By the time I left the ship, Cole’s black figure was nearly lost in the rest of the black wave that seemed to be trying to swallow him whole. I was fortunate enough to find that he was one of the few people with such pale-blond hair in the crowd; otherwise, I could’ve lost him.
I slid between people, getting jostled back and forth as I worked to gain on him. Most of the people I was shoved by never even glanced at me; those who did look over didn’t spare me a second glance.
I was too focused on catching up to Cole to care about their rudeness, but as I looked up at one of the people who shoved me unusually hard, I noticed that there was close to no emotion in his face—or any of their faces for that matter. It had startled me for a moment before fueling me to push through them faster.
I had to get out of the huge group of loonies.
Cole broke off from the crowd and crossed through various side streets, leaving me few chances to just walk after him.
Once walking after him leisurely wasn’t an option anymore, I unbuttoned the cape of my cloak and crept along the shadows, falling back into my favorite role: seeker. Or stalker, if you were being less liberal.
Back home, I had spent hours trying to sneak up on my brothers. Sometimes they would catch me before I caught up to them, but at least once a week one of them stopped paying attention either because they were in the middle of eating or because they thought that I wouldn’t ambush them in a certain room—such as the bathroom—and they would let out a loud yell of surprise before scolding me. It was all in good fun since they played their own pranks on me, but being the youngest of thirteen wasn’t the easiest, so I tended to do what I could when I could, otherwise I might never have been able to do any sort of prank.
As I kept trailing him, I couldn’t help but notice the difference between our surroundings; it was startling. I didn’t dare look over at anything else too closely lest I ended up getting distracted, but I noticed the larger details such as how the area around him seemed to be brightening while the area around me kept getting darker.
The thought was shoved away and packed into the recesses of my mind because in that moment, I only had one mission: I had to find out where I was.
I kept creeping through a short grass area lined with bushes while Cole walked along a stone path. Grass was bending under my feet as I heard Cole’s boots clicking along the stones ahead of me. Shadows were cast over my head by trees a short distance away, but Cole was standing directly in the setting sun, and I knew somehow that while the shadow was spreading a chill over my body, Cole was probably growing warm underneath all of that black.
It was nearly criminal how regal the sun rays around him made him look. No one should be that casually handsome.
My step skipped for a moment as I nearly gasped. I didn’t just think that.
I focused instead on the large, stone building that loomed in front of us, matching the path Cole was following perfectly. Even though it was large enough to look imposing and make even me hesitate a bit, Cole strode towards it fearlessly.
As uneager to walk towards it as I was, I wanted to know who Cole was. Other than that, I didn’t have anywhere else to be or anything else to go on.
There was freedom in loneliness.
My life so far had been spent in the shadows and learning from the people I called my family but had no blood relation to. I even ended up getting a nickname based on my talents and what I did.
They endearingly called me, “Calypso.” Meaning: “She who conceals.”
I can’t remember being called anything else. Even when I was living on my own, I couldn’t remember having another name. For all I knew, it could be my actual name. It would be eerie because I had lived up to the name almost perfectly.
Either that or one of my brothers had been dumb enough to lie to me; a girl doesn’t always know.
I was one of those people who knew the people who knew things; the girl who gave slightly threatening warnings to those on the edge of a fine line. The girl who saw and found out about things that no one else could.
My mind was a treasure trove just for me.
I wasn’t one of the people who had been trained to be amazing with weapons, but I was the one who no one suspected when it came down to who had done it. I was only fierce to someone’s face if I knew that they weren’t going to be put in a position to call me ‘dangerous’ in front of an audience.
Or if they made me feel some sort of strong emotion that I couldn’t contain for the life of me, which didn’t happen often, but it wasn’t totally out of the question.
If it was needed, I always carried two short daggers that I had been trained to use, but my best weapons were my athleticism and my tongue.
After my family was caught by the police, I found a note my father had left that said simply: “Leave, Calypso. They’ll be after you, too.” Of course, it was in his own words, which was considerably less simple to decipher. He had his own mental language that resembled something more complex than chicken scratch.
There were reasons why people didn’t last so long as a mob boss without having a few secret ways of communicating up your sleeve; my dad would crack all the codes and annihilate the competition. Of course, they were left intact bodily, they just often didn’t have any material belongings left and were destined to be on the run for the rest of their lives. When you’d grown up with it, it wasn’t as startling.
