Chapter 16 - Mind Games
Asher Antonov’s P.O.V.
I’m standing at the entrance the next morning, seeing Fabian off as he embarks on his long journey around the kingdom to place the hidden portals when Ayla wraps her arms around me from behind. Smiling, I turn and bring her to my side with a gentle kiss to her forehead.
“Hey, did you have breakfast?”
She shrugs in disinterest, staring at Fabian as he all but chucks his things into the boot of the car. “Not hungry.”
I frown in worry, noticing that she hasn’t been eating well for a few days now. Deciding that confronting her would be a dangerous move considering she’s not well, I plan to spend more time with her and gently coax her into eating full meals. With Blithe still running around and wreaking havoc, I don’t see much of my beloved anymore.
Turning to face Fabian as he walks up to me, I smirk at the scowl he wears on his lips. I had ordered him to take numerous warriors with him for his protection and safe to say, he hates it. His dark blue eyes flicker to Ayla, who’s attention is currently occupied by Corbin discreetly braiding Vito’s hair. I roll my eyes at his childishness, wondering why I keep him around still. But when Ayla laughs joyously as Vito punches him in the face and proceeds to chase him around the foyer, I find my answer.
“Can I talk to you privately for a moment?” Fabian brings me out of my admiration.
I nod, ordering Vito and Corbin to knock it off and guard Ayla while I step away. Heading into my office, I close the door behind me and gesture for him to take a seat. I frown at his serious expression, feeling like he’s going to tell me something that I won’t like. He can always tell when something is off.
“I don’t know what Ayla is going through but what I can tell you is that if somebody doesn’t figure it out soon she’s going to get hurt.” He states bluntly, evoking a protective snarl from me. “Her aura is off, Asher. It’s not clear.”
“Please tell me you’re joking.” My voice is hoarse as I hold my head in my hands.
What if I can’t save Ayla in time? We’re supposed to spend eternity together, I can’t lose her! I think desperately. Memories that I’ve stored ever since I met her flash through my mind and I feel emotion rise within me at the thought of her dying. I won’t be able to handle it, I know I’ll kill myself if she leaves me. There would be no point in living.
“I’m sorry, I wish I was.” He crouches before me, placing a hand on my shoulder. “Have you called anyone to look into this?”
“Astra is helping me, she might know someone who can look into this.” I breathe shakily, pacing the room.
“Okay, good start. I’ll come back during my breaks to check on her and see if I can help.” He stops me, giving me a reassuring look. “We’re going to do everything we can, okay? You’re not alone in this.”
He nods, patting me on the back before picking up his coat and leaving the office. Taking a deep breath, I rid the thought of Ayla dying from my mind and follow him. But as soon as my eyes meet her emerald gems, I feel like my dead heart just shattered then and there. Smiling at her to pretend that I’m fine, I curse mentally when she frowns in worry. She knows me so well at this point.
“Ash...?” She mumbles into my chest when I hug her tightly, inhaling the scent of her essence.
“I’m fine.” I grin down at her, kissing her forehead. “How about we have a date night soon?”
She smiles breathtakingly, her small hands fisting my suit jacket in excitement. “Yes!”
I laugh, wrapping an arm around her waist as we walk towards the entrance again. Just as Fabian is about to get into his car, another one drives through the gates and stops opposite his. Astra gets out and they both share a knowing look, nodding slightly. Fabian waves from the window before driving off, two cars driving ahead and behind him filled with warriors. I gesture for her to come in and move towards the sitting room, Corbin and Vito in tow.
“Hi guys.” Astra waves with a smile, turning to Ayla. “Hello, I’m Astra. I’m so happy to meet you!”
“Hi, I’m Ayla. It’s nice to meet you too, are you a friend of Asher’s?” She asks, shaking her outstretched hand.
I know it’s another method Astra uses to access a person’s memories. But unlike the usual dazed look that would appear on a person’s face, Ayla whimpers loudly and rips her hand away from her. She clutches her head as she stumbles back, features contorted in pain.
“Ayla!” I shout, rushing to grab her as her eyes roll closed. “What did you do?!”
“Her mind wasn’t blocked before.” Astra whispers, her eyes flickering with worry as she gazes at Ayla.
“What are you talking about?!” I snap, yelling for Corbin to bring me a glass of water.
“Asher, her mind is blocked! I’m hitting a dead wall.” She steps towards her with her hand outstretched, as if she is going to try again but stops herself. “I-I don’t want to hurt her.”
“Why would her mind be blocked?” I take the glass of water from Corbin, flicking droplets onto Ayla’s face. I sigh in relief when her eyes flutter, her nose scrunching at the feel of cold water.
“I’m going to get Felicity to visit you as soon as possible, she’s a friend of mine who deals with this sort of stuff. I’m sorry, I can only access memories. But this is dangerous Asher, someone did this to her!” She immediately stops talking as Ayla opens her eyes and sits up.
“W-What happened?” She groans, rubbing her temple.
“You fainted, Ayla. Are you feeling okay?” I rub her back, helping her stand.
