Phoenix Telyn Gwndal swore to return her friend and blood sister to her proper place within the Imperial Palace of Targoth. She knows the risks of even showing her face inside the Empire's borders, but she owes Reaphia a second chance.
When a chance encounter with an out-of-place merchant from a legendary people brings Telyn into the middle of a struggle to free a woman held captive by her own will, Telyn finds herself up against a past she's never really outrun.
Nothing can prepare her for what comes next.
"I still don't understand why we can't travel on the Trade Road."
Phoenix Telyn Gwndal shot a glance over her shoulder at the repeated complaint from her party's youngest member. She'd been ignoring the same complaint all morning, and she wasn't about to justify herself, or her reasoning, to Reaphia. They were in enough danger, even on this secondary road, and every caravan that passed them reminded her just how much she risked coming back to Targoth.
She turned forward again, but the sound of murmured voices behind her dragged her attention back sharply. Her glare focused on Nacaris when she saw him talking to the girl. Hadn't she made it clear enough Reaphia was to be ignored?
As if he felt her glare, Nacaris looked up, and their eyes met for a brief moment before Telyn yanked her attention away again, determined to stay furious with him. She pretended not to hear the tread of his booted feet on the rock-strewn ground, or to give any outward acknowledgment of his presence.
He sighed. "Would it kill you to talk to her, balnyt? After all, she isn't the enemy."
"Anymore." The frosty, snapped retort hung between them like a specter, reminding Telyn of all Reaphia did to betray her.
"What stings more, Telyn -- your heart, or your pride?"
Telyn started to protest his accusation, but snapped her mouth shut, the words unspoken as the truth hit her full in the chest. Aye, Reaphia's actions hurt. But that pain was the creation of pride -- the sting of knowing her friend chose to become a monster rather than turn to her for help.
If she listened to her heart, however, all her anger crumbled like desert sand. Reaphia was young and frightened when she was taken away. She'd likely clung to Telyn's promise to find her and bring her home. As the months continued without word or apparent action, it must have eaten away at her fragile young faith. In the end, did she give in out of despair? That thought hurt most of all.
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