Chapter 90 {Part One}: Marked for Death


The muffled sound of Eleanora sobbing filtered through the door between the secret lovers as Lady Isabella led the crown princess away from Hana’s room. Carina stared at the oaken door and sighed. It seemed odd that her plan to remove Hana from the palace had been accelerated by Eleanora’s own hand.

‘No, there’s something else going on here. Hana’s behavior—this feeling of déjà vu—’

Carina’s thoughts scattered as Maura appeared through the bedroom door to glare at her reproachfully. The Baroness realized she was still hugging Hana quite tightly and relaxed her arms as she pulled away.

“Hana,” Carina said hesitantly as the attendant held onto her stubbornly. “Hana, they have gone—can we—talk for a moment?”

Hana’s fingers slowly relaxed their grip, and she nodded as she pulled her head away from Carina’s neck. “Of course, there is so much I want to ask—” She hesitated as she took in the Baroness’s uncomfortable expression. “You—have you remembered—anything?” Hana whispered tentatively.

‘Remembered any of what?’ Carina glanced from Hana to the ghost as Maura glided forward to wrap her arms around Hana’s neck. “I’m not—sure—what should I be remembering?”

Hana’s hopeful expression faded, and she crossed her arms with a shiver as Maura kissed her cheek. “Perhaps I am the first to remember this time—” Hana murmured as she moved past Carina to sit on the bed. “What—did you want to talk about?”

“You—called me Kirsi,” Carina began as she turned to face the bed. “Why?”

Fatigue washed over Hana’s face as her head dropped towards her chest with a disappointed sigh.

‘You called me that name in a dream where you died too—what does it mean?’

“It’s a name I once knew you by—in another life,” Hana said hesitantly as she straightened and brushed the loose locks of her hair behind an ear.

“Another—life?” Carina echoed and furrowed her brows in confusion. ‘She can’t be talking about Maura. I have no memory of Maura having another name, and I went by Carina in my last life.’

Carina shook her head and stepped closer. “I think—you have me confused with someone else?”

“No,” Hana replied with immediate confidence that surprised Carina, though the attendant’s face quickly crumpled with visible distress. “No, that can’t be right—at least—it feels like you are Kirsi.” Hana grimaced as she pressed a hand to her head. “If only this damn headache would let me think clearly.”

“Hey, easy!” Carina said quickly as she moved to sit beside Hana on the bed. “There’s no rush. You remember me from another life. I also—remember you from another life as well.”

Hana’s face brightened instantly.

“Only, I wasn’t Kirsi in that life,” Carina explained slowly. Hana’s delight crumpled as she leaned against her hands and knees dejectedly. Carina placed a hand on the attendant’s shoulder awkwardly, then reached down to take Hana’s hand as she tried to make sense of it all.

‘Is it possible that Hana is another transmigrator? Like Jade and myself?’

“I have these—dreams,” Hana mumbled, still staring at her lap. “Sometimes they match this life, and I see myself here in Lafeara, alone and—” Her turquoise-blue eyes clenched with pain as she drew in a sharp breath. “Other times, I remain trapped in Ventryna until Kirsi comes and finds me. She takes me across the sea. I remember the castle we lived in. Walls covered in seashells that glimmered like pearls. Kirsi is standing beside me, holding my hand—just like you are now. You look different, but you feel like the same person.”

“Feel the same—how?”

Hana shook her head but raised her head as she tried to answer, “Kirsi told me that she had lived before as many different people and experienced many different lives, but Kirsi always knew who she was.”

‘Many different lives?’ Carina shivered as she recalled the strange dream in Anthraticus. ‘Was that what that demonic woman meant about me having many different names?’

“Who was I—I mean Kirsi—in these other lives?”

“In the one where I met Kirsi, she was the royal consort of the King of Strugna, a famous dancer that the Emperor’s pirates kidnapped at sea.”

‘A dancer?’ Carina looked away and laughed. ‘That would explain why I’m so fond of dancing, I guess—if—’ She shook her head and pulled away from Hana’s grasp as she stood. ‘But why don’t I remember any of this? And why does Hana remember this Kirsi but not Maura.’

