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The silver siren, p.6
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       The Silver Siren, p.6

           Chanda Hahn

  My breathing ragged, it took me a few moments to comprehend her form of mercy still demanded pain. I sat up. “How could you do that to your own? That’s almost worse than death.”

  “Yes, it is, but that is our law.”

  “It’s a barbaric law,” I seethed.

  Her eyes narrowed and she looked into my face accusingly. “Thalia Valderstal, are you saying that your clan laws are less barbaric than ours?”

  “I…I…uh—how do you know my name?”

  “I wouldn’t speak about barbaric customs and laws, until you look deep into your own family history.”

  “I know my family history. Yes, there are some things our clan does that I’m not proud of, but I’ve been trying to change things for the better.”

  “You don’t even know if your own clan will allow you to lead. You’re not like them.” Her hand reached out and covered my blue eye, so that I only saw her with the horrible silver one. “Just as I thought.” She pulled her hand back and poked me hard in the chest. “It’s weak, but it’s there.”

  “You know what’s happening to me?” A single burst of hope started to rise. “What is wrong with me? How can I change it back?”

  Alba scoffed and stood. “I see why he brought you here, thinking that this,” she waved at my eye, “might validate all of the wrong things he has done. But it hasn’t. There is much he hasn’t told you. If he did, you might want to change your mind about his punishment. Besides, you can’t change it back. You can’t make something disappear when it’s always been there.”

  “What do you mean?” I called out, but Alba was already shuffling off into the back of the house.

  I turned to follow her, but a calloused hand grabbed me around the neck and directed me to the front. I twisted my neck out of the grip and turned to glare at Gwen. Someone else came and grabbed my elbow, and the pair roughly escorted me outside. Gwen seemed to be taking her jealous anger out on me. By the next day, I would have huge bruises. They led me around the building, and I tried to search for Kael, but I couldn’t see where they had taken him. I should have fought, should have stopped them, but instead, I began working on a plan.

  Gwen stopped in front of a small stone shed that butted up to the back of the house.

  “We haven’t had company of any sort in many, many years, so this will have to make do for now,” she said.

  Two more hands grabbed each of my arms and began to lift me off of the ground and force me into the shed.

  “Wait! What are you doing with Kael? Stop this…ouch!”

  With a shove, I was thrown into the dark shed. The heavy wooden door creaked shut behind me. My lip stung. Somehow in my struggle I had been elbowed in the lip. I raised my hand to touch it and winced. I should be panicking, pacing, screaming in suffocating heat that was my prison.

  Instead, I sat down, crossed my legs, and waited.

  Chapter 10

  One of the hardest lessons I never learned was patience.

  My clan was certainly not known for it. I despised it as well as the craziness that comes with being idle for long periods of time. I decided it was worse torture than splinters under my nails.

  I counted to ten thousand—twice. During that span, I felt the air around me become cooler.

  It was time.

  I stood up and stretched out my arms and legs, did a few squats, then headed to the locked door. I had listened very carefully over the last few hours, and I didn’t hear anyone outside guarding my little shed. I could only hope it was because Alba hadn’t suggested more precautions against me. My father had a saying about people that assumed things.

  Leaning against the door, I brushed my fingers over the chilled metal lock and felt around it for the dense wood frame. My hand grew warm, and I bit my lip as I concentrated. I was phenomenal at destroying things in big showy explosions, or anything that I could just let loose on. Smaller tasks that required more thought, more tact, and more skill were beyond my training, except for healing. That was just encouraging the body in what it already wanted to do—protect and heal itself.

  Sweat trickled down my forehead, and I shifted my weight. I was trying to break open the lock quietly. If I had a set of lock picks or Joss’s ability to teleport, I would probably have been better equipped. Instead, I kept my focus on breaking the wood around the lock.

