Part Thirteen: No More Secrets
She dreamt of dogs and cats fighting over a mouse. To her amazement, the dogs were trying to save the mouse even though the mouse could do nothing for them. It was like an old Tom and Jerry cartoon.
Once the dogs were victorious, the cats hissed in defeat. The winning dog came to side of the mouse. Everything changed before her, as dreams often do, leaving her in the place of the mouse and a wolf in the place of the dog.
The wolf lowered its muzzle to her cheek and gently licked it. Golden eyes stared into blue ones. She couldn’t look away, she was afraid to. He moved his muzzle to her wound and licked that as well. Her skin melted back together, as if by magic. She was in awe. He had saved and healed her.
Wolves were supposed to be devoted and loving creatures, she had just never expected one would actually save her. It became harder for her to see the dream, rays of light shot through the wolf, tearing the fabric of slumber asunder. Unable to hold onto the images for support, she found herself back in reality.
Devona opened her eyes. She was lying on her bedding, wrapped tightly in the red blanket that Akki had let her use nights ago. The sun had already set, but the fire brought warmth to the forest in its place.
Her body was sore. What happened?
Between the dream and reality she could barely tell what was true. Had they really been attacked by a woman? Or was it a cat? Was it Akki that had saved her, or was it a dog? Or was it a wolf?
The sharp thundering pain leapt forward in her mind. Immediately, she grabbed her left arm. Instead of an open wound, she found a bandage wrapped around her arm. It was real, most of it.
“I’m sorry if the stitches leave a scar. I did the best I could.”
She gasped. Somehow she had forgotten all about Akki. He sat on the other side of the fire, throwing leaves on the flame. The horse was behind him with his own set of stitches.
Akki got up and moved to her side. He knelt down next to her bedding so that he could examine her wound. Devona stared at him as he removed the cloth and looked at the stitches. He gently turned her arm toward him. The caring that she had known was there was finally shown again.
He wrapped her back up. His eyes left the stitches and found her blue eyes. He raised his hand and cupped her cheek. Her face turned flush.
“Are you okay?” he asked.
She fiercely nodded.
“You had me worried, you were out for a long time.”
She could only nod again. What could she say to him? As she looked at him now all she could see were the eyes of the wolf that saved her. The wolf that was now the man in front of her. The second wolf to save her and she still didn’t know how to thank one. Maybe it was easier than she thought.
“Thank you,” she said.
To her amazement, he smiled. “For what?”
“For saving me, again. I mean, I kno—”
“That wasn’t me.”
What? Was it not him who saved her from the panther girl? No, it was him, she knew it was him. It had to be him…
“It was Antony.” He sounded a little too sure of himself.
“Antony? The guy from the waterfall?”
“He heard you scream and came to save you.”
Liar. “Somehow, I don’t think that’s true.”
His smile faded, “I wish you did.”
They were left with only the crackling fire gracing their ears. He was like Eve, he was able to change into a wolf, and he had saved her life by doing so. Why hadn’t he told her? Even after they met Eve, he could have at least mentioned it. Even when she asked about it before he refused to answer her. There was more to it and she was afraid to push anymore.
“Well, I just wanted to thank you,” she said.
He scrunched his eyebrows. “No more questions?”
She tried not to laugh. “I have a million questions, but I know you don’t want to answer them.”
“You can ask me. There isn’t much you could ask that I wouldn’t be able to answer now.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
He sighed and sat down on the ground. He sat so that he was still looking at her. This conversation already felt different from their other ones. This was on a personal level that she had not experienced with him. A level she hadn’t experienced with many people at all.
“I didn’t want you to be afraid of me.”
He shattered her heart.
“The day on the boat, when the first Black Dragon attacked you, I almost changed in front of you. I lost control and I almost hurt you.”
“But you didn’t,” she said.
“Exactly,” he replied. “I would never hurt you. I proved that to myself that day, but I didn’t know how to tell you that I can change into a wolf without the possibility of me hurting you coming to your mind.”
“I’ll admit, I was scared on the boat. You looked so different, and you were acting like you were going to choke me, but I didn’t run. Even then I knew that you would never hurt me. I understand why you didn’t tell me and why Kestrel covered up for you, I just wish that you hadn’t. Honesty is the base for any good relationship.”
She gnawed on her lip. She let too much slip, but for some reason she didn’t feel like taking it back. It felt right, after all he had done for her, and him finally being honest with her, it was her turn to be honest with him.
“I kinda lied about the kiss thing.”
He narrowed his eyes at her, “What do you mean?”
She played with the weave work of the blanket, not wanting to look at him while she explained. He had already been so mad at her over the kiss, she wasn’t sure if the truth would make him angry again or…
She couldn’t possibly consider the ‘or.’
“I was mad and I convinced myself that was the reason that I got you to kiss me. But the truth is…that I had been thinking about you being my second kiss ever since I got here.” She glanced up at him and he didn’t look mad so she continued. “When I found out that you agreed to let Arma kiss me, it really hurt. I realized that you didn’t care about kissing me, but I still wanted to kiss you. So, I did take advantage of the situation, not to get revenge, but to pretend for a few moments that you actually would want to kiss me.”
“Damn it Devona,” he whispered. She didn’t know if she was supposed to hear him or not. Looking at him, she saw his gaze on the ground, and she was sure that she wasn’t. Cautiously, he looked at her. “I promised that this wouldn’t go any farther. Not just for the Council, but for the queen and you as well.”
“I know, and that’s why I haven’t said anything. I kinda wish I hadn’t.”
He sighed and ran a hand through his hair. The light of the fire danced across his face. He was so handsome, so perfect, like a movie star. Even if it were possible for them to be together, why would he want her?
