Chapter 2

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When he was certain Kailyn was away, Outh'n let loose howls and curses of frustration into the shadows. Scratchy throat paired with pounding headache to punish him for his harsh speech.

"My apologies, great Tugansol," he rasped. He'd sound like a raug'l for a while. "But it's hard to think this is all for the good when my best and only friend, the woman I loved, has been snatched away by you. My own existence is threatened because of it." He ran his hands through his hair and groaned. "I haven't done anything wrong. Why are they going this far?" he murmured.

Silence hissed in his ears between the surging of his own heartbeats. He snorted. As if Tugansol would suddenly speak to him, the least desirable person in his village! He shook his head slowly, mindful of the throbbing.


Keys jangled against the lock startling Outh'n from a fitful doze. Cold dread flooded his stomach and he clenched his jaw in preparation. Moving wasn't going to be pleasant. If they were opening the door, judgment had been determined. He wasn't sure he was ready to hear the verdict but regardless, he was about to.

"Come on you piece of trash," the guard growled at him from the door, blinding him with a brightly burning torch. "Come on, I say! You're in luck. Looks as if the council's letting you off lightly, though I can't figure out why. Neither can most of the village." He spat on the dirt near Outh'n's feet. "You're trash, Outh'n Durr," he sneered as the derogatory word stabbed at Outh'n's heart. "Anyone who'd kill a friend deserves to die in my mind." He shook his head and turned sideways to allow Outh'n to pass in front of him. "Now. Let's go," he pushed. "Move your feet, trash."

Every step he took sent shards of pain zinging from one temple to the other. The guard's words offered a sickening kind of hope. Had he been cleared of all wrong? Did someone beside his family believe he was telling the truth? He stumbled and catching himself proved more difficult with a staff prodding him onward. The gutteral growl of pain leapt out of his throat before he could clamp his jaws to trap it. A sharp rap to his shoulders with the flat of the staff punctuated the guard's clipped rebuke and propelled him awkwardly on. A brilliant silver line close to the floor confused Outh'n at first, until he realized the door to freedom was near. Or was it the door to doom?

As they reached the ray of questionable hope, it widened. The door squawked on it's old hinges and the searing light and warmth of the middawning suns lanced his eyes. He cowered as the cheery heat lanced his eyes. Instinct squeezed his eyes shut, strengthening the throbbing behind his right ear and at his temples. He whimpered and gripped his head once again, willing the pain to cease. His eyes streamed and burned, his feet stumbling along the uneven path he could barely see. Through the ceaseless torment, he barely registered the strikes on his legs and back.

"That's enough, Garrik," a gruff, unfamiliar voice reprimanded the guard.

"But, Senya, he isn't —" the guard's complaint was cut off by a resounding crunch followed by a grunt.

"I said that's enough. He can barely walk as it is."

"As you say, Senya," Garrik mumbled as he stumbled off to one side. The guard hovered near enough to catch Outh'n if he tried to run, though the younger man shuddered at the thought of jarring footfalls. Outh'n wasn't going anywhere they didn't make him go.

A gentle hand clasped his shoulder, startling him, belying the sharpness of moments before. "Come Outh'n Durr. I will see you to the gathering hall."

Outh'n stood up straighter, though his hands still holding his head in place. The throbbing had increased and it seemed it might roll off his shoulders. "Thank you," he murmured and waited.

"I am Bazhbet Mehya of Chefvna, called in for special deliberation on your behalf. Your parents must love you a great deal to send so far away for help."

Outh'n nodded, then winced, berating himself for his stupidity. "Yes, as I love them, Senya." So his parents sent away for a Senya who would not be swayed by the village council members who hated him. "But they probably called you because my accusers are the sons of members of our village council."

"So that's the way of it, is it?" A gruff laugh rippled through the air. "Well, we shall see how this goes, then, youngling. Come on," he gently nudged Outh'n's shoulder and walked a bit behind him, allowing Outh'n to set the pace.

A new kind of torture it was. He didn't want to be here, didn't want to face all the villagers who were surely filling the gathering hall to the rafters. Their jeers and snubs were difficult to hear on his best dawning. He trudged forward, reluctant, yet knowing there was no way out. Garryk's thudding steps followed on the opposite side at his back and he knew the guard would take any opening to thwack him again.

Outh'n stumbled and pitched forward. A vice clamped around his bicep and kept him from plowing face first into the hard-packed dirt path. "Thank you, Senya," he replied dutifully.

A grunt was his only reply and he started forward again. The cold stones filling his stomach before turned to burning lava the nearer they got to the side door. Would that Tugansol would take him quickly, for at least the Creator could see the truth of matters. Surely, the very Breath of Life would be willing to steal his before the true guilty ones could.

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