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The group followed Jen through the strange forest toward the sound of the voices.

Something had seemed different about Jen since they’d reappeared in this alien forest. Her normally sunny demeanor was gone, replaced with a glower that she kept directed at him.

As if to provide an example for his thoughts, Jen stumbled over a small rock, then let out a groan of frustration, picking up the rock and hurling it at a tree.

“Stupid freaking rock,” she said.

“Is… your girlfriend alright?” Lachlan asked Sam.

“Ex-girlfriend,” said Sam.

Huh. So that was what that Bathsheba woman had meant by ‘suffering from a broken heart’.

“Ah,” said Lachlan. “Can I ask when the two of you found the time for a breakup during the events of today?”

“No,” said Sam.

“Well, alrighty, then,” said Lachlan.

Jen let out a derisive snort.

“So he doesn’t even know why?” she said. “Figures.”

“Know what?” said Lachlan. “I assume I’m the ‘he’ in question, but what does this have to do with me?”

“It has everything to do with you,” said Jen. ‘Ugh. Guys are so clueless.”

“Then by all means, enlighten me,” said Lachlan.

“Why don’t you ask Sam?” Jen’s voice dripped with contempt.

“Alright…?” said Lachlan. “Samurai, enlighten me.”

Sam’s demeanor had transformed dramatically since he’d unlocked his abilities. Before, he’d seemed nervous and a little awkward. Now, he stood up straighter, carrying himself with confidence and control. This was the first time since then that Lachlan had seen that confidence crack.

“I, uh… well…” Sam said. “It’s… kinda hard to explain.”

“Well, I’m dying of curiosity over here.”

“So… the thing is… I–“

“Whatever you three are squabbling about, this is obviously not the time for it,” said Mrs. Sharma.

“Yes, ma’am,” said Jen.

The voices grew louder as they approached. Lachlan couldn’t make out what they were saying, but he didn’t think it was in English. He exchanged a look with Sam and could tell he was thinking the same thing.

“Something tells me those aren’t the others we’re hearing,” said Sam.

Jen frowned at him.

“What makes you so sure?”

“They’re not speaking English,” said Lachlan.

“It’s not just not English,” said Angelina. “They don’t sound human. Their voices are weird. It reminds me of…”

They rounded a cluster of trees to find two massive, muscled figures, at least two meters tall and covered in olive scales. Each of them had a long, curved sword in a sheathe.

“Zogzhesh,” said Chelsea.

“Hold still,” Mrs. Sharma said. “Everyone be quiet and don’t let them see you.”

“More snake guys?” whispered Angelina.

“What did I just say?” hissed Mrs. Sharma.

The snake people looked up, both flicking their tongues into the air. One spoke to the other in their strange language, then they both turned their heads toward the group.

They’d been spotted.

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