True to my father’s wishes, I had left; I couldn’t do anything more for my family. If I tried to help them, all I’d manage to do was implicate them further or get myself caught. That was the last thing any one of them would’ve wanted. To them, I was essentially the baby sister of the group. As such, I wasn’t privy to anything that I didn’t need to be, despite being the designated ‘secrets keeper.’
Thus, I’m here, still gathering knowledge. I didn’t have anything left to lose and that made it so much easier to get what I wanted.
It was even easier when I only really wanted one thing: knowledge.
In the right hands, information means as much power as you want it to. All it requires is a little talking.
Cole turned back to glance over his surroundings when he reached the side of the building, his black coat trying to meld with the shadows that kept creeping closer. His gaze flicked over the bush I was behind, but his face didn’t change.
“It’s clear,” he said. To whom, I’m not sure.
A door I hadn’t realized was there creaked open and he stepped in.
I pulled my hood further over my face and slipped in just before it closed. As I did so, I was pulled in a hard jerk that had me flying into the wall.
“Who are you?” Cole’s voice hissed from in front of me.
I took in a breath to replace the one that was knocked out of me. “Anyone you’d like,” I said levelly, tilting my head to look him in the face. “I don’t have a preference.”
My head knew that this was just another one of the threatening positions I’d gotten myself into over the years. My heart, on the other hand, was threatening to beat out of my chest.
I was fairly sure that for a moment, I had the slightest thought that I was going to die. Though, if I’d had, I’d be even more pissed at myself for being so weak in my own head.
I was quite sure I could get out of this situation, just like I’d gotten out of all the others. No one ever held onto me long enough to figure out that I was just talking them in elaborate circles. In fact, most of the time, I made it out with more information than I’d gone in with. I’d only spilled all the information they wanted once, but that was before I’d learned.
You don’t have to let them take anything from you. They aren’t entitled to your knowledge or your emotions. Those are your weapons and yours alone.
Cole growled, holding me tighter as his face grew nearer to mine. “I suggest you tell the truth,” he said, his voice lowering dangerously. In this lighting, his eyes didn’t sparkle as much; they were a cold blue this time.
I huffed, my stomach flipping. It was odd because nerves didn’t usually hit me. “If you’d let me go for a moment and actually look at me, you’d probably realize I was right,” I said, purposely smirking in his face. “Unless you’re an idiot,” I continued, unable to keep myself in check.
I knew it was most definitely a dumb move, but something about him made me sassier than I could filter.
He pushed me harder against the cold wall as he backed up a step, holding me at arm’s length. His eyes raked over my black suit, but they didn’t seem to find anything that concerned him.
Either he missed the knife belt at my side that was barely concealed, or he greatly underestimated me.
The chill from the wall was creeping through the back of my clothes while his body heat made my front warm. It was an odd dynamic.
“That tells me nothing,” he said flatly, his eyes still cold and revealing nothing.
I paused as I looked up at him calculatingly, wondering how much I wanted to show him. “Let me go for a moment,” I repeated after a second.
Shock covered Cole’s face before he remembered to keep it hard. “Why would I do that?” He asked, his tone disinterested. It didn’t matter that he was covering his emotions now that I knew that something lurked underneath the surface.
I couldn’t resist an eye-roll. “If I followed you all the way from the boat, I highly doubt I’d leave now. Besides, I don’t even know where I am. I can’t exactly do much.”
Despite my words and honest tone, I was thinking something much different.
Am I going to show him anything? I’m a speedy girl, after all. I could just run away. Exits are always bountiful in huge places like this.
Still, I wanted that information. Sometimes, you have to know where to give to get what you want. It was only a little bit, after all.
Slowly, his hands slid off me, but he was still tense and was ready to grab me again.
Smart guy, I thought, he isn’t underestimating me as much as I thought.
Even as I thought it, I also noted that he wasn’t as on-edge as he would’ve been if he had known I was armed. The knife belt must’ve been concealed better than I thought.
After a split-second decision, my hands flew over myself. Quickly, I unbuttoned the outer layer of my outfit in various places and buttoned it back up in others so that I looked slightly wider than I actually was. I arranged my hair in a frazzled lump, disguising the natural way it fell across my forehead.
