opened her eyes to darkness. She could
smell the rain outside, even hear the pitter-patter of raindrops as they splashed
against the glass door. She was in bed, dressed
in something silky, feeling comfortable beneath a layer of downy covers. Her head wasn’t propped up by a pillow but
supported by a sturdy thigh. A familiar
touch traced her jawbone, curving around her ear and then back to the tip of
her chin. The pattern was repeated as if
these distractions, it was the sound of humming that captured her awakening attention—a
deep, clear, soft voice mixed with the periodic mumbling of lyrics. She recognized the tune from Earth, a consoling
melody Derian had sung to her before.
“Abide with me fast falls the eventide.”
The muttered line was followed by humming…
…until he reached the end.
“Help of the helpless, O abide with me.”
words seemed written specifically for her.
The helpless. That’s who she was. That’s who they all were—mortals:
destructible, weak, and helpless.
breathing quavered audibly, and the music ceased.
leaned over her, checking for open eyes.
She squeezed them shut, aware that her movement against his leg would
give her away. His hand covered her
cheek, warming it while a thumb tenderly brushed her skin. She knew this move. Derian, her promised one, frequently used it to
calm her. She succumbed to his caress, permitting
herself to relax at his magic touch.
sleep,” he whispered, “It’s still nighttime.”
effort she slipped back into her dreams, but they were no longer carefree and
happy. Ian—her protector both in the
real world and inside her dreams—was missing.
crooked trees of Lacsar Forest appeared fascinating and yet eerie in the way
their dark forms conjured up imagery of contorted creatures with outreaching
claws. The forest resembled a mobbing of
monsters, fixed and patient, awaiting the approach of some unsuspecting victim. When a breeze blew through the treetops,
those warped branches leaned over as though stretching to grasp at prey. The congestion of trees made it difficult to
see far ahead. In this place, it was
easy for Eena’s imagination to run wild.
ambled aimlessly, keeping close to a hint of a dirt trail. The silence of the night unfortunately was not
peaceful. The spell from the dragon’s
kiss had worn off—a temporary spell used to replace sorrowful memories with
sweet dreams—and her awareness of the recent tragedy had returned.
was dead. Drowned while alone at the
took over Eena’s thoughts. She was
concerned for Ian who had only recently been reunited with the victim, a woman to
whom his parents had promised him in childhood.
Eena’s heart bled for Ian, dreading the upcoming funeral. She also sorrowed for his parents and Angelle’s
only surviving family, a sister named Nischeen.
She could hear her earthly father’s voice echoing a truth from her youth:
honey, life’s not fair. Get used to it.” But this seemed to delve far beneath “unfair,”
mocking her present challenges with the death of an innocent girl. It was a cruel sucker punch.
inhaled deeply, an attempt to feel something on the inside other than the acidic,
searing pain burning through her guts.
She hurt. Her head, her stomach,
her heart, even the marrow of her bones seemed to ache within every limb. Ian hurt too—horribly. She could sense it through the mental
connection they shared. There was no
remedy for a broken heart, however. None
her charmed necklace, the dragon’s soul, could offer.
felt both helpless and useless.
by these burdens, she tried to cease thinking altogether. Perhaps concentrating on nothing might lessen
the pain. Her feet stopped on the dirt
trail where she rested at the base of a tree, slipping against the trunk down
to the ground. Her eyes fell closed as
she breathed in through her nose, attempting to clear her mind by imagining a
blank slate. Absolute nothingness. Just empty, black, miserable, lonely, grim…. Okay, that wasn’t working.
she went the opposite direction. A blank
slate. A clean sheet of paper. Unblemished, bright, white, a wedding dress, marriage
and babies, too young, can’t breathe….
Crud, white wasn’t the right color to think about. She could hear the anxious voice of the counsel
pressuring her to marry and produce an heir.
No, no, what other color was there?
A cheery color.
she agreed, pink was good. Pink was
deep breath and everything melted into a puddle of pink. Pretty, plain pink. Warm, cheerful, friendly, girly, like an
innocent child wrapped in a pink blanket.
Gaila’s handmade baby blanket.
Unan and Gaila—Ian’s parents who blamed her for the death of their son’s
sweetheart, poor Angelle….
she screamed out loud. Her arms sandwiched
her head as she hunkered down against the twisted trunk. “Stop it!
of the air a whisper touched her ear, calling her.
young queen looked up. She heard her
was a dainty, feminine tone.
Eena? Can you help me?” the voice
asked. It sounded nearly childlike.
pushed away from the tree, glancing around, searching for the person in need of
help. Finding no one, she replied to the
froze when the ghostly image of Angelle materialized before her.
Eena?” the vision spoke. Angelle’s eyes
widened, as if surprised and yet relieved at recognizing her queen. Her hand rose, reaching out for assistance
when she suddenly disappeared.
heartbeat thundered in her chest. She
rubbed at her eyes, unsure and afraid.
Her voice cracked as she stammered out the name in question.
lucent image of the late young woman reappeared—a pleasing likeness of Ian’s
promised one, more radiant than in life.
ghostly form blurred into an unrecognizable blob, changing shape. Youthful beauty dissolved and reformed into a
repulsive sight—that of the immortal witch, Anesidora. The apparition cackled with wicked amusement.
the specter hissed. “Predictable, vulnerable…..and
eyes dropped to the ground. She felt tears
swell within her cheeks. What a heartless
joke, so indicative of Ishtura and Anesidora’s tormenting ways. Eena squeezed her eyelids shut. This is what she would be releasing on the
universe if her actions continued to serve these awful sisters.
wasting precious time, Amora. I want the
remaining pieces to Pallador’s platform.
You’ve uncovered four star points, more than halfway there, but your job
is not yet done. Now get to work and
find the three remaining.”
scowled, looking up at the demanding spirit.
It did no good to refuse the title, Amora; the immortals had branded her
as such. It did no good refusing her
help to these awful sisters given how her will always seemed to bend to their bidding
despite every attempt to resist. She
would continue to fight nonetheless.
can’t help you. Your brother sent me
home, and unless the next star point is hidden in Harrowbeth, I’m in no
position to find it.”
huffed disgustedly. “Your detour to
Harrowbeth is because of my brother’s pathetic weakness for you mortal females.” The ghost looked Eena up and down with distaste. “It’s hard to believe he’s affected by such
an ordinary girl.”
clenched her jaw at the insult.
stand there thinking you’re special. So
what if he submitted to your pitiful pleas?
You’re not his first conquest and you most certainly will not be his
really don’t care because I can’t stand the scoundrel anyway.”
snorted on a burst of laughter. “You will succumb like all the others. No woman has ever resisted the charms of
Edgarmetheus for long. Eventually, he
will have you.”
will never happen,” Eena vowed.
ghost rolled her misshapen eyes at the sky, taking the time to gloat. “And you will neverfind the star points for
us, and you will never
assist in attaining our freedom, and your useless mortal friends will never die.” She smiled an evil, twisted grin.
witch rushed forward, her movement a blur.
