Chapter 44: Desertion

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Rowan ran.

He ran, concentrating only on putting one foot in front of the other and keeping up the speed, because he knew that if he slowed down for even one second, he would turn around and go back to where he had left the Dark Sorceress who had stolen his heart. He forced every thought of broken promises out of his head and sped through the service corridors, nearly tumbling down the steps in his haste to put as much distance as possible between himself and the Dark Sorcerers who were hunting the rebels.

Twenty-three years of not committing to a relationship with a woman, and then he fell in love with an eighteen-year-old Sorceress who took infinite pleasure in getting under his skin. A girl he had been ordered to protect, and to kill if she became unstable. He had done exactly that which the Academy prohibited: to develop romantic feelings for a target. By the Light, he was so stupid.

Floor after floor passed by in a haze. His thoughts returned to the moment when the fire had broken out, leaving the Onyx Tower untouched and spreading across Sapphire Square instead. He had immediately sent Ellie and Larry to fetch the horses from the stables and had run into the smoke himself to evacuate the square. His throat still felt a bit sore from shouting at the panicking masses. Amidst the chaos, his eyes had searched everywhere for a glimpse of Kenna, but she had been nowhere to be found. It was only when Jaeger had landed on his shoulder and handed him a brief note that he had known something had gone terribly, irreversibly wrong.

The Tower's back door banged against the wall when he flung it open, but he blocked out the noise. His ragged breathing filled his ears as he pumped his arms to go even faster, grateful for the endless hours during which his teachers at the Academy had bellowed at him to continue running, even though his legs had been on the verge of giving out from fatigue. Although his lungs burned mercilessly, he welcomed the pain; it kept his mind off the coldness that had sneaked into his heart the moment he had left Kenna alone in that dark, colorless room.

He would never forgive himself for what he had done today, he thought while the smoke-filled streets faded to a blur. With every second he spent away from her, Cain would sink his claws deeper into Kenna's mind. Rowan had witnessed the Darkness inside her taking over first-hand; he had seen it again tonight. Although the words that had left her mouth had been hers, the other part of her, the part he knew nothing about, had been there as well, directly below the surface. The Darkness knew that it was close to victory, that it would be given free rein in the near future.

Rowan cursed the White Sisters, the Academy and, most of all, himself for having driven her to this point.

A voice, disturbingly close-by, screamed his name, and his spear was in his hands in the blink of an eye. He pivoted to confront the cloaked figure sprinting toward him at full speed and raised his weapon to fend off his attacker. However, the face beneath the black hood was a familiar one, and the reassuring look in the man's brown eyes was enough to make Rowan lower the spear again.

"Elijah," Rowan said, his voice reflecting none of the surprise that filled his head with questions.

Panting, Elijah extended an arm and rested his hand on Rowan's shoulder. "You're going to the portal Kenna created for you, right? In the eastern part of town, near the cemetery?"

Rowan stiffened, resisting the urge to brush away Elijah's hand. "Is there anything in this city that you don't know about?" 

Kenna had indeed spent the past few weeks studying portals and teaching herself how to open one. Since they had all assumed that the portal in the Onyx Tower would be destroyed in the attack, and the Maze was off limits without the help of a Dark Sorcerer to get them out, the only way out of Vallinstra was through another portal. A new one. It was extremely difficult to create one, but Kenna had assured Rowan that this portal would stay open long enough for the Dwarfs, his mother and himself to step through. She had made him repeat the activation spell a thousand times, because she wouldn't be there to cast it herself.

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