I landed face down in the long grass with a thump but it wasn’t the impact that had me gasping for breath. I rolled to my back staring blankly up at the cloudless blue sky overhead.
I hadn’t realised just how much I had been yearning for simple human touch. It had only been a couple of days but already the feel of Solen’s warmth had left my fingers tingling. Like that feeling when the sun comes out from behind a cloud and its warm rays bathe the back of your neck in liquid gold heat. Well maybe if you multiplied that sensation tenfold.
How amazing it was that something so very ordinary, something I had taken-for-granted my entire life had suddenly transformed into the one thing I now found I desperately craved, more than anything else in the world.
I was still lying in a daze when Solen’s worried face appeared over the top of me blocking out the blue sky above.
“Are you okay?” His voice sounded calm but I could see that he was trying his hardest to mask the fear and uncertainty reflected in his eyes. For once in his life, Solen’s stoic shield had failed to come to his defence and as I gazed up at him I felt an echoed understanding deep inside my own chest.
I knew just what he was feeling because somewhere under the vast sea of roiling emotions which seemed to have taken up permanent residence beneath my skin, I felt exactly the same way.
Somehow that single touch had changed things, had changed me, more so than anything else which had happened over the past few days.
A thousand questions crowded my mind but instead of giving voice to them, I pushed them aside and settled for a small tight-lipped nod. I pushed myself to my feet again, trying not to notice when Solen chose to slide his hands quickly into his pockets instead of trying to help me up.
I couldn’t really blame him, this whole situation was crazy on a level that I never even knew existed, like something out of one of the fireside legends that my Father enjoyed telling so much. Oma and the seven gates maybe, except starring a clueless, frightened sixteen-year-old girl instead of the customary strong, cunning warrior hand-picked by the gods to steer the course of mankind’s fate.
I just hoped that the Priestess could give us some answers before the Gods finally noticed me, realised their mistake, and nudged me from half dead all the way over to all dead with the bored twitch of one divine finger.
I felt my hands shaking at my sides. Quickly crossing my arms to hide their trembling, I glanced up to see if Solen had noticed my blatant cowardice but he was facing away from me, already turning to lead the way across the village towards the edge of the forest.
Trying not to think about the last time I had entered beneath its dense musty canopy, I took a deep steadying breath and forced my feet to once again follow in Solen’s wake.