FORTY SIX

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EYES DEVOURED RAVENNA'S every move as she hurried through the streets toward the tavern

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EYES DEVOURED RAVENNA'S every move as she hurried through the streets toward the tavern. Her stomach roiled with unease, swiftly curling into tight knots. The market was busy, yet lacked its usual blustery atmosphere. It was still, and cold. Vendors didn't shout their wares, instead chattering quietly with the few people in front of their stands. Hardly anybody spoke. Hardly anybody made eye contact.

Word spread fast. And, thanks to Eadric's influence as a guard, the entire town seemed to believe that Ravenna had something to do with the murders. That somehow, through misuse of a spell perhaps, she had unleashed the monster that terrorized the streets. It was ridiculous. She kept her head low, the hood of her cloak masking her new accessory within a veil of shadows. No matter how hard she tried to ignore the world around her, she could still hear the faint whispers, the onslaught of frantic gossip.

"Look, it's that witch."

"I heard that witch killed the poor shop girl."

"Do you think she had anything to do with the murders?"

"She's evil."

"Have you heard the rumors? What a monster."

"You heard what Eadric said. Anybody could be next."

Her hands curled into tight fists, nails digging deeply into the skin of her palms. She hesitated as she neared the bakery and dared a quick glance toward the baker. He moved quick to prepare a tray of breads, very carefully avoiding eye contact with her. The few customers who stood in front of his stand also refused to retain eye contact, their gazes focused intently on the ground, the sky, the bread, anything other than Ravenna.

A shiver trickled up her spine. The world felt so unfamiliar to her now.

A hand curled around her shoulder.

Jumping out of her skin, Ravenna whirled around, jerking her shoulder away from the unfamiliar hand. A hard-faced guard stood before her, his lips pressed into a tight line. "Ma'am," he addressed her, his voice low, cold as snow. "I have to ask you to leave, please. Your presence is causing a disturbance."

Suddenly the whispers grew louder, transforming into a thunderous assault of chaotic accusations and hatred. Her talisman burned against her chest as she looked around, frozen in the middle of the square, its heat seeping into her skin. Tears formed at the corners of her eyes. She sucked in a deep breath and squeezed her eyes shut. She needed to focus, to calm down, to start moving again. But it was hard to concentrate. It was hard to breathe. The whispers, the accusations, it all whirled around inside her head, a torrent of confusion.

"She's trouble. Nothing but trouble."

"She's evil. We should have never allowed magic in this town."

"She deserves to die with them. Let her feel the pain her victims felt."

Ravenna steeled herself and glared at the guard. "I have every right to shop here," she told him, careful to keep her crown hidden beneath her hood. "I understand that there are a lot of rumors floating around. But I live here just as much as anybody else and, until you find proof that I am indeed the culprit, I reserve the right to be treated as an innocent."

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