Her ghastly face stopped inches before Eena’s. “I don’t care how you feel. All I care about is you doing what you were
born to do!”
couldn’t keep from stumbling backwards out of fear. She cursed herself for doing so because any
display of cowardice inflated the immortal’s haughty ego. Summoning her courage, Eena forced herself to
stand tall and spit out a retort.
was not born to…”
Anesidora wouldn’t allow any backtalk. She
spoke overtop the girl. “You were given
our immortal gene for one reason—to withstand the powers of the dragon’s soul
and then use that gift to free us! That
is the only
reason you exist!”
cringed. She was caught by an outstretched
arm that pulled her in unexpectedly. Her
protector, Ian, appeared at her side.
Eena sucked in a gasp, surprised to see him returned to her dreams.
her alone, you ugly hag! And get out of
her dreams! You don’t belong here!”
stared with incredulity at Ian. His
outburst was a bold, perhaps stupid, move.
She looked to Anesidora with concern.
The specter actually backed up, but a flicker of anger tightened her
features before shifting into a sly smirk.
I am free,” she said, “restored to my beautiful body and full powers, you two
will pay dearly for your impudence.”
didn’t hesitate with a ruthless response.
“You will never be beautiful, and you will never be free.”
young queen was the only one to flinch at Anesidora’s cry of anguish—a shriek that
lingered when she vanished. Eena couldn’t
believe the calm bravery of her protector standing up to that witch. Still held in his arms, she leaned against
him and whispered a thank you.
sure.” He released her and turned away
as if he too would disappear.
please don’t go.”
froze for a moment, refusing to look back.
“I need to be alone, Eena. I
wouldn’t be much good to you right now.”
were of great value to me just now.”
didn’t budge or reply.
she began. She dreaded asking the
question on her mind, and swallowed hard before proceeding. “Are you angry with me?”
felt his reply was curt, and wondered if it was truthful. He vanished before she could ask.
sank to the ground and cried again.
eyes opened at the gentle nudge of her promised one. It was strange how waking up felt more
peaceful than sleep. It seemed
backwards. But that was probably the
case with most nightmares.
dry voice, she repeated his “Good morning” back to him Her head left the warmth of his thigh; he
must have sat up in bed all night supporting her. She wondered if he had dozed off at all.
asked her first. “Did you sleep
not really,” she answered truthfully. Scooting
back against the headboard beside him, she noted his tired look of concern.
thought the dragon’s kiss was supposed to put you into a peaceful sleep,” he
it did at first. But when the spell wore
off, I had nightmares. I dreamt that
Angelle was still alive, calling to me for help.”
captain sighed sadly and placed a hand on her cheek. Eena took his fingers in her own and tried
smiling to reassure him. “I’m alright,
their clasped hands, he motioned to the ring on her finger. The two green stones set in a gold figure
eight were referred to as the dragon’s kiss. “Maybe I should use this ring to put you to
sleep every night so you don’t suffer from more nightmares.”
reclaimed her ring hand quickly.
“No. I already owe you for using
it on me once.”
only did it to stop your suffering.” He
stroked her hair, his thumb rubbing softly against her cheekbone. “Besides, I’ve experienced its power a few
twisted her head to look up at him with surprise. “You have?”
yes,” he admitted. “Your mother had a
ring much like that one, only the gems were yellow. When I was a child, she would kiss the ring
and then my forehead, usually when I was brooding over the loss of my
mother. I had no idea what she was doing
at first. It wasn’t until the third or
fourth occasion that I put the ring and the dreams together. I never had enjoyed such pleasant, peaceful
dreams before. Sha Tashi pressing that
ring to her lips was always the last thing I recalled before waking up with a
you knew this ring’s purpose all along?”
but I wasn’t aware you had possession of it when you were kissing Ian. I just assumed…”
know what you assumed, Derian.”
well….anyway. I think I got your mother
in trouble over the whole thing. I was
talking to Shen Laynn once, and I told him about how wonderful my dreams were
after Sha Tashi used that magic ring on me.
He insisted I explain myself, and that was the end of it all. The ring suddenly disappeared.”
Derian,” Eena groaned. So that was the
real reason the “girls’ nights out” had come to an end. A young Derian had spoiled her mother’s fun without
captain kept on talking as if he were caught up in the distant memory. “I remember after your mother put me to sleep
with that gem, waking up in my own bed the next morning having no idea how I had
come to be there. But my slumber was
peaceful, attached to wonderful, realistic visions. Visions in which I spent hours with my own
mother—happy and at ease. It was like
having her with me again. I could touch
her skin, hear her voice, laugh and play right along with her. It was wonderful, and yet when I awoke and
eventually realized she was gone…….it was heartbreaking.”
rubbed his arm sympathetically.
dreams were amazing. Utter bliss. Always exactly what I wanted.” He turned his distant eyes on her and asked,
“What did you dream of last night?”
she hesitated. It wouldn’t sit well for
her to admit she had dreamt of a day spent on the oceanfront with Ian; the
truth would only feed Derian’s jealousy.
Thinking quickly she said, “I….dreamt of Earth—a day on the beach. The ocean was beautiful. It was a weekend my parents had taken me
nice,” he smiled. “You must miss those
it would be unproductive to venture down that road, she inhaled deeply and
focused on the day ahead. “I should get
threw his legs over the side of the bed while Eena scooted to the edge. That’s when she noticed her bare arms.
happened to my bracelet?” she asked.
with your other jewelry. Livette, your
assistant, put it away when she dressed you.”
have an assistant?”
course you do, Eena.” The captain looked
amused by her surprise. “You’ve hardly
been home for her to attend to your needs, but I called on her to prepare you
for bed yesterday.” Adding a flirtatious
wink, he said, “I would have done it myself had there been no witnesses.”
elbowed him, blushing at his shameless grin.
you know what Livette failed to find on you?”
Derian asked and then answered his own question. “Your new PCD.” He arched a critical eyebrow.
took it from me.”
get you another one.”
bother? Edgar will just take that one
hopped out of bed to head for the bathroom but was stopped when Derian grabbed
her by the hand. He turned her palm
upwards and placed a folded piece of paper on it.
was in your pocket. I thought you might
like to have it.”
smiled down at a hand-written letter that contained sappy, youthful
sentiment. The captain had written it
for her ages ago. “Thank you, Derian.”
you care to have Livette assist you this morning?”
shook her head. She felt guilty knowing
the position had been promised to the late Angelle. It seemed wrong to allow someone else to
assume it so soon after the tragedy of her death. “I’ll be fine on my own.”
bowed grandly—a deep, playful gesture. “As
you wish, my queen.”
was aware he was trying to be cheery for her sake. It was sweet of him. She offered a weak smile in appreciation.
hot shower detained the young queen for a while. Every muscle in her body surrendered to the
therapeutic effects of massaging ionic liquids that seemed to wash away not
only a layer of grime but an accrual of physical aches and pains. Too bad it couldn’t do the same for sorrows. Eena wished for a magic shower charmed with
dragon stones that could rinse away despair and anguish and all miseries. She daydreamed of such a thing where a person
could pass through an enchanted waterfall and obtain relief from every sadness. The tragedies of life would evaporate,
leaving only pleasant memories. No pain. No suffering.
was a desirous and tempting fantasy, but it wouldn’t bring Angelle back.
recalled her own near-death experience, nearly drowning in the cold river of
the Semmian Rainforest. Had she not
touched the star point in time, her life would have ended beneath those icy
waters. All the while, Ian had stood on the
shoreline unable to help. Had he been
with Angelle when she drowned, it likely could have amounted to the same
situation; he may have been unable to save her.
