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The silver siren, p.13
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       The Silver Siren, p.13

           Chanda Hahn
 
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  And right now, I was ticked.

  I launched the burning logs like missiles at the men. One screamed before he was silenced by my fiery dart. I wanted the robes to burn. I wanted to see their faces. One of the taller men yelled and tried to pat down his robe but the flames spread quickly. He ripped the robe from his body, revealing his Calandry military uniform and flung it to the ground away from him. He wiped the sweat from his forehead, panting with fear before he looked up and realized what he had done.

  Familiar eyes met mine and my heart plummeted.

  I halted my attack midair and let the fire fall to the ground, dissolving. There are times in my life where I think I can handle anything. But I wasn’t prepared for this—not Garit.

  “Thalia, I can explain.” Garit held up one hand to me, while his other hand rested on his sword. His discarded Septori robe lay burning in the grass next to him. He took a step toward me and I mirrored his step by walking toward him.

  He licked his lips and smiled wanly at me. “It’s just a job, you know. I was at a tavern in town and someone approached me.” The others in red moved nearer, closing in.

  I wanted desperately to hear his explanation—to hear the reasons Garit changed sides and was working for the Septori. I wanted to know how long and why.

  But not at the expense of the Denai lives. I wouldn’t let what happened to me happen to anyone else.

  “How many of you?” I asked. “How many more like you have been compromised?”

  “It’s not like that,” Garit crooned. He turned his green eyes on me pleadingly, asking me to trust him.

  I watched his sword hand until he was within four feet. Then I stared into his eyes and waited for the tell. The sign. It came seconds later.

  His eyes widened just a millimeter and I rolled. His sword swung and missed me by seconds. He yelled and lunged. I stepped back and directed all of my anger on on his blade. It shattered and Garit froze mid-attack.

  His mouth gaped open in shock and he stumbled backwards holding his stomach, where a piece of his shattered sword had blown back and impaled him.

  I let out a cry of grief and reached out to help him, but he fell forward and I rushed to catch him.

  “Garit, I’m so sorry. I wasn’t trying to hurt you, I swear.”

  “But I was…and I wouldn’t have stopped trying until you killed me,” he rasped out.

  “Garit. Where are the others? Where’s Joss?”

  “Gone. They were the first ones,” he gasped in pain. “They were the first to be taken.”

  “Gone? Taken where, Garit?”

  “I don’t know,” he whispered, losing strength. “They no longer care about you. To much a risk. But we were to ordered to get the SwordBrother at all costs.” Garit grabbed my hand and squeezed tightly. He started to sputter, and I reached out to try and heal him, but I was yanked backwards off of him.

  “Thalia,” he groaned.

  I kicked my feet as one of the Septori rolled me to my back and jumped on me. I couldn’t believe I had let myself be sidetracked by Garit, that I lost my peripherals.

  I turned my face to spit out a mouthful of dirt and the man punched me. Bright lights flickered in my vision, and I could feel myself start to black out. His fist rose into the air again, but a giant boulder came barreling through the air straight at him and knocked him off me.

  I looked to the edge of the camp. Syrani’s hands were raised as she used her power to attack the remaining Septori. She didn’t stop after the first attack. The ground shook as more large boulders and rocks rose out of the earth around her, and she sent a barrage at the rest of the Septori. Her mouth was pressed into a determined line as she focused on killing. The girl was a deadly force, her beauty deceiving. I shuddered to think back to our battle in the arena. If I hadn’t attacked her personally, she probably could have killed me.

  Syrani was tiring, so I leapt up and ran toward one of our wagons. It had been separated from the formation and was being hooked up to horses. Several bodies lay bound and tied inside, and I thought I saw Joss unconscious in the back.

  “No!” I screamed. The driver used a whip on the horse and it began to move. I flung out my arms and gritted my teeth, unearthing a large sycamore tree. It landed directly in front of the wagon, making the horses rear up in fright.

  I kept running, but another Septori lumbered at me with a giant knife. I turned and flung him into the wagon. I heard his head crack against the wheel and he stilled. I winced at the sound, knowing he was dead.

