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Chapter 75: Lines of Division

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Chapter 75: Lines of Division

 

Carina stared at the Earl. Her lungs, which had momentarily stopped working, eased into a shallow breath. Percy stepped further into the room as his gaze scanned the disturbed bed sheets, then shifted over to the still burning chair on its side alongside the Ambassador’s smoldering cloak.

Carina followed his gaze, and with a quick gesture of her hand, smothered the flames with a blast of ice cut off the musky smoke filling the room. She sighed and flinched as the Earl’s glaring eyes returned to her.

‘Obviously, not everything went according to plan. If it had, you wouldn’t be here.’

The tension stretched, and with it, the precious time Carina needed to “clean up” and return to Rose Palace before anyone noticed her absence.

“So—” Carina murmured between breaths, “—how did you know I was here?”

The Earl’s gaze dropped subconsciously towards the diamond necklace Carina wore before his winter grey eyes returned to the dead Ambassador.

“Do you have any idea—what you’ve just done?” he whispered so softly, Carina strained to make out his words.

“The answer to that seems pretty obvious,” Carina replied tensely. “I killed someone. Poisoned him in fact—not that anyone will be able to tell.”

Percy inhaled a deep, strained breath as he moved to stand over Haemish’s corpse. Across the few feet that divided them, Carina could hear his knuckles popping one by one as the Earl’s arms and fists quivered in anger. She looked away, her attention quickly caught by one of the broken hairpins she had left on the bed.

“You didn’t answer my question,” Carina pressed as she moved cautiously around Earl and Haemish towards the bed. She lifted the sheets and picked up the ornament as she scanned the bed and surrounding floor for the second one.

‘Not here. Perhaps the twins took it with them?’

With a sigh, Carina turned around to face the Earl. “How did you know—” She broke off as a line of crimson blood ran down from Percy’s nose and dripped onto his dinner jacket and the carpet below. “Ah—Percy?”

The Earl blinked, sighed, and pulled out a handkerchief to staunch the bleeding. “The necklace,” he explained sharply around the muffling silk cloth. “I enchanted it so I could keep track of where you are when you wear it.”

Carina nodded. ‘That’s not all you enchanted it with, though, is it?’

“A tracking spell? For my protection?”

“Yes,” Percy replied. “I was told you wouldn’t be attending the ball tonight, so when the tracking spell placed you here—”

“And what about the enamor spell?” Carina cut in with a cynically arched brow.

The handkerchief trembled as Percy froze. His winter grey eyes focused on her for another long, awkward moment, their expression unreadable. “That was—Mercy’s idea.”

Carina scoffed at the obvious deflection. “What could Mercy have to gain—”

“It was only an additional measure of insurance—after you removed your ridiculous disguise, I—we were worried that—anyway, it didn’t have time to work—” Percy he looked away, his cheeks flushed with anger and embarrassment.

Carina laughed. “Oh, you’re going to have to do better than that, Earl Hawthrone. You used an enchantment to manipulate me into falling in love with you?”

“It doesn’t work like that—not on ice witches away—your hearts are more impregnable than Anthraticus,” Percy retorted with a hint of annoyance.

‘Excuse me?’ Carina blinked at him as her fingers coiled around the Winter Rose.

“Surely you’ve noticed.” Percy tested the handkerchief against his nose and wiped away the lingering blood. “You never let anyone get close to you, Maura. Aside from Ivy, and now Hana—perhaps even that foreigner you invited into my house—”

“I wonder why,” Carina snapped. “You know what the Turnbells—what my family was like. Even your mother only ever saw me as someone she could groom and use as a tool. But you—” She snorted out a laugh as she turned sharply towards the frozen chair and robe.

“However it may appear to you—” Percy stepped closer, his tone hesitant and doubtful “—but unlike your family and my mother, I actually have your best interest at heart.”

“Oh my!” Carina replied back, eyes wide with exaggerated wonderment. “How lucky for me that I am resistant to your little mind tricks then.”

Percy closed his eyes and grimaced. “How did you even find out—what those enchantments do? Serilda can’t have possibly progressed that far in her training.”

Carina stared at him in disbelief. Percy quickly coughed and cleared his throat.

“Nevermind that now, we have more pressing matters to deal with,” he muttered with a nod towards Haemish corpse. “I don’t suppose you care to share your plan—”

“Lumi!” Carina whispered and smiled as the scriva materialized in the air beside her. The wolf fixed its clear marble eyes on Percy and offered him a low growl.

