Release Date: December 24, 2013
“I know the importance of learning from the past. I must look back to move forward. I must remember my past if I am to avoid repeating mistakes. But as I look back, I am reminded of my past transgressions. I am brought face to face with the ugliness that has been my life, and I find that I am broken all over again.” ~Triktapic
Syndra felt the shift in the air just as Trik and Cassie appeared in front of her and just after them, Tamsin, Beleg and Sidhion. She waited to see if more would be appearing in the same fashion and when no one did she frowned.
“Where are Elora and Lisa?” she asked Tamsin. “Nedhudir and Rincavornon?”
“You’re not the least bit bothered that we just appeared out of thin air?” Cassie asked.
“Tsk, tsk.” Syndra waved her off, “I’m more concerned that not all of you appeared out of thin air.”
“Elora took a detour to the human realm,” Tamsin told her as he wrapped his arms around her and pulled her close. Syndra allowed herself a moment to take comfort in his presence and to assure herself that he was safe.
“I thought I made it clear when I agreed to this whole queen thing that you were not to get yourself thrown in a dungeon by a dark-elf king,” she teased him.
“Forgive me, my queen,” he told her with a slight smile as he took her face in his hands and held her still as he kissed her. When he pulled back they were both breathing heavily. “I won’t let it happen again.” Tamsin stepped away and gave her some space.
Syndra fanned herself as she tried to regain her bearings and Cassie caught her eye. She was smiling and blushing and damned if the human girl’s blush didn’t make her own face bloom bright red.
“Explain the Elora remark, please,” Syndra said needing to focus on something other than the very public display Tamsin had just put on for all to see.
Cassie felt Trik’s warm hand on the small of her back just before she felt his warm breath on her ear. “Interested in seeing if we can outdo the light-elf king and queen on PDA?”
She turned her head so that she could look up at him. His silver eyes danced with mischief as he stared down at her and she wondered if there would ever be a time that she wasn’t taken breathless by his beauty. “I can imagine that you are rarely outdone,” she quipped, “so I don’t feel the need to attempt it.”
“I’ll leave you be for now, Cassie love, but later, you’re all mine.” His voice was smooth as velvet and laced with seduction, causing a shiver to run down her spine. She didn’t respond to his warning because she knew if she opened her mouth, she would just beg him to follow through with his threat, and oh, how dignifying that would look.
Tamsin was telling Syndra what had taken place at the Lorsan’s castle. He had just began telling her about the portal escape when Cassie tuned back in.
“So Lisa went through the portal to follow Elora, only she didn’t know where Elora had gone?” Syndra asked.
“There are pretty much only two places that Elora would have gone. So it was a fifty-fifty shot of ending up in the right place,” Cassie pointed out.
Syndra snorted. “Fifty-fifty under these circumstances begins to look a lot like screwed regardless.”
“So what do we do now?” Cassie asked.
“We wait for Cush to bring them back,” Trik spoke up.
shook her head. “Sorry, Babe, but I have to go home.”
“Not happening,” Trik said matter-of-fact like. “It’s not safe.”
“My parents are going to be flipping out.” She glanced at Syndra. “You were working some mojo on them while I was at your castle, right?”
Syndra nodded. “I used a little magic on them to keep them from thinking you were missing. It was suggestive magic, so whenever they thought of you the magic made them think they had actually seen you recently.” And you’ve been gone for a couple months. It’s January in the human realm.”
“Holy crap two months, do you think the spell is still working?”
“Should be—my magic is good as long as I’m alive. But it is still a good idea for you to actually see them. It will reinforce the magic when you aren’t there.”
“I’m going to tell them everything.” Cassie met Trik’s eyes. “I don’t want to spend my life trying to hide this from them. If I’m going to be with you…,”
“IF?” Trik nearly growled. “There is no if Cassie. You’re mine, period. If you want to tell your parents we will tell them. I will tell them everything and that you belong with me.”
Cassie smiled. “Tell me how you really feel.”
A sultry smirk danced across Trik’s face. “I’d rather show you.”
Syndra groaned, “Get a room.” She snapped her fingers at Trik cutting off his reply. “After you save the world.”
“I don’t think he can wait that long,” Tamsin joked.
Cassie’s laugh turned into a choked cough at Tamsin’s words. She glanced at Trik and saw the desire in his eyes and felt her face heat up. She shook her head at him. “We have to go to the human realm and talk to my parents,” she told him pointedly, “no time for messing around.”
“Baby, there is always time for messing around,” Trik purred.
“On that I have to agree with the assassin,” Syndra said with a wink.
Trik stared at Cassie thoughtfully. He knew Cassie was right, but he hated the idea of her in danger, and at the moment he felt that anyplace not the light-elf castle was a danger to Cassie.
“Okay,” he finally said, “we’ll go back to your parents, but,” he held up a finger, “only to tell them the truth and then we’re coming right back here. We have battle plans to make.”
Cassie smiled at him and wrapped her arms around him. “Thank you,” she whispered.
Trik kissed her lips softly. “I love you.”
She smiled. “I love you.”
“Now that I think I’m going to vomit, can we go?” Syndra asked as she took Tamsin’s hand and headed towards the mirror walls.