  The beam grew warm and I could feel it start to warp under my hand. I heard the first faint creak followed by a crackling noise as the wood buckled. I waited a few seconds for someone to give a cry of an alarm, but there was silence. I continued my attack on the frame, slowly. As I pushed more power toward the wood, the strain on the wood intensified, and it cracked. The large lock fell off and the whole door shifted down. Jumping back, I waited in case the door fell off. It slowly swung outward.

  Creeping forward, I peeked out into the night and gently pushed the door forward enough that I could slide out and duck into the shadows. Someone grabbed my arm and pulled me into the night. Their arm wrapped around my throat, pressing my back against their body. My mind went through all of the drills Kael had taught me, and I reached for a pressure point on the attacker’s hand.

  I heard a cry of pain, but I didn’t stop. I grabbed his wrist and twisted my own body, forcing his body weight to the ground. By controlling his arm, I controlled his whole body, but I needed to silence him before he called out for help.

  Part of me wanted to kill him, but I restrained myself. I picked up the large iron lock from the ground with my left and swung it at his temple. On contact, the guard fell forward and didn’t move. Quickly, I dragged his body into the shed and gently closed the door. From a distance it wouldn’t look like it had been broken open.

  I just prayed no one would take a closer look.

  Where to next? I had to find Kael. I don’t care what he said—or in this case didn’t say—about the SwordBrothers, I was not going to leave him to their machinations, but first things first.

  I needed a weapon.

  I kept to the shadows and stayed close to the buildings. The streets were empty except for a stray cat. I looked along the rooftops of the buildings and could see silhouettes and torches. When a silhouette moved, I knew it was a sentry. I could see similar torches along the valley’s walls. A door opened down the road, and two figures stepped out of a building, walking toward a tall tower.

  I followed close behind and listened to what they were saying.

  “I can’t believe he came back.”

  “He shouldn’t have come back,” the larger one said.

  “This changes everything.”

  “This changes nothing. Gwen has made her choice.”

  “Have you spoken with Alek?”

  “No. Not until we are sure she’s going to fail.”

  Both men stopped talking but continued walking. They headed toward a tall guard tower on the south end of town. I ducked into a bush and listened as they rapped three times, then once, then twice. A slot in the door opened and a large furrowed brow peaked out.

  “What do you want?”

  “We want to speak to our brother,” the tall man said.

  “No, he’s…” a deep chuckle spilled forth, “detained.”

  “This is important.”

  “You will have to wait to have your questions answered like everyone else.”

  I watched as the tall man shook his head and motioned for the other to follow him. Both walked down the path and away from the tall tower.

  That must be where Kael is. He had to be the one they were talking about. I looked up and saw that the tower was at least fifty feet high, with one small window and ledge on every floor. There was no entrance other than the door guarded by Mr. Gargantuan.

  I slowly crept backwards and retraced my steps to the open pavilion I had seen as we came into the village—the one filled with racks of weapons. It was mostly dark. A warm light spilled out of one side of the closest home, and I could see shadows moving behind the screens. Bypassing the occupied side, I ended up
in an empty training arena. I closed my eyes and felt a moment of helplessness.

  No, I would just have to keep searching.

  Silently, I went to the dark side of the courtyard and slid open the door. Thankful for how quiet the rice paper doors were, I kept low to the ground and closed the door behind me. I waited. I needed to start checking rooms, looking for weapons that had been put away. On my third door, I hit the jackpot. I took only what I thought I would need to escape: knives, blow tubes, grappling hooks, shooting stars, and a bow and arrow—everything an assassin needed.

  Everything I needed.

  Armed, I made my way to the towering pagoda that was Kael’s prison. Thankfully, the multiple ledges would give me plenty of help scaling the tower. It had been a few seasons since I used a grappling hook, and it took two tries before I was able to secure it and start my ascent. I left my bow and arrow on the ground. The bow would do little good in such a small room. At each floor, I paused and listened outside of the window before I moved on and up.

  On the fifth floor I spotted Kael, chain-bound in the corner of a small stone room. Each floor had guards posted, and Kael’s floor was no exception. There were two.

