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Two Twisted Crowns: Part 1 – Chapter 14

Ravyn

The guards that kept watch over Emory’s door stepped into shadow. Ravyn unlocked his brother’s chamber and lingered at the threshold. He slipped a hand into his pocket. Before he was aware of his own fingers, he’d tapped his Nightmare Card three times.

Salt pounded his senses. He pushed and pushed, looking for the familiar, comforting presence. Like leather and fire and the pages of a well-read book.

Jespyr.

Her voice was sharp with startle. Ravyn?

The Twin Alders, Jes. We’re leaving at dawn.

There was a pause. Then, What do you need from me?

Ravyn’s hand trembled on the latch to his brother’s door. Emory, he whispered.

I’m on my way.

Salt fled his senses, Jespyr disappearing from his mind on the third tap. Ravyn heaved a breath, then opened the door.

Emory lay on his bench in the corner of the small chamber. Blanket tight under his chin, eyes shut, he almost looked asleep. But his shoulders were too tense, his thinned face too laden with furrows to be at rest. He shivered, his lips an awful gray.

Ravyn moved to his brother’s wardrobe and flung it open, digging for the warmest cloak he could find.

Emory’s voice was uneven, fraying at its edges. “What are you doing?”

“It’s time, Em.” Ravyn placed a wool cloak onto his brother’s lap. “We’re leaving. Now.”

Emory tried to sit up. “Why?”

“Arrangements have been made.”

“What arrangements?”

“Where are your boots?”

Emory flicked his hand toward the end of the bench.

Ravyn sat at the foot of the bench, hands deft as he pulled Emory’s leather boots over thick socks. All the while, he could feel his brother’s eyes on him.

“What arrangements?” the boy said again.

Ravyn tied the laces tight, though he was fairly certain his brother was no longer strong enough to walk without help. “I’m taking you home.”

A rattling breath swept up Emory’s fragile frame. “Did Uncle—”

“The King is aware,” Ravyn said, harsher than he meant. He heaved a sigh and finally looked up.

It hurt to gaze at his brother. More than Ravyn imagined it would.

Emory, who had once bloomed like a garden in spring, was wilted, frozen to his depth by chill and aggressive degeneration. A boy, who not long ago had stood tall, was now stooped, as if his spine—which protruded up his back in harsh knobs—weighed more than the rest of his body combined. Hie copper skin was wan, his cheeks gaunt, his fingertips blue. And his eyes—his brilliant gray eyes—were shadowed, dim, lit only by the deathly omen of what was to come.

He was degenerating. Faster than Ravyn had feared he would. And while Ravyn’s degeneration made certain Cards impossible to use and Elspeth’s had strengthened the monster in her mind, Emory’s was simply…killing him.

Ravyn reached for his brother’s shoulder. “Everything is going to get better for you, Em,” he said. “I promise.”

Emory’s shirt slid, Ravyn’s palm grazing his brother’s skin. The moment it did, Emory’s eyes glassed over. He shivered from deep within, his lips drawing into a pale thread. He reached up and gripped Ravyn’s hand, his eyes rolling into his skull.

Ravyn recoiled, realizing what he’d done. His hand—he’d touched Emory. He tried to rip away from his brother’s grasp, but Emory held him in a vise, nails digging into Ravyn’s skin.

“The dark bird has three heads,” Emory said, his voice strangled, an invisible rope around his neck. “Highwayman, Destrier, and another. One of age, of birthright. Tell me, Ravyn Yew, after your long walk in my wood—do you finally know your name?”

Ravyn ripped his hand out of his brother’s grasp. The moment their hands separated, Emory’s magic fled his senses. His eyes returned. Glassy. Filled with tears. “What happened?” he asked, shaking.

It took all of Ravyn’s years of practice to keep his face even. “Nothing, Emory.”

“Did I—did I say something?”

Emory’s magic had never been a gift. To family, it was unnerving. To strangers, terrifying. A single touch, and the boy could read a person’s deepest thoughts—their fears and desires—their shadow-laden secrets—their futures. It didn’t matter how deeply it was buried, there was nothing Emory could not see.

It took the life out of him, using his magic. Whatever life that still remained.

Ravyn wrapped an arm under his brother’s ribs and lifted him from the bench, careful not to graze his skin again. It took hardly any strength to lift him.

Emory’s head slumped forward. His eyelids drooped, his words a raspy whisper. “I’ve forgotten…Where are we going?”

Ravyn clenched his jaw and kicked open the door to his brother’s prison. Had the lantern on the table been lit, he would have smashed it onto the floor and cast the room into flame. “Home, Emory. I’m taking you home.”

The boy weighed no more than a large saddle. But the stairs were long. By the time they met Jespyr in the east corridor, Ravyn was out of breath, a sheen of sweat upon his brow.

Emory was asleep. Jespyr gasped when she took him in her arms. “He’s little more than a reed.”

Ravyn turned away. If he looked too long at the tears in his sister’s eyes, his own might fall. “Take him to Castle Yew. Go now. I’ll be there shortly.”

Jespyr did not linger. She turned west, slipping through a servants’ door. Ravyn listened to her heavy steps until they were gone, then heaved a breath and straightened his cloak. He didn’t look back at the stairs to Emory’s room. It, nor any other part of the King’s castle, had earned a single farewell from him.

Ravyn uttered one nonetheless. “Fuck you.”


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