SIXTY THREE

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THE REASON BECAME apparent soon enough. After a few mugs of mead and a hearty helping of mildly burnt pheasant, the rowdy bunch began to chat, rather loudly, about their mission. According to one of the knights, the king himself had sent them. And according to another, the Blood Knights were on a witch hunt.

Which made Ravenna extremely nervous.

As the knights rambled on, she made sure to take small bites of her dinner, more out of courtesy than actual hunger. It took all her willpower not to listen to the graphic deaths these knights had planned for her. When she felt that she'd had an adequate amount, she decided to return to the room.

"I'm going to retire to the room," she whispered to Vyses.

He nodded, chewing on a massive chunk of pheasant. "Lyth and I will remain down here for a bit," he said between bites. "Maybe these buffoons will give away even more information about themselves."

With a small sigh, Ravenna excused herself from the table, quietly thanking one of the maids for the meal. As she climbed the steps to the second floor, she focused on the small book that pressed against her side. Now that she was about to have some alone time in the room, she'd be able to really read what was written in Caelan's spellbook.

A chest interrupted her ascent of the stairs. She blinked, surprised. "Oh, I'm sorry," she muttered as she looked upward. Her breath caught in her throat.

The Blood Knight flashed her a pearly white smile. "Don't worry about it," he assured her. "I wasn't paying attention to where I was going."

Ravenna laughed, a bit nervously, and stepped to the side, to move around the knight. "We both should have been a bit more observant them."

The knight seemed to hesitate a bit. He stared at her with startling emerald green eyes, with unfamiliar eyes, and pursed his lips. "Yes, we should have," he said after a moment.

Another awkward laugh escaped her and she started to move again. From the corners of her eyes, she noticed his hand reach out toward her. She stopped. Warily, she watched his palm drop back to his side.

"Ah," he chuckled, sounding just as awkward. He smiled again. Sorry. I didn't mean to startle you. My name is Eoin. It's a pleasure to meet you."

Her eyebrows furrowed. The name sounded familiar, but she couldn't place it. Not that it mattered at the moment anyways. Right now, she needed to get to the room before Vyses and Lyth decided to join her. "It's nice to meet you," she said. "Though if you don't mind, I'd very much like to return to my room now."

"Right," Eion said. "Have a nice night then."

"You as well."

Ravenna climbed the rest of the stairs. When she reached the top, she glanced back over her shoulder. Eion still remained rooted to his spot. His hand had lifted, fingers tangled in strands of dark brown hair. His gaze seemed focused downward, toward the drunken laughter from downstairs. A heavy sigh escaped her and she shook her head, continuing on toward the room. There was no point in worrying about some knight -even if he was a Blood Knight. The moment that he learned her true identity, he would want to kill her.

Or, judging on the drunken descriptions from his friends, much worse.

When she reached the room, she climbed onto one of the beds. Her hands worked quick to pull Caelan's spellbook free from the bodice of her dress. As she flipped it open, part of her expected it to be locked, just as the ancient spellbook that she'd been reading beforehand always was.

Luckily, Caelan's code was fairly simple to figure out. It was mainly just his horrible, scritch-scratch penmanship that made his notes harder to read. After the first page or so, however, she managed to get used to it and settle into a steady reading pace.

The spells that Caelan detailed in his spellbook were simple at first. A few cleaning spells on one page and shape-shifting spells on another. One spell in particular detailed one of his favorite spells, which gave him the ability to transform into a massive, ice-breathing dragon. It was a surprisingly easy spell to perform. A bit of concentration and a small murmur of 'dracaoin' was all it took to turn someone into a ferocious winged beast.

She all but devoured the first few pages of the spellbook. The messy handwriting, the snippets of thoughts scribbled down on the edges of the page -it all reminded her of Caelan. It filled her heart with a small sliver of warmth, of comfort.

When she reached the fourth page of the spellbook, voices pierced the quiet of the air. She paused and listened. The voices sounded close, almost just outside the door. She immediately snapped the spellbook shut and hid it within her dress. The doorknob began to wiggle. She rolled over onto her side, the book pressing hard against her stomach, and buried her face within the pillow.

She heard the door creak open and lifted her head. Her eyes focused on the door, half lidded with fake sleep. "Oh," she said around a yawn. "It's just you two."

Vyses smiled at her. "We didn't mean to wake you, lass," he said. Lyth ventured further into the room, toward the other bed, and Vyses shut the door behind them. "I'm glad to see that you've gotten some rest," he added.

She wiped at her eyes. "Did you learn anything useful while you were downstairs?"

Vyses snorted. "No. After you retired for the night, it seemed to just go downhill. The alcohol kept coming and those knights became incomprehensible drunks. They couldn't even form coherent sentences."

"I'm sure they will be a happy bunch in the morning," Ravenna muttered. Her thoughts returned to Eion, the knight that she'd ran into on the stairs. When she spoke to him, his words hadn't seemed tainted with alcohol. Nor did she remember seeing him drinking with the others.

Vyses hummed in response. He made his way to the other bed, blowing out the candles that illuminated the room along the way. Ravenna watched as he made himself comfortable, the fake spellbook in hand. Then she rolled back over onto her side and closed her eyes.

She wasn't really tired, though the lack of sleep from the past several nights were starting to catch up with her. Closing her eyes and listening to the silence that coated then room helped ease her sleepiness away. All she needed was for Vyses to fall asleep. Once he was asleep, she could start reading Caelan's spellbook again.

An hour or so later, she heard Vyses hastily sit upward. She quietly rolled over onto her other side, moving so she faced him. She watched him quickly flip through each page of the book, her eyes half-shut. "Damnit," she heard him mutter under his breath. The spellbook snapped shut.

His eyes glowed a bright red. He held the book out in his palm and clicked his tongue. The book burst into glowing crimson flames.

At the sight of the flames, she sat upward, her brows furrowed in concern. "Vyses, what's wrong? What are you doing? Is that Caelan's spellbook?"

"Yes," he answered darkly. "It's useless. Nothing but basic spells."

"Oh," Ravenna said. "That stinks."

"Yeah," he grunted.

She laid back down and watched the book break apart, turning into dust. Once the book was reduced to nothing, he squeezed his palm shut and the flame vanished. His disappointment seemed to radiate across the room in waves. Her palm shifted, lightly pressing against her side, where the real spellbook remained.

A very small part of her couldn't help but feel bad for keeping it from Vyses.

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