4 - Ska'al

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Branches whipped past my face, drawing blood. The hollow buzz in my head competed with my own labored breathing—I barely heard the wind whistling in my ears.

One foot in front of the other, because we had to get out. The shadow was gone, for now, but now there were guards coming, too many for us, not here, not now.

My feet hit hard stone with a jolt. Was the ground giving way? Or the forest, I mean, the forest giving way to stone?

Andrin tugged my arm but I pulled him along anyway. He needed to stay with me, to keep going, I needed him to.

I stumbled on a root. A spiderweb of them poked up from the dirt, washed away by the rain.

The rain, it was pattering a ways off, how could it be there and not here? I didn't know, I just knew we needed to move, not so much because the guards would catch up, but the shadow.

My palm scraped another rock. Did I catch myself again? I sucked in a breath through dry lungs. That water, trickling down the hill beside me, it—the hill?

A boulder loomed ahead and I dodged it.

I had to get away.

The stones underfoot grew slick and I wiped the sweat out of my eyes.

We can't go back.

My foot caught on a branch.

"Watch out!"

I missed a step and stumbled, smashing my shin into another rock and sprawling headfirst into a riverbed of stones. The rocks hit like hammers and the icy waters rushed to wash away warm blood. I clamped down hard to hold back a string of curses.

Lylisia splashed into the water beside me, sending up another spray. "Sedris! Sed are you alright, what were you even doing!"

I groaned through clenched teeth and held up my battered hands to inspect. "I thought you were behind me!"

Koren came around the corner—or really, down the incline—dragging a still-limp Andrin, whose half-lidded eyes put my heart in my mouth again.

Koren dropped unsteadily onto one knee and lowered Andrin to the ground. I rushed to catch him, heedless of the raw skin on my palms.

"Can you feel him? Is he still here?"

"He's here," Koren said through ragged gasps. He coughed and clutched his side.

Mine were aching too. "We need to wake him up, we have to get moving. What happened to him?"

Koren opened his mouth but Lylisia drowned out any response. "...no, no no no, this is not—eugh!" She groaned and hurled a fistful of stones into the water.

"Lill what...!"

Lylisia stood on the bank of a pond and held the Torch high. My eye followed the silhouette of a massive cliff, all the way from one end of the pond to the other that sank back into the darkness. The gentle slope of a ravine led back to where we tumbled into the clearing, the trickling stream having carved it from the rock.

"Guys we... we have to go back!" I glanced down at Andrin and bit my already split lip. "I led us here, why didn't somebody stop me, let's go around!"

"Sed stop, stop! We can't go back, the path led us straight here. I need to think."

"...no, no..." Lylisia was still muttering, storming around the edge of the pond. Her light bobbed angrily around the edge.

I took a few hasty steps toward the ravine entrance, peering into the darkness, then backtracked straight to the pond. I knew it wasn't possible, but I had a nagging fear my heavy breathing would give away our position to the Corvel. "There must be a way out, why would the path lead here unless it goes through? Why?"

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