Disclaimer: All characters belong to the one and only Tamora Pierce.

Numair and Daine picked their way through a treacherous path, made no easier by the darkness that encroached upon them from on all sides. The moon and stars provided light, but the pale glow was feeble and weak. As they hiked through the darkness, Daine let her mind wander as she was ought to do after a long and tiring day. She sensed the big mage behind her, treading as softly as his tall frame would let him. Daine allowed herself a half-smile, and in her distraction, almost walked into a large boulder that had been concealed by the shadows. She scowled but soon felt the corners of her mouth turn up when large hands held her safely and steadily and tightly from behind.

Numair caught and steadied her. "Careful magelet. I don't want to lose you."

Looking up at her teacher's face, Daine felt a flash of heat rush through her body. His eyes, illuminated by the magical staff her father had given him, betrayed something that Daine could not begin to comprehend. When she tried to look deeper, Numair had once more eased his facial features into one of calmness.

"Gods, Numair. It's not like I'm gonna walk over a cliff or anything," she snapped at him to cover up her confusion. She shrugged off his hold and stumbled away from him, tripping slightly on the pebbles that littered the path.

The fact alone that he was hiding something from her of all people irritated Daine. They had been traveling alone with each other for so long, keeping each other company, fighting against the immortals together, not to mention, and daily risking their lives that Daine didn't think they would have any secrets from each other. And yet— there was something different.

Daine had long sensed a change in their relationship, but she never voiced her opinion on it to Numair for fear that he would laugh at her, or do something that either she or he may come to regret. Daine yelled at herself internally: Isn't it enough that we're friends? Am I wrong for suddenly wanting something more?

She thought about how these changes have come to affect her in ways that were strange and unknown to her. Like right then, when he had caught her, Daine felt her heartbeat accelerate, taking off like a hawk lost in the hunt. Her consequent lack of breath caused a sort of lightheadedness in Daine that she had never experienced before. Of late, whenever she had managed to look into Numair's eyes, she had seen something there that scared her and yet excited her at the same time. It was a very disconcerting feeling. She was reminded of the time when she had first met him in his hawk form. By gazing into his bird eyes, she had felt dizzy and faint. She wanted to know what it was about him this time that put her under his spell.

However, Daine thought with an uncharacteristic spurt of savage vindictiveness, I'm not the only one feeling this way. Come to think of it, Numair had been acting very strangely. Numair's actions, as fleeting as they were, still betrayed him. When they hugged, as they did quite often nowadays, his dark eyes would begin to smolder. When he thought her attention was otherwise diverted, Numair would gaze at her; and when caught, his face turned a ruddy hue underneath his tan. And, he had started to annoy Daine with his overprotectiveness, especially in his comments that she stay with her parents instead of returning with him to help their friends and to save their home from complete destruction.

Then, a cry shook Daine back to reality. She looked up and saw Numair being carried off by what looked like an arm comprised of rocks.

"Numair!" Daine screamed at him, simultaneously stringing her crossbow with ease.

As she took a step back, the ground beneath her gave way and Daine plummeted down the cliff towards the unknown.