The voice rings in my mind. I can’t breathe.
“Kaitlyn? Is that you?” Andrei whispers again, still holding off my last swing. Blood trickles down his palm, dripping onto Arthur’s pale cheek. When I look at Arthur, the uncontrollable rage fills my chest again.
Kill him. Kill the king.
A woman’s voice screams in my mind, and for the first time, I realize it’s not my own. It’s never been my own. I meet Andrei’s bulging brown eyes. What am I doing? I don’t want to kill anyone. My hands tremble in the gauntlets. I stumble back, sword slipping out of my grip and into the sand.
“I’m sorry…” I gasp. I can barely find my voice. I stand at the king’s feet, and Andrei crouches at his head. That whole fight feels like a dream. Why did I feel so much hatred for this man I barely know?
“What are you doing?” Andrei asks quietly.
I hesitate. “I don’t know.”
“What do you mean? How do you not know?” He presses, standing up. He lowers his sword but doesn’t drop it, blood drips from his left hand and onto the sand.
I look around at the utterly stunned crowd. Merlin, Eli, and Ceph all stand at the edge of the ring, ready to intervene, worry painted across their faces. It’s hard to see much through the eye slits, but as I scan the sea of faces, a figure in the crowd catches my eye. Her energy, among the jaw-smacked peasants, draws my eye, but the blood-red cloak catches my attention.
Hair the colour of midnight cascades out from under her hood, her porcelain skin a stark contrast. Her eyes sparkle like a cloudless sky, as cold as ice. She watches me, disgust on her doll-like features. I recognize her from my dreams first, but as she disappears into the crowd her name rings in my mind.
I can’t believe I didn’t realize it sooner. It’s so clear, in retrospect. The confidence, the man-hating, the utter loathing and desire to murder Arthur. I feel like a fool. No, worse… a puppet. Again. Stupid stupid stupid Kaitlyn. I clench my fists, as well as one can, wearing metal gloves. She almost got her wish too. That’s the worst part. What would I have done if Andrei hadn’t stepped in? What if I had accidentally killed him?
Andrei… He stands next to Arthur, helping the king get his bearings. He watches me from his peripheral. The fear in his eyes hurts more than any wound. Of all the people in the world, past and present, he’s the one I never wanted to see in fear of me. My eyes sting and my lips tremble.
“Whatever you do, don’t take off that helmet, not yet at least,” Andrei warns. What? Why not? I open my mouth to form words when I feel the ground shake. Somewhere in the crowd, a woman screams.
Suddenly it seems we have bigger problems. The dirt to my left starts to rise in a mound. We watch it, confused, until the ground breaks and a hand pokes through. Flesh hangs off the bones as it grips the dirt and starts to pull more of itself out. All around us, more figures start to rise. I guess she had a backup plan.
“Oh crap,” I hiss. The spectators around us start to scatter in a panic as undead crawl out of the ground all around us. The knights in the wings start to rally, grabbing their weapons as they charge into the arena. Andrei chops at one near him that’s already halfway out of the ground.
I notice a hand creeping over to my discarded sword. “Kat!” A voice calls out. I try to follow it but it’s hard to see. “Hold out your hand.” I recognize the voice and obey. A sword materializes in my fist.
“Thanks,” I mutter, before hacking at the undead nearby.
“Kaede would have a field day with this. Where the heck did these come from anyway?” Andrei shouts as he cuts his way closer to me. “You don’t think…” he hesitates.
“It’s Morgana!” I yell as I chop off one of the undead’s heads.
Andrei frowns. “How do you know that?”
I consider my words carefully. “I… saw her.”
“Where?” he looks around frantically.
“She was in the crowd,” I reply, though when I check the area, she’s nowhere to be seen in the mass of bodies. “She’s gone now.”
“We have to find her!” Andrei decides. “There’s no other way to stop this!” More dead seem to crawl out from under our feet. It seems like there’s no end to them. “What did she look like?”
“Red cloak, black hair, pale skin. Just like in the stories. I don’t know why I didn’t realize it sooner…” I grumble. I need to fix this, fast. She can’t be far, to keep the spell going. I make a path toward the exit. We won’t find her in here. Andrei follows, hacking at zombies as he goes.
