Chapter 1 : Prologue
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The Tower of Stars
I tripped and stumbled, one fallen branch snagging on my sock and ripping a long, moist line up my calf. I let out one small yelp of pain through my panting breaths, my chest contracting painfully as my heart pounded inside and my lungs grasped for air. My hand gripped my wand handle so tightly it felt like my fingers would break. My knuckles were white as death as they pressed against my pale skin.
“Where is she?” I heard one of them rage several metres behind me and then splutter through the black haze around us.
Frantically I pushed at the heat-baked ground with my feet, the muscles working in my legs. After a few seconds I became free of the dark mist, the leafy ground now weakly illuminated by silvery moonlight shafting through the canopy ahead. I continued to run.
I need to get back to the stadiu--
But, where was it?
In my surprise I stopped dead, blood whirring through my body and roaring in my ears. Distantly, I could hear the massive crowd, seething and humming like a horde of bees. More distantly than before. My heart stopped. In my desperation, I’d run farther rather than closer. My limbs felt weak at the realisation. Come on, Brienne, think.
“I think she came this way!”
My mouth popped open and instead of issuing a scream of fear, I used the shock to propel me forward, zigzagging through the trees, darting between them, trying to put more distance between me and them. When I found a large-enough-looking tree, I stopped and collapsed to the ground, painting the fallen leaves with red, pressing the front of my torso against the trunk and grazing my bare knees against the ground.
I was shaking. I pressed my head into the trunk so hard it ached and I prayed that my brown dress was enough to camouflage me.
I heard them crashing through the trees and the underbrush. Breathing slowly through my nose, trying to get my heart rate back to normal, I tensed my legs, ready to spring to my left and run back toward the stadium as soon as they’re out of range. Blood oozed from my calf, slowly dripping down to stain my sock. I stared at it for a quiet moment, straining my ears.
They’re getting closer. Closer.
A wand tip abruptly lit up, the bright light shining toward a point two yards or so to my left.
Right in front of me.
My muscles locked. It’s all I can do to block the terrified scream rising in my throat.
This is it. It’s over.
Again, my mouth dropped open in shock as my head whipped to the left. One by one, my limbs grew numb and my stomach turned to rock. The light from the lit wand pulled away slightly, and faintly I could hear the leisurely cracks and snaps of twigs of somebody strolling along.
“Brieeeeeenne, where are you?” he called again, light-hearted but with a touch of concern.
If only he knew how concerned he should be. Now the light pulled away completely, pointing in the direction of the foolish, stupid, idiotic boy who followed me out here. If they hurt him—
“D’you think we should grab him?” the gruff voice said.
They didn’t answer, but I could hear the shifting of weight on the dry leaves. They were moving away to the left. The slow footsteps grew closer.
I gasped, and suddenly it felt like clarity rushed in with the air. If they were going toward him, then I knew what I had to do. I would not let this happen again. Not for me.
The light was moving steadily back and forth, progressively farther and farther away. I took a deep breath, tilting my head back to look at the stars peeking through the canopy above. I would not let that light reach him. Because it’s her. For not the first time that night, pure loathing burns through my chest.
I would not let her go near him. I would give her what she wants.
The woman who killed my mother.
And the woman who is about to kill me.