Chapter 27: An Eye for an Eye

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A few minutes before noon, the Dwarfs and I sat together with Rowan in his room. I had just told my friends about Cain and his turbulent past, although I had left out his sinister warning and the disturbing impact his words had had on me; the connection that I had felt between us, even though a part of me still lived in denial. How could I explain all of that to them, now that my every move had the power to determine their fate for good or ill?

"You should be careful around him, Kenna," Rowan said, concern carving deep lines in his forehead. "He's trying to manipulate you so that you surrender to the Darkness."

Like I didn't know that already. "Right now, his motives are the last thing on my mind," I replied, taking his hand in mine.

"I'll be fine." He pressed a kiss on my knuckles. "I've been through worse."

I snorted. "Really?"

"Yeah. I don't think I've told you this before, but when I was fourteen, a fire broke out at the Academy." His mouth crimped upward into a wry smile. "Nobody knew how it had happened, but my guess is that a few initiates had been screwing around a bit too much. Anyway, the entire castle was evacuated. However, as soon as we set a foot outside, Rissy started panicking because her cat, Ringer, was still inside."

He pinched his nose. "That cat was a foul creature with awfully sharp claws she had found scavenging food in Brunwill. Gale and I hated that monster, but Rissy was completely freaking out, so the three of us ran back inside to search for him. To make a long story short: the cat had hidden himself in Rissy's dorm and when we were on the way back out, part of the ceiling caved in. I got trapped under a burning beam and by the time Rissy and Gale had freed me, my legs were both broken and fried. We nearly suffocated in there. On top of that, General Waters gave all of us ten hours of extra patrol duty for disobeying his orders and risking our lives for naught."

"That's some story, lad," Larry commented, impressed. "You must have been in terrible pain."

Rowan nodded. "It hurt like hell, but fortunately, the Academy possesses a large collection of medicinal potions and employs some very skilled Sorcerers. After a week, my legs looked as if nothing had happened at all."

"Who are Rissy and Gale?" I had noticed that his eyes softened every time he mentioned their names.

"They're my best friends." He smiled. "Rissy—or Clarissa, which is her full name—is one of the Academy's best archers, but she's very protective and if she doesn't like you, she can be a real pain in the ass. I'm glad to be on her good side," he laughed. "And Gale ... We've been friends since the day I first arrived at the Academy. He's a fierce warrior, especially in man-to-man combat."

"You've never told me about them before," I said. Embarrassed by my accusing tone, I felt the sharp teeth of jealousy sinking into my heart. The way he talked about his friends ... I had never known friendship like that before I had met him and the Dwarfs.

He flashed a twisted grin at me, his finger tracing the line of my jaw. "You never asked."

Two loud knocks on the door interrupted our conversation. Sudden fear squeezed my throat shut. Ellie's face was grim and Larry turned slightly pale, but Rowan looked calm as he stood up to open the door. He spoke a few soft words with the servant on the other side, then motioned us to follow. My legs seemed twice as heavy as usual while I dragged myself forward.

Four Dark Sorcerers in black capes waited for us outside and closed us in as we descended the endless stairs, two walking up front and the other two closing the line. None of them said a single word. Rowan's fingers wrapped around mine, comforting me rather than seeking consolation himself.

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