The sound of heavy boots marching on stone echoed through the gargantuan tunnel behind me as I made my way to the mouth of the Aviary. Torches as big as my body lined the black, shiny stone walls, lighting the path before me. The entryway that led outside was large enough for a dragon to fit through, though I doubted that was why it had been designed so massively.
It had likely been designed this way so that an impressive number of soldiers could exit the Aviary quickly and all at once, should it ever need defending. Should there ever be a threat against its inhabitants.
Should there ever be an unannounced army stationed just outside its wards...
Every Fae, Wolf and dragon soldier we had was already stationed outside. Aella and the Sylphs has retreated into the skies, unwilling to contribute in case of any violence.
When Dristan had announced the arrival of the human king and his army, it had taken less than an hour for our men to pull on their armor, strap on their weapons, and take their positions outside.
They hadn’t hesitated for an instant. They were ready. Waiting. Lethal.
And at my command.
Dristan walked quietly beside me, his fierce eyes trained on the light at the end of the long tunnel. He looked as intimidating as I’d ever seen him before. He wore thick, steel armor over his already impenetrable fighting leathers. He had countless weapons strapped to his body, and I was certain there were several more that I couldn’t see.
The two, twisted black horns atop his head glinted in the torch light as we passed each one. His massive wings were tucked tightly against his back, the talons at their tips as sharp as daggers.
The line of his jaw worked as he flexed it, over and over again. His narrowed sapphire eyes were two pools of frozen water, arctic enough to chill anyone who looked into them to the bone.
Marrok, Torryn and Warrick walked behind us, all three as heavily armored as Dristan was. They also chose not to speak, and though they appeared confident, I knew they were itching with anxiety.
Occasionally, Dristan’s hand would brush against mine, or he would briefly turn his head and gaze down at the side of my face. I didn’t return his stares, too afraid that his eyes would crumble the mask of calm that I had sewn to my face. I could feel his fury, his distress, his anxiety, through the bond between us. I knew he could feel mine, too.
To anyone else, we looked relaxed. Unbothered. Perhaps bored, or irritated at the tiresome chore that was at our gates. We showed not one ounce of wariness as we made our way through the tunnel.
As long as the wards held, the king, his army, and... Ronan... were not an immediate threat to us. His name was difficult to think of without feeling the heat of fury rush through my veins.
Stay calm. Stay calm. Stay calm.
I chanted the mantra inside of my head, over and over again. Keeping my raging emotions controlled had never been more urgent than right now, this day, this moment. I couldn’t show an inkling of anger, or fear. I had to be an enigma.
It was the best card I had to play because I did not know what Ronan had done, or how much he had told the king. I did not know the depth of the shit we were in. There wasn’t much I did know. And the anxiety that that fact brought me could not show on my face. I needed to be unreadable.
I counted my steps as I walked, as the scorching breath of each torch that I passed warmed my cheeks. I matched my breathing to my footfalls, keeping my expression as blank as I could manage.
I was a stone.
I didn’t think of the uncertainty of what was about to happen. I didn’t think of Andi and Sylvie, who were currently ushering the women and children of the Aviary into the bowls of the hollowed out volcano. I didn’t think of the thousands of soldiers outside who might lose their lives today.
I didn’t think of the possibility of losing Warrick, Torryn, Marrok or... Or Dristan...
I didn’t think of anything.
I simply counted.
Three hundred and sixty two steps later, we emerged into the daylight. Our soldiers awaited us, stationed two hundred yards away. They stood in perfectly synchronized lines, separated into several large, rectangular sections of men.
I paused, my eyes scanning the army before me. There was an eerie blanket of silence, interrupted only by the occasional whistle of a bird or the wind ticking the leaves in the treetops.
Dristan took a step forward, his gaze steady as he addressed our men. “My brothers, we have known for many years that the time for war was coming.” He said.
He didn’t shout, and for a moment I was worried that not everyone would hear him. That was, until I remembered they were all magical beings and they could hear a whisper from half a mile away.
“That time has come.” He said, baring his teeth slightly. “This is what we’ve been training for. This is what what we have banned together for. This,” He turned at the waist and lifted a hand, gesturing to the Aviary which towered above us. “Is what we will fight for... If a fight is what they want.”
I watched him closely as he turned his eyes back to his men. His lips tilted up at the corners and his dark wings flared. “Will you fight for your people?”
