He looks over at me. “Yes, Natalia?” there is a bit of hope in his tone. We’ve been sitting in silence for nearly twenty minutes- perhaps he thinks I’ve worked out my haphazard emotions by now. In truth they are still raging- I just do my best to ignore them. I cannot afford to get out of control now. Especially if by doing so, I’d lose Kane, just like I lost Tallima.
I’m angry at her. I let her go.
So why does it hurt so much?
I blink. “Right. What… what do we do, Kane? You’re here. I’m here. We’re… we’re safe. So what happens now?”
He blinks, and I realize suddenly that maybe he never considered it.
“Kane… you’ve never had the choice to go wherever you wanted before, have you?”
“No…” he admits, eyes wide.
“Well, then let me help- we can’t go too many places. We don’t have any horses, so we’ll have to go on foot-”
“No we won’t,” he interrupts. “We just need to make it back to the hills.”
“The hills?!” I demand. “Why?!”
“We’re going to need one of my babies,” he says proudly. “Then we can go anywhere we want.”
I stare at him in complete confusion. “You have horses?”
“Better. You’ll see.” His eyes glimmer mischievously, and for a moment I get a glimpse of the boy that Kane might have been if he hadn’t been chased and hounded all his life. The change is incredible, and just for a second, shows an entirely new side of him.
I raise my eyebrows. “Better than horses.”
“Better than horses,” he promises. “We could make it to the ocean in a day.”
“A day?!” I demand. “That’s at least a week’s trip by horseback.”
“I told you it was better than horses.”
“Kane, there’s a difference between improbable and impossible. There’s no way something could travel that fast.”
“Then you’ll have to believe me.” A proud glow shows in his eyes, and I realize that no matter how much I argue about this with him, he’s not going to back down. He believes in what he’s saying- I guess I’ll have to do the same.
“Fine,” I sigh. “Let’s go find your magical mechanical better than a horse thing.”
He smiles, his eyes bright. “Let’s go.”
Of course, it would be too much to ask for things to go right. Instead, everything crashes and burns as soon as we stepped out of the small hut.
They come from all around us. One minute the forest around the hut is empty, and the next minute we are swarmed.
I react faster than Kane. I whip out a dagger, and swing it at one of our attackers. There is a yelp, and they back off, before coming at me again.
Kane isn’t so lucky. He might be smart- even a genius- when it comes to machines, but in combat, he’s hopeless. One of our attackers catches him and throws him back, slamming him against a tree. He lets out a rough groan, and slumps to the ground. He is ignored, as the other attackers surround me.
I look around me, staring into a sea of darkness. All of them are masked, and wearing black. Unidentifiable. I hold my dagger out defensively, but they are all around me. One leaps forwards, swinging a sword at me, and I engage them with my dagger. But I am as skilled as they are. Somehow, we are evenly matched.
Suddenly, the one fighting me draws back, and kneels next to Kane, pressing their dagger lightly to the side of his head.
“Put down your weapon.” The voice is female.
“Don’t touch him!” I snarl.
“You’re outnumbered, surrounded, completely outmatched, and your boyfriend’s about to get a scar on his pretty head. Unless you drop the weapon. Be reasonable. Don’t waste this. You’ll just hurt him- and end up losing anyways.”
I grit my teeth, and the knife presses harder against him, drawing a slight trickle of blood. “Drop the weapon,” the unknown girl orders again.
I let it fall from my hands without another word.
“And the other weapons.”
“That was the only one,” I lie.
“You have at least three more. Drop them, or we’ll find them.”
I pull one from a sheath in my boot, and one from my jacket. I pause for a second at the third- this was the dagger Tallima gave me. I shudder, hurling it away from me. It just makes me think of our fight. The dagger embeds itself in a tree.
The girl beside Kane speaks with an exasperated tone. “Was that really necessary?”
“Sorry. Bad memories attached to that dagger,” I reply, my tone resigned. “There. I’m unarmed. Now take the knife away from his head.”
She sheathes the knife again, and stands. “Good. Now are you going to fight us, or go quietly.”
Normally I’d fight them. But there are too many. And it isn’t just me that’s at risk- Kane is as well. So I hold my hands out, expression aggravated.
“Behind your back.”
I comply, and feel the cold manacles lock around my wrists. A captive yet again. The attackers lead me to the tree, next to where Kane is slumped. One of them takes my legs out from under me, knocking me to the ground, and is instantly reprimanded.