“Your scriva,” Percy whispered with noted awe. “It’s—incredible.”

Carina scratched the winter wolf’s ear and gave a mental command. Lumi flicked her ears in response as she turned. The elemental’s jaws opened wider than any living creature had the right to move, and Carina watched with relief as the chair and Haemish’s court robes disappeared behind a wall of teeth.

‘Now, what to do about the scorch marks on the carpet.’

Percy cleared his throat and motioned for Carina to stand aside. Lumi pushed her out of the way gently as the pureblood extended his hand towards the damaged carpet and whispered an incantation, “Fustibus saxisque.”

A torrent of air whipped through the room. Moments later, the edge of the carpet that the flames had scorched was cut cleanly away and lifted into the air. Carina watched in fascination as the new edge of the carpet vibrated. The severed threads folded and wove into each other until the fabric had a newly formed trim.

‘Kinda intimidating how good he is with that magic,’ Carina admitted as Percy shifted the floating, damaged section of rug towards Lumi. The scriva flattened its ear but ate the offered piece of evidence obediently.

“If we open the window and flush out the scent,” Percy mused as his hand shifted towards the curtained window he had entered through. He paused as his gaze slid from the window along the wall towards the door. “So you used an enchantment to seal the room—but you’re not an air witch—”

Carina watched the Earl’s winter grey eyes shift over to the dresser and the hidden passage behind it the twins had used to escape.

“Well, no matter,” Percy continued dispassionately. With a snap of the Earl’s fingers, the windows opened. A silent but steady stream of air circled the room, slipping between the sheets and billowing beneath Haemish’s clothes as the scent of smoke quickly dissipated.

Carina flinched as a crow soared into the room to land on Percy’s raised wrist.

“We’ll need to find and dispose of those dancers you hired,” the Earl said impatiently. “If word of your involvement ever reached the Emperor’s ears.”

The crow’s eyes flashed red for a moment before it zipped back out the window.

“No, Percy, wait!” Carina protested quickly. “The twins aren’t a threat to me. They are professionals—and they’ll be gone from the capital before morning. They have no reason to betray me.”

“No reason?” Percy snapped in disbelief. “Maura, you seriously underestimate the repercussions of what you’ve just done. Worse, you hired foreigners to do the job. How can you be absolutely sure that whoever they report to won’t use this information to gain an advantage in another dealing? Assassination, infiltration, and the trade of information revolve around each other. Just because you used some cleverly disguised poison to kill the Ambassador doesn’t mean others won’t suspect foul play. You’re not dealing with mortals, Maura. Witches have their own ways of tracking down spies, traitors, and would-be assassins.”

He waved his hand, and Carina stepped back as his magic hurriedly remade the bed, then ruffled the sheets to make them appear naturally disturbed.

“The minute one of those dancers or their troupe wags their tongues, your death warrant is signed—” Percy sucked in a breath as he turned walked towards her. “Did Haemish mark you anywhere?”

“What?” Carina echoed in confusion.

“A mark, a curse—” Percy grabbed her hand and hastily examined her arms “—something to identify you by if the right spell is used.”

“No, nothing like that—” Carina shook him off. “I think you’re overreacting.”

Percy shook his head as he brushed past her to kneel beside Haemish. “Maura, you have no idea what the Emperor’s Shadow Guards are capable of.”

Carina snorted and crossed her arms. She watched as he wiped away the foam and blood from Haemish’s lips and beard meticulously. “Like the ones who were used to attack Hana?”

“What? No, those were ordinary witch assassins not—” Percy broke off as he turned around to face her. “That’s—why you did this? Because of Hana?” He sagged back onto his heel and laughed incredulously. “Unbelievable.”

Carina scowled and decided her time would be better used searching the room for the mission hairpin.

“This small bump here on his neck,” Percy murmured curiously. “You poisoned him with some sort of needle?”

“No—” Carina replied before catching herself. “Well, close enough. Does it matter?”

“The more I understand how you killed him, the better I can clean up after you, so—Yes,” Percy retorted with a sarcastic smile.

Carina turned towards him with an exasperated sigh. She pulled the broken hairpin from her belt, held it out, and reforged the missing tip with ice as Percy watched. “I used this, but with poison mixed into the ice. The tip was left inside the Ambassador’s bloodstream. When Haemish dissolved it to purify the poison, he melted away any evidence.”