She couldn’t take it anymore. She had to look away from him. Devona felt like an idiot. How could she have confessed such things to him? Knowing he couldn’t possibly feel the same way about her.
But she remembered their kiss.
It was so passionate. It was better than her kisses with Mark and Kai. He had to have felt something but she couldn’t dare dream that he had.
“I wanted to kiss you too.”
Her eyes grew wide but she continued to stare at the ground. He was lying. She couldn’t allow herself to look at his face to see the lie written there.
“Even at the carnival I wanted to kiss you. I was angry that I wasn’t a more impulsive person. If I were I would have kissed you then. I wouldn’t have to worry about you being a Princess and breaking the rules. It would have been free and easy, but I didn’t have the nerve to do it.”
“You don’t have to lie.”
“I’m not lying.”
She finally looked at him. His eyes were soft and his posture was relaxed. He wasn’t lying. All of this time he had wanted to kiss her too? It wasn’t love, or even admitting that he cared about her more than as a Princess, but it was something.
It was a step in a direction they were not supposed to take.
Fate of the heart is unbendable, you will love who your heart loves, if you approve or not.
He placed his hand on her leg. Even through the layers of fabric, she could still feel the warmth. She was drawn in to his eyes. Before she knew better, they were both leaning toward each other. He raised his other hand to cup her face again. She leaned her head into his hand, watching him carefully.
She licked her lips.
“We shouldn’t,” she whispered.
“I know that,” he said.
He kissed her.
The world fell away from her. She wrapped her arms around him, pulling him close to her. There was freedom this time, she could touch him and he could respond. Neither of them were trapped in chains, except the metaphorical ones of duty. She could hear the words of the Council, saying how horrible this was, it shouldn’t be happening, against the rules. After what they put her through, she really didn’t give a shit about following their rules.
He moved his hand from her leg and wrapped it around her waist to pull her tightly against his body. Devona gasped, moving her lips from his for an instance, only to have his return to her a moment later.
She caressed his mouth and his body like she had only dreamt about. Her hands ran through that soft hair that she had admired for months. It felt just as great as she had imagined. So did the rest of him.
His other hand moved from her cheek to her hip. Her eyes fell shut, unable to focus on anything but him: the movement of his lips, the feel of his body, and the smell of his hair. He left her lips, placing a kiss on the corner of her mouth. Then on her cheek. Then below her ear. Then his teeth found her earlobe.
She had to grip his shirt to make sure she didn’t pass out again.
“I love you.”
The words left her lips before she knew better. He froze. Her face was red and not from the kisses. Did that just happen? Did she really say that?
Akki pulled back to look down at her. He looked sad.
“I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have said that!” Devona pushed against him, but he wouldn’t let go of her.
“You don’t love me,” he said. She still pushed against him, why wouldn’t he just let go? Obviously he didn’t feel the same. She had to get away and bury her head deep in the dirt for a few years. “Tell me you don’t love me.”
She stopped struggling. How could he kiss her without considering that love might be a possibility?
“I’m sorry, but I do.”
If Devona didn’t know better, she would have sworn he looked like he was about to cry, but, that couldn’t be possible. This was Akki, guardian of guardians, warrior of warriors, man of no emotion.
“You know what I’ve done, how can you love me?”
“You didn’t do those things. It was Mushin through you. Besides, you can’t even smile because of your past, obviously you regret it. You’ve done nothing but protect me, and save me time after time, how could I not love you?”
“Devona,” he whispered and pulled her close. A hug. Slowly, she wrapped her arms around him and hugged him tightly. The longer she held onto him, the more right it felt. Her heart knew he was the one. Even if she wasn’t entirely sure why, he was the one for her.
She loved him.
They ended up curled up together in her bedding, both wrapped in the blanket. Part of her felt bad, being so close to him in Ana’s blanket, but the other part of her didn’t care. He held her tightly, her head hidden in the crook of his neck.
She watched him as he slept. At least he was able to. She could only lay and wonder what would happen now. Tomorrow, would he act as though nothing happened? Would it be the same as after their first kiss?
She stroked his face, amazed. Finally, she closed her eyes, and willed herself to sleep. It was only the beat of his heart that calmed her and finally aided her in finding rest.
Things were quiet, too quiet.
Mushin was alone in her quarters again, waiting to hear from her warriors on the Seventh Constellation. She was eager to hear if they had found and stopped the guardians and the Princess. The forest there was a dangerous place, so maybe if her soldiers hadn’t found them, maybe they would die lost in the forest.
The silence was shattered by a knock at her door.
“Yes?” she asked.
“My lady, there is a messenger here that must speak with you in private. He says it is very urgent,” said a young woman’s voice from the other side of the thin wood.
With not even the crickets singing their songs she knew who was on the other side of the door. Dare she speak with the messenger?
“How urgent is this?” inquired Mushin.
“As urgent as it is for a new fawn to learn to run,” replied a new male voice.
It was her.
Mushin got to her feet and opened the door. Her servant quickly bowed and left them alone. This time around she was a tall man dressed in a black robe with a hood that covered his face. A look that should be normal in her presence, but she knew this was different. Mushin hardly looked at the man as she motioned for him to follow her.
They walked in continued silence. A few servants watched as they passed, none of them saying a word. It was as if they could feel the power that walked among them. Mushin entered the throne room with the man close behind. Once alone he shut the door and fell to his knees. Mushin rolled her eyes and crossed her arms over her chest. She was over this long before it started.
“You can drop the act, it’s just you and me,” said Mushin.
