42: A Return to Sanity
I stumbled into the front parlor of the manor early the next morning. Dawn was approaching but hadn’t broken yet. I slammed open the front door, and collapsed onto the floor, moaning, and finally lost consciousness.
I think I’d lain there for at least an hour or two, because it was very light outside when I came to. A small, slight woman was leaning over me, concerned. Retta, the bartender from the Ruddy Apple and one of our trusted associates.
“You alright?” she asked me, both concerned and amused.
I groaned. “I think so. I need to see The Raven,” I said, trying to sit up. My head was pounding – all of that magic use really did a number on me.
“We figured. We sent a message, but she’s been busy, so I let you sleep,” Retta said, smiling, “It looked like you needed it.” She sat down next to me, cross legged in her wide woolen dress. “Where are the others?”
I sat up fully and cradled my head in my hands before answering. “I had to leave them behind,” I whispered, the pain of what had happened yesterday evening flooding my memories. I couldn’t believe that it had come to this.
“Ah,” Retta sighed, understanding immediately. “That’s unfortunate.” She stood up. “Well, I’ll let you be. Take your time, but The Raven will be ready to see you in the meeting room within the hour.”
She left, allowing me to wallow in my sorrows alone for a bit longer. I felt grateful, but ultimately, just sick. Not only had I witnessed Spenser and Larke spill our secrets to the Usurper, I had also stayed up all night, retrieving the bombs that the Mages had extracted, placing an illusion to make it look like the bombs were still there, confiscated, and then replaced every single one as we’d originally intended. It had taken a ridiculous amount of time, not to mention that I’d had to cast more magic last night than I ever had in my entire life. And that included when I’d imbued magic into the stones of this manor to disguise it into a small cottage. I was so tired, I felt like I could sleep for weeks and still not be recovered. I groaned, and shifted to my hands and knees, trying to get up as slowly as possible.
I made it to the meeting room where I’d see Renn. I wanted nothing more than to crawl into my bed and pretend that my life hadn’t been falling apart around me, but I knew I couldn’t. My room would be empty, and mine again; she wouldn’t be there. The thought was another twist in my gut. I’d gotten so used to being around her that I missed her terribly already. She was beautiful, smart, and deadly, and in spite of everything, she’d become one of my closest friends. I just wanted her to come back. I sat roughly on a chair, waiting for Renn. A few minutes passed, and I fell asleep again; this time, with my head on the table.
I woke to a delicate touch on my shoulder. It was her.
“I see you’re back,” Renn said, pity coloring her words.
She knew by now that I’d come back alone. Renn had always been there for me, ever since we were kids. We’d grown up together. I’d helped her bury her father, helped her find her place as a Naga, and she kept me sane. Her no-nonsense attitude had always kept me grounded, and I’d never felt more thankful for that aspect of her personality than I did right now. It was exactly what I needed.
“Renn, everything is ruined,” I said, throat burning as I resisted the urge to sob. “She left me, they betrayed us. The Usurper knows everything.”
Renn stopped, and tilted her head to look at me, her expression unchanged. “Tell me the facts, and nothing else. What happened?”
I regaled her with the events of the evening, and she listened well, as she always did, not a single interruption or judgmental look. I got to the part where I’d redistributed the bombs, and she smiled.
“So, the evening was a success?” she said, her smile growing wider and wider.
“I... I guess? Wait, what do you mean?”
“Dean, you’re a genius,” she said, her smile the biggest I’d seen in years. “The Usurper thinks he has the upper hand, but he doesn’t, not really. He thinks that he’s neutralized the threat to his walls. Thanks to you, he hasn’t. All we have to do is continue on as planned.”
“What about Larke and Spenser?”
She fell silent, staring at me. “Spenser made his choice.”
She tilted her head. “I believe Larke did what she thought she had to.”
What did she mean by that? I regarded her silently, her cool, chilly visage reflecting no emotion. Her black eyes stared into mine.
“Well, what now?”
“Dobridland has been sneaking in troops for years now. We’ll take the day to assemble them. At dawn, we attack.” She stopped and stared at me meaningfully. “Are you ready to really fulfill your promise?”
I considered her, the woman I’d known better than anyone else, yet still had managed to keep secrets for herself. She was one of the strongest people I knew; she was a better leader than I’d ever hoped to be. And just as I’d decided back then, fifteen years ago, I knew I would take up the yoke and fight to the death. For her, for Ryne, for my parents, and for the people - I would do the unspeakable.
“Tell them Dayne Cerul is ready to lead them to victory.”