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44: Please Tarah... No

Larke, 1182

I took my old post as primary Kingsguard, the honor given to the High Suryan Premiere. I stood quietly in the background of the throne room; the King and the Queen sat stiffly on their paired thrones, me standing watch behind them. The atmosphere was tense; news had just been delivered via a guard watching the palace’s outer gates that the rebel army had massed and was heading this way.

I snuck a glance at Princess Nya, perched on her throne a step below her parents. Outwardly, she looked calm and unruffled, but I knew her enough from my years at the palace that I could see the slight signs of fear. Her fingers clutched the arm of her throne tightly, knuckles turning white. From a distance, you couldn’t tell; her face held nothing but serenity and calm. If Princess Nya was afraid... then that boded poorly for the royal family. She was the most courageous person I knew.

Did she know what was coming this way? I instinctively felt the calm before the storm, tension rising in the air, the silence building in intensity it felt almost loud. Nothing about this sounded good. I knew Dean and The Raven well enough to know that they would hit the palace with the best weapons they had – which were powerful illusions. It could be anything, and we had nothing to stop them.

I had briefed the King on everything I knew. I had been drafted into this war long ago, when the King stole me from my family to become a Suryan Mage. The royal family was all I had, despite how much I resented them for that very reason. I shuffled my feet, uncomfortable with the nagging thought that I had chosen the wrong side.

I glanced to my other side to Spenser, who had been honored with a position at court for his information that he had provided the King, in tandem with my mission. He exchanged looks with me, and I knew that he was just as concerned as I was about what was coming to us. His vibrant eyes were bright with worry; I could practically see the thoughts behind his head – he was likely scheming something; how typical.

Suddenly, a servant came rushing into the throne room, panting, his face red. He gasped out, “Sire! Sire! The rebel army has breached the walls!”

The King sat calmly on his throne, unperturbed.

“I highly doubt that,” he chuckled, a smile on his face.

And he had reason to doubt it. The walls hadn’t been breached in a thousand years, and he personally made sure that the rebel’s sabotage attempt had failed. I’d informed them of it.

This castle was built for siege, and Zante had prepared for it. It was his only option, as a large portion of his army was off in another continent at the moment, attempting to conquer more and more in the name of the throne. We were left with minimal forces to defend ourselves, and all of those forces were waiting in the courtyard, eager to destroy the rebel army should they even get through. But it sounds as if those in the courtyard would get their chance.

I feared for the Suryan Mages that were posted out there, as most of them were only recruits, with a few higher ranking mages, but still none higher than the third rank. This battle could not have come at a worse time for Zante Urion. Those recruits had little to no battle experience, and only a few had decent control over their powers. It was a small measure of comfort to know that Liss was on the other side of the battlefield and not in the midst of what could become a bloodbath.

The servant doubled over, coughing from his extreme exertion. “No, your grace, the rebels have brought down the walls. They’re marching here this very second!”

The King sat up in his throne, and I felt unnerved. This was serious. What was happening?

“Your grace, I beg of you, take cover! They will be at the palace doors any minute!”

The King and Queen exchanged glances, shocked and clearly unsure of what to do.

I watched warily, and shuffled my feet, anxious. I knew Dean was a powerful mage, an accomplished illusionist, but I really didn’t know what he was capable of. Neither did I know what The Raven was really capable of... to what lengths would they go?

I felt so uncomfortable I had to do something. I paced the length of the space behind the thrones where I stood watch, yet I drew no one’s attention except for Spenser’s. He watched me pace with a stoic look on his face. I couldn’t tell what he was thinking, but I was sure he felt as uneasy as I did.

The queen screamed and slumped over in her throne.

The Raven appeared, standing over her, her hand clasped tight on the queen’s shoulder, dressed in full battle gear. Her face was painted heavily, though it dripped down her face and onto her dusty armor, her bleached blonde hair braided away from her face, a fierce expression in her black eyes. She shrugged her hand off with a shake of disdain and turned her attention to the King. He had jumped in surprise and concern in the sudden developments, and now stood directly next to The Raven.

She faced him and a shiver trembled down her entire body. She was calm, poised, although covered in ash and dust, and placed her hand on the King’s shoulder, just as she had with his wife. He went to brush it off, and then collapsed before he could even raise his arm halfway. I leapt towards the thrones, which were only a few feet away. But I was too late.

