Authors: Olivia Rivers
The door behind Corinth opened, and Drake stepped inside. Allai had never seen him look so defeated—his shoulders slumped, his eyes downcast and not daring to settle on any one object. But then he chanced a glance up toward her, and she smiled at him. Or maybe it was more of a grin. Whatever it was, it made him freeze.
Drake stood there for a long moment, just staring at her. He slowly shook his head back and forth, like he didn’t believe she was awake. But then a smile spread across his face.
“Hey,” Allai said.
Drake didn’t respond. Instead, he rushed to her side, nearly knocking over Corinth’s chair in his haste. Allai had just enough time to see his eyes—they were the widest she’d ever seen them, not narrowed or hooded or concealing his emotions at all. Relief was clear in them, and something softened them so that she swore his eyes were nothing but perfect pools of liquid gold. Love. As odd as the word sounded, she knew that was the emotion softening his gaze.
Then Drake swept her into a hug. He was gentle, as always. But as she pressed her face into his neck, Drake pulled her against him more firmly. He kissed the top of her head, then her forehead, and then down along her cheek. He paused there and whispered, “I missed you.”
Drake’s words were choked and hoarse, but somehow his voice was just as intoxicating as ever. Allai closed her eyes as she listened to the sweet tone, letting the silky words sink in. Drake had missed her. He cared about her enough to miss her after only a few days. Or maybe it was that he loved her enough.
Drake pulled away, but then cupped her chin and tilted it up. He stared into her eyes for a long moment, seemingly searching for something. A small smile appeared on his lips, and Allai wondered if he’d found what he was looking for.
“I’ll let you two catch up,” Corinth said. He stood from the chair and walked out of the room, closing the door to give them privacy.
Drake hardly waited for the door to close before he leaned in and kissed Allai. His lips brushed against hers so softly that Allai almost didn’t feel the kiss. But, as she closed her eyes, she did feel her stomach get all fluttery again. She thought back to the first time that had happened, and how strange it had felt. It wasn’t that way this time. Now it felt natural, just like breathing. And it seemed almost as vital.
Drake pulled back barely an inch, so that his lips still brushed against hers as he said. “I meant what I said, Allai.”
She didn’t have to ask what he meant. And she didn’t have to ask if he was sure. Because she could see that softness in his eyes, and she knew he’d meant it when he said he loved her.
Allai wrapped her arms around his neck and rested her cheek on his shoulder. She listened for his heart and its familiar beating. It was there, like it always was; steady, rhythmic, predictable. And so unlike him.
“You said before that I didn’t have to respond to that,” Allai murmured. “And I don’t think I will. I’m not ready to.”
Drake sighed. “I understand.”
Allai tilted his chin down so that their eyes met again. She brushed a fingertip across his cheek and down to his jaw, outlining the strong contours of his face. Allai paused when she reached his lips, and traced a finger over them. They were soft, and a perfect match to the little smile playing at the corner of his mouth. “Drake, someday I’m going to tell you that I love you. I promise.”
He kissed her fingertip as she trailed it along his bottom lip. “That’s a promise I’ll never force you to keep,” he murmured. “But I’ll wait for you, no matter what happens.”
As he finished the sentence, his eyes slowly narrowed, and his soft expression went back into hiding. Allai brushed her fingertips over his cheek one more time, and then withdrew her hand. “What do you think is going to happen, Drake?”
He slowly shook his head. “I don’t know, Allai. I… I really don’t know.”
“I don’t know, either. There’s so many things I want to figure out. Like Luke. How did he connect with Flacks? And how did he know so much about my magic?” She sighed and murmured, “I have so many things I want to ask.”
Drake took a deep breath. She heard the breath whoosh inside his lungs—in and out. Then he quietly said, “Then let’s get some answers.”
She nodded and then leaned into his chest, searching again for his heartbeat. Her cheek pressed against something cold. Ice cold.
Allai slowly pulled away and looked to the place on his chest where her cheek had rested. It couldn’t be what she thought it was. She shook her head. Corinth had broken the spell, he’d gotten rid of it, he’d…
He hadn’t told her the whole truth. Because resting against Drake’s chest was a grey stone, pale and ugly in comparison to his black shirt. The lockgem.
The cellphone felt so fragile in his hand. Matti wished he could see it; destroying things had always been so much more satisfying when he could see his work. And that was what he was going to do: Destroy the damn thing. He was going to crush the phone, to break its glass and smash its circuiting to pieces. Then he’d never have to speak to Flacks until…
Until Flacks decided it was time for him to come ‘home’, and dragged him back to the Keepers headquarters. But it wasn’t home anymore. Seventeen years had passed since that that place had been home, and Matti couldn’t just go back there. Every fiber of his being
to; he’d get to see Mira, and all his old belongings he’d left behind. And he’d even see Corinth. Damn he missed that guy…
But he couldn’t just walk back into that life. Not after nearly twenty years. Because things would be different, places would be different, people would be different… Especially the people who had moved on without him.
The phone started ringing. It was perfect timing to smash the phone, but Matti just let it chirp its annoying little tune for a long moment. He knew it was Flacks. He knew he didn’t want to talk to the guy. But he also knew he had to.
He finally answered it. “Yeah?”
“Matthias,” Flacks said. “Are you alright? You sound… stressed.”
