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One Dark Window: Part 3 – Chapter 35

Be wary the green,

Be wary the trees.

Be wary the song of the wood on your sleeves.

You’ll step off the path—

To blessing and wrath.

Be wary the song of the wood on your sleeves.

The dungeon was the coldest part of the castle.

The Captain of the Destriers and the Prince waited together in silence, the hour not yet dawn. Ravyn tapped his boots on the stone floor to keep his toes from losing feeling.

“Have you slept?” Elm asked, his breath pluming out his nostrils as he paced the antechamber. A piece of crumpled sandstone lay on the floor. Elm kicked it back and forth, his eyelids heavy.

Ravyn gritted his teeth, the knot in his stomach tightening. “I keep having nightmares,” he said, rubbing his eyes with the heel of his palms.

A moment later he ripped his hands away, yellow eyes flickering across his vision. Even now, three nights later, they were bright in his thoughts. He could not escape them, that night at Spindle House burned into his mind with painful clarity.

It all had happened so fast.

Shadows chased them like demons up Spindle House’s winding stairs. Ravyn pushed ahead, his heart aflame in his chest. When they got to the small door on the sixth landing, he slammed his hands into the wood, calling with his Nightmare Card.

But he was met by only silence.

“Elspeth!” he shouted, dread tightening like a rope around his neck.

Elm’s knuckles were white on the latch. “It’s locked.”

“Break it down,” Ravyn snapped, turning to Jespyr and the Black Horse in her hand.

It took three kicks to flatten the wood, splinters flying like pine needles in a windstorm. “Elspeth!” Ravyn called, pushing into the room, his boots slipping on dark liquid pooled across the wooden floor.

“Holy…” Elm breathed. “What happened here?”

Ravyn’s eyes scanned the room, passing over Orithe’s lifeless body until he spotted the maiden slumped against the far wall, wind from the open window blowing in her long black hair.

“Elspeth,” he called, lurching toward her. “Elspeth!”

Her skin was cold to the touch. Ravyn ran his hand across her cheek, his stomach turning. Her face was beaten and bloodied. Her dress was torn at the sleeve, and her arm—stiff with dried blood—was punctured by harsh, distinct claw marks.

“He’s dead,” Elm called, leaning over Orithe. “Decidedly.”

“Elspeth,” Ravyn called, his fingers sliding to the skin below her pale jaw, searching for a heartbeat. When she stirred, coughing out a low, violent breath, he felt weightless.

“Elspeth.” His hands shook against her jaw. “Are you all right?”

“Hauth’s still alive,” Jespyr called from the other side of the room. “Barely. His legs… there’s something wrong with them.”

But Ravyn was too engulfed by Elspeth Spindle and her long, deep breaths to pay mind elsewhere. He ran his shaking fingers through her hair, relief so sweet he could almost taste it. “I thought you were dead,” he whispered.

“I’m not dead,” she said, her voice oddly even. “I’m just… waking up.”

“Don’t sit up too fast,” Ravyn cautioned, the hair at the back of her head heavy with blood. “Take your time.”

“I’ve had enough time,” she said. “More than you could ever know.”

She kept her eyes closed as Ravyn brought her to a slow, supported stance. “What happened?” he said, taking in the mayhem around him for the first time.

“They were going to turn you in,” she said plainly. “Everything you’d worked for, gone in a moment.”

“You—you killed him?” Jespyr blinked, her eyes fixed on Orithe’s lifeless body.

Elspeth looked down at her hands, her fingernails dark, embedded with blood. “His claw began the slaughter of dozens of magical children,” she said, flexing her fingers like talons. “He deserved to die by it.”

Elm’s voice was lifeless. “We were going to use his blood to save Emory. And you’ve just spilled it all over the floor.”

Elspeth acted as if she had not heard him. When she spoke, her voice was quiet. “You should call the Destriers. Better they know it was me and me alone.”

Ravyn and his sister exchanged glances. “What are you talking about?”

“She’s bleeding,” Elm muttered. “Look at her head.”

Ravyn reached for Elspeth, desperate to pull her close—feel her, tight and safe, in his arms—but when his fingers touched her shoulder, she pulled away, a snarl on her lips.

“Don’t touch me,” she said, her yellow eyes flaring.


