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Chapter Twenty-Nine

I awoke to the sound of the spring birds’ calls. I sighed and closed my eyes, pressing against Owen’s sleeping chest when I noticed something by the balcony curtains. A breeze blew in, scattering leaves into the chamber.

Brows furrowed, I stepped out of the bed, biting my lip as my feet made contact with the cold stone floor, which was strewn with purple lilacs and garlands of royal tradition. Hugging myself, I approached the balcony, now seeing Niro perched on the stone railing, staring longingly at the open skies before him.

Disheartened at the sight, I picked him up, brushing my lips to his feathers.

Walking over to the threshold of the railing and unclipping his wings, I threw him to the winds.

“Fly, Niro,” I whispered, feeling a sudden certainty that he would be able to do so.

His wings unfurled with a snap and he glided into the bright blue skies of the morning. Watching him go, I felt the necklace I wore begin to warm, and I instantly put my fingers upon it.

Niro’s body became smaller as the seconds drew on, and a tear rolled down my cheeks. Sniffling, I brushed the tear away. I knew it had been a matter of time before I would have to set him free. Closing my eyes briefly, I turned to go back inside when I heard a sharp call.

Niro flew swiftly back onto my extended arm, flapping a few times before settling. I smiled as he rubbed his head against my cheek.

“You need not stay with me anymore,” I said. “Niro, you are free now.”

At those words, Niro flew off my arm and perched onto the railing. He turned to face me and opened his beak, but no sound came out. Instead, black smoke enveloped him as I stepped back, shielding my eyes from the dark fumes.

When the smoke had cleared, standing before me was the Shadow Reaper, smiling. Niro’s body was slumped against the ground, lifeless. My eyes widened and I shook my head.

“No, no...” I mumbled, blinking furiously. “This cannot be...”

“Oh, Melanie. I feel almost indebted to you for saving me once more.”

“What?” I nearly shrieked. This must be a nightmare. A terrible, terrible nightmare.

“That necklace you have dutifully worn since the day of my defeat? It is a charm of my powers that you have kept alive.”

I clawed at the chain, trying to pull it off me, but my fingers shook too much to do so. The Shadow Reaper stepped forward, and I realized I could see right through him. He smiled at my recognition of his appearance.

“Yes, I am in spirit now. But soon, I will not be.”

“What do you mean?” I choked out, moving away from him until my back hit into the balcony wall.

“Soon I will be reborn as King,” he answered, kneeling before me. “Thanks to you.”

I turned my head away from him, a sudden cold wind seeping into the nightgown I wore. No, I could not have.

“Melanie, I warned you and yet you ignored my call,” he hissed, making my heart jump at the vehemence in his voice. “And now you will be the one to make this last sacrifice.”

I turned my head in time to see him enter the chamber, looking on in horror at where he headed: Owen.

Scrambling to my feet, I pounced on the Shadow Reaper, in effort to stop him, only to remember he was not solid. I fell to the frigid stone with a grunt as the Shadow Reaper continued on his way towards Owen. Forcing myself up, I raced over to the bed, ignoring the pain in my chest from the fall.

“Please, do not hurt him,” I pleaded, watching the Shadow Reaper study Owen while he slept. There was a smile on his face that could not be a good sign for either of us.

“He is much like Osric,” the Shadow Reaper said, now slightly frowning, “which is a shame, really.”

“What?” I asked, perplexed. Who is Osric?

“May my brother rest in peace,” the Shadow Reaper said, pulling out a sword —the same sword my father had given me so long ago— into the air.

He raised it above his head and I cried out, flinging myself onto Owen’s exposed chest to shield him. I flinched, expecting to feel the steel of the Shadow Reaper’s sword cut through me, but it did not.

I slowly lifted myself to peer down at Owen to make sure he was alright when I noticed the Shadow Reaper’s sword had poked out of my chest and was imbedded into Owen’s.

Gasping, I felt my chest, the sword passing through my hand as if I were not there. I glanced back at Owen, hoping the sword had the same effect on him as it did me.

But it did not.

“Owen?” I whispered, my voice cracking at the sight of his deathly pale face.

The sword glowed fiercely and I covered my eyes from the bright flash. When I opened my eyes, the sword was gone and so was the Shadow Reaper. I gazed back at Owen and my heart skipped a beat at the sight of his unmoving chest.

I flung myself onto him, sobbing.

“Owen, please...” I muttered into his still chest. “Owen, please be all right!” I cried into the folds of his nightshirt, shaking my head. This is not happening. Not to Owen. I cannot lose. Not now.

I had lost all sense of time when I felt his chest rise and fall against my cheek. Dazed, I looked up, seeing Owen smile down at me. Instinctively, I grinned up at him, relief flooding through my veins. He is all right.

Leaning forward, I kissed Owen gently, letting him draw me close.

When we parted, I gazed into his eyes, expecting to see his beautifulblue ones. My throat constricted at the sight of bright green eyes winking upat me. Green eyes that belonged to a man that should have been dead.

“I promised you I would be King,” he whispered, “and now I am.”

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