Part Twelve: Home of the Black Wolf
They watched from the side of the road, hidden in a patch of trees. Kestrel sighed and sat down on the grass. They were trapped.
“This sucks,” whispered Devona.
When they arrived on the Seventh Constellation, it was worse off than they had expected. The White Dragon army had shut down all passages through the Constellation due to the impending war. People were very upset, but there was no arguing with the army. Most of the people had been forced onto a boat and back to the Fifth Constellation, unless they could provide papers to prove they had a purpose for traveling.
They had the papers, but there was one huge flaw: Akki.
This was his home Constellation. Though many soldiers didn’t know him, the men here would. They also would know that Devona was a complete human, and no matter what either of their papers said, they would not allow them to pass. They were screwed.
Devona watched as someone presented what looked like papers. With a wave of the commander’s hand, the man was seized and forced back to the dock. The man was dragging his feet in the dirt and screaming for the guards to release him. The crowd around gasped and looked at the commander.
He pointed to the man and said, “No papers.”
No one was getting through the blockade.
“This really sucks,” said Devona.
“What are we going to do?” asked Kai.
Kestrel stayed on the ground, biting her nails. From behind the cover of her hand she looked up at Akki. It was as if they were conversing without any words leaving their lips. Devona was frustrated with always being left out of their decisions.
Finally, Kestrel sighed and lowered her hand.
“There are two main roads that go around the Constellation. Even if we make it past this blockade, there will be more. We really only have one choice, we have to split up.”
“What?” Devona looked down at Kestrel, shocked. “We can’t do that. Whenever people split up in movies someone always ends up dead. Besides, how would that help?”
“The forest,” explained Akki. Devona looked out past the soldiers. Behind them was a large forest, so much so that she couldn’t see how far wide it expanded past its start. “It runs through the center of the Constellation. It’s uncharted. Those who enter it without knowing their way get lost and end up dying in there. The White Dragons will not be guarding that. Entering it is considered suicide.”
“Sounds like a place to avoid,” said Devona nervously.
“Or,” said Kestrel, “the perfect cover. The soldiers won’t let you or Akki through, but they will let me and Kai. We split up and meet somewhere on the other side of the forest.”
“I don’t understand why they won’t let me through,” said Devona.
Akki looked at her. Even now, those golden eyes stung her own. She looked away, it was hard to look at him since the talk they had. She could still hear the distain in his voice. She wanted the indifference back.
“During times of war, they do not let humans travel. They are too prone to attacks from the Black Dragons. With no way to defend yourself, they do not want you to be a liability.”
“Isn’t everyone human?” asked Devona.
“We all have the blood of the Spirits in us,” explained Kestrel. “Even if we can’t change, we are still stronger than humans. We have a chance, where you do not.”
“All Black Dragons can change,” said Akki. “They cannot allow for more lives to be lost than necessary.”
“Great,” whispered Devona. She couldn’t even look at Akki and she was going to have to travel the entire Constellation with just him? She hoped they would at least get one of the horses. “But, how will we be able to find our way?”
“I know the forest very well.”
He turned away from her and she knew it was no longer up for discussion. Kestrel was to her feet. Devona could only watch as her guardians unpacked some things from one of the horses only to pack stuff onto another. They would get one horse it seemed, but it was the brown one. He was the one who tried to crush her back on the Third Constellation. Great…
They said their goodbyes in the trees. They would have to leave their shelter to head out their separate ways. Akki and Devona would head straight, off the path and toward the forest. There were no roads in the forest, so it was all hiking on wild terrain. Kestrel and Kai would take the right path, and head around toward the south. They were to meet at a town called Havinton on the east side of the Constellation. It was located just outside the forest, or at least that’s what they told Devona.
“We will meet up again within a month. If we aren’t there by then, go on without us.” Kestrel didn’t say the rest, but Devona knew that if they hadn’t caught up with them by then, they were probably dead.
“Why can’t we all go through the forest?” asked Devona.
“If one person gets separated for any reason, they’ll probably get lost. We can’t risk it,” said Kestrel.
Devona nodded and watched as Kestrel came toward her. She was shocked when Kestrel hugged her. It was weird, but she gave in. It was the first time that Kestrel showed that she cared. It didn’t last long, just enough so that they both felt awkward.