Tamsin looked at his warriors. “You all stay here in case the others return.”
Beleg bowed his head. “Yes, My Lord.”
Cassie followed Trik to the mirrors, each taking their respective places next to Tamsin and Syndra. They all took a step at the same time to go through the mirrors and they were all pushed back with a force so strong that they each landed on their butts.
“Dammit!” Trik yelled.
“What does that mean?” Cassie asked as she stood and dusted off her clothes.
“It means you’re not going back to Kansas, Dorothy,” Syndra said as she glared at the mirrored wall as if it had just royally insulted her.
“And if we can’t get through to the human realm, that means Elora and the others are…”
“Screwed,” Syndra finished for her.
The ground beneath them began to tremble, and Cassie had to brace herself to keep from falling over. She looked over at Trik and her mouth dropped open. He was hallowed in light and his long dark hair whipped around him as if it had a life of its own. His jaw was clenched tight and his face was the picture of barely contained rage.
“Trik,” Cassie said his name softly as she moved towards him. She approached him like she would any predator, though she knew he would never hurt her. At least not on purpose.
“I’m stuck here while Lorsan’s elves produce Rapture in the human realm and sell it to people in the casinos,” he growled. “What am I supposed to do from here?!”
“What about Sanctuary?” Syndra asked. “Do you think the portals there are working?”
Trik shook his head. “The portal we just traveled through to get here was a master portal, which means if someone closed it then they closed them all.”
“Not to sound like a broken record, but what do we do now?” Cassie looked at each of the royal elves before her and felt her chest tighten as she realized just how upset they all were by this new revelation.
“We’re going to have to go on the offensive,” Trik said decidedly. He began to pace around the throne room as he spoke. “Lorsan has forced my hand in this. I can’t wait for his next move.” He paused and looked over at Tamsin. “We’re going to have to assemble the light elves and let them know that such a time has come that the Forest Lords have reinstated their king.”
Tamsin nodded. “They will welcome you, Triktapic.”
“Not all of them. I have wronged many in your court. I have hurt many. I don’t imagine that they will accept me with open arms. In fact, I bet I will have a few attempts before the week is over.”
“What kind of attempts?” Cassie asked, not liking the sound of what Trik was saying.
“The assassination kind,” Trik told her calmly as if he wasn’t discussing someone trying to kill him.
She frowned. “You really think people will try to kill you?”
Cassie let out a breath, relieved.
“I know they will,” he finished.
Her eyes widened and she swore her heart skipped a beat at the mere thought of Trik’s life ending, of not having him here with her. She walked over to him and looked up at him. She knew her eyes were moist with unshed tears but she couldn’t help it—even the idea of a life without Trik was enough to break her heart.
“No one is going to kill you,” she told him firmly.
Trik’s lips twitched. Clearly he was amused at her statement. “Are you going to protect me?”
Cassie snorted. “I don’t even like to kill flies. No, I’ll sic Elora on them.”
Trik cringed. “Nothing is worth that, not even an attempt on my life.”
Cassie grinned. “Exactly, so no more talk of you dying.”
“Agreed,” Tamsin piped in. “Now back to things that we can actually control. Sid,” he looked over at the warrior who stood quietly waiting, “sorry, but it’s just easier than saying your whole name.”
“It’s fine, liege,” Sid told him stiffly.
“I need you and Beleg to send out messengers to the realm for a gathering here tomorrow at the mid-day meal.” Sid bowed and turned swiftly, walking from the room. Tamsin looked back at Trik. “We will have the gathering tomorrow. We tell them of your return; then what?”
Trik rubbed his chin and his eyes narrowed as he thought. “I will give the warriors a choice to fight for me or stay behind.”
“No!” Cassie said suddenly as she slammed her fist into her hand. Trik’s eyes widened in surprise as he looked at his Chosen. She stood with her back straight and chin held high as she stared him down. “You are the Elf King, Triktapic. Yes, you made your mistakes, but you will not spend your rule tiptoeing around the light elves because they are pissed at you. You will tell them the facts and you will remind them that when you divide a people, problems like Lorsan are what you end up with. And then you will tell them their calling—to fight for themselves and for their king.”
Trik stared at her, momentarily speechless by his Chosen, and then a huge smile broke across his face. “You are going to be a magnificent queen,” he told her.
“Thank you,” she smiled up at him. She saw the familiar gleam in Trik’s eyes before he spoke and her stomach flipped and her jaw dropped open at his next words.
“You are going to be an equally magnificent lover, and I feel the need to point out that I am being very good right now. Because really all I want to do is drag you to a private room and have my wicked way with you.”
Elora splashed cold water on her face as she stood in the bathroom in her brother’s apartment. She squeezed her eyes closed tight as the air cooled her wet skin. When she opened them again and looked at herself in the mirror, she tried to see if she appeared different. Did being someone’s Chosen make you look different? She felt different; she felt claimed even though he hadn’t so much as denied or confirmed her pronouncement. She felt like she belonged to him and worse, she liked it.
“Argh! Pull yourself together, Elora.” She groaned to herself as she toweled off her hands and face. She took a deep breath and let it out slowly before she opened the bathroom door. As she pulled the door open, she nearly ran into a solid wall of chest. A very nice chest she might add.
