After

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Chapter 5

Rose sat on the couch, petting Wren almost absently, when I came back into the common-room. She bolted to her feet when she saw me and the next thing I knew I was wrapped up tightly in her arms. For a little thing, she sure had some strength.

“Are you alright?” She asked into my hair, “Did he hurt you?”

“I’m fine, and no he didn’t.”

She pulled back, her hands clasping my shoulders, “Are you sure?”

I cocked a brow, “Yes. Where are Johnny and Chay?”

“Chay said something about a weird feeling and they took off that way,” she pointed towards the wrought iron gate. “Who knows.”

I had a feeling that ‘something weird’ might have been Grim transforming into a giant bird. Probably.

I nodded and dropped onto the couch beside Rose. Wren rested his big head on my knee, his brown eyes looking up at me in a way that made me feel like he could read my mind. Good, maybe he could make sense of whatever the hell had just happened.

Rose sat on the edge of the couch beside me, like she was ready to jump up at any second. Her lavender eyes searched my face worriedly. What did she see when she looked at me? Did I look any different from when I was alive, I wondered? Was I starting to change yet? Could she see the confusion I knew was stamped into my face? Probably.

“Essie ... don’t take what Grim did personal. He’s not exactly a people person. Sometimes I don’t think he likes even Chay.” she said quietly.

“He kissed me,” I confided in her. “He couldn’t apologize to me properly, so he kissed me. Who does that?”

I couldn’t have shocked her more if I’d said Grim had stripped naked and ran through After.

“He-kiss-what?” Rose shook her head.

“He kissed you?” Chay asked incredulously from the door way. “You?”

I was mildly offended; what’s wrong with me? Am I that un-kissable?

Chay must have seen the rebuff on my face, because he shook his hands in front of himself, like he was erasing what he’d said. “No, no. I’m not saying that you’re ugly or anything, just that I’m surprised Grim would let himself kiss you when the last time-“

”Last time?” I asked sharply when he cut himself off. “What last time?”

Chay looked around the room for an escape. He found none in Rose or Wren; Johnny was leaning against the door way, a expectant look on his face.

Chay sighed, “I’m sworn to secrecy.”

Johnny scoffed, “Since when has that stopped you?”

“I’ll have you know that I happen to be a master secret keeper. I never told anybody about that time you got drunk and tried to pick Wren up.” Chay said smugly.

“Dammit, Chay!” Johnny hissed while Rose and I laughed.

Wren looked embarrassed; he tried to bury himself in my lap.

Chay shrugged, “Oops.” His eyes met mine, he turned somber, “Look, all I can say is that you were once a very important person to him. That’s it. Don’t ask me anymore.”

“But I’ve never met him before,” I stressed, shaking my head.

“You have, you just don’t remember.” he said softly, his eyes holding all the answers that I craved. “I’m sorry but I can’t tell you anymore. Grim is like my brother and while I’ll do things that piss him off, it’s always for his own good. He needs to tell you himself.”


So I waited. I had never been overly patient when I was alive, and I found that, in death, that hadn’t improved. I paced across the living room, amused myself with the baubles and photographs, until that bored me, then went upstairs to Grim’s bedroom to wait. I sat at his desk, telling myself that I would calmly ask for answers, and if that didn’t help, I’d have to resort to harsher tactics.

I ended up pacing from one end of his room to the other, both hands pressed to my stomach, wondering if Grim was even coming back. Of course he was, I told myself, this was his home.

But what if he was monitoring the fortress and he was waiting until I left before coming back? It was a strong possibility. I rushed downstairs, flicked off all the lights I could see, ignoring the startled looks of the others as I ran past them. They didn’t need the lights, they were watching a movie. I hastened back upstairs and flicked off the lights in the room. It felt uncomfortable sitting in Grim’s bedroom in the dark, so I flicked on his bedside lamp. What if he’d mistaken me for a burglar and attacked me, I reasoned with myself. Not good.

