“It is the secret of the world that all things subsist and do not die, but retire a little from sight and afterwards return again.”
—Ralph Waldo Emerson, Essays: Second Series
The warmth was gone.
The light was gone.
The protection spell was gone.
Everyone stood in the courtyard hoping beyond all hopes that Rose somehow still lived. That Xerxes hadn’t killed her. But he had. I was sure. And I couldn’t tell them, because the only way I knew was the damn charm in my hand. The small white crystal Rose had linked to my soul hid me from him. And if the spell on mine had broken, my sisters already had a target squarely on their backs.
Fear snaked its way through me like the cold fingers of Death himself, choking and suffocating and painfully reminding me of the fate that waited if I didn’t find a way to hide again. If I didn’t find someone else to protect me. Someone else to rebuild the charm.
My sisters and I would all die. Over. And over. And over.
These people in Sanctuary thought Xerxes was the only bad thing out there. The only monster. But he wasn’t. I closed my fingers around the small white crystal and took a deep breath. I couldn’t show emotion. Certainly not fear. Not the earth-shattering-soul-stealing terror filling me now like water filling a sealed grave with me locked inside.
No one could see me like that. I was better than that. Stronger. I had survived this long. Survived so much. There had to be a way for me to save myself and my sisters from him.
He was coming.
He would torture them first, though.
He always did. They were my weakness. The way he could punish me most efficiently. The way he took advantage of what remained of my heart.
“Calliope?” Erick’s mate, Bailey—also one of the town’s vampire Protectors—stepped to my side and touched my shoulder. “What’s wrong? Do you feel something?”
Something? I’d felt too many things since coming to this town. It’d made me soft. Made me forget. Made me think I deserved things I knew I didn’t. Tricked me into caring about people when I should’ve stayed focused. I glanced down at my hand. My fingernails were long black claws, which meant my eyes had morphed too. By the Gods! Attention was not what I needed right now.
“Just feeling the loss,” I replied, willing the proper emotion into my voice and forcing my body to transform from its agitated, ready-for-battle state.
“We don’t know that she’s dead yet,” Bailey whispered. “There’s still hope. There was no body.” They’d only found Eli’s body in Xerxes destroyed camp. While his death had been a painful blow to the town, everyone hoped their precious Rose had survived.
I nodded and patted her hand. There wasn’t any hope, body or not. I knew Rose Hilah was dead, but I couldn’t tell Bailey that. I couldn’t tell any of them. They would want to know how I knew and I wouldn’t tell them…I hadn’t even told Rose all of it.
I glanced around the frozen stone courtyard then up at the distorted clouds overhead. Diana had sealed us inside. The entire castle was encased in a fucking snow-globe of ice. Not that I begrudged her grief over her lost mate, but at least she still had another. She would survive. She should be grateful. In a world like ours, survival was everything. The quicker they all remembered that, the better off everyone would be. Rose had made us feel too safe. Too protected from things outside Sanctuary. We all had our reasons for hiding here.
Mine was gone now. Missing and dead.
“Stay close to Erick.” I glanced into the sapphire blue eyes of a woman who considered me a friend. I liked Bailey. I didn’t want her to die. But friends weren’t a luxury I’d ever been able to afford. This town and its inhabitants thought I was their friend—their ally. That I would help because I’d always helped. And I would’ve because of my arrangement with Rose, but now…now I was on my own. They had their problems, and I had mine.
Rose was gone.
My gaze drifted to one of the other vampire Protectors—Eira. She and her Elvin mate, Killían, stood next to the Drakonae, Miles and Diana. The dragonfire swords on Eira and Killían’s backs gleamed in the morning sunlight. Their weapons could hurt Xerxes, though they had no way to get close enough to use them. And Eira was nearly as pregnant as Diana, so that knocked out two very powerful warriors on Sanctuary’s side. Diana and Eira’s mates would be unfocused and more vulnerable because of their concern.
The odds for the upcoming fight were not promising.
My gaze darted to the other individuals circling the casket of ice Diana had built around her dead husband Eli. Seeing Eli’s body—the death of one of the most powerful supernaturals in town—should’ve made everyone run for the hills. Instead, Gretchen, the young Sister of Lamidae who’d been tortured by Xerxes, had come out slinging words around like fight and win and conquer, and everyone had bought the speech. Alek, her Gryphon mate, stood beside her, holding her hand. It was all so sickly sweet and made me want to hurl. Not because I begrudged the woman her happiness, but because I didn’t get to have that. No one had or would ever look at me the way Alek looked at Gretchen.
The pixies huddled together, trying to look tough, but mostly pulled off looking like a group of terrified My Little Pony wannabes. Their ponytails incorporated every color on the spectrum. Pixies were powerful, but they weren’t fighters. Sooner than later, they’d all leave and go back to their grove of oak trees outside the town and disappear.
Jared stood off to one side, near Alek and Gretchen, flames licking at his fingertips, a thirst for blood on each whisper of breath he exhaled. The warmth of his Phoenix’s fire had melted Diana’s frost in a ring around his body that extended out several feet. He was a wild card and wouldn’t help me. His only thought was for Manda—the traitorous Djinn held captive by Xerxes himself. Even if Jared managed to get to her, she’d never be welcomed in Sanctuary.
Then there were the wolves—Lycans. A large group had gathered with us in the courtyard, at least fifty or sixty. Charlie, Travis, and Garrett at the forefront, their two children in their arms.
All the Lycans had agreed to throw their fucking hat into the ring, too. Given the opportunity, they would die for those they loved. I wasn’t on that list. Not even Rose had truly cared. I was a means to an end. They were all a means to Rose’s end.
They were all stupid.
We should be leaving, not preparing to make a stand.