“Hello there,” her voice was smooth and sultry as she looked up at the warrior who currently occupied most of her thoughts.
“Are you alright?” Cush asked her as he stared down at her.
Elora didn’t know how to answer his question. Did he really want to know? Because if he did, then she might as well start off with a big fat hell no she wasn’t alright. She’d follow it up with a would he please just wrap her in his arms and tell her that he wanted her and needed her as much as she did him. And if he didn’t really want to know—if he was just asking out of some weird sense of duty because it was the polite thing to do, then she would knee him in the crotch. She watched as his brow drew together and his lips tightened, and on her final thought he shifted his stance. He was moving like he had heard her thoughts. It was in that moment that she noticed his arm was touching hers. She nearly closed her eyes and groaned again as she remembered all she knew about Cassie being Trik’s Chosen. When they touched skin to skin, he could read her mind and vice versa.
“Crap,” she muttered under her breath.
“I really want to know,” his deep voice drew her attention from her thoughts and she looked at his amused face, “not because I’m being polite. I don’t really care about being polite,” he added.
“Well you caught all that stuff that just went through my head, so that’s how I’m doing,” she told him without looking away. She wasn’t about to be ashamed or embarrassed about wanting him, and if he had a problem with it he could kiss her butt.
“I do have a problem with it,” he answered her thoughts.
She jerked her arm back with a frustrated growl. “No worries, I won’t force you to marry me. I’ll get over you,” she told him and then mentally kicked herself because she knew there was no way in hell she would ever get over him. “There are plenty of fish in the sea and all that jazz.”
She pushed past him, no longer having the energy to verbally spar with him. Instead she just wanted to lie down and sleep for…like…ever.
Cush watched Elora walk down the hall away from him toward the living room. He had gotten the message loud and clear. She wanted him, but she wouldn’t beg. He was telling himself it was a good thing that she was able to resign herself to the fact that they wouldn’t be completing their mating. He didn’t have room for a woman in his life and he wouldn’t be able to make her happy. In fact, he would just drive her crazy. Because once he claimed her, once he made her his, he would never let her go. He knew the type of male he was: possessive, jealous, selfish, alpha. He wouldn’t want her around any other males. He would cage her to protect her and that would break her. See it’s better this way, he thought to himself as he followed the direction she had just taken to the small living room in her brother’s apartment.
Cush’s feet and thoughts froze in place the second he entered the living room and saw Elora standing wrapped in the arms of a male he’d never seen before. He felt his muscles grow rigid and his jaw tightened as he ground his teeth together. He forced himself to lean casually against the wall because if he didn’t he was going to rip the arms off of the human male who was still touching his Little Raven. He watched as Elora, her brother, the unknown male, and Lisa talked and laughed. They were obviously friends. Friends, he told himself, that is all. But then the idiot had to go and smack his mate on the ass—stupid human.
Cush saw red as that hand made contact with Elora’s very tempting backside and he was across the room with his forearm pressed to the human male’s throat before the idea had even crossed his mind.
“CUSH!” He heard Elora’s gasp but ignored everything but the human he had pressed to the wall.
“Give me a reason not to remove your hand from your body,” Cush said calmly.
The male’s eyes were wide and Cush could feel the pulse in his throat pounding against his forearm.
“Dude, I didn’t, I mean…Elora’s just…we’re not,” the boy stuttered stupidly.
“She doesn’t belong to you,” Cush pointed out. The boy shook his head. “Then why would you touch her in such a way?”
“I was just messing around, just playing,” he screeched.
“Cush let him go!” Elora’s voice broke through. He turned his head to look down at her as she attempted, in vain, to pull him off of the human.
“He touched you,” Cush told her unnecessarily.
“So what?” Elora snapped. “I’m single, Cush. I can let any guy I want touch me. Now let Paul go.”
For some reason, the male’s name on Elora’s lips only enraged him further. He turned back to the human. Paul, he mentally spat the name. The guy was turning blue, which indicated to Cush that he was pushing just a tad too tightly.
“Do not touch her again,” he spoke slowly and though he didn’t yell he knew his words were laced with the right amount of menace, “ever.” He finished and stepped back. His sudden release had Paul falling to the ground which caused his lips to twitch. He turned around to walk away and as Elora made her way to get closer to Paul he wrapped an arm around her waist and pulled her back.
“Do not,” he warned her as he leaned down to whisper in her ear. “I don’t know what is going to happen. I don’t know what I feel for you. But what I do know is that any man I see touching you, or being touched by you, is in danger of dying by my hands. So please, do not go to him.”
Elora stilled at the cold hardness that wrapped around the warning in his voice. She tilted her head back so she could look up at him and saw that his blue grey eyes were so bright that they nearly glowed. His jaw was clenched with the effort that it was taking him to not act on whatever it was he was feeling.
“So you’re telling me that you don’t want me, but nobody else can have me either?” she asked him as she pushed out of his hold. She wouldn’t have been able to get free had he not allowed it, but she wasn’t going to dwell on that little detail.