Matti ran a hand through his short hair and lay back on his bed. “Do you have to do that?” he muttered. “I say one word, and you start acting like a shrink.”
Flacks chuckled. “What can I say, Matthias? You have an interesting mind. Fascinating, I might even say. I can’t help myself.”
“What do you want, Flacks?” Matti demanded.
“You know what I want,” Flacks said. “I want you to come home. It’s safe now, with the spell Corinth created.”
Matti sighed. Of course Corinth had created the spell. He was always the healer, always the one to try to fix things. But he couldn’t fix this. Even if he’d concocted a spell to rid Matti of the French’s Binding Spell, Corinth couldn’t just put everything back to normal. No magic could do that.
“Do you not trust the spell?” Flacks asked when Matti didn’t respond.
“I trust Corinth with my life,” Matti snapped. “And I trust his work, too.”
“Then what’s your hesitation?”
Matti rubbed his temples. “It’s just… Never mind. I’ll think about coming back, Flacks. I’ll seriously consider it. Just give me some time to mull it over.”
“Of course, Matthias. You’ve always done best with time.” Flacks chuckled. “Rash actions have never suited you well, have they?”
“Let’s not talk about that,” Matti hissed. He took a deep breath, and then said, “How’s Allai? Is she still recovering okay?”
“She’s recovering beautifully,” Flacks said, his voice softening a little. Then he sighed. “But her powers are out of control. She doesn’t know how to use them properly, and it’s going to be difficult to teach her quickly enough.”
“Has she hurt anyone?” Matti asked. He closed his eyes as he waited for an answer. Because so much had changed for Allai, but he didn’t want to hear that
changed. And if she’d hurt anyone accidently… Well, she wouldn’t recover from that as quickly as he had.
“Yes,” Flacks said. “But she hasn’t killed anyone yet.” He let out a sigh that sounded almost wistful. “I’ve never seen anyone with such extraordinary magic, Matthias. She puts you to shame.”
Matti’s stomach churned a little. This was exactly what he’d hoped wouldn’t happen. If Allai had stronger magic than him, there was no way he could properly protect her.
“Keep her contained, Flacks,” Matti said. “Make sure she doesn’t kill anyone. She wouldn’t handle that well. She wouldn’t handle that
“She’s stronger than you think,” Flacks said. “You should have more faith in her.”
“Don’t ruin her, Flacks,” Matti growled. “I know your methods. They worked on me because I was vicious and out of control. But Allai isn’t either of those things. She’s sweet, and you damn well better not change that.”
“She’s my daughter, Matthias,” Flacks said. “Do you honestly think I’d do anything to harm her?”
It was the question Matti had been wondering about for the past few days. Would he? Flacks had done good work with the Keepers. Every day he fought for the freedom and rights of paranormals. But in the two centuries Matti had worked alongside him, he’d also seen Flacks’s other side. His power-hungry side. The side that might use something he loved to get what he wanted.
“I honestly don’t know,” Matti said. He shook his head, even though Flacks couldn’t see him. “I don’t know if you’d harm her.”
“I never would,” Flacks snapped. “I love her, Matthias. You know that.”
Matti bit at his lip. “No,” he said slowly, “I don’t know that.”
Truth was, he couldn’t think of anyone Flacks had ever loved. Flacks had always loved things, concepts, knowledge. But people? No. That wasn’t the Flacks Matti knew.
“Just don’t hurt her,” Matti said slowly when he didn’t receive a response. “And then we won’t even have to have this conversation anymore.”
“Very well,” Flacks said, his voice tight. “Goodbye, Matti. Think about my proposition. You’re welcome home whenever you want to come back.”
Flacks hung up without allowing him to give a response. Matti lowered the phone from his ear, and ran his thumb over the numbered keys. He wished he could call Allai and warn her to be careful. Or maybe just talk to her and hear her voice for a while. Either one would calm his nerves and give him a little peace of mind.
But he couldn’t call her. She didn’t have a phone, and Drake wasn’t picking up the prepaid one Matti had given him. It was going to be another sleepless night, and then another painful day. He had to talk to Shieldak the next morning, and he wasn’t sure if he could stand to be called ‘Luke’ one more time. It had always sounded so sweet coming from Allai, like it was some sort of nickname. Now it just sounded like a lie.
Matti reached up and fingered the lockgem around his neck, running his thumb over the smooth stone. It was cold. Always so cold, like a piece of ice against his skin. Maybe he’d get it off soon and rid himself of the French’s Binding Spell. Maybe he’d accept Flacks’s offer and come home. Then he could be close to Allai and protect her.
At least to the best of his ability.
He stared out the window, a habit he hadn’t broken even after seventeen years of blindness. It was dark, as always. But he knew Allai was out there, her magic building and her powers growing stronger.
“Stay safe, Allai-bird,” he whispered.
Olivia Rivers is a high school student, a literary agent intern, and an obsessive-compulsive reader. She has a slight obsession with Kootenai County in Idaho, and she’s pretty sure life will always be awesome as long as Irish accents exist. She lives with dysautonomia, a chronic medical condition affecting her nervous system. Portions of proceeds from her “Tortured Elements” series go toward supporting youth with dysautonomia.
She can be contacted at [email protected]