I made my way to the bend in the path the same way I had the night before; crouching under bushes and slithering through the shadows. It seemed chillier than it had the previous night, as if winter was pushing autumn out, desperate to take over the region. It was quieter too, as if the wind and trees were anxious to hear what Foster Quinn had to say.
The gravel of the trail crunched under my boots, the dirt frozen due to the upcoming winter as I casually stalked through undergrowth and foliage. The moon was hanging low, its golden aura making everything it touched glow an eerie yellow - almost like Sebastian’s eyes.
I hadn’t realized it before, but if I strained my eyes hard enough I could faintly spot the enormous shadow of the Bairfell Palace, where the Sages were undoubtedly laying cozy in beds probably twice, if not three times as large as my own back in the tent.
The bend in the trail was empty when I arrived, and I had to suppress a groan. I really didn’t want to be out here long, fearing that Sebastian might wake up and notice my bed empty and cold.
I stood there for a few long minutes, waiting and watching. When Foster didn’t show, I sighed and plopped next a fern, small flakes of frost coating its leaves. To pass time, I fluttered my fingers, willing the a small, icy glow to form at the tips of my phalanges. More frost built on the fern until the bright green of the plant was completely eaten by white. I smiled at my little piece of art.
“You have better control over your power than the queen realizes.”
I jerked my head up, my eyes darting to find the source. Foster stood on the countering side of the trail, leaning against a tree with his arms crossed over his chest and a lazy grin pulling at the corners of his mouth. I hadn’t even noticed the drop in temperature, or the small flurry of snow that had started to fall overhead. The ground may have been frozen, but it was still too warm for the flakes to stick. My eyes trailed them as they sank through the sky, landing on the gravel below and soon melted into nothing.
My eyes snapped back up. I pulled my sleeves farther down on my arm. “What does the queen want with me? It wasn’t the cold that bothered me ... but something else prickled at my skin, something electric that caused the hairs on my arms and the back of my next to stand on end.
Teeth flashed in the darkness. “In time, you will see. But as of right now, I wish to get to know you more.”
In movements too fast for my eyes to catch, he was sitting by my side, his piercing eyes roaming over me. “You’re not what I expected, you know.”
I scowled, bristling. “Yes, you already told me. You were expecting more.”
He chuckled, “Would you like me to lie, Neva?”
My breath caught in my throat. I slowly turned to look at him, only to see his eyes were already on me. I stared into those spheres of diamond - their resemblance to fractured, broken ice completely uncanny. They slid over me, calculating, hard, and I squirmed. “How do you know my name?” I whispered.
He winked at me, his hair slightly ruffled as a chuckle rumbled in his chest. Then he vanished, his voice seeming to float to me on the wind. “I know more about you than you realize, Princess. Much, much more.”
Princess. The small scaled creature from earlier had called me that as well.
“I bring a message from Foster Quinn,” it said, startling me. Its voice was as high as a single bell, yet flowed like a river of honey, and I gaped at it in awe. “You are not to run away, Princess. You must stay with the witches. You are not ready.”
I needed to know what he was getting at. “Tell me.”
He seemed to giggle as he floated back on his feet, his mouth pulled into a devious grin. “Perhaps I will, perhaps I won’t.”
A flame of anger licked at my cheeks. ”Tell me, or so help me God -”
He suddenly appeared in front of me, his legs locked around a branch above. He swayed lazily, back and forth, back and forth. The scent of his skin, like freshly fallen pine needles and a breath of crisp cool air, wafted past my nostrils causing something to stir inside my chest, and to my horror, between my legs. I shifted uncomfortably. “Tell me.”
He titled his back and laughed, a sound so beautifully heartbreaking it made my chest cave. It was like ice, so delicately beautiful, yet so fragile. One wrong move and it would shatter.
For different reasons, we both had to catch our breath.
“So demanding, human.” He mused when his laughter faded. He touched a long finger to his pale lips. “Though I suppose I should start calling you Princess, shouldn’t I? How queer.”
I let out a cry of frustration. “What are you talking about?”
Foster dropped from his perch above, flipping in midair to land gracefully on his feet with feline grace. His impact barely made a sound, a soft caress against my ears. That’s what he reminded me of... a cat. Sly, sneaky, and deadly. One pounce, one flick of his wrist, and I would be dead - gone. A mouse under his deadly claws.
“Is your skull really that dense? Can you not draw the parallels I am painstakingly laying out for you?” he mocked, stuffing his hands in his pockets.
I tried not to let his sarcastic tone affect me, but I couldn’t hide the sting his words caused, the tremor in my knees. He looked at me for a long moment and sighed. “Mortals are so imbecilic,” he mumbled under his breath. Then louder, “Very well. Do you wish for me to tell you about your lineage, or no?”
