“Really?” whispered Tawny, still holding the decanter as she came forward. “I would’ve never noticed that.”
Vikter’s gaze shifted back to me, and even though his cheeks were more red than golden, he smiled. “You make me proud.”
I’d wanted to throw something at him while we’d been in the garden, but now I wanted to hug him. I stepped toward him just as Tawny shouted.
Time slowed to a crawl, and yet there wasn’t enough time to stop any of what was happening.
Vikter twisted at the waist, facing the door, looking to where a wounded Descenter had risen to his feet, his sword lifted. It hummed through the air, the blade shiny with blood.
“No!” I shouted, but it was too late.
The sword found its target.
Vikter’s body jerked, his back bowing as the sword punched through his chest, just above his heart. Shock crawled across his face as he looked down. I stared too, unable to process what I was seeing.
The Descenter tore the sword free, and my own weapon slipped from my hand as I tried to catch Vikter. He couldn’t fall. He couldn’t go down. He staggered as I wrapped my arms around him, his mouth opening and then closing.
His legs went out from under him, and he toppled. He fell. I didn’t remember joining him as I pressed both hands against the wound. I looked up, tried to call for help.
Without warning, the Descenter’s head flew in the opposite direction of his body, and I saw Hawke standing there, his eyes a fiery amber, his cheeks speckled with blood and…and soot. Behind him were more guards. As Hawke’s gaze swept the room, it landed on us and then stopped. I saw the look on his face, in his golden eyes as he lowered his bloodied sword.
“No,” I told him.
Hawke’s eyes closed.
“No. No. No.” My throat hurt as I pressed my hand to Vikter’s wound, and blood gushed against my palm, streaming down my arm. “No. Gods, no. Please. You’re okay. Please—”
“I’m sorry,” Vikter rasped out, placing his hand over mine.
“What?” I gasped. “You can’t be sorry. You’re going to be okay. Hawke.” I snapped my head up. “You have to help him.”
Hawke knelt at Vikter’s side, placing a hand on Vikter’s shoulder. “Poppy,” he said quietly.
“Help him,” I demanded. Hawke said nothing, did nothing. “Please! Go get someone. Do something!”
Vikter’s grip tightened on my hand, and when I looked down, I saw the pain settling into his features. I felt his pain through the gift. I was so shocked, so thrown, I hadn’t even thought to use it. I tried taking his pain, but I couldn’t concentrate, couldn’t find those happy, warm memories. I couldn’t do anything.
“No. No,” I said, closing my eyes. I had this gift for a reason. I could help him. I could take his pain, and that would help calm him until help came—
“Poppy,” he wheezed. “Look at me.”
Opening my eyes, I shuddered at what I saw. Blood darkened the corners of his too pale lips.
“I’m sorry, for…not…protecting you.”
His face blurred as I stared at him. The blood wasn’t pouring from the wound as freely now. “You have protected me. You still will.”
“I…didn’t.” His gaze trekked over my shoulder to where Lord Mazeen stood. “I…failed you…as a man. Forgive me.”
“There’s nothing to forgive you for,” I cried. “You’ve done nothing wrong.”
His dulling eyes fixed on me. “Please.”
“I forgive you.” I rocked forward, dropping my forehead to his. “I forgive you. I do. I forgive you.”
“Please don’t,” I whispered. “Please don’t leave me. Please. I can’t…I can’t do this without you. Please.”
His hand slipped from mine.
I drew in air, but it went nowhere as I lifted my head, looking down at him. I frantically searched his face. His eyes were open, his lips parted, but he didn’t see me. He didn’t see anything anymore.
“Vikter?” I pressed down on his chest, feeling for his heart, for just a beat. That’s all I wanted to feel. Just a heartbeat. Please. “Vikter?”
My name was whispered softly. It was Hawke. He placed his hand over mine. I looked at him and shook my head.
“I’m sorry,” he said, gently lifting my hand. “I’m so sorry.”
“No,” I repeated, my breath now coming in short, rapid pants. “No.”
“I do believe our Maiden has also crossed a certain line with her Royal Guards. I don’t think her lessons were at all effective.”
A wave of ice swept from the top of my skull and moved down my spine as Hawke looked up at the Lord. His mouth moved, and I thought he said something, but the world simply fell away. I couldn’t hear Hawke over the buzzing in my ears, over the absolute burning rage pounding through my veins.
I failed you.
I failed you.