Cush frowned at her and she nearly laughed. It was obvious that he didn’t like the way it sounded when she laid it out there for what it was.
“I don’t know what I want, Elora, but I do know that seeing another male touch you is making me more violent than usual.”
Elora’s brow rose. “More violent?” He didn’t say anything more. He simply took her hand and pulled her to the farthest piece of furniture in the room and pushed her into it. She rolled her eyes and crossed her arms, but she stayed where he put her. “Keep treating me like a damn dog, Cush, and I’ll bite your…,”
“Elora!” Lisa snapped. Her voice was sharp, but when Elora looked up at her mother she saw the hint of humor behind the tone.
“I’m just giving him fair warning. Is Paul okay?”
Lisa nodded. “He’s just a little nervous now but he’ll be fine.”
“Okay.” Oakley came and stood next to Lisa, arms folded across his chest. “Now that Legolas isn’t trying to kill my roommate anymore, are you two ready to tell me everything?”
Elora let out an exaggerated sigh. “Gah, if we have to…or we could order Chinese and play on your X-Box. Really that’s a no-brainer choice, Oak.” She looked up at him hopefully, but the stern glare he returned told her he wasn’t going for it. “Fine, pull up some carpet and cop a squat; this is going to take a while.” Elora slid down onto the floor with her back leaned up against the couch and got comfortable before she and Lisa began their story.
“It was a dark and stormy night,” Elora started. Oakley glared at her but she heard a snort come from Cush’s direction and that made her smile. Great, I’m smiling because I made my fantasy elf crush laugh. I’m lame, she thought.
Two hours later Oakley was once again up and pacing as Elora finished her explanation.
“So that’s how I ended up at your door. I guess this is where I wanted to be,” she said. “Mom followed me with,” she pointed to Cush and Rin, “those two. The sexy brooding one is Cush and the sexy non-brooding one is Rin.”
Cush didn’t acknowledge Oakley. He just continued to stare at Elora who gave him a wink and blew him a kiss. His lips twitched and she knew he was trying to hold back a smile.
“And Cassie is in the Elf realm?” he asked.
“Yes, with her mate, Trik,” Lisa answered.
“So what now?” Oakley stopped pacing and looked over to Cush and Rin.
“We need to get to the light-elf castle and see what the king has planned,” Cush said as he pushed away from the wall he was leaning on. He walked over to the large front window and then looked back over his shoulder at Elora. “We must go.”
Elora nodded and then stood. She looked back at Oakley and smiled. “Got to save the world.”
Oakley laughed. “If anybody can, it’s you and Cassie.”
Lisa hugged him and kissed his cheek. “We’ll be back. You stay safe.”
Oakley nodded and then watched as the group walked up to where Cush stood in front of the window.
“Picture the throne room in your mind. Lisa. You hold Elora’s hand and follow with her,” Cush instructed and then stepped into the window. His foot and head hit the glass at the same time. He probably wouldn’t have cracked it except that Elora ran into his back followed by her mother, which created a very painful Elora sandwich.
“What the…,” Elora said as she tried to right herself and back away from Cush, tripping over Lisa in the process.
Cush stared hard at the now cracked glass. His hand reached out slowly as if the glass would bite him.
“Something is wrong,” he said absently.
“What was your first clue? The inability to walk through the glass or the inability to walk through the glass?” Elora asked dryly. Lisa smacked her arm and glared at her. “What?” Elora growled. “I’m sorry, but I tend to get pissy when things don’t go the way they’re supposed to.”
“When are you not pissy?” Rin asked, breaking his long silence.
Elora gave him the single eyebrow stare. “Finally come out to play?”
Rin chuckled at her and then looked past her to the elf behind her. He shook his head. “I don’t have a death wish.”
Elora looked over her shoulder and saw that Cush was glaring daggers at her and Rin. She shrugged her shoulders. “Whateve.”
“So what, you can’t get back to your realm?” Oakley asked.
“The portals have been closed,” Cush answered grimly.
“Bloody hell,” Elora suddenly breathed out as the realization hit her. “That means Cassie can’t get back here.” She looked over to her mom. “You know her parents are probably freaking out.”
“You’re right, Elora, we need to go check on them and let them know that Cassie is okay.”
Elora threw her arms up in the air. “What are we going to say? Hey your daughter is fine but you can’t see her because she’s with her quiver carrying boy toy in the elf realm, and oh yeah, she’s trapped there.”
“Quiver carrying?” Cush’s deep voice rumbled from behind her and she heard the amusement in it without seeing his face. She turned on him and pinned him with her eyes. “Are you trying to tell me you don’t carry a quiver?”
Cush took a step towards her and his huge frame towered over her. She watched him warily as a slow smile formed on his sensual lips. He leaned down next to her ear and whispered, “No, Little Raven, I don’t carry a quiver. I wield a sword.”
Caught off guard by his statement, she let out a bark of laughter and quickly slapped a hand over her mouth. He stood back to his full height and looked at her. Elora felt her face growing warm. She cleared her throat and attempted to compose herself. “Well, by all means, wield away.” Their eyes met as she punctuated her flirtatious statement with a wink.
“Yes, Lisa?” Elora answered, finally turning away from the intense stare of Cush.