quickly ceased her trail of thought, afraid of Ian reading her mind. The images would only make him feel
worse. She sensed his mental presence,
but he didn’t seem to react to the notions in her head. It was understandable; he would be absorbed in
his own thoughts.
out of the shower, Eena noticed a change of clothing set out for her. She smiled, touched by Derian’s constant
consideration of her needs. The gown hanging
on the bathroom door resembled one he had chosen on a previous occasion: their
first breakfast in the commissary on the captain’s ship, the Kemeniroc. The dress was tawny in color with a chiffon
skirt and billowy shoulders. It took her
back to their first days together when his brother, Gemdorin, had presented the
greatest threat. In memory, he seemed less
foreboding—a mortal, able to die like the rest of them. Unlike her present adversaries. Gemdorin and his Ghengats seemed near
impossible to defeat at the time, but that proved untrue. And now he was dead. If
onlya mortal enemy were her greatest present challenge; she
might feel she stood a chance.
dressed herself, stewing over these thoughts until her fears threatened to
swallow her up. There was no way to stop
immortals. No tactic or trickery existed
to prevent Anesidora and Ishtura from forcing her to do their bidding. They would trap her. Fool her.
Coerce her into doing whatever they wanted—just as they had up to this
point. And in the end, when her services
were no longer needed, Edgar’s horrible sisters would finish her off, making
her pay for her insolence as promised.
Ascultone’s portended vision only supported this truth. Unless…...unless she agreed to Edgar’s proposal.
responded to a muted sound of sobbing.
He tapped lightly on the door.
“Eena? Eena, are you alright?” The captain waited for a response. Hearing none, he tapped once more before
announcing, “I’m coming in.”
the door creaked open allowing time for an objection. When he peeked inside, he saw his queen on
the edge of the tub crying into her hands.
He tried to urge her up.
with me, Eena. Let’s go sit in the other
she sobbed. “What does it matter whether
I sit here or there or in the middle of some frozen, forsaken island? My fate will be the same. I can’t stop them, Derian, I have no way to
beat them. They’ve won.”
a seat next to his weeping sweetheart and brushed aside the hairs that hung
forward in her face. “The game isn’t
it is.” She let her hands fall into her
lap and turned her glistening eyes on him. “There’s no way I can win this.”
it? You’re just going to give up? You’re ready to forfeit?”
already won, can’t you see that?” Her
eyes were earnest and heavy with despair as she spelled out the impossible odds. “Anesidora controls the necklace, Derian—I
don’t. She controls whether I come or
go. She plays me like a puppet, forcing
me to gather up those star points against my will. She even controls Naga against his will…”
stopped suddenly. Her thoughts had been
so plagued with tragedy, she had forgotten a wonderful fact: her new ring was
set with Naga’s dragon stones, and she owned the ring! Her focus shifted to the band adorning her
finger. She was fast to her feet and
pulled her captain along with her, fueled by a tiny spark of hope.
on, Derian, you have to take me somewhere.”
rushed down the back steps of Lacsar Castle and boarded a shuttle. The captain took the pilot’s chair while Eena
fell into the seat beside him. She
whispered only two words. “Gemdorin’s
treasure.” That was all she dared say
nodded his understanding. Five minutes
later he set the shuttle down outside a large warehouse, fenced of and guarded on
all sides by Harrowbethian patrols. As
head of security, Kahm Derian was granted immediate access.
first took notice of a high ceiling inside the warehouse that extended on and
on, disappearing into a dark, indiscernible void. Her eyes naturally moved downward onto the
long, tall rows of shelving that reached far back into the same gloomy
shadows. There were numerous shelves laden
with boxes, each one clearly stamped with bold, sequential numerals. The contents associated with each number-code
were, no doubt, kept on file somewhere.
started towards the left of the building, determined to find the item she needed,
when Derian grabbed her by the arm and pulled her in the opposite direction. He didn’t slow his steps until they were
standing before the furthest row of shelves that lined the rightside wall.
things are all here,” he said. “They’re
organized by origin, then by function, at least as far as initial observation
looked intently at her captain for a moment, wishing she could talk to him
telepathically the way she could with Ian.
The possibility of Edgar eavesdropping kept her from voicing her intentions
out loud. She didn’t want to risk the
immortal’s intrusion. He was certain to make
an appearance sooner or later, but her hope was he wouldn’t show up until considerably
grabbed a small box from off the shelf as if he meant to search its contents,
even without knowing what he was looking for.
Eena spit out a sudden warning.
“If you see what looks like a beetle, don’t touch it. It’s deadly.”
box in his hands fell to the floor as if it had rapidly turned hot. “Criminy, Eena,” he grumbled. “I guess that’s good to know.”
captain watched with interest as she passed up every carton without bothering
to check for contents. She scanned the
bottom shelves first, moving quickly from one container to the next. Catching how she peered for just a moment
inside the larger crates, Derian made a quick assumption—she was searching for
something big. He hustled to the very
end of the row where a line of high crates stood too tall to sit on the
he called, waving her over. “How about
caught the grin on her lips when she let the lid fall from the skinniest package. Her hand reached over the edge in a circular
waving motion. Derian peered inside,
crinkling his forehead at what appeared to be nothing more than a flat-topped
podium etched with consecutively larger circles. He gasped when a ray of light shot up from
the very center. His eyes followed the
beam to where a transparent, three-dimensional replica of their galaxy hung
overhead—planets, stars, moons, and other celestial bodies floating within a
what is this?”
didn’t answer his question, focusing on the task at hand. “Show me the Alaheron System,” she ordered
were instantly staring at an exact replica of their own solar system. Derian reached up to touch the fourth
aqua-blue sphere orbiting a bright yellow sun.
His fingers slipped through the tiny planet as it rotated slowly on its
her respond to him, Derian turned his attention on her. “How did you make this thing work? It hasn’t reacted to anyone’s touch, not even
an immortal navigational device. It only
works for them.”
brow worried substantially at her announcement.
“You’re not an immortal, Eena.”
know,” she agreed, “but I have their gene, remember?”
“Right. Of course.”
That made sense.
went on to explain further. “I
discovered this device on Gemdorin’s ship.
He couldn’t make it work either.
I never told him I could. I
figured out that it’s a comprehensive map of the entire universe. I believe only the immortals could have put
such a thing together; no one else could possess that amount of knowledge.”
concern etched on her face, she turned to the back wall of the building and
eyed the available space between the end of the shelving and the rear
wall. There was an open area, and the
ceiling seemed high enough. She hoped it
a “here-goes-nothing” inhale, she voiced aloud, “Naga! Dragon, show yourself!”
her delight and the captain’s astonishment, the open space filled up with the
presence of a large beast armoured in scales.
The dragon’s long neck was too high for the elevated ceiling, so it
crooked forward. His mismatched eyes
stared down at the woman who had summoned him.
came!” Eena squealed with glee, sobering almost instantly afterward. “I have your ring—your dragon stones.” She showed him. “This means you must answer to me.”
to me then,” she commanded.
great beast sadly closed his eyes. His
head swung regrettably back and forth.
I command you to!” Eena argued. “You must
a slithering snake, the dragon’s muzzle slipped through the air toward the
captain. Derian’s eyes widened as he
stepped back from an enormous, looming snout.
he questioned with obvious concern.
