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I throw my leg up in the air, kicking nothing. I do it again and again and again. My muscles are sore and my breathing heavy, but I continue on. I feel so useless, pathetically existing. Rhya wouldn't tell me what Father wanted, but I noticed some blood on the corner of her sleeve that she had tried to hide. Her complexion was paler than normal too, a light sheen of sweat glistening in the candle light. It was pretty obvious what had occurred even if she wouldn't confirm it.
I wasn't planning on coming to the forest tonight since Father's trip is tomorrow, but the tent was suffocating. I needed the fresh air and a distraction. I kick one more time before moving onto some other exercises. I would have to return soon, but not yet - just a little longer.
There's a slight wind in the air, cooling my heated temple and feathering the treetops. If I weren't sweating like a pig, I'd even say it's a bit chilly. I'll make sure Rhya brings her winter cloak tomorrow for the ride. Father makes us accompany him on all his trades, mainly for protection and leverage. Although details are vague, whispers of Siad's executioner have been passed from mouth to mouth - giving everyone fair warning of what could transpire if they were to cross him. When we were younger, Rhya would always cry when others spoke about her.
"Why do they say such mean things? I'm a nice person."
Nowadays, she's numb to it, usually distracting herself with a menial task or a joke, but I know it still hurts her. As I twist my side, an odd rustle breaks my thoughts and I pause, scanning the area. "Hello?" I call out. "Is someone there?" Nothing. I keep waiting, but still, nothing happens. Maybe I imagined it? I decide to start my stretches, preparing to leave. Sunrise will be here before I know it and I had to make it to camp before Rhya woke. I consider myself an adept liar when warranted, but Rhya could always see through me. I think it's a twin thing since she's the only one that's been able to call me on my bluffs.
I freeze. There it is again - another rustle. I look to my left, eyeing some thick shrubbery suspiciously. "I know you're there," I say. "Come out and show yourself." I glance over at my discarded cloak, a small dagger hidden beneath it. Although it's a short distance, I still silently curse myself for not having it on me. There's a momentary pause before more rustling, and a familiar figure emerges. "Dear Goddess, Rhya! What are you doing here?"
"I could ask you the very same question." She dusts herself off, rolling her shoulders before meeting my gaze. "Do you come out here often?"
"Sometimes," I answer.
"Does Father know?"
"Yes." She looks around, her eyes roaming every nook and cranny as if expecting something more. I sigh, reaching for my belongings. "Come on, let's go." Her gaze snaps back to mine and she shakes her head.
"Don't leave on account of me. I was just curious, I didn't mean to intrude."
"It's fine. I was going to return soon anyways." She bites her lip, looking at the ground. "What is it now?"
"Can we stay just a bit longer? I think I kind of get why you come here - there's a peacefulness to it, something we lack on a day to day basis." I don't say anything, thinking it over so she continues. "Besides, I doubt either of us will get much sleep now. We're due to leave in only a couple hours."
"Fine, but only for a little bit longer." She smiles, settling onto the ground. I notice her thin shawl and throw my cloak to her, nodding at it.
"Thank you," she says, understanding the message and wrapping herself in it. Neither one of us says anything else, the sounds of the forest taking over. I sit by her and she leans into me, enjoying my presence. We both look up at the sky, caught in our own thoughts. Una once told us that stars are souls of the dead, looking down on their loved ones. And although a simple tall tale, I sometimes like to indulge in it, thinking that whoever our mother was, she is watching over us one way or another.
"Do we have to go back?" I glance at my twin, questiongly. She's staring off into space, her eyes unfocused. "Couldn't we just get lost in the forest? Somewhere Father couldn't find us?"
"Do you really think it's possible to hide from him? Do you remember what happened last time?" She doesn't answer. We had just turned fifteen and Father was away on a hunt. We told no one of our plans, not even Luli, sneaking out of camp without arousing any suspicion. We were free for about a week, living off the land and thinking we had done it. But Father eventually found us, his connections and influence limitless. The punishment that ensued was one I could never let happen again.
