East (Chapter Four, page 2 of 11)


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If we were talking about anything other than human body parts, I might regard him as considerate if not kind hearted to take care of his family. But we weren't, and his sacrifice of ears was morbidly horrifying.

"You are to remain here," he instructed me. "I will be gone following the battle to take Monkey to the other children. My uncle will watch over you." He strode to the tent beside us and peeked his head into it. "Uncle! I am leaving my goddess with you!" Without waiting for an answer, he returned to his horse. He wound the reins of the spare horse to his wooden saddle.

I was stuck on the vision of him collecting more ears. Blinking my way out of it, I faced him. "Gone? Aren't you my guardian?"

"No harm will befall you," he assured me. "You are an honored guest, a goddess."

"Or thereabouts," I murmured.

"Or thereabouts," he agreed. He took the reins of my horse.

"Batu, I …" There was no right way to tell him I didn't want to be here or worse - I didn't want him taking the princess and leaving me alone.

He waited.

"I'm going to cry and vomit for the next two days," I managed.

"If it please you, ugly one. Do not try to leave." He mounted his horse once more. "Lamb and wolf. I can hunt you wherever you go."

Unless I time travel before you return. I rolled my eyes. It was an effective and somewhat freaky analogy, one that left me no doubt what happened to a lamb that challenged the wolf one time too many.

"Moonbeam." The princess leaned away from him. Moonlight glinted off my phone.

I stretched to take it. "Thanks. Don't be scared, okay? He said he's going to protect us."

She didn't appear convinced.

Tugging my horse behind him, Batu trotted off with the princess. She leaned around him to gaze at me, a little scared and unfortunately, also trusting. I had no idea if Batu planned to do with her what he said he did.

I watched them then gazed at the tent. It was hard to feel my normal spirit of adventure after being dropped into a bloodbath. I focused on keeping my wild emotions at bay. Survival was my priority. I had to suppress anything that didn't serve me making it out of here, including the horrific images in my head of what was left of the city.

My stomach growled, and I took a deep breath. No matter what, I needed food.

Stepping into the tent, my gaze was drawn first to the remains of a small feast on a table on one side and then to a loudly snoring man who appeared to be passed out on a few pillows near the fire. He was dressed for battle but hadn't left the tent. A goblet of spilled wine was by his hand, and I assumed he'd been too deep in his cups to join the charge into the city.

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