Ruined (Ruined, #1)(9)

Written By: Amy Tintera

“It was fine, thank you.” Honestly, she was exhausted and her body still ached from days on the back of a horse. After her meeting the Lera guards at the border, it had taken several days to get to the castle with that stupid heavy carriage in tow.

“And your rooms are adequate?” he asked.

“They’re very nice.”

He nodded once, and then didn’t attempt any further conversation. Em didn’t know whether to be relieved or think he was incredibly rude, so she kept her mouth shut as well.

Two guards and one maid passed them in the hallway, and she eyed the swords at the guards’ hips. Disarming a member of the Lera guard wouldn’t be easy. She’d probably have better luck yanking a rope off the curtains and using it to strangle Cas. Strangulation took awhile, so she’d have to pull him into a deserted room or corner for at least a full minute.

He stopped in front of her door, and she slipped her arm out of his. “Thank you,” she said, grasping the door handle.

“You’ve been told about the Union Battle this afternoon?” he asked.

“I have. Sounds like fun.”

He lifted one eyebrow, a hint of amusement crossing his face. “I’m glad you think so.” He lowered his voice. “I have it on good authority that one of the guards drank too much last night and isn’t feeling very well today. He has a red beard and a lot of freckles, if you’re looking for an easy choice.”

She blinked, unsure if this was some kind of trap. “Am I supposed to want the easy choice?” The queen and Jovita had just given her the opposite impression.

“Well, it will make you look good.” He took a step back. His face was far less annoying when he smiled. “I won’t tell, I promise.”

“Th-thank you?” This felt like a trick. King Salomir seized every opportunity to prove Lera was the best, and it seemed this was no exception. They wanted her to fail so they could all laugh about her lack of skills in battle.

The edges of Cas’s mouth twitched, further convincing her that this tip was his way of trying to embarrass her in front of everyone.

“I’ll keep that in mind.” She wrapped her fingers around his arm and gazed at him steadily. “How kind of you to help me.”

He took a step back, clearing his throat. “Uh, sure. I’ll see you later.” He turned on his heel and strode down the hallway.

She smirked at his back. He was going to have to work much harder to fool her.


THE UNION BATTLE was held in the Glory Ballroom, which Davina explained to Em was the smallest of the three ballrooms. It was still impressively big, with a square wooden floor in the center and purple carpet along the sides. Members of the guard were already lined up along the walls, and spectators stood in front of them. The only chairs were the large ones at the front of the room that were obviously for the royal family. The kitchen staff was outside, ready to bring in food and drink after the battle.

Em had changed into black pants and a formfitting black shirt for the occasion. They were her own clothes, and she stretched her arms out with a relieved sigh, the soft fabric moving with her.

Swords hung off the hips of every member of the guard. There were fifty guards in the room, easily. Even if she surprised one and took his sword, she’d probably kill one or two—at most—before they cut her down. She swallowed and tried not to think about it.

She found Aren in the crowd. He seemed calm, his expression neutral as a guard said something to him.

His brown eyes were bright, though, alive in a way Em hadn’t seen since . . . ever, actually. A Ruined was fueled by the energy around him or her, and in Aren’s case, the energy of every human in the castle. After a few weeks he’d probably be able to crush the bones of ten men before his energy was drained. That was the hope, anyway.

Various maps hung on the walls. She stood on her toes to peer at the one closest to her. It was dated around the same time as the war between Lera and Olso two generations ago. All four countries were on this map—Lera to the east, Vallos just below it, and Olso to the west of Lera. To the south of Olso was her home, Ruina.

It seemed unlikely they’d just write Olivia on a map to advertise her location, but she squinted at it anyway, just to be sure. She moved to the next one.

“Mary!” The queen stood in the doorway of the ballroom, an annoyed expression on her face. “Please come out here. You’ll make an entrance with Cas.”

Em walked to the door, brushing past the queen to find Cas leaning against the wall, his arms crossed over his chest. He still looked as though someone was poking him with hot knives, but now he’d grown bored of it. Painful boredom. That was the prince.

“If you don’t know where to put her, don’t just dump her anywhere,” the queen chastised Davina, who was wringing her hands at Fabiana’s side. “Bring her to me, if you must.”

“Yes, Your Majesty.”

The queen disappeared into the ballroom, the maids scurrying after her. Em watched the doors swing closed, silence descending onto the hallway.

“We’ll go in when my father arrives.” Cas leaned away from the wall and glanced both ways, like he hoped that moment was now.

She nodded, rubbing her thumb across her necklace. He watched her, his eyes flicking from her face to her hand.

“Are you nervous?” he asked.

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