Outside the arena, people are running in all directions. I can barely see where I’m going. I need to get out of this armor, but who knows where Merlin is to use his magic to remove it quickly. I’ll have to improvise. “Hold on a sec,” I fidget with the helmet, trying to pull it off.
“Not here!” Andrei snaps, as he grabs my arm. He pulls me into a nearby tent, luckily unoccupied. He starts to tug at the leather buckles holding one of my gauntlets in place.
“Stop, get back,” I brush him off. “That’ll take too long.” I get a grip on the helmet and yank it off. Some of my hair gets caught and I wince as it pulls. I hate helmets.
“You can’t do it alone, that’ll take longer!” He argues. I blink at him, incredulous.
“Says who?” I hold out my arm, the one he’d been trying to untie. I focus on the leather buckle holding the metal together. It ignites and quickly turns to ash. The glove clatters to the floor, leaving my hand free. I do the same to the other one, burning off the armor piece by piece. The whole thing takes less than a minute.
I feel a thousand times lighter, standing in slightly scorched pants and a loose shirt. “You were saying?” I say smugly.
He gawks at me. “I guess that works.”
“Okay, so… If you’re a crazy sorceress, where would you hide…” I muse, stepping over the armor as I leave the tent.
“The castle?” Andrei suggests.
I look up at the towering spires. I can almost feel her watching. “The castle,” I agree, as I grip Rhoan’s hilt tighter. I charge toward the gate, cutting a swathe through the undead army. Andrei keeps up at my side as we try to help the fleeing citizens on our way. I catch sight of Eli and Ceph somewhere in the courtyard, directing people to shelter while keeping the hordes at bay.
As we burst through the main doors, the castle is eerily quiet. We creep down the hall cautiously, but it seems the undead haven’t yet breached the walls. Interesting. Some sources did mention she wanted to take Camelot for herself. It makes sense she wouldn’t want to destroy the castle.
“Maybe she’s not here after all,” Andrei muses, relaxing his posture.
I shake my head. “She’s here. I’d bet anything.” Up ahead, I spot the oversized double doors of the throne room. They almost seem to call to me. I don’t hesitate to pull them open. Inside, the room is unnaturally cold, even for me. I feel goosebumps rise on my arms. Still, I enter.
Standing at the base of the dais, looking up at the pair of Thrones, is a slim figure wearing that same blood-red cloak. She doesn’t react to our entry. I approach slowly, sword in hand, Andrei following close at my side. He glances at me, curious and unsure.
“You disappoint me, Kaitlyn,” the woman’s voice seems to fill the whole hall. “I thought us two of a kind, you and I. We could do great things together.” She turns slowly, her blue eyes fixing on me. I freeze. So much for the element of surprise.
“Well, it’s a good thing you’re not together then, isn’t it!” Andrei snaps.
Morgana’s eyes shift to regard him. If looks could kill… “Not yet,” she replies, words like daggers.
“You’re mistaken there,” Andrei sneers.
Her eyes trace over him then move back to me. “You let a weak little man speak for you?”
“He’s not weak,” I retort, finding my voice. “And he happens to be right.”
Morgana sighs. “You are naive,” she walks along the length of the dais to the right, closer to me. “You have great power. I sensed it the moment you appeared here,” she muses. “I reached out to you then, but you were weak. Do you recall?”
Andrei shoots me a questioning look. “What’s she on about?”
I drop my gaze. “I kept having this weird dream… It was just a dream. It hardly seemed worth mentioning at the time.”
“Kaitlyn… Your dreams, they usually tell us things. You should’ve told me!” I glance at him from the side. He looks hurt and angry. Really, like he’s been honest with his problems…
“You had enough to worry about,” I mutter. I don’t want to call him out in front of a crazy witch.
“What good would it do, to confide in a mage without his powers?” Morgana taunts. “What good are you, boy?”
Andrei’s head snaps towards her, a mixed expression of shock and fear on his face. Damn. So much for keeping up appearances.
“What would you know?” I demand, trying to reclaim her attention.
