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Some backstory first….

This is Chapter 39 from the second draft of Mark of Stars. This was from the middle that got blown up not once, but twice. I had to blow it up a second time because the stakes were not high enough, the obstacles didn’t make sense, and there was no real reason for Bethany needing to escape at all.

In this chapter, Bethany has teamed up with two witches from the Royal Coven (Rowan and Evie, who took on slightly different roles in the final version), to A) get through the curse (with Emma’s help), and B) make it to the Gateway so she can flee back to Earth with Evie.

Chapter 39: Race to the Dome

“Emma!” Bethany screamed, struggling against Evie and Rowan. Their hands dragged her backwards out of the water, onto the rocky banks outside the city walls. “Luke!” Looking up, she saw the curse for the first time from the outside. It rose from the walls, curving over the entire circumference like a big green shell.

“Quiet!” Rowan hissed.

Bethany’s eyes snapped back to the portcullis, and beyond it she saw Mira and the rest of the witches engaged in combat with dark-clad figures. A rustle sounded behind them and fear poured down Bethany’s spine.

“Is that—”

“Yeah,” Evie cut her off before she could make any more noise.

Both women released Bethany, apparently now trusting she wouldn’t go plunging back into the icy water to return to her friends. After all the effort that went into helping them escape, Bethany realized it would be for naught if they didn’t make it to the Gateway.

Rowan lifted her staff in a defensive position, signaling Evie to do the same. Bethany belatedly remembered her own staff strapped across her back, but before she could undo it, three armored men stepped into the green light cast by the curse behind them.

“Well, well, well,” one of them said, his voice laced with amusement. “Three playthings. Three of us. What a match!”

“Go to hell,” Bethany snarled, still struggling to get her staff in her hand.

“I’m not familiar with hell,” the soldier replied, unsheathing his sword. His lips pulled into a grin beneath his helm. “But I’ll take you there if you like!”

Evie spat at him, the ruby on her staff getting brighter and brighter. Rowan struck first, her staff banging against one of their shields. That left the third one for Bethany. He advanced toward her, his dark grin sending chills down her spine. Finally, Bethany got the staff free of its sheath, and she swung it around as fast as she could. It bounced against the soldier’s shield, but nothing happened. She stumbled back a few steps, trying to focus on summoning magic.

“Doesn’t even know how to use her staff,” the soldier taunted, sounding both surprised and pleased.

Bethany glared at him, anger and anguish filling her chest. The ruby on her staff glowed. It wasn’t as bright as Evie’s or Rowan’s, but it was brighter than she’d ever gotten the emerald to shine during training. “Want to bet?” she snarled, swinging the staff above her head in a wide arc, bringing it down toward the soldier’s helm with a burst of rage. She moved too fast for him to block, and the staff cracked him on the head with more force than she realized. He stumbled backward, trying to keep his balance, but before he could recover, Bethany jabbed the ruby toward him and he went up in flames.

Evie and Rowan both had dispatched their own opponents, and before Bethany could think through what she’d just done, they grabbed her by the arms and dragged her along with them, ducking into the shadows of the houses to sneak their way to the path up to the Dome.

Bethany sucked in the winter air, trying to clear her thoughts, but all she could see was the column of flame engulfing the enemy soldier. Her skin prickled as she realized how awful a death that was. To roast in one’s own armor.

“Snap out of it,” Evie whispered. “Now is not the time to ruminate.”

“I just killed someone!”

“We all did. More will die tonight—let us hope it’s not us!”

Rowan led them from shadow to shadow, occasionally killing the men she saw wearing the upside-down eagle of Ralador. They made it to the edge of the outer village, and Bethany’s heart pounded as she saw the sloping path up the hill to the Dome and the Gateway to Earth. Here, though, their luck ran out.

Six soldiers stood at the bottom of the hill, their swords drawn and ready for battle.

Rowan made them get down and out of sight while she and Evie conferred about what to do next. That was the fastest path up to the Gateway. Bethany didn’t want to kill anyone else, but she remembered Renault’s parting words the night before—that when it came down to her life or theirs, hesitation would cost her.

“Here’s what we’re going to do,” Evie started, but Bethany interrupted.

“Run at them like mad people, shouting about the killer rabbit?”

“I—what?”

“The killer rabbit. It totally worked in Monty Python, why not here?”

“There is no killer rabbit though—”

“I know, that’s why it’s brilliant. You can thank me later.” Bethany stood up, but Evie forced her back down.

“No to the killer rabbit,” Evie snarled, but Rowan gave Bethany a thoughtful look.

“It’s not a bad plan,” Rowan said. “Sneaking around them will take longer, and Bethany’s killer rabbit has the element of surprise.”

Evie opened her mouth to protest, but Bethany prepared to run as wildly as she could toward the soldiers, working herself up with nervous energy. “For Camelot,” she whispered to the other women, winking at them. With a burst of energy, she launched into a sprint, screaming about the killer rabbit as she approached the six enemy soldiers. Behind her, Rowan and Evie’s footsteps pounded against the frozen ground, their voices raised in falsified fear.

“Kill the rabbit!” Bethany screamed at the closest soldier, who looked so startled Bethany almost started laughing.

“What rabbit?” he asked in confusion, and the other soldiers started muttering.

Rowan reached them and didn’t stop running as she dodged through the confusion. Evie screamed at the top of her lungs, each step oscillating her voice.

“Please,” Bethany begged, “you’ve got to stop the rabbit!” She didn’t wait for them to respond, and took off after Rowan and Evie, who were twenty feet past the line of soldiers now.

Her plan had worked.

But one soldier had figured out there was no killer rabbit and started shouting to his comrades to stop them.

A jet of amber light sailed past Bethany’s head and slammed into the first soldier. Two more pulses quickly followed, and Bethany remembered her own staff in her hands. She took a chance to twirl and run backwards, a sweep of her staff sending a wave of energy into the pursuers. It knocked them back for a few seconds, but that was the only time it bought them.

They scrambled up the path, taking potshots as they did so to dissuade the pursuing soldiers. Bethany tripped more than she cared to admit, but each time she felt like she was going to hit the deck, Evie kept her steady. They turned the corner in the path and the Dome rose in front of them. Relief flooded Bethany’s body when she saw it, so much so she almost dropped her staff.

Another guardian of the Dome stood at the entrance with her sword and staff both drawn. When she spotted them, she called out, “Rowan, is that you?”

“Who else would it be?” Rowan shepherded Evie and Bethany into the stone structure. “Keep guard, we will have unfriendly company soon.”

Rowan didn’t waste any time. She strode over to the obelisk and drew her finger through the air, an amber line appearing as she did so. With both hands she grasped it and wrenched the air apart, the sound of ripping universe echoing against the stone. Through the tear, Bethany saw nothing but the blackness of space—the same void she’d seen from the other side when they came through three weeks ago.

“Quick! You must leave,” Rowan whispered harshly.

Evie jumped through the tear without hesitation, her body melting into the darkness.

“Thank you,” Bethany told Rowan in a rush. She briefly clasped the guardian’s hand before stepping backward through the split in the air, her eyes trained on Rowan and the other gatekeeper behind her.

The last Bethany saw of Talahm was the flash of sword against staff, and blackness slammed against her vision. She stumbled, Evie catching her before she hit the ground. Before them, the gaping maw of the void pinched shut, and they were alone.