Alluring Raven, Page 2Jessica Sorensen
“No, it’s not. At all.” I turn my head to look away from him, because he’s doing that intense, I-seriously-might-kiss-you thing with his eyes, but he fixes his finger underneath my chin and forces me to carry his gaze.
“You’re beautiful, Raven, inside and out,” he promises. “You always have been and I’ve always thought so.” I start to snort, but he cuts me off. “Do you know how much it killed me inside to do and say all those horrible things I’ve done to you? I just wish you could understand that it wasn’t me. Not the real me anyway.” His gaze sears into mine, begging me to understand.
I swallow hard, unsure what to say. My hands and legs feel a bit shaky and my lungs are feeling a bit breathless. At first, I think the reaction is from the words he just uttered, even though getting all swoony over a few sentences a cute vampire uttered to me isn’t really my style, but then the shakiness begins to spread, crackling through my body like ice. When it reaches my chest, I yelp out in pain, my legs buckling from underneath me.
Rhyland constricts his hold on my hand and his other arm swings out to catch me from falling. Then he draws me back to him and crouches down, holding me in his arms.
“What’s wrong?” he asks. When I only cry out in response, he scans me over with worry flooding his eyes. “Kingsley.”
“I’m right here.” Kingsley sets his sword down in the snow and kneels down beside us. “Where does it hurt, sweetheart.”
“Everywhere?” I manage to gasp, my back bowing upward as another crackling sensation bursts through my limbs again.
The pain is unlike anything I’ve felt before, as if my body has become an ice sculpture and is splintering apart. And the chilling, deadly, coldness sweeping through my insides only adds to the pain, multiplies the pain times ten.
“What’s happening to her?” Rhyland’s voice cracks.
From the horror on his face, I can tell something is terribly wrong. When I lift my hand, I realize why. My once pale, smooth skin is now tinted a deep blue and is cracking and uneven, like raised cliffs.
“My skin…” I gasp. “I’m breaking apart…”
“No, you’re not!” Rhyland growls, settting me into Kingsley’s arms and then jumping to his feet. He tips his head toward the iridescent clouds. “Why are you doing this! Why can’t you just move on, you fucking crazed, batshit, goblin of a faerie!”
The mountains quake against the echo of his rage.
“Rhyland,” Kingsley says calmly while examining me over. “As much as I agree with you that Faraelee is a crazed batshit of a goblin, I don’t think this is the way to help Raven. And if the queen hears you and she is doing this to Raven, she’s only going to make it worse. The best thing we can do right now is calm down and try to figure out what’s causing this.”
“Fuck,” Rhyland grits out then turns around, his sorrowful gaze landing on me. “What do you think it is? Part of the curse or something else?”
“I’m not sure.” Kingsley’s brows furrow as he glances at Rhyland. “Can you still hear her in your head? Faraelee, I mean?”
“You can hear Faraelee in your head?” I rasp as another spout of pain tears through me. “Since when?” Sweat drips down my brow as my body tightens and cracks—I can’t even recall the last time I sweat. Maybe never.
Rhyland drops to his knees, his face pained. “Ever since the curse started, she occasionally intrudes my mind. And I’ve always hated it.” He places a shaky hand on my cheek. “Talking in each other’s minds is supposed to be our thing.” He offers me a small smile, but his eyes reveal his panic.
I want to ask him if we’ve always been able to do it—if he’s always been able to speak to me through my mind—or if the curse did that to us, but pain rips through my body again and I scream out.
“What in the bats from hell is going on over here?” Dex marches up, along with Harper. Aeribella is just behind them and she runs up to me, nuzzling my face, a glittering teardrop falling from her eye. Before Rhyland or Kingsley can answer him, Dex’s gaze finds mine and his face pales. “What happened to her?”
“We’re not sure yet,” Kingsley traces his fingers along the uneven edges of my face. “Raven, is there anything that you can tell us that might help us figure this out? Like maybe how you feel? Or how you felt before this started happening?”