“Oakley’s going to drive us home.”
“I am?” he interrupted.
“You are,” Lisa confirmed. “And then we will go over to Cassie’s and speak with her mother. Cush and Rin, you guys are just going to have to stay with us until this is all sorted out.”
The elves looked at each other and shrugged. With no better plan presenting itself, they clambered into Oakley’s van, a vehicle which, while certainly roomy enough, was not designed for beings as large as Cush and Rin.
“Oakley, when did you get a van?” Elora asked as she started to climb in behind Rin but was pulled back by Cush, who made sure she didn’t end up on the bench seat next to the other elf. She wanted to be annoyed by it, but there was a part of her, way, way, way, WAY deep down that liked how possessive he was. Mother of pearl, I’m a freak, she thought to herself as Cush sat down in the seat next to her. Maybe so, but if that is what I get to be freaky with, really who am I to complain? Elora nearly laughed out loud at her inner monologue.
“I won it,” Oakley answered vaguely.
“Uh-uh, right,” Elora responded just as vaguely.
Twenty minutes into their drive, Lisa suddenly turned around and looked at Elora. Her face held one of those looks that said she had just remembered something that shocked her the first time she’d heard it, and it still continued to do so.
“Chosen?” Her eyes narrowed at her daughter and then shifted to Cush. “While you are welcome to stay in my house, and I understand what a Chosen is and just how strong the connection is, there will be no sword wielding under my roof!”
Elora’s eyes widened at her mother’s words and her mouth dropped open, but nothing would come out. Cush didn’t seem to have the same problem because the words that came out of his mouth flowed as smooth as butter.
“I’m honored to be allowed in your home, Lisa, and I understand that Elora and I will have to practice our swordplay off of the premises.”
“Have you ever noticed that something as smooth as milk slides down your throat easily, but can cause lots of backups on the opposite end? Yeah, well think of our escape as milk. It started out smooth but then the exit got very backed up.”
Elora crept up silently to stand beside Cassie. The light elf warriors were scouting out ahead of them in the murky tunnels of the dungeon, ensuring the way was clear. Elora was amazed at how silently they moved, especially as large and as muscular as they were. She found herself feeling like a sloppy toddler floundering around in the dark by comparison.
“So how’d you get to us so quickly?” She asked her best friend.
Cassie cast her a quick glance. “Quickly?” she asked with a snort. “It took us three days, how can you possibly think that was quick?”
“Did you find my dead, decaying body rotting in the dungeon after months of capture, beatings and torture?” Elora whispered.
“Then that is how I think three days is quick.”
Cassie gave a quick nod. “Okay, I see your point.”
“Honestly El, it was all way too easy. Well, at first all the ways into the dark elf realm seemed to be blocked to Trik. Then we tried to go in through his cabin, but we couldn’t get more than twenty feet away and we started going in circles. Finally, Syndra told us to try Sanctuary. It was one of those moments when you’re like damn why didn’t I think of that.”
“Hate those,” Elora quipped.
“I know, right?” Cassie crouched down and Elora lowered herself as well, balancing against the slick walls.
“So then Trik just walked through a mirror into Sanctuary and we walked straight here. He knocked out a few dark elves along the way and then bam, we were standing in front of your cell.”
“You’re right; something is not kosher with this rescue mission. Ours didn’t go nearly as smooth.”
“Really?” Cassie’s eyes widened in surprise. “Cause I thought the whole getting caught thing must have been part of your plan.”
Elora narrowed her eyes. “Who flipped your bitch switch?”
Cassie quickly covered her mouth before the laugh could escape. “I like that one,” she whispered.
Elora rolled her eyes. “You’re still easily amused I see.”
Lisa stepped up beside them just then and leaned forward into their space. “What’s so funny?”
“Bitch switch,” Elora answered dryly which brought another laugh from Cassie.
Suddenly a big body was looming over them and all three turned their heads upward from where they were crouched.
“Would you all like to just send the dark elves a text to let them know exactly where we are?” Cush ground out through clenched teeth.
Elora stood slowly and Lisa and Cassie followed her up. When she reached her full five foot, seven inches, she met Cush’s icy gaze and smiled as she spoke. “I was thinking engraved invitations.” Elora ignored her mother’s dropped jaw and her best friend’s snickers as she stepped around Cush, being extra careful not to touch him.
Trik stepped around the corner and motioned for them to follow. “Coast is clear, let’s get a move on people.”
Cassie hurried up to Trik’s side and he took her hand. He brought it to his lips and kissed her knuckles gently.
“You doing alright?” he asked her as he moved so quickly and quietly that it was eerie.
“Yeah, I’m good. A little unnerved as to why this is going so―”
Cassie’s words were caught in her throat as a loud boom rattled through her ears and down her chest, sending her body flying backwards through the air. She was only briefly alone as Trik’s arms were instantly around her, cushioning their landing with his body.
Stone and dirt swam in the air and rained down on the group as they all crashed to the tunnel floor. A few shrieks from the girls and groans from the guys and then all were silent.
