Chapter 3.3 (Kayden)

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Shortly after Mother had given her dagger to Kayden, she left the dungeons for the medical wing. Kayden paced around. She couldn't believe it had worked--she was going to Leodia. Kayden almost found herself smiling, but then she noticed Malakai was still in the room, watching her.

Kayden stopped pacing, aware she had already given away too much of her excitement. Oddly enough, Malakai didn't pry. Kayden sat on the floor beside the stack of Brynian romance stories she had read many times over. The stone wall was cool and soothing against her back, and she closed her eyes, taking a deep breath to restore her mask.

They sat like that--Kayden on the floor, Malakai on the opposite side perched on her bed--for a few long moments, neither saying a word. Kayden absentmindedly touched the scars along her palm. They were the ones she had inflicted when she tried saving Eka with her healing magic.

"Do you still remember them?" Malakai asked.

"Who?"

"The ones who were killed."

Kayden paused, looking up. "By my hand or yours?"

"Doesn't really matter, does it? They're all dead."

Kayden felt a flash of anger, but she didn't let it show. "Yes, I remember them all."

"How many have you killed?"

She had never spoken the number aloud, but it came easily to her lips. "One-twenty-six."

If Malakai was surprised, he gave away nothing. "That's more than most warriors take in an entire lifetime."

"Yeah, well I wasn't raised as just a warrior," Kayden said bitterly. "I'm a weapon, remember?" She shook her head, nails digging into her palms. "What about you? How many have you taken?"

He shrugged.

"You don't remember?"

"I only recall one. It still haunts me, but the others...they're all just blank faces."

The thought of taking so much life and forgetting every breath stolen seemed odd to Kayden. She wasn't perfect; she didn't feel remorse for them, and she'd kill again without hesitation if she needed to. But forgetting was the ultimate form of death. If they were all forgotten, had they ever existed? This was the reason Kayden drew the faces of all the lives she took. She wanted to remember.

Or maybe she just couldn't forget.

"Why are you even here?" Kayden asked. "Why did you stand up to Mother for me?"

Malakai laughed. It was a strange sound, foreign to Kayden. She rarely saw his lips peel back into a smile. It wasn't a nice laugh. His smile was cruel.

"You think I did it for you?" The amusement in his eyes made her heart sink. "I did it to save myself. If our queen doesn't do what needs to be done, it'll be another Death Year all over again. Only this time neither of us would get out alive."

Kayden had only been five when the Death Year happened, but she shuddered at the thought.

"So you truly think Freca will fall?" Kayden asked.

"No, only our queen. One can pray to Tariro for hope, but it's only a matter of time before the past catches up with her. Could it be years down the path? I don't know."

"I'm assuming you'd be there to take the throne, then?"

"Yes."

"Is it something you wish for?" Kayden challenged.

Malakai didn't answer right away. Stating aloud that he wanted the throne was treason, but she had seen it in his eyes earlier. The Prince of Shadows, yearning to be king.

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