Authors: Alivia Anders
Tags: #Young Adult, #Fantasy, #Romance
“Use your eyes, silly girl,” a dark voice mocked me from afar. I tilted my head to the side, a rush of relief flooding my senses at the sight of Kayden’s familiar black smoke. It curled lovingly around his thin, pale frame, like threads of power branching out for freedom. But that was all about him that reflected his normal self; his skin, normally tan and rich, looked pale and sick, stretched thin over his bones. His short, spiky black hair had grown tangled and curled as it wrapped around the sides of his face, shielding his eyes. Even his black eyes, normally hovering between a warm caramel and midnight black, appeared shattered and bruised, black and white blotches standing out like popped blood vessels. Somehow, Kayden had become broken, more so than how I had left him after he leapt to protect me.
I was beginning to think there was more to Kayden than he let on.
I moved to get up, collapsing back when my legs gave out. What little adrenaline I had left seemed to have dissipated after I had used my wings. Heat boiled my skin, the turtleneck Ursula had given me clinging uncomfortably to me. I made a mental note to find the prettiest, biggest flowing shirt I could next chance I got to change.
“Kayden, where in the hell are we?” I called over to him, frowning. We were on what looked like a sandbar, or small tropical island of a sort. Water fanned out around us, hues of light blues and greens reminding me of birds of paradise. Palm trees stood in sporadic bursts, dark green leaves framing like nature’s idea of an umbrella. Further in-land, a sway of waist-high grass, uncut, stretched as far as the eye could see. Tints of red, orange, and pink blended to create a relaxing sky. Sitting on the beach and staring out to sea, it felt like the world around me expressed the opposite of how I felt.
Kayden shook the curls away from his eyes, and slowly they turned back to normal. Dark hazel danced inside his iris as he smirked ever so slightly. “Well, Dorothy, we’re definitely not in Kansas anymore.”
And just when I think I see something different in Kayden, like a child playing with a butterfly, he rips off the wings.
Before I could open my mouth to snap back, he started forward, leaving Ari and I behind. “We’re going to meet an old friend.”
Ari helped me up to my feet, a hand around my waist as I leaned on him for support. Kayden led the way, keeping a good chunk of distance between us. Beside me, I watched Ari snicker, willing himself not to laugh aloud. “Didn’t take you for the type to know what friends mean, let alone have one.”
Over his shoulder, I heard Kayden laugh. “And I didn’t take you for the jealous type.”
The hand on my waist instantly tightened. “You’re playing a fool’s game, demon. She might like you, but I sure as hell don’t.”
“Oh, what a pity, I was looking for someone to lead my fan base.” Kayden gave a dramatic sigh, slouching his shoulders for added effect. “Now who will I pass my second-hand ladies to?”
Ari picked up the pace, practically dragging my feet as he kept me locked in an iron grip. I felt like a rag doll in his arms. He dodged around a spare palm tree. “For the record, I would have left you behind. You’ve done nothing but bring Essallie misery and pain into her life.”
“Excuse me, I can speak for myself,” I interjected.
It fell on deaf ears. Kayden slowed his walk to a stop, turning around to face both of us. His eyes locked on mine. “And yet, she still wants me here.” His smirk flickered, turning into a weak, sad smile. “Even if she didn’t want me here, I’d still be around. So long-”
“As she lives, I know,” Ari snarled. In one move, he released me from his grasp, closing the gap between him and Kayden. He grasped Kayden’s shirt, eyes narrowed to slits. “I don’t care if she dies tomorrow, in five minutes, or five years. You don’t get to hurt her, don’t touch her, don’t even acknowledge her.”
Staggering, I swore. “What is it with all this damn territory marking? You’d think I’d be interested in either of you with the way you’re baiting each other.” I shoved past both of them, half-limping, half-jogging to put space between us. Now was not the time to play a game of ‘Who Feels For Who’. “Seriously, you both need to get off the hormone-” I stumbled, my foot catching on a stray branch.