“Hey! Unnecessary! We were supposed to take her- none of our orders say anything about hurting her!”
“Leave her alone.”
Slowly, the girl who defended me removes her mask. I should be surprised- but I’m not.
“Iya,” I groan, resting my head against the tree. “Should have known.”
She sits next to me, smiling slightly. “Hey Natalia.”
“Hey?” I demand. “You attack me and Kane, threaten him, and take me prisoner, and all you can say is hey?! That’s it?! What the he-”
“Whoa, Natalia, chill,” she sighs. “I know this isn’t really the best time, but… we’re under orders. You know how it is…” she studies me hopefully.
“I know how it is,” I agree. “The Queen sends you to do her dirty work. So that she can kill me, and enslave Kane. I have to admit, though, I’m flattered. Is this everybody?” I do a quick head count. “It is! The Queen really didn’t want us getting away.”
“Half of us came because we wanted to know the truth. To see if… if maybe you really were a traitor to the Queen. You know we don’t want to believe it… don’t you?”
“I know,” I reply. “Not that you were that gentle. Who kicked me over? I’ll get them for that.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Iya mutters. “I’m sorry about that. Some of them hate you. But… you got better treatment than your friend.”
I almost ask which friend- before remembering that Tallima left. Unless…
“How long were you here for?”
“Long enough to catch your other friend, if that’s what you’re wondering,” Iya sighs.
There is a thud, and I look over. Indeed, it’s Tallima, chained just like I am. Obviously the others didn’t care about not hurting her, because she’s bruised and bleeding.”
“Tallin. Long time no see,” Iya remarks. “How’s life been treating you.”
“It’s been better…” she mutters. “Not the best treatment you’ve given me.”
“And don’t think we’re sorry,” Iya adds. “We don’t favor murderers.”
Tallima flinches, but says nothing. Those words cut deeper than Iya knows- I can tell.
“Go easy on her,” I mutter.
Iya’s eyebrows shoot up. “When did Natalia the hero become best friends with Tallin the shadow? What’s been happening since you ran away?”
“Lots of things,” I shrug.
“You wouldn’t say that to my face if my hands were unchained,” Tallima hisses. “Some ‘family’ you are. Don’t forget- we’re all murderers. But only some of us admit it.”
“You can keep your mouth shut, or we’ll gag you,” Iya replies. “We were ordered to bring Natalia and Kane back. The Queen doesn’t care what we do to you.”
“And I was having such a wonderful day already…” she leans her head back against the tree, groaning softly. “Now I can look forwards to be beaten and killed by the people that were supposed to be my ‘family’.”
“You stopped being one of us the day you killed Julia!” Iya snarls, bringing her hand whipping across Tallima’s face. Her head jerks back, slamming into the tree, and she lets out another soft moan.
“Iya,” I hiss. “Leave her alone.”
“Don’t defend her, Natalia. She doesn’t deserve it,” Iya snaps. “She’s a murderer.”
“We all are!” I reply sharply. “She’s right! You don’t need to mistreat her. Leave her alone, or I’m going to have to get involved in this, and I know you don’t want to hurt me.”
Iya studies me, her expression sad. “I don’t know what’s wrong with you Natalia. But don’t throw yourself in front of her. She doesn’t deserve it.”
“She did it for me,” I reply.
Tallima’s head lifts slightly, and she looks up at me with an expression of wary hope. I glance back at her, and nod slightly- an acknowledgement. She smiles.
Iya shakes her head. “I wish this didn’t have to happen… If you’re siding with the girl who killed one of us, then you really are a traitor.” She stands, going to turn away.
“Iya!” She looks back at me. “You don’t understand. There’s a whole other part to the story that you don’t know. Let me explain it.”
“I can’t,” she replies. “I’m sorry, Natalia. I wish this didn’t have to happen, but…” she clicks her fingers to the other Devias around us. “Put them to sleep.”
“No!” I grit my teeth in frustration. “Iya, you have to listen to me-” That’s as far as I get. A Devia knees beside me, and forces something into my mouth. I taste the sweetness of starroot, and the world begins to spin. Starroot can knock a person out for hours. It’s usually used for operations or amputations- or drugging a prisoner so that they can be transported without fighting.
“Thank you,” Tallima whispers to me. And then the world slips away from me as I lose consciousness.