Chapter 17, Part 1-1

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Mara wanted to know more of Lucy, but for now was content to have time to think. She looked forward to her next opportunity to travel. As the hours passed, her concern for Dixon's wellbeing grew. Would she be too late, even if she could return to his side right this minute? And why was she so obsessed with him and his safety anyway, when she already had so much to handle with the twins?

As dusk neared, the temperature dropped. The air felt electric.

Jules had ridden ahead and was now on his way back. His gait easy, his face calm, he indicated that he sensed no danger ahead.

Nina watched him. She looked expectant, stimulated. Happy? Mara followed her gaze to Jules. "Nina?"

"Yes?"

"Do you want me to take Eden?"

"No, I'm fine. But they'll both need to eat soon. In fact, I'm surprised Reigna isn't fussing already."

The Oathtaker looked up. The sky was an odd mix of gray and green. "It looks like bad weather is coming."

Jules approached. His eyes rested momentarily on Nina before he turned his attention to Mara.

"Is everything all right?" she asked.

"I think we've got a storm brewing," Therese interrupted, as she rode up, Reigna in her arms.

"That's what I was just saying."

Things suddenly quieted. The air stilled. Everything had a green cast to it, including the travelers' faces.

"Did you see any possible shelter ahead?" the Oathtaker asked Jules.

His horse shuddered, jerked its head, and stomped its foot. The other mounts followed suit. Skittish, their eyes darted about. As though on cue, small bolts of lightning high in the sky flickered on and off.

"There's an old building not far from here that looks like a barn built into a hill. It has a chimney, so we should be able to stay warm and dry. I rode up and peeked inside a window. I didn't see anything—though I admit I didn't get a very good look. It appears abandoned, so it should be safe. In any case, I think it's our only option just now." As he finished speaking, another flash of lightning shot across the sky.

The hair on Mara's arms rose. "Let's go then. Be quick about it, but be careful. We need to get these horses out of this weather before one of them bolts. And besides, with all their gear, they're easy targets for lightning."

As Jules turned away, she called to him. "Wait, Jules—how far is it?"

"Shouldn't be more than a couple minutes," he said as a gust of wind suddenly blew.

"Let's go!" she ordered.

Raindrops fell sporadically, then increased as though they were grasping to catch a rhythm, a beat beyond the riders' abilities to hear.

Mara waved her hand, motioning for Nina to go next. "Go!"

The young woman urged her horse onward with her heels.

"Quickly! Quickly!" the Oathtaker exclaimed just as both infants cried out.

Within seconds, the wind became a howl. Rain pelted down, stinging the travelers' faces. It slapped at the dry ground, then splashed back up, quickly soaking them and their mounts.

Through the downfall, the outline of what looked like an old gray barn built into the side of a hill became visible. Some wood shingles from its roof broke free. They flipped and tossed through the air.

"Hurry!" Jules shouted to those behind.

Nina's horse stumbled. Fearing it would fall and roll, Mara urged her mount forward, preparing to pull the young woman toward herself if need be. Then the animal righted itself.

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