The next night, the first attack happened. Somewhere deep in the forest, a band of hobgoblins has been slaughtered. A solemn looking goblin delivered the news to Roman during breakfast.

            Misha set down her fork and didn’t pick it up again. Even by dinner, her appetite had not returned. Roman was worried, but didn’t say anything. Dag offered to have the cooks prepare something for her before bed, but she declined and spent a fitful night trying for sleep.

            In the morning, Dag woke her with a tray of one of the city’s delicacies. Misha smiled and thanked him, but when the maids found the tray later, it had barely been touched.

            In the afternoon, a rebel group of goblins attacked an exploratory group inside the Gates. Someone had been killed. Misha found herself in yet another garden, wondering who it was that had fallen.

            “What are you thinking about?” Roman spoke from behind her. He sat on the bench and watched her.

            “Why I started fighting.”

            He was quiet for a long time. “Why did you?”

            Misha was quiet for a long time. “I think I was angry, but I don’t know about what. Or maybe I felt like I was supposed to, though I don’t know where I would have gotten that idea. I had no parents to instill that lifestyle in me – I chose it myself.”

            “There is a lot to be angry about.”

            “More with every day.” Misha closed her eyes. “Who was it?”

            “A woman. Anna, was her name.”

            Misha blinked her eyes several times before she closed them and rested her forehead on her hand.

            “I know she was the one you came looking for—”

            “She kissed my fiancé.”

            Roman sounded quizzical. “What?”

            “Anna. Anna Collins. She kissed Aaron,” Misha repeated, her tears apparent in her voice. “Some time before I came to recuse her.”

            He frowned. “You came to rescue her after that?”    

            Misha nodded.

            “You are a remarkable woman, Misha Kennedy.”

            “That’s not being remarkable, that was my job. She was on my side, no matter what had happened. I was obligated to risk my life for hers.”

            Roman watched her for a long time. “I understand why you fight now.”    

            “Then, please, explain it to me,” she said through the tears threatening her eyes.

            “Because,” he said softly, “you are loyal. And you cannot stand to see others hurt. There is a justice — even nobility — in fighting, Misha. There can be.”

            When she tried to speak, her voice caught. Tears fell from her eyes and onto her hand. Roman brought her head to his shoulder and his hand smoothed her hair. “I’m sorry,” he whispered.

            Misha blinked and wiped her eyes. “You have nothing to be sorry about.”

            They sat there for a while, watching the clouds cast shadows in the garden. “Did you know Nivah?” Roman asked.

            Misha wasn’t expecting that question. “We all did,” she answered. “It’s a small community.”

            “Did you know her personally?”

             “She was so young..... I probably saw her at school, but we had never spoken.”

            Roman looked at the stone walkway beneath his feet.

            Misha put a hand on his knee. “I believe you. I don’t think it was your fault anymore.”

            He looked up.

            “Everyone was so angry,” she said. “It was terrible and we needed someone to blame. Goblins — they are scary, they are monsters. It’s easy for a community to blame the creatures next door. Then we can built a fence and an army and tell the people they are safe. A tragedy doesn’t seem as bad if we can promise it won’t happen again.” Misha gave a tiny smile without humor.

            Roman’s eyes were serious as well. “The attack today, it wasn’t the Palace Guard.”

            “I know.”        

            “But the people here aren’t happy. There have been a lot of skirmishes lately and if it happens again, we will have to retaliate.”

            Misha was slow to respond. “Our army, it’s – they’re not bad people.”

            “I don’t doubt it. But I can’t have my people killed.”

            “By that you mean….?”

            “I mean we are going to have to end this.”

            Misha didn’t like the sound of that. She may have agreed to leave that world, but she didn’t want to see it destroyed.

            “Don’t look at me like that,” Roman said. “I have to do it.”

            “If they attack again.”

            He gave her a look that said they would attack again and they both knew it. But to pacify her, he nodded. “Yes. If they attack again.”

            Misha tried not to think about how soon that might be. They left the garden and she excused herself from dinner. She fell asleep early and awoke to ruckus in the hall. Assuming it was another rogue poltergeist, she stepped into the hallway, hoping to get a better view of the creature.

            Outside was a meeting of goblins. They looked at her with angry eyes when she interrupted their meeting. One had been shouting and he continued when he saw the intruder was only a girl. It was the language Misha didn’t know, but the group was clearly irate.

