After easing the princess out of her cleavage, Ayla turned her attention to the reason for the sudden halt. There was no obvious sound from the exterior of the carriage, but that didn’t mean all was well. She waited for long moments, but eventually curiosity required her to put her head out of one of the shuttered windows. She saw nothing. Nothing at all.
Hope leaned down from the driver’s seat. “Kira’s having a turn, I think.”
Frowning with concern, Ayla disembarked the carriage. Hope’s assessment seemed accurate at first glance. Kira was staring at the road in front of them with a fixated expression.
“Kira?” Ayla repeated the warrior’s name.
Slowly, Kira seemed to come back from wherever she’d been. She looked at Ayla with an expression which was both shocked and happy, a rare combination on a staunch warrior’s visage.
“Ariadne,” she said. “I saw Ariadne on the road.”
“That’s not possible,” Ayla replied. “Ariadne is…”
They’d never said the word, or any of its euphemisms. Goddesses didn’t die, after all. The subject of what had happened to Ariadne had remained closed, a mystery neither Ayla nor Kira wanted to explore. What they did admit was that Ariadne had been gone a very long time and was highly unlikely to ever make any kind of return.
“I saw her,” Kira repeated. “With my eyes.”
“I didn’t see her with mine, if that helps,” Hope said, climbing down from the driving seat. “One minute we were driving along, the next minute…” she made a swirling motion near her left ear with her left index finger. “Maybe we should change out drivers.”
“Maybe you should still your tongue and show some respect,” Kira snapped. “Twenty four drills when we return. Done immediately.”
Hope’s face fell. “But…”
“Forty eight drills,” Kira continued mercilessly, raising a brow as if daring Hope to open her mouth again.
“Perhaps you should give the reins to Hope,” Ayla intervened. “I think we should talk more about this visitation. It could have some significance.”
“It was her, Ayla,” Kira insisted, keeping a firm hold of the reins. “I do not see visions. I am not weak of mind. I know what I saw.”
“Where is she now?”
“Gone,” Kira said. “She went away the moment you got out of the carriage.”
“Aridane was never one to materialize and dematerialize without fanfare,” Ayla said gently. “But seeing her does not mean you are weak of mind, even if she was not truly there…”
“She WAS there,” Kira said, exasperated.
“There wasn’t anyone or anything there,” Hope piped up with foolhardy braveness. “Are you sure you didn’t get brained when you were stealing the princess?”
“I did not get brained,” Kira scowled at the scout. “Ninety six drills.”
Hope rolled her eyes. “I can’t do ninety six…”
“A hundred and ninety two,” Kira continued multiplying.
“Nobody can do a hundred and ninety two,” Hope sighed. “Not even you.”
“Three hundred and eighty four,” Kira said grimly.
Hope shut her mouth and gave Ayla a helpless look.
“Kira,” Ayla said gently. “Let’s talk about this. Given our current mission, I do not think this visitation was any coincidence. Please, come inside the carriage and leave the driving to Hope. She can be trusted to steer the horses, and her eye is keen.”
Kira gave the hapless Hope a cutting look, then shook her head curtly. “We will talk when it is safe to talk,” she said. “We are losing ground against trackers. Get back into the carriage, we must depart immediately.”
“Very well,” Ayla agreed. “But if you see anything else, or experience any headaches or dizziness…”
“I am well,” Kira growled.
“Just peachy,” Hope agreed. “I’m going to ride in back with Ayla. It’s padded back there.”
“Seven hundred and sixty eight drills,” Kira bit out, her dark gaze locked on Hope with the sort of displeasure which would likely prove dangerous to the scout’s hide.
“Just make it infinity drills and be done with it,” Hope muttered under her breath as she slid into the carriage. Ayla followed, but before she could shut the door, they both heard Kira’s voice coming from the driver’s perch.
“One thousand, five hundred and thirty six drills…”