The laughter, light and joyful, echoed beguilingly, skipping off the bedchamber walls. Loi woke with a gasp.
Was that Cat?
Sabyn snored quietly as she lay tense, waiting for another hint of it.
Oh, stuff it.
She slipped out of the warm sheets and quietly lifted her robe from the chair. The silky fabric whispered around her shoulders as she tied it firmly at the waist before easing the door open and sneaking out. The corridor was silent and the white stone walls appeared almost silver in the dull light as she hurried along, bare feet slapping against the smooth wooden floor. Around the corner, the guards on either side of the Royal Chamber doors exchanged a glance when they spotted her. Audrey, who'd been dozing at their feet, sat up wagging her tail in greeting. Loi gave the dog's head a quick pat and nodded to the men before easing one of the doors open.
As soon as it clicked shut, she knew she was wrong.
The two figures lay prone on the ornate beds, and the only sound in the large room was the exhalations of Cat and Alek. With an exhausted sob Loi slumped back against the door and slid down to the floor, elbows on her knees, head buried in her arms.
Sabyn tried to open one of the doors, but something held it closed. He carefully opened the other and peeked in. The sight of her, hunched against the door with tear-streaked cheeks as she stared at the floor, made his heart squeeze tight. Sabyn stepped into the room and closed the door, then sat beside her.
'I'm so sorry, I really thought…' she whispered in a broken voice.
He reached over and pulled her into his arms, cradling her as she began to weep again.
'I know, love.'
Words muffled against his chest and he shushed her when she tried to speak. Sabyn tucked her into his arms tighter and stroked that ebony mane.
It was the third midnight run this week, the most so far. Ever since Cat and Alek had been put in here, two long months ago, Loi had been waking up convinced she'd heard Catherine. The abrupt, late night exits had begun to take a toll on them both. Loi had permanent dark circles under her eyes, and they'd both lost several kilos. Staying conscious in the Council meetings, which were tedious on the best of days, was more challenging than ever for Sabyn.
Unfortunately, there was little that could be done. Elena had tried giving Loi sleep potions, but her elemental energy burned through the medicinal properties before they could be of use. It appeared that until Cat and Alek woke from their deep sleeps, this would be the norm.
The last two months had been like a waking nightmare. Keeping a semblance of normality at the castle was a constant challenge after such a major attack. Twenty important guests had been killed, and dozens more injured. On top of all that, the Crown Prince lay unconscious still, having just announced his betrothal prior to the attack. Dignitaries, heads of state, Royalty from other nations, and Elion's citizens were demanding answers.
Elena and Yakov had so far managed to keep things under control. The Centaur Cavalry and General Guard were spread wide throughout the realm keeping watch.
Now, it was just the waiting. Waiting for them to wake.
Loi sighed against Sabyn's chest and wiped away the hair that had stuck to her damp cheeks.
Alek was Sabyn's cousin but more like a brother to him, and she knew how hard this was for him. The normal lightness in his tone had vanished after that awful night, and she knew he came to see Alek often.
Yet he had no idea what was coming when Cat and Alek woke. After the attack Elena had taken Sian, Kassie, and Loi aside and fully explained their role on Gar'nyse. The shocking and unexpected revelation had felt like the ultimate betrayal. Elena had forbidden the girls to speak about it, so she hadn't even been able to turn to Sabyn, to buttress the pain.
Loi understood it was because Cat was most affected by it all. But having such knowledge and not really being able to discuss it? It only made her tenser and more stressed, if that were possible.
Both Sian and Kassie had taken the news stoically and accepted Elena's advice, leaving the castle for the time being. Elena had urged Loi to do the same, to go and stay with Sabyn's family, but she just couldn't. The sight of her friend