I have your ring! You must do…”
lifted a halting palm as the creature faced him eye to eye. Eena watched them stare at one another.
says he can’t speak to you because Anesidora forbids it. He’s obligated to keep her command because
she gave it first.”
talking to you?” Unmistakable envy
permeated the question.
Derian nodded, “in my head. It’s crazy unreal!”
he contact Pallador?” Eena asked the captain.
Her focus shifted to Naga. “Can
you tell Pallador I’m in trouble?”
answered for the dragon. “He can’t.”
about Wennergren or any of the other immortals?”
Eena. He can’t do that either. He’s forbidden to contact any of the immortals
was disappointed but had guessed this might be the case. “Will you at least tell me this….in what
solar system and on what planet does Pallador reside? Where can I find him myself?”
anxious eyes searched Naga’s face as he focused on the captain. Like most immortals, his expression was
difficult to read. After what felt like
forever, Derian answered. “He says their
planet is called Laradine. It’s in the Dranobbi
System, located on the edge of our galaxy.”
back to the podium Eena ordered the navigator, “Show me Laradine in the
images zoomed in on one arm of the spiraled galaxy, clear to the tip of its
finger. There, a solar system with only
three planets came into focus. The trio orbited
an enormous white star. The furthest
planet from the sun was giant in size compared to the other two and seemed to
shine above the others as if singled out.
Coils of vaporous gases circled this red marble, giving it the illusion
of a cloak of golden rings. Eena gazed
with wonder and excitement at Pallador’s homeworld.
then it disappeared.
a second she assumed the device had shut itself off, but the white star
continued to shine with two tiny planets orbiting it closely. Only Laradine was missing.
happened?” she asked, scanning the display.
Derian could answer in Naga’s behalf, the red marble reappeared.
back,” Eena breathed with relief. She
gasped when the entire Dranobbi system vanished. This time it had been shut off. Her eyes lowered to find the culprit. Edgar stood beside the podium, his blue gaze
focused only on her. His expression was
you lost your mind entirely, Amora?” He
seemed more annoyed than angry, leaning against the skinny crate with a hand on
wished it had taken a little longer for him to appear, certain he would now
forbid any further questioning of the dragon.
soon as Edgar spoke, Naga raised his neck as high as the building allowed. A snort of smoke traveled along the
ceiling. The overgrown lizard retreated
to the rear wall and waited with a disgruntled rumble in his gut. Meanwhile, Edgar continued scolding the young
you have a death wish? Is that it?”
she snapped, wide-eyed.
immortal huffed indignantly and approached her.
“Amora, I can only protect you from so much. Anesidora will not like what you’ve done
I’ve done nothing.”
discovered Pallador’s home!”
what? I can’t do anything about it,” she
raised a skeptical eyebrow, regarding her sternly. “And neither can any of your friends.” The immortal shot a glance at the captain as
he announced, “There will be no communications or ships leaving this planet
until Amora has completed her work. Is
kept silent. In response to this, Edgar reinforced
an attempt is made to contact Pallador, my dear captain, there will be deadly consequences. Irreversable consequences. Is that
silence again, Edgar raised his voice to repeat the question loudly. “Is
captain scrunched his eyes, and with suppressed anger he grumbled an affirmative
made a protective gesture by stepping in between both men. “Leave him alone, Edgar,”
immortal watchdog softened his demeanor and caught her eye, but she blinked and
looked away, avoiding prolonged eye contact.
Like a sudden gust of wind, Edgar closed the gap between them and placed
a gentle hand on her silky red hair.
Amora,” he cooed.
reacted instantly. “Get away from…!”
words were cut short. He appeared to halt
mid-sentence, immobilized. It was exactly
like what had happened to Muhra Aing when Edgar sped up time for only Eena and
himself. She glanced at Naga to see if
he too appeared frozen, but the dragon’s eyes blinked and she understood that
only Derian had been left to stall in real time.
stroked her cheek. She swatted his hand aside.
touching me. And stop tormenting Derian.”
“Me?” Edgar gaped at her; the look of innocence was
what about you? When will you stop tormenting him?” Edgar moved past the young queen to approach
the motionless captain. He circled the
man as though he were checking out a marble statue on display
not tormenting him; why would you say that?”
have the poor guy believing you actually intend to marry him.” Edgar stopped to fix the captain’s collar,
raising it up high and stiff around his neck.
intend to marry him.” Eena followed her
immortal watchdog and folded down the captain’s collar, repositioning it as it
please,” Edgar groaned. “You’ve had two
opportunities to do so and on both occasions you turned him down.” Edgar elevated the captain’s elbow—adjusting
him like a mannequin—leaving it in an awkward position. “The council expressed a desire for you to
marry, and you nearly hyperventilated over the mere suggestion. And just recently, due to his own paranoia, Derian
all but begged you to marry him. Your
refusal couldn’t have been more swift or more adamant.”
pushed the captain’s elbow back down to his side as she retorted, “I’m only
seventeen, Edgar! I have no desire to
marry anyone right now. But when I am
ready, Derian will be my husband.”
took Derian’s outreaching arm and shoved it forcefully down. “He will not.”
will so!” Eena raised the arm back to
where it had been and warned her rival, “Don’t touch him anymore,
fine,” the immortal ceded. Then with a
smug grin he added, “If this had been Ian, you would never have let me touch
him in the first place.”
is not true! I know what you’re doing,
Edgar—I’m onto you.”
laughed out loud, “You’re onto me? Oh,
Amora, if you would like to climb onto me I’d be most accommodating.”
simply trying to help.”
who? Your sordid self?”
no. I’m trying to help you—to make you face
the truth about your feelings.”
truth is I love Derian,” she maintained.
“I’m not in love with Ian, and I wish you would quit insinuating that I
am!” She pointed to the captain. “Derian is my love.” Her finger shifted to point outward, nowhere
in particular. “Ian is my best friend
whom I care for deeply, yes, but that’s all.”
Finally, a stern finger landed in Edgar’s face. “And you—you are nothing but a filthy jerk!”
tsk.” He shook his head disappointedly,
pushing her finger aside. “Why do they
always insult the messenger?”
because the messenger is always a jerk!”
countenance hardened all of a sudden, serious and severe in expression. “Let me warn you, Amora, if you continue to
defy Anesidora so blatantly, you won’t live long enough to marry anyone.”
done nothing wrong,” she repeated; however, she was unable to completely
conceal every trace of justifiable apprehension.
summoned Naga. Had the beast been able
to, you would have sent him after Pallador.”
no secret that I don’t want your sisters freed.”
it’s no secret they have warned you of consequences for defying them.”
dared to meet Edgar’s gaze straight on.
“Don’t tell them. Don’t say
anything to them. They only know what
you tell them.”
grinned roguishly. He moved cautiously
closer, drawing her in with his magnetic stare.
“You think you have it all figured out.