“Yes!” I said too quickly, reaching out and grabbing his arm. A shock of electricity jolted through me from where we touched, and I jumped back with a yelp. Foster sank away with a hiss.
I opened my mouth to demand answers for the strange occurrences every time we touched, but something was off about him and I couldn’t find my voice. His already bone white skin went almost completely transparent, his eyes glazed over and his teeth were bared in a grimace.
“Are you alright?” I whispered, reaching my hand out, but then drew it back.
“I’m perfectly fine, thank you.” he hissed through gritted teeth. “Just give me a moment.”
I took a step back, my hand still hovering over his shoulder.
The elf took a suddering breath before straightening, rubbing his hands along the sides of his face. He fiddled with one of the silver buttons on his tunic before meeting my questioning and confused gaze.
Though he was pale as bone, he shot me an impish smirk. “Now where were we?” He still trembled slightly where he stood.
“Are you sure you’re-”
“Yes yes, I’m fine,” he interjected. “What’s the thing you humans say? Healthy as a horse? Ah yes, I feel as healthy as a horse, then.” I stared at him, and he rolled his eyes. “By the Gods, do you want to know about your parents or not?”
“Very well then. Shut up, sit down, and listen, dammit.”
I sat, my ears perked, ready to soak up whatever information he was willing to spill like a sponge.
“Do you still not understand?” he asked, truly bewildered.
I don’t know, did I? I sat back, the frozen bark of an old sycamore biting into my spine, pondering. I played with a frost covered blade of grass, trying to focus my mind, to pinpoint the point he was trying to get across.
"Though I suppose I should start calling you Princess, shouldn’t I? How queer.” He’d just said. And the small, pearl like fairy from that afternoon had said that same thing. Princess, princess, princess.
And then it clicked, as firm and solid as iron, as a witches hatred for fae. It took my breath away, stealing every liter of oxygen I had stored in my lungs. I was breathless, suddenly gasping for air. “That’s not true,” I wheezed. “It can’t be true.”
Something flicked across Foster’s face. “So you have figured it out. Grand. Should I give you a golden star for your effort?”
“You’re lying,” I accused, the world swaying in a blur of dark blues and blacks. He had to be lying. The small fairy from earlier had to be lying. But then images flooded my mind, engulfing my senses. I was suddenly pulled back to the night the hellhound had attacked Sebastian and I, its glossy black fur stark black in the blanket of night.
I flipped onto my back and used my elbows to put as much distance between me and the monster as possible. One head nipped at my ankle playfully while the other cackled into the night sky, scraping the ground with its paw. “The queen will be pleased,” the head that had nipped at me earlier grunted. My spine knocked into something solid, and I risked a glance up to see a towering evergreen, it’s foliage casting me in a dark shadow.
The queen, it had said. The queen.
I was trapped. The monster dog crouched low, both heads snarling with gleeful triumphant as they caged me in. “Nowhere to go, little prin-”
It never finished its sentence before, but it didn’t need to. I now knew. I knew what he was going to say. Princess.
Tears stung my eyes as I stared at the elf standing before me. I couldn’t be related to someone, something so despicable as a feary. And not just any feary, but the Queen of the Winter Court. “It can’t be true.”
Foster picked at his cuticles. “So dense,” he mumbled to himself. Then to me, “Sorry, Princess. It’s true.”
“Who’s my father then?” I half sobbed, the ball in my throat controlling my airways. “Is he... Is he a fairy too?”
He snorted, tilting his head back and giving a harsh laugh that made my blood run cold. A fierce, savage heat swirled into his voice. “If only! If I could, I would rip out his innards and tie them as a noose around his neck, string him from the tallest tree in Tir Na Nog and watch him suffocate on his own blood and bile. Such a loathsome, vile, wretched beast.”
Who could be that bad? Apparently my father...
“Who is he?” I asked, my voice almost shrill, on the verge of panic.
Foster pinned me in a glare. “Now that, my pet, I cannot tell you. Against the queen’s order, I’m afraid.”
Now tears streamed down my face, dampening my cheeks and hair. I couldn’t be related to her. I wouldn’t be. I prefered her to be dead, for both of my parents to be dead.
“Tell me,” I ordered, anger, despair, and demise churning in my chest like a hot ember.
The wind around us started to blow harder, faster, tugging and pulling at my hair and clothes. Something was snapping in my chest, like a gate being forcefully opened, or a rock being cracked and split it was too. It was so definite I almost heard the hollow sound in my ears, and it was painful. So very very painful. My blood pulsed in my ears, a frantic beat that made my vision blur around the edges. My ribs seemed to be snapping, my heart being torn in too. I was being ripped by two invisible forces, and a scream tore from my throat, as chilling as the winter air surrounding us.
