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THE TRIALS

"In," King Dimitar ordered with authority, pointing a finger at the cubicle. Sophie barely had a chance to exchange glances with Keefe before her feet pointed her forward. Shocked at her response, she felt some mysterious force that was still part of her lift her ankle as if she was in a simulation.

Then her eyes widened as the king quite literally threw her over his shoulder and into the testing tube. Still unable to move, she landed sitting on top of her hands with her hair caught in her eyes. This level of disgust... she didn't have a word for it. She didn't have a way of showing it. All she could do was glare at the crystal-clear glass and press her face against it, her features distorting in her reflection.

Then the lid popped into place and, with a slow twist, locked her in.

The shock still setting in like a loss that she was all too familiar with, all she could do was watch, terrified, as Keefe charged toward King Dimitar like a verminion with huge, gorgodon-like steps and kicked him in the stomach, his mouth open shouting a battle cry. Dimitar gasped and wheezed at the sight of Lady Cadence conjuring a shield that separated him from Keefe and sent it smashing through the king's face, framing him like Sophie.

"That. Will. Be. Enough!" King Dimitar shouted as he sent a dagger spiraling toward where Lady Cadence's neck was moments ago. If Sophie had been in her position, she would've thought it was coming straight for her and moved so the dagger actually did go through her skin. Its insane speed made Lady Cadence lunge forward and grab Keefe, shoving him behind her as the two crashed against the wall.

Sophie's mouth opened as Keefe ran toward her and smashed against the glass of the tube so hard it almost fell down like a chunk of ice breaking. With a nasty growl, King Dimitar stepped toward Keefe. Knowing there was no way he could escape, Sophie braced for impact and tried to think of ways to make it quicker — except she had lost the ability to think.

Keefe seemed to have been expecting it too, the reality of what he had done setting in as he leaned back and wrapped his arms around Sophie's tube, staring up into the king's eyes with a maddening smirk. Dimitar grunted, disgusted, and grabbed his shoulder without a second thought. Sophie could barely hear her scream as Keefe was thrown across the room, landing on his shoulder with a groan. 

"Stop this. Right now," she pointed, but no words came out of her mouth. 

The king seemed to understand what she was saying and smiled sadly. "I'm afraid you've left me with no choice."

Her failure forced her to swallow her words and allow them to sink in as King Dimitar lifted the tube and, without any warning, let go and allowed it to drop. 

Her scream built up in tears but never left her eyes. Standing there — no, sitting — with her hair a mess and falling in her eyes was the most defeated Sophie Foster had ever felt. It felt like the end was near, like she had lost the ability to see in color, like all hope had been lost. It was the only emotion she could ever feel.

The king played with a small, forced grin on his face. "Get the boy in here," he pointed to Wraith — Sophie hadn't even remembered that he'd been there since the beginning — and sucked in a breath that reminded her of hospitals when she saw Wraith grabbing Keefe's elbow and walking him slowly toward Sophie, as if it was the last time they would ever see each other.

Wraith stopped and looked at the king with a gesture Sophie couldn't read while he distractedly whispered something in Keefe's ear. Keefe nodded once as Wraith gave him a gentle push forward before fading into the background again. The next second, it was as if the Black Swan Collective member had never been there.

King Dimitar muttered something about elves before popping the top of the lid off. Normally Sophie would've realized that it was her opportunity to breathe, but what did it matter? They were going to die anyway. With a few kicks and a glower, Keefe fell into the tube smoothly just as swiftly King Dimitar popped the lid back on.

"This place messes with your head, Sophie," he said, shaking his head, "Don't you see? This is... this is more than we could hope for!"

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