Carina turned around to find the attendant studying her with an expression of sadness and longing. “Do you—remember another life when—I am not Maura,” Carina sighed and pinched her brows as she struggled to form the words. “I mean do you remember Maura—from another life—when she is not me?”

Hana blinked and looked momentarily confused before she shrugged. “I remember a life where I died here in Lafeara. There was a servant—a cleaning maid with your name, but she—” Hana frowned, and the ghost around her neck seemed to pull back with a cautious expression. “She—did something—something that hurt—” A sharp cry of pain hissed through Hana’s clenched teeth as she bowed towards the floor.

Carina caught her shoulders and held her upright. “It’s alright, just breathe.” The Baroness pressed her right hand gently against Hana’s forehead and channeled a light mist of ice against the hunched girl’s warm skin.

Hana’s left hand pulled away from her skull as she reached out to grasp Carina’s arm and whispered painfully, “Don’t leave me behind this time. We have to stay together—you promised.”

“I’m not leaving you behind,” Carina replied automatically. She watched as Maura circled around them. The ghost’s expression seemed annoyed though still concerned.

Hana nodded and pulled against Carina’s arm as she straightened. “We can’t stay here,” her turquoise eyes were brimming with fear as they pulled Carina’s gaze, “—it ends badly if we stay.”

‘Yes, if the future continued to follow Maura’s past life—I can certainly agree with you.’

“Fortunately, I have a plan in place,” Carina replied reassuringly as she pressed her other cooled hand against the back of Hana’s neck. “A way out for both of us.”


The Baroness smiled ruefully. “My plan will need a few more days—though I should know if it will work on not before the night is over. Now, let’s get you under the covers. You need to rest. I’ll bring up some citrus and herbal tea to help with the headache.”

Hana shook her head, bewildered, but followed Carina’s instructions obediently. “Eleanora won’t let me leave easily,” she whispered as Carina tucked the blankets around her shoulders. “I wish I had remembered sooner—then I might have spared her feelings.”

“Don’t feel guilty,” Carina replied firmly. “You don’t belong to her, and she—” The Baroness pressed her lips together but held back her criticisms about the crown princess. “As long as you agree to it, Hana, I can get you out of the palace. Away from Eleanora and her family.”

“Yes,” Hana nodded eagerly. “As long as you promise that we will stay together.”

‘Not exactly what I had in mind originally, but—’ Carina smoothed back the stray flyaways that clung to Hana’s forehead, ‘It’s not as if I haven’t grown fond of you.’

“Alright, I’ll see what I can do.”

“It will have to be soon,” Hana pressed worriedly. “Once Eleanora becomes queen—”

‘It will be harder for you to leave the palace service without her permission.’ Carina nodded and pressed a thumb to the furrow between Hana’s brows.

“I said I had a plan,” Carina admonished gently. “We’ll both be out of the palace before Holy Saint’s Day.” She moved to step away, but Hana caught her wrist and clung to it tightly.

“Stay with me—” the older girl whispered anxiously, “—until I fall asleep?”

‘Who am I to you exactly?’ Carina wondered even as she reached out to move the chair beside the bed closer. “Alright, shall I read to you?”

“If you like,” Hana said with a shy smile. “Or you could—sing me a lullaby.”

‘A lullaby?’ Carina blinked as she studied the girl’s reddening cheeks. ‘Is she—blushing?’


In the end, Carina settled for reading a book left on the bedside table. Hana fell asleep but tossed about uneasily as Carina watched her and contemplated her next move.

After Hana fell asleep, Maura had drifted away to wherever she lurked inside the palace. The very thought of leaving the room presented its own hurdles, considering how angry and distraught Eleanora had been.

A knock at the door snapped Carina’s gaze away from the bedroom window, where the sun had resigned its reign to the yawning moon and stars.

“Lady Maura?” Mrs. Poppy whispered anxiously from the other side of the barrier. “Captain Beaumont is waiting for you downstairs. He said he was instructed to escort you to the royal library?”

