Chapter Forty-Five: True Hearts

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The darkness spat me out like a mouthful of blood.

I found myself laid out on broken rubble in the shadow-shrouded hall of Éven's ship. Éven himself was nowhere to be seen.

Through the huge hole gouged in the wall by the fallen spire I saw the Forest Ship peel away from us, taking Abigail and Hari with it. I had lost my father's dagger and thrown away Hari's baton. There was no one and nothing to save me now.

Bruised, exhausted, defeated, I looked for Éven in the shadows. He had changed almost beyond all recognition, but maybe there was still some small chance. Maybe part of him still cared a little for me.

Yet all Éven had to do to win was kill me. He didn't need to fight or trick or threaten. He didn't need to charm or deceive. He just needed to snap my neck or stop my heart.

"Where are you?"

There was no sign of him, but the room was supernaturally dark, and Éven was so comfortable in the shadows that I knew he could be anywhere. I picked myself up off the bricks and looked for something I could use to defend myself. A heavy stone, or a shard of glass. I wouldn't give up without a fight. My friends had taught me that.

"Ben, you do not understand."

The voice seemed to come from all directions. I searched in vain for its source.

"My revolution was gentle. It was meant to come in the night while the people are sleeping and change the world before they awoke. If I fail tonight, the Barren King will find another way to take these islands back. If I fail, there will be a terrible war. Your soldiers will die. Your people will die. This was the kind way. In the night."

I spotted him at last, on top of a fallen statue, one foot resting on the neck of an old stone man. His black clothes had degraded into smoke, like the shadow men he created. The skin of his face was as cracked and pale as chalk. He had dark rings around his eyes, and his hair was streaked with grey.

"You look sick, Éven," I said. "You have to stop this. The power is killing you."

"The magic of the land burns through me," said Éven. "I wasn't meant to hold it for as long as this. The ritual was meant to be over by now."

He looked weak and tired, like he might fall to pieces at the lightest touch. I hoped he might not have the strength to fight.

"You're killing yourself," I said.

"I would die for my people," said Éven.

"And kill for them too."

He hesitated for a moment, and then he nodded.

"True hearts must make sacrifices. I told you I did not want to shed blood, but this is what we have come to. I would murder love itself for the hope of a greater peace."

He drew a white bone knife from the pocket of his coat. The blade was dazzling against the grey degradation of his decayed form.

I turned and ran.

A wooden door stood twenty feet ahead of me. It was part of the original building, still intact in the heart of the ship, and it looked like it had an iron handle.

If the door was unlocked, if I could get to it in time, if I could get behind it, Éven might not be able to follow.

I still had my radio. There had to be someone I could call.

But Éven was quick at my heels. I felt his fingers brush my back.

My foot slipped on a chunk of masonry. I fell on my knees, and a rush of pain shot along my arm. Blood coursed down my wrist. A deep gash ran had appeared on my palm. I had landed on something cold and sharp. I searched for it in the rubble.

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