“Yea,” Andrei interjects. “You’re just a second-rate witch who can’t even kill the king, no matter how many times you try.” I shoot him a glare. Why would he taunt her like that? That’s just asking for trouble. I start to say something but I’m too late as Morgana flicks her wrist and he goes flying into the wall to our left, sword clattering to the floor as he lands in a heap.
“Andrei!” I gasp, as I start to run toward him.
“Ah-ah!” Morgana snaps. I hesitate, glancing back. She holds her hand out toward his motionless form. “It’s time for the ladies to chat, without an insolent man interrupting.”
I stare into her icy eyes, weighing my options. “Rhoan, go to Andrei,” I command.
“You need a weapon,” he protests.
“A sword won’t do me much good here,” I scoff. “Go.” The sword slips out of my hand and lands on the floor as a cat. He takes off toward Andrei as I raise my palms toward her. “Talk.”
Her eyes follow Rhoan, one brow arches. “Interesting pet you have.”
“Get to the point,” I grit my teeth.
“Alright. This,” She gestures to the thrones, “rightfully belongs to me. If you help me reclaim what’s mine, I will reward you with anything your heart desires.”
I tilt my head. “What if what my heart desires is your head on a plate?”
Morgana laughs a strangely melodic sound. “Such big words, for such a small girl. I see into your heart. If you desired such a thing I would already be dead, would I not?”
I gulp. Honestly, I’m not sure I could take her on if half the stories of her power are true. “Maybe,” I reply weakly.
“Tell me, do you care for my brother?” She asks simply. “I’ve seen the way he looks at you, with those wandering eyes of his.”
I bite back a gag. “My feelings don’t matter. Arthur has a destiny, and it’s not my place to change that.”
In the corner of my eye, I see Andrei stir, his hand rises to his head. I internally sigh with relief. Morgana sees it too, and I see her arms tense. This time I’m ready. I fling darts of fire at her as fast as I can, cutting her concentration. She dodges the fire, leaving Andrei untouched.
“You are making a mistake,” she warns, “I don’t have to be your enemy.”
“If you see what my heart desires, as you say,” I storm toward her, “then you’d know that attacking him makes you my enemy.”
“Kaitlyn, no!” Andrei shouts, as he comes to his senses. It’s too late.
My forearms burst into flame as I charge at the sorceress. She deflects my punches with localised force fields. She reaches under her cloak with one hand, maintaining a barrier with the other. I catch a glimpse of metal before I feel a burning sensation across my stomach. The floor is splattered with red, but I don’t have time to worry about that now.
“Cancel the spell on the town and leave,” I demand. “Or I’ll be forced to stop you.”
“Brave words,” Morgana muses, “for such a coward.”
“I’m the coward?” I scoff. “Aren’t you the one who was using me to fight her battles for her?”
The sorceress’s expression darkens. “If you refuse to join me, then you and your precious companion will die here. Choose wisely.”
“I choose option three,” I sneer.
An unrecognizable blur moves past me, rushing into Morgana. Blood splashes across the stone floor. Morgana stumbles back, clutching her left arm to her chest, the sleeve of her black dress torn open. Her blue eyes grow wide as Andrei appears between us, rapier in hand and murder in his eyes. I gasp, and my arms return to normal in an instant. Did he suddenly get his magic back?
“What? Didn’t think this option was available?” He smirks, holding the rapier to her throat. “Thanks for the wake-up call. It’s just what I needed to think straight.” The sorceress’s eyes narrow as they follow the blade from her neck up to his face. She doesn’t exactly look afraid.
“Oh my… am I interrupting?” Another voice cuts through the tension.
I frown, turning to look behind me. A certain white-haired man saunters up and stops beside me. “Aevraig?” I gawk in disbelief.
“Forgive me,” he shrugs. “I couldn’t help wondering where you two had run off to.”
“Where do you think we’d run during a zombie invasion? Honestly.” Andrei rolls his eyes.
Aevraig smirks. “Apparently, into the proverbial lion’s den. A little reckless, don’t you think?”
Morgana clears her throat. “And who are you?”
“Not who,” he holds up a finger, looking at her with a sly grin. “What.”
