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She crept softly through the underbrush, the young man following with considerably less skill. The beasts were out there, somewhere, but she had lost track of them after crossing the last stream. Her feet were still cold and numb from the icy water, but she couldn’t afford to stop.
Images flashed through her mind, of her other two companions. The deadly beams had touched them, and blackened their flesh until no life remained. She had to outrun the beasts, or she and her last companion would suffer the same fate.
“How much further?” She whispered, moving closer to the edge of the cliff and edging around a thorny tree trunk.
“There,” he pointed. “I can see the boundary from here.”
The man had said much the same for the past two days as they crept through the mismatched terrain. Two days since his first sighting, and eight more since she met him. It seemed a mere moment beside the months she’d been imprisoned. Years, perhaps, though it was hard to judge the passage of time from inside the dank cells. They had finally tired of her, and sent her to the surface to be hunted down like a diseased animal. She and so many others.
She stopped suddenly as the bushes fell away into a wide meadow, waist-high grasses swaying gently in the wind. The grass was harmless enough, as was the wind, but the two beasts standing like statues on the far side were more dangerous than anything she had ever seen.
“Why are you stopping?” For such a powerful man, he wasn’t very observant.
“They’re waiting for us.” She carefully pointed out the metallic statues, keeping her eyes locked on them, afraid they might leap away if she blinked.
“They must know. The boundary passes right through this field.”
“One of us can reach it, if the other lures the beasts away.”
“They won’t both follow me. One will stay to watch for you.” This close to their goal, the tension in his voice was almost tangible.
“They will. I’ve seen them hunt in pairs, and they don’t know how to cooperate. Wait here and stay hidden, and when you see them move, count to thirty and run for it.”
“Me? No, I can’t leave you here—“
“Count to thirty and run for it.” Blinking one eye at a time as not to lose sight of the beasts, she slowly backed away through the bushes, circling away from her companion. They were so still, but she knew they could be after her and firing in an instant.
For a moment, she regretted her decision, wishing she could have the chance to escape, but however strong his magic, the young man wouldn’t last a day without her guidance. He would bring help, or she would eventually die here, blackened and shriveled like the others.
The slow creep around the edge of the meadow took nearly an hour, for even the slightest mistake would bring the two beasts down on her before she was ready to flee. The anticipation was torture, but she couldn’t afford to fail here. Whether her companion escaped or not, they would surely never leave an opening like this again. For so long, she had searched for a part of the boundary not blocked by a precipice or a guard wall, and she wasn’t sure if she would ever find another.
It was time. Time to bring death down on herself, and to pray that the man really was who he claimed. Taking several deep breaths and readying herself, she slowly reached up and took hold of a leafy branch. A couple of the needle-thin thorns bit into her skin, but that was easily ignored.
All he needed was a diversion, and she would supply it. Even if she didn’t live to be rescued, maybe he would grant her some measure of vengeance. She shook the branch and started to run as the first two particle beams sliced through the tree trunk.