ML, Killian Flynn
Subject: Aren’t you adorable?
Next time you threaten me—however overtly—I’ll have you returned to the Kennels.
Elena and Charles have been reassigned. As for your mother, I’ll be happy to share her name with you…as soon as you do what you promised with Tenley Lockwood. That is our way. You help me, I help you.
Might Equals Right!
General Rosalind Oriana
chapter three (#u4ec5c551-db0a-522b-9758-918687dc1c8b)
“Humility is your protection from self-deception. Pride is your defeat.”
I’m bathed in liquid sunshine and bliss. The water doesn’t soak me or even dampen my clothing; it goes through me, somehow cleansing me from the inside out and, for one sublime moment, washing away my problems. Peace settles over me. There’s no room for fear or melancholy.
I breathe in deeply...exhale slowly...and savor every second.
I’m certain Killian will overcome whatever obstacles are thrown into his path. He’s smart. Brilliant, actually. And I’m ecstatic for Archer. He’s entered into the Rest. Who wouldn’t enjoy a permanent vacation from war? I’m confident I’ll overcome my own obstacles and quickly acclimate to my new circumstances...new structures, studies, traditions and people.
I’m not worried about my parents, who are Myriad loyalists, living in the other realm...hating me?
Maybe, maybe not. Before taking her final breath, my mother reconciled with me. My father cursed me before his. No matter. My peace endures. My worth isn’t measured by his feelings for me. I am who I am, and my worth is my worth. Life is that simple and that complicated.
I’m not even worried about the frigid cold I experience whenever Killian touches me. We’ve become two halves of a whole, and we’ll find a way to be together.
A hard weight slams into me from behind and knocks me forward. I stumble, coming out the other side of the waterfall, my precious peace instantly replaced by worries and concerns, my warmth by cold and my hope by despair. Tremors ignite in my belly and quickly spread through the rest of me.
Deacon, despite his dislike of me, helps steady me as a guy who looks to be my age emerges from the Veil.
“Sorry, sorry,” the guy says with a slight British accent. “Absolutely my fault, yeah. Wasn’t watching where I was going.”
He has dark blond hair and amber eyes—one of which is ringed with black. He’s been in a fight. The battle we just left?
Guilt pricks at me.
There’s something familiar about him, but I’m too jumbled by my wayward emotions to solve the puzzle. Despite the bruising, he’s pretty enough to make a storybook princess weep with envy. At roughly five foot ten, he’s not much taller than me. However, the breadth of his shoulders allows him to engulf me.
His gaze slides to Deacon, and I realize I’ve been staring at him in silence. “New recruit?” he asks, amused, and my cheeks heat.
“Yes,” Deacon replies, his voice tight. He pats the guy on the shoulder and seems to fortify himself for an uncomfortable conversation. “There’s something you need to know, Victor. Archer is...he’s been...”
Victor holds up his hand and releases a heavy breath. “I’ve been told, but I refuse to mourn. I’ll be too busy fighting for his return.”
Victor winks at me. “Welcome home, newbie. You’re going to love it here. Come by my apartment later, and I’ll personally make sure of it.”
Deacon gives the guy’s chest a light punch. “The sexual harassment seminar is going well, I see.”
A grinning Victor salutes him before focusing on me. “I’m late for a debriefing or I’d stay and get to know you better. I know, I know. You’re devastated. When you come by—you did agree to visit me, right?—I’ll dry your tears.” He rushes off.
“Is everyone I meet going to make me feel like I fell off the ugly tree and hit every branch?” I ask.
“Spirits are flawless. There isn’t a can of dog food in the bunch.”
Good to know. “So who was that?”
“Victor Prince. Archer’s younger brother. They shared a special bond.”
Archer’s brother? Guilt slashes me, until I’m nothing but confetti.
Why didn’t he curse at me? Or rail? Why didn’t he demand I leave the realm forever? Something! Instead, he invited me over for, I’m guessing, a little light flirting.
Oh...zero. He must not know about my involvement in Archer’s death.
I wish the ground would open up and swallow me.
“Behold.” Deacon waves his arm to indicate the path Victor just took. “Troika.”
My gaze follows the line of his finger, a drumroll going off in my head to herald the moment of truth. Is Troika as lovely as Archer promised, or the scorched apocalyptic wasteland Killian disdained?
I can’t... I don’t... I wasn’t prepared for this. The beauty before me is far lovelier than Archer described. Like nothing I’ve ever seen. A gold brick wall frames an arched entrance created from pearl; the exquisite design is broken only by the Troikan symbol, which is carved into three separate locations.
Past the open archway is a thriving metropolis both fantastic and futuristic, with buildings of every shape and design, some made with a chrome-like substance, some with crystals. Interspersed throughout are castles and other buildings straight from the pages of a storybook. Cinderella would so approve; with the dewy foliage ascending many of the ramparts, Snow White wouldn’t miss her woodland cottage and the prince wouldn’t need Rapunzel’s hair to climb to the top.
I marvel as flowers bloom in a sky of clear, dappled water. We’re under an ocean? No. Realization: we’re under the Veil of Wings! Rose petals fall, twirling lazily through the air.
A ray of sunlight dances from a sun I cannot see. I reach out...only to still. The Troikan symbol in the center of my palm sparkles. Awed, I turn my arm. The numbers sparkle, as well.
“So many changes,” I mutter.
“You were living in an imperfect and tainted world,” Deacon says. “Physical bodies reflect that. Spirits do not.”
He ushers me past the pearl archway. A wall of mist parts in the center, revealing seven smaller archways, each made with a different precious gem and attached to a different—massive—tube.
“These are Gates,” he explains. “There are seven major cities within the realm, and every Gate leads to a different one. You’ll want to learn the transport system as soon as possible.”
He takes my hand and leads me into a tube made of diamonds.
Those diamonds vanish in a blink, replaced by a searing display of fireworks. I’m cognizant of the fact that I’m still standing, still walking, and yet I feel as if I’ve been sucked into a vacuum. The array of lights blurs, whizzing past me, and a wave of dizziness causes me to sway.