Authors: Scarlet Hyacinth
“I’m sorry,” he sent to the feral. “I just wanted you.”
There was so much more to it than that. He yearned to touch the two men, to feel their flesh under his fingertips. But he also regretted the hurt he’d unwillingly caused Roarke. He’d wanted to tell the feral that, to explain who he was and answer all of his questions.
Ever since he’d first felt Roarke, his prison’s hold on him had grown weaker, and then, once Quinn had appeared as well, G’aladon had been filled with such emotion that not even the astral realm could beat back. It was why he’d managed to escape in the first place.
But he’d failed them both. While he’d had every intention of seeking them out once outside, that hardly earned freedom had destroyed what little balance he’d succeeded in earning. Here in the astral realm, he was separated from his flesh and from his original powers, but outside, his magic returned, and with it, so did the madness that had once urged G’aladon to create the sickening, twisted form of life of the Oriakai. And so, he had sought out Hewitt, the descendant of the child he’d long ago tried to kill, aiming to fully free himself from the chains still binding him and to return to the mortal world.
He was glad he’d failed. If he hadn’t, he might have been out there now, and the gods only knew who else he’d have hurt. Quinn and Roarke could have become his targets, something that made G’aladon nauseous. Just the thought that he could deprive the world of Quinn’s gentleness and Roarke’s quiet strength almost urged him to retire in the deepest corner of the astral realm and lose himself in the pain. However, he didn’t. He needed to face what he had done. He was just so tired. The only thing that kept him going through the torment was his strange link to Quinn and Roarke, but he still remained trapped here, and it didn’t seem like he’d get out anytime soon.
It wasn’t fair for Quinn and Roarke to be forever haunted by his presence. G’aladon had never truly given a damn about the welfare of others, but he found that he wanted the two of them to be happy. In a sense, he had expected them to be a good match for each other, and it was one of the reasons why he’d urged Roarke to visit the Tanners in the first place.
The second reason wasn’t so pleasant. In fact, G’aladon didn’t know how to approach it, since he suspected the two men wouldn’t take his suggestion well.
Seeing that both Roarke and Quinn were shocked, G’aladon quickly proceeded to explain. The strength he’d received from the outburst of emotion was already abandoning him, and he needed to make haste. “I will not ask anything suspicious of you,” he told them. “The only thing I need is to be free of the astral realm. Free of everything.”
It was just a part of the story, but G’aladon couldn’t tell them everything, not yet. He first needed to reach Hewitt and maybe contact Shaiyta through Hewitt’s mates. She would know if what he planned to do was possible.
“To do what you did with Hewitt and Devon?”
He sounded angry, the betrayal burning in his heart cutting G’aladon deep. Quinn seemed just as upset and confused. They had befriended him and were having real trouble dealing with the fact that he was, essentially, a monster.
“It’s not like that,” G’aladon argued. Roarke’s fury was getting to him, but it remained an emotion and it anchored him to Roarke’s reality. “I merely want to disappear.”
“What do you mean?”
Quinn asked softly. Through Roarke’s eyes, G’aladon could see the sadness in his blue eyes. It touched the little spark of G’aladon’s soul that remained within him.
“To wherever people go when they move on,” G’aladon replied. “I’ve been trapped here for centuries. If you let me out, I’ll go on a rampage. But there must be a way to simply eliminate me, to wipe away my existence.”
That wasn’t exactly what G’aladon had in mind, but he wouldn’t get into that. He wasn’t sure they would believe him anyway. They were still having trouble processing the truth about G’aladon. Detailing his plan would just hurt them more.
“You mean… kill you?”
Roarke choked out.
“No. There has to be another way.”
“There isn’t,” G’aladon insisted. “Please. You must ask Hewitt for me. He is the only one who saw inside me when we fought. He and his mates will understand.”
Roarke and Quinn shared a desperate look, and G’aladon saw their every emotion. He hated that he had to put them in this position, but it would be better in the long run. He couldn’t separate himself from them otherwise. Some things never changed, and his selfishness prevented him from pulling away.