Yellow, like the flames of a torch. Yellow, like the coins he’d collected as a boy.

Yellow, not black.

Relief turned to dread in the pit of Ravyn’s stomach. Elspeth, he called into the blackness. Elspeth!

But all was silence.

Then, like a snake slithering out beneath rocks, the Shepherd King spoke. She’s quiet now, Ravyn Yew. Let her rest.

What the hell have you done? Ravyn cried, probing deeper into the darkness.

She set me free, he said, his voice filling Ravyn’s mind like smoke. I’m here to help you.

Ravyn stepped away from the creature wearing Elspeth Spindle’s skin. Let her out, he shouted, his voice cut by fear and rage. Let her out right now or I swear to god I’ll—

You’ll what? Elspeth’s lips curled. How could you hurt me without hurting her?

Elm stepped forward, his eyes wide as he surveyed Elspeth’s face, her yellow, catlike eyes. “What’s happening?” he said, glancing at Ravyn. “What’s she done?”

“It’s not Elspeth,” Ravyn said, his hands shaking. “It’s him.”

But the monster behind Elspeth’s eyes merely looked ahead, Elspeth’s fingers trilling an invisible rhythm as she placed her hands—wrists touching—out in front of her. “I’ve killed the King’s Physician and maimed the heir to the throne,” she said. “I’m infected with magic.” She ran her teeth over her bottom lip, her mouth curling into a twisted grin. “I surrender myself to the Captain of the Destriers and await an inquest by the King.”

Elm kicked the stone against the dungeon door, its bang clamoring in the din. Ravyn flinched, wrenched from his thoughts. “Shepherd King or not,” he said to his cousin, his voice rusty with disuse, “he made it clear he wanted to help us.”

Elm looked up. “You can’t seriously consider trusting him.”

“I don’t,” Ravyn bit back. “Still, without him, it might be us in that cell.”

Footsteps echoed from the stairwell above, yellow torchlight climbing the walls all around them. “They’re here,” Elm said, his spine straightening.

King Rowan led the Destriers into the dungeon, his steps loud on the stone steps. His brow was low, furrowed and resolute. Still, he could not hide the evidence of his own sleeplessness; dark shadows nestled beneath his green eyes.

Anger cracked his voice. “Well?” he demanded.

“Ready when you are, Uncle,” Ravyn said.

Jespyr and a second Destrier pulled twin keys from their cloaks. When they turned the locks, first one, then the other, the antechamber echoed. “Here we go,” Jespyr said, opening the door.

It was dark on the north side of the dungeon. Worse still, it was quiet. The King had ordered the rest of the cells emptied three days ago, afraid Elspeth Spindle might poison the minds of the other prisoners with her dangerous, dark magic.

When they got to the last cell on the block, they stopped and lit the torches on the wall, yellow light illuminating the body, curled in sleep, upon the icy floor.

Ravyn’s hands were fists at his side, the knot in his stomach moving to his throat, choking him. She looked so peaceful, so still, so much like the woman he’d held in his arms…

But she wasn’t. She was something else now. And it hurt more than he’d ever imagined it could to think she might be gone forever.

But he couldn’t show it—wouldn’t think it. Ravyn stood with the rest of the Destriers, forcing all the fear and pain and longing deep behind the cracking wall of stone he’d built over his heart. His features stilled, as if frozen, and he watched her through the iron bars with the rest of them, determination setting his jaw.

He would find the last Card. He would lift the mist. He would save Emory’s life.

And he would free Elspeth Spindle from the darkness that consumed her.

“Why isn’t she chained?” the King growled.

The Destriers stirred. “We couldn’t restrain her, sire,” Gorse said. “The risk was too great.”

“Risk? She’s but a girl.”

“Her magic…” another called, the fear in his voice palpable. “Several of our men were sent to the Physicians with deep lacerations.”

King Rowan’s shoulders tightened. “Get her up.”

The dungeon echoed as two Destriers unsheathed their swords, knocking the steel across the iron bars of the cell. The noise clanged through the dungeon, its sinister echo clamoring down the corridor.

Elspeth stirred and sat up. Her long black hair was stiff with dried blood. Breath plumed like smoke out her nostrils, but she did not tremble, seemingly untouched by the cold.

