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"Headmaster!" Nahlia knelt down and shook him by the shoulder. "Elveron!"

He'd told her to wait outside while he examined the necklace, but she returned when he began thrashing on the stone floor. Now, his breaths were sporadic, and sweat glistened on his forehead. Her Etherite necklace still shone from within his clutched fingers.

Nahlia was about to run for help when the Headmaster's body gave another sharp twitch, and he let out a long breath of air.

Nahlia reached out to check for a pulse, but she already knew the truth.

Oh, Aegon... She recoiled her hand and scooted away.

Thane did this. He murdered the Headmaster, and he made her his accomplice. He wanted her to show Elveron the necklace. This wasn't about information anymore; it was about weakening Whitecliff from the inside. To sow seeds of chaos before the invasion.

What if the Templars already had Whitecliff's location? For all she knew, they were sailing north at this very moment.

She had to go to Marwyn. She had to explain what happened before things got even worse. Maybe if she hurried, she could—

The office door swung open on creaking hinges. A female form emerged, quarterstaff in hand. Ciena?

But no ... the woman who stepped into the white light was a foot shorter than Ciena Raider, with black hair instead of red-gold.

"Relyn!" Nahlia rose to her feet, breathing a sigh of relief.

The other girl's eyes darted toward Elveron's body, still lifeless on the floor. "You..." She turned back to Nahlia. "What did you do?"

"What?" Nahlia glanced down. "No! No, this isn't—!"

"Is he dead?" Relyn interjected

Nahlia hesitated. "Alright, just let me—"

"Is he dead?" She raised her quarterstaff.

Nahlia nodded, and her voice came out in a dry whisper. "I'm not responsible for this, but I know who is."

"Don't bother." Relyn took a few careful steps around the desk, weapon still raised. "I heard your little confession from outside the door."

"You followed me here?"

"Trust me," she said. "I didn't ask for this mission. I wanted to believe my uncle was wrong about you. I really did."

The implication was clear. Battlemaster Vash ordered his niece to watch her. Probably the first night she arrived here in the enclave. That was why Relyn befriended her in the Gorge. That was the real reason they placed her in the top battleclan.

Nahlia swallowed against the sudden dryness in her throat. "We were never really friends, were we?"

Relyn pointed a finger at her. "You don't get to say that. You're the one who betrayed this enclave. Not me."

That stung, mostly because it was true. Even if she didn't kill Elveron, she had still cooperated with Thane. It was her own fault for trusting him in the first place.

Even so, she'd been ready to confess her own crimes, but this? Aegon only knew what would happen if they declared her an assassin as well as a spy.

"Please," Nahlia moved to keep the desk between them. "Stop jumping to conclusions and listen to me. I gave away information, that's true. But I did not kill Elveron!"

"I don't care," Relyn said. She removed a pair of steel manacles from her belt, sliding them across the desk. "Come on. We'll go see my uncle."

"I'm not going anywhere with you."

Relyn raised her staff again. "Don't make this worse."

Nahlia grabbed Elveron's sword from off the mantlepiece, yanking it free from its sheath. It wasn't short like Whitecliff's training katanas. The blade stretched out nearly as long as she was tall, and it was heavier than a bag of gold.

The other girl just rolled her eyes. "Put it down, Nahlia. We both know you're a better liar than a fighter."

She gripped the hilt tighter, doing her best to remember Moonform. "You're a student here. You don't have the authority to arrest me."

"You committed treason," Relyn shot back. "And you murdered our Headmaster. I'm not letting you walk out of here after that."

"I didn't kill him! Don't you know me better than that by now?"

"I don't know you," she retorted. "None of us do."

"I made a mistake," Nahlia said. "But I came here to fix things. Why else would I confess everything?"

"So what then? You think killing me will make you look innocent?"

Nahlia paused. While she was still no match for Relyn Vash in a physical duel, she'd learned much more about her healing abilities over the past few days. Probably enough to escape this enclave if she had to. But she also remembered what Marwyn told her about aggression, and how it only stemmed from fear.

"We're two days from Dresten" Relyn continued. "And that's if you survive the mountains. My uncle will catch you if you run, and you will only look more guilty than before."

Nahlia relaxed her grip on Elveron's sword but didn't let go. Maybe the other girl had point after all. Even if she made it back to civilation, Dresten was no safe haven

She was about to reply when Reyn charged forward, quarterstaff swinging.

Nahlia raised her sword, but Relyn knocked it aside. Nahlia staggered back into the window, and the glass cracked against her weight.

Relyn swung at her again, striking the glass. Nahlia sidestepped the attack and dashed for the door.

The quarterstaff took her in the shin as she ran, and her knees buckled from the pain. Her cheek hit the desk as she fell, drawing blood.

Relyn hit her again, leaving a sharp line of pain across her left side. Nahlia rolled on her back just as the other girl swung her staff down in a tall arc.

This time, Nahlia stretched out her palms to block the attack. The room went pitch black, and she felt an explosion of energy.

The blast threw Relyn back several feet, and her body crashed through the glass window. A gust of night wind blew into the office, and her scream faded as she plummeted into the canyon below.

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About the author

David Musk

Bio: Hey everyone. I'm a web developer and fantasy writer from Grand Rapids, MI.

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