Prize clapped Vival on the shoulder. “It’s good to see you well,” he said. “Your sword painted a dire picture.”
“My sword…” Vival repeated, looking uneasy.
Prize gestured and a woman appeared carrying a long cloth. She opened it to reveal a familiar looking blade.
“Reunited at last!” it said, excited.
“Tom!” cried Vival, hurrying to it and running a dark finger along the blade affectionately.
“Hello, Nyla! You survived after all! That’s pretty impressive.”
“It is impressive!” Nyla agreed. “You wouldn’t believe what I’ve been through, Tom. I have so much to tell you!”
Prize gave Vival a look. “I thought this was your sword.”
Vival looked uncomfortable. “It…sort of belongs…”
Nyla cut him off. “It doesn’t belong to anyone. He’s our friend!”
“But Tom didn’t know where we were,” Vival said, looking uneasily at Prize.
“We followed Render,” Prize replied simply.
Vival’s eyes narrowed. “Render would never have allowed that. You couldn’t possibly have followed him closely enough without him knowing.”
“Well…” Prize admitted. “We had some help.”
“What help?” Vival demanded, pointing an angry finger at Prize’s chest. “Who are you working for?”
“Vival!” Nyla said, coming in between them. “Don’t be rude! He saved us!”
Vival did not look reassured. He backed a step away from Prize.
“Don’t worry about it,” said Prize. “We’re heading back to Zen now, and so are you. Let’s just travel together.”
Vival nodded, but he turned away, a grim expression on his face. Nyla watched him walk several steps. She hastened to catch up to him.
“What’s wrong?” she whispered to Vival.
“I don’t know,” Vival muttered down to her. “Just because he’s saved us from Render doesn’t mean he’s here to help us. He keeps his motives very close to his chest. That’s how he does what he does so well. If we go to Zen with him, he may very well have a nasty turn waiting for us.”
Nyla considered. “Can we get there without him?”
Vival shrugged. “We can’t go alone. The desert would kill us. Some of the Just might have taken us, but now they’ll be too busy repairing the damage from the storm. It could take weeks.”
“Do we have to go to Zen?”
Vival looked conflicted. “I promised to take you to the Sand Witch,” he said. “She seems to think it’s important that you be there. And anyway,” he said, “I’m not sure what Prize would do if we refused.”
“So we go,” Nyla said. “That’s fine. I’m not worried.”
Vival looked down at her, surprised. “Why?”
“Because we’re together.”
Vival shrugged once, considering.
Nyla frowned and put her hands on her hips. “That’s all you got? A shrug?”
Vival was taken aback. “I didn’t say anything. I just shrugged.”
“I know!” Nyla said, irritated. “I try to be nice and sweet and all you can do is shrug. Okay, mister Hero. I can see how much I mean to you.” She stomped a ways off.
“Nyla!” Vival called out. “I didn’t mean…oh, for crying out loud!”
He didn’t see the secret smile on her face. She wasn’t about to show him.