“Thorn, take another step to your left,” Aurora said. She walked behind us, treading a circular path, her fingers moving as she counted paces.
I did as she instructed, moving closer to Gilliam. We stood as a group in the widest part of the mountain trail outside the cave. Aurora was arranging us in some sort of pattern, behind our one remaining mule, the bridle of which Silva held, rubbing the beast’s nose.
Demarra and Ana stood ahead of Gilliam and I, and Varis shifted in place behind us, Sera beside him, still collared to my wrist. She argued against my removing the bracelet, and I finally gave up — the heat of her mood radiating from the connection was making my entire arm itch and tingle.
The halfling sat atop the mule, his amethyst eyes set on the trail ahead of us.
“Back a step,” Aurora murmured, tugging on Varis’ cloak.
“You don’t have to pull so hard,” he said, staggering back.
“I would like to get underway before the moon sets,” she snapped. “Half a step forward, now.”
The warrior sighed, but moved before she could give him a push. Though she didn’t make a sound, I felt Sera’s mirth through the bracelet, and heard the faintest of echoes of her giggle from the corner of my mind that her presence occupied.
I turned at the sound of metal on stone, and saw the shrike dragging her dagger through the rocks, scraping out the circle she’d been pacing. It was perhaps ten paces, from one side to the other, and encircled our entire group. She’d left a wide gap in the center, into which she carefully made her way after she returned to her circle’s starting point.
She glanced over one shoulder, and then the other, nodded slightly, as if to herself, and then she fished the green dragonstone from her belt pouch. She stared at it intently, and then glanced over it, to the halfling atop the mule.
“We will discuss where you got this and the blue stone at great length when we arrive.”
Pyrklist swallowed, and looked as if he wished to climb into one of the many sacks tied across the pack mule’s harnessing. “Y-yes, mistress,” he croaked, bobbing his head.
“Be ready, Agragjha,” Aurora said, and Silva stuck her tongue out over her shoulder.
The shrike held out her arm, the stone clenched in her hand, and brought the dagger up along one of the grooves in the bracer.
“Wait,” Silva said.
Aurora glowered at her twin. “I will need the light to navigate,” she said, darting a golden-eyed glance to the quarter moon overhead.
“If we are to do this, then I will pay the price.” Silva held her hand out.
“You cannot!” Aurora hissed. “It is forbidden!”
“We can go farther, yes?”
Aurora bit her lip. But she nodded, reluctantly.
“Which of us has the stronger blood?”
Aurora’s lips pressed into a thin line.
“And which of us can afford the years?”
Aurora glared at her sister.
“Time embraces the Progeny, yes? Do you have the years to spend for this?“
“I am willing to—,” Aurora started.
Silva held her arm up in front of the shrike, catching the moonlight on her bracer. “These do not shackle me, as they do the others, Anuja. I still exist outside of Time. You do not.”
She plucked the knife from her sister’s hand, bringing the blade across her palm. She clenched her fist, and extended her index finger, pressing the smear of blood to Aurora’s lips. She then moved to each of us, tracing a rune of some sort upon our foreheads. When she’d marked the last of us, she returned to her place before Aurora, and let several drops of blood patter across the stone in the shrike’s hand.
“Now,” she said, handing the dagger back.
Aurora lifted the stone, and whispered a word: “Tvaritas”
The rune upon my brow stung, then burned, and then that burning flowed through me, into my arms and legs and feet.
“Stay apace with me or you will be left behind,” Aurora said, and then she leapt forward at a run.