Kestrel pulled back, nodded, and turned toward Kai and their horses. She climbed on the horse’s back and watched Akki and Devona carefully. Devona watched Kai, waiting for him to hug her as well. Instead, he looked at her one last time and climbed onto his horse. Was he angry at her as well and just better at hiding it than Akki was? She closed her eyes and hoped this wouldn’t be the last time she saw them.
“Take care, Princess,” said Kestrel.
“Akki,” said Kai. “Don’t let anything happen to her.”
Kestrel kicked the chestnut horse and she along with Kai left the cover of the trees. Immediately they made a right on the path, heading toward the south. Devona watched as they approached the soldiers, handed the papers, and were allowed to pass. If only it would be as easy for her and Akki.
If only she could look at him without feeling guilty.
Akki moved to the brown horse and pulled himself up. Without a word, he held his hand toward Devona. Her mind wandered to the first time she rode a horse with him. How Akki had to help her up, how flustered she had been sitting so close to him. She missed those days. She missed her innocence.
Devona took his hand and he pulled her onto the horse. He made sure that she sat in front of him again. The saddle was not made for two people, but she was getting used to the pain since she always had to share a horse with someone.
He put his arms around her and gripped the reins. He gently kicked the horse and they left their sanctuary. Devona looked at both sides of the road and at blockades at both ends. She hoped that they wouldn’t notice that they were about to avoid them both.
“Where do you think you’re going?” called out a soldier.
Devona closed her eyes and held on tightly to the horse’s mane. Though she felt safe in Akki’s arms, there was no telling what means they would used to stop them. Akki must have felt the same because he kicked the horse again. The horse started to trot toward the forest, but a soldier was coming closer to them from the side.
“You have to pass through the blockade,” said the soldier.
Akki ignored the man again. He kicked the horse twice more, sending him into a full gallop. The soldier could not keep up, but Devona could hear him running after them. She wondered if more followed him now, but she was too afraid to look.
“Stop! Going into the forest is suicide!”
They were lucky that the horse didn’t know English. Both the horse and Akki ignored the man’s warning and headed into sanctuary of the forest…but this felt more like a dragon’s den than safety.
Once in the foliage, Akki slowed down the horse to a trot. The soldier stopped at the end of the forest, not daring to go in after them. Devona finally looked back to see the young man shake his head and walk away. This might have been the worst decision of her life, and once again, she had no part in making it.
She sighed and leaned back. Until she realized it was not the back of a chair she was leaning on but Akki. She stiffly straightened up, so that only their legs were touching. Why couldn’t she have gone with anyone but him? God really was having a hay day with this, wasn’t he?
They rode in silence. Devona hoped that Akki really did know where he was going.
Once deep in the forest, she knew how people could get lost; everything about it seemed to repeat. There was a fallen tree, split straight down the middle by lighting. It was so odd that it shocked Devona when she saw the same thing thirty minutes later. A similar event happened not too long after. There was a deer, eating next to the path with a fawn. As the horse approached, they leapt off into the bushes. Another thirty minutes and the scene repeated. What in the world?
Akki didn’t explain anything, and for once, she didn’t bother asking. When they stopped for the night, Akki set up a fire pit, and tied the horse to a tree. Usually they would allow the horses to graze freely a bit when they stopped, but not now. They might be short a horse in the morning if they did.
Devona sat on a log and watched as he set up their camp. She didn’t bother to help or even offer to. He did it all on his own and she was amazed. Even though he seemingly wanted nothing to do with her, he still took care of her.
She shivered, trying to forget what caused them to stop speaking. It was only when she began to rub her hands up and down her arms that she realized it wasn’t the memory making her shake but the chill in the air.
Akki looked up at her as he finished setting up her bed. “Are you cold?” he asked
She fiercely shook her head, immediately wondering why. A second later she nodded. “A little.”
He stood up and walked over to the horse. From his saddle bag he pulled out a blanket. She had never seen it before, but with the impending winter quickly approaching, it made sense to see it now.
Through the light of the fire, she could see the beauty of the blanket as he handed it to her. It was hade made, like most things in Zakiah Adara, but this was stitched by hand and not a loom. Colors of red and gold were weaved together to form some sort of symbol in the middle that looked similar to a flower. It was soft to the touch, unlike the scratchy blankets she had become accustom to.