Cush blinked a few times, attempting to gather his faculties. His ears were ringing from the blast and he found it hard to get air into his lungs from all the dust settling in the thick, damp air. As soon as his mind was clear his thoughts jumped to Elora. Where had she been when the explosion happened? She had walked past him and around Sidhion and Tamsin and then he hadn’t been able to see her. He jumped to his feet, nimbly pushing rocks from his legs and began to survey the damage. Already nearly all of the elves were on their feet. Tamsin was pulling Lisa up, and there, several feet in front of them he saw dark hair with red streaks spread across the rubble. He was moving before he thought, maneuvering across the fallen stone with ease and then he was kneeling beside her.
Her eyes were closed and blood trickled down from a cut on her forehead. He leaned forward, laying his ear just inches above her mouth and felt warm breath against it. He squeezed his eyes closed tight against the emotion welling in his chest. Alive, he told himself, she was alive.
“Is she alright?” He heard Lisa’s voice behind him.
“She’s breathing but not conscious,” he told her gruffly. He didn’t move aside. Maybe he should have, Lisa was Elora’s mother after all. But she was his―his mind froze on that thought. His what? What did he think she was? His heart knew, but his mind wasn’t ready to accept it, would never be ready to accept it.
His hand cupped her cheek as he leaned close to her ear. “Wake up little raven.” He looked down at her and waited, willing her eyes to open. Another blast rocked the tunnels and Cush covered Elora’s body with his own. The ground trembled beneath them and the ceiling above them rumbled under the stress of the eruption. He waited until the dust settled before raising himself back up. He glanced over her to make sure no rocks or stones had landed on her and then looked back at her face. He stilled as his eyes collided with hers.
“Most guys ask me on a date before trying for third base,” she told him with a smirk.
Cush sighed inwardly, relieved that she was conscious.
“Can you move?” He asked, ignoring her comment.
“I believe I could if you would get off of me.”
He stared at her, confused by her surly tone. He had just protected her from possible death and she was practically growling at him. He didn’t realize his hand was once again on the side of her face, cradling it gently, not until her voice filled his mind.
“The one time a guy lies on top of me and he isn’t even interested.” He heard the words in his head and felt his eyes widen. Realization rushed in, his touch, her thoughts, his mind. Cush nearly shoved her away from him in his hurry to stand. He stepped aside and let Lisa move to Elora’s side. He saw the flash of hurt in Elora’s eyes but he pushed it away as he turned to check on the others.
“Everyone alright?” Trik’s voice carried through the sooty air.
“We’re all up,” Lisa called out as she helped Elora to her feet. Elora looked up to find Cassie and saw that she was on her feet next to Trik and in one piece. They gave each other reassuring nods and small smiles.
“I guess it’s safe to say that Lorsan knows about our little excursion,” Tamsin said as he dusted off his clothes.
“This end is blocked Tamsin, what about that direction?” Trik asked.
“It’s blocked as well,” Sid answered.
“We’re going to have to head back the direction we came and see if there is another way out from there,” Cush spoke up. “Liege,” he turned to Tamsin, “there were small windows in the cell. We could attempt to make them larger.”
Tamsin nodded. “It may be our only option.”
Trik stared up at the small windows at the top of the cell. Small was being generous. Trik doubted even Cassie could fit through them. He reached up and rubbed his face in frustration. Think Trik, think, he muttered inwardly. He hadn’t made it all this way only to be captured in the freaking castle he knew like the back of his hand. Before an idea could begin to form in his mind, he was interrupted.
“Am I the only one seeing the she-elf who is staring creepily at us from the doorway?” Elora asked.
Cassie gasped. “Flora?” She started to walk towards the woman who had taken care of her while she had been trapped by Lorsan, but Trik stepped in front of her with a scowl plastered on his too handsome face.
“Why are you here?” Trik demanded.
Flora was unfazed. She looked around him so that she could see Cassie. “I want to help,” she said earnestly. “I should have helped you before. I knew what he was doing was wrong. If you follow me I can get you out of here.”
“Why should we trust you?” Cush asked as he stepped next to Trik, effectively blocking her view from the others.
“You probably shouldn’t. But I give you my word I mean you no harm,” she looked from Cush to Trik. “Besides, who would be stupid enough to attack our King?”
“You know who I am?” Trik asked.
Flora nodded and her lips tightened grimly. “Your return is not going unnoticed my lord. Many will be happy you are back. Others will only try harder to kill you. But we don’t really have time to discuss that right now.”
Elora and Cassie both pushed around Trik and Cush with Lisa right behind them. “Lead the way, Flora. I trust you.” Cassie told her.
Without another word, Flora turned and hurried from the door. Cassie and Elora took off after her, ignoring the male voices objecting behind them.
“Um, Flo,” Elora spoke up as they followed her towards the direction of the blast, “we were just here and we were lucky to get away with all our bits intact.”
Flora lifted a hand and waved for them to follow without responding. They stumbled over the crumbling stone and coughed as their feet stirred up fresh dust, creating a cloudy haze around them.
“Cassie,” Trik’s voice carried up from behind them.
“It’s fine Trik, she’s not going to hurt us,” she called back to him.
“In here,” Flora turned to look back at them and Cassie and Elora both gaped at the opening that seemed to appear out of nowhere in the floor. Cassie stepped up to the hole and looked down. It was pitch black.
