Katherine ran her hands over the pink satin dress she wore. It was finer than the expensive designer dress Nathaniel bought her. Yet it was so much simpler; having only three layers instead of a dozen more with pounds of lace. The sleeves were made of a clear silver material that flowed as she moved. She realized she liked this one much more. A second later, remembering why she was so fond of it. It was her mother’s dress. As a child she’d sneak into her mother’s closest and stand on a stool to try it on; every time imagining the perfect wedding. She imagined that her mother would be relieved, after already failing with one daughter. Now Rhonda could have the son-in-law and grandchildren she wanted. What was wrong with what they wanted? Her happiness at seeing the dress quickly turned into bitterness. She looked down at her hands and saw the bright green gloves she was supposed to wear at her wedding. The white lace was full of moth holes. Her dress was in the same condition. Katherine had the sudden urge to smooth out the wrinkles in her dress. The more she tried, the worse it got until she collapsed into a crumpled pile. Angry tears streamed down her face. Her life was supposed to be simple. She wasn’t the one who wanted adventure. It was always Samiyah who said “want more, want more.” But this was her “more” and look how it turned out. A part of her even wished that Nathaniel hadn’t been such an ass. Then her sister had would be out of her life. She’d be a trophy wife and starting a family. To hell with Samiyah if that wasn’t good enough for her. She a glimpse of faded blue jeans.
“Go away,” she snapped.
Samiyah pushed aside the fog that appeared. She took hesitant steps forward. Before long she heard Katherine’s voice, unsurprised at the anger she heard. She did pause when she finally saw the state her sister was in. Katherine’s hair was unkempt. Knotted in a way she’d never allow under normal circumstances. Her eyes were red from crying and full of hatred. Samiyah tried not to take it seriously but part of her shrunk back, sure this wasn’t entirely Elanil’s doing. Katherine stood and she felt something stronger than should’ve been possible. A blast of wind hit her. It felt like a punch. Once she got over the shock she heard Katherine speaking.
“Can’t you leave me alone?”
“I did. How many years did I leave you alone?” She walked forward.
Katherine called up harsh winds to push her back. Thunder crashed around them.
I can deal with this. Samiyah tried summoning a flame but Katherine snuffed it out. She tried moving forward. A streak of lightning came down but instead of hitting the ground, it hovered. Katherine shouldn’t have this much control. “Your bad decisions keep bringing me back. And all I’ve done is help you.”
Katherine let the lightning bolt fall. She laughed as the explosion threw Samiyah back. “All I hear is how strong you are. I’m sick of hearing about it.” She watched as Samiyah pushed herself up with one arm. The other, along with most of her body, was burnt. “And it’s all a lie. Pathetic like you’ve always been.”
Every word she said made Samiyah less and less inclined to end this peacefully. Normally she wouldn’t care but not after having a friend turned on her. Or after having flying heads with razor sharp teeth tear her apart; illusion or not. She reached out for Oliver. He allowed her to use his healing ability. But when she reached for his hate, he tried to block her. They both knew she didn’t hate her sister.
I won’t let you turn into that.
She took too much pleasure in Katherine’s irritation to respond immediately. Then you better find us. Not caring for the consequences she sent her magic against Katherine’s, taking control of storm. Or so she thought. Samiyah calmed the wind enough to throw a fireball towards Katherine.
Katherine clapped her hands together and a torrent of rain came down. Samiyah could manipulate weather but her element was fire. She suspected Katherine could control that too, but didn’t want to give up anything. Samiyah’s only advantage was her training.
She avoided more lightning bolts by watching Katherine’s movements. Until she went to move and couldn’t. A bolt fell, stopping right above her head. Samiyah watched through rain slick hair as Katherine approached her.
“Help? Is that what they call meddling now?” She touched Samiyah’s face and her whole body felt like it was on fire. “Did I ask you to sneak onto my fiancé’s property? Even when I was a kid you stepped in. You were never happy with my decisions.”
“You never made a decision in your life. I bet you return your clothes if mom doesn’t like them. And, oh yeah, Nathaniel wanted to kill you!”
The pain increased and Samiyah gritted her teeth. She couldn’t believe any of this. How dare Katherine control her? Santiago’s warning was a dim reminder at the back of her mind.
