FIFTY EIGHT

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WHEN THE SUN began to sink lower, behind the clouds and toward the horizon, relief surged through Ravenna. The entire day had essentially been spent atop a horse. Only a few small breaks had been taken, mostly when her companions needed to eat. Now that darkness had begun to overtake the sky, her legs ached something fierce and she wanted nothing more than to curl up in a ball on the ground.

The horses slowed to a stop beside a small stream. Wildflowers dotted the grass and tall stalks of cattails lined the water. While there wasn't much to hide behind, Vyses felt confident that they'd traveled far enough to escape suspicion.

Ravenna climbed off her horse and grit her teeth. Her legs hurt almost as much as her heart did. She waddled over to the water, hiking her skirts up.

Vyses shielded Lyth's eyes with a palm. "What are you doing there, lass?"

She sent him a swift glare. "Sticking my feet in the water. Leave me alone."

He made a face and turned away, instructing Lyth to help set up camp. As they went about the camp, Ravenna lowered herself to the ground, sitting on the edge of the bank. She let her feet dip into the water, basking in the sensation of cool water against her skin. The water wasn't very deep. It barely reached her ankles. But it was much better than being on a horse.

She sat there while the others set up. Her fingers fiddled with a plucked wildflower, toying absently with its small, white petals. Dragonflies buzzed about the water, briefly kissing its surface. It was all very peaceful. All very tranquil.

She closed her eyes.

Her resolution still sung deep within her bones. She wanted to make Caelan proud of her --to be able to control herself better and to be more observant. To really take control of her own life. But she wasn't sure how to go about it. She knew what she wanted. She wanted to be better with magic. Maybe, one day, once all this madness had passed, open a little magic shop and sell spells.

In order to get better at magic, there was only one person she could turn to now.

She stood and turned toward the camp. Lyth was already preparing dinner over an open flame. One of the horses had lowered to the ground, tired, and Vyses sat beside it, his back against the horse's side. His eyes were closed.

"Vyses," Ravenna said as she sat down in front of him.

His eyes fluttered open, surprised. "Yes?"

"I want you to teach me more about magic. I want to learn more spells. More control. All of it. Teach me everything that you know."

Vyses blinked. His eyelids drooped a bit, exhaustion making itself evident. "I suppose we could continue our lessons from the tavern."

She nodded. "We can start tomorrow," she assured him. For now, she could settle on just reading the old spellbook. "Once we've rested some, it will be easier to practice."

He seemed to agree with her. She smiled at him and asked, "Do you mind if I get my spellbook? I believe that it was packed away in one of your bags with the others."

Vyses snapped his fingers. Lyth produced the ancient spellbook from his knapsack and handed it to Ravenna. She thanked him and moved away from the camp a bit, toward the trees. She sat down at the base of one and felt the side of the spellbook.

It was still unlocked. She breathed out a small sigh of relief.

While Vyses and Lyth ate supper, Ravenna read through the spellbook. Some of the pages were locked again, with the letters rearranged all over the page, making the spells unreadable. She simply focused her energy on the spells that weren't locked, attempting to absorb as much information as possible.

When Vyses finished his meal, he approached Ravenna, looking mildly concerned. "Are you certain that you don't want to eat? You haven't eaten in a few days, lass."

She nodded. Now that Caelan wasn't there to eat with her, food just wasn't as appealing anymore. "I'm fine," she assured him. "I never used to eat before I lived with Caelan."

He nodded and left her alone after that.

Ravenna continued to read as they drifted off to sleep. Once their breathing softened, and the snores started, she quietly closed the spellbook and moved toward the water. There was a fairly simple spell that she wanted to try that would allow her to walk along the water's surface.

She closed her eyes and concentrated. The spell required her to focus her magic at the bottoms of her feet. It was easier now, now that she had the pendant and could force her magic to listen to her.

She poked a foot out and stepped down, onto the water.

And almost slipped and fell into it. A disgruntled huff escaped her. Magic covered the bottoms of her feet just as the spell called for. She did everything correctly. The issue was that the water moved. It rolled unevenly beneath her skin, rocking her back and forth, constantly shifting. It made it incredibly hard to remain balanced atop the water. Her brows furrowed and she tried again.

It was still hard to stand straight atop the water's surface.

With a frown, she returned to her spellbook and skimmed through it again. Naturally, the pages had shifted, locking that particular spell. She quietly closed the book and forced herself to exhale calmly.

"I can do this," she whispered to herself.

As she approached the water, she contemplated how, exactly, she was going to do this spell successfully. She pursed her lips and tried again. This time, instead of the magic coating her feet, she focused the magic atop the water itself.

It worked. It was as if a solid block had formed atop the water --like a large rock. The water rushed around it, tickling her toes, but she remained upright. Her lips stretched back and she took another step. Another block formed the moment her skin touched the water.

Confidently, she walked to the center of the stream and looked around. Vyses and Lyth were still asleep. The horses were awake, their red eyes focused on Ravenna. There was something different in their demeanor, however. The horses moved around, fidgeted almost. There was something strange in the air. Something wrong.

Her brows furrowed. And, as the usual nighttime silence stretched on around her, she heard it.

A long, drawn out howl, paired with the thunder of hooves hitting the earth.

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