  The wagon driver stood, raising a robed hand toward me. I saw a bright blue light emanate from the driver’s palm and then I couldn’t breathe. A blue ring appeared around my neck as I started to suffocate.

  My hands grasped at my throat and I fell to my knees. I tried to suck in air, but there wasn’t any. I crawled on all fours toward the wagon, but it was being backed up. I watched helplessly as it moved away. My lungs burned.

  In the predawn light, I could clearly make out the slumped form of Joss. His whole body was slack, and I couldn’t tell if he was dead. A smaller robed figure crouched next to him as her feminine hands draped possessively over his shoulder. I watched as the hooded passenger in the back of the wagon looked toward me and removed her hood. I recognized the dark hair and beautiful eyes of Mona. She laughed maliciously and stroked her hands down Joss’s face.

  She blew a kiss at me as I struggled to inhale.

  I heard someone call my name and I turned toward Kael, who was running toward me. But my vision was blurring, fading. He was going to be too late. He sounded miles away and I was falling…slowly falling.

  ~~~

  There was blackness, darkness, and then my chest was on fire. Pain, but then relief as the mysterious clamp that was around my throat disappeared and I could breathe. My eyes fluttered open and I inhaled. But it wasn’t enough. My body wanted to inhale again, but I couldn’t. I started to cough.

  Kael leaned over me. His eyes dark with worry, his breathing was ragged. But when he realized I was breathing, his shoulders slumped in relief.

  “Kael, they got them, they took them!” I said, wishing my voice were stronger. I swatted at his hands touching my neck. Every minute we delayed was a minute that helped in their escape.

  “It’s okay, settle down.”

  “Joss!” My throat burned but I ignored the pain. “Joss. The others. Kael, we have to go after them.”

  Kael pulled away from me as if my words burned him. He looked at me in doubt and then he turned to stare down the road where the Septori had disappeared. I could see the effects of his inner turmoil. The muscle in his jaw ticked as he ground his teeth together.

  “Kael, please. We have to go after them,” I reached out and tugged on his arm. Fear shot through my whole body and I couldn’t control my voice from quivering. “W—we can’t let what happened to us happen to them,” I implored.

  “I won’t,” Kael looked at me his eyes pleading with me to understand. “But you have to stay here.”

  “No, I’m coming with you Kael. I can fight them,” I argued and tried to stand. But my body disagreed and I flopped back down to the ground.

  “Thalia, I won’t go after them unless you promise to stay here, take care of the others, and get them somewhere safe,” Kael raised his voice. “It’s too dangerous.”

  “Then I’ll go without you. You can’t leave me behind. I deserve justice for what was done to me,” I cried out. Finally, I was able to get my legs to stand firm beneath me. I raised my chin and dared him to argue. “I’m going too.”

  “Thalia, it’s not too dangerous for you. It’s too dangerous for me,” his voice dropped to barely above a whisper. He leaned in close to me, his eyes zeroed in on my lips and I held my breath expecting him to kiss me. He saw my inhaled breath and he hesitated. Instead he tucked a stray wisp of hair behind my ear. “You leave me…vulnerable.”

  I could see the sweat from the heat of battle along his brow, the smear of blood across his arm. None of t
hat took away from how handsome he looked. Kael was the best fighter in all of Calandry, and I was his weakness.

  Kael’s eyes dropped from my mouth and he turned to survey the dead bodies of both the Septori and our own guards. His body stiffened and his voice became stern. “I failed today, because as soon as I knew something was wrong, I came to protect you instead of the students. I failed the Adept Council. I failed in my duty because I was distracted...by you.”

  The bitter taste of guilt began to consume me. I was a liability. He was right. As long as I stayed alive, he would be fine. But if I did something reckless he would pay the price. If I went with him, he would always be looking over his shoulder.

  “Fine, I’ll stay here and help get the others somewhere safe.” By now my imagination had started playing horrible tricks on me. I imagined Joss on the table and the Raven doing experiments on him. I could see Joss cry out in pain as the iron bands wrapped around his body and pierced his skin. I squeezed my eyes shut and turned my head, trying to stop the terror that threatened to consume me.

