Chapter Twenty-Six- LIVIA
I wring my hands watching the battle unfold in the distance. I can only imagine the damage being inflicted, and I’m afraid to find out once the dust clears what will be left. I just found my true home, and it’s crumbling before me.
Moments ago I watched Vera and her men battle across the bridge; I pray she finds Bellek. I gave orders for his cell to be cleaned, and him as well of his own stink. He still wouldn’t let me completely heal him, but I convinced him a bath wouldn’t hurt.
“Livia, you must find your calm,” my uncle presses. “Even if they get through, their orders are not to harm you. You’ll be fine.”
Fine? What about them. I take a deep breath. I hope he knows I care for his well-being, too.
I glance behind me. Reddik’s leaning against the mantel talking intently to Cam. They have kept plenty to themselves, going over who knows what. Each time Reddik catches me staring, a flutter thrills inside me.
Since visiting my mother’s garden we haven’t had a second to ourselves. His duty is to Regent Grif, but I can tell he’s worried about me as well.
“What in the Maker’s name?” I return my attention to Regent Grif. I follow his gaze and see two large red birds in the sky.
“What are they?” I ask, alarmed.
“Keppers,” Amah answers. She steps out from the curtain’s shadow, where she has been keeping her silence. “They are said to be vicious creatures.”
“Well, these vicious creatures are coming right for us!” I observe, my panic rising.
Reddik rushes over to the door and opens it; he barks orders to the soldiers and they file in swiftly, their swords at the ready.
I am frozen in place watching these monstrous birds get closer, until I am knocked to the floor by Amah. Seconds later, Keppers crash through the windows, shattering glass and scattering it across the room.
Two red beasts with the blackest of eyes begin ripping our guards to shreds.
“En Oli, come!” Amah shouts. “Keep low and follow me.”
Glass shards cover the floor like thousands of tiny daggers. I carefully follow Amah, staying close to the room’s wall and avoiding as much glass as possible. I glance towards the chaos just as sharp talons slice through a soldier. I watch in horror as bright red blood is flung against the wall. My heart stops as Reddik approaches the Kepper. In on fluid motion his sword cuts the bird’s head off; the head tumbles to Reddik’s feet.
Regent Grif pushes me and Amah through the doorway, follows and quickly slams the door behind him.
“What about Reddik and Cam!” I cry.
The door flies open, and Reddik and Cam rush out, followed by three other guards. We take a moment to allow them to catch their breath. I notice flecks of blood on Reddik’s face, and I’m thankful it’s not his.
“We must go to another room and batten the Regent and princess in,” Reddik huffs out.
“Mine is near--we can hold them there,” Amah suggests.
I stay quiet as they discuss to as what to do with me; irritation bristles over me. I am right here and they act as if I’m not to have a say.
“We need to go help our people,” I say. But it seems no one hears me. So I turn and face the guards who await orders. “I need an escort, who will come?”
In unison they snap to attention.
“What do you think you are doing?” Amah asks.
“Fighting back! Healing! Anything besides standing around and waiting for trouble to knock at our door. Which if you haven’t noticed, already has happened. So I am taking any of you who want to come, to go help our men.”
Regent Grif places his arm on mine. “Livia, you can’t be exposed so.”
“Then don’t let them capture me. But I’m going.”
I turn and leave, and everyone follows.
The first men we come across are dead. I kneel down beside one and try desperately to find a pulse--but nothing.
Cam and Reddik come running down the hall. The moment I decided to go on this venture, they had half the men run ahead to secure a clear path for me.
“You need to come take a look at this,” Reddik says briskly to Regent Grif. He avoids looking at me but he can’t hide his worried expression.
“Take me, too,” I demand.
Reddik’s lips thin and his eyes shift to mine. It is clear he doesn’t want me to see what he has found. But he doesn’t argue and turns back, motioning for us to keep quiet as he leads us to where he’s just been.
I know from the rows of stone statues that we are on the second floor and that the corridor leads to the main hall’s gallery.
Reddik signals for everyone to stop except for me and Regent Grif. We follow him through one of the many doors that lead out onto the gallery’s overlook. Silence fills the space. Reddik motions for us to squat down before we go to look over the ledge. I gasp when I look out over the scene. Reddik covers my mouth and pulls me back. “They mustn’t see you,” he breathes. I nod that I understand, and he releases me. I edge my way back out onto the ledge.
A hundred men lie dead on the main floor--a graveyard of the unburied. All dead but for a small group of assassins--and my sister.
My veins chill. Did she kill these men? Is killing all my sister is capable of? I swallow back the bile in my throat.
The assassins shift and an uneasiness settles over me. Laying on the ground with an arrow sticking out of his chest is Bellek.
I startle when Reddik touches my arm. He motions for me and my uncle to return to the hall. The image of my sister standing among the dead churns my stomach. Unable to hold in the bile any longer, I rush to a statue along the wall. My stomach heaves until it is empty.
“What did you see?” Amah interjects.
I try to ignore Reddik’s muttered explanation.
I hear a shout and look over my shoulder. Two soldiers are dragging another by the arms, rushing him to my feet.
“We found him still breathing, but only barely,” one of the soldiers huffs out.
I kneel down and place my hand on the crusted blood on his head. I close my eyes and work quickly, mending the injury and returning him back to health.
A door bursts open as I open my eyes. A mass of assassins comes running through and I scramble to my feet. Their weapons are drawn, and they’re led by a giant man with gruesome scars splaying out from beneath his mask.
Cam plants himself in front of me as guards draw their swords. Amah, however, rushes pass me and screams at the top of her lungs. She sounds feral and deadly. The Violet Guards follow her, their swords meeting those of our enemies.
Reddik rushes me. “Take this.” He hands me one of his short blades before dashing away to Regent Grif.
Cam has his sword up, preparing to greet those who are able to slip through our guards. “Princess, stay behind me! No matter what.”
I inch back and step behind another statue. I watch as the chaos unfolds. Amah’s blade meets that of the scarred man blow for blow, refusing to give him any advantage. She fights viciously, as if her life depends on it.
Regent Grif is nearby and locked in a battle of his own, with Reddik at his back and engaged with another. They both seem one with their blades as they take down their opponents with ease.
Amah falling to the ground grabs my attention. My heart pounds inside my chest seeing her scramble away from the assassin’s deadly blows. Get up, Amah, get up! Amah maneuvers quickly and rolls to her side, but it isn’t good enough. The assassin arcs his blade, cutting her across her abdomen.
“Nooo!!” I speed towards Amah with Cam shouting after me. But I’m too quick and I throw myself over Amah, hoping to block the assassin’s killing blow. I squeeze my eyes shut as a sharp pain shoots over the side of my head. My last thought before I black out is how warm and wet my hands are from being on Amah.