The man laughed in his normal feminine tone. He got to his feet and changed before her eyes. In the place of a dark hood melted into long white hair draped behind slim shoulders, and brown eyes turned equally as white, with only a line for a pupil. Stretched out for the man’s back were large dark wings, curved with talons at the end. The male’s body curved to a woman’s that now wore a low v-neck black velvet dress. The bottom of it pillowed out from her body like a flower across the ground, like a black rose.
The fallen angel laughed at her. “There is no fooling you, little demoness.”
“What do you want Baskis?” asked Mushin.
“He sent me.”
Baskis, the third fallen angel, the only one left free in Zakiah Adara and the only one still in contact with their leader. Not even Mushin spoke to him, but that was by personal choice.
“What does he want?”
The woman was quiet, examining her own deadly nails. After a few ponderous moments, she finally looked up at Mushin.
“He doesn’t think you’re doing a good job.”
“Has he already forgotten that I’ve killed off two guardians? Has he not noticed how close my people are coming to killing the Princess?”
“Not close enough. He thinks that by now the Princess should be fair game, with only one guardian or none left at all.”
Mushin flared her wings, but the fallen angel didn’t even blink. There were few people in this world that weren’t intimated by her, and Baskis was unfortunately one of them. Instead the woman laughed at Mushin’s failed attempt.
“Please Mushin, let’s get serious. Lucifer wants you to step up your game. So, he sent me here with his own plan for you to use and do well.”
Mushin clenched her fist. “I have been fighting this war for five thousand years! Don’t you think that I might know what I’m doing by now?”
“Yet, you are still fighting the war after five thousand years. He’s tired of waiting. This will be the last time that the Princesses will return here because after this battle is over Zakiah Adara will be his.” Before Mushin could protest, Baskis spoke again. “He wants you to move your troops to the Eighth Constellation. There you will make your attack.”
“I already have troops on the Seventh, and we’ve taken over the Ninth, why in the name of Hell would I move my troops to the Eighth?”
“Just do as you’re told. He has a plan, but I won’t tell you until you move your troops. No backing out of this one, and if you try, there will be consequences.”
“I don’t take orders well.”
“We know that, that’s why I’ll inform your troops of the move if you don’t. Either way, the guardians will be taken out on the Eighth Constellation, if you move your people on your own or not.”
Seeing no way out, Mushin gave in.
“What will the troops do there?”
Baskis smirked, “Nice try, really, but I already told you that you’re not going to know the plan until later. Sorry, my lady.”
They made it to Havinton a few days later, and there was absolutely nothing to do in the city. It was very small, with just a few houses, a butcher shop, and the inn that they were staying at. Luckily, just as they were checking in, Devona noticed a posting for a carnival in the neighboring city. After much pleading she was able to convince Akki to go. He warned her it was not like the carnival that they had met at. Still, it was something to do, something to take their minds off worrying about Kestrel and Kai’s safety.
The carnival was fun and it was a nice change from the war. Also, it brought back a lot of memories from when she first met Akki. She had forgotten how heated their first meeting was, it was just another of many moments that lead to their most recent kiss. It still amazed her that he hadn’t pulled away from her. Yet anyway. When Kestrel and Kai returned she feared it would be another story.
Another good thing about having Akki to herself was being able to convince him to buy her things. Even Mr. Stingy himself gave in when she sorely pointed out she needed a new traveling outfit. Months in the same skirt and corset only to change into pajamas at night and to wash her clothes was getting a little old.
He gave in and purchased her a new outfit. It was very Renaissance-esc, much like the carnival. Her top was now an off the shoulder white peasant top with a tan vest to go over it. Instead of a mini-skirt she now wore dark brown leather pants that were soft and comfortable; it was much more suitable attire especially with winter approaching.
She had only seen snow a couple times, but most of the times she had were either on TV or frost on her father’s windshield. She had never built a snow man or made a snow angel. She was very excited for the coming months, especially if that meant being closer with Akki.
They made their way around the carnival, visiting booths set up with clothing, food, and toys. All the toys were so cute, but she was too old for toys. However, not too old to appreciate them from afar. What really drew her attention was a booth selling swords. Maybe with a change of clothes, she could also take on a change in her experience in this world and start protecting herself. She dragged Akki over to the table and he watched in silence as she browsed.
“They’re all so beautiful.” She had a new appreciation for the weapon. Not just swords either, any weapon in general. They awed her at how they would protect her and hurt her all at the same time.
“Do you see one that you like?” asked the elderly gentleman running the booth. He was balding but had a face full of prickly white hair that stood out on his dark skin. Devona could barely see his eyes under bushy eyebrows.
“Um…” She examined each one trying to decide which one she liked the best.
Her eyes landed on a sword that was simple but gorgeous. The entire sword looked like it were made out of silver, and the hilt was wrapped in blue leather. On the blade there was a strange tribal engraving and at the bottom of the hilt sat a sapphire.
“Well, I think I like that one,” she said, pointing to the sword.
“An excellent choice. That sword is a replica of Kyriakos, the sword of the dragoness Azul.”
Devona looked back at Akki, confused. He leaned down and whispered in her ear.
“The Blue Dragon, she was one of the ancient Spirits. She died before Mushin’s uprising.”
The Blue Dragon, again? The bracers that she had chosen, those too belonged to the Blue Dragon. Why?
Her fingers touched the leather cautiously, as if she were afraid it would bite. Akki seemed to notice and placed a gentle arm on her shoulder. Devona took a deep breath and stepped away from the sword. She had enough, and already, she wanted to leave.
As she turned away the man called out to her.
Devona froze. Was he a Black Dragon? All the Black Dragons she had met had black hair and red eyes, but did that really matter? Or had his hair simply turned white with age? Or was he just calling her princess? Or, did he really know?
