The Chain (Part 12)
HOLY SHIT SHE THICK AND IMPORTANT AND SHE KNOWS IT ((((((: This chapter is the one I have been writing towards since day one of this fic. I hope you all enjoy it. Also... I’m put this up on AO3, so if you guys could maybe also go over there and give it a lil love I would really appreciate it ((((: Dont worry, I’ll still post the fic here too.
Main concept: Two love struck idiots get sent back to a pretty UGH time period in their lives (that required me to reread all the books again) and have to hide the fact that they know everything. Stupidity ensues.
Find the rest of the fic here: part 1 / part 2 / part 3 / part 4 / part 5 / part 6 / part 7 / part 8 / part 9 / part 10 / part 11
Tag list: @delilahlbard, @king-maven-calore (for when you get back love), @thatoddgirl777, @elliekratzzz, @evangelineartemiasamos, @evangeline-of-montfort, @scxrletguardsdawn, @freaky-freiday, @petergrantkavinsky, @kuwei, @whatsup-gorls, @katiemoore, @redqueenetwork, @tranquil-dusk, @tinyrebelvoidshoe
The reek of burning rubble assaults my nose as I stomp along the bridge avoiding soldiers left and right. The flames lick at the purpling sky, forcing the coming dawn to ashy midnight again. The bombs rocked the bridge connecting the two sides of Archeon, and true to plan, Farley’s operative scatter like marbles in practiced chaos. Cal coached her on how to maneuver them, how to cause just enough problems that legions will focus on them and not on me, strolling through the whole scene like a ghost.
My night clothes are covered in ash by the time I reach the bridge. Against the flames, I can see two shadows. Cal directs soldiers, pushing them into positions that leave a perfect gap for Farley and the others to race through the tunnels and into the palace. We just have to play the part long enough that she makes it in. I can do that, I can stall.
“Cal!” I scream his name over the clamor, but he does not turn to face me, too busy directing to notice my voice. A pair of icy blue eyes latch onto me instead. Even though I knew he would be out here trying to help control the chaos, the fury in his eyes still makes my stomach swoop. This was still his plan, but there is something wrong. I am not supposed to be here, and we both know that because I am, thing have already diverted.
He storms toward me, his jacket cutting in the wind created by a Wind Weaver trying to direct the smoke and ash away from the supply sheds, to avoid them catching and burning too. I match his pace, the two of us almost sprinting at each other, about to clash head on. He slows before I do though, and when we meet toe to toe, he almost relents a step.
“What have you done?” He growls through clenched teeth as waves of heat roll off him and forces beads of sweat to break out on my forehead. My lightning rises to the fore though, ready to defend me.
“I could say the same thing. You tried to turn Farley against me.” I jeer as I dispel the sparks dancing along my fingertips. “But you’re too late, she trusted me to sway Cal still.”
His eyes widen as I shove my elbow into his stomach and take two steps by him toward Cal who finally spins to face me. I paint a mask of desperation on my face as I launch myself at him and grab at his jacket. He catches my wrists, holding me close at the same time that he spins to pull me away from the flames that explode toward me, protecting me even when he’s acting. He feels cold against my body, almost foreign as we face the cumulation of our planning.
Maven’s fingers curl around the back of my jacket, trying to pull me away from him. I yank away, grabbing Cal’s face and forcing him to look at me as I say, “This could be the only cost. Just a few tons of concrete and some wood. It could all be over.”
We know that we will pay a far greater cost very soon, and this bridge will one day be painted in red and silver blood. If our plan succeeds tonight though, perhaps it never will, perhaps we can avoid all of it.
“Don’t.” He whispers, and he plays his part so well that for a moment I forget this is all an act. The fear in his irises flickers like his flame, and his grip on my wrists grows tender and uncertain. Is he regretting this part of the plan? It’s too late for us to pull out though. He has to follow through now, or risk losing Farley and the soldiers with her.
“She’s a traitor.” Maven hisses behind me, his hand closing around my wrist and trying to yank me away. “She orchestrated all of this with those Red devils. She gave them the targets for the Sun Shooting.”
His touch burns hotter than a brand as he tries to keep pulling me away. Cal holds on desperately though, the fear in his eyes bleeding across his features like the dawn about to explode to life around us. We knew this was coming, but it does not make it any easier.
We both knew Maven would try to turn him against me in the end. What Maven does not know is that this is my Cal. The man who had lain in a fox hole burrow with me and chased away my nightmares. The man who faced down countless legions with me and saved my life more times than I can count, even when I didn’t deserve it. The man who stood by me even when I spit in his eye and stole his life from him. The man who, when it finally came down to it, chose me. The man who turned his back on the world he knew and faced the dawn with me, a Red girl he saw as different long before he even knew just how different she was.
“It’s okay.” I breathe, urging him on while Maven shouts to the soldiers, alerting them to the Guard operatives in the sewers. They won’t get to them in time. They have all but vanished from the Square anyway, following Cal’s order to Farley. As soon as I got Cal’s attention, they were supposed to vanish, and they have. But they did not take the tunnels. They filters over the sides of the cliff, and the bridge, dropping into the river and crawling to the other side like spiders to vanish into East Archeon. They will not die tonight.
His grip tightens around my wrists, and his expression crumbles as he whispers, “It was always you.”
Cold hands wrap around my neck, dragging me away from Cal as a wave of silence threatens to drown me. Maven still shouts to storm the drains, but he won’t find anything there. This was never his plan, it was Cal’s from the beginning. Cal, who now doesn’t just think like a Silver general anymore, but a Red one too. Maven doesn’t stand a chance this time.
Cal’s eye flash to Maven who spins to face him as well, fury coating every line in his face.
“How did you know they would be in the drains?” Cal hisses, and Maven’s expression crumples in shock. He thought Cal wasn’t truly listening. He thought he was occupied with me, but he was wrong, and now he will pay the price for it.
