Waking up is frustratingly difficult. My body is pleading with me to gain consciousness, willing my mind to understand that I am over-rested and need to get up and move. But my mind refuses to listen. It doesn't want me to wake up, it doesn't want me to face the harsh reality of a world without Cassie.
I would love nothing more than to give in to the weakness that calls to me. To allow myself to give up and never have to see how the world has adapted to fill the hole left by the death of my sister.
But I have to be strong. Cassie would want me to be strong. I owe it to her.
The first thing consciousness brings is a roaring ache coursing through my limbs and a pounding headache echoing throughout my head. I wince and force my eyes open, blinking against the light coming from the lamp in the corner of the room.
My legs and arms are wrapped in bandages and it takes me a second to piece together why they are: I got too close to the fire.
Hissing in pain, I raise myself into a sitting position and take in the room. The walls are stone and the many blankets covering me can't keep out the damp chill coating the air.
I'm in the catacombs; the 'safe house' that the Assassins haven't had to use in over a decade. We'd established dominance and a sense of fear in the city above, believing we'd never be forced to hide down here again.
A bitter smirk crosses my face. Clearly our beliefs were false.
I slide out from under the covers, goosebumps creeping up my arms even before my bare feet touch the cold stone floor. My scorched clothes have been removed while I was unconscious and have been replaced with a nightgown that falls just above my knees. Shivering I grab one of the blankets before rising and wrap it around my shoulders, finding the slight warmth it provides a blessing.
The wooden door groans as I push it open and step out into the drafty corridor. Voices echo from down the left side and I immediately start towards them, ignoring the protests of pain my body makes.
"...long are we expected to hide like cowards?"
"However long it takes for them to drop their guard. They're expecting us to retaliate. If we attack now they'll be ready and they'll destroy us."
"They'll be expecting us to wait. If we attack now we'll have the upper hand, can't you see?"
I step into the hall and every pair of eyes in the room turn to look at me. Aeris and Davos are stood in the middle of the room, their faces still flushed from arguing but I can see their expressions soften when they see who I am. Everybody else had been either sitting alone or talking in groups but a deathly silence descended the second I'd made my presence known.
Cassie would usually be beside me right now. We'd look deadly, with out weapons strapped to our bodies and our eyes conveying a sense of mischief.
But instead I stand alone, pale and injured.
The thought knocks me out of my daze and I enter the hall, my head held high as I walk straight to Aeris and stand before him.
"I want answers."
He stares deeply into my eyes, silently calculating if I'm going to be able to handle the truth.
"It was Ivan Lore and his Forsaken." I raise an eyebrow and Aeris continues. "Apparently he had grown tired of our truce and tired of the status the Assassins hold over the city. It's why he burned the manor; he was making a point of how we are not as invincible as we had led the city to believe."
A stillness settles upon me, and despite the fact that Aeris is over twice my age and has years of experience and training over me, I see a flicker of fear pass across his features.
"My sister died so Ivan Lore could make a point?" My voice is nothing more than a whisper but even I can hear the chilling edge to my words.
Davos takes a step forward and starts to reach out to me but he falters when he sees the warning in my eyes.
"I'm so sorry, Alexandra. Cassie was..." He fails to finish the sentence, seeming to realise that there's nothing he can say. No amount of words will ever be able to truly sum up just how extraordinary Cassie was. "We're going to make them pay."
Aeris looks pained. "We can't just attack without a plan; they'll slaughter us."
"Do you expect me to hide down here while the people responsible for Cassie's death walk freely?" I ignore the pleading look in Aeris' eyes. "You can stay here, I'm not asking for any help. All I want is some hunting clothes and some weapons."
"I cannot allow you to do this, not while you're still injured. It's suicide!" There is an authoritative tone to Aeris' voice as he attempts to impose his power as leader upon me. "I've already lost too many of our people. I will not let you simply throw your life away!"
I take a step towards him, every muscle locked, and the blanket falls from around my shoulders. The whisper as it hits the ground is deafeningly loud compared to the silence within the hall.
"Try and stop me, Aeris. I truly dare you to try."
I lay the challenge down and watch as anger floods his features and his hands tighten into fists. I turn and swiftly start for the corridor, already knowing where I'll find the clothing room.
I hear Aeris make to follow and then the sound of Davos' hand falling on his shoulder and pulling him back.
"It's not her you have to be worried for. It's Ivan and the Forsaken who should be terrified to their cores. They have no idea what's been unleashed upon them."