And just when I thought I couldn’t take the tearing, the shredding... It stopped. Everything settled and the only sound was the steady beat of my sore heart. My screams faded into nothing but a whimpered, and I shivered, cold sweat drenching my body and clothes.
Something inhaled sharply in front of me, and my head snapped up.
Everything was sharper, clearer - as if I’d been looking through a dirty lense my entire life. It was beautiful and magical, yet frightening all at once. I could hear the soft, caressing whisper of the wind; the deep, resonating song of the owl and the snickering of critters hiding in the underbrush. Everything was speaking, singing, murmuring, and my head spun. It was as bright as midday, the moon’s light a silvery veil blanketing the region in contrast to the sun’s bright golden rays. For a moment I couldn’t breathe.
“She said it would break the glamour over you,” someone breathed, “But by the God’s above...”
My eyes roamed, spotting Foster standing by an old cherry tree across the laine. Instantly my cheeks started to glow due to the heat that started to pound in my core, through my body, between my legs, upon seeing him.
Everything about him had been enhanced. His eyes, like crystal before, seeming to be as cutting as diamond made light. I could see rainbows, every hue of color contained within his irises. And his skin... As smooth as marble before, it seemed seamless, not a wrinkle, blemish, or beauty mark in sight. And it shimmered with a pearly luster, almost like snow or smooth, perfectly glossed ice. His face was a puzzle of sharp contours, angles and highlights, that fit perfectly together to create a face worthy of angelic praise.
He was as beautiful as an immortal should be, his face as regal and calloused as a king’s.
“You’re beautiful,” I blurted. The stirring sensation I got when I was around him instantly got more annoyingly unbearable, like an itch I couldn’t reach. It wasn’t as if I wanted to touch him, to lean in and smell the scent of his perfect skin, but I needed too. My heartbeat was too loud, and I was sure he could hear it. I could hear it.
We started intently at each other for what seemed like an eternity, and I fought with the internal dilemma of running to him, crushing my body next to his and shredding his clothes to ribbons. It was almost instinctual, like I needed it to survive, and I needed him now.
Something crashed in the distance, a branch falling - being snapped, and Foster sank into the shadows with a hiss. His silvery eyes darted into the distance, his pale lips curling back into a snarl, and I felt my own doing the same. I don’t know why I was doing it, but it felt right. Instinctual. Animalistic.
Then his eyes snapped to me, panicked, hurried, frantic. “I will find you again. Watch for my sign.” He waved his hand in my direction the dirty lens slammed back down on my senses, cutting off any... strange thoughts I had about Foster in my mind.
What the hell?
“Do not do any magic, or the glamour will fail,” he whispered as he sunk into the darkness of the surrounding forest. “Now that your eyes have been opened to the world around you, it’ll be hard to keep the glamour in check, so be careful. And just remember, look for my sign, little pet.”
And then he was gone.
I sat there, panting, listening to something crash through the underbrush towards me. What had just happened? When I first arrived, as intriguing as Foster may have seemed, he still frightened me. Now, or just then, I wanted to shred his clothes and have him right there.
Suddenly Sebastian burst through the brush and onto the trail, his golden eyes glowing in the darkness. Night seemed to pulse off of him in steady, powerful waves - a constant shadow surrounding him.
His eyes rolled in his skull until he spotted me, still sitting with the dying sycamore to my back. “Eve!”
One moment he was across the trail, and in the next he was kneeling beside me, his dark brows knitted together in confusion and concern. “What are you doing out here?” I asked hotly. If he would’ve seen Foster... Or Foster had seen him...
He seemed taken back by my sudden anger. “I could ask you the same thing.” His warm breath billowed into a cloud and rose to the sky above. “I heard someone screaming, and when I went to check on you, you weren’t in your bed.”
Mental note: Next time I see Foster, I’d inform him we need to meet farther away.
“I... I needed a breath of fresh air,” I offered, trying to make my words as convincing as possible.
I could tell by his look on his face, he didn’t buy it.
I sighed. “Everything is just happening so fast,” I confessed. “I came out here to confront something... To help me understand who I truly am.” It wasn’t a complete lie.
His face softened, his eyes smoldering low like the cinders in a hearth. “Eve, you could have just come to me.” He reached a hand out to touch me, but I jerked away to both of our surprise.
I don’t know why the idea of him touching me made my stomach churn, but it just didn’t feel right. I was part fae, part monster. And if my mother was indeed the Queen of the Winter Court, I probably had more power than anyone - including myself - could imagine. What if I hurt him?
