The first sensation I have is one of excruciating pain all over. I scream. Loudly. But my voice only rattles against the chain pressed between my teeth. Even though no one can hear me, I scream again and again to release some of the pressure building up from the pain inside. What happened? Where are Henki and Daemon?
Down the corridor, I hear a heavy door creak open then slowly slam shut. I hear the sound of something heavy scraping over the frozen ground, like snake scales on dry sand. I begin to see a blue and silver glimmering shape appear through the thick ice of my cell door. The shape divides into two, one silver, one blue, and stops outside my door. I hear muffled voices, one low and deep and rumbling, the other high and light.
After a moment’s debate, the door slowly slides open soundlessly. A man and a woman are standing outside. They are both tall and slender, with skin so pale, the blue lines of their veins are prominent. But that’s where the similarity ends. The man has thick dark hair that lies in waves across his high forehead. His cobalt eyes stare cruelly at me above a sneering pale mouth.
In contrast, the woman has white hair and eyes that are so light, I can only see her pupil. She pulls her white lips back in a snarl and crosses her arms over her silver dress. She gestures with one hand and the icy chain falls from my mouth.
I have to move my jaw a few times before it will form words. “Where am I?” I ask.
The man folds his arms across his royal blue dress shirt. “You are the one who entered our realm. You should know the answer to that.”
The woman raises an ivory eyebrow and purses her full white lips. “Maybe it is stupid,” she offers. “I’ve heard that humans usually are, Iâ.”
Iâ shrugs and continues to regard me with his icy stare. “It probably is, Eira. But we still wouldn’t have known it was here if Henki hadn’t warned us.”
A hard lump of dread forms in my stomach. “Henki turned me in?”
Eira laughs, throwing her head back. “Does his betrayal surprise you? Henki is a Shadow. He has no ties to anyone. Why did you think you could trust him?”
Iâ runs his hand through her long white hair. “Your presence is a large inconvenience, girl,” he says coldly. “My sister and I were very busy with matters of state.”
“Then let me go,” I plead. “If keeping me is such an inconvenience, then let me go and I’ll never come back.”
They exchange glances. Eira steps forward with an amused smile and gently caresses my face with her icy hand. “We cannot do that, girl. Kendra has been searching for you for a very long time. She has been searching only in the human realm, which is why you are still alive. But we will call her back here. And once she returns and has you,” she says, slowly dragging her nails down my cheek, “we will set you free. She will kill you. And my brother and I will always be safe here in Hollë. Kendra will not try to kill us as she has the others who supported your parents.”
My cheek is stinging and my eyes are watering with pain when she removes her hand. The left side of my face feels like ice, which, thankfully, quickly numbs the pain. Iâ continues to stare at me with something bordering on fascination in his eyes.
Eira turns around quickly, her full skirt swirling out and taking up the entire cell. “Do what you will with it, brother. But keep it in one piece for Kendra. She will not be happy if it is broken.”
The train on her skirt swishes across the floor as she walks away, making the icy scraping noise that I heard earlier. Iâ looks down at his pressed shirt, shoving his hands into his blue dress pants. He runs his hand repeatedly through his perfect hair, slowly making it disheveled, and sighs loudly as the door slams shut again.
“What are you going to do to me?” I ask slowly, terrified of the answer.
He slowly looks up. “Truthfully, there are many things that I would do to you, Shadow Princess.”
I jerk in surprise at the use of my title. Most of Kendra’s supporters don’t ever address me by anything but “girl” or “it,” according to Daemon.
“Yes, I know what your title is and I use it when no one else is around. There is much that you do not understand that is going on around you.” He sighs and runs his hands through his hair again. “I do not know Henki’s intentions, nor do I know if it was truly him who alerted my sister to your arrival here. She had guards stationed at every portal, they’ve been there for days. Be very careful who you trust.”
“Who can I trust?” I ask, my jaw stiff from Eira’s coldness and the icy chain.
“Daemon. And Henki.”
“But you just said…” I interject.
Iâ holds up a hand to stop me. “I said that I do not think that he is the reason you are captured. If he wanted you delivered to Kendra, he would have done it long ago. You can trust his desire for revenge against Kendra. He promised your father that he would keep you safe, so he will.”
“What about you? Can I trust you?” I ask.
He smiles halfheartedly. “That’s entirely up to you now, isn’t it? And it seems to be the most relevant question today. How far are you willing to extend trust to someone whom you were warned hates you?”
I turn my head and wipe my cheek on my shoulder. As the feeling is returning to my face, I can start feeling the slow trickle of blood running out of Eira’s claw marks. “How far are you willing to help me?”
“Another excellent question,” Iâ says, leaning back against the wall and running his hand through his hair again. “To help you is to risk Kendra’s wrath, along with alienation from my sister. Eira has always agreed with Kendra. I did as well until recently. Kendra was like a mother to us,” he tells me, piercing me with his cobalt eyes.
“Kendra helped us tame this dimension and establish ourselves here in Hollë. Without her help, it would just be a frozen wasteland after all the civil wars that have happened on the supernatural side.” Iâ motions with his hand and a ledge pushes out from the wall. He sits and shakes his head, folding his hands over his knees. “She helped show us everything that we were capable of. She is the reason that Hollë is what it is today. If I betray her, she would take all of that away. I can live without my kingdom, I can rebuild a castle on my own. But I cannot live without my sister,” he says, slowly looking up again, sorrow plain on his ivory face.
I look down at the ice floor. “Iâ, I’m an only child. I don’t know what it’s like to have a sister or brother that I can’t live without. But I do know what it’s like to love someone that you can’t live without.”
Iâ tilts his head and waits for me to speak again. I lick my lips and take a deep breath before I continue. Hanging from my wrists on the ceiling is starting to put an uncomfortable pressure on my chest. Breathing is starting to hurt.
“After my mother died, all I had left was my dad. I don’t know what I would do without him. I couldn’t live without him.” I take another rasping breath and meet Iâ’s curious and painful gaze with my own. “And then I met Ryan.”
“Your lover, killed at Kendra’s hand,” he interjects. “What makes you think she would not do the same to my sister to revenge me for helping you? This is the problem that you have presented. You and Ryan can be together again. If Kendra kills Eira, there will be no reunion. There is no afterlife once the dead are killed.”
“That’s my point,” I tell him, rattling my icy chains as I try to reposition my frozen wrists. “I know what it’s like to live without someone you love. I know the pain when someone that’s always been there for you suddenly isn’t there anymore. I know what you’re risking.” I pause and wait for him to look at me again. “But if you help me, I swear to you that I will do everything I can to make sure that you and your sister stay together.”
“How can you promise that?” he yells, leaping to his feet, his eyes flashing darker with sudden rage. “You have no power over Kendra. She will find us and she will kill Eira. Eira is so blinded by a hatred that is not even her own. She would never agree to go anywhere with you, let alone to a safe house in your father’s castle. Eira would kill me herself if she knew that I was considering helping you.”
“Iâ, please,” I beg. “I can help you!”
His jaw clenches and he steps close to me. I can see the blood pulsing through the veins in his face. I can feel the icy chill of a blizzard coming off him. He searches my face, and I’m not sure what he’s looking for.
Iâ slams his fist into the wall behind me. My chains rattle and dig into my wrist. He spins on his heel and storms out of the cell, the door slamming behind him.
“Iâ! Come back!” I scream at the closed door. “Iâ!” Tears start running over my cheeks, freezing in the cold air. “Henki! Daemon!”