I closed my eyes, the betrayal and confusion filling me as Oryn’s words sunk in.
He wasn’t just a guard Tristan had hired.
He was a part of the Marked Guard, whatever that was.
Carena was gone.
Tristan was dead.
The facts kept playing over and over in my head, overwhelming my senses.
“I can’t...I can’t breathe.” I grunted. The weight of him was crushing, even though moments before it had been nothing.
Oryn eased off of me, his hands lightening from my wrists. He rolled to his side, landing in a crouched position next to me. He watched me, a raw expression on his face. I couldn’t look at him, the sensation of betrayal still rushing through my veins.
Carena was gone.
Tristan was gone.
My heart bled as I tried not to look back into the study where I knew I would find him.
I felt numb, my chest tingling as I waited for a wave of emotion to soar through me, to take me captive.
But nothing came.
Just a pit of emptiness.
“Brina says that the forest is clear,” Edward says, taking a step forward. I had forgotten that he remained.
“You need to come with us,” Oryn said with intensity.
“I’m not going anywhere with you.”
“If you don’t, you will never find Carena.”
“I don’t need you!” I yelled, finally looking at him. “I never did.” There was pain there, in those blue eyes as he looked at me. For a brief moment, I thought he was going to reach out and touch me, hold me, despite my yelling.
A part of me craved that, needed that in this moment.
But his face grew unreadable, the pain that had been there now tucked away somewhere else as if it didn’t matter to him.
As if this had all been an elaborate lie.
“The Marked Guard can help you find Carena,” Edward said, reading the tension between the two of them. “We specialize in finding people. I’d bet good money the King’s Guard took her to Abberton where they will keep her until you start sniffing around. We can start looking there.”
I shifted my gaze over to Edward, to the tall, lanky frame of him. His dark eyes were intense, but I could sense no darkness in his words.
Not that it mattered anymore.
I hadn’t sensed any darkness in Oryn’s words when he had said he would help.
I weighed my options, trying to figure out what was best.
For the first time in my life, I was truly alone. I had thought before that I was, but there had always been Tristan and Carena. They had been the only comfort and encouragement I had known over the years, and now that was gone, I had nothing.
The manor wasn’t even safe any longer.
A heavy sense of despair settled over me, a crushing sense of loss and grief. I looked down at my hands, at the floor that I still sat on.
There was only one person left in this world that I cared about. With Tristan gone, Carena was all I had left of my family. I would do anything to get her back, to have her safe.
I took a deep breath, pushing my fear, my worry, my grief away and letting a cool resolve settle over me instead.
“I’ll go with you,” I say quietly, not meeting any eyes. “But I’m not working for you.” I look up at Oryn, “Or with you.”
Oryn nodded, rising to his full height and running a hand through his hair.
“We need to leave before guards come back to clean everything up.” Oryn said, “I suggest you go and change your clothes, grab anything you need for the trip to Abberton. Make it light though, we can get anything else you left behind in the city.” I only stared at the wooden floor as I listened to the thud of Oryn’s retreating footsteps.
I knew I should move, should get going, or do something, but I sat frozen.
Carena is gone.
Tristan is dead.
Just like everyone else in my family.
But Carena was still out there. My heart thundered in my chest. Would they have killed her?
She has to be alive. Why would they take her just to kill her? Tristan said that they had taken her. I’m assuming they were the guards that accompanied the hounds. But when had this all happened?
I had fallen asleep during our stay in the closet. Anything could have happened while we were down there locked behind that iron door. We were so far below the manor that sound wouldn’t have traveled down there and the guards wouldn’t have known about the abandoned home underneath the manor.
But how had they known to come here?
The only answer to that was someone had to have told them.
“Aurelia.” A soft voice interrupted my thoughts. I looked up to find Edward kneeling in front of me. Brina was now standing next to him, her green eyes wide with concern as she watched me. I still sat on the floor, not able to move. “We have to get going.”
I looked back over at the study, but the door was now shut. That was probably a good thing.
I felt a wet nudge on my cheek. I turned to find Brina now sitting next to me, her tongue licking the salt off my cheeks.
I was crying and I hadn’t even realized it.
I reached out with a blood-stained hand and touched Brina’s white fur, which was much softer than I had imagined. Tears fell down my cheeks unwanted, but Brina licked each one up. She scooted closer, her large head resting on my shoulder as if she was hugging me.
“She wants me to tell you that she’s sorry and that no person should ever have to endure what you are going through now,” Edward muttered. “She says she understands that it must be hard to do, but that if you trust us, we can make sure Carena is returned safely.” I let my one arm fall around her, the warmth of her enveloping me. Brina was massive and one swipe of her paw could inflict a fatal wound, but the way she leaned into me was gentle and calming. It was as if she had done this several times before, consoling those who were in pain.
Which was strange coming from a wolf.
I leaned back, glancing at Edward.