“Brother,” Maven whispers, his eyes darting to the soldiers that slowly start to circle him. Shackles snap closed around my wrists and I laugh as a Strongarm and Swift grab Maven’s arms and force him to his knees as Cal looks on with fury burning in his eyes.
“You thought you could escape your fate?” I sneer at Maven as the Arven gripping my arm hauls me to my feet. “You betrayed all of them just as much as I did. You are a traitor as much as I am.”
Maven bucks, panic flaring across his features. They drag him to his feet too, and wrestle him into submission.
“Cal, they’ll kill me!” He shouts, but Cal turns his head away, his eyes locking with mine. I set my jaw, ready to face the wolves and take the final step in our plan. It is time we finish this act, and move toward the future.
“Take them inside, to the king. He will judge them both.” He orders, but the words sound hollow. I wish I could reach out and take his hand, to prepare him for the blow that is coming. If Farley does not succeed in her part of the plan, then Cal will be faced with the same horrible scene that I know still haunts his dreams. I thought living through this whole night would be the worst for me, but this is Cal’s greatest nightmare. This night is like a knife in his chest no matter how many years pass after it.
Behind him, the sun rises, breaking through the ash and smoke. The sky bleeds red, and my heart pounds a drumbeat in my chest as the Sentinels pull me in the direction of the palace. It will not be the last sunrise I see, I will see the sun again. I will survive this night and the nights to come, even if I have to claw my way out of Whitefire with bloody knuckles.
The first day we arrived in Archeon, I came to this room. I stood for hours in the spot where one of my lives ended and the next began, staring at the floorboards, remembering the sound of metal cutting through flesh and the way my father’s blood washed over my boots. It may spill like that again tonight, but if it does, it won’t be by my hand.
At my side, my fingers twitch, wanting to call forward a flame and burn this room to smoldering embers. I can hardly stand to be in it.
My eyes dart to the shadows as we enter, searching in the corners of the room for a flash of Farley’s hair, or a faint flicker of a red bandana. There is no sign of the Guard though. That could either be very good, or very bad, depending on if Farley heeded my advice and moved through the servants passages in the walls. There are three very specific bullets loaded into three different guns that all have to be in this room. One bullet has my father’s name on it, another Elara’s, and the third has Maven’s. If everything fails, the bullet meant for my father is meant to make sure Elara is one hundred percent dead. Either way, the Queen dies tonight.
Our footsteps halt at the center of the room, and I can hear Maven’s pants in the silence following the soldiers leaving. Mare’s gasp cuts sharper than a knife drawing my attention over my shoulder. Her eyes are wide as she locks gazes with Elara. The Queen’s lips curl at the edges infinitesimally, as if she is sharing a secret. I have no idea what it is, maybe that she is whispering in Mare’s mind exactly how this final meeting will go.
I want to smirk at her too, to tell her she didn’t completely succeeding in wiping my mother off the face of the earth, that she fails tonight too. That she does not remove me, she does not rip my mother’s legacy out by the root and stem.
It is as if we have been barreling toward this moment for weeks, screaming like a bullet traveling through the air. There was no stopping it, no avoiding it. Every choice, every action has brought us to this night. It was years in the making the first time too. But when I finally tell my father the truth, albeit a semi-twisted version of it that suits Mare’s needs and my own, it still feels like a weight pressing on my chest.
Maven jeers at the accusations I lay against him, painting him as a collaborator as much as Mare is. There is no true evidence of course, other than he happened to shout to check the drains before the Guard operatives had even made a move for them, and that he tried to alert the soldiers to a bomb seconds before it went off. All could be seen as coincidence or quick thinking on his part, but everyone standing in this room knows the truth.
“This is preposterous.” Elara all but growls, advancing on me with a whisper of silk that reminds me so much of her voice in my head that I almost take an involuntary step away from her. Her eyes dart from me to my father, obviously calculating, running the risks of going through this whole mess again. She knows she has to get rid of me, that I am a variable she cannot afford anymore. I was living on borrowed time my whole life, and had no idea.
“And what of this Red devil who may have whispered in his ear?” She demands, her hands closing into fists. I can feel her on the edge of my mind, about to sink her nails into my consciousness and make me her puppet once more.
“Is it true?” My father’s voice rings louder than a gunshot in room, laced with the pain I remember so vividly. Maven turns those astute blue eyes on him, and Elara’s whispers disentangle from my mind. She glares at him over her shoulder, the threat clear in her intentions.
“It is,” Maven’s voice is clear as water, and he even smiles as he speaks. “I helped plan this. And I choose the targets of the shooting.”
The room goes so dangerously cold the next breath I exhale is a puff of smoke. But that is the extent of our father’s anger. He has no words for what that truth means. But the ball is rolling and we cannot stop it now.
I scan the shadows again, this time catching sight of a gun barrel glinting faintly. One bullet for Elara first. She has to go first. I nod infinitesimally and edge out of the way, dropping down a step until I am straddling the last step up the dais.
“He’s your son.” The words feel empty, hollow even when I say them. Maven’s gaze is like a burning sun, odd given the ice I fear he wants to hurl in my direction instead. “This is all a misunderstanding—”
Mare’s eyes dart in the direction of the shadow that shifts ever so slightly behind a pillar. And in the span of a heartbeat, everything collapses in on itself.
A shriek announces the Guard member that tries to fight her own legs walking her out of the shadows, and Mare cries out in horror before snapping free of the cuffs and trying to rise.
Another shout comes from behind me, where I know Farley is supposed to be positioned. Flipping around I hold up a hand to deter her at the same time that a gun goes off. I am not a close enough puppet for Elara to manipulate to save herself, but my father is. The impact of the bullet from the close range drops him like a sack of bricks, and my warning dies in my throat.
