The only sound in the tent was the low crackle of embers snickering in the hearth and my breathing. Sebastian hadn’t come home (yes we still lived in the same tent). He really didn’t anymore.
Ever since our breakup, he would stay out ’til the Rising Bell. When the seven tolls bay would finally cease, he would prowl back inside with a half wild look on his face, his eyes blazing. Rarely words were passed. Normally I got a head nod, a grunt, and he would collapse on the couch with nothing more than a second glance.
This morning was only slightly different in the least. My sheets were suffocating this morning - I’d had a nightmare and the cool sweat from the dream left the silk and cotton sticky and wet to the touch.
But that’s not what brought me to the brink of tears, to the the edge of hysteria.
The Rising Bell’s chime still resonated inside me, seeming to vibrate inside my bones. Sebastian had come in late, slithering through the opening in the tent. Nothing new except... His hair was tussled, his clothes were wrinkled, and his lips were swollen. And... On this throat, right below his ear, I caught a faint shadow of red. On closer inspection, I realized it was lipsick.
My throat closed.
He must’ve caught me staring, because he puffed up the collar to his black tunic, a low grumble vibrating in his throat, his eyes fierce and cold. Almost distant.
So much for waiting, my own voice echoed hollowly inside my skull. You wanted this Eve, I tried to reason with myself - with the bubble of anger and raw betrayal building between my ribs. I was the one that broke up with him, after all. If he wanted to have... a little on the side, who was I to object? It wasn’t my place to get angry or jealous. I wasn’t his girlfriend anymore.
Fine. If Sebastian was going to be so blinded, so naive that he couldn’t see that what I was doing was only to help him, to protect him... Then so be it. I wouldn’t care. I wouldn’t let whatever these nagging, raging emotions inside of me were, control me.
I was not going to be broken by Sebastian O’Neill.
I did as Foster had instructed, not using magic even when I wanted to most. It was strange; he seemed like the only person I could trust anymore, given Nic and I didn’t speak. I guess he was fae after all, so we were somewhat the same.
It was the main reason why I didn’t put a few ice spikes between Danna and her little minions’ eye balls. I pondered what they would look like - their faces, that is. Would they be outraged that a small, unprotected girl could get the best of them? Or would they be terrified, horror gripping their features in a tight, claw-tipped fist? I tried to keep the grin off my face as I imagined their red blood slick between my fingers.
Foster said I would only have to look for his symbol, and he would come to me. Finally the glamour would break, and I could blast them apart. I still didn’t trust him completely, he was a faerie after all. And something about him seemed off - almost like he was hiding something, and I couldn’t put my finger on it.
Something had snapped inside of me after the glamour was taken down for the first time. Something forever changed, and I wasn’t quite sure if I liked it or hated it. I knew it wasn’t me, to be so cold and maleficent - but it also made me numb. And being numb was a hell of a lot better than wallowing in my own self pity at night, choking on my own tears and snot.
Plus, the pull of my magic had gotten stronger. I could feel it in my bones, in my veins. It was as if I had a current of power flowing inside me, through my limbs... As if I was the heart of the flowing underground river beneath our feet. It was staggering and terrifying all at once, so much power and fear swirled together to form a tight ball in my chest. I felt like a destructive explosive charged and at the ready.
I spent almost every waking hour in the library, researching magic spells - I didn’t practice, of course. I just read. Also, I read about my lineage. You would be surprised how much family drama an orphan could inherit.
Of course I was infatuated with Queen Maeve and her family tree that seemed to go on forever. It was a never ending list of names that ranged from two letters to twenty - three. One thing stood out like a sore thumb: all the names were female. Of all the leaders that had ruled over the Winter Court from before time had started to be recorded, there were no males. Apparently the females took the throne in my family.
The women who ruled before my mom - my grandmother - was named Celinett. Some books said she was a ruthless leader, known for enslaving humans and using them as her playthings and pawns. All winter fae bowed and swooned at her feet. She was malicious and foul, yet it was said that her soul is forever immortal within the lands - the fear she created within human and faerie hearts an ever unnerving presence.
The thought of being related to such a being made a shiver drip down my spine and my joints freeze.
There was one thing in particular that caught my attention and held it longer than anything else, though. In fact, it had me flipping pages to read more, to catch a glimpse of it at another angle in a picture. The amulet was beautiful; a coin size circle that seemed to hold the galaxy within the glass. Every color in the universe seemed to be trapped within the small pendant, and I was drawn to it. But there was something else about it that made my skin crawl - a nagging sensation in the back of my brain like I should recognize it.
