Chapter Nine: The Chosen Four

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For the last two days Cora, Titus, Luca, and I ate dinner in a separate dining hall, away from the royal family. It had made it tremendously easier for each of us to be ourselves and to get to know each other better.

I found that Luca was the intelligent one, and when he was quiet, it meant that he was thinking of something brilliant. He was skinny and tall, with glowing gray eyes and a short cut that swooped in front of his forehead.

Titus was the opposite. He was shorter than Luca, but was full of muscle and mass. He didn't keep his hair in his face but kept it combed back. He had a certain appeal about him that would make any girl want to date him, but he was also aloof and a bit intimidating.

Cora wasn't intimidated by him. In fact, he was the first person she'd sit next to, and although he seemed distant, he didn't seem to mind her presence.

Cora was a tough girl but very attractive. She had long white hair that she kept pulled back by a braid, save for the two long braids that fell past her sideburns, and she had a piercing in her nose, which was a custom thing for women in her tribe. I could tell from her hard exterior that she must've dealt with a lot growing up. I hoped that one day, she'd open up and tell me about it. Until then, I'd admire her strength from afar.

"Is there something in my teeth, Lady Anya?" Cora asked, forking a piece of raw fish in a completely ungraceful way.

"Oh, no," I said, glancing down at my own plate.

"Then why were you staring?"

"I was curious," I explained. "About your life, who you are, that sort of thing."

"And what did you decide about me?"

"That you're strong," I told her. "Stronger than I."

She laughed. "Are you kidding me? You've outshined every one of us so far in every training."

"If you call 'killing a man' outshining everyone, than yes, I supposed I have."

"She's referring to your gift in general," Titus chimed in, and I noticed how he easily took her defense. I thought it was cute. Had they been getting closer than I'd thought? Hmm...we'd only been here a few days, surely I was imagining things. "It's incredible if I say so myself."

"I killed a man with my gift, I'm not too enthusiastic about it," I said, feeling slightly anxious to be talking about it as if it hadn't just happened. I was still hurting inside. Very much so. "I'd prefer to never use it again, quite frankly."

"Good luck with that," Titus stated. "The King will have your head on a platter if you decided not to fight for him."

"Can the two of you be a little more sympathetic toward her?" Luca snapped. "I'd like to see how the two of you hold up once you've killed a man. She clearly doesn't want to discuss it with either of you."

I watched Titus frown, but he simply picked up his glass of water, took a drink, and zoned out as usual. Cora just rolled her eyes and continued eating her food. I, myself, had frowned. I didn't want either of them upset with me, but I didn't want to relive what had happened either. I couldn't.

Five minutes later, Cora spoke up, and her voice was rich with mischief. "So, I was exploring the castle the other day and found something interesting. I'm not even sure anyone knows it exists. It looked as if it hadn't been visited in decades."

"What place?" Luca asked. He seemed interested already.

"It's a hidden room in a secret passageway."
Luca looked thoughtful. "How did you find it?"

Cora shifted in her seat, looking filled with unease. "Well, Sir Luca, if I told you, I'd have to kill you." Luca blinked. "Then again, I wouldn't have told you if I hadn't had the plans to show you."

"When can we see it?" Titus asked. Great, they were all in on it, except for me.

"Anya?" Cora asked, as if she'd sensed my thoughts. "Would you like to come with?"

"When?" I repeated Titus' question.

"Tonight at midnight," she answered.

"But we have training in the morning."

"Oh, don't be a child. I won't keep you long. How about eleven? You'll be in bed before midnight."

I looked at the way they all stared, as if they were annoyed with my hesitance because they wanted me there. I could imagine my friends back at home behaving the same way while trying to convince me to do something that I did not want to do. It made me smile.

"See, she wants to come," Cora smiled. "Midnight it is!"

"I thought you said 'eleven'."

"Oh, live a little, Lady Anya," Cora joked. "The world  is full of exciting mysteries, especially this one. I never disappoint."

"Very well, midnight it is," I sighed, hoping I wouldn't regret it.

Midnight came quicker than I'd expected, and I found myself in the exact location Cora had told us to be standing. Where was everyone? And why was it so cold along this passageway? The wind hit against a near window in an eerie way that took fear to a new height.

"Boo!" I jumped at the sound of Cora's voice. She broke out in laughter once she saw my face.

"Funny. I could almost laugh," I told her, fighting a smile.

"I couldn't help myself, you looked absolutely terrified standing there all by yourself. Besides, I've always been one for grand entrances."

"Next time, do that to a Firelander," I joked.
Snickering down the passageway caused me to turn around and gaze out into the darkness. Two figures quickly revealed themselves to be Luca and Titus. I was relieved to see that we'd all made it and I was filled with anticipation for what was to come.

Cora led the way into an unlocked room that looked to have once been an old Library with rows on top of rows of bookshelves, however, there hadn't been a book in sight. Each shelf had been wiped cleaned and replaced with a thick coating of dust.

"I think this library once belonged to old Kings," Cora said. "Looks like someone wiped out every trace of this room, except they forgot about the secret room inside of it. That, or they didn't think anyone else would find it."

"Vacant libraries and hidden rooms, it sounds like a man's delight. Shall we?" Titus was the first to start walking toward the center of the room. Cora smiled after him and followed behind.

"It's straight ahead," she said, running past him to stand directly in front of one of the shelves.

"Am I the only one that isn't as excited as they are?" Luca whispered into my ear. I turned toward him and found a pleasant smile. "If I'm to be honest, I'm a little nervous."

"And here I thought you were the adventurous one," I teased. "Not so excited now, I see. Don't worry, I won't tell a soul."

Luca smiled and it was an appealing sight. He was very charming in his own way.

"There!" I looked just in time to see Cora press against the shelf and back away. Seconds later, the shelf began to open inward, allowing everyone access into what lay inside.

"Come on," I said to Luca, following Cora and Titus as they disappeared inside of the room...

"Come on," I said to Luca, following Cora and Titus as they disappeared inside of the room

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