The silent, stony formation of men came alive in that instant, some shouting words of excitement, others snarling with agreement and eagerness. The collective roar exploded from the crowd, frightening away hoards of birds from the trees above us. The sound sent chills up my spine, and I smiled as I realized the king and his army could probably hear it too.
Dristan turned his gaze on me expectantly. I gazed back at him, nervous and unsure of what to add to what he’d already said. The roar died down and silence settled once more.
I turned to the men, my hands folded in front of me. They watched me, as still and silent as death, their expressions smooth and fierce. The strength in their eyes sent a wave of determination over me, melting my anxiety away, replacing it with courage.
I lifted my chin, feeling like the four elemental runes might burn a hole in my satchel. “If it’s a fight that they want...” I turned my gaze to Dristan. “Then we will rain down hellfire upon them.”
The lines of soldiers began to collectively stomp their feet and beat their fists over their hearts in a steady rhythm as I gazed at Dristan.
Boom. Boom. Boom. Boom.
Dristan’s cerulean eyes blazed at me as a slow, crooked smile graced his lips. He brushed the back of his knuckles down my cheek.
Boom. Boom. Boom. Boom.
He laced his fingers with mine. “Are you ready?”
I squeezed his hand. “I’m ready.”
“I will come with you.” Warrick said from behind us. “Torryn will stay here with the soldiers.”
I turned and met Torryn’s eyes. He met my gaze and nodded sternly, his hand resting on the hilt of the sword at his hip. “I will wait for your word.”
I nodded and turned to Warrick. Serious, chocolate eyes met mine. “I want to do everything possible to prevent anyone from having to lift a sword.” I said.
“But if something happens...” Dristan interjected.
“They can’t get through the wards.” Warrick said quietly. His eyes flicked to Dristan. “All we’re doing for now is talking to them.”
“But if something does happen...” Dristan growled softly.
“I will protect her with my life.” Warrick promised. “I will protect both of you with my life.”
“She comes first, Warrick.”
A wave of fear crashed over me. “What? No-”
“Promise me, Rick.” Dristan said, ignoring me. His eyes narrowed as Warrick stared back at him. “Promise me.”
There was a long pause. Warrick’s eyes flicked to me and I shook my head subtly. His eyes flashed with pain as they darted away from me and back to Dristan.
“She comes first.” Warrick said with a reluctant nod. “I swear it.”
My eyes burned, but I knew arguing would do me no good. I bit the inside of my cheek to keep from protesting. I tasted blood, but felt no pain. There was too much adrenaline coursing through my body.
Warrick turned and began to walk down the path in between the lines of soldiers, toward the warded wall surrounding the Aviary. My heart hammered against my rib cage frantically. I took two steps, following him, but I stopped when Dristan spoke.
“Brenya...” He said gently from behind me.
I turned my head. He was closer to me than I thought he’d been. I craned my neck to look up at him. He looked relaxed, almost bored, like he did at council meetings sometimes. This was his Dragon Lord mask.
But I knew him better. I could see his perturbation in the way he frowned. I could see his dismay in the way his eyes tightened at the outer corners. I noticed the slight shake of his hand as he lifted it and cradled the back of my head, weaving his fingers into the hair at the nape of my neck.
He leaned down and pressed his forehead to mine, taking a deep breath and closing his eyes. “If something happens, I want you to get out of here. Let us fight them while you get somewhere safe.”
I smiled and brushed my lips against his. “You know I’m not going to do that, you big, stupid lizard.”
His lips twitched toward a smile as his eyes slowly opened. “I know.” He mumbled. “It was worth a try.”
His eyes were so deep, so impossibly blue. I stared into him, memorizing the color, memorizing the shape of his lips, his jaw, his nose... My chest seemed to fissure down the center in that moment and I felt ice water fill my veins.
“Dristan,” I whispered, reaching up and capturing his face in my hands. His jaw was rough with stubble. “Dristan, I-”
His grip on my hair tightened slightly, and he pulled me flush against him. “I know.” He said, his voice raw with quiet emotion. “I love you, too.”
I closed my eyes as he ran his thumb over my lower lip and then kissed me. It was chaste, but deep and tender. A kiss that said everything I’d been thinking. A kiss that said more than either of us could.
“Come.” He said, taking my hand.
