Hello! So sorry for my months upon months of absence. Life got tough. I'm determined to finish this though, so I provide this (the beginning of the final chapter) as a peace offering to anyone who might still read this or might still be waiting for it to be finished. I'm so sorry. Also I'd like to extend my greatest thanks to sweetlittleoldlady - I am so sorry I never got back to you. I ended up buying my own copy instead of dinner one night...haha. But your offer was so kind, thank you so so much and I'm deeply sorry if I gave you the wrong idea. I really hope you enjoy this little bit and the chapter soon to follow if you're still reading, you really are lovely!
As Arra waited outside the Hall of Princes, it occurred to her suddenly that the sick feeling in the pit of her stomach that had plagued her before picking each of her other Trials was no longer there. As Larten paced the corridor in front of her irritatingly and she watched the lines in his forehead as he worried over her, she realized that she was simply no longer nervous. It was odd, really, to feel so at ease – she knew there was just as high a chance of dying tonight as there had been any other night, but she was happy regardless. At least before she died she'd really felt again, like she hadn't in so many years. As she thought of that, she caught a corner of Larten's cape as he strode back and forth, the small tug bringing him to an abrupt halt.
"You're so annoying," she said, but smiled gently all the same. All that feeling had been because of him. She felt startlingly thankful suddenly, not just for all the help and support he'd offered her, but for making her feel like she thought she never would, just before it might have been too late. As he exhaled, trying to relax, she caught him off guard with a soft peck to the lips. He laughed, such was his shock, and stared back at her with a reverence in his eyes she'd never seen before. Before he could ask what had brought on the sudden affection, or perhaps kiss her again, Arra had grabbed one of his hands.
"Do you remember," she began, staring up at him to gauge his reaction. "Just before The Maze of Blades, how you told me not to be sentimental because by the end of my Trials the sentiment would have lost all meaning?"
Larten laughed at the memory, and remembered just as well how much he had wished during the Trial that he hadn't said that to her just before she undertook the test. However good his reasons had been, he'd always somewhat wished that he'd allowed her to finish what she had to say to him – but of course, the preservation of her confidence had been more important. He nodded awkwardly, hoping she hadn't just remembered to chastise him for it.
"Did you know what I was going to say?" she asked curiously. "Is that why you wouldn't let me?"
Dumbly, he shook his head, mind racing to cover the obvious topics – he'd always assumed it would have been some variation on thanks for helping in her preparation, or some wish regarding what to do with her remains if she died during the Trial. He hadn't wanted her to even be considering death as she entered the Maze, let alone focusing on what would be done with her body if she couldn't make it out alive; and he certainly hadn't wanted to be considering it himself. But he'd hoped more than ever for her survival after that, and wondered all the way through how he'd ever live with himself if he hadn't allowed her to tell him exactly how he wished to deal with her ashes. He'd vowed not to cut her off again, but she'd never attempted to say anything after that. He'd assumed it mustn't have been important.
Arra chuckled. "It's going to sound very foolish," she said. "But I can't die and never tell you."
"You are not going to die," he reassured her automatically, but she silenced him with one finger over his lips.
"I was convinced I had no chance of pulling through," she reminded him softly, glancing around briefly to check if anyone else would overhear them. "I was so shaken from the first Trial that surviving another night hadn't even occurred to me as a possibility, and so it didn't matter to me in that moment that I would sound ridiculous, or how you might respond – all that mattered was that, as far as I could believe, I was going to die and never see you again." She glanced down at an unspecific spot on his chest, still keeping her index finger over his lips to make sure he did not take the opportunity to interrupt her. "You didn't know it then like you probably do now, but even then, even before everything that's happened since – I was going to tell you I loved you that night, because I was already so sure of it."
It was a far too emotional confession for her to feel comfortable, and she suddenly couldn't force herself to look at him. As she felt him draw a breath to speak, in same the moment the guard called her name, she shook her head. "Let me do it this time," she said quietly, and then wrapped her arms around his neck to whisper into his ear. "Larten, before I go," she repeated, as though they were back in the same moment six nights before. "I just wanted to tell you I love you."
She couldn't bear to hear him stumble over his words, or look into his eyes to see the predictable shadow of doubt – before he had any chance to hurt her, she slipped away towards the Hall, disappearing inside with a quiet thanks to the Vampire Gods for allowing her that one last perfect moment.