Chapter Forty-Two

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"Nor has anyone else, M'Lord," Talon snapped.

"Yes, but I know for a fact skinshifting takes a great deal of energy," Lorn insisted calmly. "How long were you in that... 'harness'?"

Talon stiffened, but didn't answer.

"It was the whole time, wasn't it?" Lorn said flatly, and shook his head.

"M'Lord, I--"

"Captain, you're not fighting anyone unless I tell you to. That's an order."

If looks could kill, Guin thought, Lorn would have been on a slab. But if anyone was equal to a glaring match with Talon, it was Lorn. probably from dealing with his big sister his whole life.

After a few seconds, Talon backed down. "I will do what is necessary for our land to survive, M'Lord," she said quietly. "As I swore to do when I entered service."

"You swore to obey the orders of my mother, father and sister, Talon," Lorn said, his tone softening. "I know I am a poor substitute for any of them, but you still need to listen. I can't afford to lose you--any of you." His gaze flicked to Guin, then back to Talon. "If it is at all possible, we'll find a way out that doesn't needlessly endanger any of us, is that clear?"

Talon huffed. "We won't find a way out at all if you won't let me haul your sorry lump of a maimed rear end to the wall, M'Lord."

Lorn grinned. "I'll take that as a yes, shall I?"

Obviously seething, Talon stooped and collected him, hefting his weight over her shoulder with a small grunt. "You'll take it as a maybe."

Guin rolled her eyes and muttered, "Turkey," under her breath. The woman was incorrigible.

Seeing her eyeroll, Lorn threw Guin a wink and a small smile--but the smile quickly clenched into a hiss of pain, and he shut his eyes momentarily as they began walking again. He was sweating a lot, Guin saw, and his pallor had worsened. Brave face or not, he wasn't doing well.

Yeah, well. Neither am I, Guin thought. Still, worry was gnawing away at her stomach like a hungry rodent. 

She leaned heavily of Zolga and did her best to keep a regular pace. Her head was swimming, and not just from exhaustion, pain and dehydration. She was afraid, terribly afraid that they would never escape Alavard alive. They just seemed to be limping slowly toward their doom. What were the chances of getting all the way to the wall without being spotted? How soon until Thesul, or someone else at the palace, sent soldiers out looking for them? Even if they did make it to the damn wall and find the secret door, they would probably be spotted...

"Left," Talon barked. They all turned obediently down a narrow alley littered with wooden crates and dilapidated cloth sacks. It stank of ripe garbage.

"Zolga," Guin huffed, hoping talking would take her mind off her own discomfort at least, "In the dungeons, Thesul called you Zilia."

Almost imperceptibly, Guin felt the woman's fingers tighten around her shoulder. Slightly ahead and to the right of them, Kip's posture became alert, though he didn't turn to look back.

After a moment, Zolga replied, "Yes."

Guin swallowed, narrowly avoiding a stumble as her foot caught on a chunk of rotten wood. "He--he said he took out your eye."

Again, her voice low and almost robotically calm, Zolga said, "Yes."

"Um. Yeah. So." Guin glanced sideways. "If it's not, like, a super touchy top-secret thing, could you maybe tell me why?"

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