I was a sponge, soaking up and containing so much information my head felt like it would burst at the seams. I don’t know why I was so enthralled with the fact that I apparently was the Winter Queen’s daughter, but the thought sent an excited pulse of electricity thumping down the length of my spine, and that terrified me. I shouldn’t like it. I should be appalled. That, and it seemed the more I read about my family, more about the world I apparently came from, the more real it became. I could almost imagine an icy alcazar- larger the the Barfell Palace - with its walls made of thick, opaque, smokey ice. Vast courtyards blanketed in crisp, freshly fallen snow. Sinister whispers of wind blowing through open corridors, into bedrooms, and back out into the dangerous ecosystem of Tir Na Nog.
The invisible leash that tethered me to the fae world was now a steel fist, and there was no way it would let me go now. And I wasn’t sure if I wanted it to.
It was only a few days later that I realized it didn’t matter if I wanted to stay wrapped in the delusion of being an icy fae princess or not. There was no getting out. I was trapped.
“Do you honestly think I wouldn’t notice if my only student decided to skip class?”
I glanced up, and my heart gave a painful squeeze. Sebastian stood with his hands on his hips, his face hard. He rarely looked at me softly anymore. You know, since he started coming home after the Rising Bell with red smeared all over him like a second skin and all.
I’d been in the library for hours, and I hadn’t even realized it was two - training time. I had my nose in a book named “Wicked Winter,” and I couldn’t bare to part with it. It told about the wickedness of the winter fae and their tendency to to be quite malicious and impish. “Never make a deal with one”, one story had warned. They were part of the Unseelie Court. The Autumn Court made up the second half.
I stared blankly at Sebastian, refusing to let anything show on my face. With little more than a second glance, I rolled my eyes and centered my attention back to the text in front of me, using my index finger to skim the smooth, cool pages.
He growled. “Seriously?” I knew I was doing nothing more than pissing him off, but frankly I didn’t care. Or at least I tried to convince myself that I didn’t.
“Eve.” He almost spat my name, and I tried, I really did, to ignore the pain of my heart being torn a little further. But I couldn’t discount the raw sensation of rejection scraping across my chest like a blade.
I didn’t dare look up. I was too scared that the tears I was trying so desperately to hold in would make an appearance if I saw the disdain on his face. Instead I put a finger to my lips. “Shh, some people are trying to read.” My words came out more strained than I wanted them to.
An exasperated sigh traveled through the air. “What is wrong with you?” he bit. My hands curled into fists on top of the table, and a few unlucky pages wrinkled in my grip. Lucky for me there was no one else in the library at this time. They were all at lunch, which I was all too happy to skip that part of my day - rather just go hungry. That cafeteria really didn’t do it for me anymore. “You’re so bitter anymore. It’s like you don’t even care anymore.”
My stomach tightened into knots. I do care! I wanted to scream, but I held my tongue.
When I didn’t answer, he practically spat in my direction. “You’re not worth my time.”
And there it was. Finally my heart shattered. Not in half, no. I wouldn’t be so fortunate to get a clean break. Instead my heart shattered into millions of jagged little pieces, demolishing whatever chances there was of putting it back together again in the future.
Finally I looked up, the book under my elbows completely forgotten, tears brimming and begging to fall like fat, heavy boulders from my eyes. A rock had formed in my throat, and I couldn’t breath around it. I was slowly suffocating.
He glared at me with such malice, it made the blood freeze in my veins. His eyes were like daggers, cutting and shredding me into a raw form of my true self, leaving me on display for the whole world to see. It was as if my soul was stripped from my being and I just floated there. Bare. Naked.
But then I saw it.
A sparkle on his left eye drew my gaze, and it was then that I realized he was crying. A tear was being cradled by his thick lashes and it was on the verge of falling.
That little tear, no matter if it fell or not, was the only flame of hope I had in my tunnel of dark despair. It was a sign of hurt, and if there was hurt, that meant he still cared.
You can’t be close, a part of me cautioned, and my shoulders sagged. I wanted nothing more than to jump into his arms, smell his skin and trace my finger over his tattoo. I longed to tangle my fingers in his silky hair, to draw him near and devour his lips with my own.
But I was half fae. It couldn’t happen.
I wouldn’t let it.
“Then you should leave and find something else better to do,” I whispered, my voice nothing but a low, strained hiss. And for some stupid reason, I added, “Or someone.”
I studied his face as he processed my words, his features fading from confusion to guilt, then to a mask of anger, followed by more guilt. He opened his mouth to yell, to defend himself, I don’t know. But I held my hand up to stop him. “You don’t need to explain yourself,” I said, dull. I was surprised when my mouth kept moving. “I don’t need to know, just as you don’t need to know my business. What’s done is done. It’s over, and it’s time for us to both move on.”
