Dystella kneels next to Coraleth and Adam. “We can bury her in the courtyard if you’d like, so you don’t have to transport her back to Hale.”
“No!” Milo protests across the room. “She’s coming home to be...to be...”
“Whatever you wish,” Dystella replies.
Much time passes before Milo lets Rain go, picking her body up as carefully as she can. She faces ahead, one eye so swollen it’s nearly closed, and the other red and irritated. Cuts and bruises mark her eagle-like face, neck, and arms. Cora tries to gulp back her emotion, but the tears work their way into her eyes, unstoppable. Why Rain? Why?
“How do we get her out of here without causing panic in the city?” Adam asks of no one in particular.
Dystella gestures to the other servants now crowding in behind her, gasping and pale as they look upon their fallen master. “I’ll arrange for some of us to walk you to the secret exit. You’ll have to be on your own after that.”
“What about our supplies at the Marsh?” Cora wonders.
“We’ll try to get them back to you, but it’d stir up too much attention for you all to go to the inn. We’ll give you enough to keep you until you get back home.”
“What’s going to be done about him?” Adam asks Dystella quietly, gesturing to the pile of grey bones on the ground.
“I’ll discuss it with the rest of the servants, but I believe the secret will have to be revealed to the rest of Bannerford. Once you’re safely out of the city, then we’ll tell the people Master Cordax attacked and killed someone—we’ll keep your identities anonymous—and we had to intervene. The truth that Master Cordax was an Asparri will shake all of Tempesco, but there is no concealing it.”
“Have them tear down the Manor, if possible,” Adam says.
“That way the other Asparri won’t attack you. Just trust me. Replace all the red gems in the mine and you’ll have peace here.”
Dystella looks confused, but nods. “Very well. And I should be confident that you won’t stir up trouble?”
“Keep my secret and I promise to be good,” he says, humour in his words but not his tone.
“We have a deal. Let us fetch some supplies for you to take on your journey, and you can be on your way.”
Not even an hour later, Adam and Milo help two guards lift a long, wooden box into the back. In the centre of the lid, Rain’s name is carved, embellished with a single red gem in the shape of a teardop. Adam mounts the wagon, which is much smaller than the one they took coming here, and Cora climbs up beside him. Milo sits in the back, surrounded by supplies, next to the box. The stables are quiet at this time of night, but there’s an unrest in the air.
Who knew the trip could end like this?
When they reach the city wall, there seems to be no way to continue, but Dystella steps forward and presses a stone in the wall. The wall groans and creak, allowing for a section to separate from the rest and slide down into the earth. Before them lies a dirt path winding down the base of the mountain.
Dystell turns to them. “Safe travels,” she says solemnly.
“Thank you,” Adam replies.
Without more to say, the parties separate, and Cora hears the secret door close behind them and doesn’t turn around.
The roar of the waterfall approaches as they wind down the path. Toward the mountains, huge falls stretch from earth to sky, seeming to plunge down into a dark abyss below the path. Every once in awhile on the silent, shadowy, winding pathway, they pass the falls. And every time, Cora gets the urge to jump.
Thoughts of Hale, of Rain’s remaining family, of the townspeople finding out what happened and never knowing what really happened. Thoughts of Atherton, of Papa, of Lucas, of Alexis, of Mama’s ring. Thoughts of Adam. Thoughts of marrying something not entirely human, something who’s lied to her from day one.
These thoughts are the ones that prompt those other, darker thoughts.
Grief and torment cloud Cora’s mind. Of course she loves Adam. She loves him enough to marry him, even now. But it all seems too soon. How can she return to Hale, or Atherton, or anywhere familiar? How can she go on after what has transpired this night?
She covers her face and sniffles softly, matching Milo’s quiet weeping behind her. Adam is stone-silent beside her. He must think it’s his fault. He brought them here. He knew Cordax somehow. He had a history here. But it was largely Milo’s fault. She was the one who planned the attack on Cora and Adam. She traded Rain’s work for Cordax’s help.
However, from the beginning, Cora knows that she herself is to blame. She was the one who burst into Hale and messed everything up, then she dragged the other three into it. She was the one who started it all. If only she had been more patient that night, in Sawmill Cabin. If only she had apologized. If only she had never lied to everyone about marrying Lucas.
“Stop!” Cora blurts, stumbling off the seat before Adam even has a chance to slow.
She finds herself at the edge, of the falls, of herself. She feels the cold spray on her face, the wind tugging her closer to the watery black abyss beneath her.
How would her life proceed? Will the workers at the mill have even suffered from her absence? Will she ever work up the ability to look Hale’s townspeople in the eyes when she’s known she’s killed one of them? Will she eventually get beyond the issues with Adam and marry him? Would she even try to face Papa after what she’s done?
Behind her, she vaguely hears, “Coraleth, no!”
Gasping and sobbing, she shuts her eyes. “I’m sorry, Adam. I just don’t know how I can go on.”
A cold, yet almost burning hand seizes her arm and turns her, but she resists. “We have to. We have to, my love.”
“No, we don’t have to,” Cora tells him, the spray from the falls soaking them both. “We can jump. We can go together.”
“No, Coraleth. Come back to the wagon. We have to go home.”
“I can’t!” she screams, wrenching out of his arms, stepping dangerously close to the edge. “Don’t you see? I can’t go back. I have nothing there. I have nothing anywhere. I can’t go to Atherton and face my father. I can’t go to Hale and face Rain’s family, and neither can you, not after what we’ve done.”
Adam reaches for her again, like reaching for a falling object, and draws her closer, away from the edge. “Please, Coraleth, come back to the wagon.”
“Rain is dead because of us. And how many others have we harmed?”
“Enough of this. I know you’re in pain, but this isn’t the way. Remember your father. He needs you.”
“He’s lived through the deaths of his other children, and my mother. This won’t make a difference to him.”
“Yes, it might be difficult for awhile, but we’ll get through it, you and me.”
“No, the two of us belong here, Adam. We can hold each other and fall. Then it’ll be over. Come on. The two of us.”
“The two of us, Adam, come on, right now.” Cora pulls away forcefully, stumbling.
“Milo, help me! Milo?”
“I’ve made peace with the end. I’m sure I can do it. We can do anything when we’re together, remember? We can climb walls—”
“--Herus, Coraleth, just stop. Come back to the wagon. We’ll talk. Come away. Stop--!”
“--Injured arms didn’t stop us. Opposition never stopped us--”
“--Quit struggling! Milo!”
And she does, just long enough to lean in close and whisper, “It’s time, Adam. It’s time for us to stop being monsters.”
With that, she grips him firmly and throws her weight to the edge. They stumble and sway, and then Cora is falling. Adam screams and she loses her grip on him almost immediately. Water drenches her. It fills her eyes and mouth and nose and she coughs, but it doesn’t leave her lungs. It burns like fire in her chest. Yet still, she seems to be falling, caught up by the current perhaps, yet plummeting.
That part of the descent is almost pleasant compared to what follows. The first rock she hits breaks her arm, the next, her ribs. When she hits the bottom of them, every joint jolts out of place, every organ splits open, and finally, it all goes dark.