Milyi ran until her legs were flame and agony. Her heartbeat pounded in her ears, and the rhythm echoed her
terrified thoughts, chanted her fears. She'd left her home, fled from punishment and run away with a...spider. Her stomach revolted. She could feel Hortach through her blouse, tiny claws that bristled against her skin and held him tightly to her arm and shoulder. Her steps lurched, stuttered and failed her.
She bent over and vomited into the vines.
"Are you ill? What is it?" His voice didn't exactly come from his mouth, did it?
Before she could debate where it originated, she hurled again, dry this time. They hadn't fed her much in the basket.
Milyi' s knees buckled. She rolled away from the sick and landed in the brush on her rump, shaking, crying but with nothing left in her belly to evacuate. She was alone. No tribe. No grandmother. Only the dark jungle and the disembodied voice of her people's worst enemy to guide her.
"Milyi, please. Talk to me. I can help. Is there a wound?"
Her head spun now, and the weight of the spider on her arm came more sharply into focus. So close to her face, and very large. He'd set her free, offered to help her now. She had no right to fear him. Even as she thought it, Horatch leapt from her arm, as if he sensed her fear in the tightening of her body. He landed like a leaf upon a nearby frond, and they faced one another and said no more.
The jungle twittered around them. A good sign. Pursuit would be noisy, full of crashing and the shouts of her people. People who had imprisoned her, she remembered. People who had turned on her first. They'd come after her eventually, and this time, Milyi had no doubts that they would kill her.
She didn't want to go back to them...even if she could have.
But that meant she had nothing, nowhere to go and no one aside from Horatch to depend on. The shivers in her limbs deepened. Alone. Alone in the jungle led to death in more ways than one.
"They'll come after us," she said. "What do we do? What can we do now, Horatch?"
"There is a river close by, Milyi. We'll follow it for awhile to lose their trackers."
"Follow it where?"
"To the city beyond the rift."
A city. She felt the stirring of hope. If there were a city beyond the rift, would there be other people there as well? Or to a T'rant, perhaps, a city meant more trees, more bark to squeeze through. It didn't matter, now. She'd go with him to either place if it meant escaping the fury they'd left behind.
"I think I'm okay to walk again."
"Would you rather I went through the trees?" Horatch tapped his front limbs against the leaf and it bounced him gently up and down. "I don't have to ride."
"No. I don't want to get lost."
He jumped as soon as she said it, used the leaf as a springboard and landed on her shoulder again. Big spider. Milyi closed her eyes and breathed until her leg steadied. Then she stood, looked into the trees again and wondered how far the city was, how they'd be able to cross the rift.
"Which way, Horatch?"
"Left." He tapped one side of his legs, directed her feet with gentle touches of his own. "It's not far."
"Let's hope not. I don't think crazy pigs will keep my escape from notice for very long."
"I agree. We need the water and as much luck as we can invoke."
"How far is the city?"
"It took me three days to reach your village, Milyi, but I road upon the beasts for a good part of that."
She couldn't say if that meant they'd take longer or go faster, but three days alone in the jungle was enough to bring the trembles back. Thinking too long on it would only make her sick again.
"What is it like?"
"Before, the temples lifted to the skies without blemish. The stones gleamed like gold underneath the sun, but I'm afraid the years have worn on the structure as much as they've worn down our population."
"Temples?" Milyi felt the surge again, the spark of hope. "Did your people build them?"
"Certainly not. Though, we live there now, and our burrows have always lined the pyramids. The Great Ones built the city, Milyi. With your people's help. And it was you Hands who maintained it during the long years of peace."
"There are people in the city?"
"There were once. No candidates have come to the walls since the war, however."
"Of course." Horatch made a clicking noise and tapped his toes on her again."I was not the only scout sent. By now, it is possible some of the others have found candidates as well. Then, they will return as we do."
"We can only hope."
Hope. Milyi trudge forward with less gloom in her steps. If there were more people coming, perhaps her exile wouldn't be the torture she'd feared. If there were others like her, maybe she wouldn't be alone. The trees thinned before the riverbank, but the stickers and vines doubled. She kicked her way through until they stood in a slice of open jungle, bathed in moonlight that sparkled across a wide river.
She'd run farther than she'd suspected, to have met the river now. South, too, away from the hunting grounds and the bits of jungle that were familiar to her. Now Horatch urged her to wade, and the chill of ice soaked into her bones at the water's touch. She'd have to get out often, or her feet would dull.
Her mind already drifted toward numb. She was tired, her sleep hadn't been deep inside the basket. If the rift was too far, Horatch might have to carry her a pace.
Milyi giggled and felt his grip tighten as her shoulder trembled.
"Horatch?" She stepped on slick stones while the water swirled around her calves, darkened the bottom of her skirt no matter how she held it up. Still, something nagged at her even more than the cold and the tugging of the current. "How will we cross the rift? My people say there is no bridge."
"Oh there is. There is a bridge."
He let that hang, and Milyi felt the hesitation, heard something he was afraid for her to know. "Is there?""Yes. It's just..." He clicked again, tapped and tried to find his words. He'd already scared her, and his explanation to only made it worse. "There is a bridge, Milyi. It's just very difficult to see."