I stared at the words on the pages, the script blurring due to tears. Water dripped from my eyes, falling onto the open book and causing the book’s words to bleed into each other, becoming black blobs on parchment. I rubbed a finger in the ink puddles.
It was silent for so long, I had to look up, to see if he was still there. He stood with his back to me, his shoulders tight and his spine straight. “Class is still on. I’ll give you an hour to finish your reading. This time, don’t be late.”
He strode to the dark double doors, his strides long and elegant, maneuvering through aisles of dusty books and old fashioned furniture. His boots clunked on the hardwood floor. I tried not to notice that they were synced with the dull and painful thud of my heart.
I didn’t finish my readings, but I did stay in the library for as long as I could, dreading the moment I would have to see Sebastian again. My heart was just too sore. I didn’t want any of this anymore. I wanted to just run away and never look back. I think I would do okay out in the woods by myself, surely. Years of survival taught me many skills, and spiking animals with ice was to my benefit.
I sighed when I looked at the clock on the far wall and gathered my things. I stuffed a few books into the satchel I’d obtained from Nicola a few weeks before. Before we fought, obviously. It was a dark coffee brown with brass buttons and twisted chain stitching.
Throwing the strap over my shoulder and placing it on my chest, I sauntered towards the same doors Bash had earlier. With a ragged breath, I grabbed the cool metal in my palm and headed towards class.
It was snowing, but that was nothing new. It had been for at least a whole month now and the snow reached up to your shins in unpathed parts of the training grounds. Large flakes stuck to my eyelashes, and I had to use my forefinger and thumb to dislodge them. Here, in the center of the path, the snow was brown and weathered, mixed with mud and twigs.
He was sitting on a low stump when I arrived, his black cloak hanging around him like a smoky shadow against the white of the snow. I heard the screech of metal on stone. He didn’t look up when I approached, too busy sharpening his knives I presumed. He nodded to the shed that held the supplies. “There’s something in there for you.”
I was too surprised to say anything. Instead I allowed my feet to guide me to the old shed, letting the rotted door open with a groan.
I hiked the collar of my black leather coat, the chill of the air actually sinking through the fabric and into my skin. It wasn’t unpleasant, just different.
It wasn’t hard to spot. It was the only weapon that still shined like a silver star, the metal cool, smooth and untouched by rust and corrosion. I let out a shaky breath as I reached towards it, my hand shaky. When my fingers wrapped around the cold leather of the hilt, a shiver ran up my spine and into my skull.
I tried to pick it up with a placid composer, but I couldn’t contain my excitement of holding a sword so beautiful. The blade was small, maybe two feet at the most, and it bowed with a slight curved to remind me of a crescent moon. Though the dip wasn’t as exaggerated as the earth’s planetoid in the sky. It was elegant yet deadly, a destructive and terrifying combination.
I brought it out into the afternoon sun, though I was disappointed when sunlight didn’t bounce off the sword due to an overcast of thick, cotton ball clouds. I frowned.
“Do you not like it?” Sebastian was finally looking at me, his eyebrows knitted together in absolute confusion. “I saw the way you looked at my daggers,” he held them up, “when you first arrived. I thought you’d want a weapon of your own so I had an order placed. It just got finished.”
“No no,” I whispered, letting my finger trail down the blade. “I love it. But you didn’t have to pay for a weapon,” I said softly.
“I didn’t pay for it,” he offered with a shrug. “The blacksmith owed me a favor.”
I didn’t know what to say, didn’t know how to thank him. All I could say was, “Oh.”
He nodded, obviously uncomfortable. The snow was falling lazily now, a small flurry at the least. Bulky flakes hovered in the air, falling in Sebastian’s hair and sticking to his lashes. I wanted so badly to kiss a snowflake off his nose, but instantly restrained myself.
“It’s a wakizashi - the sister sword to the katana. They’re regal weapons that don’t weigh much at all. Beautifully made.” He cleared his throat. “Well, how about our lesson then, shall we?”
I gave a bleak nod and small smile, but then I saw it.
The forest surrounding the grounds was now in a blanket of sparkling ivory snow, the sun’s reflection making it almost impossible to stare into the glare. The tree’s were a canvas of greys, browns, and blacks, all blended together as if a large paintbrush had run across had blurred the colors. Somehow, between all the greys, blacks and brown, I spotted a white owl, its feathers as bright as the snow surrounding it; almost glowing. It gave an eerie hoot, the frequency riding the wind until it breezed past my ears. It ruffled its wings once before opening them in a grand display and took flight - gliding right over our heads. Squinting into the sun, I watched as it’s claws opened, releasing something and letting it plummet to ground where I stood.
