FIFTY FOUR

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THE SCREAMS DIDN'T stop

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THE SCREAMS DIDN'T stop. Hot tears blurred her vision, drowning the world around her in a hurricane of grays. Her hands pressed hard against Caelan's chest, her skin stained red with his blood. Nausea curdled within her stomach, a knot of utter emotion and pain. Her thoughts were frantic. All she could make sense of were Caelan's eyes, the life fading from them. His ragged breathing, labored. Dying.

Two strong hands grasped her shoulders tight and wrenched her back, away from Caelan. It took a moment for Ravenna to react. Her screams grew louder, unable to summon her ice. She fought. Punching, kicking, anything to get free and back to Caelan's side.

The hands whirled her around and shook her hard. "Enough, Ravenna!" Vyses's scream pierced through her.

She sucked in a sharp gasp of air.

"Enough," Vyses said, his expression masked behind a veil of stoicism. "Breathe, Ravenna."

All the turmoil in Ravenna's soul shattered. The air in her lungs escaped, bubbling past her lips in a watery sob. Her chest ached. Her heart cried. Tears streamed down her cheeks, rivers of glassy heartache. "I killed him," she managed to whisper. Her voice cracked around the lump that formed in her throat. "I killed him."

Vyses's jaw clenched. He took a step back, away from her. His gaze moved past her, to Caelan's fallen form. A moment passed. His lips pressed together --a small crack in his stoic facade. He moved closer toward her and wrapped his arms around her, hugging her tight. "Listen to me now," he said. His voice was firm. Soft. Melodic. There was a hint of something unnamable lost within his words. "Ravenna, he did not care about you. Trust me, lass. He didn't care about you at all."

A shudder tore through her body. Vyses squeezed her tighter and then leaned back, his gaze roaming her face. His expression hardened. "Take it from his former student. All he cared about was improving his own magical abilities. He was using you to make himself stronger, lass."

Ravenna shook her head. Her sobs ripped through her chest, her entire body heaving uncontrollably. She didn't want to believe him. She didn't want to listen to him. He was wrong. Caelan did care about her. All those lengthy conversations, all those times he'd yelled at her --it had to mean something. Caelan would not have followed her to the village if he hadn't cared about her.

Vyses's hands grasped her wrists. "Ravenna. Stop crying now. We need to leave before we are discovered."

Her sobs began to die out, the tears running dry --all without her permission. The sudden mood shift caught her off guard and she pulled her wrists free from Vyses, rubbing at her eyes. It was as if someone had grabbed hold of her emotions, her pain, and buried them deep within the depths of her mind. Locked them in a chest and hid the key. Her heart still ached. Each breath physically hurt to take. But it all suddenly became bearable. Livable.

Vyses exhaled a soft sigh. "Let's go, lass."

Her stomach lurched at the thought. "But Caelan."

"Is dead. There is nothing more that we can do for him."

Ravenna squeezed her eyes shut.

"I know that this is hard to deal with right now. But we need to focus on ourselves, lass. I heard your screaming all the way from the house. I doubt the rest of the town is far behind. If we don't leave now, we'll both be blamed and hanged for this," Vyses explained.

Her nails dug into the heels of her palm. Every single part of her being screamed at her --it wasn't right to leave Caelan out here. It wasn't right to abandon him, to allow his body to become food for the scavengers. It wasn't right. At all.

But then she heard it. The pitter-patter of footsteps against the earth. The concerned chatter, the slur of angered words.

"That witch! She has found a new victim! We must stop her!"

"Kill the witch!"

"That witch must be hanged!"

Fear prickled across her skin. Her shriveled heart seemed to evaporate from within her lungs. She couldn't breathe. Couldn't move. Her gaze shot to Vyses. His eyebrows furrowed. He grabbed her wrist and yanked her closer. As he started to pull her along, he wrapped an arm around her shoulders to shield her gaze from the carnage. "We need to go back to Caelan's house," he told her, a sense of urgency dripping from each word. "We need to gather as much as we can. If my memory serves correctly, the old man had a lot of powerful spells in his study. We can't let those get into the wrong hands."

Ravenna felt nauseous. The sounds of the villagers approaching made it harder for her to think straight. She stumbled along at Vyses' side, her feet having a hard time matching his brisk pace. As they made it to the other side of the road, Ravenna blinked. She glanced back over Vyses' shoulder. Back to the carnage, the mess of bodies sprawled out across the road. She couldn't help herself. She wanted to see him one last time.

But Caelan's body wasn't there.

Her heart jumped inside her chest. Shock blistered through her veins, replacing her blood. Her gaze darted around. The other bodies were accounted for --a pile of death and armor. But Caelan's had completely vanished. Not even a splatter of blood remained.

The voices grew even louder. In the distance, she could see the sunlight glint against helmet-covered heads. Vyses ushered her along, pushing her faster, away from the massacre, until she finally had to face forward and put it all behind.


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