Chapter 46

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"What?" Ada cried first.

Arlo blinked at Vena. "Pardon?"

Vena pursed her lips. "I'm going with Lily. If the Gongjensu come after her, then..."

She didn't need to finish her sentence. It was clear to everyone what she meant. If Invida Monarcei or Gloria Sovranus came after Lily, Vena could have her revenge.

"Vena," Iressa said gently, "Think this through—"

"I have."

"What about your parents?" Arianna said. "They've already lost Venix, now—now you?"

"They lost me when they lost Venix," Vena said, her eyes darkening. "There is no me without him."

Edra stalked forward and stood right in front of Vena. "That is the grief talking. You were twins, but you were separate people. You are not your brother, and your family needs you."

"She's right," Lily said, looking at Vena gently. "You are still here. Your parents need you."

Vena pressed her lips together, her jaw tensing, but in the end, she gave them a sharp nod and spun to stalk out of the room, leaving silence in her wake.

"We'll leave you to rest now," Bruto said finally. He and Colonel Ulima left the room. Edra gave Lily a nod and something approaching a smile before following.

"Arlo," Iressa said, before he could leave. "I need to talk to you."

He gave her a quizzical look. "Yes?"

Iressa took in a deep breath. "I know we didn't let Vena go with Lily, but I—I'm going."

"Iressa!" Ada said, blinking at her, her hand tightening around Lily's.

"Iri, what are you talking about?" Arianna said, her eyebrows furrowing.

Iressa pursed her lips. "I need to leave. I can't stay here, knowing that Brenn—that he's still here, locked up in those cells."

"But—"

Iressa cut Lily off with a look. "I don't have family here. I've been on my own for a long time, and Lily's like family now. She'll need someone there, with her, too."

"I can't ask that from you," Lily said, shaking her head.

Iressa gave her a wry look. "You're not asking. I want to—need to go. I can't stay."

"What about us?" Ada said, her cheeks bright red, her lips trembling. "You can't leave me."

Iressa sighed. "Ada, I need this. I can always come back in a year or two."

"So, you're running away?" Ada's voice shook—with sorrow or anger, Lily couldn't tell. Probably both.

Iressa glanced at the floor. "Ada, you have Adrian and your father. You'll have to be here for Vena—"

"And you won't?" Ada's voice was shrill. "She's just lost Venix, now she'll lose Lily—and you too?"

Iressa dropped Lily's hands and took both of Ada's in her own. "I can't stay. Knowing that he's here, so close, I can't," she breathed. "I promise you, I will return."

Ada's face softened, and she sniffed. "Iri," she murmured, throwing her arms around the other girl. They stood there, locked in an embrace.

Until Adrian shifted on his bed and his eyes opened, startling all of them.

"Adrian!" Ada gasped, pulling away from Iressa. She helped him sit up as his eyes flew around the room.

Elize quickly rushed to him a handed him a cup of water, which he downed eagerly.

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