FORTY TWO

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SOMEHOW, RAVENNA MADE it to the tavern.

Her heart thudded against the inside of her chest as she pushed the door open and stepped inside. Tears prickled at the corners of her eyes. It was starting to hit her, hard. Bella was dead. Her friend was dead.

And the last thing that she'd said to her was cruel.

The tavern wasn't busy. A bard fiddled in the corner, a drunken man clapping along out of rhythm. Two farmers shared a table, their sun-kissed smiles almost as dark as their mead. Her gaze flew toward the bar. Vyses was in his usual spot, leaning against the counter with his arms crossed over his chest. He chatted with a bearded man who sat in front of him, his lips curled back into an amused smile.

Ravenna's hands curled tight. Her nails dug into the heels of her palms, piercing her skin. Her friend was dead. Murdered.

She took a seat at the bar. Vyses's gaze met hers, his eyes widening, and she whispered, "I need a drink."

He blinked.

Without a second thought, Vyses made her a drink. The moment it slid across the table, into her waiting hands, Ravenna drowned it. The mug clinked against the counter. "Another," she said. Her voice cracked.

"Sounds like you've had a rough day," the bearded man said to her right. He clutched his mug within both hands, thumbs tracing over its uneven ridges. He glanced at Vyses. "I'll pay for her."

Vyses didn't even look at him. He slid Ravenna another drink. "Don't worry, James," he said. "Any drink this lass gets is always on the house."

Ravenna squeezed her eyes shut and gulped down her drink. It burned against the back of her throat. Her heart ached. For a moment, she wished that Caelan was in the tavern too, that she could feel safe and tucked away from the horrors of her world.

As she set the empty mug down onto the counter, Vyses slid her another. She consumed that one too, and several more after it, until her heart didn't hurt so bad. Until she was satisfied with Vyses's company.

"Do you want to talk about it?" Vyses asked when she began to slow down.

"I'm a horrible person," Ravenna told him, earnestly. She rested her elbow against the bar, her cheek against her palm. "Just awful."

The bearded man, James, quirked a brow. "You can't be that bad. Especially if our dear friend here is willing to pour you an endless amount of free beer."

Ravenna sniffled. "You have no idea."

Vyses glanced at James then, and James understood his silent message. Climbing to his feet, the bearded man shoved a hand into his pocket and slid Vyses a silver coin. "Here, friend. I'll see you next time."

He patted Ravenna's shoulder as he left.

Vyses rounded the bar and took a stool next to Ravenna. He watched her with careful eyes. "Why do you think you are a bad person?"

"Bella died."

He blinked and then recognition flickered across his facial features. "The apothecary's daughter? What happened?"

"I killed her," Ravenna whispered.

Vyses blinked again. "You did?"

"I think," she said. A lump prickled at the back of her throat, making it hard to speak. The alcohol didn't seem to help either.

Vyses crossed his arms over his chest and leaned against the edge of the counter. "What makes you think that you killed Bella?"

"I don't know." Ravenna pushed her beer away and rubbed at her cheeks, which were painted wet with tears. "I just. I don't know."

A sigh escaped Vyses. He closed his eyes for a moment and whispered, "I should have asked you before I got you drunk."

Ravenna sulked. The tears began to trail faster down her cheeks. "Bella is my friend. One of my only friends. And she's dead. The baker said it was that weird creature that has been killing people. But her fiancée thinks it was a witch. He thinks that it was me."

"That doesn't mean that you killed her, Ravenna," Vyses told her softly.

She shook her head. "No, it does though. I'm that witch. I'm the only witch in town who has threatened her. God, I threatened her. I was so mad at her. And I've threatened a guard. All the guards hate me because of it."

"Ravenna, a threat doesn't mean a promise," he continued to attempt to soothe her. His hand reached out, touching her shoulder. "Like the baker said, it very well could have been that creature that's been terrorizing the town."

Ravenna shuddered. "But I've killed before."

He frowned. "When?"

"I've killed a lot of people," Ravenna admitted. The fuzziness of the beer seemed to dampen her sadness, pushing it into the far reaches of her mind. "By accident. I didn't mean to. I just couldn't control my ice."

Vyses pursed his lips. "But you haven't killed anybody close to you. Your powers reacted to your emotions, which means those accidents would have been provoked. I doubt you would have felt threatened by your family and friends."

She shook her head. More tears came. "That's not true, Vyses," she said. Her voice cracked, and the next words hardly managed to escape. "I killed my mother. I killed my entire hometown."

"What?"

Ravenna began to sob. She buried her face within her hands, shoulders trembling, her heartache spearing through the fuzziness of the alcohol. Vyses stood, his hand curling around her forearm, pulling her away from the bar. He pulled her toward stairs, helping her toward the training room.

"But I don't want to train," she managed to cry out around a hiccup.

"We're not here to train," Vyses told her. "We will be staying in here until you can calm down, lass."

He led her toward a chair and gently pushed her down into it. She rubbed at her eyes, trying to stop the torrent of tears, and he knelt in front of her. He lifted his hands, cupping her cheeks, his thumbs brushing just beneath her eyes. "Breathe, Ravenna. Calm down."

She hiccupped.

"That's it," he told her. The pads of his thumbs stroked small circles against her cheeks. "Just calm down. It's alright."

Ravenna pushed him away. She didn't want to be touched. Not by him. She crossed her arms over her chest, sinking down into her chair. Vyses stood and arched an eyebrow at her. "Can you talk without erupting with emotions again?"

She nodded.

"Then tell me what you're going on about, lass. What do you mean, you killed your mother?"

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