The lights scream as Mare tries to short circuit them and the cameras to hide the damning scene until she collapses to her knees, straining against Rane Arven’s influence. Her scream is broken as it tries to leave her throat and the lights blaze to life once more.
Elara’s wail is as ear piercing as it was the first time, and Maven’s shout for aid is almost dull against my senses as I watch the trickle of blood that leaves my father’s head roll along the steps of the dais. There’s so little of it this time.
“He’s with them!” Elara screams, pointing to me while her eyes light with surprise and sudden understanding. It’s the first time I think I’ve ever seen her truly shocked. It won’t be a pretty picture now.
Spinning with a growl, I shove Farley in the direction of the servants passage.
“Go!” My voice is sharper than it’s ever been and for a moment, I fear she won’t listen. But Farley’s a soldier and even though she’s used to giving her own orders, she does a damn good job following them when she needs to stay alive. Grabbing the Guard member Elara pulled from the shadows she makes a mad dash for the passage, shouting to retreat. The doors into the room explode open and a regiment of soldiers pours in just as she turns to enter the shadows.
The soldiers halt in surprise, almost tripping over each other when they see the dead king. Maven’s shout is the only warning I have before a ball of fire almost singes the side of my head. I throw myself into a tuck, and sweep a wall of fire out behind me to cover both my back and Farley’s exit. Through the flames, I see her panicked eyes taking in the last of the scene as she grabs her final soldiers and shoves them into the passage ahead of her. There’s nothing she can do to help though, and I wave her away with a snarl as the fire tries to part.
Maven steps through and advances on me then like a panther, eyes alight with fury as he spits, “She turned you too.”
“I never needed turning.” I jeer back as I grab at the fire wall and yank it toward Arven who yelps and jumps to avoid the worst of the flames. Mare tries to get to her feet when his concentration breaks, slipping in her nightclothes as she does so. Elara’s hand fists into her hair though, and the practically throws Mare back to her knees on the floor.
My brother looks me over for a moment, trying to piece things together. He’s quick as a whip, and his jaw tightens to the point I fear he’ll shatter his teeth. The ring of fire around us shudders as a Nymph tries to wash water over it. I grunt and push back, calling up another ring that circles tighter around me and Maven, locking the two of us in. He’s useless in a fight with me though, not to mention I have almost six years of experience on him. So, even when he tries to wrench the fire out of my control, it’s like wrestling with a toddler and I easily overpower him.
“You know the future with her.” Maven growls, pacing around me in a circle with his fingers twitching at his sides.
“I’ve lived all this Maven. I don’t just know the future, I got myself to it.” Stepping carefully to keep him in front of me, I push the wall of fire out when the regiment tries to worm their way in.
“You took her from me.” He all but snarls, as he brings his own fire to life in his hands. The flames arc into blue and white snares that try to snap at the sleeves of his jacket.
“You pushed her away.” I reason, even though I know I did the same thing. We both pushed Mare to arm’s length, tried to focus our eyes on the throne. But she stayed underfoot and we both continued to trip over her.
Something cold creeps along my neck, and I spin too slow to catch the hand of the Arven that grabs my shoulder. The fire around me dies instantly, and a kinetic stillness falls over me like a blanket as the young man silences me.
“Enough.” Elara hisses, and Mare spits a nasty word as the Queen’s nails dig deeper in her scalp. She hauls Mare to her side until her night skirts curl around her like an embrace. “The king is dead, and his son has colluded with the very terrorists that have assassinated him.”
She curls her hand into a fist, and my muscles lock up under the pressure of her whispers. My lungs halt and the next inhale won’t come. Two soldiers grab my shoulders, forcing me to my knees with a hesitant kick to back of them. They’re as uncertain arresting me as they were the first time.
My heart pounds a staccato drumbeat in my ears as I struggle to inhale around Elara’s mechanisms. My lungs refuse to expand on my demand but I refuse to give her the satisfaction of seeing my struggle to remain alive.
“Let him breathe.” Mare grinds out through her teeth as she reaches up to dig her own nails into Elara’s wrist.
The pressure on my chest disappears and I let my chin drop as I inhale. The soldiers grip my shoulders tighter, and force me down until the floor bites into my knees. I’ve always had an old injury in my right one, and it aches at the pressure being exerted.
More guards swarm into the room, filling it to the brim with Sentinel uniforms and military garb. We’re surrounded, completely and utterly stuck. The Bowl of Bones waits for us now, a yawning sandy pit splattered with blood.
“His bracelets,” Maven orders, quiet thunder rolling from his voice as he takes a step back toward his mother. “Take his bracelets, and send him to a cell.”
The guards hesitate, their fingers curling on my shoulders a little tighter. When they don’t immediately follow the order, Maven glares at them over his shoulder, his eyes harder than diamond and colder than ice.
“Take them! I am your king now, and when I give an order, you follow it!” He shouts before bending down to grab the crown that fell off our father’s head. Gripping it in his fists, he glares them all down until one of the men steps forward and pulls my wrists behind my back. With uncertain fingers he tries to unclasp the bracelets, until he finally manages to find the clasp and undo it. Their familiar weight falls away until all that is left is the fire inside of me desperately trying to seek timber.
“You’re no king.” Mare spits, only for her words to rise into a shriek as Elara digs not just her nails but her mind into Mare’s. She looks unbothered as Mare writhes against her, her lips pulled tight and her eyes somehow colder than Maven’s.
“You are both accused of treason.” Her voice rings through the space, damning us both.
I don’t remember going under. But before I know it, my memories are being shuffled like a deck of cards before me. My time with the Guard at the Notch, Maven, Cal, Clara, Shade, Farley, my family in Montfort all parade before me in flickers. Each one is like a butterfly’s wing against my cheek, a flash of Clara’s smile, the brush of Cal’s fingers through my hair, Farley’s laugh ringing through dead space. Dane’s swims to the surface for a moment, before disappearing when Elara considers it unimportant. The lights of Montfort reflecting on the lake at night are next, followed by a faint memory of sitting with my niece while the touched snow for the first time. Then there is the dreaded memory I would do anything to protect. Sara’s hands closing around mine as she leans forward whisper in my ear so no one else can hear: Congratulations.