Despite my desperate attempts to hold them back, tears brimmed my tower lids, threatening to spill. “I’m...” I tried, my voice cracking.
He seemed worried now, attempting to reach out and touch me again. I jumped up and out of his reach, the thought of his skin rubbing against my own making my blood freeze. I wouldn’t hurt him.
“Eve, what did I do?” His voice was strained, almost pleading.
“You didn’t do anything,” I attempted, but I knew it wouldn’t work. Sebastian was a soldier, a warrior. He was trained to steele his heart against anything, and now that he’d allowed me in... It was the only way to keep him safe.
“I must’ve -” he started.
“You know what?” I interjected. “You’re right. You did do something. You’re selfish for leaving Danna in the state that you did. I just can’t stand with the idea of being with a man who left a girl in such a broken place. It’s disgusting and pathetic, and it makes me want to vomit. You make me want to vomit.”
When I was done, a brittle, suffocating silence fell over us. His face was blank, his dark bangs hanging in his eyes. He didn’t move, and for a moment I feared he wasn’t even breathing. He just stared at me, his golden eyes taking in everything that I was and everything that I wasn’t . I would never amount to Danna, and he knew it. We both did.
Finally he shattered the quietness. “It’s something else,” he said, his voice low and dangerous. “I’m not stupid, Eve.”
“But,” he said, holding up a hand, making me bite my tongue. “If you don’t want to tell me, I’m not going to force you. I told you my secrets, and if it takes time for you to tell me yours, then so be it. I’ll wait.”
“You shouldn’t bother,” I hissed. It broke my heart, saying these things. But it was the only way of keeping him safe. If the hellhound had indeed come after me given the queens - my mother’s - orders... It almost killed him. I wouldn’t let that happen again.
“But I will,” he said. “I’ll wait as long as I have too.”
I glanced down at my hands, so bone white they looked ghostly. I stared at my short, nubby nails and started to pick at my cuticles. When I finally was able to set my face into a hard mask, making sure to show no emotion, he was gone.
The sound of my heart breaking drowned out the shrill cry of my sobs.
Weeks passed. October soon turned into November, and November soon melted into December. Days passed in blurs, everything blending together in a mass of color and sound, and I didn’t mind. I fell into a routine, every day at the Rising Bell I would shower, change into a fresh set of clothes, and head to breakfast. I sat with Nicola and Tewy most days, but that depended if they were broken up or not. I didn’t quite understand the terms of their relationship, nor did I really want too. As long as Nic was happy with her life and decisions, I was satisfied.
My training classes were rough. Sebastian gave me space, like promised, but he made no attempt to “win me back”, so to say. If anything, he was more harsh, more snappy when it came to me. The routines were brutal, running me raw. Half the time I wasn’t sure if I could make it through another minute. Nicola actually stopped coming to my lessons in fear of his temper.
I knew being butthurt about Sebastian was absurd. I mean, I was the one that broke things off, but couldn’t he at least try to win me back? Couldn’t he see that I was hurting - maybe even more so - too?
Now that word had spread about our breakup, Danna became more viscous. I guess Sebastian really did intimidate her that much. I would receive glares, hate filled letters, and sometimes a stray gust of wind would blow through, pushing me over and spilling my lunch all over the white marble tiles.
The worst, though, was when they trapped me in the bathrooms in the cafeteria. It was right before my lessons with Sebastian, and Nicola was sitting across from me, jibbering about something I wasn’t listening too. I just saw her lips moving. I was bored, but not wanting to show her that I was unenthused about her mystery topic, I excused myself to the bathroom.
I never saw them coming.
I made my way to the back hallway where the bathrooms were located, the sterile smell of cleaning products assaulting my nostrils, making me cringe. I pushed open the door, the metal cool against the heat of my palm, and made my way inside.
I was in a stall, my pants around my ankles, when I heard the door open with a silent groan. Heels clicked on tile, and the stall to my door burst open.
There were four of them. Blanche Moore, daughter of the Sage of Fire, stood on the right, her slanted eyes narrowed with anticipation and her thin lips were pulled back in a barbarous grin. Next came the willowy girl, Valda, I think was her name. Her thin legs shook, her large eyes darted about, almost as if she was scared of getting caught.
The ringleader of the operation, Danna, wore a victorious smile laced with cruelty. Her golden hair was half up in pins, and her aqua eyes glistened like a pool or sapphires.
And the last girl, the one that I was most scared of, glared at me with a new kind of hatred I couldn’t comprehend. Zafira’s eyes were a blaze of such malevolence and loathing I wanted nothing more than to sink into myself, to crawl into somewhere dark, dank. Somewhere no one would look.
