Chapter 25

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When I crack open my eyes, the rays of the late afternoon sun are the first to greet me. Second is Luca's discarded pack and third is his imprint in the sand. Sitting up, I rub my hands over my face, groaning when I remember how we collapsed to sleep before I could properly clean up from the battle in the airship hangar. My stomach rumbles, another reminder of something I have yet to do.

The soft tread of Luca's footsteps draws my attention. He crests the slope across from me, a bundle of sticks clenched in his hands and his hair damp and shining in the orange light.

"There is a pool down below." He drops the sticks onto a piece of flattened land within our makeshift campsite. "I already filled our flasks, so it is all yours."

"Thanks," I rise carefully, biting back a grunt when my knee protests. Luca raises his brows in question as I regain my balance. "I'm fine."

Limping past him, I wait until I am out of sight before stripping off pieces of my clothing, the siren call of a bath too precious to waste time on. Signs of the storm are everywhere, punctuated by broken shrubbery and dimpled sand. Casting aside my belt and boots, I find the pool just where Luca said it would be, tucked behind some weeds at the base of the hill. I undress completely and sink into the water, revelling in the feeling of my cuts and bruises being soothed into submission. After several minutes of revelry I take a deep breath and plunge beneath the surface, digging my fingers into my hair to cleanse it of it's dye and marvelling at the sight of inky vapours twisting away from me before disappearing into the murky beyond.

When I emerge back in the desert I grab fistfuls of sand from the shore, rubbing vigorously at my skin as though I could slough it free of my bones. It is only when I begin to shiver from the cooling air that I emerge, picking up my clothes and scrubbing them as well before laying them out to dry on a rock.

Retrieving my father's dagger from my discarded boot, I lash it to the end of one of the shoreline's sturdier stalks and make my way back into the water. When the ripples lapping at my shins clear I begin to search, patiently studying the water's surface. It doesn't take long for a flash of silver to catch my attention. Spearing four fish in relatively quick succession I dress once more and make my way back up the hill, finding Luca crouched in front of a campfire.

He looks up at my approach, quirking a small grin in greeting. We manage to avoid speaking by concentrating on our tasks, me on the fish and he on the fire. Coming back to sit, I place the skewers across the bed of coals and settle in, sighing a little as the heat from the flames finishes drying my clothes.

Luca gives the coals a stir before sitting back as well. He doesn't so much as glance in my direction but comments, nonetheless. "Your true hair has returned."

I nod gravely. "It would appear so."

"Look how the fire trembles before it's competition."

A snort of laughter escapes me. Looking over I catch his eyes crinkling at the corners, pleased to have broken the tension.

"How is your knee?" He asks.

"A bit stiff." I admit, unfolding my left leg gingerly. "Though I expect I'll live."

"There are some leaves and my attempt at Cade's potion, over there." Luca nods over my shoulder, indicating the items stacked nearby. "Use it at your own risk."

"Gladly." I grimace as I begin rolling up my trouser leg. "Are you not the least bit sore? I feel like I've been run over."

"I have felt better." He shrugs. "The rest is doing me some good."

"It's a shame we can't linger too long." I say, frowning at the darkening sky, "Tawny will only wait a short time and this is my last chance to speak with Jaron and the others before we strike."

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