The visions snap apart like a broken glass when Elara finally released my mind. I choke and gasp for air, tears running down my cheeks and mixing with the sweat pouring from my hairline. My throat is raw around the weak swallow I manage. In the corner of my eye, a flash of midnight blue and silver cuts through the dawn light.
Swinging my head to the side, I watch Elara stalk around me in a slow circle, her eyes colder than the tundra.
“I’m amused you thought you were playing on even footing with me for so long.” She frowns before leaning over my seated form and curling her fingers around my wrists. “I admit, I did not know about Tiberias, you kept his little role in this game very secret.”
Panting around my burning lungs, I gather what little saliva I have to spit. My tongue immediately rolls to the back of my throat on its own accord, and I gag before choking on it.
“Of course, I should have known something was amiss. He was always such an aloof idiot until recently.” She shrugs at the thought before pulling back from me, her index finger twitching at her side. My vision starts to spot as I struggle to get air around my constricted airways, but she continues to watch my efforts with an uninterested expression. With a flick of her wrist, she releases me with an irritable sigh.
“It’s no matter. You two have made my life infinitely easier.”
“You won’t get away with this.” I sneer, pulling against the restraints tying me to the chair. Even as drained as I am, I can see that we’re in a small study, locked away somewhere in Whitefire most likely. “The Scarlet Guard still survives. You didn’t win the first time, and you won’t win this time.”
Her lips pull into a slow frown that creases the perfect skin between her eyes. She sinks into a chair with a whisper of silk from her skirts, her eyes never leaving mine as she does so. I test the restraints again, reaching for my lightning that hovers on the edge of my perception. A wave of silence washes over me in response. Sucking a breath through my teeth, I clench my fists to avoid gagging.
“I suppose you might be right.” She muse as her chin rests delicately on her fingers. Behind me, cold hands grip my shoulders to hold me in place as more and more waves of silence threaten to drown me. “But I have taken painful steps these past few weeks to ensure any little… hiccups are dealt with.”
My head snaps up, and I glare at her through my narrowed eyes. With my jaw clenched against the nausea, I can’t say anything, but I don’t have to for her to understand. She laughs at my expression, a wicked cold sound that slices through me like a knife. Brushing an unassuming hand along her skirts she tilts her head in my direction.
“Today, I deal with Tiberias.” She rises from her chair, her eyes going to the window behind me. “I should have removed him long ago. He’s always been such an irritating reminder. His mother was no different.”
Arven squeezes my shoulders tighter when I try to strain in her direction as she passes me. One of his hands grabs a fist full of my hair to keep my head forward as I crane my neck to keep her in my sight. With a whisper of skirts she pauses somewhere behind me, maybe in front of the window, I can’t tell clearly. Her shadow stretches along the ground by my side, and is the only thing allowing me to keep track of her.
“We’ll win. When you put us in the Bowl of Bones we’ll win.” I sneer at the carpet, and watch as her shadow tilts its head back. A laugh escapes her again, jarring my heart to a racing pace.
“You’re far too important for the Bowl of Bones. Tiberias will face the wolves, and this time, he won’t walk away.”
My stomach drops and understanding settles like a blanket over me. Of course she wouldn’t be stupid enough to let history repeat itself one more time. If Cal and I go into that arena together, especially now, we will escape or we will find a way to win. How could we have been stupid enough to think she would let that happen? Then again, she didn’t know about Cal before. As far as Elara was concerned, I had been fighting a battle with her and one with him. The truth is out though, we failed, and now we will pay the price for it.
No. Cal will pay the price.
He held his own before, but this time, he will be alone. My chest caves in on itself as I picture him sitting alone in those cells below the Bowl of Bones. Does he know where I am, or does he think they’ve already killed me? He might even be waiting for me, planning how we’re going to handle this next battle together. We’ll never get the chance.
Her skirts whisper again until she is in the corner of my vision, and her hand clasps my chin to yank my face up. With a crooning smile, she brushes my hair back from my hairline. “And I will get my satisfaction watching you as he is killed.”
She drops my chin and nods to Arven before pacing for the door out of the study. “See to it she’s probably chained and dealt with. No surprises this time.”
“He’s better than anyone you put against him. He held his own last time too. He’ll win and you—” I don’t get the chance to finish my rant. Arven’s hands grip my shoulders like the talons of a bird, digging into the aching muscles of my shoulders.
“No surprises.” He assures before pressing a wave of silence on me that forces me back under.
When I come to again, I’m being dragged through gleaming halls. My head aches, and my mind remains fuzzy enough that I can’t get my feet underneath me. Sentinel’s grip my arms and carry me like a rag doll between them. Ahead of me, I can spot the tail of Elara’s dress, the back of Arven’s white jacket, and walking before both of them, Maven. His suit it tailored perfectly, and that damn fucking crown rests on his head. He looks like a boy masquerading as a king. He’ll grow into that crown, but for now, it sit awkwardly on his head.
It’s all a part of the façade though. If that crown fit perfectly, it would be a red heron to the entire court. When it sits slightly askew as it does now, he’s become the unfortunate owner of the mantle it brings with it, instead of the snake that already had one fitted and ready for him.
I try to yank one of my shoulder free from the Sentinel holding me, and manage to get a single step in as I spit. “Did you see him? Or did you leave him down in those cells without a word?”
None of them respond, but I know for a fact Maven must have gone down to see him. He would have wanted some form of an answer to a question he doesn’t know how to ask. He’ll also want to gloat, and pile the truth on Cal’s shoulders.
