Axra sat in the field, dejected. She’d been beaten, depressingly easily. You’re too weak to protect Twila. The words were haunting, but she couldn’t deny them.
What would happen to her now? Would Lulu insist that Twila go on without her? She’d have to order Lilly, Velvet and Bonnie to stay with Twila. Surely, the three of them could keep her safe. Velvet would go quietly. Lilly would protest, but she’d go. Bonnie was the wild card. She would follow her fathers’ orders first and foremost. If Axra could persuade her that she’d be safe going home alone, then she might obey. Would Twila be okay with just Lilly, Velvet and Lysara?
Lysara. Axra hated to admit it, but she was jealous of that girl. Lysara had no trouble opening up about her feelings. She didn’t let anything bring her down. She kept moving forward, earnest and confident. The idea of Twila relying on Lysara… it hurt.
She picked herself up, wiped her eyes, sheathed her blade and went back inside. The path seemed longer, colder. When she reached the library the girls were sitting in a semi-circle. Lysara was playing her lyre and singing a ballad. Axra couldn’t focus on the words. She hurriedly slipped into her sleeping bag and closed her eyes. Even if she had to go… even if she couldn’t be with them anymore… she couldn’t let them see her crying.
She wasn’t sure whether she actually slept or she’d spent all night running over the situation in her mind. Trying to figure out how she’d failed. But when morning came, she was exhausted. They ate a quick breakfast and packed their gear. Lulu and Shin went to see them off.
“I’ll see you again soon,” Twila said. “And I’ll make sure to write. Take care of yourself.” She hugged Lulu. “You too, I guess.” She lightly punched Shin’s arm.
“Be careful on the road,” Lulu said.
Axra looked away. This was it. The moment she’d been dreading.
“Don’t try to shoulder everything. You’ve got some good friends.” Much to her surprise, Lulu touched her shoulder. “Rely on them when you have to.”
“I will,” Twila said. “Don’t worry.”
The group began their trek back towards the surface.
“Why?” Axra wondered. She stopped. She had to know. “I almost forgot,” she said. “My dad wanted me to make a personal apology to your uncle on his behalf. I’d better go back and take care of that.”
“D… do you want me to come?” Lilly asked.
“No, that’s okay,” Axra answered. “I can manage on my own.”
“We’ll wait here,” Twila said.
Axra nodded and ran back for the building. Lulu was sitting outside with one of the wolves in his lap. Shin was nowhere to be seen.
“Back?” Lulu asked.
“Why?” Axra inquired. “I… I thought you were going to tell me to go home.”
“Does it really matter why? Aren’t you happy to be traveling with Twila?”
“I am,” Axra said. “Hearing that I would still be able to, I was really happy. But I thought I was too weak to protect her. So why…”
Her train of thought was interrupted by Lulu holding up his hand in a gesture for silence. “You are too weak,” he said. “You can’t protect her. However, she doesn’t need protection. She’s perfectly capable of handling herself. What she needs are companions who care about her and will do their utmost on her behalf.”
“So, I’m good enough,” Axra stated.
“Yes,” Lulu agreed. “I saw your heart and you are more than good enough.” He turned away from her. “Go on. They’re probably waiting.”
Axra nodded and hurried back. She was weak but she was still good enough to stay with Twila, even if she couldn’t protect her. She resolved to become strong during their journey. Strong enough to be able to protect those she cared about. Strong enough to be able to show her feelings without regret.