He just attacked Unfamiliar?
Why would he harm his brother-by-realm to save an enemy? Why would he risk punishment?
The answer is simple: he wouldn’t, except for me, only ever for me.
I vacillate between melting and rallying. Get free, protect Killian.
When he had the chance to seal the deal and convince me to make covenant with Myriad, he urged me to follow my heart instead. We’d both known I belonged in Troika. To him, my needs had been more important than his wants, a reward or a penalty.
He sacrificed his happiness for mine, but I failed to do the same for him. What kind of maybe, maybe not, girlfriend am I?
My final moments replay inside my head. Sloan Aubuchon, once my enemy, then my friend, then my bitter enemy, nailed me with a poisoned spear.
I hate him more than I love you, she told me.
Him. Dr. Vans, the monster who oversaw every facet of our torture at Prynne Asylum, a “home” for wayward teens.
Myriad vowed to help Sloan punish Vans. If she made covenant with them and murdered me. She agreed to both.
Her treachery cuts as deeply as the spear. Granted, Vans did terrible things to her. Things no one should ever have to endure. But his behavior does not excuse hers. In her quest for vengeance, she became his mirror image, betraying my trust the way he betrayed hers.
Consequences were immediate. Killian yanked the spear out of me and, to protect me from further harm, impaled her.
Another reason he will be punished. I’ve got to help him.
I punch and kick, but even still, I make no progress.
“Where is she, Killian?” A new voice registers. This one is easy to recognize, too. “Where are you hiding her?”
Deacon, a TL. My friend. He’s always reminded me of a die-hard warrior of old, his sense of honor as much a part of him as muscle and brawn.
If anyone can free me, it’s Deacon.
“Over here,” Killian croaks. “She’s already...it’s too late to save...”
Something hard and warm shackles my wrist. Suddenly I’m steady on my feet, and I can see!
I gasp, glimpsing the spirit world in operation around me for the first time. Dappled golden sunlight spills from a sky of sapphire silk. Fat clouds sprinkle the land below with a breathtaking rain of diamond dust.
Realization. They aren’t just clouds, but an array of oddly shaped buildings with armed soldiers marching along the parapets.
A floodgate opens in my mind, releasing a wave of information. They are guard towers, from which humans can be watched and spiritual battles fought. They move between the realms and the Land of the Harvest, and ownership is ever-changing. Winner of every battle determines rights.
I shake my head, my brow furrowed. I’ve never been taught about guard towers, and yet I now know all about them? I shouldn’t—
I have been taught. Years ago. At the age of five, I attended a mandatory realm-history class. I had...had... Oh, wow, I’m being bathed by drugging warmth, my senses fogging with the most delectable scents: wildflowers, fruit trees and newly ripened berries. How am I supposed to concentrate? I inhale deeply, savoring.
“Don’t let anyone near her until she’s hooked,” Killian says, jolting me.
“My men and I will keep the area clear as long as we can,” Deacon says and rushes off.
My gaze finds Killian’s, and my heart thuds. His eyes are gorgeous, soulful gold with flecks of electric blue. In one, there are five flecks. In the other, three. At our first meeting, I compared those flecks to an octave. The fifth and third notes create the basic foundation for all chords. Whenever he looks at me, my blood sings.
Today is not an exception.
A Myriadian soldier breaks through the protective ring created by Deacon and his men. Without disrupting our stare-down, Killian reaches out with a quick jab-jab, a dagger in hand. I gasp. He just killed one of his own. Savagely. Brutally.
Lifeblood coats the weapon, clear and glittering, a macabre but lovely sight. He closes in on me, menace in every step, but I remain rooted in place, unafraid. This boy will never harm me.
“Stop slaying your people on my behalf,” I command.
“I’ll protect you however I see fit, lass.” He sheathes his dagger and cups my face, his palms calloused from years of combat.
Those calluses tickle my skin, creating friction—heat. Such delicious heat. Soon the battle is forgotten. I’m basically on fire for him, my blood steaming, tormenting me—thrilling me. All because of an innocent touch!
I’ve always reacted to this boy, but never this intensely. Maybe because we’ve never before experienced skin-to-skin contact, nothing between us. Not flesh, not a Shell. Not life-or-death stakes.
I lean into his grip like a kitten being petted for the first time.
Are the sensations this potent with all spirits?
I close my eyes and breathe him in. Peat smoke and heather. My favorites. My head fogs all over again, and I know he’s intoxicating me without even trying.
“Look at me, lass.”
I obey. He is studying me, as if he’s memorizing my features. I study him right back, helpless to do otherwise. Shadows cling to him, but they fail to detract from his otherworldly beauty. Ebony silk hangs over a strong forehead and swoops to one side, creating a roguish frame for equally roguish features. His eyebrows are thick and black, his skin bronzed and poreless, as if his flesh has been painted on. His nose is blade-sharp and leads to a mouth so lush, it could be classified as feminine. His triangular jaw is dusted with sexy stubble.
“In the coming weeks,” he says, agonized, “I need you to trust me, no matter what. Can you do that?”
Without hesitation, I reply, “Of course.” I trace a fingertip over the seam of those lavish lips, acting without thought. He might be firm and muscled everywhere else, but he’s soft as rose petals here, and I shiver.
His pupils dilate, a sign his awareness of me is deepening. “There’s no of course about it. The situation will be bleak, but you must trust that I will always have your best interests at heart.” His grip tightens. “Please.”
I want to reassure him, and I totally mean to do so until a burst of wind blows a strand of hair in my eyes. I frown as I hold a lock up to the light. Cobalt blue? What the what? Before I died, my hair was black.
“I don’t understand,” I say.
“You should see the other changes.” Killian’s hand brushes mine as he sifts the strands between his fingers.
A sharp lance of pain sends me stumbling back, a cry parting my lips.
Was I just...stabbed?
“You’re tense.” Killian catches me, latching on to my wrists and holding me steady. “Relax.” His obey me or die tone is usually reserved for everyone but me.
I bristle. “You relax! I—” Agony claws at my insides, and it’s too much, far too much. “I don’t know what’s... I can’t... I’m...” Dying for the second and final time? So soon?