Chapter 43: The Final Straw

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The sun had turned into a blood red ball of fire by the time it sank below the horizon. The countless stars that took its place in the sky shone less brightly than usual, as though they too mourned the lives that had been spilled tonight. While I stared outside the window, my whole body shuddered despite the warmth coming from the fireplace. The rhythmic tapping of my foot on the floor was the only sound in the room, apart from the continuous thumping of my heart in my ears. The screaming voices drifting up the walls of the Tower had quieted down about half an hour ago, leaving a much more frightening silence in their wake.

My magic, finally released from Cain's invisible chains, sensed the visitor's proximity before their approaching footsteps echoed through the hallway. They paused in front of my door, hesitating only for a moment before their knuckles knocked on the thick wood. I took a deep breath and pushed myself up from the armchair I was sitting in, my weakened arms shaking with the effort. Every step seemed to cover a mile in distance while I walked to the door, as if time had slowed down to prolong my suffering.

Rowan's face was pale underneath the thin layer of ashes that covered it and a deep frown disfigured his forehead. His dark eyes were haunted, restless, but a spark of relief flickered in them as he let them roam over my body, checking for wounds. "What happened?" he whispered, his voice hoarse and imbued with emotion.

The lump in my throat blocked my airway, so I could only swallow and take a step backward to let him enter. His brow furrowed even more, but he kept his lips pressed together until I had closed the door. Before I had the chance to walk back to the fireplace and create a bit more space between us, he grabbed my wrist and gave a slight tug, forcing me to look at him.

"Kenna, what happened out there?" he asked again, more urgently this time. His gaze was too intense, yet I refused to avert mine. I had to see the reaction on his face, to confirm that all of this was real and it hadn't just been a bad dream ...

Using the tip of my tongue to wet my dry lips, I stared back at him and pronounced every word carefully, so that there would be no miscommunication. "You were sent to kill me."

The shocked gasp that erupted from his throat was all the confirmation I needed. His grip on my arm loosened and he backed away from me, his eyes wide with horror and pain. "Kenna ..."

"It's all in here," I said, striding to the armchair beside the fire, where I had put down Head Sister Ursula's letter. "They finally decided to tell me the truth."

Upon noticing the Monastery's broken seal on the back of the envelope, Rowan held out his hand in a silent question. I handed him the letter, watching as he skimmed over the contents. His handsome face turned even paler with every second that passed.

At last, he lowered the thin sheet of parchment and his gaze glided back to me, defeated. "It's true. All of it. I'm surprised they told you."

"They were obliged to by their vow of honesty." The Darkness which had taken a hold of my heart grew deeper and deeper, digging a hole in my chest that could not be filled, not even with the regret and despair on Rowan's face. A shaky sigh rolled over my lips and I clasped my hands together to keep them from trembling. "So, all this time, you've lied to my face about why you're really accompanying me." He opened his mouth to say something, but I held up a hand to stop him. "You know, I was suspicious of your motives at first. Those first few weeks, I was genuinely convinced that you would take me out if I stepped out of the line. But as we grew closer, became friends ..." My voice broke at the last word. "I started to trust you. I forgot about your initial remoteness from me, to the point where I ..." I shook my head, pushing back the tears that flooded my eyes.

He took a step forward, but he didn't attempt to touch me. I didn't know if I could have borne the physical contact. "Kenna, I ..." He raked his fingers through his hair, like he always did when he didn't know what to do with himself. "You can still trust me. I'm not going to hurt you." My expression must have reflected my doubt, because he winced and pain flashed across his face. "I swear."

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