I fell asleep at his desk, my head resting in my palm. I woke to the sound of the window closing. I stayed still as Grim’s large form moved towards the wardrobe, passing in front of me as he did so. He didn’t say anything, but I knew he was aware of my presence. Even the dim light of the table lamp was enough to reach me at the desk. I sat in silence as he took off his jacket and boots. He passed by me again, on the way to the bathroom, and still, we said nothing.

I waited until he came out again, some ten minutes later, freshly showered. He’d brought a change of clothes into the bathroom with him, so he went to his bed and sat on the far side, his back to me.

“Tell me,” I demanded softly.

Grim looked over his shoulder at me blankly.

“Tell me who I was to you.”

His eyes went blank and he turned away, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“That’s a lie, Grim. Tell me.” I stood up from the chair and approached the bed, “When you tried to read my mind earlier ... I saw things.” Grim’s spine straightened, his muscles bunched. Interesting.

“What things?” he asked.

“A gypsy girl and her father. I didn’t understand most of what happened, but the gist of it was he sold her to another man - who was going to barter her or something. I didn’t understand that part.” I frowned, “Nadyia, was her name.” I stumbled over the unfamiliar name, and it came out ‘Nad-e-a’.

Grim’s head dropped into his hands. “Nad-ya,” he corrected me softly.

I walked slowly around the bed, “So you did know her?” I stopped before him, a foot away.

There was a pause, I didn’t think Grim would answer when he raised his head and his eyes met mine. They were full of pain, of remembrance. I wanted to hug him but I knew it wouldn’t be welcome, not right now.

“I knew her.” he confirmed, “A hundred years ago, literally.” he frowned down at his linked hands, “I wasn’t aware of the circumstances of which she arrived, I didn’t know she was reluctant until she told me. By then I had already given everything up, there was no going back. So I told her I would send her back if she wanted, that she was free to leave at any time.”

Half of what he was saying didn’t make any sense to me, but he was talking so I wasn’t about to ask questions. They could wait.

“She was beautiful,” he whispered, “so full of life, of spirit. She refused my offer; said that she would never go back to her father after what he’d done. Her mother was gone, so she had no family. I let her stay with me. I only had her for two months, just long enough to ... know her, before she was taken from me. There was a note saying why she’d left, that she couldn’t take it anymore -living in After. That she needed to go home. But it was all wrong, the wording was off, the signature wasn’t hers.”

Grim stood up to pace, running his hands through his hair. “I was heading towards the Gate before I even knew what had happened. She wouldn’t have left on her own; she loved me.” he said so quietly I had to move forward.

“Was she at the Gate?” I whispered.

“She was there. So was Grayson.” At my confused look, he said; “Grayson Wade, also known as the Overseer.” his eyes went haunted again before he shut them. “He was pulling her along the bridge. I called out to her, and when she turned towards me...I saw how roughed up she was. Her eye was swollen, her face bloody. Her dress was ... torn.”

I swallowed and clenched my fists to keep from reaching for him.

“When Grayson saw me, he pulled her along faster. She struggled against him and when they were a couple of feet from the Gate, she broke free. I had just reached the other side. She ran towards me, but after only a few steps she tripped on a ripped part of her dress and fell. Grayson reached her before I could. He turned her over and pulled a gun from his waistband and met my eyes. I ran as fast as I could.” he whispered, “But I wasn’t quick enough. He shot her in the stomach and then he was gone. I didn’t care where he went.

“I just wanted Nadyia to be okay. When I reached her, her lips were turning blue. She was so pale. She begged me not to let her die.” Grim pressed the heels of his hands into his eyes, “She grabbed onto me and prayed for her life, but...it was too late.” He dropped his hands suddenly and met my eyes, “Do you know what happens when you die in After, on the bridge?”

I shook my head, half afraid of the answer.

