Chapter Thirty-six

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The Guardsman escorting Distya froze when they watched this happen from just inside the doorway, left open when Rinnet had entered earlier. They had just arrived, but neither so much as dared to breathe after they saw what happened.

"What is this?" the Guardsman whispered, horrified, as Rinnet's body did not fall but began to rise to its feet. Distya couldn't begin to find the words to answer her.

The queen, too, stood openmouthed with shock. Her guttural laughter cut off when, perplexed, she had watched Rinnet take her own life, then cautiously she'd started to step forward to ensure the girl was truly dead.

That is, until she heard one of her Hatawans gasp from across the room. "Something's happening!" she'd said. "Someone's there!"

"Hush!" the queen snapped, but when she looked back, a strangled cry escaped her throat. Rinnet's body staggered, both feet spread wide for balance. The arms fumbled with the hilt, pressed deep between the ribs; the eyes, cold and white as limestone, stared unblinking straight ahead. At last the scrambling hands caught hold of the leather hilt, and Rinnet drew the knife from her heart and tossed it on the floor. Her chest heaved, but the queen heard no intake of air.

Then the eyes, glittering like rubies in the light streaming from the stained glass, rolled forward. They pinpointed the queen.

"Do something!" she screamed to the Hatawans, but it was too late. Rinnet raised both hands forward and the queen shot across the room. Her thin frame crashed into the raised stone platform holding up the throne, her neck breaking on the edge of a stair. There she lay, distorted and bent.

Dead.

Distya started as the Guardsman beside her took off down the hall and disappeared. Her hands were bound behind her back, so she had to clench her jaw to hold back her startled cry. She thought to follow, but as she did Rinnet turned around and saw her.

"Wait," she said. "It's safe now."

Distya spun to escape, but the tall door closed in front of her face. Choked with fear, she tried to kick the door open to no avail. She spun again as something brushed the back of her arm, but it was only one of the Hatawans. She stumbled back, her breathing high and pitched from her tightened throat.

The Hatawan kept his distance. "Listen to the girl's voice," he said. "It's different now. She's different now."

"It's true." Distya pressed her back into the door as Rinnet approached. "I promise you you're safe. The queen is dead, and Rinnet's spirit isn't here anymore."

Now just a few feet away from Distya, Rinnet stopped and peered into the air. "Well, she's still here," she said. "But she's not dangerous. And you won't be able to tell."

"What does that mean? Who ... what ... are you?"

"My name is Kozua," Rinnet — Rinnet's body — said. "I once traveled with Rinnet as a Hatawan, banished to the estate where she lived at the end of the conquest."

Her heart still pounding, Distya tried to take into account what the Hatawan said to her earlier. He was right — Rinnet's voice sounded unusual. Deeper than what she remembered, and inflected with a light Hatawan accent. A number of other Hatawans started to emerge from behind the curtains, gathering near to Rinnet. They whispered amongst themselves, gazing at Rinnet's body with awe.

"Kozua's telling the truth," one said, her black eyes alight with wonder. "I saw his spirit hovering around the Coretian girl. When she died, he took over her body as the girl's spirit left."

"She's still here," Kozua, speaking through Rinnet's mouth, insisted. "I can hear and see her, though not for much longer, if I learned anything from our Hatawan history."

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