She raises an eyebrow. “What are you?”
“Just some white-haired guy who thinks he’s a lizard. Don’t worry about this Aivrig or whatever you’re called. I got this,” Andrei scoffs. I press my lips into a thin line and scratch my head. Oh man, is he in for a surprise.
“A lizard? How rude!” Aevraig gasps.
Andrei mutters under his breath. “I wish guys would stop hitting on my girl. Is that too hard to have in the past?”
Morgana studies Andrei and Aevraig, confused. I can hardly believe that’s what he’s thinking about, faced with one of the most dangerous women in history. “Is this really the time to be worried about that?” I whisper, exasperated.
“Hitting on her?” Aevraig bellows a laugh, “Kaitlyn could very well be my great, great grandchild for all I know! That would be quite inappropriate.”
“Like anyone would know,” Andrei rolls his eyes.
“Looking out for my kin is not the same as flirting, child,” Aevraig states, annoyed. “However, that is not the issue here. Morgana, is it? I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you to leave our lovely little town. Oh, and take your ghouls with you.”
Morgana looks him up and down. “And if I refuse?”
“I will simply have to convince you,” Aevraig shrugs.
“Then convince me.”
“Very well.” Aevraig steps back. His body distorts, stretching out in all directions. His face contorts horribly as the snout and teeth grow. The massive throne room is barely big enough to contain his bulk without knocking out the walls or ceiling, though he has to keep his wings pulled in tightly. The dragon growls, though, at this point, I assume neither of them understands what he’s saying.
“He says, ‘are you convinced?’,” I translate. Her eyes dart wildly between me and the dragon behind me. “He won’t ask again.”
“Soo… he really is a dragon…” Andrei muses aloud.
I roll my eyes. “Did you think I would really lie about that?”
“I didn’t think you were serious!”
I balk. “Why would I joke about someone being a dragon?!”
“Children, focus,” Aevraig grunts.
I blush, “Uh… Right,” I turn to Morgana. “You have two options here,” I mock her earlier ultimatum.
She takes a long moment, studying the three of us. Finally, she seems resolved. “I will return.”
“I have no doubt,” I nod thoughtfully. After all, that’s what’s written. She backs away from Andrei’s blade, and her figure slowly fades into the shadows in the corner of the room.
Andrei dashes at her fading image. “No! She’s getting away!”
“That’s the idea,” I reply simply, studying him. “You and I both know her story isn’t over yet.” Rhoan returns to my shoulder.
“How do we know she took the zombies with her?” He challenges.
“We go outside and look,” I shrug. “Or find a window at least. Even if she didn’t, the spell will fade when she’s out of range.”
Andrei nods, “Oh… Right.”
“Terrible business, that,” Aevraig yawns. I turn to see him in human form again. “Sibling rivalry, I mean, such a shame.”
I stare at him, baffled. Sibling rivalry? I think it’s a little more than that… I shake my head and brush past him, heading for the door. The windows in here are too high up for us to be able to see anything.
In the hall, I move to the closest window and push it open. I can see the courtyard. The people wander out of the shelters, lifeless shells of the undead lay motionless across the grounds. I guess breaking the spell doesn’t get rid of the corpses. That’s not going to be fun to clean up.
“Well, that’s a bit gross. Kaede would love this though,” Andrei says, standing next to me looking out at the town. “You were pretty brave in there.”
“I didn’t feel brave,” I sigh, as I look up to meet his gaze. “But I couldn’t just do nothing. She was going to kill you.”
“Oh, is that what happened?” He scratches his head. “I don’t remember parts of it…”
“Of course you don’t. You were unconscious,” I roll my eyes. As his hand comes away from his head, his fingers are red. I catch his arm to get a better look. “You’re bleeding,” I gasp, panic rising in my throat. It’s not his hand that’s injured.
He looks at his hand, “I guess you’re right.”
“Let me see.” I reach up to move his damp, messy hair. He leans forward, bracing his good hand on the window ledge. Just above his temple on the left side, I find a gash along his hairline. Blood has soaked into his hair and it’s hard to tell where the injury is. That, with the memory loss, doesn’t bode well. “Are you dizzy?” I ask.