Within seconds, I was a different person.
I hunched over slightly and rose up onto my toes; I was thankful that my boots had been made for standing on your toes for extended periods of time, because with special gear or not, I always ended up getting sore after standing like that for a while.
Looking up at Cole, I pulled my shoulders back, acting much older than I was. “You’re back,” I said in a voice I’d only heard on the boat. I was careful to make sure it was bland.
Cole froze, obviously recognizing the voice I’d chosen. “How did you do that?” he asked. His voice was slightly weaker than before, which credited my ability in sudden transformations.
Cue mental bow.
Something about hearing his mother’s voice made him much less certain in his authority, despite it coming from a person he knew was most certainly not his mother.
I shifted my clothing back and combed my hair back with my fingers. “Now, a magician doesn’t reveal their secrets,” I teased, unable to resist poking a bit of fun at him. It was simply too tempting.
I blamed it on the restrained snark and how familiar he felt.
“You’re not a magician,” he replied impatiently, grabbing me firmly around the upper arm as though fearful that I’d run off.
Now that I didn’t look or sound like his mother, his voice was stronger. His eyes were still wary, but he wasn’t as on edge. I doubted that he realized his grip on me wasn’t nearly as tight as it was earlier. There was a difference between firmly gripping someone and holding them so tightly that their blood nearly couldn’t flow.
I was well versed in the difference thanks to wrestling a lot. Gotta love when your fingers turning purple when you’re in a pig pile that happened to land more on your arm than the rest of your body.
“No, I’m not,” I sighed, forcing my face to fall even though it felt like brightening now that I knew he had to see me as an equal. He had to, even though I was going to downplay my equality and hopefully plant a seed of doubt and have him have to figure out whether I was really an equal or what I was about to say. “I’m just a lost little girl who’s trying to figure out where the heck she ended up.”
That was all true, actually. The best lies always have a bit of truth sprinkled in. Although that one was definitely one of my weaker lies. Personally, I thought my best one was when I lied about who had broken the neighbors window back home and my dad began glaring at one of my other brothers. If I remembered correctly, it was Omri who I got in trouble, which was pretty funny because he had just gotten back from something, school, I think, and then he was getting yelled at for my shenanigans.
I loved throwing siblings under the bus only slightly less than I loved them. It was an odd relationship.
Cole shot me another doubtful look, only one eyebrow tilting down as his eyes narrowed. “Sure, you are. You ended up with some freakish ability to be immune to the sleeping gas that was supposed to knock you out and you’re trying to pull the clueless card on me. Sorry, that’s not going to work.”
Then my face really did fall. Somehow, I forgot that I wasn’t supposed to be showing emotions. I tried to believe it was because he wasn’t following the plan I was trying to lay out, but I wasn’t so sure.
All I knew was that he was smart, and it was working against me.
“I honestly don’t know,” I said, only barely having to force the strain in my voice that made me sound upset. It was ruined by my eyes widening in curiosity as I realized what he’d ended with. “I’m immune to sleeping gas?”
“Nice try. That was pretty convincing for a second,” Cole replied, gripping me harder as he started to pull me along.
I felt panic rise in my chest, but I forced it down. I hadn’t lost a negotiation yet and I didn’t on doing so. I just had to work harder on my sweet talk and get him to let me go.
Unfortunately, Cole seemed to bring out my sassy side, so I didn’t know if ‘sweet’ was entirely possible. The best I could do might be reducing my snide remarks by half, which might be about as pleasant as chopping off a limb because I really did like being sassy.
“How am I supposed to convince you?” I asked. “If you aren’t going to believe the truth, it’s hopeless!” I made a show of gritting my teeth, bringing up tears just enough so that they shimmered in my eyes. I was a pro at it after spending so many years with boys. They hated tears. It was rather amusing to begin tearing up and have them immediately try to get you to stop.
He glanced back at me, his eyes softening for a second before hardening again. He looked away, “I’m sure you’ll find a way. For now, I’ve got to figure out what to do with you.”
For the first time, I was stuck with almost no way to get myself loose. He knew part of what I was capable of now and I couldn’t attack him if I wanted information from him. He was also oddly immune to my persuasion.
