Author's Notes: It's been a long, long time since I've updated. I think it's been almost a year. I'm so sorry about that! But, at long last, here is the next chapter. I'm expecting about 5 more chapters, but we'll see. The story writes itself at some points, so it may be more or less.

Chapter 24

It was all coming back to him now. Memories that had not wandered into his thoughts for years were appearing before his eyes unbidden, bringing with them strange, poingant emotions. His forgotten younger self was suddenly remembered and stood before him like an estranged brother, awkward, yet welcomed in the darkened corridor.

How would Rina react to him,Triden wondered. His uncertainty was hightened by the feeling that he did not even know how to react to himself. He had changed so much since he had been part of the rebellion. He wasn't even sure that that was what he wanted, after all. Analant would pass some day, leaving Rina the throne. Surely the Valley would be better off with her at the helm than with some new, infant government.

Triden knew he was nearing the West Burrow, where Rina's room was. He marveled at how he still remembered the way. It really had been a very, very long time. The stone floor was uneven under his feet, and pools of water made his way the more treacherous. He was in the original caves that made up the Knoll, before it had been enlarged two hundred years ago. The newer Knoll was dry, with wide, earthy passages.

The feel of the ground changed and Triden knew he had entered the West Burrow. He turned right at the first fork and stopped at the seventh door down. He hesitated and knocked.

"Triden!" Rina stood at the doorway grinning at him. "I missed you so much! Where have you been? Saari's been here for ages."

Triden grimaced. "I had some business to discuss with Fyrt'l."

Rina sat down on her mossy bed. "Saari tells me you have the flower."

Triden nodded and looked for a place to sit. "Yes, I have it." He sat down against a wall.

"Well," Rina prompted, "Can we leave now? I'm a bit tired of this place. I haven't seen the sun for days!"

Triden sighed. Part of him wanted to stay a while and relive his days as a rebel. he had loved the sense of purpose and the unity they all had felt. However, he knew that time was running short.

"Yes," He said, "We do need to leave, tomorrow if possible. She has five days now." He fought the panic that suddenly clenched his stomach and turned him cold. Saying their deadline made it seem more immediate. Five days. One hundred and twenty hours. Seven thousand two hundred minutes. Hardly any time at all.

He stood, feeling restless. They should leave that night, but he was tired, and knew that Saari must be too. He walked around the small room. "Yes, tommorow," he repeated. "It must be tomorrow. You two should get ready as soon as you wake. We should try to leave in the morning." He ran a hand through his hair, his feeling of restlessness intensifying. "I'm exhausted girls, I need to sleep. Goodnight."

Triden left to their chorus of "Goodnight!" and made his way down the somber corridor. He had one week to save the life of his beloved.

Rina ran down the roughly hewn corridor, heart pounding in her ears. She came to a fork and turned left. She came to another and turned right. She had no idea where she was going, all she knew was that she had to find Deagan. She had to say goodbye.

It had been decided that they would leave today, with four days left until Celesté's life gave out. They would be given horses, so the journey that had taken them two weeks would now take them one fourth as long, giving them a twelve hour window in which to prepare the potion. It would be close, but there was nothing for it now.

Someone was standing at the end of the corridor. "Deagan?" Rina called hopefully. She neared and the figure turned his head. It was Orion. Slightly disappointed Rina stopped to catch her breath. "Ori! Thank goodness, have you seen Deagan?" He shook his head mournfully and turned back to the wall.

She was ready to run on but she hesitated. Panic was beginning to take hold. She had to find Deagan, but Orion looked so sad and alone. She turned back to see what he was staring at so dejectedly.

He was staring at an old tapestry. The figures it portrayed were archaic and fearsome, seven witches dancing around a fire under a full moon, depicted unnaturally large and bright in the sky so that the orb dominated the scene. The tapestry was hauntingly beautiful, and Rina suddenly found that she couldn't look away from the moon. All thoughts of Deagan and Celesté seemed distant.

"It's beautiful," she whispered.

"Is it as beautiful in real life?" Orion asked her sadly.

The spell was broken. She stared at him, aghast. "What do you mean? You've seen the moon, haven't you?"

