Quietly placing one foot down after another, she held her breath as one of the nearby men audibly stirred in his sleep. Each step had her heart threatening to burst from her chest. It wasn’t until she was safely out of sight, behind the sanctuary offered by one of the thicker tree trunks nearby, that she dared to relax and finally let out a breath.
There was absolutely no chance that Xev would let her stay behind when the rest of his team turned to head back. Her only hope of finding Sylin, therefore depended on whether she’d be able to escape her brother’s watch while his guard was down. A part of her felt guilty for plotting to leave Xev behind a second time, particularly when her brother had likely specifically come into the forest to find her.
But with her brother’s distaste toward warlocks, with Sylin’s unexplained departure, and with her brother’s general prejudice toward the other man, she knew that she could only choose one between the two of them. To expect her brother to wait any longer then he promised was purely wishful thinking. Despite what she said about them, she trusted her brother and his party’s skill. She believed that they would have no difficulty retreating if it were necessary. Together, they would make it to town. On the other hand, Sylin was alone, facing who knew what.
“Are you that eager to abandon family for one of them?” Her brother’s voice asked from behind her. How did Xev still read her so clearly, when they’d spent so many years apart?
“We’ve spent so much time with each other over the years.” She answered her brother. “To me, Sylin is family in everything but name and blood. It doesn’t matter whether or not he’s human. Even if he’s from the same species as those that murdered our parents, he’s still the person that accompanied me all these years, and stood by me, when I needed it.”
“You…” Xev seethed. Steam was practically leaking from his ears.
“You once told me that you would never abandon a friend, a brother-in-arms.” She continued. “How could you expect me to do so, when, in my eyes, the person at stake here is all of that and more?”
“You… You!” Her brother sputtered. “When did I raise you to become such an ungrateful brat?”
“You think I want to choose one over the other?” She retorted. Why couldn’t her brother understand? He was the one forcing her hand. He was the one pushing her to abandon him.
“But you still chose didn’t you?” Xev interrogated.
“You think I would choose to leave you behind if you were more open to discussion?” She shouted. “You’re both important to me. I’d be branded ungrateful either way. At least this way, I’ve at least tried to help someone.”
“Do you even know where he is?” Her brother asked. “He’d already left for two days now. You say you want to help him, but do you even know how to find him?”
“He’s looking for evidence. If I wait around the tree, I’ll eventually meet up with him.” She answered.
“Foolish!” Her brother scolded. “Even if there is some truth in the warlock’s words, even if he hadn’t abandoned you, do you think that it’d be easy to get the information back to the city while carrying injuries? You think that you should be thinking of others when you can barely save yourself?”
“If worst come worst, at least, we’ve given it our best.” She replied. “At least we can say we’ve tried.”
“You’re still to naive.” Her brother answered, shaking his head. “I’m sorry that it comes to this, but you’ll understand one day.”
Thud! Before she had the chance to process his words, pain flared up behind her. Her brother’s image swayed before her, as she fought to stabilize herself.
“Looks like that warlock’s got her brainwashed pretty good.” A man’s voice said, as his silhouette emerged from behind her, and approached her brother. “It might be hard to get her to forgive you for this.”
“I know.” She heard her brother say. Perhaps it was the sleep coming over her, but he sounded unusually tired. “She’ll get over it.”
“Warlocks have worked with people in the past.” The other man suggested. “If what your sister said is true…”
“Warlocks are willing to do anything to gain our trust.” Her brother said, cutting the other man off, as she drifted off into sleep. “We can’t afford to let our guard down. We’re leaving first thing in the morning, whether the warlock returns or not.”