Lila kept her eyes on the forest, chills skittering over her skin. She didn’t like what the border had done to the land. It made the trees look like blackened skeletal fingers, arching over the chattering group of women, who were off to do their laundry.
It reminded her of one of her reoccurring nightmares: when she’d first burnt down the village. She hadn’t wanted to hurt them, but when they’d tied her to the stake and lit a fire at her feet, fear and energy had churned inside of her. And then darkness. She’d woken up to find everything around her reduced to ashes. And in the place of people were spindly burnt bones—just like the trees. It was only a matter of time before she lost control again.
“What’s your name?”
Lila glanced at a young girl, who stood half a head shorter. The girl had a sweet face, with wide brown eyes. Her nightmares were likely about the monster under her bed. Lila’s were much worse: they were about the monster inside.
Lila continued walking, hoping the girl would take the hint as most people in the camp had. When she next lost control, she wanted as few people around her as possible.
The girl kept pace with her. “My name’s Shailyn.”
Leaves crunched. The women’s inane chatter continued. Somewhere behind her, Lila heard Carissa laugh. If Elon hadn’t calmed her powers, Carissa would have been dead by now. Reduced to ash and bone.
“So my friends and I were wondering why your eyes glow.”
They didn’t glow; they were just bright and pale.
“They’re very pretty.” After five beats of silence, the girl sighed. “My friends told me that I wouldn’t get you to talk to me. I guess I should have listened.” Then she skipped back to the cluster of girls, and their group burst into whispers and thinly veiled glances in Lila’s direction.
The girl’s words dug deep, planting themselves somewhere within Lila’s chest. Lila allowed herself to feel the pain for a moment before tamping it down. She hadn’t had a friend—aside from Aleck—in years. She didn’t need them.
Something tickled the edge of her senses, and Lila slowed her steps. Something was wrong. In the distance, it sounded like another pair of footsteps—a pair separate from the group. Lila glanced around her, searching for the straggler. Or perhaps one of the men had followed them to keep watch.
Movement stirred within the depths of the forest, but the overcast sky made it too dim to determine what. Hopefully a bird and squirrel. But Lila’s gut told her otherwise.
“Tag! You’re it!” Peals of laughter rung out from Lila’s left just before the group of girls scattered. One—Shailyn—ran into the forest.
The little fool was going to get herself killed.
Lila reached down into her boot and checked that the dagger she’d swiped from camp was still there. Then she took off after Shailyn, pumping her legs as fast as they could go.