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About Episode 12
Makari meets up with Auren and Shai to give them information the Coalition can use to strengthen their position in the war. In order to protect Auren, Makari decides to stay with the Galvadi, despite Auren's arguments to the contrary.
While Auren and Shai manage to avoid the Galvadi during their trek to the southern shore on Nadiria, where they are to meet up with Kado, other hurdles stand in their way. Food is scarce, and Auren is seriously wounded and falls ill. When they don't reach the shore when expected, they begin wondering if they've gone the wrong way.
Will they make it before Auren succumbs to her injuries?
The shadow moved towards me, but I wasn't about to let him have the upper hand. I sprang into action, side-stepping him and throwing my elbow into his midsection. He was expecting it, though, as if he were reading my mind. He grabbed my arm, twisting it behind my back. At the same time, I heard his voice it my head.
It's me, Makari said.
I relaxed immediately as he released me, twisting in his arms and embracing him. "Sorry, but you shouldn't sneak up on people like that. You're just as bad as Kado."
"You should have felt it was me," he said in a scolding tone.
I leaned back, rolling my eyes. "I've been a bit distracted."
"My father is aware of the escape now."
"Will you be blamed?"
Makari shook his head. "No, he doesn't suspect anything, but I can't stay long. I just had to let you know I won’t be joining you."
My heart sank. "Why?"
"It's the only way to keep my father in the dark about you and to keep him from sending someone else after you. I need to keep up the pretense of looking for you."
I reached out and took his hand in mine as if that would keep him from leaving me. "It doesn't matter, Makari. With you and Kado protecting me, there's no way anyone else can get to me."
"I wish it were that simple. This is the only way."
"He's right, Auren," Shai said, shifting slowly from one foot to the other. "We need to keep moving."
"I'm not leaving you, Makari." It was bad enough I had to leave my father behind.
Makari pulled me into his arms and quickly released me. "I promise I’ll come to you whenever it's safe to do so."
At least that would be something. I didn't like the thought of him staying with the Galvadi, but as long as they believed he was one of them, he was in no danger. Maybe this was the better option. "Okay. Oh, but wait. Shai cut up her feet pretty badly. Can you look after her for a moment while I get the bag I left in the vent in the reconciliation center? I've got some ointment in there, and I got us each a change of clothes. It's a bit chilly."
"No, Auren. You can't go back there. The whole place is rigged so if a shadow stalker is nearby, they will lose their abilities. Not even I can get there and back right now. If you go, you'll be trapped."
"Her feet are going to get infected if we don't do something."
"I'll be fine," Shai argued.
"Let me have a look," Makari said, then winced as he examined her feet. "I’ll see what I can do, but Shai is right. You need to keep moving."
"I'm seriously fine," Shai repeated.
Makari stood and handed Auren a canvas bag he had hooked over his shoulder. "This holds a file with everything the Coalition needs to know about the Beryllonium."
"What's Beryllonium?" Shai asked.
"It's what this is made of," he said, tapping the metal band around her neck. "It also contains information on how to remove the recinder, but it will take acquiring the ore to make the alloy. It's a tricky process, but all the instructions are here. I really need to go."
I stood on my toes, pressing my lips to his. "Please be careful."
"You be careful," he said, then looked over my shoulder towards Shai. "I’ll try to get something for your feet soon, but I can't make any promises. I don't know when, or if, I’ll be able to get away again."
Shai nodded. "Don't take any risks on my account."
I watched the mist surround Makari as he disappeared into the shadow world, my heart feeling empty all of a sudden. Why did we have to struggle and fight so hard just to be together? It wasn't fair. Shai had already begun limping away.
"Let's turn south now and look for a place to camp for the night," I said, jogging to catch up with her.
It was well over an hour before we came to a stream. Shai was biting her lip and hissing with each step. I hoped we'd find a place nearby to sleep for the night. Having the fresh water close by would help. Shai didn't waste any time. I heard her sigh of relief as she stepped into the cold water.
"I'm going to look around and see what I can find. I won't go far," I told her.
Shai nodded, seeming unconcerned. I imagined she was grateful to have some relief, and we were both exhausted. Without my backpack, we were also without food now. I regretted my decision more than ever to leave it behind. Better yet, I should have left it in the cave. Of course, I could have gone back now to get food rations and medical supplies, but I was reluctant to leave Shai alone. If I ended up being in the shadow world longer than expected, she would be on her own, and there would be no one to help her if she got into trouble. There was no way she'd be able to run from the soldiers again if they found her, and I refused to allow her to be captured.
Thankfully, berries were plentiful near the stream. I tasted one to make sure it was edible. They tasted familiar, so I assumed they'd be safe. I picked as many as I could fit into the bag Makari gave me, hoping they wouldn't stain the file. At least the papers would be protected inside the thick folder. I wasn't paying attention as I picked my way along the bush and nearly tripped over a large rock. Oddly it was spongier than I'd expect a rock to be, but I couldn't see it too well in the dark. At first I thought maybe it was an animal, but an animal would have run off. I hoped it wasn't a dead animal.
I reached down to stroke it and knew immediately it wasn't fur I was touching. It was some kind of moss. I tore a bit off and smelled it. It had a strong scent, like anise. I couldn't recall the name, but if I was right this moss had healing properties. If I could find a way to bind it to Shai's feet for the night. It would quite possibly help prevent infection. I gathered as much of the moss as I could carry and returned to where I left her by the stream.
"That was fast," she said, her feet still soaking in the stream. "My feet are pretty much numb now."
I washed the moss downstream so the dirty water wouldn't wash over her feet. "Good. This will help as well."
As I took a seat next to Shai, I winced and stood quickly again. I felt around and picked up the sharp rock before sitting again as a plan formed. Using the rock as a knife, I cut a three inch strip from the tunic I wore.
"Give me one of your feet," I told her. I pressed a wad of the moss to the bottom of her foot and wrapped the strip of cloth around it to hold it in place.
"Here," Shai said, holding out her tunic so I could remove a strip for her other foot.
I repeated the process on her other foot, then helped her stand. "How does it feel?"
She took a few steps to test it out. "It's still sore, but much better."
"The moss might sting a bit, but it will help your feet heal faster."
"That would be nice."
I sat again, and Shai joined me as I opened the bag where I had stashed the berries.
"Let's eat and then we can look for a safe place to get a few hours' sleep."
We ate in silence and, thankfully, found a thicket we could crawl into not far from the stream. We'd be able to get a drink in the morning before we left. It wasn't hot, but it would be hard to stay hydrated without a way to take water with us. I could only hope we'd find streams like this often. The thicket wouldn't be the most comfortable place to spend the night, but at least we should be safe enough with our tracks well covered.
"Try to get some sleep," I told Shai. "I'm not really tired, so I'll keep my ears open in case someone comes."
"I'm not tired either," she said.
Moments later I noticed her breathing changed. I grinned. She must have been more tired than she thought. I closed my eyes, taking in all the sounds of the surrounding forest. A rodent or some other small animal rustled in the brush nearby, scrounging for food most likely. A soft wind blew through the trees above. Crickets chirped all around us. The entire effect was almost hypnotic, and I felt myself being carried away from the horrific events of the past weeks into a peaceful sort of bliss as I melded with the natural world around me. I never realized how centered I could feel being in nature. No wonder the shadow stalkers preferred the outdoors and living as closely with nature as possible.
I didn't realize I had drifted off until I woke to an ear-piercing scream.