Slowly she looked around and noticed there weren’t many other people around. They could confront him and find out the truth and hopefully get away safely.
As she turned back to him he spoke again. “My grandson, Antony, told me he had met the Princess in the forest. That she saved him and told him the way out. He said that she was very beautiful with long golden hair, you must be her.”
A…fan? Not what she was expecting.
“I told them not to tell anyone,” grumbled Akki. “I swear to—” Before his anger could go any farther, Devona placed a hand on his arm, trying to calm him. It seemed to work, and the tension in his stance slowly eased.
“Thanks, I guess…” she said in a whisper.
“So, are you she?” asked the older man.
She knew Akki would be angry, but she nodded anyway. The man’s jaw dropped.
“By the Spirits, the legends are true. You have no idea how happy it makes me to finally know that you really do exist.”
“But with my existence comes war,” she whispered.
“No, Princess. With your existence there is the possibility of the end of war. This war has been going on for far too long. There are times of peace, but the hatred that people have is so deep it will never go away. Not while the influence of Mushin still lies in this world. You are the possibility for all of that to finally end. I thank the Spirits that you do exist.”
The man reached down and lifted the sword under the blade, holding the hilt toward Devona. She glanced from the handle to the man and back again.
“Please, take it, protect yourself,” he said.
Devona shook her head, “I can’t. It wouldn’t feel right.”
“It is a gift. A thank you for saving my grandson and hopefully the world.”
As the old man handed her the sword, it finally sunk in. She was the only hope that this world had to get rid of Mushin. The woman who had killed Arthur and Thea in front of her very eyes. The woman who had sent so many people after her already, trying to kill her. The woman who was the reason that this war even started in the first place. How could Devona stop her when she couldn’t even protect herself?
Devona took the sword and looked up at the gleaming blade. So beautiful and so deadly. That was what Mushin was. Was it what Devona would have to become too?
She lowered the sword to her side.
“Thank you, it means a lot to me,” she said.
The man simply nodded.
They left the stand. Devona hold the sword close to her side, unsure of how exactly to carry it. She glanced over at how Akki’s sword hung from his waist, shielded in leather. She would need something similar, but she didn’t want to go back to the man and ask for more. For now, walking awkwardly was fine.
“You’ve changed,” said Akki.
She looked up at him, “What do you mean?”
He stopped and watched her. Devona waited at his side. “This man was giving you a gift and you didn’t want to accept it. Yet, back on the Second Constellation, you took advantage of that poor dress maker.”
Devona narrowed her eyes at him. “That girl was rude to us…”
“Only after Kai tried to take advantage of her, if I remember correctly.”
It was true. Then she hadn’t felt bad about using the fact that she was the Princess to her advantage. It was also part of the reason she helped the guys out in the forest: she liked the attention. Why now were things so different?
Devona touched her arm where the arrow had hit.
No matter how close to death she had been on this journey, that was the first real attack against her. The first that would leave a scar. How many scars would she accumulate throughout her stay?
Why was it now after she found love here that she realized it wasn’t all about finding a boyfriend?
“I could tell that he didn’t have much money, I didn’t want him to lose anymore.”
“It was his choice. He is willing to lose to keep you safe.”
Was Akki speaking for the man or for himself? She clutched the hilt tightly. She had to smile, even through all the worry. It was the only thing that could keep her sane. Only a few months down and yet there were still four and half years to go.
Akki smiled at her. It was odd, she still wasn’t used to it, but it felt nice. Without thinking, she fell into his chest and he wrapped his arms around her. Sanctuary.
He went rigid. Devona looked up at him to see panic in his eyes. Never, never, had she seen him look like that. Fear was not a word usually used to describe Akki. Maybe something he caused, but never felt.
They both turned where the voice had come from. Devona was blown away.
There stood a middle-age woman with short cropped brown hair. She was dressed in a beautiful yellow sun dress that matched her eyes. Devona stepped out of his arms.
The woman’s smile was ecstatic. The resemblance between the two was remarkable. She made her way closer. Devona stepped aside, and once in front of him the woman hugged him tightly.
He still looked petrified.
She pulled back and smiled at him, “My lord, you are tall! You really have been eating your vegetables. Imagine what the younger you would be saying right now!”
“Right,” said Akki.
The woman snapped around and looked at Devona with the same eager smile. “Is this your new wife?”
Devona went cherry red.
“No!” she said.
“No. This is Devona. She’s a…friend,” said Akki.
Devona tilted her head at him. Maybe a little more than just a friend.
The woman waved her hand and spun around to look at Akki again. “No bother. How have you been?”
Akki looked sad. “Aunt Hannah, you know how I’ve been.”
“No, I don’t. I haven’t seen you since…what was that girl’s name again?”
Akki sighed, “Ana.”
“Yes! I haven’t seen you since Ana died.” Hannah paused and looked back at Devona for a second and then back at Akki. “This girl seems like a much better choice than the other.”
“Thanks,” Devona said before she could stop herself. She was working on that still, barely improving.
“And the day my father died,” whispered Akki.
That was the same day as Ana? Devona didn’t even know that Akki’s father was dead.
“That was the same day wasn’t it? It’s all such a blur now. We haven’t seen you since, heard stories, but haven’t seen you! Please, you have to come home and let your mother know that you’re alright,” said Hannah.
“Come home?” asked Devona. “Is home close?”
“Yes, only slightly farther north.”
Of course, he was from this Constellation. Devona should have realized his home would be nearby eventually. This was exciting. Perhaps she could go home and get his mother’s approval, hopefully they would get along. Maybe after that, they would get more serious, maybe even—OR…she could take a giant step back and force her brain to slow down.