“Cold,” I manage to whisper. “I’ve felt—feel very cold… There’s also pain… A lot…”
“I can help you with the pain,” Rhyland skims his fingers along my cheekbones and jawline. “Try to relax, okay?”
I bob my head up and down. "Okay.”
Rhyland carries my gaze as his lips move, muttering a soft chant that I assume is a spell. Usually I hate it when he puts spells on me, sleepy spells seeming to be his favorite, but this time I’m perfectly okay with it.
A few witches’ chants later, the pain slowly dissipates from my body and warmth coils through my icy veins. The sensation is so relaxing I nearly drift to sleep. Well, either that or Rhyland did put a sleepy spell on me.
“I’ve never felt this warm in my life,” I whisper, my eyelashes fluttering against the snowflakes falling from the sky. “Do you think it’s okay for a vampire to be this warm? Maybe I’ll melt or something.” My eyes widen. “Do I look melty?”
Rhyland’s lips quirk into the saddest smile I’ve ever seen. “You look beautiful.”
I roll my eyes. “You’re so full of pig’s blood. I saw my hand. I know I’m cracky.”
“Well, you’re definitely cracky in the head,” Kingsley teases with a smirk.
I’m not surprised he’s joking. From my memories, he seemed like the kind of vampire to crack a joke even during the uneasiness of times.
I smack his arm. “Not funny.” When he smiles for reals, I shake my head and look at Rhyland. “Can you maybe use magic to make me uncracky?” I ask with hope.
He shakes his head. “I’m so sorry, but if my magic could’ve healed you, the spell I just cast would’ve.”
“Oh.” I crinkle my nose. “How bad is my crackiness? I mean, like on a scale of one to ten. One being like as smooth as all this snow and ten being like… Like a Tree demon’s face.”
“You definitely don’t look like a tree demon,” Kingsley assures me. “But we do need to get to this hiding place so we can figure out a way to fixed you before the cracks get bigger and you…”
“Crumble into dust,” I finish for him, knowing if we can’t solve what’s going on soon, there’s going to be nothing left of me to save.
After I utter the painful truth, everyone gets a second vampire blood boost of energy and scrambles to get moving again. Kingsley tries to carry me, but Rhyland insists he needs to do it.
His reason: “I may have to put another spell on her if this one wears off. Besides, you’re a better fighter than me so you need to be armed. Plus, she’s my queen.”
“Actually, I’m nobodies queen but myself…” I replay the stupidity of my own words. “Well and an entire kingdom, but whatever. I don’t technically belong to anyone, including the king.” Instead of getting my point across, they’re amused. I start to sit up to climb out of Kingsley’s arms, convinced I’ll just walk, but the edges of my skin grate together and dust scatters across the air.
“Easy,” Kingsley warns, securing me against his chest. “Don’t move quickly or else we’re going to lose some pieces of you. And personally, I’m a fan of all of those pieces.”
I stare at him, unimpressed, but hold still because, yeah, I’m kind of a fan of all of my pieces too, the imperfect ones and all.
As Kingsley slowly straightens to his feet, Rhyland stands up too.
“Carefully give her to me,” he says, extending his arms out.
Strangely, Kingsley hesitates. My guess, he’s worried the transfer will cause pieces of me to break off. But then he sighs and carefully hands me to Rhyland.
Once I’m situated in Rhyland’s arms, Kingsley steps back, meets my gaze for a melting snowdrop of a s
econd, then bends down to scoop up his sword. Dusting the snow off the handle, he approaches Harper with swift, determined strides.
“The quicker you can get us there the better,” he tells her. “I’m serious, Harper. No messing around, okay?”
Harper blinks, her eyes wide. “You think I’m messing around?”
“I’m hoping you aren’t,” Kingsley says lowly. “But sometimes you do it without even trying. Like how you’ve been skipping for the last hour.”
Her lip curls, her liquid silver eyes swirling with irritation, a foreign look since usually she’s all rainbows, sunshine, and unicorns. “Just because I like to skip doesn’t mean I’m messing around. And skipping is faster than your brooding vampire walk.” She whirls around, her flowing white hair whipping him in the face.
