Although we must stay on guard at all times, in case one of those horned bulls wanders close enough to see us, our trek across the Grasslands now induces less anxiety. While we no longer have a clear path, I am grateful that our life-and-death attachment to one is over. Though we are harassed, we do not feel as threatened.

However the sun has not relented in its own assault. Though I do my best to cover my skin it still manages to burn me in various patches every day. Unlike me, Balthandar does not burn. His skin has gotten so dark, in fact, that it is difficult to distinguish the tattoos lining his features any longer. I think it brings him no small level of joy to be back in the heat of the sun again.

It brings me joy, but that joy is counteracted by the blisters.

I only wish I could share this with you, not in writing, but in person. In this moment. Or at least with Dionus, who would have some quip about the fragility of my skin or the irony of shit-eating hawks.

And then I think of Naline.

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The echo of my own voice on these pages brings me the greatest sense of loneliness of all. It accentuates the knowledge that even should I survive this madness, I will never be able to share it with Naline. I will never be able to sit across a table from her, drink, laugh, and then share my darkest moments in her confidence.

She is taken from me.

Yet it was I who put her out to die, apart from me.

She gave me so much. I never told anyone about Naline, though of course my own pack knew her. She was my secret, and she kept my secrets. She was my friend, a link to a world beyond the Tetrarch where life was not about Demons and Daemons, but food and laughter. Where the darkness of the night was not frightful for its promise of attack, but for the greater threat of solitude.

Most girls who have taken to me have done so because of my reputation. Even Lystra never loved me for who I was, but for the fame and for the pride of claiming me as hers. Naline was removed from those spheres, so far so that she had scarcely heard of me before we met.

I don’t know why Naline loved me. She saw me for who I really was, and she loved me.

Gods, I’ve thrown away the only person in the world to do so.

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