  He nodded his head in agreement. I could tell he didn’t want to go, but would…for me. “I’ll be faster if I go alone.”

  “I know,” I said.

  Kael stood up and walked over to a lone horse that belonged to one of the kidnappers. He hastily opened the pack, looked inside, and apparently approved of the rations and tack he saw. He mounted the horse and, before he rode off, he turned back to look at me. His expression was grim and determined.

  My emotions ran amok within me. I was sick to my stomach at the thought of Joss at the hands of the Septori. But knowing I was sending Kael into the pit of vipers after him terrified me to my very core, and gave me the wakeup call long coming. I needed Kael, not just in that moment, but forever. Neither one of us knew what perils he would walk into, but I knew he would come back. He always came back. He had too.

  “Wait!” I yelled and ran after him on foot. Kael abruptly halted the horse and turned in his saddle to look at me, his brows furrowed in confusion. I had to state what was warring in my heart. I had to hear myself say the words out loud. “I choose you,” I called out to him. “I would have chosen you contest or no contest.”

  “I know,” Kael said confidently.

  “So hurry back to me.”

  “No matter where you go, I’ll always find you,” he promised.

  “You better,” I called out to him, watching as his face drank in mine. It was if he was memorizing every part of me. He finally dragged himself away and started off down the road, following barely discernable tracks.

  I watched him until he disappeared and then turned to my attention back to our destroyed camp.

  Chapter 17

  A wagon, tipped over in the fight, marked the far side of camp. Bodies lay strewn throughout the area. Some dead, others drugged. I counted our numbers. Over half of our camp was dead or missing. I walked among the fallen, frustrated at our inability to stop them. How could they have drugged the whole camp? I walked over to my comrade Hemi, who was still out. He had rolled over onto his back, snoring, his arms flailed wide. I could see Karni, her little arms wrapped over her head as she still slept under my blanket.

  “Hemi!” I growled, nudging him with the toe of my dirty boot. The snoring stopped for a second and his large head wobbled back and forth before settling again. The snoring continued even louder.

  “Here, try this,” a soft voice said from my side. I turned and saw Syrani, holding a tin cup filled with water. A hint of mischief glinted in her eye. Her blue dress was ripped, her hands were covered in dirt, and her hair had fallen out of its pins. But she still had a smile on her face as if the battle, and the dead, and everything that happened had invigorated her.

  I took the cup filled with water and took a quick sip to quench my parched throat before I unceremoniously dumped the rest onto Hemi’s face. He roared to life as streams of water dripped off of his red beard, and his hand reached for his battle-axe.

  “I’ll kill him. I’ll kill the dirty rat that tried to drown me in my sleep,” he roared, glaring at us accusingly.

  Syrani snorted and looked from the cup in my hand to my face. She raised one eyebrow. “So I’m not the only one who calls you a rat.”

  Hemi wiped the water from his face and stared at us. Syrani shrugged, picked up her skirt, and turned back to the rest of the camp. A few of the guards had started to wake up, along with two maids. Syrani began directing the cleanup and taking inventory of what was lost, who was taken, how many horses. She also directed the guards to plan a protection detail to get them on the road and moving as fast as they could.

  I was completely taken aback by her change in demeanor. The guards that were left didn’t disobey. It was obvious they were still shocked from learning of the betrayal from within their own ranks, including even their captain. They were understandably shaken.

  As Syrani organized our departure, I decided to take a look at our dead and to try and piece together what had happened last night. What had happened that allowed everyone to be drugged? Why weren’t Syrani and I drugged? Why were we the only ones not affected?

  What could I do now? Should I take the few remaining Denai students to their homes? Take them back to the Citadel? Or could we go somewhere closer for safety?

