Aster Wood and the Blackburn Son
get down to business. Together.”

    An hour later, we were gathered around the fire pit, now all but empty. A tiny wisp of smoke curled up from the blackened coals.  
    Now that the plan was made, and it had been decided that we wouldn’t yet go back for Rhainn and Cait, I was more eager than ever to get started. The sooner I got that gold, the sooner we could set them free.  
    “The best way to get back to Riverstone,” Owyn said, “is to take the chaser. You.” He pointed at me. “How long did it take you to get here from the Fire Mountains using Kiron’s link? That’s where we need to jump from.”
    I shrugged. “I was out there for a long time,” I said. “Months. But if we jumped straight through, we could do it in a day or two, probably.”
    “Good,” he said. “The link Kiron gave you is faster than the one I carried when I set out. The sooner we can get there, the better.”
    It was the first thing Owyn had said that I had fully agreed with.
    Then, he turned to Kiron and Finian and held out his hand to shake. “Sorry our meeting’s been so short, my friends.”  
    Kiron shook his hand. Finian just glared.  
    “Bring our boy back,” Kiron said.  
    Owyn dug the tip of his staff into the dirt and didn’t answer. It was the first time I had noticed he was carrying it, and the sight of it reminded me of how it had felt in my hands when I had unearthed it from the treasure hold. Warm. And surging with power. Maybe with a tool as powerful as the staff we would stand a chance against Jade. Though I hoped still that I would find a way to convince her to give up the gold willingly.
    I approached Kiron, and I was relieved when he didn’t look away from me, didn’t hide any of the complexity of his thoughts that showed through his steel blue irises. He put one hand on my shoulder, and I understood. No false promises were to be made today. Not by him.
    “When you get back,” he said to both of us, “we’ll either be here, or there.” He pointed towards the city. “Hopefully still in our right minds, in either case.”
    I smirked a little. “I’ll just give you a kick if you’re not,” I said.  
    He raised one eyebrow, grimacing as he remembered his bruised shins. My own were still smarting from the other day.
    “Ready?” Owyn asked, holding out one hand.
    I pulled out Kiron’s link from around my neck and pointed it back in the direction of the Fire Mountains, gripping Owyn’s hand at the last moment.
    The friends that I had finally made my way back to after all these months vanished from my sight in a blast of power.
    We jumped. Ten times. Twenty. Forty. I lost track as I tried to hold my stomach tight, to keep the pain from the twisting at bay.  
    Finally, after more than an hour, Owyn gripped onto my forearm, stopping me. His face was covered with sweat, and his hands shook.  
    “Time for a rest, I think,” he said.  
    I didn’t argue. We both flopped down to the ground, panting. Surrounding us was the tall grass I had run through days before, waving innocently in the breeze. We hadn’t come across the army again, and I was extremely grateful. Maybe seeing those kids would’ve strengthened my resolve to keep going. But more likely than not it would’ve just made me crumble.  
    When Owyn had caught his breath, he sat up, pulling from his pocket a square package wrapped in paper. He crinkled the wrapping and pulled out a hunk of fine pastry, holding a piece of it out to me. Dripping down the sides of the bread were thin trails of icing.  
    I stared.
    “Where did you get this?” I asked, my mouth watering, but still unwilling to accept the treat. When I didn’t take it, he tore off a piece of it and shoved it into his mouth.
    “Stole it,” he said.  
    “Why didn’t you tell the others?” I asked.
    He laughed.  
    “Split eleven ways we all might’ve had a bite the size of a grape.” He smacked his lips, nudging me with his still outstretched hand. “Go on, take it.

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