The group crept through the trees, the moonlit woods engulfed them in eerie shadows. Nyx was exhausted. She wanted nothing more than to rest, drift off and forget the ordeal of the past few days. That, however, was not an option right now. They needed to put as much distance between themselves and the castle as possible before the guards noticed they were missing. The going was slow on foot. Nyx wondered if Livia missed her horse, if she even had the capacity to care for the life of another being. In spite of her dislike for Livia she hoped Aristides was being treated well. For all her faults, surely the Queen wouldn’t hurt a horse. It wouldn’t serve any purpose. The stomping of Livia’s feet indicated she was displeased about something. Nyx decided it must be her company. The feeling was mutual. The minutes dragged into hours and finally, dawn came. The sun peaked over the horizon drenching the woods in a rosy glow. Izzy brought them to a halt and stood listening.
“Horses!” She spun around staring through the trees.
“I don’t hear anything.” Livia scowled. Izzy grabbed her by the arm and pulled her into the underbrush. Nyx followed suit. They lay on their stomachs, motionless in the leaves. Prickly branches poking into their flesh. Nyx and Izzy held their breath. Livia rolled her eyes but remained silent.
Just as Nyx was beginning to think Livia’s scepticism may have been warranted the faint drum of hoofbeats sounded in the distance. The noise slowly rose to a crescendo as the mounted soldiers thundered past them. Nyx watched the soldiers as they passed a tightness rising in her chest. There were so many, there was no way the three of them could fight of that many. These were just the soldiers tasked with searching the north-east part of the forest. The Queen likely had the better part of her army combing the woods. Barking and shouting combined with the beating of the horses’ hooves in a cacophonous symphony. Nyx squeezed her eyes shut. The search party had hounds. They were sure to be discovered any moment now. Beside her, Livia placed a hand on her sword hilt in preparation for the inevitable skirmish, if one could truly call it that given their number disparity. Only Izzy remained visibly calm. The tense seconds stretched out as they awaited discovery, however discovery never came. Finally, the last rider passed and the clamour faded into the distance. Once the noise had disappeared in its entirety Izzy wiggled out from under the bushes.
“Time to start talking!” Livia snarled launching herself at Izzy, wrapping a hand around her throat. “There’s no way you could have heard the soldiers coming from that distance. And how could they ride right past us when they had hounds? You’ve been lying to us and I demand the truth. Now!”
“I have never lied to you.” Izzy hissed pushing Livia away with ease. “I do possess some information you do not, however, I do not answer to you. As of five hours ago, I am your employer, if anything you answer to me. If you wish to leave return my gold and be on your way, however, I am under no obligation to explain myself to you.” Livia continued to growl but backed off apparently valuing the gold more than a potential explanation.
“What about me?” Nyx challenged “I don’t work for you and if you know something which could affect my sister…”
“For now the less you know the better.” Izzy cut her off “Once we reach Cassandra she can explain as she sees fit. We need to get moving!”
“I’m still not convinced you even know Cassandra…” Nyx grumbled but Izzy was already heading off into the trees Livia trailing behind her like a puppy, a violent angry puppy but an obedient one nonetheless. Nyx sighed and followed them.
The following hours passed without incident as the sun climbed higher in the sky. Around noon the forest darkened as wrathful black clouds asserted themselves overhead blocking out the sun. A deafening clap of thunder ushered forth a bombarding downpour of rain. Colossal beads of water pelted them with bruising fury. Nyx shivered eyeing Izzy’s cloak hopefully for a moment, before realising it would be futile to try stealing a cloak from a person who was wearing it, particularly when one was going to be stuck with that person for an unspecified period of time. Livia also looked miserable. Well, actually, she looked irate but Nyx suspected that was her version of miserable. Izzy, naturally, still looked cheerful.
Nyx found Izzy’s company unnerving, but the reason for her feelings alluded her. Sure, it was natural she wouldn’t trust a stranger with a suspiciously unexplained interest in her sister but it was more than that. Izzy seemed to know something about Cassandra which she did not. Her own limited knowledge relating to her sister was not entirely surprising, Cassandra had been taken by the Queen over ten years ago. Prior to receiving her message, Nyx had assumed she was dead. The question of how Izzy had obtained information about Cassandra and its implications in regards to her identity, however, were deeply concerning. Then there was the fact Izzy had yet to fully reveal her face. There was something vaguely familiar about her, and not in the warm fuzzy sense of familiar. Nyx couldn’t quite place where she had seen her before but whenever she glanced in her direction chills raced up and down her spine.
The afternoon dragged on as they trudged through the mud. Nyx pouted. Livia muttered under her breath, probably threatening to kill the universe slowly for subjecting her to this indignity, Nyx assumed. Izzy hummed softly, Nyx did not recognise the tune. She couldn’t understand why Izzy was so happy and frankly, she wanted to slap the optimism straight out of her. The occasional glares Livia shot at the cloaked figure’s back indicated she shared Nyx’s feelings. Common ground, who would have thought. For a fleeting second Nyx felt a semblance of solidarity with Livia but then it was gone. Livia would still die at her hand, slowly and painfully. Perhaps, however, if she was lucky Livia would kill Izzy first.