Percy nodded slowly. “Haemish might have purified most of the poison, but I doubt he removed all of it since whatever you used was still able to kill him.” He raised a brow as Carina slid the now complete hairpin into her hair. “I see your magical control is coming along nicely. I suppose I should be glad you didn’t use your scriva to rip him apart. A shredded corpse would be rather difficult to explain, but the scent of witch blood is—harder to remove.”

Carina scoffed. “What about your nose bleed then?”

“Veles breath!” Percy swore and quickly focused on a section of the carpet.

Carina watched with silent unease as a small circle was cut from the fabric by invisible magic and then quickly erased as the threads wove over themselves to conceal imperfection.

“Why—” Percy began abruptly. Carina turned to find his gaze focused on her feet. “—are you barefoot?”

“Well—” Carina hesitated. She had seen enough of Percy’s capabilities for one evening. Somehow the idea of explaining Haemish’s fetish didn’t seem productive to their crime scene clean-up.

‘Great, so how do I explain walking around a dead man’s room barefoot?’

“Maura?” Percy pressed tensely.

“Oh its—nothing really—I—”

A sudden knock cut her off as Carina and Earl turned towards the bedroom door.

“Lord Haemish. Lady Lavinia has returned. She would like to speak with you if you’re still awake.”

Carina’s eyes flew from the door to the still open window the crow had departed through. ‘Damn it the—the enchantment isn’t active.’ Her head snapped back to Percy as he turned calmly towards the door and parted his lips to speak. ‘No!’ Carina lunged towards him with hands raised to cover his mouth.

Percy caught her hand and waist deftly as he called out thunderously in Haemish’s voice, “I said I was not to be disturbed!”

A moment of tense silence followed, then a woman’s voice replied.

“Forgive me, my Lord, I simply wished to inform you that my task was successful,” Lady Lavinia said neutrally. “I apologize if I have disturbed your rest—Good night.”

Percy rolled his eyes and stared down at Carina with a raised brow as if to say, ‘Do you see how much you need my help?’

“You—”

Percy pressed a finger to her mouth, nodded towards the open window, and then scooped the attendant up into his arms. Carina opened her mouth to protest but found her voice mysteriously gone. Percy had already jumped from the window ledge outside by the time she realized he had used magic to silence her.

‘For someone so capable, he’s pretty ignorant when it comes to forging friendships.’

Only her memory of the last time the Earl had taken her flying stopped Carina from screaming uselessly as they plummeted towards the garden. Carina settled for glaring at Percy after he broke their fall, and they hovered just outside the dead Ambassador’s bedroom window. Percy closed the curtains with a fluid motion of his hand, then the windows which he locked internally.

The Earl noticed her glare and, with a faint, apologetic grin, snapped his fingers.

“You—” Carina seethed for a moment as they flew higher still. “Those are some excellent burglar skills, Earl of Hawthorne.”

Percy let out an exasperated sigh as they sailed across the gloomy sky of pregnant storm clouds.

Carina frowned as they shifted directions away from Rose Palace. “Where are you taking me? I need to get back—”

“We need to talk,” Percy cut in with a pointed glare.

‘Oh, now you want to talk?’ Carina smothered a sarcastic laugh and held her tongue until they touched down on the Ministry’s roof. “Alright, I’ll go first. Why cast an enamor spell on me?”

The Earl took in a sharp breath as he rolled his shoulders back uncomfortably. “I admit—it was a stupid idea—” He flinched as Carina laughed. “I wasn’t trying to manipulate you—if I wanted to control you like that, I would have given you the necklace years ago—before you even knew I was a witch.”

“Giving the Winter Rose to a half-blood?” Carina snorted. “I suppose this obsession of yours connected to my witch bloodline? What exactly is it that you want from me?”

“I just want you to be safe—”

“And yet you and your mother were perfectly content to leave me with the Turnbells.”

“Your identity had to be kept a secret.”

“Because I come from the Isbrand bloodline?”

“Yes.”

Carina shook her head. “That still doesn’t explain the love spell.”

“That’s because—my mother was planning to have you engaged to Acheron Hargreve.”

“That is ridiculous. What on earth could Constance possibly—”

“She wanted to keep me away from you,” Percy interrupted and sucked in a sharp breath. “I admit, I lost my head—just for a moment—and agreed to something—incredibly foolish.”

“You wanted me to fall in love with you—to prevent me from falling for Acheron?” Carina repeated skeptically.

“I wanted you to fall in love with me because—I—fell in love with you.”

