Arya and Ihsan followed Alara to a nearby market where they stocked up on heavy coats, snowshoes, food and water before setting off on foot. Where they were going and how long it would take to get there, only Alara knew. Knowing Malich, he was trying and failing to keep it together in her absence. She needed to get back before that court of vultures could pounce on his vulnerability.
“Where are we going exactly?” She asked trying not to sound irritated. It hadn’t escaped her that Alara could be leading her to her death. She didn’t know this girl and following her blindly to Anan knew where wasn’t exactly wise.
“I’ll know when we get there,” was all Alara said in reply.
“Wouldn’t it be faster to just winnow to our next rendezvous point?”
“I suppose, but what would be the fun in that?”
Arya narrowed her eyes at the back of Alara’s skull. Ihsan gave her a quiet nudge and she nudged him back harder.
Cinching her fur-lined hood around her face, Arya puffed warm breath onto her gloved hands and rubbed them together. Even through her gloves the cold air had a bite. It was snowing hard, covering the grown like a white blanket.
“What plane is this?” Arya asked.
“Still the seasons plane, but we’re in the white wastes. It borders the Winter Court and stretches far but once we get closer to the Summer Court it will get warmer.”
“How far until we reach the Summer Court?” Ihsan asked.
“A day at least,” Alara threw over her shoulder.
Both Ihsan and Arya stopped, mouths agape, staring at her like she was crazy. There was no snow in the Redlands. Only a madman…or girlwould commit to such an unbearable hike. Alara never looked back to see if they were following. She didn’t care.
“Remind me to kill her later,” Arya turned to Ihsan.
“If we live through this, I’llkill her for you.”
Sighing heavily, they fell into step far behind Alara. They walked for hours, eating little, speaking even less until the weather became warmer. The closer they got to the border of the Summer Court, the more articles of clothes they removed.
Where the Winter Court ended and Summer Court began was unmistakable. The snow simply ended at the border to the Summer Court, abruptly cut off and replaced by green grass, unwavering heat, and tropical flowers in a variety of colors. It was beautiful. Arya took a moment just to take it all in. The magnificence of it…she’d never seen anything like it.
“Where to now?” Ihsan asked.
Smiling at him over her shoulder Alara said, “Now we rest. Tomorrow we have another full day ahead of us and you’ll need to be well rested.”
“Where to tomorrow then?”
“The Seelie Court,” Alara glanced at Arya.
The more time Arya spent with Alara, the less she trusted her. If it weren’t for the dark shadows whipping around her, Arya might have attempted to slit her throat already and headed back. Still…the not knowing about her family…it hauntedher. She needed to know who she was.
They approached a cottage on the outskirts of the Royal House of Jarrah. The last thing Arya needed was to show her face around here. If Kahlem caught wind of her presence within his kingdom they’d be hunted. She kept her cloak on, its hood over her head despite the sweltering heat, and her head down.
“Why would you bring me here? If anyone at the Royal Court sees my face this little plan of yours will be over,” Arya complained.
“Have faith sister. No royalty come here unless they’re slumming it.”
Her words didn’t exactly inspire confidence, but Arya was trying to keep an open mind. Alara waltzed into the cottage while Ihsan and Arya waited outside. “I don’t trust her,” Ihsan confided.
“That makes two of us,” Arya kept her eyes observant. Looking over her shoulder at him she smiled, “I’m glad you’re talking to me at least.”
A half-hearted smile from her old, newly found flame. Alara reappeared swinging a key around her right index finger, “Follow me.”
Reluctantly, the two of them did just that. Nestled behind the cottage surrounded by trees that concealed its existence was another cottage. Alara stuck the key in the door and with a little muscle, wrestled the lock until it opened.
The inside was dusty; the floors weren’t swept but the furniture was immaculate. Arya sat down on the ugly floral print sofa and propped her feet up on the armrest. Ihsan promptly knocked her feet on the floor. Even this far away from the Red Keep he was still a stickler for rules, morality and manners. She’d thrown hers out the door the moment they stepped foot on ground again.
“Once a pain in my arse alwaysa pain in my arse,” Arya rolls her eyes.
“The feeling is mutual,” he scowled, sitting where her feet had just been. “You’ve always been an inconsiderate, spoiled child. You can thank the Majii for that.”
Detecting some venom in his tone she faces him, “Are you still mad at me?”
“I should be…but no.”
“I meant what I said. I still love you.”
“Yes, but you and I have both committed ourselves to others. I won’t hurt Navi and I suggest you not cross his Royal Highness. We don’t want a repeat of the beatings we received the last time he found us together.”
“I guess not,” Arya feigned a smile. In truth, she wanted to devour him where he sat and she blamed Malich. He’d awakened the slumbering sexual beast inside her. Add that to the feelings she already has for Ihsan and you get a sexual storm of frustration. “But it would be worth it, would it not?”
Ihsan took note of the hungry look in her eyes and flushed red. She’d never seen him blush before. He took a deep breath and exhaled slowly, confirming her suspicion that he was aroused. Without looking in her direction he said, “You love playing with fire don’t you. If I didn’t know any better I’d think Anan had carved you from the flame itself.”
“Safe is boring, I’d much rather take risks.”
“And pay for it with your life,” he met her gaze.
“He won’t hurt me.”
“My life then.”
It’s true. Ihsan would pay the consequences for her actions. He would pay with his life this time. Caging the carnal beast, she focused her attention on other things, like where the hell had Alara run off to?