You think I care so much for you that I would keep secrets from my
sisters.” His fingers reached to rest
against her face as she continued to drown deeper in the blue of his eyes.
she managed to utter, “I…I don’t….I don’t know…”
breathing quickened when he pulled her into his arms. “Kiss me, Amora, and I won’t tell.”
blinked and she lowered her eyelids, forcing her gaze away. With her head bowed, hair hiding her face,
she carefully lifted the ring to her lips, pressing it against her mouth before
looking up at Edgar again.
she agreed. “One kiss. Only one.”
wide at her quick willinglness to agree, his countenance beaming like the noonday
hold of his chin, she turned his face to let him know her intention was merely
a peck on the cheek, but when she went to kiss him, he rotated at the last
second to meet her lips. He took
advantage of her, his hands on either side of her face, keeping their lips
pressed together. She squealed in her
throat, a strong objection. When he
pulled away, his big grin met a look of outrage. Then he fell to the ground.
hate you!” she hissed, angry that he was now passed out and not awake for her
to punch. She kicked him instead, good
and hard in the ribs.
that hurt!” His eyes opened wide with
incredulity. “Why did you kick me?”
gasped. “You’re not asleep?”
to kick him again. Edgar moved out of
reach in a blink. She knew it was
pointless to try and take her anger out on him now. His blinding swiftness would make him
impossible to catch, so she yelled at the scoundrel instead.
dragon’s kiss doesn’t even work on you!”
grinned impishly. “Of course not,
Amora. The rings were made to effect mortals
would do that?” she demanded.
sister made these rings?” She groaned
her aggravation. How just her luck.
seemed highy amused.
many of these stupid charmed trinkets did your sisters make?”
few. There are others who have made use
of the dragon stones as well. Pallador
created his platform and the prison that holds my sisters captive. Wennergren formed the bracelets. Eurodite fashioned a pair of charmed
earrings. And I, myself, created a very
impressive and stunning belt.”
made a belt?” Eena asked. “What kind of
smirked at her sudden curiosity. “A
magical one.” He waved his fingers in
the air for dramatic effect.
I’m sure it only works on us poor, pathetic mortals.”
no. I created it specifically to work on
immortals, but it does fool mortals as well.”
fools mortals? What exactly does it do?”
entirely amazing,” he crowed.
folded his arms over his chest as he declared, “I’m not going to tell you.”
is it then?” she asked.
not going to tell you that either, unless—”
He uncrossed his arms, leaning forward cautiously in case she had some
inclination to hit him, “—unless you agree to come with me.”
lip curled up unattractively. “Never.”
I shall never tell you,” he huffed. His
arms crossed defiantly over his chest again.
arms did likewise. “I don’t want to know
anyway. It’s probably something stupid.”
hope someday I find a dragon stone so I can make a charmed jewel that will give
me the power to quiet all you annoying immortals.”
wouldn’t be able to,” Edgar announced, his nose pointing upward with both
haughtiness and offense.
Pallador and the governing body put an end to creating anything else with the
dragon stones. All the eggs and the gems
inside them have been confiscated and are now under strict guard. Any new dragon egg, once discovered, is
likewise locked away. If an immortal
were caught attempting to create a charmed device with a dragon stone, he or
she would be tried and sentenced quite severely.”
narrowed her eyes before reminding him, “Technically I’m not immortal, so that
rule doesn’t apply to me.”
technically you don’t have the power to create a charmed trinket in the first
place. Only immortals can do such a
glared for a long moment at his smug expression. “I hate you.”
know,” he grinned with amusement. “Hate…love—” His hands shifted in the air resembling the
balancing of the two emotions. “—they
are so closely related.”
you just go away?” She walked over to
stand beside Derian who was still stuck in a statuesque pose. “Leave us alone.”
twisted his head and looked up at the dragon that had been watching silently
from above. “You heard her, Naga, go
him!” Eena hollered. She kinked her neck
to look toward her dragon. “Naga, come
to me if I call for you again.”
great beast nodded, snorting a small release of smoke.
and one more thing,” she added, flickering a sly glance at her immortal
watchdog. “Bite Edgar’s butt for me.”
was another nod by Naga, this one much deeper and complemented by a seething growl.
eyeballs widened and then narrowed. He
vanished only a second before his scaly pursuer, but not before exclaiming,
“How dare you!”
laughed, feeling somewhat vindicated as she turned back to her captain. He lurched forward, reanimated. She stopped his heated steps with a flat hand
against his chest.
gone,” she said.
looked around, feeling confused and out of sync. “What just happened?”
get the chance to answer his question, for her hand was no longer pressed
against his chest but raised in the air, beaten by a hot evening wind. She was looking out over a large body of
water where far off on the horizon a red sun appeared to be sinking into the
choppy sea. As her eyes lowered, she
realized her toes were curled over the brink of a cliff. Far below, shards of rock and debris spiked
up, threatening her from a distance. She
quickly backed away from the danger.
air felt especially sweltering in contrast to the cold warehouse in which Eena
had been standing a moment ago. This was
a new area of land untouched by its healer.
A glance at her surroundings showed an accumulation of dead leaves and
branches spread out over flat terrain. A
scarcity of trees pointed skyward across the scene, bare like toothpicks.
dropped to the ground and pressed both hands against a knot of needle-thin
twigs that poked out of the soil. On
contact, she sensed the weakness of the flora as well as a shared impression of
mourning for plants that had died during her long absence. She called on the necklace attached to her
chest—an heirloom referred to as the dragon’s soul—to shine and transfer healing
energy to the dying plant life. Her arms
warmed in the process; the heat spread to her fingers.
of rich greens and browns bled outward from where her touch met the terrain, spreading
further while intensifying every passing moment. Exotic bushes thickened at the stalks, plump
with gold and burgundy veins. Colorful
fronds as delicate as silk threads pushed up from the tips of low-lying scrub
while scrawny trees climbed to new heights, swelling at their trunks. Branches jutted from every side of these
growing trees, sprouting curly leaves resembling kale.
healer stopped short when she heard her name spoken in a scolding manner.
“Eena! What were you thinking? You do know that Naga is duty-bound to carry
out your requests, no matter how absurd they are.”
young healer reacalled her last words spoken to Naga. Grinning at the idea of her wishes being
carried out, she turned to see her protector standing just out of arm’s reach. She bit down on her lip when Ian frowned his disapproval.
I know,” she answered indifferently, standing to meet his scrutiny. She defended her actions even though in her
heart she knew the request had been both childish and risky. “It’s not like Edgar doesn’t deserve it. The jerk deserves far worse.”
not worried even the tiniest bit about repercussions?” Ian asked, his brow line
really.” She was mostly certain— relatively
certain—that Edgar had too much of a crush on her to retaliate in any hurtful
manner. He would never want her to hate
him for all eternity.
at the justifications in her thoughts.
“You know, you’re not much good at making friends out of enemies.”
put a sour grimace on her face. She kicked
at a pebble and sent it soaring over the cliff’s edge. “So what?” she shrugged, watching the pebble
fall for the longest time before her eyes lost sight of it.
you seem to be too good at making worse enemies out of enemies that are foul
never claimed to be Imorih’s pupil.”
“Obviously. But it wouldn’t hurt for you to reread the
shoved at her criticizer, making him stagger a few steps backwards.
I said you should make friends of your enemies, not enemies out of your friends!” He
acted as if he were overly upset. Eena busted
out laughing.This earned a laugh from
Ian as well, yet he seemed unable to completely shed the veil of sadness draped
over him.It was noticeable.
sorry you were called away with me again,” Eena apologized.
glanced out at the bright, cloudy sky.
