A girl, surrounded by various other weeping or staring ones, lies on the floor, unmoving, her eyes wide, blank, and staring, seemingly right at and through me. Her brown hair is fanned out over the ground, her jaw slack, her bright green dress standing out in contrast to the dark brown floor.
Dreu stands over her, back pressed against the wall. “I-no-I didn’t-” she stammers, her eyes stretching wide at the sight of us. “She was already de-like that when I got here!”
I freeze as I try to understand what has happened, what all this means.
Eliana still lies unmoving on the floor; I had hoped it was just a cruel joke, but the glazed-over eyes staring at nothing say otherwise.
I feel hands clutch my arm; Siiba is there, just as scared as I am.
Then it hits me like a galloping horse.
Eliana is dead. This is her body. Dreu is standing here, and no one else.
Stumbling back until I hit the wall, I try to call up a scream, but cannot.
“No, no,” Dreu insists. “I did not do this! She was already-and I-and-” She bursts into tears, still stranding against the wall, staring at Eliana. “You have to believe me!”
I work a shaking hand into my sash and pull out the item hidden there. The ring, bearing the mark of a witch; Dreu’s ring.
“No, no, no!” she sobs. “I am not a witch! And I did not kill her! Believe me, please!”
I want to believe her, I truly do, but at the moment I feel as if, if I trust her for one moment, she will stab me in the back.
“How could I have killed her? Look! There is no blood! I would not have had time to throttle her! And I have nothing to hit her with!” She staggers toward me; a hoarse cry escapes my mouth and I try to command my limbs to move, but they do not want to respond. She catches my shoulders in a rough, painful grip and stares into my eyes, her own crazed and leaking salt water. “Natalia! You know me! You know I would not kill anyone!”
“Do I?” I choke out.
“You do, I promise. Better than anyone else here.” Her voice and tears calm as she whispers a pleading “Please. Please, Natalia.”
“I . . . I do not know what to believe.” Repeating my earlier sentiment makes me feel harsh and cold, but I know not what else to say. This is the first time I have ever seen her cry, though; she is usually sardonic and indifferent. I have to admit to myself that there is a possibility she is telling the truth. More than a possibility; I cannot help but believe her, trust that she cannot be a killer. She is too kind at heart for that.
She turns, her eyes brimming with tears once again, and begins to run.
“No, wait!” I call after her.
She slows to a stop, but does not turn.
“I-I believe you.” I intended to shout it down the corridor, but it cones out as a whisper that barely manages to echo down to where Dreu stands.
She heard it all the same. “Truly?” She turns to face me, joy breaking through the sadness and fear on her face.
“Truly,” I tell her, attempting to smile, but I most likely am grimacing.
Then she does something very unlike her. She dashes back toward me and flings her arms around me, and squeezes tight. I hug her back, comforted. I really do believe her, I do.