FORTY NINE

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FOR TWO INCREDIBLY long seconds, Ravenna couldn't comprehend anything. Her tongue refused to work, hiding the right words from her. Air wouldn't come to her lungs, and she couldn't breathe, couldn't think, couldn't process. The silence seemed to resonate between them. Then Vyses quirked his brow and said, "Ravenna. Do you honestly think that I would?"

She blinked at him. She opened her mouth to speak. "I...I guess not."

She regarded him with a small frown. Her gaze shifted downward, toward the plate of chicken. She wasn't sure how to react now. Vyses had gone out of his way to help her, to teach her. It wouldn't be impossible to believe if he came to her rescue again.

Absently, she took the plate from his hand and set it down on the table. He followed suit with his own plate and sat down across from her. As she eased into her chair, he summoned two glasses of crystal clear water.

"They aren't coming until tomorrow morning," Vyses said. "We have plenty of time to rationally plan out what we should do. There are several different options."

"Like?"

She watched him take a bite of his chicken. He squinted his eyes as he chewed, as if that simple movement helped him taste the flavor of the spices better. After a moment, he swallowed and glanced at her. "Eat your chicken."

"I'm not hungry," she said. Her stomach betrayed her with a loud growl.

He arched an eyebrow at her.

She heaved a sigh and took a bite of the chicken. It was spicy, very spicy, and the heat seemed to radiate within her mouth. She swallowed and stared at him pointedly.

"Well?"

"It was good. Now, what should we do?"

Vyses sighed at her. "Ravenna, please just calm down and breathe for a moment. Like I said, I won't let anybody hurt you. No matter what happens, you are going to be safe and sound."

She rubbed at her temples again. "This is making me sick. Just tell me what you're planning, please?"

"Well, option one is that we could run away," Vyses said. "I believe you mentioned that running worked well for you in the past. While that is definitely still an option, I fear it may be more troublesome than last time. Unlike with your home village, there are plenty of living witnesses who have a clear picture of what you look like. Word travels fast. Guards and townsfolk across the nation will know to look for an unbelievably beautiful blonde girl."

Ravenna blinked. Vyses chewed on another bite of chicken and then added, "Not to mention, if you leave suddenly, it will seem even more suspicious. Even to the people who still believe that you might be innocent."

"So what's option two?"

"Well, you can wait it out," Vyses said. "There is no physical proof that magic was used against Henry, and there is no actual evidence tying you to the murders. The guards can't really prosecute you yet."

Ravenna frowned at that one. "There was no evidence tying me to the murders of my hometown either. Yet they immediately arrested me."

Vyses blinked at her. "Did they?"

She opened her mouth to respond. The words died on her tongue. It was hard to remember clearly. The more that she thought about it, the more she remembered meeting the guards --she'd just exited her house, the only person alive within a town of murdered people. "They still called me a witch, though," Ravenna muttered under her breath. "And I wasn't."

"You are now."

She squeezed her eyes shut. "I wasn't then. I wasn't before that night. I don't know what changed, what happened. But I was innocent. And they didn't listen to me. They tried to hang me anyways. So why should I believe that they would listen to me now?"

"Because I'll be there."

Ravenna glared at him.

"Again," Vyses insisted, "I won't let them hurt you. If needed, I can do all the talking with them. I can help appease them. At least enough to give us the right amount of time to find the actual murderer and completely prove your innocence. Like I said, it would seem even more suspicious if we just vanished now. I think we should at least give them a chance to speak. Let's hear their claims and then, if we don't like it, run."

She shoved another bite of chicken into her mouth. Vyses did have a point.

Dinner continued on in much the same fashion. Vyses seemed adamant to wait it out, at least one more night. Long enough to hear the claims made against her and to either laugh at them or run. The entire ordeal made Ravenna uneasy. She didn't like knowing that the guards were coming for her head. She didn't like that she'd have to interact with them at all.

Once their plates had been cleared, Vyses simply waved a hand. A bead of red appeared. It swallowed the plates whole and then vanished, taking all the mess of their dinner with it. Ravenna sighed and climbed to her feet. Exhaustion whispered through her.

"Alright," Vyses said. "So where am I sleeping?"

She blinked at him. "Excuse me?"

He stared intently back at her. "I'm not leaving this house, Ravenna. I am not about to leave you defenseless."

She sighed warily at him. After the dinner she'd just had with him, she knew that there was no chance she'd be able to change his mind. There was bound to be another spare room upstairs but if it came down to it, he could just sleep in her room and Ravenna could sleep in Caelan's study.

"This way," she told him as she started toward the stairs.

As they passed the door to Caelan's study, Ravenna noticed Vyses linger. He glanced at the door, his face devoid of any emotion. She stopped at the base of the staircase and turned toward him, an eyebrow arched. He met her gaze and smiled. "Sorry," he said. "It's been awhile since I was here last. I hold a lot of old memories here."

Ravenna pursed her lips. She lead him up the stairs and opened the first door that she found. Behind it was a bedroom, barren of furniture. She frowned. Before anything could be said, however, Vyses stepped past her. "This is perfect," he said. He snapped his fingers and another bead of magic appeared.

She watched from the doorway as a bed, complete with fresh sheets and pillows, appeared. It looked awfully similar to the ones that Vyses had at the tavern. She folded her arms across her chest. "When you summon something, does it have an actual origin? Or do you just pull from your imagination?"

"A bit of both," Vyses said. He grinned back at her slyly. "It depends on how lazy you want to be with your magic, though."

She shook her head at him.

He smiled at her. "I'll see you in the morning, Ravenna. Sweet dreams."

A shiver trickled through her, just beneath her skin. She frowned and closed the door, leaving him alone in the bedroom. Carefully, she made her way back down the stairs, toward Caelan's office. As she entered, her heart began to hurt.

Caelan's scent had already faded. The room didn't hold the same warmth that it had before.

She rubbed at her temples and crossed the room, taking a seat on the window seats. Hugging a pillow to her chest, she glanced out the window. She wasn't ready to face what was to come in the morning.

As she drifted off to sleep, the nerves started to settle in.

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