“Is it safe?” she asked Flora.
“We’re in a tunnel that was just blown up by freaky elf magic and you’re worried about whether the possible escape route from said blown up tunnel is safe?” Elora asked dryly.
“Good point,” Cassie shrugged.
“I’ll go first,” Tamsin said as he reached them.
Trik held out his hand to stop the light elf king. “You should let me.”
Tamsin shook his head. “You are too important…”
“It shouldn’t be either of you,” Cush spoke up. “You are both important.”
“Oh for crying out loud,” Elora groaned, “what does it matter? We’re all going to die of asbestos poisoning if we stay here any longer, geeze.” She looked back at the group and rolled her eyes just as she took a step.
“ELORA!” Cush, Lisa, and Cassie yelled at the same time but they were too late. She stepped off into the nothingness of the hole and disappeared.
“ELORA!” Lisa yelled as she looked down into the black void. “Where is she? Is she alright?”
“She’s probably fine,” Flora assured her.
“What do you mean probably?” Lisa growled as only a mama bear could. “You don’t know where she is?”
Flora shook her head. “The portal took her wherever she wanted to go.”
“Portal?” This time all of the elves spoke up at the same time.
Flora jumped at the collective deep voices. She nodded.
“There’s no reflective surface,” Trik pointed out.
“Not all portals need a reflection, King,” Flora addressed him. “There was a time long ago when the Forest Lords gave three portals that did not require reflections,” she paused and waited, “do you remember?”
Trik closed his eyes and tried to focus, tried to remember a time before light and dark elves, a time before war and destruction. Yes, he remembered.
“Master portals,” he said breathlessly.
Flora nodded and smiled like a proud teacher.
“I’m sure this is supposed to be important,” Cassie interrupted, “but my best friend just took off into this master portal and I’d like to know where it took her.”
“It will have taken her to wherever her heart longed most to be,” Flora explained.
“Is that the only place it will take you?” Cassie asked.
Flora shook her head. “No, it will act based on intent as well. But for your friend, since she most likely wasn’t aware she needed to be giving herself a location, it took her where she longs to be.”
Cassie looked over to Lisa. Do you know where that is?”
“Might be with Oakley, or it might be at the store,” Lisa told her.
Cassie nodded her agreement.
“Either place is safe, Cassie,” Lisa assured her. “You need to go with Trik. I can take care of Elora.”
“You will be a target,” Cassie argued. “You can’t just go off by yourselves.”
“I’ll get her and then come back to the light elf castle, piece of cake,” Lisa assured her. Cassie didn’t look convinced.
“I will accompany them,” Cush said, “if that is alright with the King.” He turned to look at Trik, waiting for his response.
Trik nodded and then motioned towards the light elf on his left, “Rincavornon, you will go with Nedhudir and keep Lisa and Elora safe.”
Lisa stepped up to the edge of the hole and looked down into the darkness. She decided the best place to start would be with Oakley.
“Be careful,” Cassie grabbed her in a quick hug.
Lisa patted her back. “We’ll be fine.”
“We really should be on our way now,” Flora interrupted.
Cush stepped up beside Lisa and motioned for Rin to do the same on her other side. They both placed large hands on each of her elbows. “We step together and you think of where we need to go.”
She nodded at him and without a glance back Lisa stepped off into the void with the two light elves beside her.
“Your turn,” Flora told Cassie with a small smile.
Trik grabbed her hand to keep her from stepping closer to the edge of the hole. He gave Flora a look that had her taking a step back and then turned to the rest of the group. “We go to Tamsin’s castle, the throne room.” Then he stepped off into the portal pulling Cassie with him.
Flora watched as the last of the light elves crossed through the portal. She counted to twenty just as Lorsan had told her, to ensure everyone was all the way through and then held her hand out over the portal. At her whispered words she watched as the whole shrunk in on itself until it was completely gone. Flora smiled to herself as she dusted her hands off. “Get silly human girl to trust you. Check,” she made the motion of checking off a list in the air, “convince silly humans and elves to go through a portal. Check. Close off all portals so that there is no way to return to human realm, or for elves to return to the elfin realm,” she paused and grinned, “Check, check.”
Elora blinked several times as her eyes attempted to adjust to the bright light around her. She had expected to fall a few feet, hit the hard ground, and have her teeth jarred out of her head. But instead, it was as if she had just walked through an open door. One minute she was in the crumbling tunnel of Lorsan’s castle and the next she was, well… Where am I exactly, she thought to herself.
She brushed her messy black mane of hair away from her face and took a look around. The air was cold and crisp as it burned her lungs. She judged that it must be winter wherever she was because all of the well-manicured lawns lining the streets contained dry dead grass. She was standing on a sidewalk with the street on one side of her and an apartment complex on the other. She glanced down the sidewalk to see if there was a street sign but only saw a stop sign. Just as she turned back towards the apartments, the door directly across from where she stood opened and out walked a tall, gangly guy in loose skater style jeans, a black t-shirt and Vans. Elora’s eyes widened and a grin spread across her face.
“What are you doing here, baby sis?” Oakley asked.
