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Ch 40.2 Defeated

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A soaring breeze cooled her sweaty scalp as her hair streamed behind her in the wind. The swan's back was comfortable and downy, like the puffy clouds they flew through.

"Flying is amazing!" She laughed out loud and held her hands up in the air. She hadn't felt this free in a long time. Free of the mask, free of Grayson, free of his minions. They were following but they were little dots far below. They were definitely getting closer.

Even if the darklings catch up, they won't be able to reach me up here, Rhianna thought, gleefully.

But as she thought it, the swan's graceful wingbeats skipped unsteadily and they sank in altitude. The giant bird strained harder to stay aloft, but that only tired it faster.

She studied the ground and the darklings as they both got closer. They would probably land a little ahead of them at this rate, but even if she ran as fast as she could, she would never outrun a herd of Fae horses.

The swan's wing beats were spaced further and further apart. It was mostly gliding now, trying to conserve energy. It metered out its valiant effort with a tragic opera of trumpet calls.

She stroked its pure white neck. "Just set me down," she whispered, despite the dread that clench her guts. She could feel it shuddering with effort.

It kept pumping its wings with all of its might. But it was all just futility. The ground came closer with each wing beat.

Finally, one last long glide took them to the ground and the swan touched down, hopped, stumbled, and collapsed, thankfully onto soft heather. Rhianna lurched and tumbled down from the swans back, bouncing off a slumped wing laid that stretched out across the heather.

The bright luster had gone from its feathers and its neck drooped. It had given her everything it had.

"No!" Rhianna cried, cupping its chin in her hands and lifting its orange beak up to her face. "I'm so sorry. I never would have ridden you if I knew this would happen."

It warbled a final song, sounding like an elephant singing a funeral song, then its feathers scattered on the wind like a thousand floating dandelion seeds, and it was gone.

Why?

Why would the swan give itself for her? Why did Gran die so that she could live? Why did Teasel stay behind so she could escape? Why did her mother give up her sanity just for her? What made her so special that she deserved all these sacrifices?

She sat, holding a few feathers that had not scattered in the wind. She wasn't special. She wasn't saving the world. She didn't have anything to give that would make her worthy.

"I'm just a girl!" she yelled into the wind, holding up her hands to let the feathers fly free.

It was all her fault. If she hadn't put on the mask, if she hadn't jumped on the back of Grayson's bike, if she hadn't come here...if she hadn't been born. None of this would be happening, if not for her.

She laid down in the heather, and sobbed. Even if she tried, she couldn't get away. And maybe the only way to stop it all was to let the next sacrifice be her. At least it wouldn't be anybody else.

Laying on the ground, she could feel the vibrations of the hooves coming closer.

Let them come.

She lay waiting, feeling almost peaceful, despite the army of dark horses about to trample her.

A song drifted to her on the wind and a little sparrow with a brown patch on its chest flitted down to rest on her knee. It sang the same sweet song it sang for Gran. Tears flowed down Rhianna's cheeks.

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