I tapped my fingers against the table in front of me, pouring over stacks of papers and books that were laid out in front of me. It had been nearly a week of avoiding Paeris and Cage. While it would seem easy to stay away from Cage, it seemed that now with Lorelei gaining allies all around us to rise up against us with her promises of power and to watch the world burn, he was invited to the High Wall along with my father to help with our call to action against her. Normally, my sister would have come as well, but my mother needed all the help she could get to protect us while Cage and my father were away. There were no cries for war just yet, I could tell it wasn't far off.
"We've heard reports of Darklings seen inside the High Wall. They're getting closer, your Majesty." Jonas said softly, coaxing my attention away from the reports on our food supply. While sightings weren't necessarily rare at this point, they had never been seen inside the Wall, aside from Lorelei the night I came to the castle, and that had been risky.
"Are our defenses lacking?" I asked, asking my first question during any of the Council meetings.
Normally, I let Meara do all of the talking when it came to our defenses and decisions, but this was too close to home for me. Literally.
A quiet hush fell over over the table at my words, though the eyes were not on me for once. My father cleared his throat at the gazes.
"We are doing what we can." Cage admitted, my father shaking his head with defeat beside of him. I could tell in that moment that the coming of age Ceremony was making him stronger and my father more willing to stand down against him. Was this why I was finally willing to open my mouth and speak out at a meeting?
"I see." I said simply, tucking the reports I had been previously reading into a book to take with me to study in bed later, since no other action would be happening there - including sleep. "So what plans do we have then? Jonas?" I asked, though my eyes clung to Cage for a little longer than they should have. A warmth rose in my cheeks, but I pried my eyes away from him.
"We have doubled our Cruor guards on the walls and Merith has rallied the help of the House of Brun to help with our forces." Jonas said slowly, looking from me to Meara as if he didn't know who he should be speaking to.
"So what about the Guardians?" I snapped, my words coming out a little harsher than intended. "My family is there. My sister." I growled, shaking my head in a similar way to my father's.
"Alaray. Enough." Meara scolded.
"No, I don't agree. We aren't doing enough. If we are only concerned with the Wall and those inside of it, we should bring the Guardians inside." This caused a rumble across the whole table. Meara did not look happy.
"I think we should listen to her." Paeris' voice rang out in the crowd causing his father to offer a hint of a smile. "Guardians have kept us safe with very little in return for centuries. I think now, with the circumstances, we should finally show them some thanks."
In that moment, I wanted nothing more than to kiss him for backing me, but also wondering in the back of my mind if he was just agreeing me to protect my sister. I had wondered for days if they had continued their little meeting after I had taken off.
"I second this." Faelyn started, causing my own mouth to hang open slightly. "Alaray has a point. We all know how capable Alanor is, the twins have caused circumstances to change. Our cultures are entwined now."
I rolled my eyes at the statement, but I was glad to have another backing my statement.
"Fine. They can stay in the quarters of Spiris. We have a handful of housing options available, and I'm sure they would be more comfortable there." Meara decided with annoyance in her tone, though I surprisingly agreed with her. Being closer to the walls and surrounded by nature would put them more at ease. I was half tempted to ask if I, too, could move out of the castle and into the Spiris division. I made a mental note to visit Keya as soon as I was able. I had visited her multiple times in the past few days, sometimes just to seek guidance in my miserable love life, and other times to try and get control of my power.
"Then it's settled. Next order I want to suggest to the table is training for each House. Hand to hand combat, elemental training for all of us. We need to be able to defend ourselves in the event that Lorelei and her new friends get past the Guardians and Brun." I stated, crossing my arms and looking at each house leader in turn. "I think we all should be working side by side with the Guardians."
"Absolutely not." My father growled, causing the hair on my arms to stand on end.
Buried into my blankets, all I could do is replay the meeting over and over in my head. Lorelei was so close, I could almost smell her stench in the air around me everywhere I went. It was almost as if she was following me.
Or maybe it was me. Maybe I was turning dark.
I knew now that I had been born while she was already a Darkling. Laurel had told me she had been imprisoned when it came to knowledge of what she had done to my father, though Allie and I had been taken from her as soon as she had given birth out of fear for our safety - and the future of our kingdom after the prophecy came to light.
Why had Paeris agreed with me, after what he had said the night of the party? Why had my father disagreed?
I closed my eyes and buried my head into the pillow beneath my head, trying to force myself to relax and drift off to sleep. I hadn't gotten a real nights sleep in what felt like forever as my wolf constantly tried to break free and find Cage now that he was so close.
As sleep finally started to fall over me, a soft rap came on my door that chased away all possibility of relaxation or dreaming.
I focused on the door, imagining it being pulled open by a glowing thread. The wood creaked and groaned until finally, like an elastic band, the thread of magic broke and I heard the click of the door opening. I smiled to myself, though kept my eyes closed as I buried back under the cocoon of covers.
"Um, Ray?" Paeris' voice questioned timidly, as if he wasn't quite sure if I were actually in the room.
I felt the weight of him at the end of the bed awkwardly as he sat down.
"What do you want?" I snapped a little too quickly as I pulled the blankets tighter around myself, as if it could protect me from him like a titanium shield. I felt him stiffen at the end of the bed.
"Meara is dead."