House of Ravens (The Nightfall Chronicles Book 2)

By: Karpov Kinrade

PREFACE





An impossible choice stands before me. One I must make in between heartbeats.

I can't save them both.

Whichever choice I make will weigh on my heart forever.

I hear his voice in my head. In my heart. I came here to protect them.

And I know the choice I have to make. The choice that will break me.





CHAPTER 1


NOX AETERNA





The house burns, flames licking at the dark sky, turning the pitch of night into a violent sunset of oranges and reds. I inhale the smell of burning wood. I can feel the heat against my cheeks, even from a distance. I can hear the screams of the neighbors crying out in fear, then in anger. The man stands in front of the burning house staring at his hands, his eyes wide, his bewildered face cast in shadows.

I know him. He sells produce at our farmer's market every Saturday. He always gives me free strawberries, and he has a nice smile. A kind smile.

But he's not smiling now. He never smiles again.

I run to him. I can feel in my stomach that something bad is going to happen.

I know he broke the law. No one knew he was a Zenith. Maybe he didn't know. But now, everyone knows. And as they grab him and drag him to the tree in his yard, I see the fear in his eyes.

I run faster. I have to stop them. I have to help him.

I stumble on a fallen branch, scraping my knee. It stings and the blood wells on my pale skin. They've already put the rope around his neck, and they are stringing him up.

"No! Stop!" I scream to them, but no one ever listens to little girls.

I'm running again, ignoring the pinch of pain in my knee, but I'm too late. I hear the snap of his neck as he's dropped from the tree like a sack of potatoes. A dark spot spreads over his pants, and I turn my face away.

My dad catches me around the waist and holds me to his chest, hiding my eyes with his large hands. "Scarlett, we have to go."

"You have to help him, Daddy. He didn't do anything wrong."

The crowd is already bored. They walk back to their homes alone or in twos and threes. My dad pulls out his pocketknife, walks over to the tree and cuts the rope around the man's neck. His body falls to the ground. There's no life left in him.

His house burns to the ground, casting shadows of light and dark over his fallen corpse.



***



"Scarlett? Scarlett Night?"

A voice nags at my subconscious, pulling me out of dreams. Or were they nightmares? The images flee, leaving me with nothing but impressions of strong hands holding me. My father.

I peek through bleary eyes and sleep-filled lashes to see who's in my room calling my name at this ungodly hour. I see the pink hair first, a long bob on one side and buzzed short on the other. The girl, who looks to be a bit younger than me, smiles big, her purple eyes far too lively. I reach for my eGlass, knocking a thick book to the floor. I was up all night reading about the Four Orders, political history and the different royal families that have reclaimed their old titles as part of the Orders, so my head is full of cobwebs and sleep. The time on my eGlass blinks 5:58 in red numbers. I groan and roll over, pulling the blanket over my head. "Sorry, but Scarlett is unavailable. Please leave a message after the beep…"

My brain shuts down, my body instantly ready to return to the land of dreams when a small hand shakes my shoulder. "Scarlett, I'm Corinne," she says in a British accent. "We're roomies."

I hear the smile in her voice, but I just groan again. I was hoping I'd get to keep the room to myself. This will make sneaking out so much harder. But it's a huge room, with two beds, dressers, desks, an eScreen and a private bathroom, so it makes sense they'd put me with a roommate, and Agatha warned me I'd likely have to share. I roll over to face the girl attached to the voice, and she smiles even bigger.

"Jax told me wonderful things about you. I'm…" her face shifts, her smile dropping, "I'm sorry about your parents. They were great Knights."

I sit up a little in my bed at this news. "You knew them?"

"My father's a Templar. He tells me stories."

The girl steps back and sits down on the bed opposite mine. She has a suitcase at her feet, but hasn't unpacked yet. Probably because of her jerk of a roommate. I smile and lean forward. "Sorry for brushing you off and being a grouch. I don't usually get up this early."

She taps her eGlass and mine beeps, indicating an incoming file. "Guess you haven't seen your class schedule yet," she says.

I access the file she sent, trying to read through the haze of sleep still in my eyes.

She smiles at me encouragingly. "You'll get used to it."

When the numbers clear, I choke out a laugh. I will not be getting used to this schedule. Ever. "We have physical training at 0530 every day?"

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