Akki’s faced lost all emotion. The indifference had returned and Devona hated that it was in front of his aunt. “I won’t go home.”
“But you must.”
“But I won’t.”
Silence. Hannah’s smile was gone now.
She sighed, “Please, Akki, I can’t believe all those stories that I’ve heard about you. Tell me that they aren’t true. Come home, tell you mother that they aren’t true.”
His eyes turned a shade darker. “I won’t lie, so I won’t go home.”
Hannah hung her head. “Alright.”
“Perhaps it’s best if she were to believe that I am de—”
“No!” Hannah locked her eyes on his. “I will tell her that I saw you. It will be up to you from there if you wa—if you choose to see her.”
“Aunt Hannah, I wouldn’t be able to handle the hatred,” said Akki.
She shook her head, “There is none. Akki, we saw the change that came over you. Your mother knows that it was not you who killed your father. We had hoped that the other stories weren’t you either, but even if they are it doesn’t matter. She will always love you. Mothers always do. That’s what family is for.”
The blood in Devona’s veins turned to ice. Akki killed his father? That couldn’t be true. But she watched as he didn’t even flinch at his aunt’s words and she knew it was true. Her heart shattered again, imagining the pain he must have endured every day. She imagined her own father and how worried he must be about her. Akki would never have that again, because of Mushin.
Hannah forced a smile and touched Akki’s cheek. His indifference was beginning to break as his eyes took on an even darker shade. His aunt didn’t notice, turned, and walked away. Devona held the sword tight to her chest, wondering how she could make this better.
Hannah was no more than ten feet away when Akki took off. He was walking quickly and Devona tried desperately to keep up. He had decided it was time to go as well.
To her amazement though, he didn’t take the trail once out of the carnival, he took a harsh left toward the forest. The forest that they had tried so desperately to get out of. Devona did not want to go back in but he left her no choice. She had to jog to keep up with him.
He charged his way through the trees with ease. Devona had to dodge limbs and try not to trip over roots. What in the world was going on?
Akki finally stopped, grabbing on to a tree for support. Devona came to a huffing halt a few feet back from him.
Devona watched him warily. “I know that must have been hard for you, but—”
Akki collapsed to the ground. He gripped his head tightly with one hand and his stomach with another. Devona dropped the sword and was at his side a second later. This was similar to what happened on the boat. Then he hadn’t wanted her touch, she was sure now wouldn’t be any different.
But…if this were like the boat…
Akki looked up at her with eyes of black onyx. Devona froze.
“You should have stayed at the carnival,” he struggled to get out.
“You didn’t tell me to, at first I just thought we were leaving. Besides, I’m not supposed to be alone.”
He took deep slow breaths and looked away from her. Akki grimaced and tightened his grip on his head. Devona felt horrible, but what could she do? This was always her dilemma.
“I know…I’m sorry. I just had to get away,” he said.
“Are you going to change again?”
He growled and Devona moved back. He wouldn’t hurt her, she had to remember that. Images of the brown wolf that had saved her life came to her mind. Even then she hadn’t been afraid, how could she dare to be now?
“Not if I can help it. I’ve given in too many damn times lately. She is gaining more control over me, I can’t…I won’t have that!” The last bit came out as a snarl.
“But fighting it causes you pain,” said Devona.
“It’s worth it.”
“Obviously it’s not. You’re going change anyway, so might as well—”
“No I am not!”
It hurt to hear the anger in his voice. She knew it wasn’t intentionally directed at her, but it still hurt. Devona sighed, not sure what to do for him now.
“It never used to happen so easily,” said Akki. “I know her influence over me is getting stronger.”
“That’s my fault, I’m sorry,” whispered Devona.
He looked over at her again, scrunching his eye brows together.
“Devona,” he said, “I would gladly sell my soul all over again to keep you safe.”
“Why? What’s the point of keeping me safe in this lifetime and damning yourself for eternity?”
“I’m a guardian. It’s what I was born to do.”
He groaned again, wrapping both arms around his chest. She reacted before she knew what she was doing. Devona wrapped her arms around him, drawing him tight to her chest. He tightened against the feel of her, threatening to pull away. But…he didn’t. For once, if she could, she would keep him safe.
“Devona…” he whispered.
“Tell me how you got free of Mushin,” she said. It was the only thing she could think of to help him: distraction. Perhaps if she could take his mind off the change and the anger that caused it, maybe she could stop it.
“I’m not really sure. I know I had a dream. Some woman was there, talking to me. Even after I awoke I couldn’t remember everything. But I remembered one thing she said clearly. She said ‘it’s time to wake up Akki. You can’t give up…not yet.’ When I woke up, the collar that had held me hostage was gone and I was myself again. The other men I was with were free too. I’m not sure who she was, but I am in debt to her forever.” He growled and struggled against her. “Devona, I don’t think—”
“Shh,” she rubbed his back, trying to calm him and herself. She pulled him even closer so that he was lying in her lap. It was a bit scary to think about the power that was coursing through him at that moment, and how it was related to Mushin. Instead of thinking about it, she pulled him closer to her, laying her head on top of his. “Tell me how you met Kestrel.”
He growled and fisted his hands against her legs. Yet, he continued. “It was a few years ago. She was…about to get married to a man that her mother chose for her. After her mother’s passing, she felt obligated to the relationship but she wasn’t happy. She wanted to get away and I offered her that.”
Devona glanced down at him and tried to remain calm. Already he was starting to look different: longer nails, longer hair, and pointed ears. She had seen the woman change, but never had she thought about what it would look like when he changed. She thought of all the times he fought to protect her. When he smiled, the few times that he did. The cocky smirk that turned his lips after they kissed in the dungeon. This was still the same man and for once he needed her.
