Previous chapters can be found here.
Annette was no stranger to being stabbed. Almost weekly, splinters left in the ashy remains of fires at the Ferngold castle would pierce her hands or feet. She would simply pull them out, squeeze out a few drops of blood, and continue with her life.
Instinct told her this stabbing would be far different.
She clutched the gilt hilt of the knife protruding from her chest. The desires to yank it out like a splinter and to do everything possible not to move it warred in her while bright red blood made her hands slick.
Someone was calling her name. He sounded a long way away.
Hands rested on her upper arms. They were so comfortingly warm. She tore her eyes away from the growing stain above her heart and found Will in front of her.
Will. Her brother. Now he knew; but fear and concern filled his face. Why didn’t he hate her? Maybe that would come later.
Her knees buckled. Will helped her down to rest on the ground, and the buzzing in her ears lessened.
“Annette,” Will choked out. “What do we do?” He stared at her red hands.
A weak man’s voice carried over to them. Oh, yes, the bald man—was he a sorcerer? “You must choose quickly. Your sister’s life, or the Golden Fern?”
Will looked between the vial held in the sorcerer’s hand and the table holding the cure for Ferngold’s guardian, then looked back at her. His eyebrows knit his forehead into a mass of lines. “You’re my sister?” he whispered, pleading.
She nodded. “The sage said,” she panted. Speaking awoke a fury of pain in her lungs. She ground her teeth and held the knife more tightly.
“I can’t—I can’t let you die,” the boy protested.
“Will,” she started, but he sprang to his feet, grabbed a branch from the ground, and ran toward the sorcerer, screaming all the way. Before he was half way to the castle steps, the sorcerer muttered words in a strange language and Will flew backward, landing next to her.
“You cannot defeat me!” the sorcerer laughed. “I know your name. I have power over you. Choose now.”
Will rolled toward her. One of his hands wrapped around her blood-soaked ones. “I can’t lose you,” he touched her cheek. She could barely feel his touch, and her legs felt numb. “I just found you. You’re my sister.”
It was getting hard to breathe. “You have to save Ferngold,” she forced out. “That’s why the Telling Tree brought us together. Will…”
All her life, Annette had been insignificant. From peasant’s adopted daughter to fireplace maid, her life had never mattered to more than one person, nor had she ever had cause for acts of nobility or courage.
That, too, she knew was now changing. Her life may have been insignificant, but her death could be a noble sacrifice, and she thought maybe that made her a hero in the end.
Will shook his head. Maybe it was her blurring vision, but his eyes looked red. “No. I’ll forget everything good I’ve ever known, and I’ll forget you.”
“It’s okay.” Her voice shook. She took a few shallow breaths and pulled a hand out to rest on his shoulder. “Go,” she ordered.
Her hand fell when he slid out from under it, but it left a bloody handprint on his sleeve. Just before he reached the table holding the cure, he looked back at her. With the last of her strength, Annette nodded at him.
Then the air around her stretched, and she felt herself hurtling across space. The agony in her chest tore a scream from her throat, which ended abruptly when landing on a mattress knocked out her breath. She stared up, not into the blinding Poldar sun, but into the faces of Trevor the sage and an equally-gray, completely unknown woman.
Trevor clucked. “Well, we did it, Evangelina,” he told his companion. “My good magician, let us hope we are not too late.”
Then everything went black.
Look for more on Monday :) Let me know what you think, please!