“She was left in there too long!” a voice calls angrily. “She could have died from exposure.”
Something light clinks against something heavier, then is set down on a table. “She is fine. Her body just shut down to protect her. She will be alright once she wakes up.”
“What if she does not?” the angry voice asks. “Thy life will be forfeit if she is not.”
The second voice scoffs. “I am one of the Old Ones, Eidolon. What can you possibly do to kill me?”
“Daemon, Iâ freed us and is allowing us to take Nikki. What more do you want? It is Eira’s fault that we were captured, not her brother’s. You know as well as I that he supports the Shadow Lord.” The new voice pauses. “Besides, if he had wanted us dead, he would have done it two days ago when we were first taken prisoner. You know that as well as I.”
“We need to leave soon,” the first voice says, somewhat less angrily. “The longer we stay here, the longer we risk Kendra coming or Eira finding out about what thou hast done.”
“Nikki cannot even walk. How do you suggest we leave?” the third voice asks from next to me. “You had to carry her the entire way here. And it does not help that she is frozen and bruised and missing skin in many different places.”
“She will heal once she leaves Hölle,” the second voice says smoothly. “Once she leaves the cold, she will return to normal. All that will be left will be bad memories.”
“I will carry her to the portals, then,” the first voice says after a moment’s silence. “Iâ, give me thy brandy.”
I hear the sound of something light exchanging hands and a strong, woody scent assaults my nose. My eyes fly open and I push the small glass away.
“How are you feeling?” Henki asks, leaning his head down over me.
“Everything hurts, but I think I’ll be okay,” I say, my voice still raspy and sharp. “I know we need to leave soon.”
“It will be much more dangerous to travel with her in this condition while Kendra is on the supernatural side. We will be more likely to be caught,” Henki tells Daemon.
Daemon nods. “I know. But there is naught we can do to change things. We must continue on.”
“If I may interject,” Iâ begins, “my sister has not yet gotten word to Kendra of your capture. I intercepted her messenger. Kendra still has no knowledge of your whereabouts, Shadow Princess. You and your company will still be safe to travel on.”
I nod and the room starts spinning. “How soon can we leave?”
“Your horses are in my personal stables,” Iâ adds. “I can saddle them myself and bring them out to you. You can leave in one hour.”
“I told him not to leave you in there for so long,” Henki says softly as the door closes behind Iâ. “You are not strong enough to handle it.”
“How did we get caught?” I ask, ignoring his roundabout apology.
He sighs and I can sense the puzzled emotions running across his face. “Eira was waiting for us. She somehow knew that you would be on the supernatural side and that you would be journeying through Hölle.”
“No one else knew though. It’s almost like she had someone to spy for her,” I accuse, too tired, cold, and afraid to hide the anger in my voice.
I sense him smiling. “Nikki, if I wanted to kill you, you never would have left the Shadow District. While I may not fully support your family’s rule, I support you. Thanks to Kendra, I have not been able to create chaos in the human world as I used to. I was a legend before Kendra took power. Humans feared me.” He pauses and turns his featureless face to me. “I miss the freedom to journey to the human world when I please and haunt whomever or wherever as suits me. Kendra promised freedom once your family had been eradicated. I was young and stupid, and I fought for the wrong side. I am trying to make things right. And the Shadow District is overpopulated. Since those ready for the transition cannot pass on to other dimensions, there are more Shadows than the dimension can support. We are starving. The small amounts of emotion that you brought with you were the first that any of us have had in a few hundred years.”
He pauses again and holds my skinned hands in his. “When he died, Ryan did not feed on the emotion that you brought when he summoned you to him. He funneled them into the air and allowed other Shadows to feed on it.”
“I didn’t know things were so bad,” I admit, watching Henki’s shadowy hands massage mine. “I was always told to fear Shadows, that they were evil.”
Henki laughs softly. “Granted, some of us are. Your father taught you to fear us after he had to flee with you and your mother. To keep you safe. I would not have turned you into Eira. I fear your father’s wrath too much if he even thinks that I betrayed you. He would kill me without a moment’s hesitation. Why would I risk my life again for the wrong side when I know things can be different?”
I nod and throw my arms around Henki’s neck. “Thank you.”
Daemon shifts his weight and glances out the window. “I do not like staying here. This is too dangerous.”
“Iâ still has more time. Relax, Daemon. We will be fine,” Henki tells him. I sense a sarcastic eye-roll in there somewhere.
“Why are you so on edge?” I ask, turning to face him. “I’m the one who was beaten and saved to be killed.” The similarity between Daemon and his brother hits me hard for a moment and I suddenly miss Wraith’s comforting presence.
“Thy father spared me from prison, which is an undeserved blessing after the crimes that I have committed whilst I was haunting Earth. Not only did he spare me, but he entrusted me to look after his only daughter on a journey where she will most likely be killed at the hands of her grandmother. Not to mention the fact that we are stuck here in a hostile dimension while our enemy is preparing our escape. I may be a soldier in thy father’s army, Shadow Princess, but I am first and foremost a ghost and criminal. This easy getting away does not sit well with me. I would rather us slip away unheard and unseen,” he says, leaning against the window frame, his translucent hands tightly gripping the windowsill.
“Well there’s nothing we can do about that right now,” I reply, skipping over the part about me dying. “You’re a man of action, you don’t like putting things in other people’s hands. I get that. But for right now, it seems like we have no choice. And even if Iâ betrays us and there’s an entire host of Hölle guards out there waiting for us, we’ll be okay. Daemon, there’s a reason my dad trusted you to come with me. You’ll keep me safe.”
Daemon flashes a grateful smile and turns back toward the window. “Iâ is coming.”