Just touching it made her feel warmer. She immediately wrapped it around her, drowning in warmth. To her surprise, he smiled.
She looked up at him, “Thank you. Where did you get this?”
His smiled faded. “It was my mothers. She gave it to me when I was a child, to give to my wife.”
She was cold again. “Wh-what?”
He sat down next to her on the log. She watched him, hoping he wasn’t talking about her, secretly hoping that he was.
“I had given it to Ana,” he whispered.
Realization hit her hard. “That was your fiancée, right?”
He nodded. “When she died, it was the only thing left untouched by the fire. I took it with me. I’ve had it ever since.”
Devona felt guilty feeling so comfortable in a blanket that was intended for another. Ana was dead now, and Devona had done nothing but try and steal him away from her ghost. Now, she was safe in something that had once belonged to Ana and Devona felt like a horrible person.
The only thing that felt right to say was, “I’m sorry about what happened to her.”
He threw a stick onto the fire. “It was my fault. I was called to another town to help them dig a well. She begged me not to go, saying it was too close to our wedding day. She was afraid I wouldn’t make it back in time. But, my father…”
Akki paused and squinted at the fire. This was the first time he ever spoke of his family and already there was a stigma around his father that Devona desperately wanted to understand.
“My father convinced me to go. I shouldn’t have, I should have stayed with her. I should have protected her. When I came back, her house was on fire. I have no idea how it started, but the only thing I can think of is that other Red Dragons didn’t like that she was going to marry me.”
“She was a Red Dragon?”
He nodded, “Yes, but she was sworn to follow the queen. Still, they don’t like when people mix breed, no matter if they can change or not.”
“You…” Devona selected her next words very carefully. “You have…Wolf Spirit blood in you, don’t you?”
“Is that why they called you the Black Wolf?” She barely saw his head nod, but she knew he had. She took a deep breath and prepared the next question carefully. “Can you change?”
He was on his feet. She watched as he walked to the other side of the fire. He poked at it a bit more, refusing to look at her. That alone answered her question.
“I don’t think any differently of you if you can,” she whispered. It was the truth. At first when she found out about people changing it freaked her out, but the longer she had lived with it, the more she had accepted it. Though, the fact that Akki could change was slightly different story. She knew that he would never hurt her. The moment on the boat after he killed the Black Dragon was enough to tell her that. He fought against the darkness controlling him to protect her. In truth, she would never be afraid of him. She bit her lip, “I was just wondering.”
He glanced through the fire at her. His eyes were glowing in the flames. There were no pupils in the golden depths, only fire. He wanted her to stop talking, but she wanted him to know the truth.
“It’s time for bed,” he said. She knew there was no getting it out of him tonight, but she still had to try.
“I was just wonderi—”
“And I said it’s time for bed. Goodnight Devona.”
He was in his bedding moments later, leaving Devona sitting on the log alone. She should have expected that type of reaction, especially with how distant he had been lately. Still, she had hoped that he would have answered her.
If it were up to him, it seemed he would never tell her.
She sighed and walked over to her bedding. She didn’t bother climbing in. She just lay down on top, still wrapped in the blanket. She hoped he didn’t mind her using it for the evening. It gave her some comfort in the loneliness of the forest. From the loneliness of lying near Akki but thousands of miles away from his heart.
Hansah was very disappointed with her men. They were all Black Dragons, sworn warriors of Mushin, but not one of them would enter the forest. They knew the rumors, if they were true or not, and the men did not want to find out. There was one woman though who offered to go in.
“Carol. I am happy to see that a woman has the gull to do what a man will not.” Hansah glared a few of the soldiers.
“They killed my sister. I will get my revenge even if it means my death.”
Her twin sister, Catherine, was one of Mushin’s followers who had been killed by Eve. They were women with the blood of a panther who joined Mushin. Both sisters were excellent fighters, but, she could not have the remaining sister running on revenge alone. Such would only blind her, and it was best for her to go in after the Princess and her guardians.
“Thank you Carol, good luck.”
The woman with short black hair bowed to Hansah. She turned, clicked her heels, and headed toward the forest. Hansah may never know the outcome of what happened in there, but hopefully she would never see her target again. She really didn’t care if she saw Carol again or not.
“A nice little army you have going here.”
