8 - Traitor

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We finally left the cliffs behind. The jagged rocks gave way to rolling hills covered in thick grasses, with occasional outcroppings of rocks or clumps of short trees. We waded through the grass alongside a rushing river that cut through the landscape, guiding us northward toward Aelridia.

The dogs didn't follow us, and the Ska'al didn't find us either. Koren thought the dogs had just been sent out to see if we were hiding in the cliffs. Win or lose against the dogs, we had definitely been found.

Knowing this, we tried getting away from the cliffs quickly, sloshing across the river and following it from the other side. Eventually, Andrin and I convinced Koren to stop so we could patch ourselves up.

"Why do you think they want to find us this bad?" Andrin was cleaning a long scratch on Koren's calf. Koren walked away from the fight almost untouched, but he was still limping from the fight with the Ska'al. Animaré magic could keep it from hindering him in a fight, but it couldn't stave off the pain forever. Even Animaré needed time to heal.

"I wish I knew Andrin."

"The Corvel found Sed and Lill in the woods all that time ago, but why even..." Andrin trailed off and looked at me worriedly. "Sorry Sed."

I shrugged. Nobody needed to pretend she never existed. Somehow, that would be worse.

"At this point, it can't be just for fun. They have skin in the game, and those dogs showed them we're not playing nice. Ouch!"

Andrin dabbed Koren's dirty cut with a soaked cloth. "Maybe they want the amulet. Why else, just for us? We're nobody. This is going to hurt again." He rubbed a salve on Koren's wound.

The Animaré wrapped a small bandage around his own leg and straightened up. "Maybe we got in the way of something bigger, maybe they think we're someone else. Either way, we're going deeper in Corvelen, and the Corvel will never let the Ska'al follow." He paused. "Stay here. I'm going to get a lay of the land from that rock." He pointed, then jogged off toward a jagged pile of boulders.

Andrin gave me a worried look as he turned to me next. I had cleaned my arms in the river as best I could, but the dog's blood still soaked into dozens of long cuts up my arms and shoulders.

"What do you think Sed? What do they want?"

I winced just like Koren had. "I don't know, it doesn't add up. Ska'al and Corvel guards working together? There's got to be something bigger than just an amulet."

Andrin nodded and turned to my ankle. I twisted it on the rocks, and now it was starting to swell. "Whatever it is, I hope they decide it isn't worth it," he said quietly. "So far, this hasn't been worth anything."

"I know Andrin, I know." I went to rest a hand on the hilt of my knife and came up with air. The weapon was long gone, buried in the heart of the beast somewhere.

The action caught Andrin's eye. "You just reminded me..." He reached into his bag and a moment later my heart skipped a beat. I'd forgotten about it too.

Lylisia's knife.

The dagger lay in Andrin's open palm, gleaming in the sunlight. I took it with shaking hands, running a finger gently along the flat of the blade. A single sapphire was inlaid in the silver handle. It was bittersweet, holding in my hands the last relic of my Animaré.

"Thank you," I breathed. The moisture clung to the metal for a moment before it vanished.

"I um, took it just thinking about, you know, just something to... remember you both. We didn't think you'd still be here," he said quietly.

Damn. I hadn't even thought of that. A phantom moment of agony contracted my muscles as I relived Lylisia's soul ripping from mine. It wasn't surprising Animaré almost never survived it. I had felt sorry for myself, sorry that I hadn't just gone on with her, but never even considered Andrin, and Koren—watching one friend die, they thought I'd be gone too.

Solace Curse: Part IWhere stories live. Discover now