            “What’s going on?” she asked Dag.

            “There’s been another attack,” he said. “A bad one. On a village in the forest.”

            Misha’s voice was almost inaudible when she managed to ask, “How bad?”

            Dag looked at her sadly.

            Misha blinked at the burn of water in her eyes. “Where’s Roman?”

            Dag shook his head.

            “Please,” she said again. “I need to see him.”

            Dag shook his head.

            Misha had no other words to turn to. “Please.”

            The goblin looked sad. “He doesn’t want to see you.”

            She stared at the wall a moment, then she turned back into her room. Putting on real shoes and wrapping a coat over her nightgown, Misha made for the old Palace. She turned down hallways she didn’t remember until she found the one she was looking for.

            The brick stairway stretched downward before her. Looking over both shoulders, she started down the stairs. There was no noise coming from below and when she stepped onto the concrete floor, she discovered why. This was the morgue.

            Gasping, she took a step back and almost fell on the stairs. There were tables with sheet-covered bodies in rows before her. The rows moved towards another door and the sheets had blood stains. They must be the casualties from the village attack. She walked down the aisle. Steeling herself, she pulled a sheet back from a table.

            A goblin lay before her. Gray, not blue, in death. He had a javelin in his hand and a bullet wound in his stomach. Roman had told her it was tradition for their dead to be buried with the items they were found with, so nothing had been removed from the body.

            The others were quite like the first – goblins, probably on leave from the Palace Guard. Their hands were folded across their chests, weapons in hand.

            One did not have a weapon.

            Misha pulled back another sheet and found another one, this one a man, without a weapon.

            Her forehead was tight when she reached the final table. The rise in the sheet was smaller than the others. When she pulled back the sheet, she locked her knees against a wave of nausea.

             A child lay on the table before her. His arms were across his chest and as she let the sheet drop, a marble fell from his hand. Misha took steps away from the boy until she hit another table and then she began to run.

            Outside, the sky had darkened and rain was falling. Misha ran through the meadow, not watching where she was going until she hit a stone floor. Looking up, she was in ancient courtyard on the outskirts of the forest. There were black vines with large thorns crawling over the tall stone walls. It was a bleak place and the fog hanging over it was only appropriate. Misha sat on a bench in the center and wept.

            She didn’t rise until she heard shouting. The calls were in a dialect she did not understand. Figures entered from the arches on all sides of the courtyard. They were goblins, tall with blue skin. But theirs was chalkier and they had red markings painted on their faces.

            Misha recognized this troop. They were what the militia referred to as rogues. They were glorified vigilantes who roamed the forest and worked separate from the Palace Guard. They were not known for their kindness or their patience –- and they were walking right towards her.

            “A lady crying alone?”

            One goblin walked in front of the rest.

            Misha knew she looked pathetic, but she stood her ground simply because there didn’t seem to be anything else to do.

            “What are you doing out here?” the goblin asked again. He narrowed his eyes. “You don’t belong here at all.”

            He said something to the others behind him in foreign dialect. Their expressions shifted and Misha saw one tighten his grip on his spear.

            The lead goblin turned back to her. “They want to kill you, you know.”

            She struggled to find her voice. “Because I am not supposed to be here alone?”

            “Because of what you are,” he corrected. He nodded to the goblin with the spear. “You killed his brother.”

            Misha looked away.

            “Did you kill his brother?” the lead goblin demanded.

            “I imagine I did,” Misha said looking at him. “I have killed many brothers.” She turned to the spear-wielding goblin for the last sentence.

            His eyes were a vibrant green and he looked straight back at her.

            “And what do you have to say for it?”

            Misha answered without looking at the lead goblin. “There really isn’t anything to say, is there?”

            The goblin nodded and turned away. He left the courtyard silently and the others followed. The one with the spear stared a moment longer and then disappeared into the woods.

            In the distance, the Stone City rose up. Misha watched it for a long time before walking towards it. She had only reached the gardens beneath the Palace when she heard more shouting. The calls were urgent and she looked around in panic. Darting up the stairs until she was in a Palace hallway, she searched for signs of a battle.

            “Madam Misha!”

            She turned to see Dag rushing towards her. He yelled something to another pair of goblins and they disappeared.