I pushed back the emotion threatening to drown me. I shut my expression down as I faced the path before us. I began counting again as I breathed.
In, out. In, out. In, out.
And as we walked dutifully toward the unknown, I became stone once more.
I didn’t notice that my nails were cutting into the palms of my hands until I smelled my own blood. With immense effort, I uncurled the tight fists at my sides. My jaw ached as I stared at the scene from the cover of the trees, unseen by the enemy I was watching.
Brenya and Warrick were silent beside me as they watched.
I was surprised to see that there were not very many men with the king. There were maybe one hundred or so of them. There were a few camp fires going. Most of the men stood at attention, facing the ward, while the others lounged around the fires. Some were eating charred meat, which smelled like rabbit. They must’ve been taking turns having breaks.
The king was standing with Ronan, to the far right, by the line of soldiers. They looked to be in deep discussion about something, and they were bent over a worn looking piece of parchment. I supressed the growl rising in the back of my throat as Ronan smiled at the king, pointing to a specific spot on the paper, which I could not see.
Brenya nudged me with her elbow softly. I turned to look at her. She motioned with her head toward the king, and stood stealthily. ‘Let’s go.’ She said into my head.
‘I’m not sure about this. They cannot pass the ward, but they can still fire arrows through it.’ I answered, catching her hand.
She cocked her head and smiled. ‘I know. That’s why I’m going to keep a shield up around us.’
‘You need to be careful and save your magic. You might need it for something more importat.’ I argued.
She rolled her eyes. ‘My body is thrumming with magic, Dristan. I’ve been releasing it for almost two days, and it hasn’t waned an inch.’
My eyes lowered to her hand, which I was still clasping tightly as I knelt in the trees. She was right. The transfer of magic that we had all used to bring her back from the brink of death had transfused her with energy, so much so that it had been causing her over-stimulation and discomfort. She wouldn’t run out of magic. I was still uneasy. This went against all of my instincts as her mate. However... There wasn’t much choice.
I nodded, my eyes still locked on our joined hands. I thought my teeth might crack under the pressure of my clenched jaw. She squeezed my hand and I lifted my eyes to look at her.
Two eyes, the shape of almonds, one mossy, one like liquid turquoise, stared down at me. She smiled gently, and the way her beautiful lips curved caused my heart to stutter.
‘Trust me.’ She whispered into my head.
And I did.
I trusted her with my life. With our people’s lives. Perhaps not with her own life, but I trusted her enough. She had surprised me at every turn, amazed me at every given opportunity, and I always, always, always underestimated her. I couldn’t keep doing that.
So, I stood, my eyes never leaving hers. She didn’t look away from my face as I rose to my full height and stepped closer to her. ‘I trust you.’
’Are you two doing that mate telepathy thing?” Warrick whispered. “It really creeps me out when you do that.”
Brenya cracked a smile and shot him a pointed look. “I didn’t realize dragons were so easily creeped out.”
Warrick grinned and flipped his middle finger at her. Then, his eyes flicked over us, toward the line of soldiers. Something dark crossed his features before he stood. “They know we’re here.”
I turned my head and saw that Ronan and the king had moved toward the front, center position of the soldiers. Ronan wore a small smile on his lips.
The king’s eyes were scanning the trees. He squinted, trying to see better, but he couldn’t see us. Ronan, however... He stood with his hands tucked behind his back. His eyes were trained on me, even though I was completely hidden within the dense forest.
He wore thick, golden armor. There was an exquisite looking bow strapped to his back, and a sizable sword at his hip. There were also strange looking orbs hanging from his belt, but I couldn’t tell what they were.
The king wore similar armor, though he looked much less intimidating standing next to a Fae. He was a man of about five feet, six inches. He was in his early thirties, with hair so fair it was almost white. His eyes were the color of mud. I hadn’t seen him since I had first joined his army, posing as a human, nearly six years ago. He still held that same, cruel sneer on his thin lips.
“Stay on guard.” I said, squaring my shoulders. “Let’s go meet the king.”
All eyes were on Brenya as she emerged from the trees. Warrick and I walked behind her on either side. She held her chin high, her hands gently folded in front of her, as she walked fearlessly toward the hostile group of men.
She was the perfect image of relaxed. She radiated with strength and power, despite her small stature and young age. It was in the way she carried herself. Her eyes were unflinching as she studied each man in turn. My chest swelled with pride as a few of the men stepped back, their wide eyes darting from her, to their king, and back again.