Hansah jumped at the sound of his voice. She snapped around to find the general of the Black Dragon army that took the Ninth Constellation: Ryuujin. He was cocky, and he had the ability to transport himself where ever he wanted with his mind. It was a power he horribly abused.
“What do you want Ryuujin?” snapped Hansah.
He shrugged, “Here I thought you would be happy to have my tactical strength on your side.” He looked past her and to where Carol had disappeared into the forest. “I didn’t know you had it in you to send someone on a suicide mission.”
“The girl wants to die. I might as well use that to our advantage.”
Another male soldier came running toward her. He saluted her, and Ryuujin chuckled. She glared over at him.
“Yes?” she asked
“The guardians did not all go into the forest. There was another group spotted heading south. It seems as though the Black Wolf and the Princess are the only ones in the forest.”
“You focus on your old friend in the forest, I’ll take care of the other group,” said Ryuujin. Before she could protest he was gone. That man always infuriated her. At least he was gone now.
“We will continue east. If Carol does not finish them off in the forest, we will when they leave it.”
It had already been a week and Devona felt like they weren’t getting anywhere. All around them were only trees, trees, and more trees. It was so boring! On top of that, Akki hardly said anything to her after the night by the fire. She shouldn’t have expected anything else, but she hadn’t expected that he would shut up entirely. Instead, most of her conversations went on with the horse, which was getting really boring.
They saw another doe and fawn run off into the forest, and for the first time in her life, Devona wanted to go hunting. She wanted Kestrel’s bow and arrow so that she could kill the deer and hopefully never have to see it ever again.
“Stupid deer,” she mumbled.
“Be glad you see the deer.”
She was so shocked that he said something it took a few moments for it to sink in that he had. After the initial denial passed, she looked back at him. He still wouldn’t look at her, but at least he was talking.
“It’s those patterns that let us know where we are going. This one means we are headed east. We want to see that deer.”
She shrugged. So what, it was annoying. She wouldn’t dare say that to him though. Instead she just sighed and tried not to lean on him.
There was a loud scream from the woods.
Akki pulled the horse to a stop, and looked off to where it had come from. It was a human, the first sign of life besides the forest creatures. Devona never thought that they would actually find someone out in the forest. For their sake, she hoped that they wouldn’t.
“Was that a person?” asked Devona.
“Yes,” he whispered.
What did this mean? Someone was out there? Were they looking for the two of them? Were they lost? Why were they screaming?
After a few more seconds of silence, Akki pulled the horse to head south. Devona jerked and looked at him.
“What are you doing? We can’t head towards a scream!”
“Unfortunately, we have to. As a guardian, I can’t walk away from someone in need.”
“Even if it might put the Princess in danger?”
“They are more than likely lost in the forest, we have to help them.”
He kicked the horse and it went south. Devona sighed, and shook her head. She really hoped that Akki knew where he was going.
After what seemed like a mile, they came to a clearing. It was the last thing Devona had expected. She hadn’t seen anything like this in the forest yet. To was a large rocky hillside with a waterfall crashing down to a lake. It was really beautiful, so much so that she hardly noticed the two men that sat on the other side of the lake.
Both looked very distraught. One of the men, a short man with light brown hair, was splashing water on his face. At his side sat a taller man with black hair and brown skin. They both were shaking, trying to find serenity in the rough water.
The man with black hair saw them first. He shoved the other man, almost knocking him over. As the smaller man looked up, Akki dismounted the horse. Devona looked down at him, but he motioned for her to stay.
“Are you two gentlemen lost?” asked Akki.
Both men got to their feet. They stared at Akki with fervor. Hatred burned in their eyes, she could see it even from where she sat.
“Ulric Akki,” whispered the smaller man.
Akki nodded, “Yes, that’s me.”
“You son of a bitch!” shouted the smaller man.
He started to make his way around the lake, only to be pulled to a stop by the other. He fought against him, but his friend held on tightly.
“Timber!” said the man with black hair. “He might be here to help us!”
“I don’t want his help! Not after what he did to Eve!”
He knew Eve? This meant that more than likely, this man knew Akki personally. It wasn’t too surprising though, this was near his home after all.
“I only want to tell you the pattern to help you out, that’s all,” said Akki.
“You don’t think I know it?” snapped Timber.
“Well, why were you screaming?” asked Akki.