“Wow, she’s feisty,” I remark with a small smile.
“You two should get along just great then,” Rhyland teases as he follows after Harper and Dex.
Kingsley hangs back near us with Aeribella trotting at his side, her wings flittering against the snow flurries. Kingsley’s body is stiff, his eyes skimming the land, in full Blood Protector mode.
“Are you saying I’m feisty?” I question, cocking a brow at Rhyland.
He wavers. “In the first life, yes. Most, though, you weren’t.” He grits out and then huffs a strained exhale. “Holy shit, I can’t believe I actually got those words to leave my lips.”
“Maybe that means we’re progressing in completely breaking the curse?” I suggest as snowflakes flutter from the sky and splatter against my face.
I’d reach up to wipe them off but fear even the slightest movement will make me lose a finger or something.
He offers me a fake smile and I grimace.
Great. He’s back to not being able to tell me things again.
And on top of that, running from the queen and her army, finding my parents, and breaking the curse, I need to figure out a way to get rid of this cracking taking over my body… my neck starts to itch…. Oh yeah, and I also need to get this stupid dragon’s fire burn off my neck before it spreads.
“Rhyland,” I say quietly. “How are we supposed to do everything without me falling apart first?”
His gaze drops to me. “What do you mean?”
“I mean, we’re running from the queen and an army of created vampires, we need to find my parents and the guards, and maybe break what’s left of the curse all while trying to figure out what’s cracking me apart and train a dragon to get rid of these damn burns on my neck. That’s a lot of stuff and I can’t even move right now without losing pieces of my body.”
If he’s worried, he doesn’t reveal it. “Well, we’re going to get you fixed first—that’s our top priority.”
“But you don’t even know what’s causing the cracking.”
“Yes, but we’re in a land full of very powerful creatures, so if we can’t figure it out, some creature should be able to. Although, I’m not sure if it’s wise to involve an unknown creature.”
“We might have to.” Kingsley slows down to hike beside us.
“It could be dangerous,” Rhyland warns. “We don’t even know how far the queen’s power has spread. What if she has created vampires here in the Land of Moonlight?”
“But if she did, wouldn’t she have sent them after me to begin with instead of sending Nadine after me?” I point out.
“Maybe,” Rhyland says, but worry creases his forehead.
“What we need is a Magical Reader.” Kingsley spins his sword in his hand as he stares ahead at the mountains, his face set in deep thought. “They could figure out what sort of magic is doing this to Raven.”
“But are we even sure it’s magic?” Rhyland questions, adjusting me in his arms.
Kingsley glances at him with his brow arched. “What else could it be?”
“I’m not sure,” Rhyland mutters. “But when I used the spell on her, there was no traces of magic in her besides mine.”
“You can tell that sort of shit?” Kingsley bows his head as the wind picks up. “Since when?”
“Since this life,” Rhyland grimaces. “I think it’s linked to my powers or something—”
An abrupt gust of wind sweeps across the land, kicking up snow and nearly blowing us backwards. As Rhyland ducks his head, little particles of my skin begin to flake off and get carried away. I try to curl inward, but as the wind hits my back and pieces of it threaten to break apart.
“Shit. We need to get her shielded somehow,” Rhyland hollers over the wind. “Kingsley, give me your shirt.”
A few wind howls later, a shirt is draped over my head. But my body continues to struggle to remain put together, the pressure of the wind against my clothes too much. Finally, Rhyland crouches down.
“What’re you doing?” Kingsley shouts. “We need to keep moving.”
“I’m putting a freezing spell on her,” Rhyland yells back, his fingers gently folding around my arm. “It should hold her together until we can get her to shelter.”
“You’re going to what?” I try to shout, but my voice is nothing but a hoarse whisper as my lips crack apart.
“Are you sure you’re strong enough?” Kingsley asks. “You’re starting to look a bit weak. And I know you haven’t fed in a while…”
“Neither have you and you’re fine,” Rhyland says as warmth begins to spread through my body.
“But I’m not the one casting spells,” Kingsley points out, sounding close.