Carina took a step back as she caught a glimpse of desperation in the Earl’s eyes. ‘Really? You think I’m going to forgive this sort of manipulation just because you claim to be in love with me?’

“I just wanted to keep you—mine,” Percy trailed off with a defeated sigh.

“Yours?” Carina echoed in disbelief. ‘Do you even realize how creepy that sounds?’

Percy pressed his lips together as a conflicted expression filled his face. “Perhaps it’s time I let you in—on how your father’s bloodline intertwines with the three covens.”

Not at all sure what to say to that and still reeling from the disturbing confession she’d just received, Carina crossed her arms, shrugged, and waited for his explanation.

“It has been the goal of many of Hawthorne’s Earls to unify the Covens under one Witch King,” Percy explained. The Earl clasped his hands together behind his back as he turned and stared out across the darkening horizon. “A difficult dream to accomplish given the diversity of practice, politics, and leadership among the other coven leaders.”

“You said before—that there were three Covens,” Carina interjected uncertainly.

“Yes,” Percy nodded. “The Coven of Crows, led by their mistress, Lady Mercy. They are—somewhat notorious for being—cannibal witches.”

“Can-nibals?” Carina felt sick at the memory of Serilda explaining why an ice witch’s heart was considered invaluable.

“They mostly consist of weaker, common-born coven witches. Wild, chaotic, unruly by nature, and very prone to testing the tolerance and peace of the other covens. They almost destroyed themselves centuries ago, but then Mercy found them and remade them into her Coven of Crows.”

“Wait—” Carina interrupted. “Centuries ago?”

“One of Mercy’s particular talents is—an alternative form of longevity—using the blood and organs of her—”

Carina held up her hand. “I get it—cannibals. Please—spare me the details.” She pressed a hand against her stomach as the disturbing memory of Mercy conducting her virtue examination during the selection formed a blurry image in the back of her mind.

‘Yup—I’m going to have nightmares about that.’

“The second coven, the Twilight Coven, is currently ruled by my mother, Countess Constance, but it rightfully belongs to the Marchioness of Berxley.”

“Lady Serilda?” Carina confirmed unnecessarily, still hung up on the topic of cannibals.

“Yes.” Percy blinked as he studied her face worriedly for a moment but then continued. “Nocturnem is the third coven which has always been led by the Earl of Hawthorne. And so, as of this year, I was instated as their leader.”

“Okay,” Carina took in a few more steadying breaths. “If the Coven of Crows are cannibals—what about the other covens?”

“You’re aware of the Royal and Noble factions?”

Carina nodded. That had been part of her early education under the Countess. “You lead the Noble Party.”

“Because Nocturnem has always sided with the noble witch families of Lafeara.”

Carina raised a brow. “Then—Serilda’s coven?”

“The reason the Twilight Coven welcomed my mother as their leader wasn’t just because she was a Kensington. She also shared their beliefs that witches should live quietly within the shadows of mortals,” Percy explained bitterly.

“And the Hawthornes and Kensingtons have always held a seat in the House of Lords,” Carina mused aloud, then refocused her attention on Percy. “And a male heir of either family has always been Prime Minister.”

“Yes. Though when Serilda’s father rose to Marquess, that role fell to my father,” Percy acknowledged. “A Marquess or Duke would have too much power and influence to be a neutral leader of both parties.”

“But Viscount Attwood took that role after—”

“My father was murdered,” Percy finished quietly. “Serilda’s father pushed for an investigation. He knew from the very beginning that my father’s death was tied to politics—but Marquess died before the court approved his appeal. Shortly after his death, all records of his request and investigation disappeared.”

Percy paused for a moment to stare down at his signet ring. “Eleanora’s father, Alastair Kensignton, had already taken a foreign bride and moved to Ventrayna with his wife and child to be Lafeara’s Ambassador. Instead of calling him back, King Henri and the Dowager chose someone they could control to fill the Prime Minister’s seat.”

Carina silently digested these clarifyingly dangerous pieces of information. They aligned only too well with the sad tale Serilda had shared in their last conversation.

‘Serilda’s exile and the Earl’s death created a power vacuum between two witch covens that Constance took advantage of.’ Carina cringed and rubbed her elbow ruefully. ‘It wouldn’t be too far a conclusion to suspect Constance might have had something to do with the death of the Marquess—which makes Serilda’s outrage, that I was the one who thwarted her attempt to assassinate the Countess, all the more understandable.’

