FORTY THREE

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"I DON'T REALLY remember," she told him, honestly

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"I DON'T REALLY remember," she told him, honestly. She only had fragments of the memory, paired with the horror stories that she learned through visiting neighboring towns. So much of that night had been left in the dark.

Vyses frowned. "You don't remember anything at all?"

She rubbed at her temples. "I remember a wolf," she whispered. The more she thought about that night, the more she began to sober up. "It's eyes. Bright red. And I remember the guards. They hated me, wanted to burn me at the stake. And I remember the cold. It got very cold. That's about it. It's all very fuzzy."

"It must have been a very traumatic night," Vyses remarked softly. He took her hand in his, fingertips lightly tracing over her skin. A faint glow appeared between his fingers. "Why did the guards want to burn you?"

"I was accused of witchcraft. I don't remember why. I wasn't a witch. I didn't even have any powers at that point. I just remember them leading me out of the village, to my death," Ravenna told him. She watched his fingers move against her skin. "But we didn't make it. I don't remember what happened exactly. I just remember that I was suddenly under water. I couldn't breathe. I died."

Vyses didn't respond at first. He watched her carefully, his gaze intense. She squeezed her eyes shut. "Everything that I know after that came from the gossip in nearby towns. Apparently, a witch massacred the town and murdered the guards when they came for her."

His hands curled tight around hers, squeezing her. "I understand now why you didn't want to talk about your past before," he said. She opened her eyes and hesitantly met his gaze. His expression was cautious. "Ravenna, rumors aren't always true. I know that you've made a connection between the two incidents --both times a witch was blamed for the death of others. That doesn't mean that it was you, though. Like you said, you didn't even have powers before that night. You weren't considered a witch then."

"But I am the common factor here," Ravenna told him. "I was the one that they spoke of in those rumors. I was the witch. And I am now the witch that Eadric believes killed his fiancée."

She pulled her hands away from his and folded her arms across her chest. She squeezed her eyes shut. Her next words were nothing but a mere whisper. "Not to mention the nightmares."

"Nightmares?" Vyses heard her. "What nightmares, Ravenna?"

"I don't sleep much. But when I do, I have nightmares. They are hard to explain," she said. "There is a creature in them, and it's dangerous. I always wake up with scratches on my arms and body."

Alarm flashed through Vyses's eyes. "Scratches?"

She sighed and peeled the bandages on her forearm back. Three distinct gashes decorated her arm, crusted and fighting to heal. "There are some on my other arm and my stomach as well."

Vyses grabbed her wrist, yanking her arm closer to his face. "Let me get you some medicine," he said after inspecting her injury. "This won't heal on its own. Do you always wake up with wounds?"

She nodded. "So far, whenever I have the nightmares."

"Have you told Caelan?"

"Not yet," she said.

He frowned. Eyes glued to her forearm, Vyses muttered a spell under his breath. His free hand briefly glowed crimson and then an unmarked tin appeared in his palm. Releasing her wrist, he sat backward, twisting the tin open to reveal a yellowed salve. He gathered some in his hands, whispering yet another spell under his breath. Speckles of red magic appeared within the salve. He reached out and carefully pressed the salve against her skin.

Ravenna winced. She forced herself to look away. Once the salve was set, he rewrapped her arm with fresh bandages. "May I heal the others as well?" he asked.

She held out her other arm.

"It will take a bit for the salve to heal your wounds completely," Vyses told her. "Though you will see a remarkable difference just within the hour. You should have told me sooner."

"The alcohol sort of numbed the pain," Ravenna admitted.

He chuckled under his breath. When he finished with her arm, he leaned back, hesitant. "You said the other wound was on your stomach?"

She blinked and glanced down at her dress. "It is."

He didn't respond. Instead, he waited, watching her expression. She pursed her lips, resting her palms in her lap. Already the salve seemed to be working its magic on her forearms. She needed it on her stomach as well. But that would mean disrobing in front of him.

"I don't suppose I could apply the salve myself," she mused.

He arched an eyebrow. "As much as I want to teach you this spell, I think it may be a bit too advanced for you at the moment. It's a multilayered spell. It could cause a whole horde of problems if done incorrectly. I wouldn't want to see you sprout another eyeball from your stomach."

Ravenna's nose curled.

He laughed at her expression. "What would you like to do, Ravenna? I don't want to do anything that you are uncomfortable with."

She sucked in a sharp breath. "I have an idea."

"Oh?"

She closed her eyes and concentrated. The talisman began to burn against her skin. Holding her hand out, she felt magic materialize within her hand. Her fingers curled around it. The magic stretched into the shape of a small dagger.

As she turned the dagger toward her stomach, Vyses began to get antsy. "That's kind of the exact opposite of what we're going for, Ravenna. You don't need to add to your injuries."

She ignored him. As carefully as she could, she sliced through the fabric of her dress. The blade moved around her injury, creating a window to the bandages that covered her stomach. "There," she told him, moving the bandages away. "Now you can get to my stomach."

Vyses blinked, surprised, and then laughed. "Well, that is certainly one way to do it, lass."

He leaned down again and carefully applied the salve to her stomach. His featherlight touch tickled. She squeezed her eyes shut and focused on the dagger in her hands. Already, she could feel it melting away within her hand.

When he was finished, he moved her bandages back into place and recapped the salve. He stood and stared down at her damaged dress. "Would you prefer that I mend this one? Or summon an entirely new one for you?"

"Mend, please."

He waved a hand. Her stomach began to glow that bright crimson color. When the light died away, the patch of missing fabric had vanished. Her dress looked good as new.

"Thank you," she told him, earnestly.

He smiled down at her, his eyes kind. "Of course, lass."

She climbed to her feet. Her arms crossed over her chest, gaze focused on the ground. She wanted to go home now, to hide away from the world in Caelan's study.

Vyses seemed to sense this. Taking her by the arm, he led her back upstairs. "Ravenna," he said, "I want you to hold off on telling Caelan about those nightmares. There is a reason that they keep occurring, and if we ignore it, something horrible could happen."

Her brows furrowed. "Like what?"

"I'm not really sure," he answered honestly. "There's a powerful magic behind dreams that hasn't been fully explored yet. The creature could be trying to tell you something. It could be a warning."

It certainly didn't feel like a warning, she couldn't help but think. The dreams were too sinister. Too dark.

Too murderous.

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