She took a deep breath and asked what she hadn’t wanted to. “Can you tell me about Ana?”
He grew even tenser against her.
“I know I shouldn’t be asking but…”
“No, you have a right to know.” His words were mixed with snarls now. “We were both young, naïve. Her family lived close to mine, and we quickly fell for each other, and planned on getting married soon after. She was kind, sweet, beautiful…”
She couldn’t help but be jealous of her. Ana still had a huge effect on Akki’s life. To this day, he beat himself up over her death. However, she knew that if something were to happen to her, then he would feel the same. Ana would always be a part of him, and she was willing to accept that. Devona took a deep breath and hugged him tighter, noticing that he was less tense now.
“Thank you,” whispered Akki.
He pulled back, sitting up next to her. Instead of onyx his eyes were golden once more. Devona smiled.
“You didn’t change,” she had to point out the obvious.
“Yeah, that’s actually a first. I never want to and try so hard not to but…I’ve never stopped it before.” He paused and watched her for a few moments. He then took her in his arms and hugged her tightly. “Thank you.”
She wrapped her arms around him and smiled.
He helped her to her feet and gave her a quick kiss. It was nice and natural. A sweet kiss shared between lovers. Something she could get very used to quickly. They pulled back and she smiled at him. She wrapped her arm around his waist and he led the way out of the forest.
It was late when they arrived back at the inn. There was no one at the desk, only a sign saying they would return in the morning. Devona took Akki’s hand and led him up the stairs, as if he didn’t know where their room was. However, he didn’t fight back. He simply took her hand and followed her.
The room was small, with just enough room for the bed and a dresser. Luckily for them, they didn’t really have too much with them, or the room would have felt cramped. The walls were a dark blue, and the sheets were white. Somehow, the contrast in color was very soothing.
Devona released him, and placed her new sword on top of the dresser. He shut the door and locked it. She looked back at him and smiled. She blew him away. There was no way that she had just experienced what she had with him. How could she still smile at him after what she had almost seen him become? Yet, there she was, not running away in fear, but happy for the future.
She opened up the dresser and pulled out her itchy nightgown. With one glace in his direction, he knew it was his cue to turn around. Though he didn’t want to, he found the courage to look away. She obviously wasn’t ready for more, and he even as much as he may have wanted to, there was no way he could either.
He couldn’t help but glance over his shoulder at her. Luckily for her though, it was just as she pulled on her top. He quickly turned his attention back toward the door, so that she would not see him.
He turned around to find her in that horrible nightgown. It was bright red, and looked extremely uncomfortable. He couldn’t help but smirk at the sight.
She put her hands on her hips, “You’re not getting yourself any brownie points with that look.”
He shook his head, “I’m sorry, it’s just that you look so adorable in that horrible contraption.”
Somehow, she actually liked what he had to say and smiled at him. Slowly, she walked over to him, so that she was standing only a few inches away from him. He took a deep breath, trying his best to ignore her presence. He kept trying to remind himself that he could enjoy her closeness now. It was still hard for him to accept, maybe because he still knew that it was wrong.
“So, your aunt thinks that I will make a good wife, it seems.”
He grimaced a bit at that.
She cringed, “Sorry, I’m trying to be better and think before I speak.”
He shook his head, “It's fine. I can see her point.”
“But, I thought I was just a friend.”
He grabbed her hand and pulled her against him. Devona gasped, staring up into his eyes. She was so unique, unlike any of the women here. She had a fire that burned in her belly, fighting for her freedom and what she believed in. On top of that, she was still carefree and young, eager to explore the world in front of her. Above all else though, she drove him crazy, in so many horrible yet wonderful ways.
And, she loved him. She didn’t hate him for what happened in the past. She was eager about the future, and for the first time in years, so was he.
He placed a hand on her cheek that was already turning pink. “I think you are way more than just a friend.”
She wasn’t able to whisper his name before his lips clashed against hers. They had kissed a few more times since that night in the woods, but it was never alone in a bedroom with a comfortable place to sleep less than a few feet away.
Just as she was getting into the kiss, he pushed her back a bit, so that her legs knocked against the bed. She pulled back and looked up at him to see him smiling at her.
“What are you—”
He pushed her back so that she landed safely on the bed. Devona laughed and shook her head at him.
“You know, if you wanted me in bed, you just could have asked,” she said.
He smiled at her.
He went to take off his shirt, but as his hands gripped the hem Devona’s hands went over his. He looked down at her to see her smiling sweetly up at him.
The air of comedy was sucked out of the room in that instant, leaving only desire. Slowly she pulled it up and over his head. With his shirt off he crawled onto the bed toward her, pushing her to lay back. Her body stood out against the white, with a golden halo of hair surrounding the majority of her body. She watched him, silently as he stayed above her, staring into her beautiful face.
He leaned down and kissed her again. Devona wrapped her arms around his neck, pulling him closer to her itchy nightgown. He actually pulled back a bit, feeling the harsh fabric against his chest. Maybe he could coax her out of it.
No, what was he thinking?
He withdrew from the kiss but Devona didn’t let him go far. She followed him up and pressed her lips to his. He couldn’t fight it even with the itchy fabric between them. Instead, he enfolded his arms around her, drawing her tight to his chest.
It didn’t take long before their hands started exploring. Her roaming all over his back and chest while his made their way under the back of her top. They ventured farther up her back and his heart skipped a beat when he realized there was no extra layer between them, only the itchy fabric.
He pushed her back down on the bed, dragging one of his hands down her thigh. Devona moaned and he had to bite his lip to stop from doing the same. His hand still under her shirt became brave and slowly inched its way toward the front.