“So Viscount Hargreve, the younger brother of Duke Stryker Hargreve, Lord Commanding General of Lafeara’s armies—became the Prime Minister,” Carina voiced aloud. “And Constance, who was a Kensignton before her marriage, took over both covens in place of her deceased husband and older brother.”

“Yes. I was too young to inherit the Nocturnem Coven after my father died—so Mother took over as a regent of sorts,” Percy confirmed. “And almost destroyed it.”

Lightning rippled across the distant horizon. The electrifying illumination cast ominous shadows over Percy’s face, and Carina shivered as her bare toes squirmed against the curved brick roofing.

“Two years ago, when the First Prince perished in the mountains, the names of many of Nocturnem’s Coven members were suddenly publicized as traitors. They were framed for Tristan’s death. When their families refused to give up their power and estates, the Pope sent in his witch hunters. Within a fortnight, the families of Grimaldi, Shultz, Reyes, and Astor were all burned at the stake before this fortress’s very walls.” Percy’s gaze turned south and glimmered with a flash of red. “They were all proud, long-standing noble witch families. None of them, not even the children, were spared. All to satisfy one woman’s greed for power.”

Carina felt her chest grow cold even as a faint sprinkle of rain began to fall around them. “Why didn’t the coven’s protect them? Why don’t the witches fight back—even now, why does no one try to stop these inquisitions?”

“For the survival of the Coven, sacrifice is necessary,” Percy intoned dispassionately. “In truth, my mother crippled the hierarchy of both covens over the years. Only after the inquisition did they realize the Countess’s agenda—and acknowledge the damage she had done. That’s why Nocturnem welcomed me back so readily once I came of age. Even the elders of the Twilight Coven kissed Serilda’s feet and begged her forgiveness when she returned.”

‘To think—those family might have been spared—if I hadn’t saved Constance in order to save myself.’ Carina’s stomach clenched miserably as the clatter of rain upon the rooftops grew louder. ‘I should have realized. Maura’s childhood memories were always the hardest ones to decipher. She was still so young, troubled, constantly ill, cut off, and ignorant of the world. Even if there was no way I could have known—only a fool would recklessly change the past and expect there to be no consequences.’

“The Coven’s have agreed to unify and make me their King—but their submission comes with one significant stipulation,” Percy continued calmly as he held out his hand and stepped towards her. “Lafeara’s next Witch King must marry the last Isbrand Queen.”

“What?”

“Maura,” Percy stepped closer and took her hand. “I can make you Countess of Hawthorne—and soon enough, Queen of Lafeara. The Covens and I believe it is your destiny. You are the last living Isbrand heir, and I am the strongest pure-blood air witch the Coven’s have seen in centuries. I have Veles blessing, and with it—I can oppose even the Emperor if he chooses to stand against us.”

Carina gawked at him, burdened by the necessity to choose between breathing, screaming, and forming a retort as she took another step back. Thunder boomed in the distance as yet another flash of lightning streaked across the sky.

“There are other ice witches in hiding in Lafeara and Strugna. You could restore Viktor’s Coven if you made Lafeara a protected haven for them to return. My covens would gladly protect you and any ice witch who acknowledges our reign. Some air witches might even join your coven in the hopes of strengthening their own bloodline,” Percy continued with growing confidence. “Together, we could reclaim the fallen glory of your ancestor’s legacy and bar the church from ever entering our lands.”

“What about Nicholas?” Carina blurted out. “And Eleanora—your cousin! What happens to them?”

Percy laughed scornfully as he dropped his hand then ran it through his hair, dampened by the steady drizzle which formed small streams between the curved roofing.

“Can you honestly look at them, Maura, and tell me they would ever make a good husband and wife, let alone King and Queen?” The Earl sighed in frustration as his gaze ran down Carina’s damp hair, over her bodice and dress, and down to her bare feet. He removed his jacket and wrapped it around her shoulders. “Even if they might someday learn to rule together—what sort of kingdom would they build? Would it protect the covens or continue to sacrifice our kind whenever they need to appease the fearful mortals and their Pope?”

Percy turned a dark gaze towards Peony Palace. “Nicholas couldn’t even turn the witch hunters away this time without pressure from the Emperor. The same Emperor with plans to one day swallow Lafeara into his expanding witch nation. A nation where mortals are treated worse than dogs and cruelly slaughtered for entertainment.”