  My hand felt into my pocket searching for the blow dart and removing the protective cork. I had chosen the ones dipped in blue, knowing those were the sleep darts, from a previous lesson from Kael. My fingers fumbled with the dart and it slipped through my fingers, falling fifty feet to the ground.

  I froze and tried to calm my nerves down. I had to be less careless.

  A blindfold covered Kael’s eyes. He was gagged, looking like he was asleep, but I could tell he was feigning. His legs were a little too stiff. He probably knew I was outside of the tower and was ready to act, to help if needed.

  Taking aim, I blew. The guard closest to me slapped his neck.

  “What the…?” He pulled the dart out of his neck. “Sound the alarm…esca—” He fell over. The other guard turned to attack me.

  I was already over the window ledge and had another dart loaded. The blowpipe was knocked from my hand by the second guard, and I launched myself at him. We rolled across the floor. I was hoping to knock him to the ground and wind him, but now I was on the bottom fighting for my life.

  Kael’s training kicked in, though. I wrapped my arms around his hands, ducked rolled, and wrapped my legs around his head and squeezed. Knowing I wasn’t going to win, and quickly losing the upper hand, I pulled the extra dart from my pocket and stabbed his neck.

  A few long seconds later, the second guard went slack.

  Out of breath, I ran to Kael who now sat up in the corner, tense and alert. My heart went out to him. I reached for his blindfold when a shadow passed over the opened window. I turned and ducked as a shooting star whipped past my head. Another SwordBrother in head to toe black, had crawled in the window that I came in. Where had this one been, on the roof? Had he come up from another floor? I had the element of surprise on the first SwordBrother and luck was on my side for the second, but I don’t know if I could take a SwordBrother in a one on one confrontation.

  I stood in front of Kael protectively, a knife in each of my hands. I bent my knees, balancing my weight evenly, and made myself relax. The other SwordBrother cocked his head when he recognized my technique and he mirrored my stance. Even behind the face mask, I could have sworn he smiled at me.

  I attacked.

  He blocked, hitting my arms with his and deflecting each of my blows.

  I aimed a stab.

  He blocked again and reversed the move, so I had to leap back as he forced my own knife toward my torso. It was then that I noticed his lack of weapons, which only irritated me. Could I kill a defenseless SwordBrother? I realized how stupid that statement sounded, since there was no such thing as a defenseless SwordBrother.

  I needed to end the fighting and end it now, before others came and I would be doomed. Taking my knife, I tested its weight and threw it toward his chest. The SwordBrother rolled and came up closer to me, but I didn’t care about the knife or about hitting him. I could see Kael struggling against his bonds.

  The knife was merely a distraction. I concentrated on my gift, on his life. In seconds, I could see my foe’s heart, his inner light beating. I closed my eyes and reached for the light, beginning to extinguish it.

  The SwordBrother stopped in his tracks and fell to his knees clasping his chest. He moaned slightly, but that was the only sound he made as I continued to pull, drain him, destroy him. His arm reached out toward me, as if asking for help, but I refused. The familiar anger that was my constant companion surfaced and whispered to me to be quick. Hurt him. He had tried to kill me; he was going to die.

  My mind was so focused on my target that I didn’t hear the sound of chains loosening behind me, or the quiet footsteps as Kael escaped his bonds and put his hand on my shoulder.

  “It’s okay, Thalia. Release him.”

  “No! We need to escape. I don’t want to be killed. I only came here at your request. Not so that we would be murdered.” The man moaned and leaned on his hands trying to crawl toward me.

  “Thalia, look at me.”

  My neck whipped to look at the person touching my arm. Deep green eyes stared at me. It wasn’t Kael, but his brother Alek. I saw the empty chains and the blindfold and gag lying on the ground.

  “It was a test?”

  “Yes, one that Kael thought up himself—to prove your strengths to us and to prove your bond.”

