Aaron and I are standing on the landing, not talking watching as something gathers on the horizon. That’s what it feels like but it’s also physically happening, there are shadows over past the cliffs gathering.
“Are you alright?” He said. I swallowed and nodded. “Do you agree with Tristan? Should we go to Marina?”
“We’d only panic her,” I said. He looked at me. “I’m panicked. Our best were guarding him, Aaron, and Anselm? This isn’t like with Phania. This wasn’t a frustrated boy who wanted to go home. We can’t talk ourselves out of Brayton bringing shadows. Marina’s power has grown, and Raymond will be helpful but we still don’t know how she summoned that light last year, or if she can do it again.” He nodded. “And Lisette is distracted. Cornan tells me to wield her, she’d his sword, I’m his champion.” I sighed, “I don’t know how to do that, I don’t know what it means, and she doesn’t listen to me anyway.”
“She listens,” he said gently, and held me close. “But she doesn’t want to be a weapon. She never did.” I smiled up at him.
“You know that’s when I started falling in love with you,” I said softly, “do you remember, that day we went for a ride in the woods? And I was teasing you, about ghosts?” He smiled.
“Ah,” he nodded, “and I thought that you were ignoring her as a person.” I nodded. “I didn’t understand then.” He swallowed, “I think I do better now. I’ve been able to forgive my father for it.” I smiled and kissed him. “She’s a person,” he said, “but she’s a symbol too, and the sword. She needs to embrace that. I think Eric is helping.”
“My Lady,” I turned as a guard ran in. “Lieutenant Lestoff is here, he’s insisting he needs to see you alone.” I frowned.
“Alright,” I said, Aaron nodded and followed the guard out, Lefty stumbled in and collapsed on the couch, his eyes wide, and full of fear. “Lefty,” I said and knelt down next to him. “What happened?” He shuddered, I shouted for the guard. “Get Captain Willis.”
“No,” he said, “no he’s back, he’s here, Athena, he has her.” I looked at him. “You have to, she’s alone with him, she’s fighting him,” I swallowed.
“Look at me,” I said, “Brayton?” He nodded. “Were there shadows?”
“No,” he whispered, “but I couldn’t breath, I couldn’t think. It was so dark.” I nodded. “He’ll kill her.”
“No,” I said, “unfortunately, it will be worse than that.” I grabbed my sword, and spear. “You need a healer, Elodie will be here presently.” He swallowed.
“I left her,” he whispered, “she said to, but still,” he was shaking. I pressed my forehead to his. “I swore I never would, and I,” he swallowed.
“It’s alright,” I said. “She’ll forgive you.” He closed his eyes. “I have to go.” He nodded. “Lefty,” I said, “we need you to tell us if you’re feeling,” I swallowed, “not like yourself.”
“I’m no shadow, Lady Athena,” he said. I nodded. “Go,” I ran out into the hall, Nika, Brea and Harran were standing waiting.
“We felt it,” Brea said, “Nika and I, The Dark Lady is awake.” I looked at Harran, who was holding large staff. “The Shadow King is here?”
“He has Marina,” I said, “Lefty just came to warn us.” Nika folded and then unfolded her hands, creating a pair of whips of pure light.
“Marina is formidable enough for The Shadow King,” Nika said, “but his army is another thing entirely and if The Dark Lady comes herself,” she exhaled.
“I’m glad you’re here,” I said, meaning it from the bottom of my heart. Annalise walked down the stairs, in full battle armor. “We’ll never hear the end of it.”
“Trust me,” she said, sheathing the dagger from Caleb, alongside her father’s sword. “I considered that.” We walked down the beach, a legion of guards at our back. “Where is he?”
“Getting Carolina safe, probably,” I said. She nodded. Brightcoast Manor didn’t look different, but I felt it. The stillness and chill I’d felt everyday for years hung in the air. Brea looked at me. She moved her hands into a triangle form, flame circling out from them. It banished the coolness in the air. “Your Majesty?”
“Remember in Dovetail,” she said softly, “when I insisted that I go alone?” I nodded. “Have them stay, I need you.” I smiled.
“Nika, Brea, Harran,” I motioned to them, “if shadows fall, you know what to do?”
“Of course,” Harran said. We stepped inside. The hall was lit by silver flames in brazier, Marina’s magic. That was a good sign, but the light felt eerie.
“Marina,” I called out, I looked up and saw her descending the stairs, in a blue dressing gown. She looked placid. Annalise was frozen next to me.
“Hello Athena,” she said, her voice was cold, flat, wrong, “Cousin.”
“Rina,” Annalise said softly, “please, tell me you didn’t,” she stepped closer to us and cocked her head to the side.
“How many times have you Dreamed this?” Marina said softly. “You must be prepared.” I squinted at her, and I didn’t hesitate, I took my sword from my belt and quickly sliced at her neck.
“Athena!” Annalise shrieked as the woman in front of us disappeared into shadow. “It wasn’t her?”
“No,” I said.
“How did you know?” She asked. I swallowed.
“I grew up around the black guards,” I said, “I know how it feels near a shadow. Come on,” we walked up the stairs and into Marina’s chamber. She was standing, a few light ropes that resembled Nika’s whips in her hands, binding Brayton to a chair. She was shaking and sweating, but hadn’t broken.
“There you two are!” She said, sounding exasperated, “what kept you?” Annalise burst into a laugh and quickly took the rope. I ran and hugged her tight. “Damian?”
“Elodie is with him,” I said. She exhaled. Brayton looked at me.
“So it’s you then,” he said. “Cornan chose you.” I frowned. “Warren send his regards. He’s waiting on my signal.”
“Is he?” I said. “He’ll be terribly disappointed. He doesn’t breathe unless you say so.” He snorted.
“He’s loyal,” he said. “I promised him you, you know.” I tightened his bindings and he flinched.
“I’m not yours to promise.” I hissed. He smirked knowingly.
“Still, it’s about the only thing that motivates him,” he said. “Just you.” I looked down.
“That’s his misfortune, then,” I said softly.
“So cold,” he said, “That’s the DuManis in you.” I exhaled. “Anselm and your best guards couldn’t hold me because Amina is through waiting, what do you three think will be different now?”
“I didn’t understand before,” Marina smiled gently, “I think I do now.” She flicked her hand and the binding fell. “I’m the one she needs Brayton, not you.” His face went ashen. “So go to her, tell her I’m ready. I’m tired of waiting too.” He ran out of the room.
“I don’t know how wise that was,” Annalise grimaced. Marina looked at her.
“I’m tired of hiding,” she shook her head. “Tired of being afraid. I don’t think she’ll like that he failed again.”
“I’d take an open fight over all of this too,” I admitted. “Though Nika and Brea think we can’t take her.” Marina set her chin stubbornly and I smiled at her.
“We’ll get ready then,” she said. “Brayton was in my bedchamber, while I was with my lover, and almost killed him, I have no interest in deferring this any longer.” I nodded.
“Good then,” I smiled and picked up my spear, “I’m going shadow hunting.”