“I don’t want much. I just wanted you gone. But you had to come back. You’re the one who wasn’t happy at home.” She threw Samiyah backwards. “So why couldn’t you just stay in your little crap apartment?”
Samiyah summoned all her strength to break Katherine’s hold. Before she could react Samiyah lifted her into the air. Did her sister have any idea of her own guilt? She’d wanted to believe Katherine would stop thinking of herself, especially after Elanil’s attack. A mistake like everything else she’d done. Samiyah formed a flame sword.
“Is that supposed to ‘scare me straight’?” She laughed.
“Give me one reason not to?”
Katherine smirked. “You wouldn’t!”
Samiyah’s face was hard. “It would solve a lot of immediate problems.” She felt detached. Her voice didn’t sound like her own. She had to fight a smile when Katherine’s expression became terrified.
Samiyah, stop. Please.
She heard them behind her.
“You are doing what she wants. Do you really believe your sister capable of this?”
Samiyah grimaced. She shouldn’t. “Is her power a trick?”
Santiago paused. She didn’t need a magic bond to know he didn’t want to tell her. Eventually he said, “With guidance she could.”
That should be enough. Katherine was dangerous enough as an unwitting pawn. Samiyah couldn’t let her gain control over the elements. She felt a hand on her shoulder.
“If you are willing to do this, why fight Queen Elanil on what she is willing to do?
This isn’t real. Oliver’s voice was firm, but she didn’t care.
Her feelings are.
She heard Atian say, in a hesitant voice, “She doesn’t want this. It’s this…place.”
Samiyah turned to look at him. “How do you know?”
“She told me. In a way.”
They were interrupted by a surge of power from Katherine. The storm intensified. Nothing could be heard over the wind and rain, and thunder. Samiyah raised her sword. Santiago grabbed her wrist with a firm hand. Oliver growled, placing himself between the two sisters. She noticed he’d grown smaller as her fear of him receded. He gave her a warning look, ears flattened. Samiyah jerked her arm away from Santiago. She let the sword die but a burning started in her chest; spread to her stomach.
So we let her go again? No consequence? Her jaw hurt from being clenched so tight.
Samiyah saw Katherine smile and for the first time she could say, she hated her. She was gathering energy for another attack when Atian passed her. He walked towards her at a casual pace. Samiyah pulled Katherine away. She’d kill him.
He turned to mouth, “Trust me.” He approached Katherine and gently held her hand. Atian whispered in her ear and the thunder quieted to a low rumble.
Samiyah started to relax and Oliver moved to her side. Eventually the rain stopped, followed by the wind. Samiyah’s shoulders dropped and the sprite finally wrapped its arms around her neck. Its wings disturbed her hair with a light breeze. Grudgingly Samiyah let Katherine down. Atian held her as if she were glass. Samiyah turned away and froze.
“Humans are such persistent little monsters.” Elanil looked bored. With a flick of her hand their surroundings changed. A courtyard of ice sprung up around them. Elanil floated and landed on a wicked-looking rose statue. Vines twisted around it; red tinged icicles hung from its thorns. “Aren’t you tired of playing hero?”
Samiyah was tired of it all. Her games and this realm. She did want to go back to her crappy apartment and stay there. “Let’s just get this over with.”
Elanil actually laughed. A flurry of arrows raced towards them. Behind her, Atian started praying. Samiyah didn’t know if that would help against the queen.
“Hide,” she whispered to the sprite, not paying attention to where it went.
She burned the ones she could and Santiago deflected the rest. There was a flash to her right. A silver elf lunged at her but Oliver’s jaws clamped around his waist, and then flung him aside. The ground bucked beneath them. Santiago held down Atian and Katherine. Samiyah held onto Oliver. More elves rushed them. She protected them with a ring of fire that stretched over their heads. Any elves who risked jumping over were torn apart by Oliver and Santiago.
“You have to help.” Samiyah glared at Katherine.
She started to protest but Atian nodded. She pursed her lips. Samiyah lowered the fire in random spots. Katherine hit whatever moved with lightning. Suddenly Samiyah’s fire went out and Elanil landed in front of her. Oliver jumped. She froze him.
“That was fun. But it’s time for you to go now.” There was no trace of humor on her face.
“Let him go.”
Elanil raised her hand. Samiyah heard his mental cry of pain. Her hands clenched. As if that were a signal, Katherine summoned a twister that lifted Elanil into the air. Santiago focused it so they weren’t endangered.