I caught it in the palm of my hand, staring in scared fascination as the owl rose higher into the atmosphere, it’s wings casting the the region in a dark shadow. It was nothing but a silhouette against the sun, fading into nothing in the distance.
It was only when the owl was completely out of sight did I give myself the luxury of looking at what lay in my palm. My heart hammered in my throat. Uncurling my fingers, I took a peek inside the meaty cocoon of my fist. A small silver ring lay inside, to my horror and excitement, it was familiar. Strikingly familiar. On the ring, engraved inside the chilling metal, was an owl, its eyes an inky black. Foster’s ring.
“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.”
I inhaled sharply, my heart fluttering in my chest like a hummingbird’s wings. He was coming back.
“What do you got there?” Sebastian was walking towards me, his boots sloping in the muddying snow. His eyes were trained on my open palm.
I jolted, closing my fingers around the jewelry. “Nothing, just a pretty rock.” I shoved the ring into my front pants pocket, praying Bash wouldn’t ask for me to retrieve it. He looked into the sky where the owl had disappeared not moments before, and then back to me, his eyes turning into yellow slits.
I gave a small smile, my stomach tightening.
He just shook his head. “Whatever. Just grab your wakizashi and we’ll start with some basic defense drills.”
The handle to my new weapon was warming in my hand, and I took another moment to study the fine metal, the intricate designs of ivy and ice etched along the blade. I guess I never realized it.
I was good with defending myself with daggers, but a sword was something totally alien to my expertise. It was heavier, and I had no idea what to do with my other arm. Needless to say, I looked like a newborn fawn stumbling on its new legs next to Sebastian - who twisted and twirled, his sword nothing more than an extension of his arm. He danced, a whirlwind of gleaming metal and shadow. He was mesmerizing while I was just down right pathetic.
When I was nothing more than a sweating lump of cuts and bruises, Sebastian finally said we could take a break. Not a hair seemed out of place on his head, and my heart gave a painful squeeze.
“Get a drink of water or something. We’re going to start something else we haven’t done before,” he informed while he cleaned the edge of his sword.
I slumped to the ground, sinking into the snow. Eyes trailing his large hand running up and down the blade’s edge I asked, “What?”
“We’re going to start magic training. It’s time you start learning how to use your ice magic. You know, considering Akan turned back on his plan to meet you every Friday.”
My body froze. “What?”
“Ice magic,” he repeated, spitting on the cool metal and then buffing it away with his sleeve. The tip of his nose was red from the bitter cold. “I can’t use it, but I can teach you how to harness your power.”
“I can’t,” I blurted.
He then looked up from his sword to pin me in a questioning glare, his eyes narrowing. “Why not?”
I shook my head, my galloping heartbeat roaring in my ears. “I just can’t.” I stood up then, not even bothering to brush snow from my pants.
He suddenly threw the weapon on the ground, the metal sinking into the muddy snow with a splat. “God dammit Eve!” he snapped, and I jumped, surprised by his sudden outburst. “Why can’t you see that I’m trying? I’m trying to give you space, trying to win you back, trying to get you to understand that I love you.”
My breath halted in my throat. ”Love?” I squeaked.
His eyes were an inferno of raging gold. “Yes, love. You broke my heart and I can’t get you out of my head, and I can’t be mad about it either. I tried. I really did. I tried to be mad at you, to hate you, but I couldn’t.”
Annoyance raked across my chest. “So you’ve been sleeping with other girls to get back at me?” I bit back.
He flinched, but then his eyes narrowed. “I’ve only been with Danna,” he said in a low voice. It was like the worst punch in the gut, stealing my breath. “And I only did it to get you out of my head. I couldn’t sleep in the same room with you and not want you, Eve.”
“Bullshit!” I yelled, my anger now taking control of my tongue. The edge of my vision blurred white. He chose Danna. “You couldn’t get me out of your head? That’s why you’ve been an ass to me? What happened to you’d wait, Sebastian? Huh? What ever happened to you not caring about how long it took?” I hardened my glare, and my heart.
“It’s driving me crazy!” he roared back, throwing his hands in the air. His adam’s apple bobbed in his throat, veins now visible on his forehead. Thunder boomed above. I stole a glance up, distracted for a moment. I hadn’t even noticed that a storm cloud had rolled in. Was that even possible; to have a thunderstorm in the middle of winter?
I could feel the power thrumming in my veins, a tether to my sanity and to my body. A mixture of sleet and snow started to fall, churning and roiling through the sky and tossing my hair.
I could feel my grip slipping, the iron clasp I had on my magic slipping. I could feel it rising up, so close to the surface, practically seeping from my pores.
