The figure stood near the path she’d just traveled, cutting her off. She couldn’t go that way.
Rianna halted her retreat, calling herself all sorts of a fool. She had an advantage she kept forgetting. Taking several deep, calming breaths, she centered herself, emptying her mind and casting out her consciousness. Fumbling, her mind roamed over her immediate surroundings, searching until she brushed against another presence. Narrowing her concentration, she circled it with caution, seeking a clue to guide her.
A sense of menace heightened her nervousness, her concentration wavering for a few precious seconds. Determined, she steadied her focus, but the presence kept sliding from her inexperienced probe. Was she reading the figure correctly? Was it a he? She still couldn’t be sure.
Those brief moments of success only fed her uneasiness. The impression of malevolence was strong, almost choking. Male or female? Friend or foe? She couldn’t tell.
Keeping her eyes on the shadowy figure blocking her escape, Rianna resumed her slow backward retreat, careful to make no sound. Stopping just inside the labyrinth, she could see the path, waiting quietly while seconds lengthened into minutes and still she saw nothing. Yet some instinct held her motionless. Surely anyone with friendly intent would have come forward by now, shown themselves to her.
At last her diligence was rewarded as the dark specter silently slid from his/her post and moved closer to the entrance of the maze. The fading light briefly reflected off a row of silver buttons running down one side of a tunic. Relaxing, Rianna sighed with relief. A palace guard. Jhaan must have assigned someone to keep an eye on her.
Redirecting her efforts she gave up trying to hold on to that slippery connection, releasing it and sending her consciousness toward Jhaan. Carefully she skimmed his uppermost thoughts, finding him in a meeting with members of his father’s cabinet. Brushing against his mind with gentle insistence, she gained a portion of his attention even while he continued his discussions.
“Rianna? What is it, maarai?”
Rianna smiled with pleasure at this small success. At least in this she had no problems. “Assigning a guard to watch me was unnecessary.”
She continued to watch the entrance of the maze where her guard was once more standing motionless. She could still feel the weight of his gaze upon her even though she knew she was partially concealed in the shadows. She sensed when Jhaan abruptly broke off his conversation in mid-sentence. There was a peculiar stilling sensation as Jhaan swung his full attention on her.
“No one was assigned to watch you, Rianna.”
She felt his concentration leave her to scan her immediate surroundings. Linked as she was to him, she was able to appreciate the skill he wielded as, without apparent effort, he split his consciousness. Unerringly, he picked up the figure even as the intruder suddenly moved, raising one arm before him.
“Rianna, get out of there!”
Shock held her immobile for an instant, startled by Jhaan’s imperious shout. Unlocking frozen muscles, she fell back as a flash of light came from the direction of the shadowy intruder, followed by the pinging whine of a discharging blaster.
Throwing herself to one side she came up against the prickly branches of the tall bordering hedge and sank into its embrace. Burning pain sliced across her upper arm, and she bit back a cry as it dropped to her side, useless. Shock lasted only a heartbeat before she tore herself free of the clinging vegetation and fled deeper into the maze in a blind panic.
Branches reached out to snag her clothes, delaying her as she yanked her skirts free, racing without thought or direction.
Jhaan’s mental shout spurred her on. Pushing her way along the hedge, she tried to block out the searing pain of her arm, keeping close to the concealing shadows.
Her wild, thrashing flight must be giving her away. Rianna slowed down, glancing fearfully behind her and then, controlling her fear, she tried to concentrate on locating her assailant.
At first she heard nothing past her own labored breathing, nothing out of the ordinary. She was aware that Jhaan had left the palace and was closing the distance between them, his mind firmly locked with hers to guide him to her. That knowledge enabled her to once again extend her fledgling Talent in an attempt to pinpoint her foe.
“Rianna? Are you hurt?” She could hear Jhaan’s concern in the mental inquiry. “I can feel your pain.”
“My arm. A minor burn.” She continued to sweep her surroundings. She had to find her attacker before he found her. “Hurts, but not crippling.”
“He is in the next passage.”
Rianna strained until she found the other presence. He was so close—too close. Moving with slow, deliberate care she eased herself in the opposite direction, her slippers making no sound on the shorn grass.
Fear lent strength to her psi ability as she latched onto the mental waves emanating from the man, carefully keeping track of her assailant as she slipped down another passage. She could feel him searching for her, making as little sound as she, caution uppermost in his emotions. She dared not lose him now. Her stalker gave no thought to the possibility of discovery, confident that he had her trapped within the labyrinth.