“The Gate takes more than your soul. It takes your body. You fade to ash and you’re swept away into the Gate. But you’re not reborn, not right away. No, you suffer for years on the other side. One hundred years to be exact.” His eyes were fierce. He stared at me in a way that reminded me of a comedian imploring the audience to get his joke. There was something in his words that I was supposed to get, to make a connection between, but I didn’t get it.

“That’s a long time,” I said, rather uselessly, not wanting the conversation to end, but having no clue what he wanted me to understand, or to say.

Grim looked at me silently, his eyes assessing me quietly in the dim light of his bedside lamp. His eyes lowered to my stomach, to the still open wound there, and they grew hollow. He reached out as if you place his hand over it, to stop the bleeding, but he pulled his hand back sharply and stood. Turning his back he strode over to his desk and pulled open a drawer silently. “Do you know about The First Life, Esmeralda?” he asked me softly, pulling a small box out and cradling it in his large hands.

“Sort of,” I told him, “The parts that Rose and Johnny have told me, anyways.”

He nodded, satisfied. “Fate is a cruel thing,” he said, almost to himself, running his fingers over the tiny box, “Just when you think that things are turning around, that you’re finally getting the break you’ve been craving, it all comes crashing back around you. And there isn’t anything we can do about it.”

I nodded, knowing all too well how cruel the world could be.

“Our destinies were chosen for us by The First. Their actions, and the actions of those around them, have predetermined how our lives will progress, how they will entwine and how they will end. Even the lives of Reapers are basically uncontrollable. Though Reapers are not human, a single part of our souls comes from the soul of The First who committed the first crime, and all of his descendants. It is their punishment to roam through After inside of us, seeing the world and all its faults because of their crime. Is this fair? To punish the descendants regardless of them not taking part of the crime? Who knows; it is not for us to decide, to question.

“And yet I find myself questioning the very purpose of After. At least in the last hundred years. The purpose of things, of certain emotions, as well. Though it is not my place.” Grim turned back to me, his face shadowed, “Have you been in love before?”

In kindergarten I’d had my first boyfriend, Buck Megof. He’d been a year older, a head taller and my best friend. He lived next door to me and being the only kid around my age on the block, we’d become fast friends. After our first kiss, we decided that we were better of friends and never once looked back. In grade eight I had my second kiss, at the graduation party - Joseph Tander. He’d been in my grade, my height and the kiss was dismal. When I got into high school, I’d been too focused on studying and passing exams to really have a serious boyfriend. Sure, I’d gone on a few dates but nothing serious. Had a few kisses, but nothing exciting. I’d met a guy in my first year of college, his name was Lucas King and he relieved me of my virginity in his dorm three months into our relationship. We dated for another six months and then I broke it off. Sure I had felt something for him, else I wouldn’t have let him talk me out of my panties, but there hadn’t really been a mega spark.

So, love?

“No,” I told him, shaking my head slowly.

“When you love somebody,” he said, “Really love them, everything seems brighter. The sky bluer, the grass greener. Everything just seems to click into place; your troubles are gone. Suddenly you don’t care that destiny is something that is prearranged, that you get no say, because how could you hate something that brought this wonderful, beautiful being to you. You would do anything for them. If they asked you to give them the moon, the stars, it would only be a matter of transporting them to earth. If they wanted the world, you would find a way to give it to them. You give them everything and if they still need more, you would find a way to get it to them. Because that’s love. You give. Yourself, and everything you can.

“When you love somebody,” Grim said, “when you let them into that part of you that you’ve kept hidden away, when you let them become the bane of your existence, you only fear one thing. Losing them. Because how could you survive without them, when they’ve become so integral to you -so vital, it’s like dying yourself? And you do die with them; a part of you, the part that was so deeply connected to them, dies. And you’re left with a hole inside you, one that cannot be filled no matter how hard you try, or how fast you run. You learn to hate fate again.”