“A bit, yea,” he responds.
I bite the inside of my lip. “We need to find Merlin. Come on.” I grab his hand and drag him down the hall.
“Wait, why? Can’t you heal me?” He stumbles, tripping over his feet.
I pause, glancing back with concern. “Don’t you remember what happens when I heal? I would never use that on a head wound.”
“Oh… right. Could you at least slow down?”
I blush, dropping my gaze. “Sorry.” I try to let him set the pace, but I’m anxious. I don’t know how serious his wound might be. I’m vaguely aware of Aevraig following along behind us. I hold onto Andrei with both hands as we make our way down the stairs into the courtyard. He’s still pretty unsteady.
“Sis!” Eli shouts. I look up as we get to the bottom to see he and Ceph jogging toward us. “What happened? Why are you bleeding?”
“I’m fine,” I say quickly. “Andrei got hit in the head pretty hard. Have you seen Merlin?” I glance around the yard, hoping to spot the old man.
“He’s pretty busy helping the injured at the arena. I could maybe take a look though,” Ceph offers.
“It’s here,” I move his hair aside to show the bloody mess.
“Oww, careful,” Andrei whines.
Ceph looks at me, briefly pausing before he touches a hand to Andrei’s temple. “Hmm… Doesn’t look too bad. What have you been feeling, any dizziness? Memory loss?”
Andrei looks at him with a glazed expression. “Uhh, yea. I’m a bit dizzy and apparently I don’t remember how I got hit,” he mumbles.
“That would be the wall you flew into,” I mutter.
Ceph nods. “Alright, maybe you should take a seat. I’ll do my best.” He leads Andrei back to the stairs and helps him sit down, and takes either side of Andrei’s head in his hands. I stand next to Eli, arms crossed, watching anxiously.
“I will check in on our mutual friend,” Aevraig leans down to whisper to me. I nod as he walks away. Andrei’s head glows between Ceph’s hands for several seconds. The wound closes, and he seems to relax a bit.
Ceph takes a step back and glances at me. “He should rest for a bit. I may have healed the wound but he might still be dizzy. We can handle the cleanup. Is anyone else in need of a healing?” He asks, looking down at my shirt.
“No, thank you. I’ll take him back to our room.” I avoid his intense gaze. I remember how I acted the past several days, and I can barely look in his direction without being overwhelmed with shame.
“Are you sure? Your shirt… it’s bloody,” he points out bluntly.
I feel my cheeks flush. “Uh… well… yes… it’s just a scratch.”
He gives me a knowing smile. “Don’t be like that. I just want to help. May I see?”
I hesitate. I guess it wouldn’t hurt. “Um… okay.” I pull the bottom of my shirt up to just under my breasts.
Ceph leans down, studying the wound before placing a hand tenderly on my stomach. With a brief light, the wound is healed. He stands up straight with a grin, “How does that feel? Anything else?”
I shake my head. “No, that’s all she managed to do before…” I hesitate. “Aevraig scared her off. Thank you.”
“Wait? What about me? I even cut her arm! Or are you suffering from memory loss too?” Andrei stands in defense.
I chuckle. “Yes. You did. I’m sorry.”
Andrei frowns. “You don’t have to apologize, I was joking.”
“Oh…” I nibble my lip. Sometimes it’s hard to tell.
“Sis, you feeling okay?” Eli pipes up. “You’re acting… weird.”
I tip my head. “Am I?”
“Yes… you seem different,” Ceph narrows his eyes in suspicion.
“No, this is how she normally is,” Andrei interjects. “Usually she’s not so confrontational.”
I pick at my nails as the pair focus their gazes on me again. “I apologize for that. It seems I was… under the influence of someone else. I failed to recognize it in time.”
Ceph cocks an eyebrow, clearly a bit confused. Andrei holds nothing back. “Morgana somehow infiltrated her dreams. I think maybe it was affecting her mood.”
“I see,” Ceph nods, thumbing his chin. “Well, we should get back to helping, remember to rest,” he points firmly at Andrei.
