20. Responsible

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"No! No. Absolutely not," Ryin raged from the safety of the Forest border.

"It is my decision to make," I argued.

Before he could go on another tirade, Cardan put a hand on my shoulder and said, "Tallie, you do not know these creatures. You would be putting yourself in danger. Let Ryin protect you."

My jaw set. "I need no one's protection nor anyone's permission. This is what I am here for. The mission I must accomplish. I understand your reservations, but I am going tonight."

Folding his arms over his chest, my brother sneered, "And how will you reach them?"

I had been waiting for this remark ever since I was shoved onto Kiethe's back and flown into the safety of the trees. Even knowing that the border to the Forest was impassable by foot, I was not deterred. Not every losan had access to a Rider, after all. And there were others who did not share a concern for my safety.

"If you have no desire to help me, Ryin, I cannot change your mind. Nor will I try. However, do not presume that I will not do what is necessary for my mission."

"You think we are unable to stop you?"

My chin jerked and my teeth clenched together. Years of growing up with Grevin and Tharin made the worst thoughts rise to the surface. The words that would hurt and cut and cause him to bleed. And I swallowed as much of it as I could before I spoke again.

"Ryin, I am not trained to fight. I was raised to fight. By several people in many fields. If you try to hold me against my will, brother, I will hurt you. And you will have no one but yourself to blame."

"Tallie, we—"

"Stop. Both of you. What did you think was going to happen? When you delivered that message to my mother, what did you think would happen next? A decision was made, Cardan. A decision to send me in her stead to do the things she is not capable of. The things no one in the Forest is capable of. When you deliver messages, you never have to see the results. Well, this time you have to live with it. Because I am the result. I am the response. I am the decision."

"And we are doing what we can to help you. But this... How is this going to help anything?"

"How do you know it will hurt anything? What are you so afraid of?"

"You know how they live!" Ryin snapped.

"I know how humans live, too. My entire country was made by slaves, Ryin. I do not underestimate anything that we are capable of. That does not mean I will live with fear guiding my steps. That is not the way I was raised."

Ryin took a deep breath and released it slowly. "I am responsible for you, Tallie. You are my sister."

"And I am responsible for the Forest. This is my mission."

The stalemate could last forever. Neither of us was willing to concede and Cardan had stopped trying to become involved for some time. This was it. If my brother wished to aid me, I never needed his help more than now. Yet, if he pushed me, I would do it myself.

"If we do this, I want some assurances," Ryin said at last.

"Such as?"

"You go nowhere alone. You stay at my side at all times."

"As long as you do not interfere with what I see fit to do."

"I will not interfere so long as I do not think it necessary. Good enough?"

"For now. What other conditions?"

"You do not eat or drink anything they offer."

I snorted. "There is no need to worry over that."

"Also, I want Cardan and Kiethe to stand watch with Azrael."

Both of our eyes shifted to the other Rider and he gave a solemn nod. I made a point to look at the two Gryphons. Azrael looked stubborn, but Kiethe gave a chirrup of consent.

"And I want your word that if I tell you to run, you will listen."

"That, I cannot do."

"Why not?"

"Because you are more afraid than I am. It's true, Ryin!" I said as he whirled away from me, throwing his hands into the air. "If one shifts in front of us, you will want me to run. Should one get a step too close, you will think it is time to fly away. I cannot promise to run when you say. But I can promise to run as soon as I think it is too dangerous to stay. And I need your word that you will listen if I give you a command."

"You plan to command me?"

"Ryin, I do not do this for myself and my curiosity. If I accept an invitation, it is as an emissary of Valhoal. That is what I am."

It was something neither of them wanted to accept, but they had no choice. After my brother grumbled a few more times, it was agreed that we would return to Silver Lake under the cover of night. Then we would discover what it meant to be the shapeshifters.

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