I was moving, my hand finding metal. I rose from the blood, turned around. I saw Lord Mazeen standing there, barely a speck of blood on him, hardly a strand of hair out of place.
He looked at me.
I failed you.
“I won’t be forgetting that anytime soon,” he said, nodding at Vikter.
The sound that tore from me was a volcano of fury and pain that cut so deep, it irrevocably fissured something inside of me.
I was quick, just like Vikter had taught me to be. I swung the sword around. Lord Mazeen was unprepared for the attack, but he moved as fast as any Ascended could, his hand snapping out as if he planned to catch my arm, and I bet he thought he could. The smirk was still there, but rage was faster, stronger, deadlier.
Fury was pure power, and not even the gods could escape it, let alone an Ascended.
I cut through his arm, through tissue, muscle, and then bone. The appendage fell to the floor, useless like the rest of him. The surge of satisfaction was bliss as he howled like a pitiful, wounded animal. He stared at the blood geysering from the stump just above his elbow. His dark eyes went wide. There was shouting and screaming, so much yelling, but I didn’t stop there. I brought the sword down over his left wrist, severing the hand that had held mine down on the Duke’s desk, ripping away the last shred of modesty I had as the Duke brought the cane down on my back.
I failed you.
The Lord stumbled back against the chair, his lips peeling back as a different sound came from them, one that sounded like the wind when the mist came in. Spinning the sword, I swept it in a wide arc. This sword—Vikter’s sword—found its target.
I sliced Lord Brandole Mazeen’s head from his shoulders.
His body slid to the floor as I raised the sword and brought it down, hacking into his shoulder, his chest. I didn’t stop. I wouldn’t until he was nothing but pieces. Not even when the screams and shouts became all I knew.
An arm came around me from behind, hauling me back as the sword was wrestled from my hands. I caught the scent of pine and woods, and I knew who held me, knew who pulled me back from what was left of the Lord. But I fought—clawing, swinging to be free. The hold was unbreakable.
“Stop,” Hawke said, pressing his cheek to mine. “Gods, stop. Stop.”
Kicking back, I caught him in the shin and then the thigh. I reared, causing him to stumble.
Hawke crossed his arms around me, lifting me up and then bringing me down so that my legs were trapped under me.
“Stop. Please,” he said. “Poppy—”
I failed you.
The screaming was so loud it hurt my ears, my head, my skin. In a distant, still-functioning part of my brain, I knew I was the one screaming like that, but I couldn’t make myself stop.
A flash of light exploded behind my eyes, and oblivion reached for me.
I fell into nothingness.
Half resting on the inner ledge, I stared out the window at the torches beyond the Rise, eyes aching and weary with the pressure of tears that wouldn’t fall.
I wished I could cry, but it was like the cord that had connected me to my emotions had been severed. It wasn’t that Vikter’s death didn’t hurt. Gods, it ached and throbbed every time I even thought his name, but that was almost all I’d felt in the week and a half since his death. A sharp slice of pain that cut through my chest. No sorrow. No dread. Just pain and anger…so much anger.
Maybe it was because I hadn’t gone to his funeral. I hadn’t made it to any of the funerals, and there had been so many dead that ten or more were held at a time—or so I had heard from Tawny.
It hadn’t been my choice not to attend the services. I’d been asleep. I’d been sleeping a lot this week. Entire days just gone in a blur of sleep and drugged consciousness. I didn’t even remember Tawny helping me bathe away the blood and gore or how I got back to bed. I knew she’d talked to me then, but I couldn’t recall a single thing she’d said. I had this weird impression that I hadn’t been alone while I slept. There was a sensation of callused palms against my cheek, fingers brushing hair back from my face. I had the faintest memory of Hawke talking to me, whispering when the room was filled with sunlight and when it had been taken over by night. Even now, I could feel the touch against my face, my hair. It had been the only grounding connection I’d had while I slept.
I squeezed my lids shut until the phantom sensations vanished, and then I reopened my eyes.
It wasn’t until about four days after the attack on the Rite that I’d learned that Hawke had used some kind of pressure point on my neck to render me unconscious. I’d woken up sometime later in my room, unable to use my voice. The screaming…it had torn up my throat. Hawke had been there, so had Tawny, the Duchess, and a Healer.
I was offered a sleeping draught, and for the first time in my life, I took it. I might’ve kept taking it if it hadn’t been for Hawke removing the powder from my room four days ago.