“He’s frustrated,” admitted the other man, “we have been in the forest for a few months now.”
“Antony!” From Timber’s expression, Devona knew he was embarrassed. What were they going to do then? Keep their pride and stay lost?
“I understand that you don’t like me, many don’t, but I really am only trying to help you,” said Akki.
This wasn’t going anywhere, Devona had to step in.
“I can tell you the pattern,” she said. All eyes were drawn to her, she felt like she was on display. She grasped the horse’s hair and took a deep breath. “Well, the one to go east anyway.”
The two men looked at each other, and then back at her. Timber finally nodded and she felt relieved.
“Um, that way is east from here,” she said, pointing in the direction they had been going. “Part of the pattern is a tree split by a lightning strike, and then doe and fawn running off into the forest. If you don’t see it, then you’re going to the wrong way.” She paused and looked down at Akki, “Right?”
“I know I’ve seen that tree before,” admitted Timber.
“I think we’ve eaten those deer more than a few times,” said Antony.
The smaller man’s stature loosened and Antony let him go. They made their way around the lake to stand face to face with Akki. She saw that Akki’s hand was near his sword, just in case. However, she could tell that they would not hurt her. Akki, well, he was another story.
Antony smiled at her, “Thank you so much. What’s your name?”
She smiled, “Devona.” She paused, and her smile grew, “Princess Devona.”
Both men’s jaws dropped. Akki narrowed his eyes at Devona. Timber glared at Akki.
“That means you’re a guardian?” he asked.
“Yes, he is,” said Devona. They both looked up at her again. “And he’s a damn good one too.”
Akki glared at both of them. “Neither of you are to tell anyone about her. If you do, I will personally make sure you end up back in here and never find your way out.”
Kestrel and Kai came to a stop, just short of the next road block. Kestrel dismounted her horse, and pulled him toward the forest lining and Kai followed.
“What’s wrong?” he asked.
“Look at the soldiers, they aren’t dressed like the other White Dragons that we have encountered,” said Kestrel.
Kai followed her gaze. There were about ten men at this blockade, almost as many as there had been at the first. It was very strange, especially since there only had been a few posted at the other stops. All of these men were also dressed in black armor. Kestrel hid behind a tree, hoping that they would not see her.
“Black Dragons,” whispered Kai.
“They must have taken this blockade. We will have to find another way around.”
“What other way is there? Unless we go back the way we came and go north around the forest.”
“It looks like that might be our only option if we want to get to Havinton alive. Come on.”
As she pulled away from the tree, she noticed one of the men was dressed differently from the rest. His armor was more elegant, gold was etched along the sides, and with what looked like medals attached to the front. He was a very good looking man, with long black hair pulled back into a ponytail, but none of that mattered. At least it didn’t, until he made eye contact with her.
Her heart stopped.
His red eyes locked on hers from across the path. She tried her best to remain calm, but if her suspicions were correct, then this man was most likely the leader of the rest. However, he did not move, he only watched her as she watched him. Was he going to let them go?
“Kestrel, come on,” said Kai.
She broke eye contact with him and quickly mounted her chestnut horse. They turned and headed back west. She was tense, hoping that there wouldn’t be arrows shot at them shortly. There was nothing. She glanced back once more to find him now looking the other way. Who was this man and why had he just let them live?
Ryuujin couldn’t breathe.
The girl that his sister had warned him about years before was standing no more than fifty feet away from him. Long fiery hair was pulled high into a pony tail. She was dressed in armor with a fine hand carved bow on her back. She was the one…
And she was a guardian.
She was the one that he had told Hansah that he would take care of.
She wasn’t pleased with their presence. He knew that would be the case. However, he hadn’t been expecting such a personal reaction. She couldn’t be a guardian.
She watched him as he watched her. Could she possibly be feeling what he did? Did she understand the magnitude of this meeting? She surely could not. The look on her face was of fear and not of understanding or even shock.
She was the one, he just knew, and it wasn’t just her looks. His sister had warned him that the girl would be on the other side of the war, he figured as much. With the red hair, he assumed she would be a Red Dragon on the side of Oriana that he might be able to convince otherwise. He wasn’t expecting a hawk descendant who was also a guardian.
This…this was the woman he was supposed to fall in love with?