“I’ll be out in a moment,” Carina replied in a raised whisper as she checked Hana’s sleeping face worriedly.

The Baroness opened the door cautiously to find only the housekeeper waiting outside.

“Is Lady Hana alright?” Poppy asked with a worried glance past Carina as she turned to shut the door.

“She’s asleep, but she will need food and drink brought up when she wakes,” Carina replied as she stepped further away from the door. “Do you know what happened to the knights who were supposed to be on duty to guard her?”

“The knights? Oh, the ones sent over by his Majesty. Eleanora dismissed them a while ago since Hana is awake,” Poppy replied with an uncertain shrug.

‘I suppose that makes sense since we know Haemish was the one who sent the assassins, but it doesn’t explain why they weren’t here when Hana woke up.’ Carina sighed and moved across the hall to enter her bedroom and fetch a cloak. She locked the door firmly and turned to find Poppy still waiting. “Please keep an eye on Hana for me and give her some potage or light porridge to eat once she wakes up again.”

“Yes, yes,” Poppy replied with an impatient wave of her hand. “I’ll inform her Highness that Hana is sleeping once more. One of the maids can watch over her while you’re gone until she wakes up.”

‘That will have to do for now.’ Carina nodded her gratitude to the housekeeper and quickly headed down the stairs.

Captain Beaumont waited below as promised, though he looked more than a little haggard himself as he turned to greet the Baroness with a bow. “Lady Maura.”

“I am ready. We should leave quickly,” Carina urged as she motioned towards the door. “It would be best if I returned before curfew.”

“Curfew does not apply to guests summoned by his Majesty,” Beaumont replied calmly as he followed her through the door into the outside cool evening air. “You seem—uneasy, Lady Maura. Are you worried about your meeting with the crown prince?”

Carina paused only for a moment, which gave the knight captain time to catch up to her. Still, she noted an odd stiffness to his gait and the strange way his right arm remained tucked against his side. “Perhaps a little—are you unwell, Captain?”

“I am doing better than I deserve,” Beaumont replied with a wry smile. “Nothing to cause concern, Lady Maura.”

Carina glanced from his arm to Beaumont’s violet eyes, then nodded and followed him to the waiting open gate. The familiar speckled gelding pricked up his ears and snorted softly in greeting as one of the gate guards handed the horse’s reins to the knight captain. Beaumont accepted the reins with his left hand, and Carina frowned as he led the horse towards her.

‘I’m fairly certain he was right-handed. What happened to his arm?’

“You can ride him if you like,” Beaumont offered with an attempt at a smile. “His name is Titan.”

Carina glanced from the towering warhorse to the giant of a man that was equal to its height and smothered a laugh. “I’m fine with walking,” she replied as she reached up to pet the gelding’s soft nose. The gesture was rewarded with a loud snort from Titan directed into Carina’s face.

“Titan, don’t be rude,” Beaumont reproached gently as he rubbed the stallion’s neck. “He’s just cranky because he needs a good run.”

“So he’s venting his anger on me?” Carina scoffed, then narrowed her eyes as the torches posted on the gate posts flickered against the beads of sweat that lined Beaumont’s hairline and collar.

‘Is he—’ Carina stepped forward and raised a hand to Beaumont’s cheek. She flinched at the heat that radiated from his skin like a burning fire. ‘He’s sweating from a fever! He shouldn’t be standing at all!’

Beaumont glanced down at her worriedly, then offered a tight smile. “It’s nothing serious,” he said as he pulled Titan down the street in the direction they needed to take to reach Peony Palace.

“I don’t believe that’s true,” Carina retorted angrily as she followed. “Beaumont, you have a fever. You should see a physician and—what’s wrong with your right arm?”

“A physician would only panic—they can’t help with this sort of thing,” Beaumont answered wearily as Titan’s loud footsteps filled the quiet palace street.

“What sort of thing?” Carina snapped back then stopped abruptly. “You—are you talking—about the Death Mark?” Her words ended with a whisper as the knight captain stopped and turned to face her. “But how—” Carina groaned as she pressed her hand to her face, recalling the evening she had shared a meal with the captain and her oddly behaving ankle had recovered after Beaumont returned her shoe. “How did you take it from me?”

