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  few days later, Carina asked “Do you think I’ll be caught if I go to town tomorrow?”   Not only was she nervously brushing her hair before bed but she was also claiming to be low on food again.

“Probably not,” Mauree assured her, “If you want, we could pack up here, go into town then leave for wherever you were planning on going.”

 

For several seconds, Carina considered the suggestion.  “But what if I do get seen?  I might not be able to get out again.”

“This time we have a horse.  We could always just ride fast and go straight out the gate.”

“They would not sound the alarm until after I am inside and the gates are closed.  The only thing I am afraid of is getting caught.  Some girls are scared of the dark and some girls are scared of spiders.  I just can’t get caught.”

Mauree said nothing, just stood and listened to what had become a moment of confession.  Carina shuffled her feet in the silence after she finished.  “Let’s try it,” Carina suggested after clearing her throat.

“I’m ready,” Mauree replied quickly.  They rapidly saddled the horses and were riding away within ten minutes.  The path through the woods was only wide enough for one rider at a time and Mauree had managed to take the lead.  “Does this mean we’re back to daytime riders?” she asked as their horses meandered down the trail in the early morning sunlight.

“For now at least; let’s see if they added horse thieving to my list of offenses,” Carina answered calmly, gently patting Dekka on the neck.  The flourishes of fear that had become normal in the past days were absent from her voice; instead it harbored only mild curiosity.

“I hope they haven’t.  Travelling at night makes me feel like I’ve done something wrong,” Maruee said.

“You do realize you are guilty simply by riding her?” Carina retorted with a laugh and a point the horse she was on.

“I didn’t think of that,” Mauree mumbled, her voice a quiet denial.  Most of the remainder of the ride was governed by the sound of the horse’s hooves.

Close to an hour away from the road, about noontime, Carina commanded Mauree to stop her horse.  “Just in case I do get caught, let’s eat now.”

They dismounted and Carina tossed an apple to Mauree followed by a chunk of bread.  They ate in silence as Carina incessantly sent dodgy glances forward and back.  After the noon meal the girls continued to the town.  No one noticed that the very person they were trying to catch had just slipped past the gates like she belonged.  Carina bought what they needed and only that.  Just because she had not been caught did not mean she dawdled, instead, she went as rapidly as possible.

It was less than an hour before they were ready to leave again.  Halfway out, they were required to stop.

“Excuse me; you look an awful lot like the girl we’re looking for.  Do you care to explain?” a young bearded guard demanded.

“Interesting you should ask,” Carina said, stumbling for an excuse, “my cousin and I look more similar than my sister here.  My cousin’s the one you’re looking for.  She always was a wild one.  I have not seen her in close to three years.”  Despite her easy, relaxed voice, she could not stand to look the guard in the face for more than a few seconds.

“Is that so?” the guard asked, his voice sweetly fake.

“Yes sir, it is,” Mauree answered before Carina could.  “My sister is always mistaken for my cousin, which is a shame considering everything my cousin’s done.”

The guard still seemed skeptic but allowed them to pass.

“What was that for?" Carina growled when the guard was safely out of earshot.  “I had everything under control!”

“It helped us look like sisters,” Mauree answered simply.

“No, a sister would be quiet and let me talk,” Carina retorted, trying her best not to let any of the people on the road see that she was angry.

“As a sister I would say anything necessary to make sure you right,” Mauree whispered passionately.

“I am obviously older.  This means you would watch and stay silent.”

“What do you know of sisters?” Mauree demanded angrily.  “They say whatever needs saying, younger or older.  If you were my sister I would tolerate nothing that made you seem like a bad person!” Mauree looked over from the corner of her eye, ready for Carina’s next attack, but the other girl said nothing.  Instead, she booted the horse for more speed.  They spoke little for the rest of the day.

As night began to spread they stabled their horses in the back of a small inn called the King’s Promise.  The tiny building’s owner had delusions of grandeur when he had named and painted it.  There was an ugly, peeling blue with poorly crafted ornamentation surrounding the doors and windows.  Carina entered through the back door and crept through the kitchen to find the innkeeper picking up a meal.