Through Quinn, he looked at Roarke’s handsome face, staring into those deep gray eyes. In Roarke’s gaze, he saw a storm, but he also knew that Roarke was strong enough to deal with any decision that needed to be made. It would then be up to Quinn to help Roarke recover. They could do this, together, and perhaps one day, they’d even remember G’aladon fondly. Then again, that was unlikely, since G’aladon hadn’t shared any kind or beautiful moments with them. He wished…But no, he couldn’t afford to focus on any wishes beyond the one that was his only way out of this situation.
Roarke said at last.
“We’ll talk to Devon and Hewitt. But don’t think this is over.”
“Death is the only thing that has no solution,”
“We’ll find a way.”
In truth, G’aladon was amazed that they still wanted to rescue him, despite what they’d found out from Devon’s letter. Then again, Devon’s message had been surprisingly sedate, given what G’aladon had done. Maybe the two men didn’t fully understand the seriousness of G’aladon’s crimes.
Well, at least G’aladon had gotten through to them. He’d been reluctant to allow them to meet with Hewitt and his mates before having this conversation, as he didn’t want them to hate him. Sometimes, he truly hated having emotions. As beautiful as they were, they were also troublesome things.
But G’aladon didn’t say any of this to Roarke and Quinn. Instead, he offered a whispered “Thank you.” He didn’t think he could manage to send a more complex message, since he was already weakening, the chains of the astral realm tightening around him.
As he drifted away from them, G’aladon lost contact with the two men, but he could still see them. Both were so handsome, each in their own way. If only G’aladon hadn’t been so power hungry, he might have had a chance at a life by their side. As it was, he realized now he couldn’t taint them further with his touch. He had already hurt them too much.
Sharp pain gripped him once again. It was different than the agony he used to experience while in the astral realm. While originally, it had come from the fact that his emotionless form could not adjust to a world focused on spirit, now, his feelings had become too intense for him to withstand. He wasn’t used to it, but he hoped they would help him achieve his goal.
Closing his immaterial eyes, G’aladon focused on what little he sensed coming from Roarke and Quinn. Love. Once, G’aladon had scoffed at anyone who displayed it, but somehow, it had managed to worm its way into his cold, dead heart. The unexpected connection with Quinn and Roarke had brought back everything he’d given away, and it hurt to know that he would lose it again.
He would have loved to sleep, but there was no rest here, not in the astral realm. There was only the void, the pain and the emotion that tortured G’aladon, and would continue doing so, until finally, someone gave him peace.
Still trembling with shock, Quinn looked at Roarke and pressed himself closer to the feral. It was an instinctive reaction. The revelations of the past couple minutes had dumped him in a pit of frustration, anger, and fear. He simply couldn’t take the idea that the only help he could provide would imply killing the mysterious man who’d asked for his assistance in the first place.
Roarke kissed his forehead, his touch anchoring Quinn. Quinn wanted to bury his fingers in Roarke’s black hair, to see if it was as soft as it looked, but the current situation held him back. He couldn’t in good conscience pursue his attraction for Roarke when someone they both cared about might be dying.
“What do we do?” he asked Roarke.
“We keep our promise,” the feral replied. “I think there’s more to this story than meets the eye, and I’m not very eager to brand our friend as doomed just yet.”
Quinn nodded. Even if what Devon had mentioned in the message was true, Quinn had felt G’aladon in his heart, in his mind. He’d have known it if the other man was evil at the core. As young as he might be, he had a good grip on the paranormal world, and he couldn’t easily be fooled.
“I’ll go pack and talk to my family,” he said to the other man. “We’ll go to that address Devon left you.”
“Devon is a good guy,” Roarke answered. “I can’t imagine he’ll be so eager to kill anyone. He’ll help.”
Quinn left Roarke’s embrace, a feeling of abandonment pooling inside him as he moved away. He needed to get a grip. As much as this had shaken him, he had to discuss the circumstances with Dawn and his mother and get his family to understand the necessity of him leaving.
“I’ll be right back, okay? Wait for me.”
Roarke assented with a nod, and Quinn took another moment to drink in the handsome features of the feral. If not for their predicament, Quinn would have been all over Roarke. Yes, Dawn had always told him how dangerous it was to get involved with paranormals, but he felt drawn to Roarke. Even stepping away seemed difficult, and only the knowledge that he would soon come back gave him the strength to leave.