“Right.” I move to his side and hook my arm around his. “Shall we?” Andrei smiles and nods. I lead him through the castle, back to my room. He sits on the edge of the bed. “Wait here,” I instruct as I head back out the door. I track down a servant and get a bowl of warm water with a couple of clean cloths.
I place the bowl on the table by the bed, soaking one of the cloths thoroughly. “Hold still,” I perch on the bed next to him, moving his hair aside as I gently wipe away the drying blood. Rhoan leaps off my shoulder and moves to the other side of the bed, curling up on a pillow.
“That feels nice,” Andrei hums.
I can’t help but smile at the content expression on his face. “Good. You deserve it, after such a long day” I rinse out the cloth and continue.
“You were amazing back there, facing Morgana. You looked so… confident. It suited you,” He says wistfully.
“’Confident’ isn’t exactly the word I would use,” I laugh. “But thanks.”
“Well, whatever happened, that smack to the wall fixed whatever was blocking my magic,” he finally admits. “I’m somewhat grateful… somewhat.”
I pause for a moment, lowering the cloth. “You could have told me…” I whisper sadly.
He lowers his chin, like a scolded child. “I… didn’t want to worry you. I wasn’t sure why, well… that’s not true either.” He pauses for a long moment, eyes flicking about the room as he tries to think of what to say. “I was upset about what happened back in our time. I was afraid that going back would… I dunno, get worse so I was unconsciously stopping time, and my magic, avoiding the future. I didn’t want to see you get hurt like that, or not at all. It was awful, Kat. It tore me to bits being forced to watch and not being able to do anything to stop it. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you sooner… I thought it’d just go away on its own,” he rambles.
I snicker under my breath. “I guess Ceph did listen to me after all.”
“Hmm?” Andrei looks up, confused.
I smirk playfully, “You’re not exactly the greatest liar, you know. I knew something was up, but I figured you wouldn’t tell me. I asked Ceph to talk to you instead.”
“What? That’s like… spying!” he jests.
“He never actually told me what you talked about, and I didn’t ask. I just thought maybe he’d be able to help you,” I shrug.
“Well, your hunch was right. Thanks.” He reaches a hand for my cheek, his fingertips resting on my jaw and tugging ever so slightly. I follow his gesture, leaning in to meet him as he presses his lips to mine. My heart flutters as though it was the first time all over again.
My face feels like it’s on fire when he pulls away. I rinse the cloth and silently go back to wiping the blood off of his head. Once I’m satisfied, he lays down. I curl up next to him, resting my head on his shoulder. His arm wraps around my back and his hand rests on my hip. We stay that way for a while, neither one saying a word.
A knock on the door breaks our peaceful bubble. Whoever it is doesn’t bother waiting for a response. I sit up, a little on edge, but it turns out it’s only Merlin. The elder mage assesses the two of us with a suspicious eye.
“I hope I’m not interrupting anything,” Merlin hums.
“We’re resting,” I snap, embarrassed.
He nods. “Ah, good. I understand Andrei suffered head trauma?” Merlin approaches Andrei’s side of the bed. “How are you feeling now?”
“Pretty good, thanks to Kaitlyn’s exceptional nursing skills,” he jokes.
I nudge his arm. “Right, because Ceph’s healing had nothing to do with it.”
Merlin chuckles. “You seem to be back to normal. Think you two could come and give us a hand with the rest of the clean up?”
Andrei looks at me and gives me a wry smile. “I think we should be okay to help now,” he props himself up, waiting for me.
I climb out of the bed and glance down at myself. “Uh… you guys go ahead. I need to change.”
“Oh okay,” Andrei follows Merlin out the door.
I wait for the door to close before moving toward the dresser. The pants are probably a good idea to keep if I’m going to haul bodies, so I search the drawers for another shirt. I find mostly dresses and other frilly things. Finally, I find a simple shirt and pull off the bloody one. Underneath, I’m wearing a medieval version of a bra, which isn’t great but it does the job. I pick up the clean shirt, turning it over to find the bottom edge.
The angry hiss of a cat breaks my train of thought. I turn to see what Rhoan is doing, but I find something blocking my view. Specifically, the chest of a man, barely contained in his low-cut shirt. I gasp, stumbling back into the dresser, holding the shirt over my chest.