As Grim stroked his fingers over the box, I went over my conception of love and found it lacking compared to his. It sounded so scary and yet a part of me yearned for it, craved it with so much force it was almost crippling. Maybe it was the hopeless romantic in me, or maybe something else, I didn’t know. I just wanted somebody to love me the way Grim was describing. Sure, my Father loves me, but in the way a parent loves a child. A part of me felt a twinge of envy for the woman Grim had loved. It was unreasonable and petty, and even when I squished it down, I could still recall the feeling.

Grim lifted his head suddenly and locked our eyes together, trapping me in his gaze. “It’s worse than dying. Worse then the most horrible torture. When they die and you continue to live.” his finger flicked over the little golden lock and he opened the box.

I stepped closer unconsciously. Not realizing my feet were even moving until I was standing but a foot away, looking down at the delicate black box held so very carefully in Grim’s hands. Inside was a gem, a ruby, roughly the size of my thumbnail, gleaming softly like freshly spilt blood against the black velvet interior. Its fine gold chain was spread around it like a web. A web that Grim is still caught in.

“It was her mothers,” Grim said quietly, “It was passed down to her when her mother passed away.” Grim looked down at the necklace as he spoke, his eyes hollow, his voice soft. “It was the only thing left after the Gate took her.”

Nadyia.

Of course, I should have known that’s who he’d been talking about. Some part of me knew it even before he spoke the words. Just the way he said her name was a give away; gentle, like a caress, like he could comfort her even beyond the grave - or wherever the Gate took her. Though, after a hundred years she would have been reborn, isn’t that what Grim had said? That the Gate wouldn’t release her for one hundred years? Had it not been a hundred years?

The vision flashed through my mind, Nadyia’s face glinted quickly through my mind, parts of it lasting, reminding me of...myself? What? Emerald eyes, thick black hair. That voice, so familiar to my own echoed through my head, the words were blurred but the tone, the dips and breaths mimicked mine perfectly. I searched a little wildly for Grim’s gaze, needing it to anchor myself. It was there, steady and sure as I scrambled through what I’d just learned.

Johnny’s voice suddenly flooded my head, talking about The First and how everybody is connected to their first being, the one we all stemmed from - our own, one each.

Sure, I told myself, it’s called ancestors. I’d done a family tree in public school. I remember having a couple blank spots, where children appeared, but there was no concrete proof of who the mother or father was - ‘products of indiscretions’. But that was common. A Great-great-great Uncle of mine had run off and joined a Gypsy caravan. I remember hearing Grandfather debate with Father the stupidity of that Uncle, claiming that he was foolish to run away and procreate with one of them - a Gypsy. The way Father told it, it sounded so romantic; Mith had met a Gypsy at a carnival one Autumn and had become instantly bestowed with her. He waited for the Autumn carnival to come around every day for the next two years straight, just so he could see her. Finally, on the third year, he couldn’t stand it anymore and told her how he felt. Turns out, she had felt the same way. But, considering her standing, she wouldn’t have been welcome within the family. So Uncle Mith ran away with her and the caravan.

Father had thought it was a bold, intelligent move, while Grandfather decreed the man a fool and demanded they drop the subject forever. Father said that I had always reminded him of his Uncle because I always did things my own way, never followed anybody elses’ path.

Wait.

Great-great-great Uncle Mith.

Mith...ai...

Mithai. Nadyia’s father.

I felt the breath leave my body, my head spin. Not possible. There was no way. It was a coincidence. There was a nagging voice at the back of my head reminding me that I didn’t, in fact, believe in coincidence, but I shoved it away and chose to ignore it.

“Esmeralda?” I heard Grim say my name, but I couldn’t respond, couldn’t speak. How could I when it was a chore just to breathe. Warm hands cupped my shoulders, pulling me close to a warm body but I pushed against him and fled. It was all to real, too much and I just needed away

I didn’t know where I was going, didn’t know where the twisting and turning stone halls were taking me, but I didn’t really care. It was away. And that’s all that mattered. Away from what I couldn’t say. From Grim? Sure. From the truth? Probably not as well as I’d like. I was running from reality.

