Chapter Thirty Three: Roxy

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Roxy:

It was working. Lorelie was already under our control. In a few days it would be all of them. So why didn't I feel more excited? Instead, I'd had a sinking sensation in my stomach all day. As I'd sat watching him in the meeting it had become unbearable. It had been a relief when he left early. But that had meant that I couldn't see him anymore, which made me feel even worse. What had gotten into me? I had never felt this way before: my every thought was of him, I held my breath when he walked into the room and flames danced inside me. It was so completely different from how I was supposed to feel around Brae, not at all like hatred and more like-

There was a knock at the door.

"Yes?" I answered tentatively, not really wanting to speak to Avery or Cinaer.

"Roxy, can I speak to you?"

My heart stopped in my chest. It was Brae.

"Uh, yeah," I said as casually as I could manage, nervously running my hands through my hair. What could he possibly want?

He opened the door slowly, looking round, perhaps making sure that I was alone.

"What's up, Brae?"

He walked in and closed the door behind him, but instead of answering my question he paced up and down the room. After a while he sat down on the bed, looked at me through his soft brown eyes and said, "I know."

I blinked, taken aback. Knew what? How I felt? But how could he?

He must have registered the confusion on my face because he decided to quit being melodramatic and elaborate.

"I know why we are all here. Why you invited us. I know about Control."

Oh.

Flames.

Well that was a problem.

His face looked pained: not afraid or angry, but betrayed.

"How could you do it?" His voice was low and soft and I almost struggled to hear him. "How could you talk to me? Spend all that time with me, let me help you, all the while knowing that you were going to kill me once I'd fulfilled my purpose?" He spat out the last word. Before I could respond he continued. "I thought that you were different. I thought that you were my friend."

There they were, those words again. So simple, yet so very, very painful. It was too much.

Before I could think, before I could stop it, a tiny drop of water trickled down my cheek. "Oh!" I gasped, putting my hand up to it. That had never happened before. Helians didn't cry.

But as soon as I registered this, there were floods of them. I couldn't stop it. They evaporated mid-way down my cheek but they still formed and were hot and wet and tumbled out in an outpour of emotion and fragmented words.

"I didn't mean... I thought you'd be horrible... and then you weren't... you were... interesting... kind... I didn't... I wouldn't... don't want... couldn't hurt you... not... not now."

He let me wail, his face unreadable.

"I'm so, so sorry." Another first. An apology. What the flames was happening to me? This was disgusting... un-Helian. And Brae was witnessing all of it.

"You're sorry?" He looked mad now. "You planned to kill me and my friends and a group of completely innocent, trusting people and all you can do is turn on the waterworks and say you're sorry? I've got to say I expected a bit more from you."

He clearly had no idea just how unheard of either of those two things was to a Helian. To not show strength, the water... My mother would rather see me dead.

"I-" I didn't know what to say. It was clear that nothing would make this right. But I knew, from the ache in my heart and the stinging in my eyes, that I could not let him die. I did care about him. And even if he hated me forever for what we had planned, I needed him to be alive and capable of hating me. I needed to save him. And that meant that I was going to have to save all of them.

"I'll tell you what I know." I bowed my head, talking to my feet rather than his stern, judgemental eyes. I would become a traitor for him, betray my people, Realm and family for him, but I would not look up and see just how much I disgusted him.

"We... we were going to put the Protectors under control, starting with the Brizans and working up to the A-Arcans. We were going to get Erica and Nolan to hand over all control immediately, sign away the Sephan Realm and then kill them. The Brizans we were going to make sail home and force Queen Aurelia to sign something similar and then kill her, the commander and themselves. And then-"

"And then you were going to have me contact my father, get him to sign over all power to me, then I would give it to you and you would dispose of me too?" His voice was sharp, like a gale force wind.

I couldn't look up. I just nodded my head.

"It's already started - Lorelie..."

"I know."

I didn't ask how he knew this, I didn't need to. Somehow I could tell. It was her.

"You need to tell me everything." His voice was hard and cold. The room seemed to have dropped in temperature. "How long do the rest of us have?"

"Three days. For you anyway."

"The Brizans?"

"Less. They want to turn them all by tomorrow and send them back home. You would save them too?"

"Of course. I'm not like you."

"I'm not-" Not what? What he thinks I am? Because I was exactly like that. And even now that I wanted to save him, I was happy for the others to die. I had none of his goodness. I would save him to help myself and kill the rest because they didn't matter to me.

"How many of the non-Protectors have been turned?"

"All of them."

"Surely not all-"

"Not Jasmine."

"How can we break it?"

"You can't. Although the basic Control would wear off over time, or after their Control had been fulfilled. Only a Helian Protector could release them. If you want to take them with you then you'll need to bring them to me before you leave."

"You'll help us escape?"

I looked up at him for the first time. His eyes had softened slightly. I decided that I needed to be honest. "I'll help you escape and I think that means having to help everyone else as well. Bring everyone out to the grove where you first saw me using fire. I'll wait for you there and break the Control so that you can leave. It's close to an exit and not many people know about it, so you'll be able to slip out without raising suspicion.

"If you leave this evening, you could get down to the port before anyone noticed you were missing. Let me get Lorelie though - they will be watching her and she might need some persuading."

He considered my proposal before saying, "Can I trust you, Roxy?"

I smiled weakly. "If you couldn't, I'd have put you under Control at the beginning of this conversation." This made me think. "Why did you come here? It was a big risk."

"Because I knew that there had to be some good in you, Roxy."

"You... you should go. Get the others. I'll see you in three hours."

"Thank you."

"Don't. I don't deserve that."

He took my hand in his and squeezed. "You do. I'll prove that to you someday." He smiled weakly then opened the door and was gone.

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