His feet started forward along an edge of cliff that curved inward by degrees. His queen walked beside him, keeping at his sauntering
worry about it,” he finally said. “I was
expecting it sooner or later. Besides, I’d
rather be here than at home listening to Nischeen cry all day.”
sighed a grave sound of sympathy; she felt bad for him.
stop it, will you?)
echoed in her mind. She turned her eyes
up in question, catching a deepening frown on her protector’s face. He tried explaining his irritable reaction telepathically.
just sick of people feeling sorry for me,) he
complained. (Everyone feels such enormous pity. I hate it.
I don’t want anyone’s pity.)
not everyone feels that way,) Eena
eyes grew big, emphasizing his certainty. (Yes,
everyone! I can read minds,
remember? The whole city pities me! I don’t need it. I don’t want it. So stop it.
Just stop it—everyone stop pitying me!)
struck back at him defensively. (If you hate it so much, quit reading people’s minds. We never asked you to intrude on our personal
right.) Ian hung his head.
( I’m sorry, you're right.)
a bit defensive, she grumbled a reminder. (You’re
the one who said you wouldn’t judge me for my thoughts, remember? Getting angry because I feel for you, because
I care for you—that’s judging me, Ian. )
know, I know. You have the right to think and
feel whatever you want. I guess I should
be glad that people care.) He didn’t sound very convincing.
thought about it for a moment. (You would pity me. I
know you would, if I were to lose Derian.)
I probably would hate your pity too,) she
mumbled, trying to understand his feelings.
snickered in her mind. Her eyebrows
know you better than that, Queenie. You
would love how sorry I felt for you. In
fact, you would cry your eyes out, balled up in my arms, soaking up every bit
of sympathy I could manage for your loss.)
He quickly added, (Not that I want anything to happen to Derian. I mean….you know….Derian’s not the one I’m
are you worried about?)
of course. I worry a lot for you. Nothing can happen to you; I can’t lose you
going to happen to me.) It was an empty promise. She reached for her protector’s hand. He squeezed once on her fingers before
along the cliff’s edge, they fell silent, lost in mingled thoughts. The wind blew constant in their faces. It was more than a light breeze, yet it offered
relief from the heat. The sky grew
darker each moment as a sinking sun slowly disappeared off to their side. The sunset was beautiful—a rich, striking
you have any idea where we are?”) Eena eventually
wondered. She noted how the cliff seemed
as endless as the rough waters surrounding them.
don’t,) Ian admitted.
imagined it didn’t matter to him, especially with the dismal thoughts occupying
his mind. It occurred to her that his
parents might miss him again. Surely
Gaila would be livid over what she would perceive as Eena’s selfish consuming
of her son’s time. Perhaps Edgar could
be convinced to send him home.
don’t want to go home,) Ian said. (My
parents won’t miss me for a while. I
told them I was taking a walk around Lacsar Grounds. They’ll expect me to be gone for hours.)
they find you’re missing, your mother will…)
explain it all to her eventually. She’ll
get over it.) Ian addressed the real worry on Eena’s mind. (She
doesn’t hate you. Mom’s just
hurting. She doesn’t know who to blame,
so she’s lashing out at you in behalf of Angelle.)
behalf of Angelle?)
(Yes. Mom’s been thinking a lot lately about how
she was left alone while Father spent his days at Sha Tashi’s side. It was okay when I was young, but after you
were born, I started accompanying my father.
Mom felt abandoned. She envied
Sha Tashi for seeing more of us than she was allowed to. It bothers her that Angelle died alone while
I was off with you—another Sha. Mom’s
reacting personally to it, standing up for Angelle in a way she never did for
guess I can understand how she must feel.
I would probably be envious too.
I know I would want my husband’s time and attention.)
you’ll have it,) Ian informed her. (Derian
thinks of almost nothing else but you.)
doubt that,) Eena disagreed. (He
spends the majority of his time with the council.)
these days. He’s been trying his best to
avoid Jorban so he doesn’t have to explain your situation.)
was confused by this news. (But I thought he was determined to tell the council
everything. He told me he was going to
ask for their help. He’s already
informed Jerin and Marguay.)
but Edgar threatened him since then.)
told Derian that he would never see you again if he breathed a word of what he
knew to the council. He basically warned
the captain to keep his mouth shut or else.
The threat was enough to scare him.)
that why Derian came seeking me back in Gabert Forest? Is that why he’s so paranoid of losing me?)
got a lot to do with it, yes,) Ian
balled her hands into tight fists thinking about it. (That
dirty little twit! I’ll kill him!)
held up a halting palm. (Hey, hey, Eena, clam down.
This is exactly why I don’t tell you things. You go spouting off prematurely before
thinking things through.) He shook his finger at her as he warned, (You can’t breathe a word of this to Edgar, or Derian will
end out paying for it.)
slouched—having her resolve deflated.
She sighed a sound of defeat. (You think I’m reckless; I know you do.)
impetuous, which is the reason Naga is chasing after Edgar’s derriere right
tried not to laugh at the imagery.
of the time, Eena, it’s no big deal. But
sometimes the wellbeing of others is at stake.
You have to consider the potential consequences—think it completely
through—before you act.)
he sounded just like Derian.
sometimes Derian is right.)
okay, I see your point, but Edgar really does deserve a good, solid bite on the
couldn’t keep from smirking. (Perhaps. However, it would
serve you much better to stay on his good side.
I know he’ll forgive you for what you’ve done; I read it in his thoughts. He’s infatuated with you, and I hate it. But it’s probably good in a way. He’s determined to protect you from
Anesidora’s wicked temper, despite your own attempts at getting yourself in
trouble. He won’t tell his sisters about
your recent discussion with Naga. He’s
stopped walking and turned to face his queen.
His voice lowered in a more serious manner and his countenance sobered
all honesty, Edgar may prove to be the one person who manages to keep you alive
through all of this. I’d like to think
it would be me…) He trailed off, wagging his head at his own unvoiced
just hope, for all our sakes, Edgar stands up to his sisters if it comes down
knew Ian was aware of the immortal’s offer, and she reminded him about it. (Edgar
would take the necklace right now if I agreed to his terms.)
objected emphatically. (No! I don’t mean for
him to help you like that; you can’t leave us.
What I mean is, if we don’t find some other way out of this and you’re
forced to free his sisters, I hope he steps in and protects you.)
couldn’t help but conjure up Ascultone’s fatal prediction. Neither said a word about it.
getting dark,” Ian finally announced in a tired voice. “The moon isn’t up yet, which means it’s going
to be impossible to see anything soon.”
glanced beyond the waters at a slivered crescent of crimson sun, the only bit
of daylight still showing. It wouldn’t
take long for the sea to swallow it up.
we should start a fire.”
they gathered armloads of wood—dead twigs and branches that had accumulated in
the area over the years. This natural
compost was like a thick carpet covering the landscape. Eena imagined the powerful ocean winds were
responsible for tearing these brittle limbs off the wilting trees.
here!” Ian called out, gesturing to a cluster of timbers grown tightly together. The natural wall would act as a decent wind
break as well as provide decent back support.
can camp here tonight.”
cleared off an area of ground around his feet.