  As I walked, I passed the perimeter to the outer side of the wagons and gazed down the road. The same road that Kael and Joss had gone down. I relived the last moments in my head again. The attack by the lumbering Septori, the driver who stood up and tried to suffocate me. I felt a tear of frustration run down my cheek and brushed it away with the back of my hand. I turned to look for the Septori I’d killed and spotted him. Over by the wagon wheel, crumpled to the ground in a lifeless heap.

  I had to pause and collect my courage as I reached for the red hood. Every part of me revolted at the soft red wool. It could have been shards of glass for the way I flung it as quickly as soon as I picked it up.

  My heart sank as the betrayal ran deeper than I had imagined. Donn. I hadn’t seen him among the sleeping or dead, and this was why. His large face was slack, his eyes closed, and I pulled up his long sleeves to search for the mark. It wasn’t on his arms. I looked down and could see the faint brand upon his upper leg after I pulled up the leg of his pants. Here was the answer to how we were drugged.

  I sat down on the ground next to Donn’s dead body and I cried. The raw emotions of betrayal by Garit and Donn broke my already fragile heart. Two of my friends had never really been my friends. They were my enemies.

  And my one enemy, Syrani, turned out to be a friend.

  The soft nudging against my shoulder brought me out of my sorrowful reverie. Faraway forcefully bumped me and I almost fell forward. He kept on with his onslaught until I was on my feet again and moving away from Donn. A few seconds later, two of our guards had come to carry his body away.

  I walked back into the camp and searched for Garit. He was wrapped in brown burlap and already tied up with twine. But I had to know. What if he carried some clue about the Septori—something we’d missed? I had lost my knife last night in the battle, so I borrowed Hemi’s to saw away at the twine.

  It took every ounce of my strength to not look into his face as I searched inside his pockets, boots, and socks. Looking for instructions, plans, a name. I found nothing. I started to pull up his shirt and Hemi put a warning hand on my shoulder.

  “What are you doing, li’l Thalia? You should let the dead rest.”

  “I need to know if he bears the mark. The brand of the Septori. It looks like this.” I picked up a stick and quickly drew a circle in the ground with two slashes through it. “I need to know if he was telling the truth.”

  “Searching the body of a dead man is not for our clan leader’s daughter. I’ll do it.” Hemi leaned forward and very carefully began to search Garit’s body for a brand.

  It was a rash idea, but I needed to know how long Garit had been betraying me. He couldn’t have hidden the brand on
his back, otherwise his soldier friends would have seen it. Hemi searched carefully, shielding Garit from me. I could tell when Hemi found the brand because he let out a long sigh. He re-wrapped the body and came to stand beside me.

  “Where was it?” I asked.

  “Upper thigh,” he answered and turned to walk away.

  “Was it an old mark or new?” I called out loudly after him.

  “Li’l Wolf, you don’t need to know. He’s your enemy.”

  I spun on Hemi and raised my voice. “Old or new?”

  Hemi looked at me, his voice filled with sadness. “It’s newer, a few months old, I’d say.”

  My hands trembled and I grounded myself with hate—with fury toward Garit and Donn. Both men had gotten under my defenses so easily, with a joke, with a gift, with friendship. Donn’s mark had been old, Garit’s betrayal recent. Both deaths had been hard, but I couldn’t let them be my weakness.

  “Call everyone that is left to gather. We will check everyone for the brand. Now!”

  Hemi gave me a long look before he nodded his head to obey. Minutes later everyone had been gathered. Hemi helped check the men, while Syrani and I checked the females. We had hung up makeshift clotheslines with blankets over them to keep some privacy. After the two little girls were checked, Syrani stepped into the changing area and started to unbutton her dress.

  “What are you doing?” I asked.

  “I may not trust you. But I want to give you no reason not to trust me.” She pulled her long hair up over her shoulders and subjected herself to the same humiliation that we had put the others through. I could see her swallow in nervousness, but she was clean. No mark upon her.

  Not to be outdone by Syrani’s bravery, I let her check me. Satisfied, we started to get dressed.

  “You match now.” Syrani’s back was to me as she ran her fingers through her hair and began to braid her long blonde hair. I had no idea to what she was referring. “You know, your eyes. They’re not so freaky now. They’re actually quite pretty.”

 
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