His winter grey eyes returned to Carina with a sobering look. “You already know what happened to Hana. That could easily be Ivy, Jade, or anyone who isn’t born with witch blood. If the Emperor turns his blade towards us while Nicholas is King—Even if the Covens can push him back, it won’t be without a heavy cost. And then what? We would be exposed, our advantage gone while Nicholas is free to bring in more witch hunters to ensure his reign.”

Beneath the Earl’s jacket, Carina felt her chest tighten as her trembling hands clenched into fists.

“We can make a better future, Maura.” Percy smiled genuinely as he took her shoulders. “You are the monarch this kingdom needs—someone who cares for mortals and witches alike. You could bring about a thousand years of peace and stability. Who knows, we might even become allies with Ventrayna long enough to see that demonic Pope and his witch-hunters eradicated for good!”

He paused and waited for a response but, not getting one, sighed and brushed away the damp hair which clung to Carina’s cheek. “I had hoped to use Haemish to broach an alliance with the Emperor and Empress—but I suppose I’ll have to make do with Lady Lavinia now.”

“You still haven’t answered my question,” Carina cut in through clenched teeth. “What happens to Nicholas and Eleanora?”

Percy’s grip on her shoulders tightened just for a moment as he held her gaze. “Make no mistake, Maura. No coup can succeed without violence and bloodshed. The plans for Nicholas and Eleanora’s deposition are already in place. For a peaceful transition of power, their deaths will be avoided if possible. But if Nicholas—if any of them resist—we will do with them what the Havardur family and the Second Saint did to the last Isbrand King. Exterminate them from this world and the pages of history.”

Carina stared into Percy’s eyes, now a disturbing burning red, as dread filled her stomach. Finally unlocking her clenched jaw, she drew in a shaking breath. “I refuse.”

Percy’s eyes narrowed at first in confusion, but annoyance quickly followed. “Why?”

“I refuse to take part in any form of genocide!”

“Really?” Percy tilted his head with a hint of sarcasm. “You have no problem assassinating a high-ranking dignitary mid peaceful negotiations—a man whose death will not go unnoticed here or in Ventrayna. Maura!” The Earl leaned in closer, and Carina felt his angry breath hit her face as he continued. “You may have just pushed Lafeara into a war it is not yet ready to fight!”

The truth of his words punctured her resolve. The guilt Carina carried ever since hearing Serilda’s story twisted deeper.

‘Is this what Viktor meant when he said the only way for me to survive was to become Queen?’

“How many Lafearians will die because of the decision you made tonight to get revenge for one Ventrayian slave?” Percy challenged angrily. “How many mortals and witches will be slaughtered because of your actions? How many orphans—”

“That bastard deserved to die,” Carina cut in coldly. “And I will do everything within my power to ensure this doesn’t lead us to war.”

“Oh, you will do everything within your power?” Percy laughed and stepped back. “What power, Maura? Last I checked, you were only a Baroness!”

Carina’s aching jaw finally relaxed as she offered him a slow smile. ‘You underestimate me—as usual.’

“You have a plan, huh?” Percy murmured as he eyed her suspiciously. “Then please—share it.”

“No,” Carina snapped back as she removed his jacket and flung it into his chest. “I don’t need your help, and I want no part of your rebellion.”

“Maura!”

She spun away from the Earl and marched towards the end of the roof.

“You’re in over your head! Maura!”

“Lumi,” Carina commanded angrily as Percy’s fingers brushed against her shoulder. With a crack, the scriva appeared, pinning Percy down against the roof with a threatening snap of its teeth. “Leave him.”

Percy remained on his back. His expression pale and grim while his eyes resumed their normal gray color as they shifted from the scriva’s fangs back to Maura.

“You want me to trust you?” Carina yanked the Winter Rose from her neck and held it over the rain pipe. “After this?” She dropped the diamond and listened with satisfaction as the necklace clattered along the roof, settling for only a moment before a stream of rain washed it towards the drain. “I don’t think so.”

“Maura—”

“You should get some rest, Earl of Hawthorne. Your nose is still bleeding,” Carina retorted coldly as she slid a leg over Lumi’s lowered back and mounted her elemental spirit. A moment later, they merged into the dark rainfall, barely more than a glimmering outline beneath the rain that fell upon their translucent surface.

“Wait!” Percy called out futilely as Carina and her wolf vanished. A shift in weight sent the Winter Rose clattering down the drainpipe, where it plummeted into the sewage drain below. A soft creak snapped the pipe back into place once more as Percy sat up, alone on the Ministry roof beneath the turbulent, rumbling storm.

 

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