be best to nip things in the bud now before they both got too attached.

“You’re rather introspective this morning.” Eirnin grinned at her, and Story nearly lost her balance—he’d caught her off guard.

“Uh…” She blushed.

“And less verbose than usual.”

“Uh…” She blushed again.

He peered at her, still smirking. “Are you all right?”

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