"No," he said, his voice hard with bitterness. "I never have."

"But... why?"

He turned to look at her, his jaw clenched and his eyes stormy. "I'm a werewolf, Rina."

Rina gasped and unconciously stepped back. Orion's eyes narrowed. They were golden, and they flickered in the torchlight. He looked dangerous, as if he was about to pounce on her. Rina took another step backwards.

"And to think I trusted you," Orion turned back to the tapestry, eyes closed to hold back tears. "Go and run from me. You obviously want to."

The fear passed and Rina found herself ashamed. How could she have reacted that way? Orion looked so hurt, turning away from her to hide his tears. "Ori?" she said cautiously. "Ori, I'm so sorry."

He opened his eyes to look at her. They were dark brown now, brightened by unshed tears.

Rina hesitated. "How long have you been...?"

"Two months. Three, in less than a week."

Rina remembered what Deagan had told her. "That's why you came here, isn't it?"

Orion nodded. "It wasn't safe for me in my village anymore. Everyone knew about the bite. The King's soldiers would have killed me." His voice was emotionless and soft. "Why are you looking for Deagan?" He asked after a short silence.

Rina inhaled sharply. The shock of Orion's identity had put all thoughts of Celesté from her mind. "Triden, Saari, and I are leaving today... We have to save Celesté."

"Celesté is his betrothed, is she not?" Orion asked. Rina nodded. "I..." He paused. "Could I go with you?"

Rina was startled. She had not thought for a second that he would want to go with them. "Go with us? Why? It's going to be terrible."

"I know, but I haven't seen daylight since I came here." Orion said. "I need to get outside and do something usefull, to show that I'm not just, you know, a 'dirty wolf'." He said the last two words so bitterly that Rina winced.

"Of course you can come," she said. "We might need your help."

Orion's smile erased the fear lingering in Rina's heart.

"I'll go get ready then." He said, passing her and disappearing back down the hallway. Rina continued on, walking faster and faster until she was running again.

"Deagan!" she called. "Deagan, where are you?"


Rina nearly sobbed in relief. There he was, rushing towards her, his face pale with worry.

"Rina, what's wrong? Why were you shouting like that?"

He took her in his arms to calm her down. Rina buried her head in his shoulder. She felt his warmth, his breath brushing the back of her neck, his solidity. Her heart rate and breathing slowed.

"We're leaving in an hour," She said hoarsely. "Orion's decided to come with us."

"He has?" Deagan pulled away to look at her. "Then I'll come to."

Happiness ballooned Rina's stomach to the point that she felt she'd explode. Deagan was coming with her. Tears sprang into her eyes in relief. "Thank you," she said, wiping her eyes. "I guess you should go get ready then. We leave in an hour."

"Of course," Deagan said. He made no move to leave.

She stood, staring at him unsteadily, exhausted from the extreme emotions she had felt in the last ten minutes. He stepped closer to her. He was less than a foot away from her now. Rina's heart was beginning to rush again. He was so close. She felt her cheeks flush, radiating heat that he surely must have felt. Could he see how red they were?

"Rina, I..."

His voice was soft and had something in it she'd never heard before. The sound thrilled and frightened her at the same time.

Suddenly his lips were pressed against hers. It had happened so fast that she hadn't had time to think. All she could do was kiss him back. Her mind was reeling, overwhelmed with emotion and random thoughts. Was she doing this right? Did she love him? Did this mean he loved her? She wanted to stand kissing him forever. Then it was over and she opened her eyes to see him standing before him. The corridor was to dark to read his expression.

"I'll go pack," He said after a moment.

"Ok," she said vacantly. Her mind was so full what he had said hadn't sunk in. She turned to see him disappear down the hallway. Time returned to it's usual rate. She mentally berated herself on her brilliant reply as she made her way to the cavernous great hall of the Knoll, where she had agreed to meet Triden and Saari. With luck, Deagan and Orion would soon be packed so they could leave. And she could think about the kiss as they walked. A smile spread irrepressibly across her face and she took off at a run. Maybe there was hope after all, if Deagan was coming with her.