Ravyn watched the long black pupils of her yellow eyes widen—like a cat’s in the dark.

“My Captain tells me you won’t speak to him,” the King called. “That you agreed to speak to only me.”

Elspeth twisted her neck and stretched her arms one at a time.

“He tells me you carry the infection,” the King continued. “That you can see Providence Cards.”

The corner of her mouth twitched as she gave a stiff nod.

“And that you have an offer for me, in exchange for your miserable life.”

Another nod, accompanied by the sound of her teeth clicking as she opened and clamped her jaw. Click. Click. Click.

“But you killed my Physician,” the King said, his voice dripping venom. “And my son—should he survive—will never be the same. You are an enemy of the vilest quality.” He leaned into the bars. “There is nothing you could offer that would bring me more satisfaction than watching you die a slow, horrible death.”

Elspeth tilted her head to the side, her yellow eyes narrowing. “You came all this way into your frozen underworld to tell me that, usurper?”

King Rowan slammed his palms on the bars, his gold rings clanging against the iron. “I came to tell you you’re an abomination.” His control leached to a hot, unrestrained rage. “A disease. And I’ll see you and everyone who ever sheltered you gutted like animals.”

Ravyn and Elm exchanged desperate glances.

But Elspeth merely smiled. “Even without hearing my offer?”

The King’s fury tangled in his mouth. “There is nothing you have that I want.”

Elspeth unfolded herself from the dungeon floor. When she stood, her spine curled, as if bent. “Then kill me,” she murmured. “That is no matter. Even dead, I will not die. I am the shepherd of shadow. The phantom of the fright. The demon in the daydream.” Her yellow eyes flickered to Ravyn. “The nightmare in the night.”

King Rowan made to speak—to slam his hands on the bars once more. But something in Elspeth’s eyes stilled him, his anger frozen in his throat.

She slunk across the cell, her movements so fast some of the Destriers stepped back.

A long, unnerving grin parted her lips. “But kill me, usurper, and you will never collect the Deck, never heal the infection. The mist will continue to spread. The Spirit of the Wood will consume Blunder and everyone in it. I may be gone, my body mortified by violence and time, but in a hundred years, it is you, Rowan, who will be forgotten. Your castle will be reduced to dust. Destrier bones will clack in the wind, strewn by children between windows to frighten crows. Your name will turn to rot, your Providence Cards lost. I have seen it all before, Rowan. And I smell it upon us now. The salt of magic in the air… the turn of the tide.”

Silence cut through the dungeon. King Rowan stared at the creature tucked behind Elspeth’s skin, and the creature stared back, its yellow eyes cunning.

“What is it you want?” the King whispered.

Elspeth ran her fingers against the bars, dried blood caked under her fingernails. “Same as you,” she said, stalking the length of the cell. “I want to collect the Deck. But first, you must release Emory Yew to his parents.”

Ravyn felt the breath leave his chest. Next to him, Elm and Jespyr had frozen, their faces trapped between fear and wonder.

“Why would I do that?” The King took a step back. “You must know I need his blood.”

“You’ll find you don’t,” Elspeth said. “Not when you have mine.”

“You’d trade your life for the boy’s?”

“That is my offer.”

Ravyn tapped his Nightmare Card beneath his cloak, reaching out in the darkness for any hint of Elspeth. He needed to hear her voice—needed to know she was still there…

But there was nothing. The Shepherd King had blocked him out entirely.

“And what do I get in return for prolonging your wretched life until Solstice?” the King demanded, uncertainty darkening the corners of his voice.

Elspeth continued to pace the cell, stopping only when she stood directly in front of the King. “You get the Twin Alders,” she said, drawing the words out of her mouth like spider silk. “The Card you seek but cannot find. The last Card.”

King Rowan nearly choked on his words. “The Twin Alders has been lost for hundreds of years,” he said. “What makes you think you can find it?”

Elspeth lowered her voice to a whisper, her spine twisting as her yellow eyes narrowed, wicked and infinite. “The Twin Alders is hidden in a place with no time. A place of great sorrow and bloodshed and crime. Betwixt ancient trees, where the mist cuts bone-deep, the last Card remains, waiting, asleep. The wood knows no road—no path through the snare. Only I can find the Twin Alders…

“For it was I who left it there.”


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