As I ran, tears gathered in my eyes, for reasons I couldn’t even begin to understand. What reason did I really have to cry? None. I was confused and maybe a little angry at the world and at the moment I felt a vicious stab of homesickness in my very soul. I wanted my Dad. He was the only one that I knew who could chase it all away, make it all fade into the background, and make it all better.

But he couldn’t do that now. It wouldn’t be better because I was dead and I’d never see him again.

I pushed through a wooden door and almost fell off a tower.

The cold wind rushed at me from all directions, whipping my hair about me spastically. It tangled in front of my face, blocking my view of the night set out before me, of the rocks and vast, empty space. Somehow in my escape I’d managed to climb to the highest point of the Reaper House like some fairy-tale heroine awaiting her prince in the tower to save her from the dragon.

Except, two problems.

This wasn’t a fairy-tale and the dragon wasn’t corporeal. It was more an idea, a belief, a thought.

And it was inside me.

I stepped away from the door, not really paying attention to the hundred foot drop looming before me as I absently walked along the edge. It’s not that I didn’t notice the drop. More, I was too occupied with other things to really give it much thought.

How does one fight an idea? How do you go about rejecting it when everything points in its favor?

Did I even believe in reincarnation or whatever the hell I was dealing with here?

Was I really supposed to believe that this woman, this Nadyia, lived inside me, that I was her just one hundred years later? That we were connected by a thing, a Being, when I wasn’t sure I even believed in that sort of thing.

“Esmeralda.”

I hadn’t heard the door open or Grim come up behind me. I yelped and whirled around, almost toppling off the side of the tower. His hands shot out and pulled me from the edge, close to him.

“Esmeralda.” he said again, this time near my ear.

I shook my head.

“Esmeralda, please -“

I shook my head harder, “No.”

I pushed away from his for the second time, and like the first, he let me go. I didn’t run this time - no, I paced. From Grim to the door, to the edge of the tower and back. Muttering the whole time, even I didn’t know half the things I was saying but it made me feel better so what the hell.

“How was this even possible?” I muttered.

“It’s nothing crazy,” Grim said behind me.

“Ha!” I scoffed, “Right. Not at all.”

“Esmeralda,” he sighed, “What exactly do you think is going on?”

I shook my head again. How could I answer that?

“It’s not possible,” I told him on the roof, the wind ripping both of our clothes, our hair, around us.

“What isn’t?” Grim persisted.

I snapped. Spinning around I glared at him, “I am not her.” I told him, “And she is not me.”

There was silence as Grim regarded me in silence. Then he said, with half a laugh, “Of course not.”

“I beg your pardon?” I asked. What the hell?

“That’s not how it works,” Grim said, “You’re still you. And she will always be just herself.”

“But-“ I stammered, frowning up at him, “What? What about The First Life and all that?”

“That doesn’t mean you are her or that she is you.”

At my look he took a single step closer, and said, “The First Life, all those thousand of millions of years ago, was the beginning of humanity. Some claim it was divine intervention that started life, others swear by the Big Bang theory. Perhaps they are right, in certain ways. But they way it is recorded in the Halls, where death and life is immortalized, is The First Life.”

He paused, made sure I was paying attention and continued in the same quiet voice. “We all stem from one Being. One each, that is. All the people, in all of the world exist because of their Being. They cross and bring forth other Beings. Not new. No, all the Beings that ever will exist were created during The First Life, existing inside of the ones that would create them - or their ancestors. It’s a complicated process, one that I’m sure our Historians could have told you better, but since Grayson took charge, he saw to it that the Hall was burned down and the Historians killed.”

I really didn’t like that guy.

“Nevertheless. You come from a Being, just as Rose and Johnny-”

“What about you and Chay?” I interrupted.

Only a slight hesitation, “We are different. Unique cases, designed to be symbiotic in a way.”

“Dependent on each other?”

“I suppose, yes. Reapers aren’t born, as you know, but part of our soul is human. It’s only a small part, not even a quarter. And because of that, leaders from the Old Times, decreed that there must be a... companion to each Reaper, to keep him somewhat human, somewhat sane. And, in turn, the Reaper is to keep the companion...er, level.”

