Chapter Fourteen

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The night draped itself over the chilled forest, though Selene could not say when the darkness took hold of the horizon. They had not traveled far when Kareth dropped off of his horse and held up a hand. She sat atop her mare, dipped in apprehension, almost forgetting to breathe. Her eyes darted across the muddled skyline, through the gaps in the trees and to a vacant, starless night.

Kareth moved like a soft breeze through the underbrush. He stopped every few steps and listened, cocking his head to the side and moving his eyes back and forth under closed eyelids; none of which was new to Selene. He finally glanced back in her direction and she dropped from her horse, attempting not to make a sound but ultimately failing. She took in her surroundings; the air, the sounds, the smell, but nothing stood out, at least not to her.

“There was a fire, not three hundred paces from where we stand.” Kareth had already added three new blades to his clothing in preparation for what Selene could only assume would end in bloodshed. His eyes met hers once more. “Tie off the horses. Leave the bag.”

Selene nodded and secured the horses to a nearby tree. She followed after Kareth, stepping where he stepped, pausing where he paused. A crisp breeze cut through her leather jerkin and all the way through her small clothes as a shiver crept up her spine. The forest was eerily silent, the constant throbbing of her heartbeat the only sound present in her ears.

Kareth waved her forward, and she moved within earshot. “Get down here,” he said with a nod. “Keep quiet.”

Without a word, Selene crouched down just under the foliage. Kareth pulled a small sliver of a knife from his belt and handed it to her. She held it awkwardly in one hand, a raised eyebrow questioning the outlaw’s departure.

“Just in case,” he whispered and pointed up to the moon. “Before the horns disappear beneath the tree line, you should be gone.”

Selene shook her head. “I won’t leave, I can’t,” she stammered.

The moonlight set Kareth’s face in a calming glow. His eyes met hers, and a deep tranquility crept over her body, quelling her anxiety. “I will not be long. You should be able to see me from here. Look east,” he pointed to where he would be heading. “You will see lights shortly.”

“Lights?”

“It will all make sense,” was his only reply.

He was gone quicker than a breath, and the forest was suddenly empty, silent. Selene sat for a long moment, unmoving; nerves taught. She must have run through every possible scenario of failure when she realized her lack of breathing. A frown crossed her face and she cursed under her breath. Kareth had taught her many things, including enough about survival for her to possibly make it out of the forest alive, but the prospect of setting across the realm on her lonesome was not inviting—in fact, it was outright terrifying. She traced the tree line to the horned moon, wondering how much time she had until she would officially be alone.

The truth was she had been alone her whole life. Enough fragmented memories of her mother—or at least who she envisioned as her mother—existed for her to know that everything was once so entirely, unequivocally and without question, different. Grest had bought her from a traveling troupe of traders when she was lost to the world, starving and crazed.

Grest told her that the troupe had traveled from somewhere south, though he either didn’t know—or didn’t care—the exact location that they acquired her. He was happy with a cheap new serving girl. Questions usually gained answers you did not want to hear, Selene had learned, and Grest was not like to care about whom she was, much less where she was from. The rest of her life was a haze of discomfort and humiliation. Grest paid his serving girls, but just enough for them to pay him back in rent with little left over for much of anything. It was an endless cycle, one that she did not believe she would ever escape.

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