“Yes, I’m sorry.” She smiles gently at Astra and I. “I guess I haven’t been taking care of myself lately.”
Astra and I share a look when it seems like Ayla doesn’t remember what happened moments ago. I need to fix this, and fast. Now that Astra can’t access her memories and Fabian sensing a strange aura around her, my time is running out even quicker.
“I-I don’t remember what we were doing...” She mumbles as I guide her to the couch, feeling her instinctively curl into me.
“Well, you asked me if I’m a friend of Asher’s, which I am!” Astra grins, distracting her successfully.
Astra glances at me before continuing to explain how we met and that she’s a witch who helps hospitalized people in this kingdom. Before Ayla woke up, Astra had left to help at another hospital and I didn’t tell Ayla about what she did to her either. Although it was necessary, I understand how invasive it can seem to people and she might not have taken it well considering she had just been terrorized by Blithe.
I meet Vito and Corbin’s shocked gazes, shaking my head discreetly. They glance at Ayla in concern before nodding, but immediately stand behind the couch we’re on. I can tell they feel protective of her, the three have become very close friends. Although I didn’t expect Vito to ease up and be friendly around her, they both seem to get on great.
Calling for Grace to prepare some food for Ayla and Astra, I sit back and watch the two giggle to themselves and talk about random things. I make sure she eats properly and thankfully, she finishes everything on her plate.
“Angel, why don’t you go and get some rest? Astra and I need to talk before she leaves.”
“Oh, you’re not staying?” She frowns, disappointed slightly.
“Yes, I just had to discuss something with Asher on my way to the city hospital.” She smiles calmly, giving her a hug. “I will visit soon though.”
“Yes, do!” Ayla grins excitedly before bidding goodbye and disappearing with Vito and Corbin.
I turn to her once I sense nobody around. “Fabian sees a strange aura around her, he said she doesn’t have much time.”
“What has Blithe done to her?” She breathes shakily, her amethyst eyes filled with fright.
“I don’t know but we need to figure out what that spells means, Astra. I need your help now more than ever.” I sigh, resting my arms on my legs.
“I’m with you. I’ll call Fabian with what I have on the spell and see if he can help me.” She stands, walking with me to the door.
I walk her outside and to her car that sat there waiting for her. We turn towards each other with grave expressions. I have an inkling about what happened to Ayla at the courthouse but I need Felicity to confirm my thoughts before acting on them.
“Get Felicity here now.”
Two Days Later.
“Asher.” Dimitri and Vito walk up to me with somber expressions on their faces.
“Vito, you’re supposed to be guarding Ayla.” I snarl in disapproval, making him hold his hands up in a surrendering motion.
“There was a parcel addressed to Ayla and you, it smelt rotten so I opened it.” He grimaces, placing the large box on my desk. “Thank fuck I did because if it reached Ayla, you would’ve snapped my neck.”
I frown in confusion, opening the box straight away. My sensitive nose tingles at the rancid scent of decaying flesh. I’m met with severed parts of a body, dried blood covering the skin. Gritting my teeth, I hear Dimitri cough and Vito curse loudly, both covering their noses. There’s just a note with the name Felicity on it, nothing else in the box to determine who is the sender but I already know this is Blithe’s doing.
“Fuck!” I roar, picking up the chair and throwing it across the roam in anger. “Get this out of here – go!”
My only hope at figuring this out once and for all is dead. Hearing both Dimitri and Vito leave, I punch the glass cabinet, seeing the cuts on my knuckles healing instantly. Kicking over the coffee table, I sag into the couch with a frustrated yell. Ayla’s going to die and I’m just going to stand there and watch, knowing I couldn’t save her.
Tears brim my eyes and I fight them back, terrified about what’s going to happen now. I wipe one that streams down my cheek, resting my elbows on my legs as I think of what to do. Just then, the landline rings which distracts me from my train of through. Snarling furiously, I march to my desk and pick it up.
“Whoa! I just wanted to check if Felicity found something.” Astra replies and I can hear that she’s in a car. “What happened?”
“Felicity is dead, I just received her body parts.”
“W-What?!” She breathes in horror as I close the door to my office, knowing that nobody can listen in on me here.
“Astra, get back to the castle. It’s too dangerous for you to be out there.” I order, not wanting Blithe to hurt her too.
“O-Okay, I’m on my way.” She replies shakily, an undertone of sadness in her voice. She must have been very close to Felicity. “I’m getting closer to deciphering what the spell means. I’m sure I’ll have something for you when I arrive.”
“Thank you Astra, just be careful.”
I just wanted everything to return to normal, especially my Ayla. It hurts me everyday not being able to help her and I was counting on Felicity to get to the bottom of this. Now, all I have are Astra and Fabian. We need to work fast because Ayla is worsening by the day, she’s drained by night fall and doesn’t seem to want to do anything other than go to the library, her old room, or sleep. I’m worried about her health too, she isn’t eating properly and has started to lose weight.
This must end.
“And one more thing,” I start, looking out at the brewing storm. “Ayla should not know you’re here.”