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This was worse than it had ever been. She stepped over another form and her heart sunk even further. Though she should not have been surprised at the carnage that surrounded his place; without their father’s protection, the attempts to wipe her brother’s existence from the courts would increase.

They had dealt with such attempts before but this was a different level. There were no marks on the bodies; all of the blood on the ground wasn’t theirs. The sinking feeling in her stomach turned into a terrified curdling the closer she got to the place.

She broke out into a sprint when agonized screaming erupted from the twisted trunks that made up her brother’s safe place. Throwing the door open, she prepared herself for the worst. Her brother was not well liked and most of that hostility originated with their mother.

The scene she saw was not the one she suspected. Her brother was half crouched, half braced on a table drenched in his own blood. Most of what she could see, the wounds weren’t life threatening, just not healing the way they should be. The one above his eye was still bleeding but she couldn’t tell about any of the others. In front of him, the source of the screams was who she assumed to be the last of the assassins.

She could ignore it. Whatever her brother was doing to the man, he deserved it, but she couldn’t ignore her brother. He wasn’t himself, not in the slightest. Though he was breathing, very much still alive, his eyes were dead. They were a void of everything; emotions, pain, life, everything.

It was a stage so far past rage she believed that he was capable of anything and everything in that moment. Whatever it took to survive, he wouldn’t hesitate.

“Oli?” She breathed, flinching when that gaze turned on her. There was the slightest quirk to his lip, as if he enjoyed making the man writhe in…whatever he was feeling. Something had snapped, something she had never wanted to see. “What happened? Oleander?”

“Why do you ask such an obvious question?” His tone was bored, as if this was the dullest thing in the world. He stood up with the help of table and the man continued to scream. She watched him cock his head, eyeing the man. “Did you know that emotions can kill just as efficiently as a knife? A little mix of fear and pain and all you have to do is wait for the heart to give out.”

“Is that what you’re doing now?” Now the lack of blood outside made sense; he had killed all of them using his empathic abilities. “It’s…efficient.”

“Not quite.” He sunk down into a chair and tilted his head back. Though he still had that look on his face, she could see the exhaustion. Just how long had he been doing this? “I break their mental state completely before they die. They get trapped within the confines of their own mind; a single moment of clarity before their heart gives out.”

She blinked, unused to the idea of such cruelty coming from her brother. It wasn’t something that was completely uncommon in their world but he had never joined in any of those things. If the Queens found out, especially Solaya, he’d be next in line as their Royal Executioner. He was already one of her favorite subjects.

Walking over, she pressed one foot onto the man’s shoulder to keep him still before breaking his neck. The screaming stopped and she leveled a glare at her brother. She would not let him do this to himself.

“Mercy isn’t like you Bells.”

“And torture isn’t like you Oli.” She kicked aside the body and made her way over to him. If she had to play hard ball, then she would. It would be the only way to get through to him now. “That’s my area of expertise. Now, do you know who ordered these attacks? Most would honor our period of mourning before pouncing on the lack of protection we have without our father.”

“We? Belladonna, I’m the one with a target painted on my back, not you.” Oh how she wanted to slap that look off of his face. She wanted his anger, his pain; not this shell that looked like her brother. They were twins, she knew him better than anyone. “Besides, there is only one person who would ignore customs like this and you know it. She’s wanted me out of the picture since I was born.”

“You think…? Mother has never been so callous.” She ignored his attempts to push her away when she picked up a rag to clean his face. He had to be in pain but he shouldn’t be. Tilting her head to the side, she dabbed her finger in his blood and brought it up to her lips. There was a sting to it. “That’s how you know. She gave them her poisons.”

“I suspected but you know them better than me.” She breathed a sigh of relief when some emotion returned to his voice. With the threat gone, he was slowly relaxing. That meant his state was a temporary one.

“Well Oli, we’ll just have to show her just how hard you are to kill.” She smiled and wiped away the last of the blood. “You never raised a hand against her, no matter how much she’s tormented you. She won’t claim this attack and you know it but let’s watch her squirm. Get cleaned up.”

Oleander’s brow rose, a little more of himself coming back with each moment. If all went well, she wouldn’t have to ever see her brother like that again. “What exactly are you planning?”

“Go bathe; I’ll make a salve to close your wounds.” She smirked, tossing the rag into the wash basin. “Our Queen is throwing a party. What better place to see that her little attempts didn’t work.”

“Oh god. I hate those things.”

“I know.”

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