“You are quite… exquisite,” the husky voice sends a shiver down my spine as I meet his bright blue eyes. “The way you moved on the battlefield… I’ve never seen anything like it. I knew I had to have you then.”
I stare at the face of the king twisted with lust. I feel sick and paralyzed at the same time. He can’t be serious. I shake my head stiffly. This isn’t happening…
“Do not refuse me,” he leans down, grabbing onto the dresser on either side of me, pinning me down. “The children we could produce… we could start a dynasty to last for centuries. Imagine it! I will shower you with everything you could possibly dream of!”
I lean as far back as I’m physically capable. I nearly killed him, and now he wants to make babies with me? What’s wrong with this guy? “No, I can’t stay here. I don’t want to!” my voice cracks as I protest.
Arthur slams his fist on the dresser. I jump. His eyes burn. “You will not deny me!” he growls, grabbing my shoulders hard. I gasp. Before I can complain or respond, his lips are on mine. It’s sloppy and uncomfortable, and I squirm to break away.
Then, he’s gone. I hear a bang and, as my eyes adjust, I see the king slumped in the corner of the room. Between us, a huge wolf stands, teeth bared. The king’s face drains of colour as he scrambles to stand up.
“Kat, get out of here,” Rhoan instructs. No need to tell me twice. I run for the door, clutching the shirt over my chest.
“Wait!” Arthur shouts. I don’t hesitate, yanking the door open.
As I sprint down the hall, I somehow get the shirt over my head. I don’t stop running, eyes stinging, heart pounding, and lungs burning. Finally, just outside the arena, through blurry vision I spot Andrei. He turns as he notices me, confused. I run right into him, nearly knocking him over as I bury my face in his chest and cling to the back of his shirt.
“Kaitlyn? What’s wrong? You look…” His voice falters. “What happened?” He asks, voice turning serious. His arms wrap around my back tightly.
I try to put the words together, but I can’t even bring myself to speak it. The most I can manage is a weepy “I want to go home.”
“What? Why? I thought…” He stops and I feel his hand grip my shoulders gently, pushing me away so he can see my face. “What’s brought this on so suddenly? You can tell me, can’t you?”
My mouth refuses to form the words. I can’t even look at his face. I feel like I’ve betrayed him somehow. I feel dirty and disgusted just thinking about what might have happened. The wolf pads up next to us, startling Andrei for a moment.
“I’m sorry I didn’t react immediately, Kat. I didn’t expect him to be so… aggressive,” Rhoan growls.
“Who was aggressive. Rhoan, what happened?” I feel his hands tense in anger. Eli, Ceph, and Merlin wander closer, intrigued by the commotion.
The wolf looks up at Andrei, then at me. I nod. “Arthur snuck into Kat’s room after you left.”
Andrei stares at him, unmoving. Then his voice cuts the silence sharply, “That… Bastard! I don’t care if he’s destined or not, I’m going to kill him!” His grip disappears as he moves around me, storming toward the castle.
“Don’t!” I rush to cut him off, grabbing onto his shirt. “You can’t alter time. We can just leave!”
“I don’t care about that. He crossed a line and I’m going to show him what it means to piss me off.” He looks into my eyes and I feel the rage smoldering in his gaze. He tries to pull away but I hold on, trying to hold him in place.
“Hey, whoa, there’s no need to kill anyone!” Eli runs over, blocking his warpath with hands held up in peace.
“Yes. Eli is right. Why don’t you let us handle the king?” Ceph offers, standing next to his partner. “I’m sure we can reach a peaceful settlement.”
Merlin rests a hand on Andrei’s shoulder, which makes him jump. He shakes his head slowly, gritting his teeth in frustration. The last time I saw that expression, Logan was holding a knife to my throat.
“Andrei, look at me,” I beg. “Let them handle it. Stay here with me. Don’t leave me. Please?”
“But…” He hesitates. “Kaitlyn, he violated you. In my mind, that’s unforgivable…” he whispers to me hoarsely.
“It’s not a death sentence,” I reason.
