Late into the night, Kiaran sat in her bed. Ryker sat with her, his back against the footboard. The candle on the table beside them cast long shadows across his little face. It was silent. A discomforting, soundless moment.
The words still dug into Kiaran’s heart and the image of Ryker terrorized her. They sat forever in utter silence.
Kiaran’s fingers twisted with the soft fabric of her nightgown. She watched the boy, his light hair standing off his head. His blue and gold eyes lifted to her, shining like the ocean against sharp sand.
“Kiaran...” he breathed, uneasily, “Am I going to die?”
“No,” she nearly choked, lowering her brows.
“Should we leave?” he whispered.
“I don’t know,” she breathed.
“Is Nila going to be alright?”
“I don’t know,” she closed her eyes, her voice hardening. She did not like having no clue as to what to say or think.
“She already knows,” he grew weary. “Mom,” he paused, “Kiaran...She knows who we are...the Queen.”
Mom...She took in a deep breath. After that vision, that dream...she didn’t care what he called her. Mom was perfectly fine. “We’ve learned nothing like we were meant to,” she pondered. “Maybe we should get out of here while we can.”
He moved his legs, sitting on his knees. “Thank you,” he said. “I hate it here.”
“So do I.”
They sat in silence again. What were they to do next? Her insides twisted--it seemed impossible to avoid Sterjia. Something within her quickened her heart and her blood grew too hot to tolerate. She wanted to scream, to cry...But she simply stood.
That was new.
Walking to the window, she cracked it open, allowing the cold wind to wash over her. They had to leave soon.
She narrowed her eyes at a flickering lantern that was in the yard. A small woman stood there, eyeing Kiaran and waved a hand at her. Facing Ryker, she said, “You stay here. Do not come out.”
“Why? What’s wrong--”
“Keep away from the window.” She couldn’t afford for the woman to see Ryker if she was an enemy. “I’m going to see who this is,” she pointed a thumb toward the window. Pulling on a robe and her slippers, she left.
Stepping into the cold, she walked around the house to the side where her bedroom window was. Standing in the dark grass was the small, thin woman with a cloak draping over her body and a lantern glowing in one hand.
She flashed Kiaran an excited smile and bowed respectfully. “Kiaran Uvarasor,” she greeted her. “You are not the black-haired beauty of which Davin dreams about.”
Kiaran’s blood ran cold and she said, “How--you--”
“Brown hair and eyes? Doesn’t seem to match...” Kiaran’s eyes cast a look of doubt and defense toward her. “No need to feel threatened, Anika,” she held a hand up, her palm facing Kiaran. “I am here to assist you in freeing your husband.”
“I am not married,” she snapped.
“Oh,” she let out a light laugh, “Of course. Anyhow, King Holloway is to be put to death in a few days and I take it the Queen has discovered you? I am surprised you are yet alive.”
“I’ve taken...precautions,” Kiaran said. “Who are you?”
“An ally,” she continued to smile. “You may call me Heni.” From beneath her cloak, she pulled out a sword. It was sheathed still, and thin with a slight curve at the tip. Holding it out for Kiaran to take, she said, “I’ll assume you shall need this.”
She lowered a brow, expecting Kiaran to know, and she did. “My dear, you are going to have to fight very soon. But allow me to tell you this: It is not your time to confront the Queen. Not yet.”
“I already am aware of that.”
“Of course you are,” she laughed. “’Tis the reason for your survival thus far, yes? Kiaran Uvarasor, you must contact a dragon you can ride out of here. I know there is one nearby, whether it came with you or not...But you must be ready."
"What is happening?" Kiaran demanded. "How do you know so much? Are you a Destine as well?"
"No," she hissed. "Now listen. I am a woman with very, very many ways to find information.
"All I can say for certain is that the King's cell is the fourth door with two guards and two torches. Also, my mages and I will make it rain to hide you. Get Davin to the northern walls and have your dragon meet you and flee. Flee as far west as you can. As far as the wings will carry you. Do not dally--Go!” she shoved the sword into Kiaran’s hands. Flashing one last smile with enthusiasm and excitement, she said, “I must get to work.”
After dressing in trousers and a tight-fit tunic of purple, Kiaran pulled her hair back and tied her sword to her belt. She and Ryker stood in the backyard of the house and waited beneath the largest tree. Kiaran had already contacted Lirra, and to her surprise, she was nearby. It seemed she were the only dragon likely to be waiting and watching.
They waited for her to arrive, listening for the heavy thrums of her wings beating in the sky. And, finally, the sound reached them. They looked to the black sky as rain began to fall.
Kiaran inhaled deeply and Ryker tightened his fists at his sides. They were both silent and serious, knowing that they’d soon be saving Davin.
Finally. The bronze dragon swooped toward the yard, pulling up as she neared the grass. Gracefully, she landed, hind legs first, then front. Folding her wet wings to her back, she slinked toward them, her golden eyes burning like flames.
"You shall save your king friend this eve?" she asked.
“We intend to,” Kiaran nodded as she walked to her. “May we ride you to safety?”
"As far as the wind is willing, and farther,” she answered in Draken.
“I have some ropes...Could I tie some around you to hold us securely as you fly?” Kiaran asked. Her body was too slender, not many horns to hold onto for support. The Great Dragon hummed and blinked a yes.
Kiaran made a harness of the ropes, tying them across her chest and around her neck so they had something to grip. “Can you carry all three of us?”
"Please,” she chuckled, ”Ryker hardly has any weight. He will be like carrying a feather."
Once Kiaran finished with the rope, she pulled back and looked to Ryker. “I will let Lirra know when I need her. You stay with her and ride her to me, understood?”