Elora ran straight for him and had to bite the inside of her lip to keep from squealing like a girl. It was so freaking good to see him, to hear his voice, and then she was in his arms as she threw herself at him.
“Umph!” He grunted as she buried her face in his chest. “Hey, hey,” he said as he patted her back. She refused to cry, hell she didn’t even know why she felt the need to cry, but she wasn’t about to give in to it.
“What’s going on, Elora?” He asked her as he gently pushed her back so he could look at her face. She knew from the way his forehead wrinkled in concentration that he was trying to see past the front she was so desperately trying to keep in place. But what could she tell him? Hey big brother, long time no see, and since you asked, I was just rescued from the dungeon of a dark elf by a she dark elf who we thought was a bad guy, but maybe isn’t a bad guy and oh, by the way, mom is still there. For some reason she just didn’t feel that that wouldn’t go over too well. So she lied.
“Nothing, I just decided I needed to see you,” she smiled up at him and tried to appear innocent, which for her was not easy because she usually wasn’t. He glanced down at her appearance and she knew the dust covered, disheveled look wasn’t doing anything to help her farce and she knew her next question was only going to make things worse. “What month is it?”.
“How did you get here?” He asked suspiciously as he looked around for her car. Of course he would ask the most obvious question first. It was a valid one though since he lived two hours away from Oklahoma City.
“I took the bus,” she lied again. January, bloody hell how long had they been in fairy land, she thought to herself, but tried not to let that thought show on her face.
His concern turned to annoyance as he stood up to his full six foot one height and crossed his arms in front of him. “What the hell is going on Elora? You show up on my side walk in front of my apartment, where you have never been, I might add. You look like you’ve been in a freaking explosion or fire, covered in ash and crap,” he took a step towards her and reached for her arm, “and shit, you’re shaking like a junky. Now tell me what is going on.” He gave her arm a little shake, not enough to hurt her, but enough to get her attention.
“I will advise you one time to remove your hand from the female.” A deep voice came from behind Elora. Oakley’s eyes widened as he looked past his sister to see two large guys and, his head tilted to the side, his mom.
“Mom?” His voice was hoarse.
“Hi baby,” Lisa smiled wide. “Um, you might want to go ahead and let your sister go.” Lisa made a nodding motion towards the tall guy on her left. “Cush seems to think you are hurting her.”
“Cush?” Oakley said as he looked from his mom to the guy she had indicated. He still hadn’t let Elora’s arm go, shocked as he was.
Cush’s eyes narrowed as he watched the male’s hand tighten imperceptibly on Elora’s arm. He had tried to be nice, but still the male had not released her, granted he did seem a bit dazed. He walked slowly towards them and said. “Let her go.” The boy finally let go of her arm and Cush felt something inside him ease just a bit.
“Elora,” Her name came out softer than he intended, more like a caress. “Are you all right?” She didn’t respond, in fact she hadn’t moved since he, her mother, and Rin had appeared from the portal. He stepped around, effectively pushing the boy away and knelt down so that he could look into her face. Her eyes were squeezed closed and her lips were moving swiftly. He leaned closer to try and hear what she was mumbling, and nearly laughed when he finally deciphered it. Over and over Elora muttered Goth girls don’t cry, goth girls don’t cry.
“I thought it was big girls don’t cry?” He whispered close to her ear so that only she could hear him. She froze, her eyes snapped open and her mumbling ceased instantly. Her eyes met his and he waited for her to say something, all the while fighting the natural desire to wrap his arms around her and pull her close to the shelter of his body. When she finally did speak, it only confirmed what he already knew.
Elora stared at Cush and realized that she was seeing him in his elfin form in the human realm. “Why aren’t you using your glamour?” she asked. Her heart skipped at the flash of possessiveness she saw in his eyes.
“I am using it,” he told her.
“Then why am I seeing you in your elfin form?” His jaw tensed and she could tell that he did not want to answer her.
“That’s a discussion best saved for a more private setting.” He stood and took a step back from her and that tiny bit of space between them felt like the Grand Canyon. Elora mentally shook herself and drew her shoulders back. She took a deep breath and let it out slow and then turned to face the others.
“Would someone please tell me what’s going on?” Oakley asked. “Because it looks to me like my mom and two strange men just appeared out of thin air on my sidewalk.”
Elora crossed her arms in front of her and cocked her hip out to the side as she looked up at her brother. “You want the full story or the cliff notes?”
“Elora you can’t just tell him everything.” Cush said.
A single brow rose on her forehead as she met Cush’s eyes. “He’s my brother, Cush. He already knows about the elves; it’s just all the other crap he doesn’t know about, so cliff notes to begin,” she said and as she continued to speak her eyes never left Cush’s. “Cassie met a hot guy who wound up being a dark elf assassin. The dark elf king has an evil plot to get humans addicted to a drug produced from a plant from their realm, so that they will spend more money in his casinos. Cassie was captured, we went to rescue her, and then we got captured. We were rescued; now we’re here. I assume Cassie and her man are going to go back to the light elf castle,” she paused as if thinking and then let out a dry, humorless laugh, “Oh, and apparently I’m Cush’s Chosen.”