I wasn’t the kind of girl to hold someone at knifepoint and expect them not to fight back—he was almost twice my size, too—but that was getting closer and closer to being my only option.
I used the fear that streamed through me to power the rush that calmed me. “Where are you taking me?” I asked.
He didn’t answer.
I sighed, noticing that he saw exactly what I was trying to do. After a moment of thinking myself in circles, I forced myself to breathe and watch my surroundings.
Maybe if I figured out the interior, I’d have an easier way of things.
Unfortunately, every wall looked exactly the same. They were all stone from floor to ceiling other than the lights that were placed at regular intervals the whole way down. I didn’t even want to think about how long it took for them to run the electricity through the stone.
Unless… maybe it was a wallpaper of sorts?
The close proximity to something that could give me more information made me feel delirious. Almost without realizing it, I strained towards the wall, wondering if it was real stone. I just wanted to know. My free arm lifted in hopes of gliding over it, if only for a moment. Just a little bit of knowledge.
At first, Cole resisted my tugging, but as footsteps echoed down the hall, Cole pulled me against the wall. He looked at me intently as though waiting for me to start screaming or saying that he was abusing me.
Honestly, if he thought that I would do that, he had no idea what was coming for him.
As I stared back at him, his eyes took on a wild, fevered sheen that distracted me from the real stone wall that my fingers were splayed across.
“Despite what you obviously think,” Cole began, “I’m trying to keep you safe. If you wouldn’t mind at least trying to look less tortured, that would be great.”
I would’ve been a little more frustrated with him, but his voice was low enough to send a shiver down my spine. A small part of me loved the way it made me feel less in charge; the rest of me was frustrated I was even reacting to it.
I snarled at him, ignoring the small part of me what wanted to step aside. “I would believe you if you weren’t pinning me against a wall and dragging me to who-knows-where.”
There was a flash of remorse that crossed Cole’s face, but I didn’t get to dwell on it because the footsteps grew louder, and people rounded the corner coming in our direction.
Immediately, I altered my face to look adoring. “Coley,” I purred, looking right into his eyes and ordering him to follow my lead.
Honestly, I think I surprised even myself by doing that for him.
For a moment, he looked disgusted, but he covered it quickly. “Love,” he said it in a way that sounded like a threat only to those nearest; the people walking by would only hear his faux warm tone.
“Master Cole, I—” the voice stopped. “Sorry. I’ll find you later.”
Whoever it was appeared to be embarrassed to come across a scene like what we were trying to pull off. It was amusing how people thought it was scandalous to find a seventeen-year-old who looks all of thirteen getting so close to a boy who looked to be almost twenty.
Cole looked steadily at me as he replied, his eyes reflecting steel. “Yeah, you do that, Kallen.”
I had to stifle a snort as the guy’s cheeks turned so red, they looked purple in the dim light. As he scurried away, I pushed Cole away from me.
He didn’t seem to realize he’d let go of me.
“We are not doing that again,” I told him, a look of disgust crossing my face as I realized how quickly I’d fallen for it.
And I still wasn’t leaving; it was like I was some sort of smitten schoolgirl.
Cole brushed off his clothes like I’d gotten something on him. “Believe me, I’m not eager to do it again, either,” he replied, focusing his eyes down the hall. “Now I just have to hope that he’s not dumb enough to spread the news.” I could almost see him playing a short clip in his head, imagining how it would play out if he did spread the news.
A chill spread through me at the thought of being talked about and I knew Cole saw it, so I played it off as something else.
“He’d better not,” I growled, not having to force the disgust that wrinkled my nose. “In no world would I want to get put next to you.”
That wasn’t what I was thinking about as much as the thought of no longer having mystery at my disposal; I relied on being unknown more than I liked. I didn’t like the thought of not having mystery to make my normal ferocity look even more frightening.
Cole rolled his eyes, walking down the hall. “Just keep moving,” he muttered, pushing me along. “I’ve got to hide you before people think you’re some sort of spy or a commoner that I adopted for some reason.”
I bristled at the insinuation that I needed to be adopted. Yet, since I had no scathing remark ready, I followed him. After all, when a girl’s got nothing better to do, she makes dangerous choices.
Like momentarily debating killing a prince.