Ciaran immediately raced down the staircase, taking two steps at a time. Elaina and I followed as best we could, but he quickly outpaced us. He skidded at the bottom and turned on his heel.
"Which one?" he asked, gesturing towards the row of doorways that stretched down the hallway.
"At the end!" Elaina pointed. We followed him down the hallway and into Princess Helene's room. As soon as I entered the room, I was hit with an overwhelming stench of smoke and ash. Embers floated listlessly in the air. The stone walls glowed like coals. In the center of the room lay Princess Helene. It was impossible to tell what had killed her, but it was clear that she was dead. From the look of the room, she had put up an incredible fight. I swallowed. Whoever managed to overpower her must have been terrifying. Elaina's panicked breathing turned into wailing. Ciaran was instantly at her side, his hand on her shoulder.
He knelt in front of her and bowed his head. "I'm sorry to ask this of you, Princess, but there's a chance her killer is nearby. Did you see anyone when you came to get her?" Elaina shook her head. "What about earlier? Did you see anything or anyone suspicious?" A broken sob escaped her lips.
"The man in the black armor," I said.
Ciaran and Elaina both looked at me. "Th-that's…" Elaina's chest shuddered as she tried to control her tears. "That's right."
"What man?" Ciaran's expression darkened.
"We saw a man outside before the trial. Tall. Black armor. It looked like he didn't belong here…"
Ciaran nodded. "Cally, I need you to find the guard captain and alert them to be on the lookout. Elaina and I are going to check on the other princesses."
"Um," I gestured at my clothing. "They might not take me seriously if they think I'm a servant."
"Right." Ciaran removed his ring and dropped it in my hand. "Show them this as proof that I sent you."
"Got it," I closed my fist around the ring and raced out the door. I sped away from the Sky Dragon barracks and across the field. The ash and embers from Princess Helene's trial lay scattered across the field, still glowing red with light. My stomach lurched. I had managed to hold it together in the barracks, but seeing Princess Helene's work so full of life while her body lay lifeless nearby felt wrong. I felt my breakfast rise in my throat, but I forced it down and kept running. A river ran along the north end of the field. I traced its edge until I reached the guardhouse, strategically positioned with its back to the water. I skidded to a halt. The front door hung open, swinging wildly on its hinges. Something was wrong. I crept to the door and peered in. The room was dim, and it took a moment for my eyes to adjust from the sunlight. The guards lay scattered across the ground. A woman dressed in silver armor wove her way among them calmly. She knelt to inspect one. His chest shuddered, and I caught my breath. At least he was alive.
"Your friends are dead. Tell me where the High King is, or join them," she spoke. Her voice was full and melodious. There was an inviting warmth to her demeanor, and if not for her cold words, I would have wanted to tell her everything.
The guard coughed up blood and shook his head. "We already told you. High King Jacobi lives in the center of the Great Sea."
She rolled her eyes. "No, your next High King. Ciaran of House Ars, if I'm not mistaken."
I stifled a gasp. Ciaran? Why? I backed away from the door as quietly as I could. I had to warn my brother. Too late, I heard the clink of metal behind me. I spun around and found myself face to face with the man in black armor.