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The Offering

The Offering

Page 36

Eden glared back at her but then turned to me. I must’ve looked serious, because she sighed when she took Brooklynn’s hand. From where I stood she seemed to squeeze a little too hard, but I was past caring now. All that mattered to me was that the fight was over.

I uncocked the string and lowered the crossbow, feeling moderately satisfied that they wouldn’t attack each other again. At least not now.

It took them nearly an hour to undo the mess they’d caused in less than five minutes, and another two hours of driving in terse silence before anyone bothered to speak again.

Brook had settled down in back, on one of the mats where we’d be sleeping. She sullenly stayed as far from Eden as she could, despite the “truce” she’d called for my benefit. I suspected they were both nursing some pretty tender injuries that neither of them would ever admit to, both too stubborn to confess that the other might have bested them.

When I thought Brooklynn might have dozed off, I finally dared to ask the one question I couldn’t stop thinking about, despite knowing that asking it would probably reopen painful wounds. “Do you ever miss him?” I asked as quietly as I could, and hoped Eden could hear me above the engine.

She was quiet too for a moment, but then she glanced at me in the rearview mirror. “Don’t you miss Angelina?” she asked, before turning her attention back to the ramshackle road.

It was all the answer I needed.

And suddenly I understood why Eden had hit Brook. She wasn’t mad at Brooklynn for asking all those questions. She was mad at herself . . .

For leaving her little brother all those years ago.

I wasn’t sure when I’d actually fallen asleep, or even when I’d lain down on one of the sleeping mats, but the confusion I felt upon waking lasted only a few moments before I rolled over and found myself staring directly into Brooklynn’s face. Her mouth was wide, and her breaths were long and deep. She was snoring, which was likely what had awakened me in the first place.

When I turned away from her, I realized that I’d somehow managed to sandwich myself between her and one of the VAN walls. The space I was lying in, like the bedroll wrapped around me, was narrow and cramped. And the floor beneath the lightweight mat was firm, making my back throb.

Trying not to disturb Brook, who continued to snore in complete ignorance of the less-than-comfortable sleeping arrangements, I wriggled out of the makeshift bed and went in search of Eden. Like the morning before, she appeared to have abandoned us. Something she seemed to be skilled at, I was learning.

But I knew she hadn’t gone far. The VAN door was ajar, and even from inside the vehicle, I could smell the smoky scent of a campfire.

“Coffee?” I heard her ask as I saw her reaching for the pot before I’d descended the steps across from the driver’s seat. I nodded and grabbed one of the tin mugs she’d already set out for each of us. “Should we be worried about the fire? That someone might notice us here?” I asked as she filled my mug all the way to the top, and when I took my first sip, I recognized the flavor. It was the same caustic blend Caspar had shared with us the day before, only this time my taste buds rejoiced.

Eden just shook her head before setting the pot near the edge of the flames. “Not anyone we should be worried about. I veered far enough from the main thoroughfare to give us a chance to rest.”

“Did you? Rest, I mean?” I looked her over, noting the fact that I hadn’t seen a mat for her in the back of the VAN, where Brook and I had slept.

I hadn’t been wrong, either, when I’d guessed that her eye would be swollen this morning, but it wasn’t as bad as I’d thought it might be. It was bruised and engorged, but she could still open it, which meant she could still see through it. A favorable attribute in someone operating your vehicle, I thought wryly.

“I slept out here,” she answered. “Nice to listen to the waves.”

“Waves . . .” I started to ask, but then glanced around. I didn’t know what Eden meant at first, but then I heard it. It was far-off, the whooshing sound that came and went, first long and insistent, then fading away, only to return again . . . unrelenting.

Something from Sabara’s memory—not mine—pricked at me, something I hadn’t noticed before. It was the air. It was crisp, which wasn’t such a strange thing for the time of year, but the breeze carried a tang that stung my nose.

The sea, Sabara whispered, waking within me. There was something hopeful in her spirit.

“The sea,” I whispered aloud, tasting the words, and the salt in the air, on my tongue.

Eden had no idea it was a dead queen with whom I conversed, and she answered my musing. “Just beyond the bluff. We’ve reached the southwest tip of Ludania, and will start moving east toward Astonia. We took only a slight detour— couple of hours at the most. If we’re lucky, we’ll be able to slip over the border without being noticed.”

I looked where Eden had indicated, but for as far as I could see, all I could make out was pale sand and reedy grass that stretched all the way to the rocky walls ahead of us. Yet, still I heard it.

Whoosh . . . whoosh . . . whoosh . . .

Never-ending.

“Do we have time? Can I go see it?”

Eden’s brow lowered, the purple streaks of her hair caught in the morning sun and making her look more severe than ever. “The sea?” she probed. “Have you never . . .” I had once, but she didn’t finish her sentence, just nodded resolutely and set her mug on one of the flat-sided rocks that surrounded the fire. “I’ll come with you. To be certain you’re safe.”

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