FIFTY ONE

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RAVENNA'S STOMACH TWISTED

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RAVENNA'S STOMACH TWISTED. She climbed to her feet and followed Vyses through the house, toward the front door. As she walked, her fingers combed through her hair in a nervous attempt to make herself look somewhat presentable. Inside her chest, her heart raced, thudding against her ribs. She almost couldn't breathe. A part of her knew that a guard would be on the other side of the front door. Possibly a group of guards, come to take her away or attack.

Vyses stopped in front of the door. He glanced back over his shoulder, his gaze meeting Ravenna's. His eyebrows arched upward and he mouthed, "Ready?"

It took every ounce of self control that she had not to say no. Her lips pressed together and she fiddled with a strand of her hair. His gaze was relentless, piercing right through her. She sucked in a sharp breath. "Open it," she whispered.

He didn't hesitate. He stepped forward until his body filled the door frame and pushed the door open. For a moment, she didn't dare to move, to breathe. She listened hard, straining her ears for the sound of an angry voice, for anything indicating that her life was in danger.

Then she saw Vyses's shoulders relax. "Lyth," she heard him say lowly, "What are you doing here?"

Vyses stepped aside, allowing the small boy to step over the threshold. The door thudded shut behind him. He didn't look at Ravenna, his intense gaze trained solely on Vyses. "Master, there's been talk at the tavern. There's been another murder."

Ravenna stepped closer, her eyebrows furrowed. "Who was it?"

Lyth turned his gaze toward her. "Ole' man Henry. He lived just down the street from here."

The air in Ravenna's lungs escaped. All of the blood in her body seemed to fall downward, draining from every vein and artery until it pooled within the bottoms of her feet. "Henry?" she heard herself whisper.

Vyses watched her carefully, his expression guarded. "What exactly is being said, Lyth?"

"The guards believe the witch is to blame. She did attack him after all. By daylight, the rest of the town will believe that she is guilty too," Lyth said. His gaze never left Ravenna's. "She will be arrested and likely killed."

"But I didn't." The words came out raspy. Each letter was jagged, slicing along her throat as she forced it out. She didn't attack Henry, she didn't actually hurt him. She scared him. But never hurt him. She never would have hurt him. She never wanted to hurt anybody.

A small seed of doubt sprouted within her stomach. She'd hurt before. Many times. Her head started to hurt. Her thoughts seemed to cloud over, twisting into a dark hurricane of emotion and panic.

"I didn't do it," she said, louder, firmly. Her eyes flashed to Vyses, filled with determination. "I didn't hurt him."

Vyses moved closer. His hands lifted, gently cupping either side of her face. "Ravenna, I know you didn't hurt him. Not intentionally. But the guards won't believe you. Not after the way that you scared him. If they find you here, they will kill you."

"But last night, you said you could make them see reason," she said. Her heart pounded frantically. "You could calm them down. The guards are good people. They will listen to you."

"Ravenna, close your eyes," Vyses told her. His voice was stern, almost frighteningly so. She squeezed her eyes shut and listened. "Think back to that night. The night you died. They arrested you on the spot, didn't even allow you a chance to explain, lass. All because of the way that demon seemed to disappear into you."

Her mind swirled with a whirlwind of confusion and panic. She didn't remember telling Vyses about the demon's initial disappearance, about the way it had dissolved into her. She hadn't even remembered that detail until he'd spoken it aloud, triggering the mental image. But she couldn't focus on that. She couldn't think straight. Panic surged through her mind, through her veins, burning every cell with a frantic jolt of electricity. Her heart fluttered. Her lungs faltered. Her hands lifted, nails digging into Vyses's forearms.

"No," she whispered. "Maybe they'll..."

"Lass, they will kill you. No questions asked. You will be burned alive or beheaded."

Tears streamed down her cheeks. The truth of his words prickled against her skin. All of the hair on the back of her neck, on her arms, stood ramrod straight. Her jaw clenched tight. "They're going to try to kill me," she rasped brokenly. "I am going to die today."

His grip tightened on her face. His fingertips pressed hard against her cheekbones, until her expression contorted with pain. "Not unless you kill them first, Ravenna."

Her eyes snapped open. She pushed away from Vyses, her breathing ragged and unsteady. Staggering back, she reached out, toward the wall, toward the banister, toward anything that would keep her upright. "No. I don't want to kill," she gasped out.

"It's either kill or be killed, Ravenna," Vyses told her. His stern expression made her stomach flip. "You should know that by now. Did those years you spent wondering around not teach you anything? Did Caelan really soften you that much?"

She blinked, her eyebrows furrowed. Those years she spent in and out of cities, hiding from the guards, stealing to from the pockets of strangers. Those years she spent fighting for survival, killing any who dared to harm her first. Before Caelan, she wouldn't have hesitated to slit the throat of each guard that came for her, if she had deemed it necessary.

Her hands lifted to her head, grasping fistfuls of her hair. Her forehead seemed to pulsate, the crown burning against her skin. Hot tears streamed down her cheeks. She didn't want to kill. She didn't want to hurt anybody.

Yet she had to.

That realization was crystal clear. It was almost daylight. A group of guards were bound to be on their way to the house by now. At this point, escape was almost impossible. She squeezed her eyes shut and tried to think, to try to reason everything out. Rational thought seemed to fail her though --her mind was too chaotic, too emotional. There was still a chance that she could get away before the guards arrived. She just had to move fast.

"I'm leaving," she announced. She wiped at her tears and robotically walked back through the house, toward the back door.

Both Vyses and Lyth followed, their paces brisk. "Ravenna, hold on. We need a plan," Vyses said, trying to reason with her. "You can't just leave now. Where will you go?"

Ravenna squeezed her eyes shut. She took a moment to clear her head, to focus. It didn't matter where she went. It wasn't the first time that she'd had to hide. "Anywhere," she breathed. 

thank you so much for your continued patience and support! remember that if you ever want to read ahead, the version of Ice that is posted to Tapas is ahead by a solid 20+ chapters

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thank you so much for your continued patience and support! remember that if you ever want to read ahead, the version of Ice that is posted to Tapas is ahead by a solid 20+ chapters. also if you want any writing tips/tricks or are looking for a laugh, be sure to check out my youtube channel. the link can be found on my profile page! :D

p.s. the next few chapters might make you angry, but just remember that everything happens for a reason!

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