“And now you’re going for a walk with your new pet.” I croak at his back. His shoulders tense at the sound of my voice but he doesn’t stop walking. Elara glances over her shoulder at me momentarily, her eyes dark as she observes me try to start walking on my own. The Sentinels lift me above the ground before I can get traction, and I end up kicking the air pathetically like a child. My head pounds with each movement, and somewhere beyond the silence, I can feel the roar of electricity in the walls.
“Not to worry Barrow, you’ll have the best view.” She assures before turning her head forward once more and following Maven up a set of stairs. The pounding in my head gets stronger as we start to mount the steps, and I realize belatedly that it’s not in my head. The pounding is coming from all around us, and the dull whine I hear is not from the wires, it’s from a crowd.
I never saw the Bowl of Bones from this perspective, only the tunnels and the cells underneath. Of course a glorified blood field like this would be beautiful from the top. It’s only fitting.
At the top of the steps, we enter a box with more Sentinels than I can count. Between them all, flittering like colorful birds are the elite of the court. Volo Samos and his wife are the easiest to spot among the crowd. Iron eyes glare at me as I’m dragged past them, and I force my chin up, even though my legs wobble underneath me. Larentia’s monstrosity dress flutters with a hundred different butterfly’s wings as her skirt sways with her spin to watch my forced march.
We don’t stop, and our grueling pace takes us through another set of massive doors open to a balcony. The sun and the heat assault me first, and I squeeze my eyes shut against them as the roar of the crowd becomes deafening. When I open my eyes, my stomach swoops down to my knees. I’d forgotten how massive this arena was. From up here, it seems bigger, grander. Then again, the last time I’d been in it, I had been more focused on the fact I was about to die. I may still have that waiting for me today. But Farley is alive, and she has the book. She could find the Ardents, protect them and get them to take down Maven. Even if Cal and I don’t walk away from this today, the rebellion will live on.
The Sentinels drag me to a spot next to Maven and press my front into the balcony railing so I have nowhere to go but pitch over it. Blood already stains the sand, from Lucas I realize with a twist of my stomach. The crowd is in a frenzy over the whole thing, screaming and shouting like banshees. Elara comes to stand on the other side of me, her lips curling into a smile as she takes in the whole scene.
Next to me, Maven fiddles with something in his hands. His jaw is set tightly, and he doesn’t dare to look in my direction. I struggle against the Sentinel’s holding me in place until I almost face him side on.
He doesn’t even flinch when they wrestle me into submission. Sneering at him, I hiss, “Don’t let her fool you. You won’t win.”
His hands still on whatever he has, and he turns those burning blue eyes on me. I had forgotten how intense his gaze became after he dropped the gentle disguise he wore for me. His lips pale as he draws them into a tight line. I refuse to drop my stare though, and I channel every bit of fury inside me into it.
“I’ll still kill you, and when I do, I will make sure every second is as painful as I possible this time around.” The Sentinel on my right presses me into the balcony so the edge of the banister cuts into my diaphragm. My next inhale is a struggle, but I still manage weakly. “Farley is still alive, and as long as she is, your days are numbered.”
He snorts, the first response he’s shown to my presence. “We’ll see.” He returns to turning over whatever is in his hands when the crowd’s screams reach a new feverous pitch as a tone rolls through the arena. My skin crawls at the sound, and my heart pounds against my ribs in a futile attempt to escape.
Still my lips curl into a rapier sharp grin. “He’ll beat them all. You know he will.”
His laugh starts low in his chest like a chuckle, before it gains momentum. When I turn to look at him, he has his own terrifying grin to give me. Turning his hand up and holding it under my nose, he shows me exactly what he had been fiddling with, and it makes my heart stop.
Bracelets. Cal’s bracelets.
“He associated himself with those Red terrorists. It’s only fitting he die like them.” Maven smile is smug even though his eyes burn. His fingers curl around the bracelets again and he turns to face the arena. “He’ll die like the traitor he is.”
The shadows in the mouth of the tunnel on the far side of the arena shift, and then he is there. Even entering the arena alone, dressed in a plain training outfit, he cuts an imposing figure. As much as Maven and Elara tried to make him into a boy in this moment, Cal is a warrior, and he looks every bit one as he steps onto the sand and walks beneath the eyes of thousands.
A different set of hands replace the hands of the Sentinels, and I recognize the rubber gloves immediately. The Arven gripping my arms switches her grip to grab my hair and yank my body back to press against the front of hers. With a quick step forward, she pins me between her and the railing. A yank from her hand forces my chin up so that the sun lands clear on my face.
Glaring down my nose at the sand, I watch Cal straighten up as if a weight leaves his shoulders. I wouldn’t be surprised if that were the case. He didn’t know what became of me, or where I was. At least he knows I’m alive now.
His eyes narrow as they sweep over the rest of the box, and land on Maven next to me. When I squirm, the Arven slams my chest forward onto the railing so I have no choice but to watch the execution from the side.
Maven straightens his spine under his brother’s scrutiny, and his expression wavers under the force of that gaze. While he is a king now, he is still a younger brother, and he knows when Cal is really and truly furious.
“Even without his bracelets, he might take a few of them with him. So don’t take your victory lap yet.” I jeer up at him. He doesn’t even glance in my direction, just waves his hand to the Arven in a small gesture. Another wave of silence threatens to drown me, and I almost lose the bile in my stomach to the sands below.
Maven’s lips curl into smile for his brother, sharper than a knife and colder than frost. “While Mare Barrow’s crimes are known, and she will pay for them with a punishment that befits her, your punishment Prince Tiberias will be fair.”
I scoff at the theatrics and irony of that statement. The fight wasn’t fair the first time anyway, and now it’s even worse. The Arven squeezes my hair tighter in her fist, until it feels like she will rip my scalp clean off my skull.
