Even though I didn’t do anything wrong, I continue to pretend to be asleep in my nest of pillows. But eventually I start getting tired of lying in the same position, especially as I hear everyone else start to get up.
The mist from earlier has disappeared and I can see to the far end of Enfer, where the next set of portals are. My hand tightens around the hilt of my sword. I’m really going to miss being here.
I stand up slowly and tie the metal scabbard to one of my belt loops. Footsteps scuff on the opal floor behind me.
“Nikki?” Wraith questions softly.
I turn around, enjoying the feel of the extra weight on my left hip. “What?”
“May I speak with thee?” he asks, nervously looking down at his feet.
I nod and cross my arms across my body. “Yeah, of course. What’s up?”
“I know that this journey was my idea,” he begins slowly.
“But I was the one who decided to come and kept going,” I interject.
He nods and gives a small smile. “And as much as I value thy companionship, I cannot accompany you farther on this journey. Henki and Daemon will take care of thee, but I belong here in Enfer.”
I uncross my arms and start braiding my hair. “That’s fine. I just want you to be happy. This is my quest, to save my family and my kingdom. I’m not asking anyone to come with me if they don’t want to.”
“So thou art fine with my decision?” he asks searchingly.
I nod. “I told you I was. Stay where you are happy, Wraith. And with who makes you happy,” I add, seeing the glimmering of Artemis’ diamond hair behind him.
Wraith nods in return. “I give thee my thanks, Nikki.” He steps forward and pulls me into a tight hug.
I mumble a response and enjoy the hug, my first hug from Wraith that has no ulterior motive. I take a deep breath after he lets go and slowly walk back to the fire, where Daemon and Henki are waiting.
Artemis follows Wraith and sticks the tip of her black sword into the pavilion floor, leaning forward on the hilt. “So you will journey on?” she asks.
I nod. “Thank you, Artemis, for everything. The sword and the food and the shelter. And the advice.”
She nods curtly and turns her white eyes toward the portals. “Your journey will be long, Princess Nichole.”
I jump. No one except my dad every calls me “Nichole,” and only when I’m in trouble.
“But it will be worth it,” she continues. “You will find everything that you are looking for.”
Daemon mounts his horse silently and I follow suit. Henki steps forward and we begin riding toward the portals. I turn and look over my shoulder, looking through the hair blowing out of my loose braid. I see the lone dark figure of Artemis with her sword raised high in salute. I fumble for a moment to unsheathe my sword, then return her salute. She lowers her arm and I turn back around look back toward the portals.