FORTY

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WHEN THE LESSON ended, Ravenna felt oddly refreshed

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WHEN THE LESSON ended, Ravenna felt oddly refreshed. Adrenaline thrummed through her veins, erasing all traces of her anger from earlier. The emotional turmoil, the guilt, the outrage –it all had vanished. Even Vyses noticed.

"You seem to be in a much chipper mood," he remarked. She waited at doorway, watching as he gathered his hair within his hands, trying it away from his face with a piece of twine. Once the deed was finished, he returned a sword to its spot on the wall and started toward her. "You can stay a while, if you'd like," he offered with a smile. "Have a drink, on me."

She hesitated. Part of her didn't want to go home, especially since she knew that Caelan wouldn't be there. The other part didn't want to stay at the tavern, considering she'd have to make do without the protection spells that can keep Ellie away.

He walked up the stairs, into the main room of the tavern. She followed behind. The tavern bustled with life, filled to the brim with patrons. Some danced around the fire pit with the bard, others gathered around the tables to chat. Every person had a mug of beer in their hands, overflowing with frothy beer.

"I shouldn't," she said. "It's late."

He pouted. "Are you sure? I won't let you get drunk this time, I promise."

She shook her head. "I really should get going. Haven't you heard? There's a monster running about."

Vyses snorted, but didn't push her further. The drunkards around them seemed to part like a mythical sea, watching them cross the room. Expressions of confusion mixed with lust and curiosity. Ravenna fiddled with her talisman. She'd forgotten the annoyances of bars and taverns, of lecherous men. Vyses held the front door open for her and pinned her with a nervous look. "If you feel up to it, we can train some more tomorrow," he said. "Or we don't even have to train. You can just come have a drink if you'd like."

Ravenna smiled at him. "Sure," she told him. It wasn't like she had anything better to do. "I'll see you tomorrow then. Have a good night."

He bid her a reluctant goodnight. As the door shut behind her, she descended the stairs, clutching at her cloak. It was dark out, very dark. A thick veil of clouds obscured the moon and the stars. She started down the path toward town. As she entered the market, the world got a little brighter. Torches lined some of the buildings, ablaze with orange flames. There were very few people roaming the streets, most of them guards.

She couldn't help but think about the argument she'd had with Bella. The more that she stewed about it, the more that she realized she needed to apologize. Her anger had been unnecessary, and her comments had been incredibly cruel. Bella deserved better. At this point, Ravenna would understand if Bella never forgave her.

The general store was closed. The windows were darkened, covered with patterned fabric. Ravenna wasn't surprised, as it was fairly late at night. Tomorrow, she decided. Before she went to the tavern, she'd stop by the store and apologize.

"Keep it moving," a gruff voice snapped.

Blinking, Ravenna glanced around. A guard stood several feet away, a torch in hand. Firelight flickered across his face, highlighting his darkened eyes and his angry expression. A bead of anger implanted itself within her stomach, twisting the organ into intricate knots. He pinned her with a nasty look and added, "You're nothing but trouble. Just hurry up and move on."

Taken aback, she met his gaze, her jaw clenched. "How rude," she ground out. "I'm trouble? You hardly even know who I am."

He sneered at her. "Oh, I know all about you, witch. You and your ice magic. Just know that the guards are on high alert, and if you use your magic against another citizen of this town, you will be persecuted. We've tolerated more than enough from your kind, and I'd be glad to see a witch hang."

That seed of anger sprouted, its roots tracing over her organs like a second set of veins.

Her hands curled into tight fists at her sides. It took all the willpower that she had not to unleash a hurricane of icy weapons upon him. As much as she wanted to, she knew that it would only cause more trouble. She attempted to steady her breathing, to forget about her anger. The talisman burned at the base of her throat, almost pulsating with the rhythm of her heartbeat.

The guard smirked. "Now hurry along home, little witch. Before I arrest you simply for the sake of it."

She couldn't help it. "You think that you know all about me," she said to the guard. Poison laced every word that left her mouth. "Yet, you haven't seen anything yet."

The guard's hand flew to the hilt of his sword. "Is that a threat?"

Ravenna chose not to respond. Her fingers curled around the talisman. It burned against her skin, blistering along with her anger. She did her best to remember Bella, to focus on the fact that she would regret using her magic against this man. It wouldn't be worth it in the end.

As she walked away, she heard the guard shout, "That's what I thought, witch."

Her grip tightened around the talisman. She inhaled deeply and forcibly exhaled each breath, attempting to calm herself down. It was hard –harder than she ever remembered it to be. Even with the lack of emotional control she'd harbored before Caelan, she didn't remember this anger. Her power had always seemed to stem from fear.

When she reached the house, she hurried up the stairs and slammed the door shut behind her. The moment the door closed, her anger began to fade, slinking back toward the depths of her mind. She leaned against the door, her head resting against it. Her hand lifted, her fingers rubbing against her temple. Her stomach twisted with knots.

She was glad that she'd maintained control long enough to escape the situation. The death of a guard meant trouble –it meant ruining her apprenticeship with both Caelan and Vyses. The moment word got out that she'd killed a guard, the town would turn against her. She would be forced to leave, or to hang.

Her hand grasped the base of her throat. Her eyes squeezed shut. The image of a creature, with patches of bone piercing through white fur and ragged skin, filled her head.

A groan escaped her. She slid downwards until her rear hit the ground and buried her face within her knees, covering her head with her hands. The mental image of the creature flickered out, like the fragment of a lost memory. It lingered at the edge of her conscious, accessible now, but still heavily shrouded with darkness.

Exhaustion washed over her. The argument, the training session with Vyses, all her emotional turmoil for the day –it had caught up to her. A shudder tore through her, and she pulled her cloak tighter around her form. The talisman burned at her throat. She managed to stand, to walk into Caelan's study. A window seat called to her.

She collapsed onto it. Somehow, her head twisted toward the window. As her eyes began to drift shut, she registered Ellie's face peering down at her through the glass, closer than ever.

She blinked sleepily at the ghost. Then succumbed to her exhaustion. 

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