Suddenly she stiffened against his touch and he knew he had gone over the imaginary line.
He pulled out of the kiss, trying to catch his breath.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered.
She shook her head, “No, it's okay. I just…I’m not quite ready to, uh, go all the way.”
He raised an eyebrow at her.
She blushed, “Have sex.”
“I didn’t think that you were.”
He leaned back down and pressed his forehead against hers. “Get some sleep, Princess.”
They kissed again, but nothing more happened that night except that he was able to coax her out of the itchy beast and into his shirt instead. It looked much better on her than it did on him, and was great to know that his scent was all over her. That was, until Kestrel and Kai arrived.
Devona curled up in his arm, and found solace in sleep. He sighed, laying his head down next to hers. This was amazing but he couldn’t help but wonder just how long it would last.
Hansah made it to Havinton.
She ignored Mushin’s orders to move to the Eighth Constellation. She finally had them cornered, why would she pass up on this perfect opportunity? The rest of her troops moved on, but Hansah staid right there. She was waiting, knowing that soon enough they would move into in her trap.
Then she would make one final attack and take Akki back.
Akki was very relieved when Kestrel and Kai finally arrived. He no longer would have to pay for the room at the inn, and they could finally get off this Constellation. After seeing Hannah at the carnival, it forced him to realize just how close he was to home, and how he could never go back.
Even though he was glad to see his fellow guardians, it was also the end of his time alone with Devona. It still amazed him that it happened. He should have been furious with himself, but he couldn’t help but be happy. All the emotions he had been hiding since he met her could finally come out. He could finally act the way he wanted to with her from the very beginning.
Yet, now with Kestrel and Kai around, they couldn’t show their feelings. It greatly upset Devona when he told her this, but she would have to understand. As of now, there was no way to let the others know…especially not after he made that promise with Kai. As much as Kai hated him already, the boy might actually go through with his threats if he found out the truth.
They remained in Havinton for one more night, so that Kestrel and Kai could get some rest, and they were out the next morning. Even though he tried to avoid it, Devona ended up on the brown horse with him again. Kestrel didn’t bat an eye, content that she didn’t have to share with Devona. Kai, on the other hand, flashed dirty looks at Akki throughout the entire ride. It was as if he already knew the truth.
Havinton was close to the port, so they would arrive by nightfall. Then they would be heading to the next Constellation, and hopes that they would finally find the Star Point. Already it had been months since their journey started, and no luck anywhere. No signs, no feelings, no hints, nothing. It was starting to worry him, and he hoped that they hadn’t missed it on one of the Constellations they had to skip to see the Council. They wouldn’t do that, right?
“Akki?” asked Devona.
He looked down at her. She was smiling at him with big blue eyes.
“Yes?” he was wary, but had to ask.
“When can we tell them?” she whispered the question.
He took a deep breath, knowing she wouldn’t like his answer. “I don’t know if we can.”
She tensed in front of him. “I can’t live a lie forever. They’ll have to know.”
“I don’t know.”
She sighed and turned forward again. Just now in their view was a ravine running through the road. Akki was used to it, but he was no used to the other part.
There was no bridge.
They pulled their horses to a stop near the edge of the cliff. Devona looked down and turned pale. She tightly grasped his leg for support. Without thinking, he put his arm around her waist, to try and comfort her.
“Uh,” said Kai, “how are we supposed to get around that?”
“What happened to the bridge?” asked Kestrel. She looked back at Akki, “There is supposed to be a bridge, right?”
He quickly withdrew his arm from Devona. “Yes, I have a feeling foul play might be at work.”
“What smart guardians you all are.”
They froze at the sound of her voice.
It had been just long enough since they had seen her that they hoped they wouldn’t again. However, as they all turned to see where the voice came from and saw her step from the forest they knew it was not to be the case.
Hansah was dressed in a black robe, common amongst the people of Mushin. Her white hair stood out on the black and from the shadows of the leaves. It was an eerie sight they hadn’t forgotten
“Hi.” With a turn of dark crimson smiles she asked, “Miss me?”
“Not really,” Kai honestly replied.
“You can’t hurt us now. We know that everything is an illusion,” said Kestrel.
“That’s only if you can prepare for it.”
Kestrel’s horse suddenly reared, almost knocking her out of the saddle. She clung to his mane for support, trying not to fall into the ravine.
“Can’t really explain an illusion to him can you?” asked Hansah.
“You bitch!” snapped Kestrel.
Kai turned to Akki. He raised his flail and swung it down toward the horse’s head. Akki’s horse jumped back as the younger guardian continued to swing at him.
“Stop it Kai!” shouted Kestrel.
“I’m not doing anything!” he shouted back.
“I’ve had enough.” Devona’s voice was calm even through the panic. She lowered her hands to either side of the horse’s neck and touched him lightly. He still kicked about for a few seconds, and suddenly stopped.
“What the…” Akki was amazed. He was even more so when the Princess lowered herself from the horse, coming face to face with Hansah.
“Devona!” screamed Kestrel.
“What are you doing?” asked Akki.
“Putting an end to the illusions,” said Devona.
She took a step toward Hansah and the woman jerked. As Devona took another step, Hansah swung her hand, and there was an explosion at Devona’s feet. All three horses reared, but Devona walked through the smoke. Another explosion and the same happened.
The Princess continued on her path and Hansah panicked. She threw explosion after explosion. Finally giving up on illusion, she reached under her robe and threw something at Devona. Devona grabbed it in the air, and dropped the knife to the ground.
It was then that they knew this was not Devona. This was the woman they had seen against Mushin that first night and the woman they had met on the Sixth Constellation. She was Devona’s powers manifested and she had her eyes set on Hansah.
