TWENTY SEVEN

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RAVENNA REMAINED TUCKED away behind a tree, mere meters from the tavern, for a good two minutes as she attempted to regain her courage

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RAVENNA REMAINED TUCKED away behind a tree, mere meters from the tavern, for a good two minutes as she attempted to regain her courage. Her fingers lightly traced the frayed edges of her bandages and her gaze remained focused on the grass in front of her. It was almost noon, and the world beyond her seemed to bustle with happiness. The muted chit-chat of the market mingled with the chatter of the squirrels and the rustle of the leaves.

It was hard to focus. It was hard to collect herself.

Taking a deep breath, she rolled her shoulders back and forced herself forward, away from her support. Her stomach twisted with knots. She couldn't place the exact source of her nervousness. It seemed to be a mixture of being around Vyses and the possibility that she could be going against Caelan's wishes. Her hands curled into fists at her sides. There was no time to second guess herself.

As she stepped out from beneath the shadow of the tree, sunshine kissed her shoulders. A trio of guards strolled by, fingers curled tight around the hilts of their swords. She ducked her head and tugged on her sleeve, hiding her bandaged arm from view. Crossing the road in front of the tavern, Ravenna hurried up the steps to the door. Already, she could hear the melody of a fiddle and the pitched vocals of a bard.

She took a deep breath and pushed open the door. Immediately, the stench of alcohol washed over her senses. Her nose curled. It seemed as though the few days that she'd spent in Caelan's house had desensitized her to the abundant smell of alcohol.

Her gaze scanned over the tavern and landed on Vyses. He stood behind the bar. His long hair was pulled back, trailing over his shoulder in a snake-like braid. A sly smile had stretched across his lips and his gaze seemed locked on the burly man that stood in front of the bar.

Ravenna approached slowly, curiously, and listened. The larger man's hands were curled into tight fists at his sides. His eyes had darkened, overpowered with hatred. "You did this," the man snarled. He jabbed a broken nail toward Vyses. "You may have the guards tricked, but I know better. I know that you are behind this, somehow. You've always attracted trouble."

Vyses arched an eyebrow. He wiped at the mug in his hands with a stained rag and said, "I honestly have no idea as to what you are referring to," he told the man. "I am simply a humble tavern owner. I try to avoid trouble like the plague."

Ravenna took a seat at the bar and openly observed the conversation. Most of the other tavern patrons seemed to be listening in as well, aside from the bard. Vyses glanced over and met her gaze. His smile widened.

The larger man seemed even more disgruntled. "You may have the town wrapped around your fingertips, but you don't have me fooled, mutt," he snapped. "Don't forget that. I know more than one way to skin a dog."

"I surely don't plan to," Vyses remarked with a kind smile.

Ravenna watched the angry man storm out of the tavern. The moment that the door slammed shut behind him, a frothy mug slid in front of her. She caught it and stared at the pale bubbles.

"Hello, my sweet," Vyses greeted. He rested his elbows against the countertop in front of her, cheeks resting within his palms. "You seem quite troubled today. What's on your mind?"

"What was that all about?" she asked him. Her gaze lifted from her beverage and locked with his. He was so close to her that she couldn't help but notice the specks of crimson that dotted his irises. Pressing her lips into a tight line, she traced her fingers lightly against the indentations that decorated the side of the glass.

Vyses pouted. "I always get blamed for the strangest things," he said. "That man was essentially accusing me of murder. How ridiculous, right?"

Ravenna blinked. "Murder?"

"A traveler was found earlier," Vyses explained. He pushed away from the counter and plucked a few dishes from the counter. He kept his gaze down, focused on the dishware in his hands as he began to wash them. "I'm surprised that you haven't already heard. It's been the talk of the town this morning."

She sipped at her drink. "I think Caelan mentioned something about it. The traveler was attacked by a wolf, right?"

Vyses nodded. "That's what is being said. The investigation is still ongoing, so cause of death hasn't officially been determined as such."

Ravenna kept her gaze locked onto his face, watching his every reaction. "Why would you be accused of murder? Especially if it looks as though an animal did it."

His gaze met hers intensely, irises speckled with bright crimson. "It is a long and very complicated story, though I can assure you that I am no murderer," he said. "I'll leave it at that."

She wanted to press him further, but hesitated. His eyes seemed to sharpen and the bright crimson color grew. His gaze seemed to silently warn her not to ask further about the matter. Her lips wrinkled and she toyed with the edge of her mug. For a moment, the tavern seemed to fall quiet. Only the lighthearted plucks of a fiddle disrupted the silence. Patrons gulped down their beers and muttered about at their tables behind her. Vyses continued to wash dishes, his hands working quick until the entire bar was cleaned.

Once it was, and he had no other means of distraction, Vyses returned to his spot in front of her. He folded his arms across his chest and regarded her with a suspicious look. "What's really on your mind?" he asked her.

"I have changed my mind," she announced. She took another sip of her drink and met his gaze squarely. "I want you to teach me magic."

Vyses's gaze widened. Almost immediately, the surprise seemed to vanish, replaced with a wide and almost sly grin. "Is that so?"

"I want to learn more about how to control my powers," she said. Her stomach twisted and she swallowed another gulp of her drink –this one larger than the last. Her throat burned. "Caelan isn't teaching me fast enough, and I will never get anywhere at this pace. I want to be able to properly defend myself, especially now that a murderer is on the loose."

That mischievous grin seemed to grow even wider. Vyses stood and lifted an arm over his head, tugging on it so that his shoulder cracked. "Well, you've come to the right place," he purred. "I would be more than happy to teach you. When would you like to start?"

"As soon as possible." 

Hey fam! Sorry for the lack of updates on here

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Hey fam! Sorry for the lack of updates on here. Classes have been kicking my rear. If you ever want to read ahead, you are more than welcome to check out the version on Tapas :D It's a lot farther ahead than this one is and more polished. 

Thank you for your continued support <3 

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