TWENTY SIX

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THE SLEEP THAT TUGGED at the depths of Ravenna's mind seemed stronger than usual, and it wasn't long before she succumbed to its temptations

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THE SLEEP THAT TUGGED at the depths of Ravenna's mind seemed stronger than usual, and it wasn't long before she succumbed to its temptations. Curled in the chair, with her head pressed against its armrest and the fiction book hugged to her chest, Ravenna slept soundly. The night raced by and soon the sun emerged from the horizon. As light began to kiss her eyelids, she began to stir. She slowly drifted back into consciousness, and just slowly became more aware of the pinching pain that coiled tight within the muscles in her neck.

A soft sigh bristled past her lips. Her eyes fluttered open and she lifted her head. She grimaced at the pain that shot through her neck. She lifted a hand and attempted to massage the tight muscles, kneading her fingers against her skin. Carefully, she eased herself even further upward, into a sitting position.

There was a knock at the door. Ravenna paused. For a moment, she wondered whether she'd simply imagined the sound --it had been so soft. Softer than Caelan's had been the day before. She rubbed the sleep from her eyes and began to stand. As her hand lowered back to her side, Ravenna noticed something on her arm that made her blood run cold.

Five bloodied scratch marks traced the length of her forearm, from elbow to wrist. It looked as if someone had raked their nails across her skin.

Another knock echoed within the room, louder this time and more agitated.

Ravenna yanked her sleeve down as far as it would go. Some of the material was tattered, destroyed by whatever had injured her. Her thoughts drifted back to that first night at the cabin, when she had been attacked in her sleep. Her stomach twisted. Keeping her arm behind her back, she approached the door and opened it.

She blinked at Caelan. "What do you need?"

Caelan's expression remained vacant. He glanced her over as he said, "I apologize for waking you."

"It's fine," she told him. She leaned against the doorframe, being careful to keep her arms out of sight behind her. Her fingers lightly rubbed at her injured arm, blindly inspecting the scratches. There was no immediate pain, just a prickle of discomfort. There was a thin layer of crusted blood over the lacerations as well. "What did you need?"

"Do you plan to go out and about today?" he asked.

She shrugged. "I haven't decided yet. Why do you ask?"

An unnamable emotion flickered within Caelan's eyes. "I just received word from one of the guards. A traveler was found just outside town, torn to shreds. I am not entirely sure where it is that you go on your adventures into town. I wanted to warn you, just in case you happened to go close to the forest."

Ravenna blinked. Her hand dropped away from her injured arm and lifted to grasp the door-frame, holding her steady. "That's horrible," she said. "Torn to shreds?"

"It is believed to be a wolf attack," he said. "I do not know much more than that."

She frowned. "Thank you for letting me know. I will try to avoid the forest."

Caelan nodded. "We will move our training closer to the farm. At least until we know more about this attack. I do not wish to concern ourselves with this just yet, not until we have more intel on this creature."

"I understand."

Caelan's arms crossed and his gaze shifted toward the floor. For a moment, he seemed ready to say something else. Ravenna watched him carefully, waiting.

"I am going to have breakfast now," Caelan announced. He met her gaze again, somewhat hesitant. "You are welcome to join me."

Ravenna started to step forward, into the hallway, but her sleeve brushed against the scratches on her arm. It didn't hurt. It simply sent the injury back into the forefront of her mind. The last thing that she needed was for Caelan to see the scratches before she knew what had caused them.

"I'm not hungry," she told him softly, stepping back into her bedroom. "And I need to make an errand."

Caelan watched her for a moment. "Alright then."

She closed the door, her stomach twisting with unease. Her eyes squeezed shut as she listened to his footsteps. Once he had moved downstairs, Ravenna stepped away from the door and examined her arm. The gashes weren't deep, nor did the injury require medical assistance. She huffed and lowered her arm.

It didn't take long to find another dress --particularly something with longer sleeves to hide her forearm. Once she was dressed, she emerged from her room and wandered down to the kitchen. Caelan was nowhere to be found, probably hiding away in his small office. She had a quick, fruity breakfast and then started toward the door. She needed to pay Vyses a visit.

"Be careful," Caelan's voice sounded as she neared the front door.

She glanced back over her shoulder. Caelan was still invisible to her. She was almost certain that he'd spoken from his office though. As her fingers curled around the doorknob, her stomach started to twist again, curling into tiny, intricate knots.

Caelan's head popped out from around the office doorframe. "And try not to stay out after dark. Considering the attack took place at night, I would say that it's safe to say that the attacker feels more comfortable at night."

"Have some faith," Ravenna told him. "I did manage to survive for several years before I knew you."

He harrumphed. "Yes. By pure luck."

She rolled her eyes. "I will be back before twilight," she said. "Just to make you feel better."

He didn't answer her. With a small huff, she stepped outside, into the blinding sunlight, and lifted a hand to shield her eyes. She moved down the steps and toward the center of town. With each step that she took, the knots in her stomach coiled tighter.

Her fingers brushed against her injured arm again. She felt bad about deceiving Caelan. But she needed to learn faster. Especially now if she was going to be attacked in her sleep. 

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