It lasted a while, each using their own different anger and hatred for me to fuel their attacks. Though I will admit, Valda grew pale when Blanche ordered her to kick me in the ribs. And when she wouldn’t oblige, Blanche was all too happy to show her another demonstration.
They left me in a bloody heap right in the middle of the bathroom. Lucky for me, Nicola started to notice my absence and came to check. When I failed to show for lesson’s that night, Sebastian was outraged, banging on my door and demanding to be let inside. Nicola had refused to leave my side. Even when the school’s nurse came in to check my wounds, she kept her mouth shut. Thought I could tell by the fierce coldness in her hazel eyes, she knew.
A few weeks after though, after all marks from the incident had been erased from my body - all but a still fading black eye, I lost her. I was growing more bitter, lashing out at the worst moments - insulting her, complaining about her. And I guess she just snapped, fed up with my attitude and just me in general.
“Have you studied for your winter finals coming up?” I asked Nic while playing with the soft fabric of a robe hanging in my wardrobe. She’d followed me to my tent - in which I still shared with Sebastian - and insisted that I cleaned out my “dreadful” closest.
A snort sounded behind me. “I’ll study when I’m dead. I have too many important things to do. Besides, I do my best thinking on the spot. And I don’t have anyone to study with considering you don’t even take classes.”
Now it was my turn to snort. “Oh really? And what’s so important that you have to put off studying? What could possibly take up that much of your time? And it’s not my fault. Akan said I didn’t have to.” I glanced over my shoulder, and Nic rolled on her stomach to stare at me.
Her hazel eyes narrowed, pinning me in an accusing glare. “I have to make sure my best friend doesn’t do anything stupid. And when I say stupid, I mean hooking up with a certain witch that just happens to be dark, sexy, and pretty much walking lady-porn. What happened to you two anyway?”
“Nothing,” I snapped.
She flicked dark chocolate curls over her shoulder. “Whatever. Someone has to keep your hormones in check. You surely aren’t doing a good job. I can practically smell pheromones rolling off of you like my aunt’s cheap perfume.” She took a dramatic sniff. “What scent is that? I’m-crazy-for-your-body-Bash? Why aren’t you with him anymore anyway? Darling, you two were meant for each other.”
I took a spare hanger from the wardrobe and chucked it at her. I missed, and the thin wire hanger bounced off my bed and landed on the rug with a soft thump. “Oh shut up,” I said, though my face was as red as the cherry’s I’d had for breakfast.
Nic’s laughter filled the room, accompanying my own forced chuckle. We stayed like that for a few minutes; her on my bed and me standing by my wardrobe, attempting to hold back angry tears.
When her laughter faded into nothing more than mere snickers, Nic’s eyes became hard and she stared at me earnestly. “But seriously though, Eve. What happened between you two?”
My abdominal muscles still ached from holding in my tears, and I wiped drops out of the corners of my eyes. “We just weren’t meant to be,” I said defensively. I turned back to my wardrobe, reaching beside me for a black turtleneck sweater, and stuck a wire hanger in the neck hole. Just hang your clothes, I thought.
“That’s total bullshit, Eve, and you know it.”
“Nope. I don’t know what your talking about.” Another shirt.
“What?” I barked, finally turning around to confront the only real friend I had here. Nic’s narrow nose crinkled, as if disgusted by my tone, or just shocked that I snapped at her at all. “What Nicola? I really don’t want to hear about how he’s my soul mate. He’s not. He’s about as good for me as Tewy is for you. Just drop it.”
Her features shifted from disgust to utterly hurt when I used her full name. She open her mouth - closed it. Opened it. Closed it. For once, the queen of Smart-Ass Remarks didn’t have anything to say, and I wasn’t sure if I was proud of myself of horrified that I’d done that to her.
Suddenly she rose from the bed, flattening the wrinkles in her black sweater with a pale hand before turning to leave. She bent down by the door, taking her leather satchel in hand and slinging it over her shoulder.
“Nic, wait. I didn’t-”
She held up a perfectly manicured hand. “Oh yes, Eve, you did mean it. Don’t worry, I won’t lecture you any more, okay?”
She turned to leave, but stopped when her fingers curled around the knob. She didn’t even turn around when she spoke. “Love cuts deeper than the darkest oceans, Eve. So don’t you dare believe for one second that it’ll spare you. You’ll sink like a rock, and I won’t be around to save you.”
And with that, she left me alone in my room with only thin wire hangers to keep me company.
If I was going to sink, it was a good thing the thought of drowning didn’t scare me.