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One Dark Window: Part 2 – Chapter 26


The King’s Guard wears no seal. The Black Horse is their emblem, their duty, their creed. With it, they uphold Blunder’s laws. They are the shadows in the room—the eyes on your back—the footsteps upon your streets.

The King’s Guard wears no seal.

Ravyn took my hands and ran them against his tunic, the black wool absorbing the blood on my fingers. When he released me, I hid my arms in my sleeves, balling my hands into fists to keep them from shaking.

Ravyn’s voice was cool—his eyes unreadable, his spine straight. Gone was the highwayman. In his place stood the Captain of the Destriers, cold and austere once more. “Who was it?” he said, keeping his voice low.

I hardly knew. All I had truly known was rage—a rage I had never felt before, so strong it, even now, was hesitant to release me. “Another Destrier,” I managed, nodding back toward the wood. “Linden.”

The muscles in Ravyn’s jaw flexed. “Dead?”

My stomach curled. “Hurt.”

“And the boy?”

“Somewhere in the wood.”

He gave a curt nod, his ears perked to the wind. “More Destriers are coming,” he said. “Stay here.”

A moment later he was gone, disappearing into the mist. I could still hear him, his voice sharp as a knife as the sound of heavy footfall echoed through the grayness, the shadow of two Black Horses darkening the mist.

I held still, listening.

“Wicker,” Ravyn called. “Get Gorse and Beech and gather the Physicians. See to anyone hurt in the mayhem.” His voice hardened. “Larch. Head west, into the wood.”

My stomach twisted, knowing what awaited west of us, crumpled and bleeding beneath the trees.

What did you do? I cried into the darkness.

He retracted his claws, his voice slow, idle. We did it together. Just as we always do.

I didn’t want that!

You asked for my help. And I delivered it.

I shook my head. You’re a monster.

Ravyn appeared again in a gust of black, his eyes trained on my face. “Elspeth?”

I wiped old tears from my cheeks and flinched. The pain in my broken wrist teemed with a new vengeance. I felt dizzy, unable to balance the events of the past hour—Hauth and his condemnation of the boy’s parents—Orithe’s brutal claw—Elm and his Scythe—the strange vision as I fled through the mist—the look of terror in Linden’s eyes as the Nightmare’s wrath overpowered my body.

“What happened, Elspeth?” he said.

I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. “I couldn’t let Orithe take that boy back to Stone.”

Ravyn’s eyes flashed to my mask—my cloak. “Were you recognized?”

“I don’t think so. It all happened so fast. Elm—his Scythe—” I paused, my mind segmented, broken between the Nightmare’s thoughts and my own. I looked at the Captain of the Destriers. “I freed the boy and took him into the mist. I gave him my charm so he might save his parents. But the Destrier followed us. I… I didn’t intend to…”

Ravyn waited. “What of the yellow that flickers through your eyes?” he asked.

“I can’t tell you,” I said, more forceful than before. “You won’t want anything to do with me if I do.”

Ravyn exhaled. “Then your estimation of me is lower than I imagined.” He reached into his pocket, tapping the burgundy light three times.

“What are you doing?”

“Telling Jespyr to take Orithe to Linden.” The Nightmare Card in the Captain’s pocket cast strange shadows across his face. After a moment, his eyes closed in concentration, and he tapped the Card thrice more. “Let’s go.”

We hurried back up the hill and through the meadow, our silence strained. Voices sounded in the mist—two more Black Horses moving in the distance. Ravyn’s shoulders tensed, but he did not slow our pace, merely putting a finger to his lips to signal my silence.

I did not reach into the darkness for the Nightmare. Still, he was there, looming like a shadow across every corner of my mind.

By the time Ravyn and I crept out of the mist and back onto the main road, the pandemonium had ceased. The crowd had gone, hurried back through Blunder’s gates, the frivolity of Market Day long dead.

“Take off your mask,” Ravyn said. His eyes flickered across my cloak—Elm’s cloak. “That too. You’re just a maiden who got caught in the mist, yes?”

I nodded. But the lie erased nothing. The blood was off my hands, but the feel of it remained. A dark, menacing stain.

We were met by a sea of black and red—Destriers and Hauth Rowan clustered at the edge of the mist. The High Prince’s voice ripped down the road, brutal and loud.

Elm stood apart from the others, hands in his pockets, his green eyes bleary. His shoulders were hunched, his cheeks colorless. A thin sheen of sweat glistened on his brow. I moved to his side, searching his face.

“Still alive, then,” he said without looking at me.

I slipped him his cloak. “And you?”

“Fit as a fiddle.” He raised his sleeve to his face, wiping his nose. When he pulled it away, his cuff was dark with blood. “The boy?”

“Escaped, for now. Linden caught me up. We fought.” I clenched my jaw, afraid I might be sick. “I may have killed him.”