“Yes,” he nodded once.
She gripped her hilt and inhaled deeply, nodding back. “Right,” she sighed shortly.
“Be careful,” Ryker said in a weak voice. She smiled. It was a real smile, one of confidence and profound joy. Soon, she’d have Davin free; there was no doubt in her mind.
She began to walk toward the gates, but she froze. Feeling like her body was filled with numbing water, she wobbled, nearly falling. Ryker panted uneasily, looking from Lirra to Kiaran. She held a hand to her forehead just before everything went blank.
Kiaran’s ears rang, the sounds completely shutting off from her. Her mind seemed to stay distant, no sound...no sight...no feeling. Slowly, heat began to cover her body...Sharp pains shot through her face and head. She groaned, trying to move, but her muscles were extremely lethargic.
Her ears rang loudly as sound began to pour in. Ryker’s crying out to her filled in with the ringing and she could feel his hands on her arm, trying to shake her awake. She wanted to open her eyes, but she was unable to.
Finally, a hand moved to her face. Touching her skin, she felt it to be pealing away and moist with hot, fresh blood.
“No, no,” Nila’s voice was quick as she pulled Kiaran’s hand aside, “Do not touch it.”
“What,” Kiaran’s voice slurred as if she were drunk.
She groaned in complete pain and terror as she shot up. Ryker shouted, falling off the bed. Her fingers shook violently as she tried to peal some of the flesh from her face. “Kiaran,” he cried, “What is going on?!”
She cried in great agony, tossing chunks of flesh aside. Her hair fell from her scalp, falling around her. Blood filled her mouth and nostrils, making it nearly impossible to breath. She stood from her bed, her muscles quivering. She pulled skin from her eyes and she blinked the blood away, though to no avail. Wiping vigorously, she cleared her face, leaving only traces of blood behind.
Nila gasped in utter horror as she fell aside, dropping a wet rag she had used to tend to Kiaran. “What is going on?” she gasped. “What is this?”
Black hair fell into Kiaran’s face as it grew rapidly, stretching down to her shoulders. Looking to her hands, she saw her fingernails peeling back, some of them already fallen off as her actual fingernails grew back in. Her skin was falling off the rest of her body as well. She ripped at it, seeming like it would never end.
Ryker continued to cry and Nila continued to shutter in fear. Kiaran fought her own body as it transformed back into herself. “What?” she breathed. Why was she doing this without Estiahn’s spell?
Finally, after what seemed like hours, Kiaran was done shedding skin. She stood in her blood and flesh covered clothes, her hair falling down the sides of her scarred and tattooed face, sticking to her skin. Her silver eyes moved to Ryker who held his breath.
“Kiaran?” he choked.
“I’m not Anika anymore, am I?” she whispered.
Slowly, Ryker shook his head.
“Anika!” Nila cried out in great distress.
“I am sorry, Nila, I am not Anika...I never was,” Kiaran said shakily. With quivering muscles, she nearly passed out again and sat down on the bloody bed. “What happened?”
“When you passed out, I found Miss Nila to come help you inside,” Ryker answered.
“Where is Lirra?”
“Do not worry,” Ryker said lowly, his brows deepening.
The sounds of men slamming through the front door filled the air. Nila darted toward the door of their room, locking it, she said, “They are here to arrest me.”
“What? Why?” Ryker asked.
“For harboring a terrorist,” she glared at Kiaran. “Why are you here? To terrorize VinCar?”
“To save my--To save a very important individual from certain doom,” Kiaran spat. “You know, yourself, how bad Sterjia is. She needs to be killed, and I cannot do that without this man.”
The clanking of armor grew loud as they made their way up the stairs. Nila shook her hands ahead of her as she paced, her breath quickening. “What shall we do?” she squeaked.
“I’ll fight them,” Kiaran said, “Ry, I’ll need your help.”
“You are going to face them? And then have your son fight too?” she whipped around to face her. “That is absurd!”
Kiaran ignored her and walked across the room. She found her sword on a chair and placed it on her left hip. She gripped the hilt tightly, her hands still bloody and sticky. She was off balance, still a little weak. Leaning against the door, she listened as they marched down the hall, kicking in each door.
“Ready Ryker?” she asked.
He nodded his head, standing just behind her. Instantly, Kiaran yanked the door open and Ryker threw a fist through the air. It looked like he threw a ball of light into the hallway.
He slammed the door closed and the ball erupted with light. White light shined around the door, and the entire hallway was filled with it. The men were blinded as they stumbled around and shouted.
As the light disappeared, Kiaran darted out of the room. Seven men in all stood, rubbing their eyes. They tried to see, but the sudden blinding light made it near impossible for their eyes to adjust.
Kiaran gripped the closest man by his breastplate and threw him behind her with all her strength. As he stumbled and fell, she continued to move. Her fingers wrapped around a rapier that was attached to another man’s belt. Pulling it from its sheath, she stabbed him between bits of armor and he stumbled away. She fought them gracefully and with ease.
Finally, they were brought down, with only two standing. They stepped backward and then darted away. Ryker and Nila stepped into the hallway, surprised by the bodies that littered the floor. Nila faced Kiaran who was covered in blood, mostly her own from the painful transformation.
“So...You are going to assassinate the queen?” Nila asked, more in awe than anything.
“At the right time,” she replied.
“Then...what are your plans for now?”
Kiaran thought for a moment. “I must leave here and strike at the right moment,” she answered. “But not without Davin. Remember the name well, Nila, he will likely be a savior.”
“I will help you,” she spoke softly.
The two faced her and her eyes grew wet with tears. “I will see to it that you get out of here. I believe you when you say you will kill her. It is in your eyes.”