“Prince Tiberias the Seventh, of House Calore and House Jacos, you are accused of many violent and deplorable offenses against the crown including deception, treason, terrorism, and murder.” Mavens’ face falls in a false showing of pain. “You helped kill the king, my father. You—” his eyes sweep over Cal one more time pausing for the dramatics of it all. He has the crowd eating out of the palm of his hand, hanging off every word. “You are a weak man. A traitor to your crown, your blood, and your colors.”
The whine of the video screen tells me the same playback from before is playing, showing the greatest highlights of our failed escapade, and the murder of the king. I can’t even bring myself to watch it this time around. While I hadn’t ever liked Cal’s father, his death this time around was just as gruesome as the first. I can’t imagine what Cal had thought as it happened. When I fall still, the Arven loosens her grip just enough that I am allowed a single inhale.
The crowd jeers and spits obscenities to tell me the playback is over. When I open my eyes, I barely manage to meet Cal’s from the angle I am at. I can tell his jaw is set tight even from this distance, and he is preparing for what is to come. Still, he raises his chin, determined to die honorably. Maven and Elara fixed the game so that is his only option. But he won’t even die like a true Silver with his fire at his side. He’ll go out like any other Red. I saved us both the last time with a lightning storm and the Guard. But I am up here this time, out of reach and useless.
“I pronounce you guilty of your crimes. Submit to execution.” Maven’s voice rings out over the shouts of the crowd calling for the same thing.
For a moment, Cal does nothing, just stares up at us. Then his lips curl up in a smile as he raises his hand and salutes with two fingers. Turning on his heel then, he faces the gate where his challengers will emerge.
The crowd howls at the disrespect, and below me, I can see people actually out of their seats, pale in the face as they scream for his blood. I’d laugh at the pure shock and horror on Maven’s face if I weren’t sick to my stomach with fear.
The gate Cal faces opens with a groan and five familiar forms step onto the sand. The odds are stacked against Cal, so high they’ll bury him when they fall over. Last time, he’d held his own against them while I scurried around like the rat Maven wanted me to be. If he has his bracelts, maybe his odds would have been better this time around since he wouldn’t be dividing his attention to protect me as well. This time, they’re all focused on him, and he has nothing to shield himself with.
He’s never had worse odds, and my heart aches as he still drops into a defensive stance to face them. He’ll do it, he’ll fight every last second he can. He’ll make it drag on too.
The shield crackles to life, obscuring him and the others for a moment. Maven glances at me, as if checking to make sure I’m watching. When he sees my eyes glued on Cal’s form, he nods to the Arven. I’m lifted off the railing then, and forced to stand up right. The metal edge cuts into the space below my ribs until every inhale becomes a challenge again. I will have no choice but to stand and watch as Cal struggles valiantly and then is slaughtered. I will not be allowed to look away.
My eyes water for a moment, but I throw them up to the sky chocked with heavy clouds that promise rain. The movement keeps the tears at bay. In the corner of my eye, I can see Maven watching me still. When he spots the red rimming my eyes, he turns back to the arena and announces for everyone to hear.
They circle like wolves, practically licking their lips as Cal spins to keep track of all of them. Evangeline circles the closest, her knives spinning and catching the noon day sun as she goes. Among them, she’s a weak link. Ptolemus is slow, but his brute force and long range with his ability will make him a problem. Osanos is the same problem he’s always been for Cal. But the Haven… Stalian will be the biggest problem.
“The Haven,” I wheeze to no one but myself. “Get rid of him first.”
As if Cal can hear my words through, he spins to face the light manipulator first. Taking the challenge for exactly what it is, Stalian disappears. Cal’s trained for this moment and crouching down, he scoops up two handfuls of sand before throwing them in a circle around him. The sand halts in midair a step away from Cal, giving him just enough time to drop his shoulder and throw Stalian over his shoulder. The Haven hits the sand hard, wheezing as his diaphragm tries to reset from the hit. Cal doesn’t give him the chance to get fully to his feet. Smashing his nose in with a punch, Cal leaves him unconscious on the sand before spinning to face the others.
Ptolemus hesitates, obviously calculating the new odds. They’re still stacked heavily against Cal, but he just proved himself more than capable of handling himself. My heart flutters at the prospect. Perhaps I underestimated him. He might survive long enough for the Guard to rescue him.
Cal spins to face Lord Osanos, knowing his next biggest threat well. The Nymph simply smirks and calls forth a pool of glittering water from the trough next to him.
While the two of the size each other up, Rhambod makes his move.
“Cal, the Strongarm!” I scream at the top of my lung to be heard over the crowd as I kick the railing and try to get myself up and over it. The Arven barely wrangles me back down, my sudden feverish movement surprising her. She slaps her hand over my mouth before I can scream anything else, but I bite down on her fingers.
Below us, my warning gives Cal enough time to spin and take Rhambos’s hit side on. It looks like he was hit by a transport, because he lands four feet away from his original position and rolls three times across the sand before coming to a stop. He rises to shaky elbows and knees before collapsing again.
I bite down on the Arven’s hand again until I taste blood and she yelps while releasing my mouth. Shrieking, I press my feet to the railing before pushing against it to throw us backwards. She’s ready for me this time though, and the wave of silence that washes over me steals my next words and turns them into a wheeze.
“Get up, get up Cal.” I strain against her even as she pushes me back up against the railing and next to Maven. He’s almost throwing himself over the railing, his eyes locked on his brothers form as Cal struggles to get to his feet again. His hand curl around the metal that turns red hot under his hands, and his breathing reaches a feverish pitch as the circle of opponents begins to close tighter around Cal.
Grabbing his side with his hand, Cal manages to get to his knees again and turn his head in Rhambos’s direction. The Strongarm reaches through the sand and even from up here I can hear the grind of metal and he rips the pipe from the ground. With a holler he throws it like a spear. Cal throws himself to the side just as the end embeds right where his chest had been a second ago.