Ari was by my side in a second, hands around my middle as he straightened me upright. Pain flared in my ankle, shooting up my leg like the after-effects of a wound. I muttered something under my breath, reaching down to pull up the fabric of my ocean-soaked jeans. A scrape, bubbling with blood from a superficial gash, spread along the bottom of my ankle, running along the sides of my foot.
I moved to curse, when the air around us gusted, flaring hair around my face. I looked up, startled, to see Kayden standing nearly a football field length away, body rigid as a plank. Smoke curved off him, waving skyward in a thin arc from where he had been standing beside us seconds ago. His pale skin turned translucent, eyes swallowed in black that obscured his irises.
“What the hell, Kayden?” I shouted, moving across the distance he’d thrusted between us.
He vanished back further inland, to the point where I could barely make out the shake of his head and the flash in his eyes. A low, guttural noise tore through his throat, raising the hairs on my arms as ice slithered down my spine. “Don’t... don’t come near me.”
I paused, worry shuffling around my thoughts. I thought back to the castle, my hands on the chains in the race to set him free, and how he’d nearly begged for me to leave him. He had been trying to warn me of his bloodlust, and I had ignored him. But why would he be afraid, why the sudden need to rip and tear me apart? It’s not like I had given him a taste of my blood...
A sickening revelation hit me, steamrolling my gut. My palms turned cold, sweat beading over the skin as my heart jostled in my chest. It was as if someone had poured acid in my veins. “Ursula was forcing you to drink my blood. That’s it, isn’t it? That’s why you can’t stand to be around me, that’s what’s driving your bloodlust.”
The cold, expressionless mask hardened on Kayden’s face. He didn’t need to say it, I already knew. A picture conjured in my head, one of his lips stained red, sticky and slick with my blood, licking at them like a dehydrated man would lick the last drop out of an empty bottle of water. I barely had shaken the vision from my mind when Kayden’s voice, strained and puckered, reach my ears. “Keep... keep your distance, Essallie. I can’t promise I won’t hurt you.”
Funny, you also couldn’t promise you wouldn’t like it.
“Fine,” Ari said, and I turned to see him staring across the land. The barest hint of a triumphant smile touched the corners of his lips, the smug action making me want to smack him upside the head. “Why don’t you lead the way, and we’ll walk behind you?”
I looked at Kayden, feeling the ache in my chest reflect in my face. He looked sick, drained and barely clinging to life. His lips had turned downward to a weak, damaged grimace, the black hollows of his eyes blending with his black eyebrows as he looked... heartbroken. Was it possible for a demon to actually die? Shifting away from Ari, I wrapped my arms over my chest, face set in a tightly drawn frown.
“Who exactly are we going to see, anyway?” I half-shouted to Kayden. He had turned his back to the both of us, walking forward. With the distance between us, I could make out the faint limp in one of his legs. Smoke continued to roll off of his body, more than I could ever recall seeing. It was almost like I was watching him unravel, dissolve into nothing but smoke and air.
Despite his sickly appearance, he turned his head over his shoulder, a flickering grin on his face. “Now now, Essie, telling you would ruin half the surprise!” I stared harder at him, glaring until he gently scoffed. He turned his head forward, tilting it skyward. “Tell me,” he called back, letting the wind carry his words. “What was your favorite mythical creature growing up?”
“Why would you ask that?”
“Someone doesn’t take directions well,” he mocked, a touch of musical laughter reaching my ears. Just like after the explosion, he still managed retain a piece of his sarcastic, comedic self. “Just answer the question.”
“If you’re asking if I was raised on a diet of witches and vampires and werewolves, sorry to disappoint,” I muttered, laughing darkly. Memories of my childhood were far from the fond, joyful ones most children cherished as they aged into adulthood. As a child, my Mother had made it perfectly clear that magic didn’t exist. And if her words weren’t enough to sell me on her ideas, striking me across the face until my nose would bleed on my once-white bedroom rug usually sealed the deal. A light shiver chilled and itched my skin, visions of red and white flashing in my head. “I was more of an Annie Oakley and Anne Frank kind of gal,” I said, keeping my tone neutral. “Didn’t care for the imaginative and unconventional.”
