SIXTY SIX

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THE GUARD JERKED away from the woman and clambered to his feet. His heavy armor hung open and, with each movement that was made, clinked loudly together. It revealed a pair of dark underclothes beneath, the fluttering fabric hiding most of his skin. In his hand, the small dagger glimmered in the moonlight.

"Stay back," he shouted.

Ravenna's gaze darkened. Her swarm of daggers shivered in the air around them, prepared to strike him down. She purposefully took a step forward, toward him. She knew that this man was no match for her weapons. The petrified look that plagued his facial features merely proved that he knew it too.

"What exactly were you doing to her?" she asked. Her voice was scarily calm and calculated. The anger that bristled beneath her skin was masked behind a veil of coldness. It wasn't hard to deduce the answer to her own question. The way that his trousers hung low on his hips made his actions evident. Not to mention, she'd been in that woman's place before. She'd been pinned to the wall, a fencepost, a door by a lust-thirsty guard.

The woman crawled backward, until her back hit the wall behind them. Tears streamed down her cheeks, gleaming under the light of the moon. Her hands trembled as she adjusted her skirts. The sight made Ravenna feel sick.

"Leave this alley now," the guard snapped. Though his voice faltered slightly. She watched him step backward, eyeing the daggers that surrounded them warily. His obvious nerves made her smile.

"Forcing yourself upon a woman," Ravenna mused. She shook her head at the guard. "What a prideful man you are. Does listening to a woman cry in pain make you feel powerful? Does it make you feel better about yourself?"

His eyes narrowed. The anger that coursed through his veins was almost palpable, emanating from his body in massive waves. His lips opened, revealing a set of yellowed teeth, but no retort emerged.

Ravenna snickered at him. "Is that really the only way that you can get a woman into your bed? How pathetic."

His jaw clenched tight. He bravely pointed the dagger at Ravenna. "You watch your mouth, witch."

She blinked, her smile unfaltering. The daggers zipped forward, sliding to a stop mere inches from his body. A pearl of glee formed within Ravenna's heart as the guard squeezed his eyes shut and staggered backward, his arms lifting to shield his face from the attack. After a breath, his arms lowered slightly, and he seemed to realize that the daggers hadn't pierced through him yet.

"What did you say?" she asked him. She cocked her head to the side, feigning confusion. "I didn't quite hear you."

In one swift movement, the guard bolted. Before Ravenna could react, he grabbed the woman by the collar of her dress. She was lifted to her feet and forced in front of him. His dagger pressed against the skin of her throat. "Another move, and she's dead," he said. His eyes glinted maliciously. "Did you hear that?"

Ravenna crossed her arms, unimpressed. "A human shield? Really?"

The guard pressed the dagger closer to the woman's throat, making her cry out. A fresh batch of tears streamed heavily down her cheeks and her glossy, terror-stricken eyes locked with Ravenna's. "Please," the woman cried out breathlessly. "Please, just let me go."

Ravenna smiled kindly at the guard. "You heard her. Let her go. Now."

"I don't think so," the guard snapped. "She's not going anywhere. Not until you leave this alley."

"Oh, but I'm not going anywhere," Ravenna told him. Her smile grew tenfold as she visualized a dagger forming behind him. The soft glow of her magic appeared, muted enough that he couldn't see it. "I'm sorry to put such a damper on your plans."

"I'll kill her," the guard snarled. The woman cried out again, her nails clawing at the iron bracers that covered his forearms.

Ravenna shook her head. "No, you won't."

The dagger behind him zipped forward. The woman screamed loud as the guard jolted. His started gasp echoed within the alley. His grip on the woman slackened, until the woman fell to her knees and scrambled away, toward Ravenna.

Ravenna watched as the guard's eyes widened and his mouth dropped open. His head tilted downward, his eyes locating the tip of the blade that pierced through his heart. Blood blossomed across his undershirt, fanning out across his chest. He coughed. A bead of the dark liquid formed at the corner of his mouth, trailing down his chin. He sunk to his knees. The dagger clattered against the stones beneath him.

"Like I said," Ravenna said cheerfully. "You won't be killing anybody. Not anymore, at least."

She bent down and helped the woman onto her feet. The woman clung to Ravenna. Her chest heaved around breathless sobs, her nails digging into Ravenna's skin. Both of them watched as the guard fell forward, his nose cracking against the ground. For a moment, the dagger remained in his back. Then it dissolved away, disappearing within the moonlight.

"Are you alright?" Ravenna asked the woman.

The woman hugged her, hugged her so hard that it knocked the air from Ravenna's lungs. "Thank you," she gasped out. "Thank you so much."

"You're welcome," Ravenna told her. She smiled sweetly at the woman. "I'm glad that I was able to make it in time to help you."

The woman cried harder. Her sun-kissed hands lightly touched Ravenna's cheeks. "Bless you, child," she said. "May the gods bless the ground that you walk on."

Ravenna's smile widened. She chuckled and stepped away from the woman. "You're very kind."

At that moment, a sickly familiar sound filled the air. Ravenna's smile immediately vanished. Bracing herself, she turned around, toward the mouth of the alleyway. She moved carefully, making sure to put herself between the woman and the thunderous sound of approaching footsteps.

"You might want to run away now," she warned the woman. "Whoever is found here will be blamed for his murder."

"Are you going to fight them?" the woman whispered.

Ravenna glanced back over her shoulder. Her gaze hardened. "If I must," she answered honestly. "I really don't want you to get involved though. Please, leave now. Get to safety."

The woman hesitated. Her gaze lifted, until it locked with Ravenna's. There was an unexpected flicker of hope that glimmered within the woman's teary brown eyes. It shocked Ravenna.

Determination flooded the woman's features. She swallowed thickly and whispered, "I hope that you kill them all."

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