Elm looked at me, his eyes slow to focus. “Shouldn’t you know?”

The Destriers parted for Ravyn, their heads lowered to their Captain. Ravyn paid them no attention, his gaze fixed on Hauth. “What the fuck do you think you’re doing?” he said, so severe I flinched. “You called for a public execution on Market Day?” His voice dripped venom. “Without my leave?”

The High Prince turned, his broad jaw set and his cheeks aflame. “I have the right to execute any person guilty of harboring an infected—”

Ravyn closed the distance between himself and his cousin, his anger unrivaled. “It is your right to uphold the King’s law,” he said. “But not without my leave.” His voice lowered, menace in the low, scraping tones. “Don’t think me deaf to the dissent you sow behind my back, cousin. If it’s command you want”—he spread his arms wide, an invitation—“take it.”

Hauth’s nostrils flared. Next to me, a smile slipped across Elm’s tired face. Both he and Ravyn, and perhaps the rest of the Destriers, knew Hauth would not take his chances against someone immune to the Scythe.

Given the flash of rage in his green eyes, Hauth knew it, too.

Ravyn whirled on his men. “Would you follow a man so unwilling to take a simple challenge?”

The Destriers said nothing, motionless, as if carved of wood.

Ravyn sneered. “Your Prince is just that—a Prince. And you are not his brutes. You do not disrupt Blunder’s peace, nor force its citizens to witness cruelty. You are as shadows—silent and swift. Most essentially, you are keepers of our words. Wary. Clever. Good. Is that understood?”

The Destriers clasped the hilts of their swords, their eyes trained on Ravyn. “Yes, Captain,” they called in accordance.

Only Hauth remained silent.

Ravyn turned to him. “I did not hear you, cousin.”

Hauth’s green eyes narrowed. “Nor I you, Captain. After all, when the child was discovered and the Destriers summoned, we had no commands to obey—you were nowhere to be found.” He glared over Ravyn’s shoulder, his eyes finding mine. “Even now, your attention seems concentrated elsewhere.”

Ravyn shifted, blocking me from Hauth’s view. For a moment I was certain he would lash out—break his cousin’s other hand. But he did not. He merely glared at Hauth, leaching ice. The High Prince glared back until the red in his face moved behind his eyes. Then, weaponless against Ravyn’s unyielding silence, hands balled into fists, Hauth lowered his gaze.

Ravyn turned. “Stay alert,” he commanded the Destriers. “Do not let anyone who does not carry a Black Horse or a Physician’s seal through the gates without inspection. Keep to patrols. If the boy is found or another infection reported, find me at Castle Yew.”

“And if the boy is not found?” a Destrier called.

Ravyn pushed from the group without a backward glance. “Then let the Spirit have him,” he snapped.

I followed him up the road, Elm trailing behind us. The sky had darkened, the shadows of the gate long as we crossed into town. No one said a word, the only sound among us the thump of our heels upon cobbled streets.

Then, as if reading my thoughts, Ravyn spoke. “Jespyr will search for the boy and his parents,” he said, pulling the Nightmare Card from his pocket and tapping it three times. “We have a place for children like him, if we’re lucky enough to find them first.”

I stared at the back of his cloak. “You’ve saved infected children before?”

“That’s the entire point of collecting the Deck,” Elm muttered behind me. “Or did you imagine we were committing treason for a laugh?”

Ravyn stopped in his tracks, so sudden I had to pivot to avoid him.

Elm, not so swift, crashed into Ravyn’s back. “Trees—What’s the matter?”

Ravyn’s eyes were closed. A moment later he tapped his Nightmare Card thrice more. “I just spoke with my father.” He opened his eyes, his gaze locked on Elm. “We need to get back to Castle Yew. Now.”

Without another word, the Captain of the Destriers ran up the street. Elm and I shared a bewildered glance. A moment later we were running, weaving through the remnant crowds of Market Day as we fought to keep Ravyn’s lightning pace.

We ran until we met Fenir Yew at the square. He’d summoned a carriage.

“Hurry,” he said as I climbed in. “Thistle says he snuck in the gate after we left this morning, which means he escaped last night. If Orithe hears, he won’t be gentle with him.”

“He won’t hear,” Ravyn said as he slammed the door shut. “He’ll be busy for hours.”

Ravyn pulled himself next to the coachman and cracked the reins. The horses spurred and the carriage lurched forward, dark curtains drawn over the windows.

Next to me, Elm drew long, ragged breaths. More blood had pooled under his nostrils. He wiped it away, a lifeless fatigue lingering in his shoulders—behind his green eyes—the payment for the red Card’s magic steep.

“Is someone going to tell me what’s happened?” he demanded. “Who snuck into the gate? Why are we returning to the castle?”

Fenir’s voice was grave. “Emory,” he said. “Emory has run away from Stone.”


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