Seeing what one of his partners is doing, Ptolemus drops to a knee and buries his hands in to the sand. The floor groans and shakes as the sand falls away and the pipes become exposed. Rhambos rips another one out of the ground at the same time that Evangeline sweeps her hand and sends a wave of metal spikes along the ground in Cal’s direction.
He starts a deadly dance with all of them, weaving through shifting sands on unsteady legs while trying to avoid the spears Rhambos throws. Dropping to his knees to avoid one, he pulls one Rhambos threw previous out of the ground and hurls it in the direction of the Strongarm.
The oaf barely avoids the killing blow, and has to retreat with a pipe almost sticking out of his shoulder. His blood coats the sand as he roars and tries to pull it out. Cal doesn’t have time to gloat though. Ptolemus comes for him with a vengeance, his knives melding into a broad sword.
Cal dances into the thick forest of the spikes Evangeline created, obviously daring Ptolemus to follow him in. The idiot does, and in doing so, forces Evangeline to halt that attack or risk impaling her own brother. She shrieks in fury and paces around the outside, waiting to see which direction Cal comes out so she can force him back in. Osanos has the same idea and begins walking in the opposite direction to cut off the entrance Cal lead Ptolemus through.
They won’t see him for a while though. Ptolemus catches up to him and immediately they engage in a wickedly fast duel. With empty hands, Cal has no choice but to duck and weave, completely on the defensive while Ptolemus swings with enough power to cut Cal clean in half with one well timed movement.
I strain against the Arven holding me back to crane my head over the edge of the box and see into the maze. Cal’s tiring, I can tell. The hit he took from Rhambos must have been worse than I thought because he favors his left side, even though it’s his weaker one. Ptolemus knows this of course, they’ve trained together since they were children. He presses his advantage pushing Cal to a relentless pace.
Ptolemus grabs his arm and throws him into one of the thicker spikes, so Cal’s shoulders fold around it and he drops to his knees. With a roar, Ptolemus raises the sword to bring it down a move that will behead Cal whether he moves fast enough or not.
“GET UP!” I scream, as I pitch forward and strain. I’ll throw myself over this railing and into the shield again. I’ll do anything to buy him time to get up and run, to hide somewhere and recover.
His head snaps up and with shaking arms he catches the blade with his bare hands when Ptolemus brings it down. His agonizing cry rings through the arena and blood wells up around the blade and runs down his arms in rivers.
Ptolemus is so shocked, he actually backs up, taking the killing blow with him. Cal pitches forward, cradling his hands to his chest as his entire body trembles. The crowd roars around him like a beast. They smell blood, and so does Evangeline and Osanos, because they enter the maze from opposite sides.
When Ptolemus drives forward again, his blow is blocked once more. Cal managed to get his hands on a loose pipe and he brandishes it as best he can. He doesn’t have much time, Evangeline is almost on top of them, and Osanos is bringing a river of water behind him. He needs his fire, if he had that they wouldn’t stand a chance in tight quarters with him. He’ll never get it though.
The pipe and sword meet with a loud ring, and Cal stares at them as he pushes Ptolemus’s sword from over his head to the side. When he looks up again, it’s with a little taunting smile. He knows the Magentron well. He doesn’t like being teased, especially when he’s in the middle of a fight he knows he’s winning. I dont know what he’s figured out, or what reason he has to egg Ptolemus on. He’s poking a angry bear and he will get its claws when Ptolemus attacks.
With a roar, he brings the sword up in a swing that should take Cal’s arm off. My heart beat roars in my ears as I watch Cal step into the blow and barely bring the pipe up to block. As soon as the two metals meet though, I realize what he’s done. Sparks dance as he slides the pipe along the sword, and in an instant, fire erupts between them.
Stumbling backwards, blinded and dazed by the light and heat, Ptolemus slams into one of the spikes and falls to the ground. Cal doesn’t waste time, sending a ball of fire in Evangeline’s direction as she sprints around the corner in response to the clatter of her brother’s armor. She barely dodges the wall of fire and her eyes widen in horror when she realizes the mistake her brother made.
The sand is gone from the area, which means Cal’s fire leaps easily and lights the space with burning red light and smoldering heat. Osanos halts his advance and quickly dodges out of the tight space, recognizing a fight he won't win. Evangeline spins out as well before holding her hands up throwing them back down. The spikes sink into the ground on her command, leaving Cal completely exposed.
I don’t care though, I’m screaming in relief as he creates a ring of fire to separate himself from them. Panting behind it, he looks possessed, with blood dripping from both his hands and numerous other cuts he collected during his fight with Ptolemus. Sweat matts his hair and sticks some of it to his forehead, while his eyes glow with the flame he cradles in his other hand. He doesn’t have much left in him, but he only needs to face Evangeline and Osanos. He only needs to deal with them. And he has his fire now, he has a chance.
Whatever euphoria I feel vanishes as a wave of water washes over Cal’s fire, dousing it. Steam rises and meets the shield with a crackle before descending over the whole arena. They’re all obscured from view now, and I struggle to try and spot Cal through the mist.
Something glints and the cuts through the smoke. Evangeline’s knife finds it’s target and Cal cries out in pain. I can’t see him though, or where he was hit. The only tell of Evangeline’s location is the dull glint of the sun reflecting through the mist onto her armor. She stalks through the tendrils, hunting for Cal like a blood hound. I can’t spot Osanos, but I know he’s moving in a similar fashion.
The steam vanishes, wiped away by Osanos with a lazy wave of his hand. Cal stumbles in a circle in the dead center between Evangeline and the Nymph. To his right, Rhambos is lumber forward too, having finally recovered from his wound earlier in the fight. Stalian comes from behind him, boxing Cal in perfectly. A wound in his stomach turns the front of the training suit a dark black, and he struggles to keep his feet under him as he faces the remaining opponents. The fire in his hand begins guttering as he struggles to maintain it, until it goes out all together.
