East (Chapter Four, page 1 of 11)

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The journey out of the city was another level of surreal. My senses were overloaded by the fire and smoke, the screams of slaughter and the sense I'd been dropped into a video game without a controller.

Batu strode through his fellow warriors to cheers and teasing about being captured. They supplied him with two horses - in exchange for ears, which weirded me out to no end. As if suspecting I was one heartbeat from fleeing, he rode with Flowers in front of him while I had my own horse. I followed him closely through the maze of fire and death out of the city, unable to take in the world around me - but sickened by my own cowardice. All I could think of was that I was glad I wasn't one of Flowers' people being beheaded or killed, that I was happy to be alive when the rest of the world was on fire.

The thoughts and relief didn't seem … natural. Or healthy or right. I didn't wish any of the people around me dead, but I was glad not to be among them, either.

It was a strange mindset to be in.

The rocky land beyond the city was cool and dark. We cantered through the fires I'd seen from my window, and I was able to see they were indeed decoys. There was no encampment here, only campfires evenly spaced to give the appearance of an army.

Beyond the hill, to the south, straddling a narrow river, were the familiar mushroom tents of the Mongol army. There were thousands in the quiet valley and herds of animals that stretched as far as I could see into the darkness.

Batu wove through the tents before stopping before one and dismounting. I followed his lead. This part of camp was quieter than the edges, though there was still a great deal of activity.

"I will take her to the children," he said, motioning to Flowers, who remained on the horse.

"What?" I asked. "She can't stay with me?"

"We travel elsewhere," he answered.

I gazed up at him, wanting to ask or say so many things but pretty much failing to voice one word.

"She will be well, goddess," he added at my stare. "And you will have a reason to stay."

Blackmail. Or something like it. My stomach was already in knots, but it managed to twist into one more.

"I will return to the battle. I am short two ears, then take her to safety."

"How can you be short? You killed over thirty people!"

"A few of my kin were late to the battle. I gave them some of mine."

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