No sooner had the thought entered her mind did Alara come barging in through the front door, arms full of dead rabbits. She kicked the door closed behind her. “No, don’t help, I’m sure I’ll manage without you,” she mocked, annoyed.
Arya shrugged, “Hadn’t planned to.”
Taking a deep breath, Alara muttered something under her breath Arya couldn’t quite make out. Arya and Ihsan both watched as she skinned then roasted those rabbits over a fire. It smelled delicious. It wasn’t until the smell struck her senses that Arya even realized she was hungry. Her stomach growled in answer.
Noticing the hungry looks on their faces, Alara asked, “I suppose the two of you will be wanting to fill your stomachs?”
She knew she had them right where she wanted them, but Arya wouldn’t give Alara the satisfaction of wanting anything from this clever stranger. From the looks of it, neither would Ihsan. They suddenly found their nails very interesting and in need of inspection.
Alara filled her stomach with plenty left over and left it on the table as she walked out the door. Arya and Ihsan took one look at each other before scrambling to the table and devouring the leftovers. Alara returned just as they’d finished and pinned them with a glare. “All you needed to do was ask,” she rolled her eyes, although Arya was pretty sure Alara left that food on the table on purpose. “I’m turning in for the night. Try and behave yourselves.”
She retired to a room neither Arya nor Ihsan knew was there or they would’ve claimed it already. Exhausted, hands on the stilettos at her hips, Arya lay her head back on the armrest and allowed herself to drift off to sleep.
It felt as if she’d blinked and then Alara was waking her up. She needed more sleep than she realized. Ihsan was having a hard time rising from his slumber as well. Perhaps they’d eaten too much. Arya felt sluggish. She hadn’t felt this way in ages. Perhaps being in this plane was taking a toll on her. Thankfully, Alara had acquired three horses for their journey into the Seelie Court and it was a good thing.
Just like when they crossed from Winter Court into Summer Court, the sprawls of green grass came to an abrupt end the moment they entered the Seelie court. The Light Court as some have called it was a barren wasteland. With no beings to inhabit it and no magic, it appeared as if the Court had simply withered. It wasn’t quite dead yet.
Arya took one step onto the barren wasteland and the land answered back, sending a thrum of pure magic into her veins. It was the purest form of magic she’d ever felt. So far, Alara had been true to her word. She brought Arya home. It both felt and smelled like home. A memory seized Arya’s mind. The memory is that of a dark-haired woman whose tears wet Arya’s cheeks as she wrapped a blanket around her and left her in the snow. Arya gasped, tears trickling down her cheeks.
“Are you okay?” Ihsan expressed concerned.
“My ancestors…I can feelthem.”
Ihsan arched a brow and looked inquisitively over at Alara. She too was having a reaction to being on their land. Alara set off on foot, not caring who followed, her dark shadows rippling behind her. It looked as if they were trying to claw their way back to the border.
Arya and Ihsan followed. The further Arya walked, the stronger the power in her veins began to crackle. It was overwhelming the amount of power craving her presence, desperate to connect to the life force inside her.
Alara had come to a halt at a large crater in the center of the Seelie court. Arya crept to the edge and peered over. There was nothing but pure darkness. “This is where the city fell,” Alara explained. “No one knows how deep that crater goes, but I heard there a creatures down there that would scare the shit out of Hades himself.”
Arya took in the vast wasteland her home had become. An entire township was buried somewhere down in the darkness. She was so taken aback by what she was seeing that she hadn’t noticed the shadow wielding a blade until it was too late. In one quick motion her throat was slit open from ear to ear. She stood, grabbing her throat, eyes wide with shock. Alara caught her before she could tumble over the edge and whispered into her ear, “I’m sorry sister, but it has to be this way. Kahlem…he has my son.” And with that, she released Arya, sending her falling into that deep darkness, but nothing before Arya took the map Tomich made and quickly tucked it into her waistband.
Arya’s eyes slid over to Ihsan who’d drawn his sword, determined to take on the deadly assassin. Her braid whipped wildly on the wind as she fell to her death. Moments later another figure came hurling towards her from the sky. Ihsan. He too had been thrown into the dark depths of the crater, but unlike Arya, he had no injury.
Clenching her throat with one hand, Arya turned toward the quiet darkness and hoped she’d see the bottom before she reached it.
It felt like she’d been falling forever before an end finally came into view. Water. She could hear it now. An impact of this magnitude would kill her still…kill them both. She wouldn’t let that happen, even if it took the very last breath from her body, one of them would live to tell of Alara’s betrayal.
Several feet above the water Arya searched for a place to winnow and found a rock bank to her left. She closed her eyes, pulled at the fabric of the world and winnowed herself onto the rock bank. She held the door open long enough for Ihsan to fall through and appear beside her. He screamed for several seconds before he realized he was no longer falling. Ihsan took one look at Arya and rushed to her side. She was bleeding out.
“That…bitch…betrayed us,” Arya gasped between breaths.
“Save your strength, don’t talk.” Ihsan replied. He searched his sack for something to help stop the bleeding. “I’m going to have to sew it shut.”
Arya’s eyes grew wide. She hated getting stitches about as much as she hated heels and dresses, but what choice did she have. She couldn’t nod so she blinked to let him know to proceed. He took a large needle from his bag and thread, an assassin’s survival kit. Arya knew it well. Carefully he sewed her wound shut while Arya shot daggers at him with her eyes silently cursing him to hell and praising him at the same time. When it was done, he sat her up so she wouldn’t drown in her own blood. She could feel the blood trying to force the wound back open.ns 188.8.131.52da2