            “Are you alright?” he asked, clearly in a panic.

            Misha nodded, confused.

            “We’ve been looking everywhere for you!”

            “I —”

            “Misha!” Roman appeared, running around a corner. His hair was mussed and he seemed relieved to see her. He pulled her close to his chest. “Misha, where have you been?” Then he pulled her head back, to look at her face.

            “I went for a walk.”

            “Misha, there is a rebel troop out there!”

            “I know. I met them.”

            Roman’s eyes grew wide. “You what?” He looked her over a sign of injury.

            “I’m fine. They found me in a courtyard by the forest but they didn’t do anything.”          

            A frown formed on Roman’s face. “What were you doing over there?”

            Misha looked at the ground.

            “You didn’t,” he said, his expression changing.

            Misha nodded.

            He scowled. “I told you —”

            “I did it anyway.”

            Roman closed his eyes and exhaled through his nose.

            “You wouldn’t see me and I’m not stupid.”

            His expression was harsh and serious. “I wish you hadn’t had to see that.”

            Misha didn’t answer before a shrieking filled the room. A large goblin appeared next to the wall and turned towards the sound. “Master Roman, you must come with me.”

            “Wait a moment,” the king responded. “Maybe it’s a drill—”

            “That’s not an alarm, sir,” Dag intervened. “That’s a banshee. They can sense danger and they are never wrong.”

            The gruff goblin moved closer.

            “Fine,” Roman agreed. “Did someone alert the rebels?”

            “It was Rollo that first informed us.”

            “It was Rollo’s group?” He asked, glaring at Misha.

            “Yes, sir.” The goblin looked anxious. “Master, we must go.”

            “Take Misha then,” Roman said, nodding to Dag. “I need to stay here a moment.”

            Misha creased her forehead. She avoided Dag’s reach for her. “I’m not going anywhere.”

            Roman turned and glared. “Yes,you are.”

            Misha stared at him long enough that he threw his hands in the air and exhaled. Grabbing her arm, he pulled her in another hallway. The screech of the banshees was softer in there.  

            “If there is a problem,” Misha told him, “I should stay.”

            “No,” Roman responded simply. He moved as if to go, but Misha continued.

            “You, they will shot on site. They will at least hesitate to kill me.”

            Something flared in Roman’s eyes at the last part of her sentence. Misha kept her expression calm. “You know it’s true.”

            He was still a moment. “No,” he said, firmly. “You are going with Dag.”

            The goblin appeared and grabbed Misha by the wrists. “I am sorry, Madam Misha. But it is the King’s orders.”

            He dragged her down the hallway while Misha tried every trick she knew to get away. Her head thrashed at the right moment to catch a glimpse of a shadow down a hall and her mind struggled to place where she knew that silhouette. By the time she realized and tried to warn Dag, the arms around her were loosening.

            The goblin fell back, a bullet from a silenced weapon in his forehead.

            “Dag!” Misha screamed, dropping next to him. His skin was already cooling.

            “Misha,” Aaron was saying, pulling her from off the ground. “Oh, Misha. I’ve been so afraid for you....”

            Misha just looked at the fallen goblin. Her eyes continued up and she saw he lay in the archway that framed the statue of Minos. The bull had witnessed everything.

            She struggled to get away from Aaron, but he only seemed to hold her tighter.

            Across the palace, Roman was running with the top of the Palace Guard when they were also ambushed. Each goblin fell to a silenced sniper rifle until only Roman remained. Then a woman dropped down from the ledge she’d been hiding on. She had short, shaggy dark hair and equally dark eyes.

            “Spice?” Roman asked, squinting at her.

            The woman seemed surprised. “What did you say?”

            “You must be Spice,” he replied. “Misha has told me about you.”     

            The gun Spice held in front of her dropped a fraction of an inch. “You’re Roman.”

            Roman nodded. “Yes, I am.”

            Spice hesitated.

            “Misha is safe,” Roman said, taking advantage of the moment. “She’s fine. It was her choice to come here.”

            Spice lifted the gun again. “I don’t believe that.”

            Roman lifted his hands. “You don’t have to, but it’s the truth.”

            Walking towards him slowly, Spice glared. “I’m supposed to shoot you on sight.”

            “Then do it.”

            The woman blinked — and then lowered the gun.

