The Bound (Ascension #2)(3)

As she followed the most obvious pathway through the trees, her eyes scanned the ever-darkening sky. They needed to build a fire before they lost all light. Her stomach growled louder than those weird noises.

A rustle of voices sounded in the trees nearby, and Cyrene hastily hid behind a large bush. With a shuddering deep breath, she peered around the corner.

Six Byern guard were in full armor. Each had a headpiece tucked under his arm. The man currently speaking was sporting the royal colors of her homeland with a plume of green and gold feathers jutting from the top of his helmet, the telltale sign of a Captain of the Royal Guard.

“You’re sure you saw someone coming this way?” the Captain asked.

“Certain, Captain,” the guard answered at once.

“Then, where are they?”

“Sir, we’ve sent out Rorick and Naelan to sweep the perimeter of the area. They couldn’t have gone far,” another man said.

Not six guards.


Eight against four with two of my friends missing, and I’m unable to properly use a weapon. Now would be a great time for me to be able to use my magic.

“I don’t like these woods. If we don’t hear back with a definite destination by nightfall, we’ll make camp.,” the Captain said. “There’s a small creek not far from here on the other side of the embankment. Meet there. Now, move out.”

Cyrene’s heart hammered in her chest. Orden had said the guards who were trailing them were gaining ground, but she hadn’t thought that he meant this much ground. She needed to get back and warn Maelia. She didn’t know where Ahlvie and Orden were, but she had to do what she had to do.

When the Captain heeled his horse away from her, she breathed out heavily.

As soon as he was out of her line of sight, she bolted back to Maelia. Adrenaline pumped through her system, fueling her body, and lightening her steps.

She tiptoed around the next tree, careful not to barge into the clearing in the event that the guardsmen had already found Maelia. But Maelia was standing there with her sword in hand, easily swinging it back and forth while pacing the space.

Cyrene walked into their camp as Ahlvie burst into the clearing. He dropped what little firewood he’d still had in his arms.

“Guards,” he choked out. “Everywhere.”

“What?” Maelia squeaked, gripping her sword tighter.

“They’re swarming the woods. I don’t know how many there are, but I barely missed two of them.”

“I saw them too,” Cyrene said. “I saw six and they said the two you saw were out on patrols. So eight of them, and one is a Captain.”

Maelia’s face paled. “A Captain?”

“Creator!” Ahlvie said. He spat on the ground.

“Did you find Orden?” Cyrene asked Ahlvie.

“No. He was still scouting. I don’t know how he missed the guards. They’re right on top of us.”

“We’ll have to make do without him.”

She didn’t miss the glance between Ahlvie and Maelia. She knew as well as they did that Orden was the only reason none of them had been caught yet. He was an excellent tracker and seemed to know these woods like the back of his hand.

“With or without him, it’s clear that we can’t stay here,” Ahlvie said.

“Agreed,” Maelia said.

“I overheard them say that, if they didn’t find anything by nightfall, they were going to make camp on the other side of the creek, due west of here.”

They all looked at the sun hovering above the horizon. Nightfall would be here soon enough.

“Ahlvie, you know better than I do, how feasible it would be to get us away from here without drawing notice,” Cyrene said.

He was more than adept at navigating the woods than either of them. His family was from a small Third Class village, Fen, leagues north of the country’s northernmost city, Levin. The Taken Mountains trailed off into foothills, and a forest surrounded his village. He’d said it was nothing like the enormity of the Hidden Forest, but it was certainly different than Cyrene’s First Class background with Affiliate and High Order parents or Maelia’s life in Second Class with two Captains of the Guard as parents.

“We’d be sitting ducks,” he told them. “We’d have more luck hiding and leaving before first light. That should give Orden sufficient time to return. I don’t want to leave him behind.”

“Then, we’ll do that. Maelia, start packing in case we have to make a run for it. Ahlvie, find something to use as cover. I’d rather not move the horses. They’ll draw too much attention. We’ll set up a watch, and I’ll take the first shift. You two are better with a sword, if it comes to a fight, so you should rest.”

Without complaint, they immediately went into action.

Ahlvie returned with some foliage and branches for camouflage. The horses were obscured from sight by a large tree and shrubbery, and in such a short amount of time, there wasn’t much more they could do. Ahlvie selected an area near the clearing to wait out in until sunset.

No one said a word. They huddled together and hoped for the best. It had been a long journey already, and they had too far to go to quit now.

A noise in the woods off to their right alerted them that someone was coming. They each took in a sharp breath. A small opening in the branches provided Cyrene with a peephole to view the heavy black boot stepping into the clearing. Her heart stopped as the Captain came into view. Maelia and Ahlvie tensed next to her.

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