“Level?”

“They’re genuinely happy beings. But if they feed off of love and if they go overboard, overeat I guess, things will get very ugly, very quickly.”

“Why?” I asked, my natural curiosity pushing me.

“Too much of anything is bad, Esmeralda. Companions are addicts. They are addicted to love and they depend on it as much as they depend on their Reaper to ground them. If he was allowed to roam free, Chay could raze the world with the power love would give him. Its not something most would expect from a companion, viciousness, so it would be all the worse.”

Happy thought. “Oh,” was all I could say.

“Back to the Beings,” Grim said, “Your Being is one among millions of billions of trillions. Even though everybody came from a Being you have to remember that you’re still your own person. There’s only a few things that you have in common with your Being but not your essence, not what makes you you. Maybe a few personality traits as well. They tend to be passed down - along with the overall look of you and one other thing. One very important thing. Death.”

“Death?” I asked. Johnny has said something about The First Life determining parts of our lives, and our deaths but did that mean our actual deaths, the entire thing?

“Death.” Grim nodded, “See, the thing about The First Life is their choices, their actions and decisions are a mold for our own lives. It’s a fate that we cannot hope to escape from. We can tweak them and adjust them, but major events we can’t get around. They happen as they have happened, regardless of the ways we try to manipulate them.”

I nodded. This I got.

“They passed their deaths unto us,” Grim told me.

“What does that mean?”

There was a small hesitation, like he didn’t want to say what he was about to, but had to tell me, to make me understand.

“They way the Being died in their life - that is how all its descendants are to die.”

I felt the world tumble out from under me, though I stood on a flat surface.

But I’d been murdered. That meant that for the rest of eternity, I was condemned to be murdered. Over and over and over again.

A pain shot behind my eye, tilting the world even more. A shape formed in my head, twisting and turning until it was a road. A dark road, with a building in the distance, other buildings sat closed and dark here and there along the road. There was a sign - but I couldn’t make out the words. My head was dizzy and I was ...scared? Why was I scared? I was alone - wait. I wasn’t. There were foot steps behind me, voices that I couldn’t identify were calling things to me, horrible, crude things. The main being they wanted to kill me.

“Esmeralda!”

Grim’s voice snaked into my mind and I latched onto it, using it to anchor myself to the present. I wasn’t dying now, I told myself. This wasn’t happening.

“Come on, baby doll. Wake up!” Rough hands shook me, reminding me of other hands, other people who shook me, not in fear but in anger.

I felt myself start to slide back down but Grim wouldn’t let me. He called my name over and over again and it was the sweetest sound I’d ever heard. But it didn’t seem to be enough. I was steadily losing the battle to stay awake when I felt his lips press to mine.

Hard at first, to gain my attention. And boy, did he. I snapped out of the darkness so fast my head spun. Or maybe that was from his kiss. I felt his hand clasp the back of my head, holding me to him, his palm was so warm I could feel it through the thick fall of my hair - regardless of the whipping winds around us, I was infused with warmth, right to my bones.

The kiss between us gentled, but he didn’t stop, I didn’t pull back. I needed this. And I couldn’t even say why. I just knew that it was more than just a simple kiss, more than him trying to keep me in the present; something was changing between us at this very moment and I craved that. Wanted it.

Like I wanted love.

That made me jolt back, separating our lips even though my entire being cried out at the loss of contact. His hand was still supporting the back of my head, keeping our faces close enough that our breath mingled between us, showing in little puffs of white fog in the cold.

I noticed the stone underneath me, the wall behind my head. I was on the floor of the towers ledge - Grim was half kneeling, half shielding me from above, his face anxious. “Are you alright?” he asked quietly.

I nodded. Not all the way lying. “Help me up.”