She did nothing. She turned to the other guardian and left. He would have a lot of covering up to do for this. If Mushin found out his true intentions he would be dead. He only hoped that his men did not see the woman. He turned his back on her, and the men seemed completely oblivious to the truth. He took a deep breath, knowing he was safe, for now. Yet, he could not say the same for her.
Part of him was happy to have finally seen her, but the end of his sister’s prophecy played through his head louder than the first.
You will be the reason for her death.
He would do whatever it took for make sure that the least part did not come true. However, after finally meeting her as predicted, he had a feeling he might not be able to stop fate.
Kai wasn’t sure if Kestrel knew or not, but he had seen the look that passed between her and the general. He could tell from the way he was dressed that the man’s ranking in the Black Dragon army. Such a high ranking official would not let guardians walk away without a fight. Perhaps he didn’t know, but considering they had already been attacked by many of Mushin’s followers, Kai had a feeling that was not the case.
What really worried him was the way the man looked at Kestrel. Kai would have to try and keep an eye on Kestrel. Make sure that man did not show up again.
And if he did, Kai had to make sure he stayed far away from Kestrel.
Akki was pissed. She knew that he would be. She wasn’t going to defend herself again either. She had about enough of that with the Council. Instead, she was silent and so was he.
The men had gone off to the east. Akki waited for a while before they followed after. He didn’t bother getting back on the horse. He simply grabbed the reins and led the way. She didn’t care, why should she? Except that she actually felt kind of lonely.
The pattern was slightly different this time, it included the beautiful waterfall. It was a nice break between a dead tree and deer that she wanted so badly to kill.
It was right after the third split tree that he finally decided to talk to her. Perhaps he was learning just how stubborn she really was.
“Why did you tell them that you’re the Princess?” he asked.
“Because I wanted to,” she replied.
Simple enough, but not the answer he wanted.
“There you go disobeying orders again. Something like that could get you killed.”
“But yet I was doing something else that I was asked to.” Akki actually looked back at her. “I was helping them, just like the Council wanted me to.”
He narrowed his eyes at her, “I would have helped them if you hadn’t.”
“They weren’t going to listen to you.”
“Well you didn’t have to tell them that you’re a Princess.”
“Ya know, I’m tired of hiding it. I’m here to help, to bring people hope. They have a right to know that I’m here and not just a legend. That with the war there is hope for a brighter future. Excuse me for wanting to give the world that.”
He turned away from her and continued east. She knew he was done, but she wasn’t.
“What’s so wrong with people knowing anyway?”
“This is not up for discussion.”
“Only because you don’t want to talk about it. If you did, we would still be discussing it because you wouldn’t let it go.”
“Just like you’re not letting it go, correct?”
She was finally silent. Damn him, they knew each other too well now. However, she felt she had made her point. To her, there were only good things that could come from people knowing that she was a Princess. The only times she had told people it had helped her.
Yet, she knew why he worried. It was his duty to worry. It felt nice that he did, but she was sad about him always being angry with her now. She had wanted the indifference back. But then, she realized something.
It wasn’t just worry. He was only angry with her after he found out she had tricked him into kissing her. It was something that shouldn’t have bothered him that much, but it seemed to still upset him. Sure, he didn’t like being used, no one did, but he should have been over it by now.
After the kiss he had avoided her, but he still protected her. There was distance, but she had seen that look in his eyes when Kai saved her. He wanted to be the only one to keep her safe. The indifference that came after that moment faded to this anger. It made perfect sense with that quote she heard so many years ago.
The opposite of love is not hate, it is indifference.
She bit her bottom lip a little too hard. Devona winced in pain, gripping the leather of the saddle tightly. The pain from her lip was followed by a thundering pain smashing into her arm.
She gasped. She turned to see an arrow sticking out of her left arm. Devona screamed.
Akki dropped the reins and immediately withdrew his sword. He stepped between Devona and where the arrow had come from. Devona grabbed her arm, trying to ignore the pain. It was too much. It felt as though someone kept stabbing her in the same wound over and over again. She wanted it to go away, but she didn’t know what to do.
“Get behind the horse,” snapped Akki.
“But…” she was barely able to protest. She slowly lowered herself to the ground, gripping her arm the entire time. Her feet hit the soil and her body followed as she collapsed. It was then she saw a woman step forward from the trees.
