5.5

Nilien took off running. She clutched Ember to her chest and sprinted away, as fast as she could go through the woods.

She bounced off a bush and kept going, feeling the thorns tear into her shirt. Someone had – no, it had to be an accident, right?

She didn’t care, she kept running. She couldn’t see the clearing when she looked behind her; couldn’t see anyone coming after her. She had to keep running.

The tree landed with a loud thud and she kept running. Low-hanging branches were whipping against her face and the footing was uncertain, making her feet slip out from under her, but someone had just tried to drop a tree on her.

“I thought you said it wasn’t Heldira,” she gasped. There were three giant trees in front of her; she turned left and kept going.

I did. It wasn’t. That doesn’t mean that Heldira didn’t send someone. Slow down.

“Are you-” her lungs were burning. She gasped for air and kept going. “-crazy? Someone just dropped a tree on me! Or tried to!”

And now you’re shouting, crashing, telling them where we are. Slow down.

“They-” she whispered it this time “-there’s a tracking mark.” She stumbled, nearly dropped Ember, scooped it back up, and kept going.

You don’t know that they followed that. They could simply have followed you out from the school. Or been told where to go. So stay quiet.

“Okay, okay,” she hissed. She fell silent again, needing her breath for running. She was moving through the trees and bushes as quickly as she could, weighed down by a fox. There was someone after her! And they might know where she was, but if she was far enough away, they couldn’t drop another tree on her.

The crack of the tree falling and the thud of it landing were still echoing in her ears, louder than her heartbeat, which was pounding heavily. She was an active girl, but not in the habit of running from assassins, and Ember seemed to be trying to slip out of her arms, making every step harder.

She caught her toes on a root and went sprawling, Ember flying out of her arms. She landed hard, cracking her chin on another root and biting her tongue, her air all knocked out of her, and for a moment, she was seeing spots in front of her eyes and gasping for air.

Ember picked itself up from a berry bush and gave itself a shake. Get up, it suggested, and move quickly but walking away from here. That made quite a noise. Get up. Get up, are you all right? Its cold red nose nuzzled against her cheek. Get up?

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