He rushed out of the room, mentally preparing himself for what he’d have to say. He didn’t have to go very far. In fact, he’d barely left the room when he ran straight into his mother.
“Mom,” he said, breathing hard as if he’d just run a marathon. “How come you’re here? Who’s in the kitchen?”
She narrowed her eyes at him and grabbed his arm. “I sent Shen and Dawn to take over. It looks like the two of us are long overdue for a conversation.”
Under normal circumstances, Quinn might have been intimidated, but this was far too important for him to succumb to his mother’s strong will. “You’re right,” he said. “I was coming to see you now.”
His mother arched a brow, seemingly surprised. “Okay…What is it that you want to talk about?”
Quinn would have preferred a more private environment for this conversation, but he didn’t have time to find a better location.
“I have a dear friend who is in big trouble,” Quinn said. He hated hiding from his mother, but if she knew everything he did, she would never let him go. “I need to leave the diner for a little while to help him.”
“A friend,” his mother repeated. “This feral? Roarke?”
“Well, yes and no.” Quinn bit his lip, debating how much he could tell her without painting a bad picture of the situation. “You see, he and I have been hearing a witch who is trapped in a horrible place. We want to go see Devon. He’s Roarke’s friend, and Devon’s mate might be able to help.”
“A trapped witch,” his mother drawled. “I don’t suppose his name is G’aladon?”
Quinn couldn’t suppress his shock. “What? How…how did you know?”
“I know more than you think,” she replied. “I’ve noticed you looking absent lately, sealing yourself in your room, and muttering to yourself. And I’m quite aware of the coming and goings in the paranormal world.”
She glowered at Quinn. “You must consider me crazy if you think I’m going to allow you to go gallivanting around the world with a man, cancel that, a feral you’ve just met. And all for what? To save a soulless, body-stealing witch? Absolutely not. And I’m disappointed that you would try to deceive me into accepting.”
“You don’t understand,” Quinn protested. “He needs our help. Please.”
Her stern expression softened. “Oh, honey. I know you want to save the world, but no one has the strength to do that. And unfortunately, I do understand all too well. I’m well informed about G’aladon, his past and present deeds, and let me tell you, I’m not very happy that he’s been haunting you. We have to modify the wards again.”
“He’s not dead,” Quinn snapped at her. “Only ghosts haunt, and he isn’t one.”
God only knew Quinn could tell the difference. Growing up, his psychic abilities had helped him understand the paranormal world more than other members of his family did. Thankfully, the Tanners’ involvement with the paranormal had made it necessary for them to place strong wards around the building, which blocked hostile energy from touching Quinn and putting too much strain on his senses. But since he couldn’t exactly stay trapped inside the diner forever, Quinn had learned how to control his abilities.
“Look, Mom. You know I’ve seen how much pain people can be in. I have often felt their emotions. When Dad died, I experienced his loss through my own grief, and yours, and Dawn’s.” He swallowed around the sudden knot in his throat as memories assaulted him. He hadn’t realized it, but his friend, the presence in his mind, had helped him get over all that without sinking him into a trauma. But his mother would not understand, so Quinn added, “Imagine that pain, and triple it, no multiply it a hundred times over. That is what he feels, every day.”
He hated reminding his mother of his father’s death, but he needed her to realize how serious he was. Alas, she didn’t seem inclined to take his words into consideration. “And G’aladon deserves it,” she replied. “People always get their just deserts, Quinn. It is only fair that he’s been punished.”
Quinn had expected her to be harsh, but her cruelty shocked and pained him. “That’s not for you to decide,” he replied. “I am going, whether you like it or not.”
His mother’s eyes widened. “Quinn…You can’t be serious. I absolutely forbid you to—”
She abruptly stopped speaking and stared beyond Quinn’s shoulder, the color draining from her face. Quinn turned, wondering what could have freaked her out so much. But even as that thought passed through his mind, his senses were overcome by a feeling of absolute power. And when he did see what his mother did, he wondered if sometime after leaving his room he’d fallen into a dream.