She was dressed entirely in black, like many of the other Black Dragons that Devona had met. Her eyes, however, were not the red she had become accustom to, they were brown. Her hair was short and neatly chopped. The bow that had been used to strike Devona was still clenched in the woman’s hand.
Devona barely was able to get to her feet. She grasped onto the horse for help, and he staid still. She wondered if he realized the danger he was in. Then again, he probably knew better than she did.
“You killed my sister,” said the woman. She was calm and strong. But Devona could see in her eyes that she was craving their blood.
Akki lowered his sword just a bit. “I’m sorry,” he said.
The only response was another arrow. This one made it past Akki and slammed into the horse. It reared up. Devona stepped back just in time, but Akki was kicked in the back. Seconds later the woman was at his side and slammed her bow into his face, then kicked him to the ground.
The horse took off into the depths of the forest, leaving nothing between Devona and the woman set on killing her.
Devona stepped back but the woman lunged at her and she pushed Devona flat to the ground. Her hand found the wood of the arrow in Devona’s arm and she yanked it out. Devona screamed.
Through the blur of tears Devona could see the woman’s distorted face. She was changing. Fangs forming, claws digging into Devona’s skin, pupils slitting. It was different from the duchess, this woman was not a Black Dragon, but she was there to kill Devona.
“I can’t wait to rip out your throat!” snarled the woman.
The woman growled at Devona. Black fur spread over her entire body, leaving a black panther pinning Devona to the ground instead of a woman. In all the moments of she had experience in Zakiah Adara, she had never been so afraid. There was nothing between her and fangs except a few inches of air.
Blood thirsty eyes of a cat watched her. They wanted her dead.
The panther opened its mouth and lunged at her throat. Devona closed her eyes and waited for the pain. A great force threw her sideways and she rolled to her stomach. The weight of the cat was gone, leaving her free but vulnerable.
More growls rang through the trees. She looked back to see another creature between her and the panther. From where she lay it looked like a dark brown wolf.
The wolf snarled at the cat, lowering his ears. The panther’s tail twitched back and forth as she tried to stalk her way around the wolf. He would have none of that. Every step the cat made the wolf was with her, separating her from her target.
The panther dove toward the wolf. He was ready for the attack and met each with an equal claw and fang. Devona didn’t want to watch, but she couldn’t look away. It was as if she was watching a car wreck.
The panther sunk its fangs into the wolf’s shoulder. He growled and retaliated with a snap at her throat. Devona dug her nails into the dirt forgetting about her own pain. The panther swatted the wolf hard, knocking him away. His body was sent scattering across the dirt to end up near Devona. She watched in awe as he pulled himself back to his feet and ran toward the panther.
This time the wolf had the upper hand as he landed on top of the feline. She snarled and swatted up at him but was unable to reach. He sunk his teeth deep into her throat. It was her turn to scream out in pain. The panther shook her entire body, knocking the wolf off her. Her size was her advantage but it worked against her with the wolf’s quick speed.
He leapt out of the way of her frantic paws. She was desperately trying to fight back, but the blood loss was getting to her. In a streak of luck, she sliced the wolf’s side just because he jumped away again.
Devona watched as the wolf lowered its body and then rammed toward the panther. He slammed his head into her side, knocking the panther onto her back.
His fangs found her throat but this time they did not sink.
She growled at him, thrashing her body. He pinned her down so that the next thrash could end her life.
She finally stopped moving. A deadly vibration erupted from his throat. The panther’s ear flatted to her head, and with one last growl of her own, she surrendered.
Slowly, the wolf stepped away from the panther. She rolled onto her side, ears still flattened to her skull. Her eyes darted toward Devona again and they were intercepted by another deep growl. The panther looked back at the wolf.
She struggled getting to her feet. The blood could barely be seen against black fur, but Devona saw it dripping from her neck. The cat lowered her entire body close to the ground and sulked away.
The wolf stood tall and proud as the cat let out one last hiss and darted off into the woods.
Now Devona was left in pain and in the truth.
She looked over at the wolf. He was still watching where the cat had disappeared. Should she be afraid? She wasn’t, and that scared her. He had just saved her, but…
Would her own guardian turn against her?
The wolf finally looked back at her.
To her amazement she was met with gold eyes.
A wave of relief washed over her and was followed by a tide of sleep.