“I can’t do this.” My voice was dangerous.
Sebastian’s beautiful lips turned up in a sneer. “Of course you can’t. You don’t want the baggage that comes along with me, right? Is that why you broke it off between us? Because I’m too broken for you?”
I snorted, nearly choking on my anger. I had enough emotional baggage for the both of us. “You? Broken? No, Bash. I told you why I broke it off. I can’t look at your face without seeing what you did to Danna.” I turned to leave, trying to control the raging hurricane that had been set loose in my chest.
His voice took on an almost desperate hitch. “I don’t believe you.” He was hot on my heels. “If you cared about Danna, you wouldn’t have looked so wounded when I told you I’d been sleeping with her.” A hand grabbed my shoulder and... and I lost it.
I spun with a scream of frustration, power exploding from my fingers that now glowed an icy blue. Ice spikes caught in Sebastian’s cloak, throwing him backwards and onto the ground. He landed on the earth with a huff, the oxygen exploding from his lungs with a whoosh.
At first I was too shocked by what I’d done to move, but it wasn’t long until horror gripped my insides. It was as if a pulse had started in my core, like someone was plucking my intestines and playing a tune.
He sat up with a groan. The ice had only penetrated the fabric of his cloak, but my relief was only short lived. He stared at me, horror gripping his features. “Eve...” he whispered. “Your face.”
“Do not do any magic, or the glamour will fail,” Foster had warned.
I held up my wakizashi, studying my reflection in the shiny blade. Everything about my face was wrong. Angels, shadows, curves. My eyes were larger than normal, framed with thick white lashes, and the irises were a deep cobalt. Almost purple - not my normal fractured crystal. Even my eyebrows were a glowing white. My cheeks were sharp, the hollows of my cheeks a deeper shadow that normal, and even my chin was slightly sharpened. But what made bile rise in my throat was the pointed shell of my ears. Like a fearies.
Foster was right. The glamour had failed.
Everything next happened in a blur. I dropped the wakizashi, not caring if the tip got bent, if the metal got scratched. I spun on my heels, ignoring the scream of my calves and knees. I still ached from practice.
I took off in a sprint in the opposite direction, kicking up clouds of snow in my wake. I don’t know where I was running, I just needed to get away, to hide. Cold air cut down my throat like icy fingers, nipping at my cheeks, fingers, nose.
I ran towards the bend in the trail where I’d first met Foster, hoping with everything I had that he was there, waiting on me. Of course I was disappointed, coming to a halt when I realized he wasn’t hiding in the shadows.
A cry of panic ripped from me, tears blurring my vision as I turned in place, searching. Thunder cracked above, sending tremors through the land and into my already rattled bones. Wind shrieked past, bringing down hail and snow with it. I ignored the sting in my cheeks and ice pelted me, something causing little droplets of crimson to well.
Perhaps I tripped, or something fell from the trees above, I don’t know; but stars exploded behind my eyes. The world swayed, and a muffled moan slipped from my lips and I tipped over and fell with a soft thud in the frozen snow. I landed on my stomach, thankfully I didn’t land on the pulsing spot on the back of my head.
I layed like that, sprawled in the blizzard for a while. Heat seeped from the back of my skull and down my neck, trickling onto my lips and onto the snow. It was sticky and slimy, but didn’t taste like normal blood.
I couldn’t hear the storm screaming and howling around me anymore. Blissfully I must’ve had large balls of cotton in my ears, causing everything to be muffled and dull. Something fluttered to my right, distracting me. My eyes pinpointed the white owl from earlier, and suddenly the ring in my pocket began to burn. It perched on a low hanging branch, untouched by the ripping winds that seemed to split around it. It cocked its head, and I was amazed by the intelligence in its inky pools for eyes. It looked at me as if it didn’t know what to do with me.
A figure emerged beside it, dressed in a silver tunic and dark boots. Though everything else was distorted and fuzzy, I heard the clear cluck of a tongue that hit my eardrums, resonating in my skull. It walked closer, and I tried to raise my head to get a better view of the person, but a fresh wave of nausea rushed through my veins. My head hit the ground with a thump for a second time.
“Oh Princess, you’ve sure made a mess of things, haven’t you?” said a familiar voice that echoed in my bones. The figure bent at the knees, kneeling beside me. Foster gave me his winning smile, though it didn’t reach his eyes. He stared at me with distress shining clearly in his diamond like irises. “Sleep now. When you wake, everything will be right.”
He didn’t have to tell me twice. As his slender but exceptionally strong arms slid beneath me and scooped me up, I closed my lids and floated in darkness.