“I’m pretty gifted with enchants,” Beaumont replied with a casual shrug. “Anyway, I have a few days still before it activates.”

“Gifted?” Carina’s eyes narrowed. “Are you a half-witch or something?”

Beaumont’s violet eyes flickered towards her and away. “No.”

“Then you’re a witch! Or can mortals or regular people use enchants?”

The knight captain sighed. “What I am is complicated—” his violet eyes wandered over Carina’s face as if searching for something. “I’m not sure you’re ready to hear about all that yet.”

“All what?”

Beaumont shook his head and turned around to continue on to their destination. “I’ll tell you when you’re ready.”

“And what do I have to do to be ready?” Carina demanded as she stormed after him.

“It’s not a matter of what, but who—” Beaumont glanced up towards the stars and fell silent for a while as Titan’s hooves echoed on the cobblestone beside them. “Anyway, I promised I wouldn’t lie to you—so please be patient.”

‘When did you promise something like that?’ Carina shook her head as her gaze drifted to the knight’s stiff arm. Once again, she reached out instinctively to touch him. Beneath the coarse wool fabric of Beaumont’s uniform, his arm felt hot and brittle to the touch as if Carina had grabbed a log of burning coal. Beaumont hissed and stumbled as he pulled his arm away.

‘Nothing serious?!’ Carina stared down at her hand, the heat of his arm still burning against her fingertips. “What will you do—when it activates?” she whispered tightly.

Beaumont took in a deep breath as he leaned against Titan, then straightened. “Survive,” he replied with a grim but somehow cocky smile. “Somehow.”

‘Is he a fucking idiot?’ Carina sucked in an angry breath but remained silent as they continued their walk past the Palace gardens, past a trio of knights who saluted Captain Beaumont, who offered a stiff nod in return. The stars were brighter by the time the walls of Peony Palace finally appeared before them.

“Do you have a plan?” Carina demanded softly as the gate drew closer.

“Did you have a plan when you decided to kill the Ambassador?” Beaumont retorted without looking in her direction. The accusation in his words made Carina stumble as her hands locked into fists.

“Yes, I do—I did. Okay, so I didn’t know about the Death Mark,” she admitted reluctantly.

Beaumont snorted softly and offered her what might have been a sympathetic look. “As much as you think you know, Lady Maura, there’s a lot you still need to learn.”

“This is coming from the man who withholds information because he deems me ‘not ready,’” Carina muttered sourly.

Beneath his glistening furrowed brows, Beaumont’s lips twitched with a smile. Then he stopped and turned directly towards her. “You’re not an assassin, Lady Maura. You’re a witch,” he whispered tensely while observing the empty street around them. “Haemish was also a witch, but instead of magic, you use poison to kill him—”

“How did you—”

Beaumont held up a hand and sighed as he tapped his nose. “Consider it a curse, but there’s not much that escapes my sense of smell.”

Carina crossed her arms and snorted. “Are you sure you’re not a half-witch?”


Carina arched a brow, somewhat impressed by his keen sense of smell. ‘Why can’t I smell anything different between witches and regular people anyway? It seems like that would be a rather handy skill to have in this world!’

“My point is that if you’re going to get your hands bloody, then don’t think with these—” he held up her hand for a moment “but with this,” Beaumont pressed her hand against Carina’s chest, then quickly stepped away as he headed towards the gate, leaving Carina to catch up and ponder his advice.

‘Is he telling me I should use magic to kill a witch? But wouldn’t a witch expect that?’

“His Majesty is expecting us,” Beaumont called to the two guards on duty at the gate. Both knights saluted him respectfully and then promptly opened the gates.

Carina quietly shook her head and followed Beaumont with a sigh. ‘I never thought the day would come when I would be worried about the wellbeing of Maura’s executioner.’ The Baroness squared her shoulders back and raised her chin as she faced the palace of Lafeara’s monarchs and focused on the plan that would win Hana and herself their freedom.


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