The round innkeeper happily accepted Carina’s coin but directed the nearest serving girl to show them their room.  When the young serving girl finally left Carina fiddled with her the buckles on the saddlebags she had carried inside.  The room was smaller than the space in the cottage.

“I think we outsmarted them this time,” Carina mumbled, talking mostly to herself but continued louder, “I’m going to order food.  Do not let anyone inside.” With that she rose and, with a curious glance at Mauree, left.

As soon as the wooden door swung shut on its hinges Mauree pushed the lock into place.  She rubbed her eyes and glanced at the mirror.  Trepidation growing in the pit of he stomach, she pulled her tunic over her head.  She turned her back to the mirror and craned her head to see.  The bumps Carina had noticed the week before had grown to almost double their size.  The skin had lost most of its opacity to reveal what appeared to be grey but it was difficult to tell through the tanned skin stretched tight.  Anxiously, Mauree touched the bulge with the tips of her fingers.  They barely moved and did not yield as normal flesh.

Carina knocked on the door, startling Mauree.  “Hurry up, unlock it,” she said from the other side of the door.

“Coming,” Mauree mumbled, even though her friend would probably not be able to hear her, as she yanked the tunic back over her head to open the door.

“You can take it back when we finish,” Carina said as she put the small tray on the table.  The portions were smaller than usual.

“No problem,” Mauree replied while she stared longingly at the tray while Carina locked the door again.  With a flourish, Carina whipped the cover off the tray.  There were small slices of meat and bread.  The other girl took a slice of each and handed it to Mauree.  They ate ravenously in the silence that followed.  When they finished Carina trailed her fingers in the juices the meat had left behind.

Without a word, Mauree picked up the plate and left.  While walking away she heard the door lock behind her.  She was too busy mulling over plans of action to notice that in the cramped common room she had a small bubble of space around her.  Others were squeezing between each other and bouncing off one another.  Thoughtlessly, she placed the dishes on a counter in the kitchen for the cooks to wash.

The sun was leaning heavily on the horizon when Mauree opened the door to her room.  Except that it did not open.  The lock rattled wildly in its pen.

“Who goes there?” Carina growled from the other side.

“C’mon, it’s me.  How long did you expect it to take?” Mauree answered as she waited.  Only a few seconds later, Carina opened the door.

“You can never be too careful at a time like this,” Carina mumbled while Mauree entered before shoving the lock back where it belonged.

“You okay?  You’ve seemed odd since we started looking for that cottage,” Mauree asked as she tugged off first one small leather boot then the other.

“Sorry if being chased by a group of people who want my head has me a little stressed,” Carina retorted sarcastically.

“I meant comments like that,” Mauree scolded under her breath, setting her shoes down with more force than necessary.

Carina ran a hand through her hair.  “Sorry, for real.  Have you ever had a dream so realistic that you can’t wake up no matter what?  That’s what this feels like,” Carina explained, her head resting in her hands.

“Don’t worry; I’m sure you’ll be fine.  We seem to be safe for now,” Mauree said gently, trying to comfort her friend.

“That’s when they catch you.  As soon as you let your guard down they catch you with your own words,” Carina countered.  Suddenly, she stood up and pulled her tunic off, causing her green bandana to slip a few inches over dark hair.  She pulled her sleep shift over her head and sat down on her bed.

“Has this happened before?” Mauree asked curiously.

“Almost.  When I first started traveling around there were some people that thought I had done something wrong.  I ran from them.”

“Were they right?  What happened?” Mauree asked before she could stop herself.  She leaned forward as Carina began to carefully brush her hair.

“Of course they weren’t,” Carina announced loudly, as though to prove her innocence by volume.  She was silent for a moment to control her breathing before she answered the remaining question.  “They said I killed my family.  I could never do something like that.  So I ran, as hard and as fast as I could until they finally stopped looking.  I’ve only been home once since then.”

“Why didn’t you tell them?”

“An adult against a child and the adult will win every time.  Are you planning on going to bed soon?”

Mauree grabbed her own shift from her bag.  “Yes but I would really like a bath first.  I feel so dirty,” she answered.

