We left off after Haley had been freed from the dryads, and she and Tuggin are hiking down a mountain in the rain...Haley tripped and fell over the edge. Will Tuggin leave her to her fate, or save her? Read on and find out!
“Tuggin!” I screamed.
I slid down, scraping my chest, arms, and face. By sheer freaking luck my arm looped around a dwarf tree. I gripped the slippery bark. Rocks pelted my head.
“Ow, freaking shit. Ow!”
When I looked up Tuggin’s hooded face peered down then disappeared.
He’d better not leave me or I’d kill him, whether in this life or the next, I’d hunt him down and kill him. The tree bent and I slid further down its trunk. The bark tore at my skin and my arms ached. I groaned, squeezing my numb fingers tighter. It wasn’t hard; I pretended the tree was Tuggin’s neck.
A rope swung in front me. Fear glued my hands to the tree…I had no idea how far I’d fall if I missed it, and I stared at the rope as if it were a million miles out of reach.
“Seize the rope!”
A gust of wind blew in my face, its cold breath slapping life back into me. I supported my weight against the cliff with my feet. I shoved myself higher and let go of the tree with one hand and snatched the rope, winding it around my wrist. I counted to three, and then grabbed the rope with both hands. My cheek scraped against the rock when I dropped a few feet.
I prayed the rope wouldn’t slip from my hands. Or Tuggin’s.
I lurched upward. I tried to help by walking up the cliff, but my feet slipped, and my knees rammed into the mountainside, followed by a sudden drop. I held still, my hands and wrists burning and my shoulders throbbing. After an eternity, Tuggin grabbed me by the arms, hugged me to his chest, and leaned back. His muscles were rock-hard, and his warm breath brushed my cold lips.
“Oh,” I whispered.
Tuggin’s body tensed, and his arms tightened. Something flashed across his face, a sudden brightening of the eyes that just as quickly faded. Everything spun, and I wondered if maybe we’d slipped off the path into a free fall.
“Haley.” His voice was low, smooth.
His skin felt fevered against mine. I wanted to lean down and suck the heat from his mouth.
“Are we falling?” I sank deeper into a dreamy pit of warmth.
He moved his hands to my shoulders and nudged me. I blinked rain out of my eyes. Tuggin’s gaze shifted to the drop, then back to my face. He nudged me again.
“Oh!” I rolled off him and crawled to the side of the path. I wanted to hide. I wanted to disappear. I wanted to click my heels three times and go the freak home.
Tuggin checked out the rope burns in his hands then coiled the rope and put it in his pack. “You are inept.”
I studied my broken fingernails, the Ruby Red polish that I’d painted on especially for my birthday chipped and gouged. I guessed he hadn’t felt what I’d just felt. What I shouldn’t have felt because he was a kidnapper.
I said, “Excuse me, but in case you’ve forgotten, I didn’t choose to be here. You forced me.”
Tuggin opened his mouth, but whether to agree with me or insult me again, I didn’t know because he shut it without saying anything.
“You got something to say, just say it.”
“You had strength to hold on.” He shrugged. “This surprises me.”
“You are Earth-kin.” His mouth twisted over the word Earth-kin.
I poked my tongue in my cheek. “You know, guys usually act like tools when they’re insecure, or afraid.”
He rose. “What would I fear?”
“I don’t know, but I’d say by the way you’re acting that you’re scared of me.”
“That is absurd.” Tuggin shrugged his backpack onto his shoulders.
I cringed when he glared at me, the fire in his eyes melting my courage.
“I care not what you think, and I certainly do not fear you. You are weak.”
My mouth dropped open. “Then what do you want from me?”
“You?” he sneered. “I want nothing from you. You burden me.”
“Oh, nice. Then why don’t you just let me go? Why’d you just save my life?”
“I am responsible for you.” He said it in the same tone of voice he might have used had he told me we were eating worms for dinner.
I shot back, “The only thing you’re responsible for is kidnapping me!”
Tuggin re-crossed his arms. “You should not be here.”
“You’re the one who told me I’m from Eyidora.”
“You do not act so. Your interlude on Earth has erased your instincts.” Tuggin thumped his chest with a fist. “I have a mission of great importance. I do not have time to care-take a…jahme!” Stopping, he ran his hand through his dripping hair, slicking it back against his head. Then the stone curtain drew over his face again. “We would continue.”
He pointed to the path, and I started hiking. The rain drizzled to a stop and the clouds started to clear out, and the moon helped light the path. It was still a full moon, same as the day I’d tripped through the gateway, but that was like, ages ago, though it looked like it was higher in the sky than before.
My gaze drifted down to a red light burning the horizon. “Is something on fire?”
“Net,” Tuggin said after glancing at the sky. “It is the second truhaan phase.”
“Truhaan are the harvest planets.”
“That’s not a moon?”
“Net.” He pointed to a much smaller spot in the sky.
The white planet was so huge that I’d assumed it was the moon. Whatever. I pressed my frozen lips together, clenching my teeth to keep them from chattering. As we hiked farther down, the path widened and I could have walked next to Tuggin, if I’d wanted.
The path led us behind a waterfall to a mega-big door lit by torches. Tuggin threw his weight against it and it swung open. We stepped into a room the size of a school gym, lit by hundreds of candles. I thought the stink of burning wax would melt my nose hair.
Bright rugs covered the stone floor. Stone pillars reached up to the ceiling, and a stone staircase climbed one end of the room. I made tracks for the giant fireplace just as a woman walked toward us. She wore a deep blue dress with a gold belt, its folds dancing behind her. Long, dark hair caressed her waist.
“Tuggin,” she said. “You were to arrive sooner.”
“We lost the sleipnir.”
She checked me out, never blinking during her once-over. I shifted from one foot to the other, glancing at Tuggin who acted as though I’d ceased to exist.
“Greetings. Welcome to Given Hall. I am Enja,” she said after a long pause.
Enja tilted her head. “You have traveled a great distance to be here, yes?”
“And why is it you have come to be here now, during the rise of the storm?”
I licked my lips. Well, duh, I didn’t control the weather. “Not a clue.”
Enja took Tuggin’s arm and led him through the hall. “You have arrived just in time. The Mavens will be here tomorrow, yes?”
Following, I felt small and dirty. I looked back at the tracks I left on the floor and tried to pat my soggy hair in place. A girl followed with a rag, wiping up the mud.
“You will join us for raha, yes?”
“Of course,” Tuggin agreed, stopping at the bottom of the stairs.
“You wish to change from your travels. You will be shown to your rooms.” She nodded again, turned, and swept away as two girls skipped down the stairs.
“What’s a raha?” I asked.
Without answering, Tuggin followed the giggling girls up the stairs.
I glared at him. Couldn’t he explain where we were? Who Enja was? And what this raha thing was about? He was the one kidnapping me; he could at least try to be nice.None of them seemed to care that I held back. They were labeling me as an outcast, just like the hall gods and goddesses had done on Earth, always making me feel like I didn’t belong. Perhaps I didn’t belong anywhere. Certainly not here.