Ronan watched her, his eyes following her every move, and the smile on his face had me yearning to rip his eyes from their sockets. The king watched her, too. He appeared confident and unafraid, but I could smell his fear from here.
Brenya stopped about twenty feet away from the warded wall. I stopped by her left side, standing as close as possible without touching her.
For a long moment, all that could be heard was the wind in the trees, and the occasional click on metal armor as the soldiers shifted about nervously. I waited, wondering who would speak first. I was surprised when it was Brenya.
“I see you have a traitor in your midst.” Brenya said, her voice even and smooth, yet hard as stone. She stared at the king. “I suppose it’s only fair, seeing as Dristan so easily fooled you for five years straight.”
The king’s eyes bulged with anger as they slid to meet mine. I stared back at him from beneath my brows, my face blank despite my urge to smirk at him.
“Your men must be so proud,” She continued, and the king’s eyes settled on her again. “following such a wise, un-foolish king.” Sarcasm dripped from her tongue, her tone sweet and soft, like honey.
Warrick let out a low chuckle beside her.
The king curled his hands into fists at his sides, his face growing red with anger. I thought his head might explode for a moment. But after a slight pause, he released his fists and let out a breathy laugh.
He stepped forward, holding his hands out in front of him, as if he were carrying an invisible platter. “Well, well.” He drawled. “It seems the rumors are true. You are quite the silver tongued vixen, aren’t you?”
She didn’t respond. He lowered his head and smiled, resting his hand on the hilt of his sword. “Well... Maybe not silver. That might sting.”
A low growl of warning crept up my throat. He lifted his head and eyed me, moving his hand away from his sword. My eyes slid to Ronan as he chuckled and took a few steps forward.
“Don’t worry about him, your grace.” Ronan said over his shoulder. “He won’t be a problem much longer, I assure you.”
I bared my teeth as he turned his attention to me. I was about to retort, but I held my tongue when something caught my attention. Something was off about him. His stance was different. The way he held a constant crooked grin on his face made him look strange, as if he were a different person.
His eyes... They were not their usual pale, powdery blue. I focused my sharp sight, zeroing in on his irises. They were the strangest shade of violet I’d ever seen, in that there were flecks of white among the purple. They glowed subtly, and I hissed.
This could only mean one thing.
I moved closer to Brenya, lowering my head so my mouth was at her ear. “That isn’t Ronan. He’s been possessed.” She inhaled sharply.
Ronan’s smirk grew wider as he studied us. I was certain he’d heard me.
Brenya stepped forward. She looked straight at Ronan, ignoring the king and his fidgeting men.
All of the men aside from Ronan, including the king, went still.
The sound of the wind in the treetops came to a sudden pause. One of the men, who had been whispering to another, stood frozen with his hand still cupped around his mouth. Two, small thuds sounded to my left. I glanced over my shoulder and found two birds, stiff and unmoving on the ground ten feet from me. They’d fallen from the sky, immobile.
“Who the rutting hell are you, and what do you want?” Brenya growled.
Ronan, or the person posessing him, looked around at the frozen soldiers before answering. He turned in a slow circle, and when his eyes met Brenya’s again, he began to laugh.
“Amazing. Just... Amazing.” He grinned, and bowed his head. “It’s a pleasure to finally meet you, your grace.” He lifted his chin. “And if you don’t mind my saying so, you’re beauty is even more stunning in person.”
“I mind.” I spat, stepping around Brenya. “I mind quite a bit.”
He looked at me briefly, ignoring my words as if they were a fly buzzing at his ear, and smiled at my mate. “I’ve been looking forward to this day for many, many years.”
“Who are you?” She repeated.
“Oh, I think it’s better if that remains my little secret.” He said, cocking his head. “For now, anyway.”
“How long have you been possessing Ronan?” She demanded.
He shrugged innocently. “At first, it was only on and off, once in a while. But after you whipped and imprisoned him, I took over fully. Aside from you, he was the strongest Fae available to possess among your current population. I needed the strongest Fae, with the strongest magic. It amplifies my power better when I possess a stronger host.”
Brenya was silent for a few breaths before a ferocious growl left her lips. “Ronan didn’t try to poison Dristan. You did.”
The violet eye’d Ronan smiled.
