Chapter 24: Reunion

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Dane woke to the sound of ringing bells. On and on the bells rang in the distance, a warning signal filled with fear and danger.

His first instinct was to look for Cassie, his heart calming ever so slightly when he found her there, sleeping soundly with her bare limbs draped over his body the same way they were the last time they shared this bed.

Except this time, there was no surprised outrage or immediate urge to kick her off the bed. Not now. Not ever again.

He took a moment to stroke a hand through her soft tresses and press a gentle kiss to her forehead. She shuffled just a little, then continued to breathe evenly, soundly.

If she were to open her eyes now, would he see the cool vapidness he'd come to expect from his former wife of ten years? He hoped so, for it would mean that Cassie had returned safely to her world.

Or would he see bright, beautiful eyes filled with emotions that mirrored his own? Another part of him hoped for this too, for the courage it would give him to fight in the upcoming war.

In the end, he decided he was a coward who couldn't bear to see either.

The bells peeled their desperate calls in the distance, again and again. They'd set up sentries at watchtowers along the southern roads leading to Lyons. At the first sight of anything untoward, the men would ring their bells and light their torches, thus alerting every other watch that could see or hear them, who would in turn follow suit. It was the best they could do when the horses and the birds were unreliable.

And now, the bells were calling for aid and reinforcements.

Pulling her sleeping body ever closer, he closed his eyes and breathed in her scent one last time before leaving the warmth of her body.

He dressed efficiently, then with another longing look over his shoulder, he stepped out of his bedchamber and closed the door carefully behind him, not knowing if he might live to see her—Cassie or Cassandra—ever again.

* * *

The dark morning led into a dark afternoon. Thick, roiling clouds covered the light as a storm raged on. Heavy rain battered down upon the city of Lyons, merciless as it assaulted the poorly constructed shelters of the slums and flooded even the streets of the wealthier parts of the city, not that it was clear in recent days where the wealthiest parts were.

Every part of the capital was overfilled with homeless children and refugees, squeezed into makeshift shelters of sticks and sheets, or huddled uncomfortably close under the scarce roof eaves that jutted out from buildings.

Here and there, fights broke out over food scraps, coins, and now shaded space. In the circumstances, it came at no one's surprise that a few daring and outspoken men had stepped forth to share their 'truths'.

In one of the largest taverns of Lyons, a busy crowd crammed itself into the establishment, seeking to escape the wet and cold. The wind howled and the rain splashed relentlessly against the rattling windows, forcing the bald man giving a passionate speech on a wooden table to yell at the top of his lungs.

"The king is cursed! The Gods would not turn a blind eye to the cruel atrocities he committed against his own family, and they are punishing all of us for it!"

He clapped a hand to his chest for emphasis, as a few chimed in from the crowd: "Cursed!"

"You've all heard by now that demons are coming. Some have sworn on their lives that they saw a giant beast fly over us two nights ago."

A wave of mutters swept through the crowd as heads came together to discuss the rumours they heard.

The man continued to speak over them all, his voice booming, his arm gestures animated. "Yet our king was seen early this morning riding out of the city with his men. Why take his army out the city if demons are coming? Who will defend us? What are we paying taxes for?" His voice grew louder as he spoke, his arms wild and animated. "Our king has abandoned us, sacrificed us as bait while he rides for safety."

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