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Defiance rising, p.22
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       Defiance Rising, p.22

           Amy Miles

  As the sun begins to sink toward the western horizon, dipping low behind the mountain, I slow to a jog. The run back to the camp took longer than earlier. I approach the blackberry tunnel at a slow walk and collapse down onto the damp ground. I tuck my legs into my chest, trying to hold myself together.

  I’d thought an afternoon alone in the woods would be enough to deal with the flood of emotions Kyan hit me with earlier, but the closer I get to camp, the more panicked I feel. I don’t know what to say to my friends, or even how to begin to fathom Kyan’s claims that we are all Caldonian. I feel human, look human, but then again, so does Kyan.

  I never wanted to be singled out, to be labeled special. All I want is to be left alone.

  What was Kyan thinking by hitting me with all of that destiny crap? He knows I’m most volatile when I’m emotional. He should have known better. I could’ve lost control, hurt someone.

  The question ‘why me’ is set on an irritating loop in my mind as the long shadows of the towering trees begin to recede across the ground. The heat of the sun fades from the crown of my head and I can see my breath in a cloud before me. Evening is coming and I feel no better than I did a couple hours ago.

  My eyes are swollen and red and my head aches, with the fierce pounding of metal against stone. I feel like I can almost hear it, a tangible hammering that echoes through my mind.

  “You ok, Princess?” I whip around, searching for Bastien, but he is nowhere to be seen. “Up here.”

  I crane my head back to see him perched high in the tree above me. “How long have you been spying on me?”

  Tucking his head, he dives head first off the limb. My breath catches as his body curls and he lands gracefully on his feet at the last second. “Show off,” I grumble bitterly.

  “What’s eating you?”

  “Nothing.” I drop my head to my knees again and focus on the pounding in my head. It feels stronger now that Bastien is here.

  When he drops down before me in a crouch, I refuse to acknowledge his presence. “Come on. Talk to me. I know you’re freaked out by what Kyan said.”

  “Am not,” I grumble, turning away.

  “Fine,” he says, wiping his hands. “Just so you know, I covered your chores for you this afternoon. Probably going to have blisters for an entire week now.”

  “I didn’t ask you to do that,” I snap, lifting my head to glare at him.

  To his credit, he doesn’t back down. Instead, his gaze narrows and I can feel him doing it, that weird seeing into my soul thing and I break eye contact first. “You didn’t have to. I wanted to do it.”

  “Why are you helping me?” I glare at him.

  He opens and closes his mouth, his expression shifting from surprise to frustration. “Because I care about you, ok?”

  I snort and duck my head. “You care about me? How sweet.”

  “Hey!” He yanks on my arm, forcing me to look at him. “I don’t care how hard you try to push me away, I’m not going anywhere, so deal with it.”

  “Why?” I croak as my throat clenches.

  Looking down at the tight grip on my arm, he releases his hold and sinks down heavily beside me. “I’ve tried to tell myself that it’s nothing, a stupid whim, but no matter how hard I try, I can’t stop thinking about you. Trust me, I’ve tried to forget about you, but you’re just as stubborn in my mind as you are in person!”

  “Now that’s a great pick up line.” I laugh bitterly.

  Bastien’s brow furrows and his jaw clenches. “I came out here to see if you were ok because I was worried. If you don’t want me here, fine. I’ll leave. I’m not going to stick around and be your punching bag.”

  Leaping to his feet, he turns and marches away.

  “Wait!” I call out before he reaches the path. He stops but doesn’t turn. “I’m sorry. I’m just…it’s been a really bad day for me, ok?”

  His shoulders rise and fall as he fights to control his frustration. I can feel it pouring off him in nearly visible waves. Guilt stabs at me and I drop my head. Every time he gets too close, I shove him away, like it’s a reflex.

  I hear Bastien’s approach and look up. His expression is guarded. “I’m worried about you, Illyria. Hearing that destiny stuff was hard to take, more so for you, I’m sure. I get that, but that doesn’t mean I like having my head bit off.”

  “I know,” I whisper. “I didn’t mean to. It’s just that I’m scar─”

  A loud cracking noise sends birds scrambling to take flight overhead. The ground rumbles beneath us and my blood runs cold. It wasn’t just a hammering in my head I was feeling. “The Grounders have found us!”

  Bastien yanks me to my feet as the ground quakes again. I fall against him, struggling to remain upright as the earth pitches beneath me. “We have to get everyone out of the caves. Can you run?”

  “I’m not sure.” My legs are beyond spent from my earlier run. “You need to go. Warn the others!”

  “I’m not leaving you.” Bastien’s grip tightens on my arm.

  “I’ll go through there,” I point to the brambles. “It’s a back entrance. I’ll get there much faster than taking the long way around. Get back to the Temple and get everyone out. I’ll be there as soon as I can.”

  Bastien lingers, distress pinching his handsome features.

  “Go! I’ll be fine!” I shove him away and dash for the brambles. The thorns tear deeply into my flesh but I ignore the pain and the pounding right below me. I look back over my shoulder and breathe a sigh of relief that Bastien has obeyed my orders.

  My chest clenches at the fact that I might never see him again. If he had known my plans, he would never have left me here, alone, with the Caldonians’ digging machine right below.

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