His eyes search mine intently and in a moment I see the anger fade to regret. “Fine.”
“Let’s finish here, while they handle it. We can get cleaned up, and leave first thing in the morning. Okay?” I try to smile.
“You sure? You’re okay with that? I won’t let you out of my sight, I swear,” he promises, dead serious.
I nod once. “Between you and Rhoan, I think I can make it through one more night.”
“I’ll hang back with these two. You go ahead, Ceph.” Eli claps Ceph on the shoulder. Ceph and Merlin head off toward the castle. Eli rests his hands on his hips. “Alright, so we’ve gathered most of the bodies. Just gotta do a final sweep of the area and then light ‘em up.”
I follow his line of sight to a huge mound of rotting bodies. I shudder and gag. I’m a little surprised I’m not used to the sight, but I guess it’s a little different when the bodies are human. Andrei and I wander around the tournament grounds, while Eli checks the courtyard. Rhoan sniffs out a couple bodies under some rubble and we reluctantly load them onto a stained stretcher to add them to the pile.
“Alright, care to help me, Sis?” Eli winks, standing in front of the mound.
It takes me a moment to realize what he means. When he holds up his hands, wiggling his fingers, I clue in. I step up beside him, raising my arms. It takes me longer than usual, but I manage to push all the thoughts from my mind as I channel the magic through my palms. It takes quite a while for all of the bodies to ignite, and we have to add more every few minutes just to keep it burning. The stench burns my nose and my eyes sting. I wonder if I’ll ever be able to smell anything else again. I’d rather have a skunk spray directly up my nose.
Over two hours go by before we’re finally left with a pile of ash. I’m exhausted, nauseous, and covered in soot. “Yea… I’m officially over the whole medieval thing,” I muse aloud, looking down at myself. “I don’t know about you guys, but I’d like to go over to that lake and go for a nice swim.”
Eli frowns. “You could just have the servants bring a bath to your room.”
I meet his curious brown eyes and shudder again. “No thanks…”
“It’ll be freezing, you’ll get hypothermia,” Andrei says.
I shrug. “Probably not… but you might,” I purse my lips. “I guess that’s not a good idea.”
“I don’t know about you, but the private bath in your room sounds like a great idea,” Andrei smirks.
I raise an eyebrow and blush. “Well… when you put it that way…”
“That settles it then!” Eli bellows. “Let’s head back.”
I ask Alice to have the bath brought for us, and within the hour it’s hauled into my room. They set it up by the fireplace. I bolt the door once the servants leave. Andrei stands next to the big metal tub, reaching in to test the water. I walk over, stopping in front of him. He looks down at me with those sweet puppy eyes. I slide my hands under the bottom of his shirt and lift it up over his head, with a little help.
“Are you sure you’re okay?” Andrei asks, brushing a loose hair out of my face. “We don’t have to do anything tonight. Today was … a little hectic. I’d understand.”
I slide my palms up his chest, and around his neck. I pull him down as I stand on my toes to reach his lips. I don’t want to talk about it. I want to be lost in him. He wraps his arms tightly around my back, kissing me hard. We help each other out of our sooty clothes, and I step into the steaming water.
Andrei hesitates, so I grab his hand and pull on his arm. He climbs in, hissing at the temperature as I push him to sit. I pick up one of the cloths left by the servants, dip it into the water, and start to wash his chest, still exposed above the water.
He runs his hands through my hair, pulling it out of the bun. “You don’t need to do that,” he purrs, leaning in for another kiss.
I reluctantly let him break away. “I want to,” I mumble back, as I run the cloth down his arm.
He turns his head, watching the cloth move down his arm. His hair hangs in front of his eyes, barely covering his sensual glance. I feel his other hand run up my neck and into my hair. I drag the cloth up over his shoulder, down his chest. My arm disappears into the water as I run the cloth along his stomach. I look up at his face through my lashes as I reach farther down.
His eyes widen in shock and his face splits into a smile. “You’re crazy, you know that,” he breathes softly. His hand cups my cheek and he tilts my chin gently up so he can kiss my lips.
I smile against his lips, breaking away and resting my forehead against his. “Only with you.”
By Krystyna Yates