"If only we had invisibility magick."
"You would live like that for the rest of your life?" I tease. She shrugs, a small smile on her lips. I've never seriously asked her, but every once in a while, I've wondered why she hasn't used her own magick on Father. Is it because she despises the power in general? Is it her sweet nature? Or is it something more?
"Can I at least accompany you here again?"
"Sure." We sit there for a while longer, relishing the moment. When we eventually get up to go, something snaps in the distance, making me freeze. I grab Rhya's arm tightly, pulling her closer while my other hand closes around the dagger. She looks at me, frowning, unaware of the noise.
"What's going on?"
"Rhya, were you followed here?"
"I-I don't think so." I look around, trying to find the cause. I hear a rustle and I turn to my right this time, waiting. A second later, a small hare hops into view, watching us. I immediately relax. Stupid wildlife. Rhya eyes the animal with wonder, moving past me to get closer.
"Hello there, little one," she says softly, crouching. The hare tilts their head as if they understand what she's saying. She holds out her hand and surprisingly, it hops right up to her, sniffing. "I won't hurt you."
"Come on, Rhya," I start. "We got to go or Father will know you've left camp."
"But look how cute the rabbit is!"
"I'm leaving you." I turn, starting the trek home. I know Rhya will soon follow, not wanting to be left behind. Father has allowed me to roam somewhat freely at night simply because he doesn't care, but I doubt he would show the same courtesy to his favored daughter. I don't make it far when Rhya's scream pierces the quiet forest. I immediately ran back, dagger drawn. Goddess almighty, why is everything going wrong tonight?
Rhya's there, her eyes wide with fear as two growling wolves the size of small bears stand in front of her. Several cloaked figures surround them, ready to capture her at a moment's notice. I'll have to be quick and efficient since I'm at an obvious disadvantage - the only thing going for me is the element of surprise as no one seems to notice my presence yet.
I sneak up to one of the figures closest to me, a shorter fellow, quickly hitting them in the back of the legs and throwing an arm around the base of their neck, my dagger pinned against their skin. "Don't move." Everyone turns towards me, hands at their hip ready to draw. The wolves remain focused on Rhya so she can't use my arrival as a distraction to run. She meets my gaze, frightened.
"Let her go."
"Are you really in a position to negotiate?" One of the figures asks, an amused lilt to their voice.
"Are you? It's a dangerous gamble to mess with us."
"Big words for someone who doesn't know who we are either." I bite my lip as he has a point.
"Just let her go and we can part amicably." I apply more pressure to my dagger, making my captive fidget. "Unless you want to risk your comrade's life?"
"Finn, stop bloody stalling and free me already!"
"I wouldn't have to save you if you didn't always get caught."
"Yeah, yeah." The figure called Finn takes a step forward, letting out two short whistles. Nothing happens. I narrow my eyes, about to call his bluff when something hard butts into my side, knocking me to the ground.
I quickly get back up, wincing at the sharp ache now present with every breath I take. I spy my dagger a few feet away, noting it, before looking at what hit me. A large elk stands there, sporting heavy, ornate antlers and is watching me intently. No one else besides Rhya and I seem fazed. Something about it all is unnatural, making me glance at Finn real quick before going back to the elk.
"You have magick," I state. That explains a lot. "You used it on the rabbit too, right? A tactic to disarm us?"
"If that's what you believe - then yes."
"What do you want?"
"Isn't it obvious? We're here for our missing prince."
"Well, clearly you have the wrong people as I don't see a prince in sight."
"You came from Siad's camp, no? I think we have exactly who we need." Crap, I should have known our home was under surveillance. Siad would always be a prime suspect in a kidnapping regardless of evidence simply due to the nature of his work. They're not wrong in this instance, but they didn't need to know that.