“Thank you,” I whispered. He only shrugged, his eyes falling to the floor. His cheeks turned a soft shade of red as he said,
“Brina will accompany you to your rooms so you can pack. I suggest we leave soon but take the time you need.” He stood, reaching a hand down to me. “It’s not an easy thing to be Marked, and what you are going through is not a walk in a meadow. But, you don’t have to do it alone. We can help.”
I looked at his outstretched hand and Brina’s green eyes. I couldn’t be angry with these two and I found that I didn’t have it in myself to be. There were already too many mixed emotions to sort through that I didn’t have space for anything else.
I grabbed his hand, letting him hoist me up. Once he was sure I was steady on my feet, he turned and walked down the hallway, the dagger still clutched in his hand. The soft snick of claws on wood had me turning towards Brina. She stood at the base of the stairs that would lead to my room, her eyes staring at me and then turning up towards the top of the staircase.
I began the walk to my room, my legs numb and heart heavy. A few times, Brina rubbed up against me, righting me as a wave of dizziness and sickness took over. Her back came up to my waist, her paws almost the size of my hand.
When I reached my room, I wasn’t sure where to begin. Brina walked over to the wardrobe, grabbing the handle of the door with her mouth, and pulled it open. She then walked over and tugged on my black gown.
I quickly shed the ruined dress that Carena had made for me and put on a more simple, grey gown. It was made of cotton and would keep me warm as we made our way through the forest to Abberton. Grabbing my cloak from the wardrobe, and one extra gown, I threw it all onto my bed.
I reached into the very back of the wardrobe where I found a canvas duffle bag, the same one I had used when I ran from Abberton to Tristan’s manor all those years ago.
It seemed ironic to be using it again to run back to Abberton. Fate had a twisted sense of humor.
But I didn’t stop to think about it for too long. I wanted to leave the manor, the place that I had once called home. I felt as if I were now intruding, that I was to blame for ruining the family that had been within.
Because after all, it was because of me that this had all happened.
The frustration of the entire situation helped clear my head, making it easier for me to move around the room. I didn’t grab much, as there wasn’t much to grab. I laced up my boots, making sure they were tied tightly so as not to bother me while we were on our way to Abberton.
I began to stand, taking one last look around the room. I had hardly filled the space with anything personal. After being here for fourteen years, I now wished I had filled the room more.
That I had lived more.
Now that I was leaving, it was evident that I hardly treated this place like my home.
I glance around at the dozens of candles that sat about, the few books that were strewn over the dresser and end tables. It all seemed foreign to me now, the person that had once lived here now seeming like a stranger.
I stared at the mirror that rested on the vanity. I almost didn’t recognize myself. Shadows curled around my shoulders, my head, my fingers. There was still blood that was smeared into my hair, spatters of it across my face. The look in my eyes revealed how weary I already was, and I knew this was only the beginning.
A nudge at my hand had me looking at Brina, who carried a wet cloth in her mouth. I grabbed the cloth, bringing it to my face. I scrubbed at the blood that remained, washing it away.
“I have to make a stop at Carena’s room,” I muttered to Brina, hoping she was able to understand me without Edward. It seemed they had some sort of connection between the two and I wasn’t sure if Brina needed him to understand me.
As I walked into Carena’s room, I felt a cold numbness settle that I feared would never go away.
It was as if nothing had happened at all to her like she was going to breeze into the room like she usually did on any normal day.
But it wasn’t a normal day and Carena would never walk into this room again.
She was still out there.
I walked around, grabbing some personal items and a few sketches that had been pinned to the wall. I grabbed one in particular of Tristan, trying not to look at it as I set it in the duffle. I wasn’t sure how I was going to break the news to Carena when I found her.
One thing at a time. I thought to myself. I needed to focus on one thing at a time.
I grabbed an extra gown for her, a pair of boots, and a few other items that I knew she would want with her. I took one last look around the room, the memories of times spent here flashing through my mind.
Someone cleared their throat, and I whirled.
Oryn stood in the doorway, his pack already hanging over his shoulders. He had changed into the same outfit he had arrived in. The only difference was now he had a quiver strapped to his back and held a large bow in his hand.
It was yet another reminder that I had no idea who this man was in front of me.
Shadows curled in my vision, beckoning me to use them.
“Are you ready?” he asked. I couldn’t help but notice the area of skin just below his left eye starting to turn a vicious shade of purple. I wanted to feel guilt, or shame, for hitting him. But a part of me felt that he had deserved it. There was a similar spot just along his jaw.
Hopefully, that would teach him to keep to his promises.
“Lead the way,” I mumbled to him, giving him a vicious smile. He watched me a moment longer, sadness filling his eyes as he realized we were in Carena’s room.
“We will get her back.” He said, his voice quiet.
“Is that a promise?” I challenged, “Because I can’t take any more of those from you.” He didn’t say anything, only looked at me a moment longer. Brina huffed, eliciting a glance from Oryn. He sighed as he turned and began to walk down the hallway, his steps fading. It was difficult to get myself to leave, but once Brina was out of the room, I knew I had to go. As I left, I let the door close behind me with a soft thud.