            Roman let his hands drop. Spice nodded to the side and four men appeared. They tucked his arms behind him and dragged him out of the Palace.

            Aaron was gentler with Misha. She was escorted through the forest by a caravan of masked soldiers with M16s. When they reached the base, Aaron took her hand and brought her down a hallway she’d walked many times before. She had even been inside the cells. But she’d always been on the other side of the table — and she’d always been allowed to leave.

            The room seemed too bright now — and bare. The walls were plain. Every wall in the Palace was ornate. The room before her was bland.

            Aaron brought her to the metal chair and sat down across from her.

            “I don’t want to do this, Kennedy,” he said. “But I have to.” Misha was silent, even watching him coolly, as he flipped open a file and pulled out a pen.

            “Please state your name,” he said.

            He had already begun to write down the words before she spoke. She watched him write then rattled off the answers to the questions she knew by heart. “I am 26 years old. I have no parents, no siblings. I have lived here all my life. Five nights ago, I left with the enemy king. I left of my own accord."

            Aaron looked up. Her words had taken a few moments to sink in.

            She shook her head. “I am not spelled or under any coercion. I made all my decisions clearly. And I am not sorry.”

            Aaron dropped the pen.

            She lifted an eyebrow at his blank stare. Quickly, he stood and left the room. When he returned, he was considerably calmer. “Kennedy,” he began, “I don’t know what they have done to you, but it’s going to be okay. We have to hold you here for a few more days, but we’ll soon have you moved to a different location.” He cast a glance about the room.

            “Treat me as you would any defector.”

            He sighed. “I wish you wouldn’t say things like that.”

            “It’s true.”

            Aaron closed his eyes and knelt down beside her chair. “It must be hard, after what you have been through, but I want you to know that we have been working on getting you back all this time.”

            “I wasn’t abducted, Levy, and I didn’t need to be rescued.”

            “I don’t know what those monsters have done to you — God knows I can certainly imagine — but —”

            “They aren’t monsters.” Misha looked at her former fiancé. “Even if they were, they have done nothing to me to warrant the name. Today, however, you killed a friend of mine.”

            Aaron looked genuinely surprised. “The goblin?” he asked without certainty.

            Misha nodded.

            “Oh, Kennedy,” he replied sadly. “That’s not a friend.”

            Misha lost all goodwill she ever had towards him in that moment.

            “— he was protectingthat man. But,” Aaron said, soothingly, “you don’t have to worry. We got him too.”

            Misha’s spine straightened. “Roman?” Aaron nodded and started to speak. Misha didn’t listen.

            “You shot him?”

            “We captured him.”

            “Where is he?” she asked, ignoring him and looking towards the door.

            “He’s being....interviewed,” Aaron said with a frustration sigh. “Now, Kennedy —”

            “I want to see him.”

            Aaron balked. “What?”

            Misha stood and moved to the door. “If you are operating under the assumption I’m a brain washed victim, then I should be able to see him right? At the very least to identify him? What if you have the wrong man?”

            “Okay,” Aaron said in the calm tone again. “We can go see him.”

            Roman was being held in a cell like Misha’s, but he was shackled to the table. He sat with his hands folded on the tabletop. Misha looked through the two-way mirror and checked for bruises or signs of brutality, but saw nothing.

            “He’s lucky Spice found him,” Aaron said. His tone held disgust. “If it was me, I would have shot the bastard.”

            Misha watched Roman through the glass. “I was sorry to hear about Anna,” she said.

            Aaron quieted down.

            Misha furrowed her eyebrows as she thought about what Aaron had just told her. Spice was volatile and mean. No one was ever lucky Spice had found them. Misha was no less confused when the General entered the room with Roman. He paced in front of the desk and she saw his mouth moving. Roman’s moved in reply. He seemed to repeat the same thing and the General was getting frustrated.

             Eventually, her former superior threw both hands down on the table and shouted. Roman remained perfectly calm. The General tried a few other tactics, but wasn’t getting the answers he wanted. Roman repeated his line one last time and the General shoved his head down on the table. The chain that attached his hands was between his head and the tabletop and when Roman lifted his head, blood ran down the side.

            Unable to hide her fury, or do anything to affect the source, Misha turned and went back to her room. Aaron didn’t follow.

            Instead, they sent Spice.  

The End

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