He broke apart some of their collected firewood and piled it into a
nice, high mound. Eena took over from that
point, using her powers to create enough spark to start a small campfire. The air cooled quickly at the setting of the sun,
and both companions felt grateful for the fire’s light and warmth.
sat beside one another in silence, staring into the heart of red, flickering
flames. The periodic spit of sparks didn’t
have the power to break their trance.
Though they were both absorbed in personal thoughts, Eena was aware that
Ian could read her mind like an open book.
His own, however, was locked up and kept secret. She wished their mind link worked both ways
so she could listen in on his concerns.
It didn’t seem fair that it was a one-way connection.
a stupid thing to think life would be fair.
a breath of smoke-scented air, Eena pulled her knees in close and placed her
chin down on crossed arms. She inclinded
her head just enough to watch her protector.
He was looking up at the night’s sky, his face tight and concentrating as
if counting the billions of stars above.
For the young queen, those stars formed unfamiliar constellations.
to some extent—what was on his mind, it didn’t surprise her when he responded to
her curious thoughts. In a faraway
voice, he asked a desperate question.
is she? Where do good spirits, like her,
go when they’re done here?”
sighed solemnly, hoping he didn’t misread it as a sign of pity. “I don’t know for certain, Ian. Some say our spirits go to a paradise where
all good people live together. Others
say we just dissipate—cease to exist entirely.
I personally find it absurd to think death could be a final end. The very idea snuffs out any purpose or
meaning to our existence. There must be
more; it only makes sense. I’m sure she’s
somewhere, Ian. I’m sure Angelle is somewhere
quiet again as a troubled soul continued to stare up at the night. A sudden popping from the campfire stirred up
a bright puff of orange sparks that reflected off Ian’s face, highlighting
shimmers of moisture on his cheeks. Eena
realized her best friend was crying. She
scooted close enough to slide her arm through his. Not knowing what to do or say, she put her
head on his shoulder.
didn’t react to the closeness. She kept
her cheek warm against his arm until he uttered another heartbreaking question.
did she have to die?”
gave him her best answer. “All I know is
that everyone dies at some point. It’s
unavoidable. We have to pass through death; it’s part of life.”
not true,” Ian disagreed, shifting his weepy eyes down on her. “Your stupid immortal friends will never
die. They just keep living on and on and
on…..screwing up the lives of those with terribly limited days. And the worst part is, they don’t even
appreciate what they have. To never suffer
the loss of a loved one. To never have
to hurt this way.”
don’t appreciate it, Ian, because they can’t understand it. Death and loss are outside their
experience.” She reached for his
trembling hand. “I think it makes us far
better people than they are.”
do you say that?” he asked. He watched
her fingers gently caress his own while tears continued to glide silently down
the fact is we value life because we know how fleeting it is. It makes us grateful and more compassionate
people. Kinder and wiser.”
Ian,” she said, tenderly squeezing his hand, “because we’re able to learn from tragedy
and the consequences connected to it.”
what exactly have I learned from losing Angelle?” His eyes squinted at the question—skeptical
and yet desperate for answers.
learned to never take love for granted, and to be thankful for every moment you
have with the ones you love.”
great,” he muttered sarcastically. His hand
pulled free from caring fingers to wipe away the wetness on his cheeks. “What good does that do me now? To learn this powerful lesson and not be able
to make use of it? She’s gone,
Eena! She’s gone forever!” The intensity of grief in his voice made her
want to weep with him, but she resisted, swallowing back her tears.
know, Ian, I know. That’s the sad irony
of life. Once we learn our lessons……it’s
what good is it then? What good is
living if you lose everything in the end?”
know it seems hopeless.” She grabbed his
arm, pushing on it to make him turn and look at her. His need to make sense of his loss was
understandable, and she wanted to help him find reason in it. “That’s why I can’t believe death is the end
for us. Everything we learn in life, all
we become, all we accomplish……it must serve a purpose somehow, somewhere. I refuse to believe life ceases once we die. Angelle is still out there; I know it. I’m sure of it.”
I want to go where she is, Eena,” he cried.
“Let me go with her.”
instantly to her knees, Eena took her best friend in her arms, hugging him as
securely as she could. He grabbed onto
her and held tight as if he never meant to let go.
don’t want you to leave, Ian. I need you
felt guilt stab her like a dagger because she still had her promised one. “I know,” she whispered as gravely as if it
were an apology.
held on to their embrace, silently crying.
Eena stroked his dusty hair while silent tears wet her face. Eventually, he let go and pushed away, wiping
his cheeks while resuming his scrutiny of the night’s sky. Eena tried not to feel rejected despite how
abruptly he turned his back on her. She
knew this was hard for him. It was hard
for her too. She found comfort in her own
arms, wrapping them snugly around her waist.
She watched her best friend, unsure of what else to do. His somber voice broke the silence again.
bad enough that she’s dead, that I’ve lost her for good. It’s even worse that I wasn’t there with her when
it happened. I should have been
there.” His head wagged back and forth,
signing disappointment in himself. “But
what really eats me is the fact that I didn’t have a clue she was in
trouble. I didn’t sense anything, not
even the slightest twinge of uneasiness.
How the hell could I not have known she was in trouble?”
darted sidelong, finding Eena, locking onto her sad eyes with surprising
intensity. She inclined her head, but
all she could do was shake it uselessly back and forth until he looked away. He went on talking, anger amplifying his
I was living it up, laughing along with the Grotts while Angelle was all alone,
drowning. How could I not have sensed
it? How could I not have known that my
promised one was in trouble? How could
someone I love be suffering—dying—and I not feel anything?”
was with the Grotts too, Ian. I didn’t
know she was in trouble either.”
a sweeping gesture, he dismissed her attempt to ease his burden of guilt. “It’s not the same,” he argued. “You weren’t in love with her.”
interrupted, stopping Eena mid-sentence.
His eyes squinted as they turned on her again. “I would have known if it had been you.”
stared at each other for the longest moment.
Her utterance broke their trance.
brow furrowed, questioning her comment.
were asleep when Ascultone almost killed me.”
countenance paled, resembling a ghost, making her regret reminding him of the incident. She apologized at once. “I didn’t mean anything, Ian. It’s just that…well…you can’t be aware of
every bit of suffering another person goes through, no matter how much you love
would know if you were dying,” he insisted.
“I would know.”
exhaled heavily. “Only because we’re
connected. Normal people aren’t that
way. Derian would never know.”
he wouldn’t,” Ian agreed.
if something ever did happen to me, he would feel guilty about it—just like you. It’s normal.”
drew in a deep breath and slowly blew it out, thinking. “Yeah, he would,” Ian finally decided.
ended on that note. The night turned silent
excepting the far-off sound of waves crashing against the rocks at the bottom
of the cliff. It was growing chillier by
the hour. Ian rose and tossed an armful
of wood on the fire. It only took
seconds for the flames to swell high and wild, greedily eating up the added
fuel. He stood above the blaze, across
from his queen. The heat seemed to reach
up at him, threatening to burn the hairs off his folded arms.
ought to get some sleep,” he said.
can’t sleep. I just woke up a few hours
ago,” she reminded him.
a strand of hair around a finger, watching her protector. Illuminated by the orange firelight, his face
looked severely angry. She blamed it on dark
shadows that blackened every dint in his features.