“And when your plan didn’t work out, and you weren’t able to posses Ronan and walk around the Aviary freely anymore, you possessed his body and escaped.” She added bitterly.
He tilted his head back, closing his eyes as his smile grew. “Mmm.” He groaned with pleasure. “You’re so clever... It’s one of the things I love most about you.”
I felt white hot fire building in my chest. It seemed comical to me now, how much I’d been willing to kill Ronan in the past, because it was nothing compared to how badly I wanted to kill whoever was now possessing him.
“What the fuck did you just say?” I narrowed my eyes, my wings flaring.
He ignored me, still smiling up at the sky. It angered me even further, the fact that he would’t acknowledge me.
Gods, I wanted to rip him apart.
“Tell me how you got out of the dungeon without leaving a trace behind.” Brenya said, interrupting my violent thoughts.
His head rolled forward. “I teleported, of course.”
“But he was bound with iron, his magic was muted.” Brenya argued.
“Yes, but that’s the beauty of possession.” He examined his fingernails. “The iron hindered his magic, but not mine. It took a lot out of me, but I managed... It’s much easier when he’s strong, like now. All healed up, and ready for action. My magic, piled on top of his, is such a beautiful thing... And it’s all mine to do with as I please.” He smirked.
“You bastard.” Brenya snarled. “Why have your brought the king? Why are you doing this?” She moved to step closer to him.
I reached out, catching her wrist to stop her from approaching any further. Ronan’s eyes zeroed in on my hand as I touched her and he snarled. My head snapped toward him and I bared my teeth, my fangs elongating fully.
Brenya’s hand closed over mine. “Dristan, he can’t harm me.”
I glared at him, wanting to sever his arms and feed them to him. She squeezed my hand, and reluctantly, I let go. I kept my eyes trained on Ronan’s impersonator as she crept closer to him.
His easy grin returned as he watched her come closer. I hated the way his face changed when his eyes shifted from me to her. His violet eyes shimmered gently when they met hers, the same way mine did when I looked at her.
He looked at her as if he knew her. As if he cared for her.
His words came back to me.
Your beauty is even more stunning in person...
He had seen her before, but when? Where? How? Did she know him? So many questions filled my mind, mixing into the vat of anger and agitation that was already brewing.
“Qui sis tam pulcher...” He whispered, so softly I almost didn’t catch what he’d said.
I did not know what he’d said, but I recognized the language. It was the oldest language of our world, one that no one spoke anymore. Whoever this was, he must be quite old. The realization did not ease my wariness. Age meant experience.
Brenya tilted her head. “If you have come all this way and gone through the trouble of possessing Ronan, then you must have something to say to me. I suggest you spit it out, in a language I can understand, and stop wasting my time.”
He chuckled at her words and lowered his lashes. “As you wish.”
Warrick came to my side. “He speaks the ancient language.” He said quietly.
“Stay on guard.” I growled.
Ronan lifted his violet eyes. “I have been watching you for quite some time. I know of your plan to open the portal... I, like you, wish to rid this dimension of this filthy human king and his armies.” He gestured behind himself at the frozen men. “And the runes you’ve acquired in order to open the portal... Well, they belong to me. I created them, after all.”
Brenya glanced back at me briefly before facing him again. “Then you’ve come to take the runes from me?”
“No, not at all.” He smirked, wagging his brows. “Finders keepers.”
She narrowed her eyes. “I don’t understand. Why would you bring the king here? You say you want him and his armies gone... If you have been watching me and you know of my plans, then you know that we were going to ambush them at their gates. Instead, you’ve ruined our advantage of surprise and led them straight to us.”
He nodded, running his hand over his jaw. “Yes... I can see how that would seem strange to you. But, you see... I couldn’t let your plan unfold the way you wanted it to.”
“Because the portal needs to be opened here.” He said, gesturing to the land surrounding us. “At the Aviary.”
“The book doesn’t specify that.” Brenya retorted.
“No, it wouldn’t specify that... The portal can be opened anywhere. But I need you to open it in this location.” He lifted his chin.
“I don’t give a damn what you need. You brought the enemy to my gates, putting my people at risk!” Brenya said, taking an aggressive step forward.
He grinned, lifting his hands in mock surrender. “I know this looks bad, amor vitae meae, but trust me... I am your ally.”