  “But where’s Kael?” My mind didn’t comprehend what was happening, and I still had my hold on the SwordBrother whose arms were shaking in pain as he tried to hold himself off of the ground.

  “Thalia, release him now!”

  Alek’s warm hands pulled mine down, and I released my hold on the man in front of me, but it was too late. He fell to the ground. In that one second of hesitation I had felt his heart—once bright and pulsing with energy—stop.

  Alek’s words rolled over and over in my mind until comprehension dawned. I stared at my hands in horror and then back to the body that was on the floor.

  Alek ran forward and yanked off the mask.

  And I saw Kael’s pale lifeless face. Not breathing, eyes closed.

  “No!” I screamed and dropped to the floor in despair.

  I watched as Alek listened to Kael’s heart and touched the side of his neck searching for a pulse. He pulled back, clearly distressed. He shook his head. Strong arms seized me and I was jerked back to my feet. The small room was instantly filled with other SwordBrothers. Two had come down out of the rafters, others climbed in over the ledge, the door opened and more filtered into the room. There were so many, and I hadn’t even seen them.

  My mind had been so numb, I’d barely registered the impossible odds of escaping and the cruel test they’d played on me. I had failed.

  And I’d killed Kael.

  Bile rose up in my mouth and the room spun. My knees went weak, but I couldn’t fall. My captors wouldn’t let me.

  Tears finally burned in my eyes as I realized the consequences of what I had done. “Kael! No-o-o!” I hiccupped. This was not what was supposed to happen. He was invincible. He could take on a whole army, but he couldn’t protect himself from me, and I had attacked him in the most vulnerable spot. His heart.

  “Let me go,” I cried. “Let me go to him.” It wasn’t fair that I couldn’t touch him, be with him. I pulled against the two holding me, but Alek turned his eyes to me, blazing with anger and tears.

  “No, take her away. Take her to the pits, and make sure she doesn’t come back. Ever.”

  A higher pitched feminine scream erupted over my shoulder as Gwen rushed forward and threw herself on Kael’s body, crying hysterically. Great heaving sobs wracked her body, and I just stared at him.

  At Alek.

  And I knew that I had forfeited my life.

  Chapter 11

  The pits were just that. Pits. Deep dark holes in the ground. I looked up and could see the stars
shining bright, teasing me with their twinkling light, but from far away. I walked around the pit and tried to reach across but I gauged it to be at least ten feet. And the walls must’ve reached one hundred feet high. They were smooth stone, no cracks or crevices to provide foot and handholds.

  My father once mentioned places like the pits, but he said they were called oubliettes, places of forgetting. An appropriate place for me as all I wanted to do was forget what I had done. After I had paced the small area back and forth, I finally collapsed in exhaustion and tears. My voice echoed up the shaft as I cried my heart out.

  Pain, unending pain assaulted me.

  I kept wiping my hands on my shirt, trying to wipe away the sin I had committed. Murder. I’d murdered Kael, and I truly knew I deserved to die.

  I was a monster. I should be exterminated.

  This wasn’t really a prison. I knew I could escape from a hole. The question was, without Kael, did I want to?

  I was deep into my own self-hatred when a shadow fell over me and a rope plopped on the ground next to my leg. The rope moved back and forth as someone began to descend it. I didn’t care, and they didn’t deserve my attention. The weird rock formation on the wall next to me became extremely interesting, and I decided it required all of my attention. The shadow stepped away from the rope, and I could hear the sound of the rope being pulled back up.

  Oh well. I had company. At least I wouldn’t die of boredom. The figure moved to stand in front of me. I recognized her when she kneeled in front of me with a condescending expression. I took my earlier words back. I think I would rather have died alone than face her.

  Gwen. The woman Kael had once been engaged to and probably still loved. I pretended the tall beautiful SwordBrother didn’t exist and went back to examining my rock.

  Gwen swatted my leg, prompting me to acknowledge her. It didn’t matter. I could ignore one woman. I could see her lips were moving and she was speaking, but I didn’t comprehend one word.

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