Chapter 4.2 (Zara)

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After the third moon rose, Zara visited Queen Chhaya to tell her the assignment had been completed. Chhaya dismissed her for the night, seeming somewhat pleased. It was the most Zara could hope for. With her tasks done for the night, Zara wandered toward the edge of the city, and that's where she found him.

His back was slightly turned to her as he watched the moons, his face tilted toward the sky. The red moonlight made his dark brown skin glow. A worn satchel was tucked against his side.

Zara kicked at a rock on the ground to alert him to her presence. If she didn't, he'd chew her out for sneaking up on him again.

He smiled and, without turning around, said, "So. That was new."

She grimaced. "I'm sorry, Tyrus."

"It's not your fault I ended up on Chhaya's list. I got sloppy. Someone must have seen me." He shifted from where he sat on a large wearian root, looking her up and down. "You okay?"

She shook her head. Tyrus scooted over, holding out his hand to help hoist her up onto the root. Not that she needed any help, but her ankle was killing her. She felt it throbbing, and her boot felt tighter. The swelling had gotten worse.

Tyrus must have seen the look on her face because he asked, "Are you hurt?"

"My ankle. I sprained it in the forest." Zara shifted her position so she was back-to-back with Tyrus, her legs stretched out on the root. If she had dangled her feet over the edge, her ankle would only throb worse.

"Was that why you went down?" Tyrus asked, rummaging through the satchel. He pulled out two peaches and unsheathed a small knife from his belt. "I thought it was all part of the theatrics. Here I was thinking you'd outdone yourself."

"Oh, shut up." Zara elbowed him in the back.

His tone turned somber. "You think it will heal soon?"

"I hope so. If Chhaya gives me a break, which I doubt will happen."

"Try to wrap it up, keep it elevated. If you can, stay off of it as much as possible."

Zara rolled her eyes, even if he couldn't see it. "Yes, Mother." Her voice cracked on 'Mother.'

"You're not gonna cry on me, are you, Z?" Tyrus asked.

When she didn't answer, he turned around. "Hey, you want to talk about?"

"No," Zara said quickly. That was a line she would not cross. They'd been friends for years, and she could talk to Tyrus about silly things like crushes. Some of the deeper things, too, like family and life before she fled to Leodia. But she would not talk about the assignments she had completed.

She never talked about them. Ever.

"Here," Tyrus said, offering her a peach. It was cut into six perfect slices.

Despite herself, Zara grinned and popped a slice in her mouth. "Thanks."

"Don't mention it. I know they're your favorite, and after tonight..." He sighed. "Well, I just thought they'd help."

"Tyrus?"

"Yeah?"

Zara meant to thank him again. But the words that came out instead were the ones she had bottled up. She'd been thinking of them for years, but tonight felt like her breaking point. "I don't think I can keep up with this anymore. There have been so many, and I--" She stopped herself.

"We save the ones we can," Tyrus said, his voice low.

"We do," Zara agreed. "But it's not enough."

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