[This post is from Kailey Astoris’s point of view.]
The sound of their footsteps fell in behind her, the soft and oddly familiar echo of boots against the ground. It was almost comforting as long as she didn’t look back to see who was following her as she led them out of the main building and toward one of the cottages the Valley’s residents reserved for travelers—usually people from New Hope to the south or caravan traders passing through. A few times, she’d seen their uncle Drew’s brother and his pack come through, but they hadn’t come since she was twelve or thirteen—she couldn’t quite remember anymore when, exactly, it had been. Usually, though, the cottages stayed empty and quiet, clean and ready to accept travelers that only so rarely came.
Lin was only half a step behind her, but she didn’t dare look at him, either, her stomach roiling and twisting back on itself. How had he known? Why hadn’t he told her?
If she thought hard enough about it, she could come up with good answers to both questions, but she neither wanted to think too hard about it or have necessarily good answers—sometimes, she’d just rather be mad as her cousin, as close to her as a brother. This was one of those moments, for better or worse.
They were halfway to the cottage when someone cleared their throat behind her. She still didn’t look back, keeping her eyes trained straight ahead on their destination, but that didn’t stop the rider from speaking.
“I’m sorry about all of this.” It sounded like the lead rider’s voice. “From the look on your face, this is a bit of a shock.”
“Most strangers are a bit of a shock,” she said, trying to keep her voice level. “Your claim is just one of the more unusual ones, in my opinion.”
“Maybe,” he agreed quietly. “Still. I apologize for any kind of trauma we’ve brought along with us.”
Kailey frowned at the ground for a second, her jaw tightening. Trauma. He’s apologizing for trauma they may or may not have caused. As if Lin almost getting ripped apart by some monster earlier today didn’t already cause trauma. As if seeing my parents worried as hell didn’t already cause trauma. As if knowing that at any moment, something could decide to just show up and ruin the peace that all of our parents fought so long and hard for.
She shook her head, finally glancing back over her shoulder as they drew close to the cottage’s door. “You didn’t cause any trauma,” she said as her hand fell to the door’s knob. She twisted it, pushed the door open. “Nothing that we haven’t already felt before, anyway. Go on in. This is where you’ll be staying for the duration of your time here—however long or short that may be.”