chapter eight;

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They trekked in silence back the way they had come. After Zak's refusal to answer any of Darryl's questions the mood had been somewhat odd, as though something between them had shattered into shards and been ground into a fine dust. Something simply wasn't the same.

Of course Darryl could at least attempt to strike up some kind of conversation to fill the empty silence, but the longer it stretched on the less welcoming that idea became. Although they had been brought closer by circumstance extremely quickly, they weren't friends, something Darryl would do well to remember. Getting your hopes up too high only resulted in them being crushed.

Besides, they had more important things to be focusing on than a lack of good conversation. Like the fact that there had supposedly been some kind of major attack on the palace while they had been gone. Zak hadn't elaborated or offered any details on the extent of the attack and so Darryl's mind was left to wander, simply praying it wouldn't be one of the worst outcomes this time.

He'd had enough bad luck to last him for a long while thank you very much.

They didn't rest this time, too sick with worry to lay down any kind of camp and rest. It had left an unsettled feeling over the group and a growing sense of foreboding threatened to swallow Darryl whole. If what Zak had reported was correct and the palace had come under fire, they had no idea what they were walking back to. Everything could be gone.

They had set out with the intention to launch a surprise attack on the rebel forces, only to be the victims of the attack, not the instigators.

It was almost amusing in its irony.

Entering into the kingdom made Darryl draw in a sharp breath. It was clear that there had been some kind of fight here. There were red smears on the cobblestones, stalls upturned and wares littered over the street, their fabric banners torn to shreds, almost as if some kind of wild beast had ripped it into pieces. A heavy weight lay leaden in Darryl's chest. They were too late. The damage had clearly already been done and some of it would take ages to fix, as well as a great deal of money. Darryl thought of the tradespeople, his heart sinking. The stalls were forever damaged and would be too expensive for them to fix, if they were even alive at all.

He had been friendly with some of them, and now he may not see them again. He hadn't even said goodbye the last time, too focused on Zak's injury. Now he wished he had gone back at least once before leaving on their fruitless journey.

Distracted, Darryl ran a hand over what had been one of the stalls, wincing at the way the splintered wood felt against his skin. A sick feeling clawed its way up his spine.

"Darryl," Zak said sharply, several steps ahead of him. The prince had paused, gaze fixed on the other. "Come on. We have to move. What if they come back?"

Honestly it was a valid concern, Darryl knew. They weren't supposed to have escaped and so to run into the rebels here would be bad news. They needed to keep moving in order to be of most use, and that meant getting over his potential misgivings and simply doing what must be done.

It may have been a difficult thing to do, but it was all he could do, and Darryl would just have to move on. There was no time to stop now, not when other areas of the kingdom could potentially be salvaged. Maybe all the residents were okay. He was probably overthinking.

The palace was at the heart of the kingdom, a choice that had seemed wise at the time it was built. Still, they had a way to walk and, though he was usually able to get there within ten minutes, Darryl found himself stalling. The silence suggested that the attack had already gone ahead and that hurrying wouldn't help them now, and so he was in no rush. A part of him didn't want to see what had been done to the building he had called home ever since he had left his family's cottage as a young teenager. He considered the other staff his family - if they were gone, then there would be little left for him there.

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