“Didn’t care, or forced not to?” Kayden volleyed. I scowled; of course he picked up on my change in tone. I stayed silent as Kayden continued on. “Shame, really. With a little early knowledge, you could have been so much more prepared. Perhaps you could have even saved yourself from that
ritual, you know the one, where your pretty non-human lover boy Chase lost his entrails when I got hungry.”
“Kayden,” I said, warning him. He was toeing a line I was still too-sensitive to cross, and I would have none of it. “Stop deflecting and tell us where we’re going, or who we’re going to see, before I decide to char you into something hideous.”
He spared me a second glance over his shoulder. “Threatening my face? Playing on my vanity like that, my my, we are a testy little thing today, aren’t we?”
I opened my mouth to scream, but bit down on my tongue instead. While I wanted to point out that it wasn’t everyday I escaped captivity from a wild, mad hybrid demon of a woman, only to land in the middle of nowhere, it wasn’t worth brewing the fight. This was not the time to argue about his unorthodox choice in escape methods, nor the company I have continued to unfortunately attract. Besides, we were lucky to be alive, even if I was hallucinating and feeling like I could hurl until I turned myself inside and out. At this point, all I wanted was to see the Queen dead. And if that meant taking a few bruises along the way, so be it.
“Relax,” I heard Kayden say lazily, pulling me from my thoughts of sweet revenge. “We’re heading to meet a Siren. You mortals would refer to her as a mermaid.”
That explained the island location, and why it was so vacant; we were somewhere near Charon, tucked away in the folds of the supernatural realm. I racked my brain, trying to recall if I had ever seen a Siren, mermaid, whatever. The closest I got was when I passed a half-mermaid, half-faerie on the street in Charon. I vaguely wondered what the difference was. “You’re friends with a mermaid?”
He laughed. “Were you expecting a hoard of flesh-hungry demons?”
“Would you blame me if I said yes?”
“Come now, you should have a little more faith in me, you know,” his walking pace had slowed almost to a halt. Jabbing a finger over his shoulder, he gave his hand a little wave. “I am friends with you, and tolerate the other one. There’s Lilix, and Abigail, and Ursula...”
As her name left his lips, I felt my heart grow cold. It still felt so surreal, like at any moment she could appear dressed in one of her overpriced couture gowns. She had met the same fate as Leo; death by association, and part of me was beginning to wonder just how much more I could take. With each death, I could feel part of myself vanish, wither and die like decaying flesh. How many more would die before I would feel hollow?
I ran a shaking hand through my hair, picking the first topic off the top of my head to change the conversation. “This mermaid-”
“Siren, don’t actually call her a mermaid. They take offense to that,” Kayden corrected me.
My eyes rolled to the heavens. “Never in my dreams would I think of offending a mermaid. Fine, this
she can help us?”
He paused, no doubt mulling over what to say. “She
” he said, as if he were carefully choosing his words. “It’s more of a question if she
“But... you said she’s a friend.”
“She is a friend,” he paused again. “Of sorts.”
“Of sorts?” Ari asked out of no where, looking up towards Kayden. He had been silently walking alongside me up to this point, eyes drawn to a tiny object in one of his outstretched hands. It was a locket, gold and heavily engraved. He had been staring at it for a while now, a frown tugging at his face as he turned the locket over and back, squinting to read the words scrawled on it. White fire sparked and danced on his skin, short little bursts like solar flares on the sun.
Kayden hesitated further, puffing out his cheeks and blowing out short bursts of air. “She’s an old friend. The last time we met, things hadn’t exactly gone over well.” He came to a stop, staring out past a clump of palm trees planted to form what looked like a circle around a small watering hole. “You’ll see soon enough.”
I could only begin to wonder what he meant by that. Making sure to keep sufficient distance between us, I stared down to the drying blood smearing my ankle. The streaks of bright red had turned dark, crusted and flaking. It was fascinating, in a macabre sort of way.
“What are we waiting for?” Ari asked, whispering in my ear.
I shrugged; I knew as little as he did. “I don’t know, ask Kayden. I didn’t even know there was anything outside of Charon.”