Slowly, watching me carefully, he pulled me to my feet. Twin circles of crimson stained my cheeks for no apparent reason as I righted my sweater, brushed gravel from my arms. I had no reason to be embarrassed. He’d kissed me, but showed no outward reaction. Fine, I could be calm and cool to.

“What happened just now?” Grim asked me, shoving his hands into his pockets.

“I saw something. Part of my death, I’m pretty sure.” He cocked a brow. “I was walking towards a building, on a empty street, and there were people – men, I think – behind me, saying...things.”

He caught my hesitation, “What sort of things?”

“Taunting me,” I said, shaking my head, “Pointing out that I was outnumbered. Stuff like that.”

There was a tick in his jaw, then he calmly said, “We should go back inside.”


“Two kisses in one day,” Rose smiled coyly at me around the book shelf I was attempting to peruse.

It had been two nights since the tower incident - I was firmly refusing to think too carefully about what had happened up there. After ushering me back inside, Grim had led me downstairs to Rose and the others and disappeared through the iron gate. I hadn’t seen him since. And I was perfectly okay with that.

Totally.

Rose and I had spent most of the past two days in the library checking out the massive and extensive collection of literature the Reaper House lay claim to. It was amazing, all these books. The smell, the texture, the crinkling sound the pages made as you turned them, it all comforted me, reminded me of home. And it was exactly the distraction I needed. Not that I was caught up in something, you see. It’s just that being dead takes a toll on a girl. And, okay, fine, maybe Grim would sneak into my thoughts every now and then, confuse the ever livin’ out of me, and flit back out. Exactly like he did in real life. But I was cool with that. Sure.

No, I wasn’t.

It was driving me up the walls, waiting for him to come back and explain what the hell had happened. He dropped the Nadyia bomb on me - which I had elected not to tell the others about, though I suspect Chay already knows - and then planted a killer kiss on me, and then flounced off into the night. The jerk.

How, pray tell, am I supposed to interpret that, exactly? Friendly exchange of saliva between friends? Something more? And was I supposed to wait around while he sorted through whatever the hell he was sorting through.

What the hell does he do all day when he’s out? Its not like he had dead people to look after, that was for the Overseer wasn’t it? Okay, low blow. So I’m feeling bitchy, sue me. You would too.

“It’s nothing,” I told Rose. And I was determined to leave it at that. Moving to another shelf I debated if I wanted to read love poetry or the more morbid tales of woe and betrayal. Maybe some murder? No, thanks.

“Oh, right. Nothing at all.” Rose followed me around, gliding smoothly above the stone floor, flicking knowing looks at me in between flicking through slim novels. “I’m sure he goes around kissing everybody. Except, funny...I can’t recall him laying one on me...twice.”

I glared at her over my shoulder. “Maybe because you two don’t see eye to eye.”

“What are you saying, exactly?” Rose asked with a half smile lighting her pixie features.

“Uhm, you can’t stand each other. He’s not likely to kiss somebody who will pop him in the nose. I’m sure he’s not that stupid.”

“Ah, so you admit you want him to kiss you!” Rose hypothesized.

“I said no such thing,” I informed her haughtily.

“You didn’t have to say it out loud.” Rose told me, “You said he wasn’t likely to kiss somebody who would pop him in the nose. That would mean they wouldn’t like it. He’s kissed you twice so clearly you haven’t hit him. Ergo, you like it!”

Before I could respond and tell her exactly where she could stick her reasoning - which was completely wrong, by the way- the sound of thundering footsteps echoed up from the staircase leading down to the common room.

Rose and I turned as one just as Wren lept up the last few steps, Johnny on his heels. His face was twisted with worry as he strode over to us quickly, “Shit has hit the fan,” he told us.

“What?” Rose frowned.

“We’ve got some bad news from one of my informants,” Chay reported as he came up the stairs with Grim.

I tried not to look at him, refusing to worry over where he’d been and if he was okay.

“What sort of bad news?” I asked Chay instead.

“The gig is up,” Grim spoke up, “Somebody has told the Overseer that you’re here.”

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