She didn’t stop running until she discovered she could no longer feel her feet. Four days and four nights of hard running—Ameryn was amazed she could still feel anything at all.
She stood with her legs apart and her hands on her scabbed knees, gasping for air. Her heart was pounding, and not just from exhaustion. She couldn’t stop. Nayr and his knights wouldn’t stop—they’d increase their lead by a mile or more if she rested for long. She slapped her numb legs, trying in vain to revive her feet. Nothing helped. She took a step, and found herself on her side. Frantically she tried to get her legs under her, but to no avail. Ameryn let out a scream of frustration and anger. She could do no more than lie there and wait for her limbs to function again.
The wind was picking up. Ameryn felt cold and conspicuous, exposed on a hillside without so much as a bush to hide under. She was still in centaur territory, and she didn’t want to risk another run-in with a herd of them.
She pulled herself to the crest of the hill, hoping to see some kind of shelter on the other side. There were the mountains in the distance—she shuddered at the thought of crossing them, but there was no other way to reach Nanduvar in time.
But in front of the mountains stretched a forest—and the forest’s edge was at the base of the hill.
Ameryn allowed herself to roll down the hill like a barrel, pulling herself to a halt before she crashed into a tree. She crawled to the nearest tree and pulled herself upright, her legs wobbling dangerously beneath her. She took a step. It held. Any amount of progress was good.
She saw an orange flicker in the thick of the woods. Her heart skipped a beat—perhaps she was closer to the Knights than she thought she was. Maybe they had stopped and set up camp—she might have a shot at rescuing Aileen, if only her legs would cooperate.
She leaned against the tree and listened. The wind hissed around her ears, making it difficult to hear much other than her own ragged breathing. With Nayr’s knights, a ruckus was expected, but there was not a sound, not even the sound of a crackling flame.
Slowly, Ameryn stepped through the fallen leaves towards the flickering light. It seemed that her dead feet could only bungle their way through the dry leaves. She cursed her inability to tread carefully, knowing that the rustling would alert whoever had started that fire to her presence. But she had to know who they were.
There was a steam that lay between her and the distant light. She searched for a way to cross, but there was only a fragment of an old rope bridge left there. Setting her jaw, she carefully lowered herself down the bank of the stream. All was going well, until her foot slid on a wet stone. She fell with a loud splash into the water below. Spluttering and shivering, she pulled herself up on the other side. But the flame was gone. Someone had doused the fire.
They knew she was there.