But that left them open to the other elves. They closed in while he was distracted. Katherine wasn’t skilled enough to divert her energy into a shield. Samiyah started too when the elves were suddenly thrown into the distance. The smell of fresh dirt and moss became overwhelming.
“Let her down,” ordered an imperious voice.
Santiago and Katherine let Elanil down. He made sure she didn’t drop but settled gently. She glared at them individually. When Queen Ysmyrlda appeared the look deepened into a scowl.
“Give me the book. It belongs to my people.” Her voice had a musical lilt, and it held bestial fury.
“And who protects them while it is in my hands? You?”
Ysmyrlda did not respond. They lunged at each other; striking and leaping away and then back again. Elanil’s angry snarls echoed around them. It made Samiyah’s hair stand on end but she ignored it to focus on Oliver. Happy tears sprung to her eyes when she could still sense him.
Santiago placed his hands on the ice. It started to glow but quickly faded. He grunted. “It needs to be her.”
Samiyah spun on her heels. “Elanil, unfreeze him right now. Or we’ll never have to worry about winter again.” To add weight to her threat she hurled a fireball pitcher style. Her eyes widened when it struck Elanil directly in the back. She looked over to see that Katherine’s expression mirrored her own.
Elanil let out a scream of outrage and dived at her. Ysmyrlda tackled her into the ground instead, her knee in Elanil’s back. A magical pulse shot through everyone. An answering roar came a few seconds later. The ground shook as the winter fae came to defend their queen. Ysmyrlda sent out her own summons. Chaotic fighting soon surrounded them. Samiyah did her best to stay near Atian and Katherine. Despite her best efforts, they were separated anyway.
Samiyah ended up with her back pressed against Oliver. Cold seeped into her bones. She reformed her flame sword but they had swords of their own. Sparks flew as their magics fought for dominance. One elf’s caught her with a sudden thrust. Samiyah tried twisting out of the way but it opened a gash along her side. Pain made her right side seize up and she fell over. Her body felt as if it were freezing and burning simultaneously. Before they could run her through, she levitated them as far as she could and flung them backwards into an unsuspecting group. Her arm ached but it was dull compared to everything else. She forced herself into a sitting position to heal. Then, the earth shook as something charged her. Samiyah looked up to see what looked like a troll dog rushing at her. She couldn’t dodge so she tried lifting it. A sharp pain shot through her arm, followed by a crack. Her vision spun and she struggled to stay upright. A surge of magic made her light headed. She managed to focus long enough and saw the “dog” was floating. Along with all the creatures regardless of what side they were on. Santiago stood at the center, his expression as close to anger as she’d ever seen. He turned them towards him and then drew the queens forward.
Ignoring their outraged expressions, he said, “Stop this. You are not children.”
“Who do you think you are to speak to me like this?” Elanil demanded.
“I am unimportant, but this senseless fight is hurting many I hold dear. Stop this. What good is it to have the summer elves’s book? It holds the balance that is beyond you to change?” He looked at both of them with a piercing gaze.
Elanil laughed. “If queens don’t have the power to make a change, what can you do?”
Her words were meant by the dying screams of winter and summer elves.
“Stop!” cried Ysmyrlda.
“Everyone is affected by your decision. Will you continue, Queen Elanil?”
Her jaw twitched but she held her head proudly as she said, “No. I will return the book.”
Santiago set Elanil down. Her feet touched the snow in mock daintiness.
As soon as his magic released her she darted towards him. Santiago tried catching her again but she was expecting it, and dodged. They crashed into each other; her hand squeezing his throat.
He didn’t struggle. Only said, “My words are still true.”
His words echoed around them, though Samiyah was sure he hadn’t raised his voice. She waited tense. Her breathing was harsh against the tender skin of her throat; already bruised by the dropping temperatures. Elanil released Santiago’s throat. She rose so slowly it seemed she was considering killing him anyway.
Instead, she turned to Ysmyrlda. “This is too much trouble. I suppose you can have it back.” She tried to appear bored. She held out her hand and the book appeared. Elanil strode casually towards Ysmyrlda. When she got close she whispered something, a grim smile on her face.
Ysmyrlda’s expression had been cautiously hopeful. Now it was closed and she gave a brief nod. She came to Samiyah’s side. “We may go now.”