Once in front of her, Devona reached out to her. Hansah threw her arm out of face, leaving and opening for Devona to touch her cheek with the other hand. Hansah gasped and stared at the Princess.
Something passed between the two of them. It was the same as with the horse. Hansah’s body lost its tension and her eyes stared into Devona’s. They glossed over and a lonely tear rolled down her cheek.
Hansah jerked, and pulled away from the Princess.
“Don’t touch me!” shouted Hansah.
“Don’t lie anymore,” said Devona.
Where Devona’s hand had lain, Hansah’s skin began to crack. She gasped, and cupped the cheek. As she lowered her hand she saw flakes of pale skin there, and a slightly darker tone exposed from where they had fallen. More skin began to crack and fall. Hansah screamed and grasped her head tightly. She threw herself to the ground in a fetal potion, pulling out strands of white hair.
The white hair was replaced with strawberry curls.
Realizing that there was no hope, she hid her head in her hands. All around her lay the body she had been. Another illusion, the woman he had thought converted him didn’t exist. This woman could not be who he thought.
Please, Lord, no…
Ruby red eyes looked up through her fingers. Defeated, her hands fell from her face as tears fell from her eyes.
Akki spoke before he could stop himself, “Ana?”
“It’s about time you stopped living a lie,” said Devona.
“You horrible bitch!” yelled Hansah.
“Don’t be angry with me for what you’ve done. You created this lie from the very beginning. Your selfishness destroyed the man you claimed to have loved.”
“The man I do love,” Hansah corrected.
Fury. It was the only word that could describe how he felt. The woman he hated for years for turning him into a murderer was actually the woman he loved? He had to hold onto the horse tightly for support.
“Why?” he was able to growl out.
She shook her head, and then slowly looked up at him.
“I…” she paused at the sight of his anger. She took a deep breath and spoke again, “I…wanted to keep you forever. As a follower of Mushin I couldn’t have you when you were with Oriana. So I wanted you to convert. I had hoped that you would love Hansah the way that you loved Ana.”
“Why the hell would I love the person who destroyed my life?”
“I hoped that he would love me. But even your other self hated Hansah. I had no choice but to live the life that I had chosen for you, without you.”
“Do you honestly expect me to feel sorry for you?” he snapped.
“I never wanted you to find out.”
He growled again, feeling his teeth extending his in mouth. It took all his strength to stay on the horse. All he wanted to do was leap to the ground rip her apart. Everything had been for nothing. His entire life since that night was a lie. Even before then, the times they had spent together, all lies.
“I suggest you leave,” said Devona.
“What are you talking about? We can’t just let her go!” protested Kai.
“She’s not worth it,” said Devona.
She never was, realized Akki.
He leapt from the horse, sending one last glare Ana’s way, and he took off into the trees. Kestrel cried out to him, but it was too late. Devona had been able to stop him after seeing Hannah, but there was no way to stop him now.
He collapsed against a tree, feeling his insides twisting back and forth, struggling to fight off the change. For once in his life, he gave in.
He fell to his knees as they shifted beneath him. His fingers dug into the dirt, trying desperately to hold onto something. It was all a lie, he could see it now. The fire, how it only affected her house, and how the blanket survived. How he had only met her family a few times. How Hansah was there, in the forest, waiting for him soon after Ana’s death.
He had become a monster because of a lie. Because of some deceitful woman who wanted him all for herself. Horrible…
He cried out, feeling his teeth becoming even longer, digging into his gums. His back arched, curving and extending. The fur passed over his body like a tidal wave, leaving him lying in the dirt, not as a man, but as a beast.
He was a wolf and he was alone.
The anger and darkness over took him. He watched from afar as the wolf got to his feet. He shook his body, flailing the dirt back to the ground. His growl vibrated through the limbs of trees, sending birds fleeing for their lives.
Then, he did something the wolf hadn’t done since his father died, the first night he had ever changed. He threw back his head and let out a mournful howl. Ana died all over again and his life changed forever.
Her voice was soft and soothing to him. Yet the wolf jerked his head toward her, snarling. Devona froze for a few moments and then continued toward him. Foolish human, always stepping into doom’s mouth.
He snapped at her and that scared her. However, the initial fear passed, and she knelt to his side. The wolf lowered himself closer to the ground, hackles raised to the high heavens. She didn’t notice or care.
Instead, she wrapped her arms around his body, pulling him closer to her. He thrashed against her, digging his claws into her legs. Still she didn’t let go. He let out another low growl, and she placed a hand on his cheek. It was warm against his fur and soothing even for the wolf. Images appeared in his head, of open fields, running free with no concerns in the world. No guilt or hatred, only freedom and, even, maybe, redemption.
She held him like that for a long time and he lied down on her lap. Her lips kissed the top of his head. What was this?
They staid like that until the change passed. A man once more, he looked up at the woman who had professed her love for him, finally believing every word she had said.
She looked sad.
“This must be awful for you, but you had to know,” she said. It was Devona again, but she knew what happened. Her feelings must have called forth the powers to stop the illusion.
“It was all for nothing,” he whispered.
“I’m sorry, Akki.”
She held him close and he could smell the tears in her eyes. Even now he still felt the wolf stirring in him. Much like how it had been when he was under Mushin’s control. It was just what the demoness had wanted. He only hoped that he didn’t fall completely into Mushin’s hands. He hoped he would never hurt Devona the way that Ana had just hurt him.
They left the forest to see that the bridge was back. It was night now and the light of the moon lead the way. Akki shared a horse with Devona again, but didn’t touch her. He was numb, fighting the darkness inside of him, not sure how much longer he could hold out for.