She laughed. “An ally wouldn’t try to kill my mate, possess my comrade, or force his own plans down my throat. If you were my ally, why didn’t you just find me and tell me all of this?”
His eyes slid to me. “I said I was your ally, no that I was his. And I didn’t think you’d like the idea of my killing him.”
“Try me.” I smiled, exposing sharp teeth.
The corner of his lip lifted arrogantly.
“How did you even gain the king’s trust? He simply welcomed you with open arms?” Brenya asked, capturing his attention once more.
“It was interesting, to say the least.” Ronan said, tapping his finger against his chin. “It gave him quite a fright when I teleported into his bedroom. I popped up out of nowhere, and he was wearing slippers.” He chuckled. “I explained to him your plan to rush the castle. I left out the part about the portal, of course. I told him that I was afraid you would lose, and told him I would help him get to you first if he promised to let me live. He’s not a smart man. Most people are easy to fool. He was exceptionally easy.”
“Gods, above...” Warrick mumbled.
“You must open the portal no further than two hundred feet from the Aviary.” Ronan demanded. “Closer would be better, but no further than that. Lower the wards and wait until the soldiers are about to storm the entrance, and then open the portal.”
“You’ll never get past these wards.” Brenya said. “And I don’t care where you want the portal opened, so don’t count on us dropping them any time soon.”
He sighed. “I was afraid you might say that.” He lowered his head. I watched as he palmed one of the strange orbs hanging from his belt and unhooked it from it’s restraints. “That’s why I knew these would come in handy.”
Brenya glanced at me, her eyes full of question. Dread filled me as he lifted the orb, and I noticed a small pin at the top. Gods damnit...
“Nightbane gas grenades.” I said urgently.
Ronan couldn’t pass the ward, but he could still throw a grenade through it. And one of those grenades would devastate our magic. If he threw more than one, it wouldn’t take long until my power over the ward would crumble, and the soldiers would be able to get through.
Brenya whirled, throwing her hands out in front of her palms out, wrists together. A shockwave of energy pulsed out of her hands. The wave hit Ronan, and to my disappointment, he did not fall. He only stumbled back a step.
He gave Brenya a puzzled look. “That was disappointing... I expected more out of you, pulchra-”
But he stopped short when the grenade in his hand suddenly evaporated into nothing but a fine, metallic dust. It blew away with the breeze, along with all of the other gas grenades that had been strapped to his belt, and the soldier’s belts behind him.
His eyes snapped back to hers and his face lit up. “Mirabile!” He cheered, flashing a white toothed smile. “That’s my girl.”
“I think it’s time to end this sack of meat.” I seethed, walking forward to Brenya’s side.
He wagged a finger at me. “Ah, ah... You don’t think I’m that stupid do you? How many men do you see here? Maybe one hundred, maybe less? Do you honestly believe this is all I brought with me?” He chuckled, straightening his spine.
“What are you blabbering about now?” I grumbled.
Brenya tucked her hand into mine. I leaned down, brushing my lips against her temple. This seemed to crack that arrogant smile that was constantly plastered to his face. His eyes flashed with anger, and I smiled.
“I’m talking about the other three hundred and forty nine groups of men that are scattered around the perimeter of the ward. Each group consists of about one hundred soldiers, each of which are armed with five nightbane gas grenades.” He explained, the smile on his lips now gone. “Are you any good at math? That’s thirty five thousand men, and one hundred and seventy five thousand gas grenades.”
My blood ran cold.
“No...” Brenya whispered.
Ronan locked eyes with her. “You can’t immobilize everyone. On my word, the grenades will fly from every side of the ward. That should give you the motivation you need to get that portal set up and opened.”
“It’s not enough time!” Brenya hissed. “I won’t be able to set it up before a fight breaks out! People are going to die.”
His lashes lowered. “I am sorry, mi vida. It was the only way.”
“You’re going to pay for this.” I promised.
He smiled as his eyes slid to mine.
He opened his mouth.
“ATTACK!” He bellowed, loud enough that I knew any soldier of the king’s within a few miles of here would be able to hear his command.
Three heartbeats later, the answering war cry of several soldiers rang out. It echoed through the trees, coming from all different directions, and I knew...
We were in very real danger.
Brenya stepped back, pressing her body against my chest, as the mysterious man possessing Ronan lowered his head. He gave her one more smile before he whispered,