“Do you really not want me to do this?” Rhyland asks. When Kingsley doesn’t answer, Rhyland says, “Yeah, that’s what I thought. So stop arguing. I’ll be fine. I just need her to be fine. And so do you.”
“I know,” Kingsley whispers.
I feel fingers brush across the shirt covering my face, right across my cheek. Then the effervescent warmth consumes my body, my mind, my surroundings. Everything stops. Or maybe everything freezes.
Whatever is happening, I feel exhausted. I let my eyelids slip shut, allow the magic to pull me under, hoping when I open my eyes again, they’ll actually still be on my face.
That last spell took a lot out of me, more than likely because I haven’t fed in a while. I’m weakening. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to stop trying to protect Raven. Back before the curse, it used to be mine and Kingsley’s job to protect her. Raven was always doing things that’d get her into trouble—all of us did—but when it all came down to it, Kingsley and I did everything to make sure that, at the end of the night, she was okay, even if we had to suffer for it. Countless times Kingsley and I took the fall for something the three of us did. Raven being her sweet, kind, and caring self, tried to take the blame. But it was two against one so she rarely got her way, at least when it came to that. Everything else, though—everything she wanted—we tried to give her. Except on that final night when the curse was created. That night Kingsley and I were selfish. That night not only did we not think about what Raven wanted, we took away everything we’d ever given her.
And to this night, I hate myself for it. Which is why I’ll do—and keep doing—everything I can to protect her. I just wish all of my choices were mine so I could protect her better, but I can feel that the queen still has a bit of control over me.
Blood drips down my nose as I finish the freezing spell. I move to hurry and wipe it away with my hand before Kingsley notices, but apparently being weak means moving slower than I normally do.
“You need to take it easy on the spells.” He eyeballs the blood on my hand. “Well, either that or feed.”
“Feed on who exactly?” I question as I scoop Raven’s frozen body up in my arms. “Because we don’t have any blood supply on us and Harper isn’t an option unless I want to go mad.” Yeah, unfortunately, when a vampire drinks faerie blood there’s a risk that they could go mad due to the type of magic flowing in feys' veins. That only leaves Dex since vampires can’t feed off a vampire from their own bloodlines, but…” I lower
my voice. “Dex won’t do much for me—as the king, you know I need more powerful blood. And Dex is… well, Dex. He’s never been very powerful. Does he have a good eye for style? Absolutely. But that’s about it.” I wipe the rest of the blood off my nose then carefully stand up with Raven in my arms.
“Yeah, I know. And honestly, what you need is…” he trails off, glancing toward Raven.
I quickly shake my head. “There’s no way I could ever feed off of her without her permission. Plus, she’s weak right now. Drinking from her could finish her off.”
“I know. And I’d rather you not drink from her while she’s like this, but…” He pauses as we start hiking through the snow again, which is now so deep it reaches the tops of my knees. “Eventually, you’re going to have to either find a way to get her to let you feed off her or find someone to feed off of like an Empress or another creature that’s powerful, or else you’re never going to rebuild your strength. And you need to be strong if we want to keep on fighting the queen. And with how things are looking, we’re probably going to also have to fight a damn army of Created as well.”
“What else are we going to call them? No one has ever taken the time to officially name them.”
“True.” I squint against the snow to keep my gaze on Dex and Harper up ahead. “I guess Created works.”
“Glad I have your approval, my king.” He bows his head and shoots me a smirk.
“You should be glad,” I quip, adjusting my body to the side to block the wind from directly hitting Raven.
We grow quiet after that, focusing on moving forward, fighting our way against the blizzard. Every so often, I peer behind us to see if we’re being followed, but I can barely see and honestly, if anything is behind us, I won’t realize it until right before we’re attacked. Usually, I can rely on my other senses, like my hearing and sense of smell, to detect when other creatures are nearby. But the wind is howling too loudly and the smell of dust and snow engulfs my nostrils. We’re basically walking around blind and completely vulnerable, not just to the Created but to the moonlight creatures as well.