Tallima finds me the next morning. “Natalia! What happened?!” she pulls out a key, and quickly unlocks the cuffs. I slump to the floor, too exhausted to lift myself. My head pounds miserably, and my eyes are red from tears. I feel her hand on my shoulder, and hear her worried voice, but they come from a distance, through a haze of regret.
I lost Kane. He’s somewhere out there, and I don’t know where. He could be hurt, trapped, or even dead, and I wouldn’t know.
“Natalia, what happened? Where’s Kane?”
I grit my teeth. “I lost him. Other people… they came… they took him… he’s gone now.” I manage to push myself up into a sitting position. “It’s too late. Who knows what they’re going to do to him? I doubt they’ll let him go. And then the Queen… the Queen is going to kill me…” I stop, as I realize that Tallima isn’t listening. Her eyes have fallen on the object that the man dropped at my feet last night.
It’s a small rag doll, made out of a block of wood, and loose pieces of cloth. It doesn’t look like much, and I can’t imagine why Tallima is interested in it. I certainly don’t expect it when she picks it up, hugging it tightly to her chest. She closes her eyes, and a few tears leak down her face.
“Dad…” she whispers.
I stare at her in shock. “This is yours?”
She nods. “It is. I… I was maybe five. But he… he was here…”
I slowly pull myself over to her, and put my arm around her shoulders. I’ve never been good at comforting, but now I try. “He said… he misses you.”
She nods, shaking slightly. “I- I didn’t…” she shakes her head violently, and looks back at me. “Kane is gone?”
I nod. “Yeah. They took him with them. He doesn’t realize… he really thinks they want to help him. Tallima, they’re going to enslave him. Just like the Queen did. I can’t- what if-”
“Hey, take it easy,” she murmurs. “It isn’t over. We can still help him. We can go after him.”
“The Queen will kill me,” I whisper. “She’ll kill me, Tallima.”
“Not if we leave now,” she responds. “We’ll go now, and find Kane. We’ll get him out of there.”
“And then what? Tallima, I can’t go back. I can’t keep going like this. The Queen will kill me, or it’ll drive me mad. I can’t hurt him again. I’ve hurt him enough. I won’t do it again.”
“You don’t have to,” she replies. “We’re Devias of the Queen. We know how to hide- how to fight. We don’t have to go back. We don’t have to hurt Kane.”
I stare at her in disbelief. “You’d be willing to leave… to risk your own life… just like that?”
“What gave you that idea?” her eyes twinkle mischievously, and encourage me to keep going.
“You said ‘we’, not ‘you’,” I point out.
She smiles. “Yes. I did. I’ll come with you- if you’ll accept my help, of course.”
“What about supplies?” I hate to refuse her, but I don’t want to have to deal with a disaster.
She laughs out loud now. “You packed a bag with enough for two.” She pushes the brown canvas bag into view, grinning. “Good?”
I nod slowly. “Good. Tallima… thank you. You have no idea how much…” How much I need something of my old home. To remind me that maybe there’s a way to go back.
“You’re welcome,” she replies, nodding. “Now, what’s our cover story?”
“We don’t need one,” I reply automatically, assuming a bored and irritated tone. “We’re Devias of the Queen, and our business is our own.”
“Good,” Tallima grins. “If you need my help, I can always go into shadow mode. I seem to be more intimidating that way.”
I smile, as I think of her as I used to know her- dark and terrifying. “Yes. That would work. But you won’t need to.”
She nods. “If you say so. Then if we’re decided, we’d better get out of here.”
I nod. “What time is it?”
“Early,” she sighs. “I thought… maybe you’d try to run with Kane, you know?”
“I’m glad,” I admit. “Then… we should go.”