In the second or two since she’d appeared, the King and Queen had been decimated, and I’d only had enough time to brush the throne with my fingertips, far too late. The shock of what had transpired caused everyone in the room to freeze, but now, chaos erupted in its wake. Servants ran, screaming; noble men and women alike rushed towards the rear exits of the throne room trying to escape. They were all met with soldiers from The Raven’s army. As the Raven had appeared, so had her soldiers, filling the throne room, closing in on the unfortunate court members unlucky enough to be present that day.

I stood next to The Raven, dumbfounded. She met my eyes, and I couldn’t shake the feeling that she looked immeasurably sad to see me. For months, she had thought I was a loyal recruit in service to her goals. Not for the first time today, I wished I was standing at her side instead of opposite her.

“I’m sorry I wasn’t brave enough to tell you sooner, Larke,” she whispered, the cacophony of panicking upper class citizens being subdued by rebel soldiers barely penetrating the tension held taut between The Raven and myself.

“Whatever,” I snarled, anger and violence being the only reaction I knew how to handle. “I’ll end this here and now!”

I adopted the offensive stance subconsciously to begin battle with her. Now that I had witnessed what she could do, I had to keep her at a distance. If she got her hands on me, I’d be done for, just like the King and Queen.

“Look around you, idiot. You’ve already lost,” she said, raising her hands to bring to my attention how her soldiers had detained most everyone else in the room. “We even have your princess. Give it up.”

In the corner, I saw several guards restraining Princess Nya. She was struggling, but it looked like they were about to sedate her with some kind of medicine.

“We’ve already captured the city, and I’ve eliminated the Usurper and his queen. What chance do you possibly have?” she asked.

I gathered my focus and summoned a concentration of energy to collect in my palm. I felt the heat burn my palm from the intense magic I’d created and threw it at The Raven.

The energy I’d thrown had smacked her directly in the stomach; she doubled over, wheezing.

That usually burns a hole directly through a person. I’d formed that weapon with the intent of killing her, and it’s been one hundred percent successful hundreds of times before. But it hadn’t worked on her. What had happened? Had I been weakened somehow?

She coughed, straightening up once more. She met my gaze again, looking irritated. Her skin began turning red, as if she had a fever. Had she...absorbed my blast?

“That’s annoying,” she said derisively, brushing off her armor.

The soldiers had now completely subdued everyone in the room, with the result that everyone was looking at us. She held up her hands to command her soldiers to stand down – they had all raised their weapons at me, threatening to advance.

“Stop. I’ve got to tell you something.” She stepped closer to me.

I stepped backward in response. This was just a tactic to lure me in so she could use her magic, and I couldn’t let that happen. I refocused my energy, even stronger this time. I fought the wave of nausea and dizziness that always accompanied magic and directed the energy into a ball in my palm once more.

She took another step forward.

“Seriously, stop. You’re being stupid. Just listen for once!”

I threw it at her, this time hitting her in the chest.

She gasped, robbed of oxygen, and her already red cheeks and skin I could see turned a brighter shade of crimson. The paint on her face was melting even more, leaking rusty red and ocean blue trails down her chin and neck. Her eyes burned bright white, surprising me with their sudden light.

Then, those eyes rolled back in her head and she collapsed, falling into a messy heap on the white, marble floor.

It had worked. Silence fell over the entire room, each individual as shocked and surprised as I was. But when I looked up, they weren’t looking at me and The Raven. I followed their gazes and saw a figure jostling through the crowd.

It was Dean, pushing his way through several rebel soldiers to get us. He looked panicked, stricken, desperate. He shoved me out of the way and cradled The Raven’s head in his lap. Holding her, he stroked her hair, mumbling nonsense and half-lucid sentences.

“Please, Tarah... no,” I heard him whisper.

A few moments passed; I watched them both, unsure of what to do. Whatever my future was, it was bleak. There’s no way I could escape from all of these people, not after I’d wasted most of my energy killing The Raven, despite the fact that we had already lost.

I saw dots, fuzzy blackness edging in on my vision, and I knew the magical exertion was taking its toll on me. I fell to my knees; I didn’t want to pass out here on the floor, but I knew it was inevitable. I swayed, my senses blurring, and finally curled up into the fetal position.

Dean was saying something, but I could barely hear him. His voice sounded like I was underwater, and he above, trying to shout something to me.

Over and over again, he repeated it, and just before I lost consciousness, I made out some of his words.

“...You killed your sister!”

That couldn’t be right.

Everything went black.

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