Chapter Twelve

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Aidan awoke in a murky panic, a scream dying on their lips as the dream faded. They glanced about slowly, their movements stiff. Any attempt to sit up made their muscles ache.

"Lie back down, idiot."

Aidan's head swiveled sharply to the right, sending a jolt of pain up their neck. Orfeo sat in the flickering shadows near a small fire.

"Where are we?"

Orfeo did not turn to look at them but rather prodded the flames with a sooty stick. "Why would that matter?"

Aidan gritted their teeth and attempted to sit up further. "I need to find Riona."

Orfeo let out a low chuckle. "You let them do this to you over a woman?"

Aidan did not respond.

"Well, you're in no shape to be anyone's hero." Orfeo finally glanced their way, dark eyes flashing. "Go back to sleep."

"I have to protect—"

"Ava's following her."

Aidan's mouth parted in surprise for a moment before snapping back shut. "That does not make me feel at ease."

"No?" said Orfeo flashing a grim smile.

Aidan relented and lay back upon the makeshift bed. "How long have I been sleeping?"

"Off and on for a few days."

Aidan bolted upright again, ignoring the searing pain. "What?! Where's Ibrahim?"

"Resting. Damn near died trying to heal you. We almost lost you both."

"You could have helped, "Aidan snapped.

"Someone needs to remain in fighting shape in case Makda decided to pay us a visit."

Aidan felt their body begging for more rest. "I'd pay to see that fight."

"Sleep."

Aidan did as they were told.

***

Aidan sat at the edge of the camp, their fingers prodding the surface of the mossy ground beneath their crossed legs. The sun was setting far beyond the labyrinth of trees that stretched before them, turning the air of the forest a dazzling gold that danced with motes of dust and caught the glisten of wings as bugs hummed by.

Aidan brought their hands to their lap, examining the dirt clumped awkwardly where their thumbnail should have been. Aidan's thoughts jolted painfully toward Makda and the nights spent tied to that tree and then skipped even further back to older torments. The edges of their vision began to blur, and Aidan took a sharp breath through their nose that hitched in their chest. A straining cascade of tension rippled over their body, followed by a deadening that disconnected thought and vision from the world falling to dusk around them.

"Aidan?"

The sound of their own name held no recognition, their eyes locked to the dirt clinging to a stump of a cuticle.

"Aidan?" the voice sounded familiar this time.

Aidan turned their head, but the motion was unnatural as if they were not the one in control of their body.

"Cynbel?" they asked of the voice.

The sudden sharp smell of mint overwhelmed their nostrils, and Aidan took in a breath that brought some sense of self back into their limbs. The herb was pressed closer to their nose, and Aidan pushed the hand away, their vision growing crisper, Ibrahim's warm brown eyes solidifying before their face. Aidan looked down at the druid's palm, and the crushed green leaves held there in the folds of their hand.

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