Chapter 19: A Predator and Its Prey

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"Kenna, you can't do this! Please, stop. We'll come up with a better plan. This is madness!"

I ignored Rowan's pleas as I marched through the forest in the direction of the village. He was wrong; this was our best option. He should know better than to try to convince me otherwise. And I should know better than to allow his words to make me doubt.

"Kenna!" He grabbed my wrist and turned me around to face him before I had a chance to pull away. "I can't let you do this," he grumbled through gritted teeth.

"Of course you can," I said. "You just have to let go of my wrist."

"You're not even sure that they'll listen to you!"

"Let go of my wrist, Rowan."

"What if they kill Ellie, Larry and me before you've even opened your mouth?"

"I won't let that happen," I replied, resolute. "The Dark Sorcerers need me, and I'll make it very clear to them that I won't cooperate if they harm you or the Dwarfs."

"And you think that will stop them? They're evil, Kenna. They don't care about your feelings, and you can't beat all of them on your own."

"Ah, but they don't know that, do they?" He clenched his jaw in response and I sighed. "Listen, Rowan. Do you trust me?"

He said nothing, glowering at me. However, his grip loosened and I gently disentangled his fingers from my wrist, rubbing the painful, red marks that they had left on my skin.

"I know you like to be in control, Rowan, but I'm afraid this is out of your hands now. I have a plan, an actual plan."

He rolled his eyes. "A plan with a lot of loose ends."

"Perhaps, but I've always praised myself for my improvisational skills. You know that we'll have to travel to the Dark Capital anyway, so why not use this opportunity to win the Dark Sorcerers' trust?" I looked him in the eye, feigning optimism. If I were sincere, I knew my plan was risky, but what other choice did I have? Even if we managed to escape Anthrali, the Dark Sorcerers would still catch up with us sooner or later. There wasn't really a place left where we would be safe from them. "Please, Rowan. Let me prove my worth for once."

"Don't use that kind of emotional blackmail on me, damn it!" I knew I had won this battle when he took a step back and threw up his hands in surrender. "Fine. But if you get us killed, I swear I'll make you regret it, Kenna Rivers."

I chuckled. "Are you threatening me, Rowan?"

"You bet I am."

We started walking again. As we neared the edge of the forest, the first peach-colored rays of sunlight seeped through the thinning foliage overhead. The warmth of the sun contrasted with the dreary atmosphere of the cemetery when we emerged from the woods. To my surprise, the place was deserted.

I turned to Rowan. "They can't have left, can they?"

"That's most unlikely."

It didn't take us long to find out where the Dark Sorcerers had gone to. The moment we set foot in Anthrali's main street, we were welcomed by a party of twelve Sorcerers, positioned in a combative formation in the middle of the road. Fear squeezed my throat shut when I spotted three familiar figures in their midst. Mrs. Berrywood held her head high with pride, refusing to give in to panic. Larry stood beside her, his arms wrapped around Ellie in a protective fashion while he eyed the Sorcerers warily. I was glad to see Ellie standing on both feet. Her face had regained some of its natural tan overnight, and judging by the ferocious look on her face, her old, fiery temperament was back in place as well.

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