I went to sleep, I would just have nightmares anyway.”
a glance at her before returning his gaze to the fire. “It shocked me to see Angelle in your dream,”
he admitted. “She looked beautiful.”
she did. I don’t know how Anesidora managed
that. You’d think if she could create
such illusions she would make herself look better.”
was a sweet sound to hear Ian actually chuckle out loud. It was unexpected. Eena looked up as if checking to be sure her
ears hadn’t deceived her. She smiled at a
softer look on his face.
is one ugly ghost, isn’t she?” Ian said.
ugly,” Eena agreed.
subtly prevailed again. Eena hugged her
knees close as she stared blankly at the fire, aware of the toasty feeling
permeating her arms and legs and face.
Ian had planted his feet very close to the flames, continuing to view them
from above. The predominate sound, a
background murmur of sea water, captured Eena’s ears and she found herself
thinking about her dream of vacationing on the Oregon Coast. The dream had felt as real as if she and Ian
had been transported back to Earth as two high school friends living out their
days as carefree and happy as before. Their
problems had vanished while lost in that dream.
It had been lovely.
young queen looked up again, checking on her best friend. His feet were still planted before the
fire. One arm remained across his chest,
but the other was raised to cover his face.
Eena straightened up, observing closely.
She noticed how his hand trembled while at the same time his back appeared
skirted the campfire in seconds. Not
knowing if he would accept or reject her comfort, she embraced him from behind,
pressing a cheek against his back.
Ian, I’m so sorry,” she breathed.
took a moment, but at last he turned around.
His arms encircled her as she buried her head beneath his chin. The young protector broke down, sobbing much
like he had at the morgue. Eena cried
the extent of his broken heart—the way he secured himself to her, gasping for
breaths while mourning over his loss—was painful. All she could do was hold onto him as he
clung to her. She wished for more
options, for another way to ease the grief or heal his broken heart
entirely. But there was no easy
fix. However, there was a source of temporary relief.
pulled her hand in close enough to press Naga’s ring to her lips, but her
actions were too slow. Ian reacted fast
and snatched her by the wrist, stepping outside of reach. He held her hand up in the air between them
and objected staunchly.
“No! No, you’re not doing that to me again!” He wiped the blinding tears from his eyes
with a free hand, continuing to protest.
“I understand why you did it the first time…..I lost control then. But you’re not putting me to sleep with that
pled with him, whining his name, begging him to surrender to pleasant dreams.
Eena, sleeping won’t solve anything! It
won’t bring Angelle back, and it will leave you alone out here without a
protector. Don’t you dare kiss me!”
gaze was moist but alert, keeping tabs on Eena’s every move. He was determined to keep her loaded lips
away from him.
tried to convince him, explaining her motives.
“I didn’t use the ring last time because you lost control but because
you were hurting so badly. It’s hard for
me to watch and feel how you suffer.
This ring will give you some relief from that.”
took a step forward, but Ian yanked on her arm, forcing her sideways and away
from the fire. She squealed at the
painful twist of her wrist. Her eyes
grew more incredulous when she realized Ian had sneakily pulled the ring up to
his lips during the shuffle. He was now armed
with a sleeping kiss too.
you dare touch me with those lips!” she warned.
challenged her as he declared, “If you try and kiss me, I swear I’ll kiss you
attempted a good, hard tug on her arm, but he kept a firm grip. Then his eyes brightened up with a notion.
know, I think the dragon’s kiss would be put to better use on you anyway. If I can keep the powerful Sha Eena asleep
under its spell, those wicked, immortal sisters will never get their hands on
the remaining star points.” He pointed a
finger at her. “You’re the one who needs
a good, looooong nap.”
he might attempt to carry out his threat, Eena used the dragon’s soul to send a
mild electric shock to his grasping hand.
He let go of her, shaking his fingers wildly in the air.
Eena, that smarted!”
stay away from me,” she warned.
faced off, glaring, both on guard.
stuck out a pouty lower lip. “All I’m
trying to do is help you.”
repeated the same words back at her. “All
I’m trying to do is help you.”
you would just sleep, Ian, you would feel better. Didn’t you have pleasant dreams last night?”
shifted his weight onto one foot. “Yes,
but that’s beside the point. What you’re
trying to do is make reality go away, but it won’t help. Angelle’s not coming back and I have to face
it. I can’t hide from reality.”
know, but…” she stepped toward him.
retreated, maintaining a gap between them.
“Stay away,” he warned.
insistence only peeved her, and she took two defiant steps forward.
to the opposite side of the fire he cautioned, “I’m faster than you are,
Queenie. You better knock it off or my
lips will be on your cheek before you know what hit you.”
threat did nothing but provoke her competitiveness. “You are not faster than me; I always beat you
in every race we ever had on Earth. I
was the first one to school, the first one home, and the first one to the top
of the hill every night.”
only because I was being a gentleman.”
convenient excuse,” she groaned. “I would
have beaten you anyway.”
laughed once. “Never!”
that, she took off after him, rounding the fire as he did. When she stopped, he stood across from her
with a smug grin on his face. Her eyes
narrowed as she doggedly tried the other direction, halting abruptly to twist
and reverse course. Ian copied her moves
perfectly, keeping himself lined up across the fire at every step.
reacted to an idea the very second it struck, not allowing her competitor a
chance to counteract. His leg was bound
and secured by a nearby tree root before he could growl.
cheater! You shameful cheater!”
was standing before him in a flash. The tree
root released its hold as the pair wrestled, struggling to keep the other
person’s lips away from any area of exposed skin. When Eena’s mouth reached for the hand
securing her wrist, Ian pulled both their arms down forcefully and stole the
opportunity to lean in. His lips pressed
against his queen’s forehead. There was a
split second of sheer surprise when he felt her lips touch the side of his chin
at the very same instant. They fell to
the ground mingled in a dead sleep.
seemed as if they were forgetting something important.
you remember to do your homework?” Sevenah asked her best friend. It was the most likely thing to have
outside the white gate to her front yard, she rummaged through her backpack to
find her physics assignment completed and tucked away in a green folder. Satisfied, she handed her backpack over to
Ian. He slung it across his shoulder,
careful not to mess up his place in the paperback book his fingers had propped
homework?” Ian said, a culpable grin on his lips.
don’t know why you even bother going to school,” she grumbled. “You should put down those sci-fi stories and
pay attention to the real world now and then.
How do you ever expect to get into college?”
Mom. I’ll try to do better, I swear.” Ian held his free hand up, gesturing a mocking
vow. He chuckled when she rolled her
by side they stepped down the dirt road that led to Royal City’s high
school. It was Friday. Sevenah loved Fridays because her parents
relaxed on curfew and she could spend more time with Ian and her other
friends. She was excited to get past the
day’s big test and on to the football game that everyone with any school spirit
would be attending that evening.
nudged her to pull her from her thoughts.
“Hey, I’ll race you to school.
I’ll even give you a head start this time.”
I need a head start against your skinny legs,” she teased.
next thing he knew, she was tearing down the dirt road, kicking up a trail of
dust behind her.
shameless cheater!” he called out. Ian
smiled big, allowing a sizeable gap to form before stepping into a run himself.
caught up with her five minutes to the school, and they raced side by side
until the familiar gold-brick building drew near. Then both runners took off in a deadlock
sprint. Sevenah barely won…..again.