“It’s not fair.” I wheeze as my guard squeezes my middle, smelling the end of this fight as much as I do. Cal fought valiantly, but he has nothing left, and his last ditch attempt had been swatted aside like a fly.
Cold fingers curl around my neck from the side, and Elara’s voice is like ice pushing through my ear as she laughs. “Did you think it would be? Did you honestly think you could outsmart me?”
Yes. I want to scream at her as Osanos steps closer to Cal and he tries to back up to keep Evangeline in front of him too. His legs shake under him, but his eyes burn with fury. He’ll die on his feet if he has to, there will be no kneeling. Thunder rumbles in the distance, and the first fat raindrops fall from the sky.
Yes I thought we could. I thought we had the advantage. We had knowledge she could never dream of having. I was wrong though, and here is the accumulation of that now. All that planning with Farley, all of the careful steps Cal and I took meant nothing in the grand scheme of things. Elara had rigged the game before it even started. It had never been fair.
I want to turn away from this, but Elara grips my chin and forces my head forward. Her whispers dig into my mind and lock my neck in place at the same time she speaks to me through them.
I want you to see him die. I want you to realize that the pretty little future you want to get back to is going to nothing but a dream. Then, when that is done, I will break you apart bit by bit until there is nothing of you left. Only then will I let you die Little Lightning Girl.
Tears well up in my eyes, obscuring my vision. I call up the mirrors Carmadon taught me to build and box Elara out of my thoughts as I conjure up the last happy memory I have from Montfort. I want it to be of Cal, I want to have something good and clean to remember him with instead of the blood and gore of this fight.
I end up with the memory of the park we sat in the afternoon before we were called in to deal with Giselle. It had been warm, deliciously warm given a storm was about to hit that night. Stretched out under the shade of a tree, I can remember the weight of Cal as he laid across my legs. He closed his hand around one of mind and brought it to rest on his chest while I ran my other one through his hair. When I lifted my eyes, I caught sight of a group of children playing a very competitive game of tag. The sight of them made me want to lean down and whisper my secret in Cal’s ear. But I didn’t. I smile to myself instead and thought of little dark haired children with mischievous smiles and fire in their hearts.
The whole thing had been so peaceful, so serene. I want his last memory to be that too.
When I open my eyes again, Osanos throws a wave of water at Cal from the side. He doesn’t have the strength or time to dodge it, and it swallows him whole. He doesn’t struggle within that orb of water, just closes his eyes and falls dangerously still.
My chest cracks open and the sound that leaves me is half scream, half sob. I didn’t tell him goodbye. I hadn’t even told him that I loved him one last time. I had been so sure our plan would succeed, and that there would plenty of time after to tell him those things. My last memory of him will be that he simply let death claim him. I hope his last though will be different. It should be a memory wrapped in silk and honey. His last thought was of me when he drowned once before, I pray that this time it’s the same.
The crowd screams, and I almost can’t open my eyes to witness what he looks like lying on the sand. I’d seen him like that in Harbor Bay before, and I don’t know if I can take seeing it again, knowing that there is no healer to rush to his aid.
What I see when I do open my eyes is impossible.
Osanos is dead on the sand, bleeding out in a pool of silver from a slash across his throat. Ten feet from him, Cal is hacking up water on his hands and knees, and heaving for air.
My breath catches in my throat, as Maven roars for Sentinels. My eyes dart across the arena, looking for the mysterious person or thing that killed the Nymph. Evangeline does the same, edging toward her brother before grabbing his arm and sprinting for the gate they came out of. As she turns, something appears in a flash before Rhambos. Whatever it is, it moves too fast for me to see, and far too fast for Rhambos to react to in time. He collapses in a heap on the sand, bleeding from a wound matching Osanos’s.
Stalian flickers in and out of existence, his eyes wide as he searches for the phantom stalking the arena. When he spin to check behind him, he takes a knife to the neck that punches through the back of his throat. The figure stays long enough for me to finally see exactly what it is, and the whole thing is like a punch to the gut. I know that outline from countless nightmares, and from memories studded with gold from my childhood.
I tremble as he pops out of existence once again, only reappear next to Cal. He stays long enough to glance up at the box where I am standing, and where the Silvers are in a panic behind me. The sound I let out is a cry of desperation and joy.
Shade’s eyes are the exact color of honey I remember.
The smirk he throws our direction in response to the chaos he caused lights a fire inside me. I kick at the railing again, hoping against all hope that I might break free. Maven screams for an Arven, but it’s too late. Shade’s too fast, they’ll never catch him. With a nod, he winks out of existence, taking Cal with him.
The storm breaks completely overhead, and drenches us in sheets of rain as lightning flares across the sky. The shield whines and smokes as the water hits it. But it doesn’t obscure what has happened here. Three dead, and the entire crowd was there to witness it. They didn’t see my lightning, no, they saw my brother moving faster than Swift could ever hope to. It's just as damning as the silver blood that stains the sand.
My heart pounds in my chest, as the Arven throws me into the hands of waiting Sentinels, throwing blanket after blanket of silence on me. This storm is not mine though, and I laugh wildly as they drag me through the box and past the Silvers all shouting for answers. There weren’t supposed to be others like me, and Elara and Maven kept the truth a secret. Shade shattered their lies open like an egg, and left them with a court spurred into a frenzy.
Behind me, Maven screams for them to check the tunnels under the arena. They won’t find Cal or Shade there, my brother is probably halfway to Narcery by now anyway. They won’t find him, they won’t find Cal either. My laugh reaches a feverish pitch as I’m carried down the stairs and away from the disastrous execution. Elara’s sweep after us, her whispers already ripping through my mind, searching for where they might have gone. I have nothing to give her though, and she screams in fury.
I howl with laughter, and that sound echoes down the empty halls of the arena. The game isn’t over after all. It’s only just begun.
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