“Alright, I’ll leave the door unlocked for you.  And Mauree…”

“Yes?”

“You tell anyone what I just told you and you will regret it.”

“I understand.”

“Good,” Carina said.  Mauree hurried out to the hallway, Carina’s chilling words chasing her to the bathing chambers.  Someone had come through the corridor while the girls were inside and lit the torches bracketed to the wall so that there were only small pools of darkness.

Maruee washed as quickly as possible.  When she was done she pulled the nightgown over her head and examined her back in the mirror.  The lumps that would become wings were only barely managing to lift the fabric.  With a deep, steadying breath she left for her room.

True to her word, Carina had left the door unlocked but she had also stayed awake, sharpening her belt knife.  The sheath was still strapped around her hips.  Without saying a word, she placed the knife hilt-first on her nightstand and lay down in her bed.

Nor did Mauree say a word.  Instead she blew out the lamp, pulled the curtains closed so not even a passing stranger could see in then crawled under her covers.  Carina rolled over in the darkness and did not stir again until morning.

“I’m still nervous,” Carina announced when Mauree opened her eyes after a blunt poke in the ribs.  Mauree said nothing, just rolled over with a groan.  “I’m leaving at nine so you should get ready.  We have less than an hour, by then we should have already been gone.  Come on, get dressed,” Carina commanded, throwing clothes on the bed.  When Mauree did not move, Carina huffed and left.

Maruee rose and dressed after Carina left but today she only loosely tucked her tunic in so it easily hid where her wings were growing.  When Carina returned, Maruee was sitting at the edge of the bed, gently working a brush through her hair.

“All they had was plain porridge,” Carina complained, handing one bowl to Mauree as she came in.  “I was really hoping for raspberries.”

“For what?” Mauree asked, caught with the spoon halfway to her mouth.

“Have you never eaten raspberries?  They are delicious red berries that used to grow near my house.  They were always my favorite,” explained Carina.

Mauree was only half listening.  The part of her mind unoccupied with Carina’s chatter was searching for the man in her head.  Where are you?

Outside of the inn.  I have been awake for close to an hour now.  Are you two leaving soon?

I don’t know yet.  I’ve just got up.  I haven’t heard from you in a while.  Are you okay?

Yes, he answered, I am absolutely fine.

“Mauree?  Mauree are you alright?” Carina asked, on hand on the other girl’s shoulder.

“What?  Oh, yes, I’m fine,” Mauree answered, a little shocked at being yanked from her other conversation so abruptly.

“You did not look fine.  It looked like something went wrong.  Are you sure you’re okay?” Carina insisted.

“What must I do to convince you that there is nothing abnormal?” Maruee challenged.

What happened? The man asked.

Give me a minute was her answer.

“You have to be normal,” Carina answered, completely unaware that she just interrupted a second time.

“I promise you that there is nothing wrong with me.  Have I been acting strange lately?”  Carina thought for several seconds and Mauree continued, “Besides, you haven’t known me very long,” Mauree added casually.

“We’ve been travelling for three weeks solid with each other.  That’s different from friendship or strangers.  There is no escape,” Carina said, planting one hand firmly on her hip and drawing herself up to her full height of just over five feet.

“So in three weeks you have learned everything about me?” Mauree retorted, unintentionally mimicking Carina’s pose.

“I know enough to tell when something is wrong.  This is almost exactly what you told me last night!”

“I asked I didn’t tell and there is most definitely a difference,” Mauree said levelly, working her hardest not to yell.

“I wouldn’t say that, you sounded pretty certain,” Carina let herself trail off with an arched eyebrow.

“How do you now what I’m thinking?  Yes, you might have travelled with me for a while but I don’t tell you everything about my life.  Not everything is as nice and neat as I’d like but I’ve learned to deal with it.  Maybe you should try the same!” Maruee shouted.  She stomped out of the room and slammed the door shut as hard as she could.  Her feet slapped the cold floor as he stormed down the stairs and through the common room.  Finally, she felt the hard dirt of outside as she shoved the large wooden door out of her way.