Chapter Twenty-Three

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          With how hard Ayla pushed them, they reached the stone arch entryway of Raiven embedded in the mountainside in less than two weeks. Siobhan slept in the saddle, Ayla and Wyx not at all. Night and day they galloped, slowing only to allow Siobhan to eat. How Wyx didn't drop dead under her could only be attributed to some herbal concoction the lioness made before they left the hunter's cabin.

Siobhan shifted in her saddle to look around. The northern mountain range towered above her, casting a lengthy shadow across the melting snow. Branches of barren trees shifted in the wind, few showed signs of life trying to survive through the final weeks of winter. Sunlight beamed through the clouds as if lighting her way to the arches.

To the untrained eye, the twisting stone curving on the side of the mountain range forming an arch was nothing but an odd natural formation. Those with magic knew otherwise. It was a gateway, a sign of hope to those cast out of their life among the humans. They were twists of granite, volcanic rock, and Siobhan didn't know what else.

"I thought you said the others would be waiting for us?" Siobhan asked when she saw no signs of the wagon.

Ayla shifted out of the lioness and shrugged. "Guess we beat them."

"Or Garrith already has them!"

"I'd know if they were captured. Remember, shifters have a sense about one another. If any of my pride were in trouble, I'd know about it. There is no such feeling burrowing through me."

Siobhan climbed off Wyx and stepped away from the arches. A part of her wanted to enter Raiven where it would be safe even from Garrith. The other part of her, the dominant part, worried for Elias. She'd left him behind far too easily. One hand touched her clavicle as she stared toward the southeast. Much of the snow had melted, awaiting the arrival of another wave of frost that would sweep through most of the lowlands. Crestborne and the southern edges of the lowlands were the only places to escape the endless influx of snow during the winter.

She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. There was the familiar scent of the now days away storm. Moss covered stones, mud, and the distinct aroma of mildew. She sniffed again and grinned at another scent growing closer with every inhale. Cinnamon, sweat, and grease. It wouldn't be Wren if there wasn't sweat and grease. When she opened her eyes, a spot waivered in the distance, moving ever closer. Though she didn't have the eyesight of a shifter, the spot in the horizon was clear enough.

"Told you," Ayla said.

Siobhan rolled her eyes, ignoring the obvious gloat in Ayla's tone. She wouldn't let the obnoxious shifter get the best of her. A smile stretched wide on her face as she watched the wagon grow closer. It felt like an eternity passed before it began to slow, and Elias hopped off the side. Even more time passed between when Siobhan ran into his arms, crying into his chest the way she used to when she was younger. Time was a matter of no importance.

"Thank the Goddess you changed your mind," Elias said. His hand held her head tight against his chest. If she could dissolve into his hug, she'd have done so happily.

"I'm sorry, Elias. I'm so so sorry. You raised me to be better than I was. I let you down."

Elias pulled away, cupping her face in his hands. Both thumbs brushed tears away from her cheeks. His teal eyes bore into hers, a smile teased his lips. She suddenly felt two years old again, hiding under his robes because she broke a vase that sent one of the maids on a rampage. The rotund woman scurried through the house screaming at everyone, trying to find who broke it. Siobhan was frightened of the woman and so she fled to the one hiding place that always felt secure, Elias' robes. He never pushed her away or scolded her for it being inappropriate; he always let her hide until she was ready to face the world again. The day she grew too large to hide was the day she felt her childhood truly ended.

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