“What about them?” Her hand stayed on Oliver. She gritted her teeth against the cold burn.
Ysmyrlda turned her head. “Release his spirit, Queen Elanil.” The formal title was spat out.
She sneered at her but waved her hand dismissively towards Oliver. Samiyah didn’t relax until he began to thaw. He shook the remaining ice from his fur.
Samiyah finally turned to Ysmyrlda and bowed her head. “I’m ready to return.”
Ysmyrlda sniffed but took Samiyah’s hand. A light engulfed them. It brought the smell of fresh flowers and the warmth of summer. All in all, it was a much gentler journey than her first trip through a portal.
Only Lady Adelphi waited for them when they returned to the chamber. “Have you succeeded?”
Those words held more foreboding than Samiyah thought capable. And Lady Adelphi’s next words sent chills down her spine.
“We will summon her once the time for winter has passed. And we will trap her. This will be the way of things.”
They bowed their heads in acknowledgement.
“Queen Ysmyrlda, should you make any attempt to take advantage you will share her fate. And you.” She glared down at Samiyah. “The council has discussed your fate at great lengths. Your teacher has broken one of our most important rules and it has led to disaster. Your willingness to help remedy the situation has granted you a reprieve. Don’t come to our attention again.”
She nodded though her hands felt clammy and beads of sweat had broken out on her forehead. Lady Adelphi searched her face for a long moment before turning to leave. She moved with the grace of a calm brook, her head held high. Anyone else would think she was unconcerned with her surroundings. Samiyah knew she would be watched until she left.
“I am surprised you are here. I thought you had run in fear.”
Samiyah only shrugged. She didn’t tell just how close she’d come to doing just that. “I said I’d help.”
Ysmyrlda cocked her head. One, thin finger tapped against her chin. “Yes…you did. I hold your promise fulfilled.” She paused as if she were thinking of thinking of something else to say, decided Samiyah wasn’t important enough, and then left.
Samiyah sighed. Her body felt heavy and her head pounded. She wanted to fall to the floor. Instead, she gritted her teeth and turned towards the council room door. Her exhausted mind only half recognized that the torches were snuffed out as she went. When Asha opened the door, Samiyah was in near darkness again.
“You’re alive.” Her voice was full of relief.
Samiyah noticed she didn’t say “hurt”. No one could return unharmed after a trial like that. Though no one had stated it, Lady Adelphi’s words made it clear Samiyah had been tested. And she’d passed only by the skin of her teeth. She perked up suddenly. “You were worried, Asha? I mean nothing to you.”
Asha’s dark brown eyes became clouded with memories, but all she said was, “Your pack leader was very worried about you.” She stepped aside to let Samiyah go by.
Jaegar wrapped Samiyah in a hug, her face smothered by his shirt. She beat weakly against his arms. He noticed eventually and released her. She took huge gulping breathes and eyed him wearily.
“I wasn’t gone that long,” she said when she could speak.
He tried composing himself. He ran his hand through already disheveled hair. That did more to make Samiyah alert than anything else. Jaegar kept his hair short, neatly trimmed and now it fell almost to his ears. His shirt was also rumpled and one side was untucked. For someone who went to great lengths to keep a tame appearance, he might as well be sporting a full beard too. All he had was a face full of uneven stubble.
“How long has it been?” She almost didn’t want to hear the answer.
Jaegar stood up straight. “Ttwo months.”
Samiyah’s delirious, sleep deprived mind wasn’t too bothered at first until she remembered Katherine and Atian’s spirits had travelled to the fae realm also. Without any idea what was about to happen the shock may have been too much. “You have to take me home.” Her voice cracked though she tried to hide her sudden urgency.
Jaegar searched her face before nodding. Samiyah concentrated only on following him out; refusing to let any thoughts of failure enter her mind, yet. She was so focused on this she didn’t immediately notice two glowing blue eyes looking up at her. It wasn’t until the sprite grew to its original size and wiggled its way out of her shirt. Samiyah sputtered, trying not to get mad. She’d said hide afterall.
“And who’s this?”
“Sprite?” She shrugged helplessly.
He gave her a look that said “we’ll talk” and turned on his heel. She sighed and carried the sprite like a child. It looked around in wide-eyed wonder but the council building had quickly lost its appeal to her. As Samiyah got into the suv it floated around, exploring. It didn’t seem fazed when Jaegar sped off.