Chapter 11

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When he emerged from the shelter, the rain had stopped; the cloud cover had gaps in it that were big enough to see the sun that was already hanging low in the western sky. The humans had cleaned themselves up in the meantime; they had also kept the fire burning, and Peet handed him a mug with tea, steaming hot and so strong that it glued his tongue to the roof of his mouth for a moment, the way he liked it.

Maybe he'd keep Peet. The human was catching on to how to make tea the right way.

Alan, on the other hand...

Their other human was leaning against the trunk of a pine on the far end of the little clearing, his bad leg stretched out before him; he was staring into his own mug. Galen regarded him for a moment, sipping his tea, before he wandered over to him.

It took another moment before Alan drew a deep breath and looked up to him.

„She's alive," Galen informed him, and the human closed his eyes for a moment. Zana loved their color. Maybe he'd keep him for her sake. „Her skull isn't broken, as far as I could determine," Galen continued, „but she sustained multiple flesh wounds..." He broke off and took another draw from his mug.

When he was sure that he had his voice under control, he continued. „Especially in the abdomen. It looked as if these creatures were... were trying to cut through and get to the baby."

Behind him, Peet cursed. Alan put his hand over his eyes for a moment, rubbing them with thumb and forefinger. Then he met Galen's eyes again. „This was my fault." His voice was rough, but steady. He looked down to where the tea was cooling in his mug, chewing on the inside of his lip for a moment. „I should've known y'all would follow me, even though I said I'd go alone."

Galen grabbed his mug harder and forced himself to breathe evenly. To hear the human out.

Alan drew a long, careful breath. „I'm desperate to go home, Galen. To see my family again. Put yourself in my shoes and ask yourself if you wouldn't do the same if you'd lost Zana the way I lost Sally. But I don't want to pay my way home with your blood. Or Zana's. Or Pete's. I swear..." and now he looked up again, eyes gray and stormy like the sky above them, „as long as we're traveling with you, I won't look for a way back into my time anymore."

For a moment, Galen wanted to hurl his mug against one of the trees, see it explode against the bark. Then he remembered how Alan had done the same after Peet had been captured.

I'm not going to turn into a human.

„I'm relieved to hear that," he said evenly. „Let's hope it will also reassure Zana, once she's strong enough to hear it from you. But it won't undo the damage she already suffered."

Alan had the decency to bow his head then. „I know."

„And I want something from you to show me that you're serious," Galen continued.

The human lifted his head again, alert now. Wary. „What do you mean?"

„The disc you're wearing around your neck," Galen said. „I want you to give it to me. You have my word that you'll get it back the day we do part ways. But right now, I need more than just your word. I need proof."

Alan came slowly to his feet, dragging himself up against the trunk with one hand. He had gone pale, Galen noticed. He also was taller than him, taller by a head.

Then, stiffly, and without another word, the human bowed his head, slipped the pendant over it, and handed it to him. Galen took it, trying not to feel guilty. „I'll take care of it like I take care of my Book," he reassured Alan, but the human just turned around and limped away, to the horses.

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