"We don't have him." My brain is all over the place as I try to think of my next move. I need my dagger, but first, I need a distraction. I look at Rhya and although nothing is explicitly said, she seems to comprehend.
"Uh, what is that?" None of the figures answer her. She tries again. "I mean it - look!" Again, they ignore her, their eyes never leaving me. They're a lot smarter than I hoped for, meaning they're probably nobility or higher-class soldiers. Knowing I need her to succeed, she does the next best thing. She lets out another ear-bleeding scream which does the trick. All the figures cover their ears, slightly turning towards her while spewing a colorful array of words. Even the wolves have flatten their ears, taking a step back while the elk is spooked. Rhya's scream is enough to interfere with the magick that holds it here and it escapes.
I dive for my dagger, throwing it towards a figure with precise accuracy. They let out a startled yelp as it hits them in the shoulder, sinking in from the force of the throw.
"Shit," Finn says. He lets out another series of whistles and before I can attack someone else, one of the wolves lunges for me. I roll to the side, looking for another weapon I could use.
"Dove! Behind you!" I see a meaty hand come towards me from the corner of my eye. I grab it, kicking my leg back so I disrupt their balance, and bend low, using gravity to help me throw them forward. I wince as the pain in my side flares, but I don't have time to dwell on it.
"Phillip!" Finn yells. "Muriel!" There's a silent command within their names, one that's been honed in on over the years where they no longer need to say anything else. The figure who I've wounded earlier meets my gaze, brown eyes heated. He holds out a hand which starts to glow, emitting light. Another figure walks towards Rhya who is still trapped by the other wolf.
"Stop!" I cry out, running forward, but I'm halted by a wall, glistening with light. I glance back at the magick user, narrowing my eyes. Do they all have a gift?
"Dove!" Rhya cries, drawing my attention again. The figure is now before her, reaching out.
"Don't hurt her!" I slam my fists against the barrier, but it doesn't even flicker.
"What do you take us for?" Finn asks. "Barbarians?" The hooded figure touches her temples for a moment, another kind of magick at play. Guess that answers my earlier question. Rhya sways, her eyes fluttering closed as she drops forward into the figure's arms.
"Rhya! Rhya!" Finn signals for everyone to move out, taking my sister with them. "Come back here! You will regret this! Rhya!" Finn pauses, looking back at me. He removes his hood, allowing me to see the pity on his face. He can't be much older than me, eighteen or nineteen, but there's something about him that makes him seem younger in a way, more youthful. Is it the shock of red hair he has or the countless freckles on the bridge of his nose? No, it's the gleam in his eyes, a playful one, full of life.
"You're an interesting one, Dove. That's your name, right? Tell Siad he can have her back in exchange for Kallian."
"How do you know he'll make the trade? For all you know - you've acquired one of his servants."
"How stupid do you think we are? Rumor has it that Siad has twin daughters that he keeps closely by his side."
"But how do you know it's specifically us?" I challenge, trying to stall. "Twins aren't so uncommon that we could likely be a different set." He seems to get what I'm trying to do and smirks.
"Then I guess it all depends on how convincing you can be, hm?"
"And if I fail?"
"She dies." With that, he disappears within the trees. I let out a yell of frustration, kicking and hitting and pushing against the wall to no avail. Despite their retreat, the magick of the wall holds strong. I don't know how long I'm waiting, but it eventually crumbles, the light fading. I rush forward, wildly seeking any sign of their whereabouts.
"Rhya! Rhya!" But the only thing that greets me is silence. Father is going to kill me. Before I can stop myself, I pivot, running all the way back home. Most are still sleeping, only the servants milling about as they start the morning chores. They throw curious looks my way, but nothing more. I run past everything, only stopping when I'm standing in front of the wagon.
Kallian's awake, lounging in the same corner he was in last time I visited. I take note that he's missing one of his companions, leaving only two left. I come close, grabbing the bars between us tightly as I meet his stare dead-on. "Where did they take her?"