Bound by duty, p.20
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       Bound by Duty, p.20

           Stormy Smith
 
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  Chapter 19

  “What about the attacks? Twice Amelia has been targeted. We don’t know who they are or what they want. All we know is that the woman is associated with a rebel faction that hates the queen. There has to be more than one group of people that hate that woman, so that doesn’t narrow it down much for us.” Cole looked to Derreck for confirmation.

  Derreck nodded, saying, “We can assume these people at least understand that Amelia is an Elder — they may even have the notion that she’s the last one given no one’s seen an Elder in years. That in and of itself is enough for them to want to use her for her power. I think it’s time I make a visit to Brighton to see what’s happening. It would also help to get a better scope of Amelia’s skills when she’s actually using them herself.” Derreck turned to me. “We need to teach you some control and I’m not even sure how to do that, given what’s inside you.” He didn’t look nearly as confident as I wanted him to.

  Derreck went on to give us more background; explanations Cole had already given me around the history and how Julia came to power. It was good to be able to say, “I knew that!” instead of constantly questioning everything. My frustration resumed when we got back to the issue of me having a “mate”.

  “You have to have some idea who this guy is, don’t you? I mean, who really just throws something like that out there with no extra information?” I was having a bit of a tantrum. I was beat tired, my head was throbbing, and Derreck just kept telling me I needed to be out there looking for my mate. That I needed to give up school, my job, my friends, my life, and go.

  “Amelia, you’re asleep with your eyes open. There is no use going in circles right now. It’s time for bed.” Derreck stood and the look he gave me made it perfectly clear that the conversation was over for tonight. I wondered if that look would have been the same one my mom would have given me had she still been alive.

  “Fine,” I said with an extended yawn. “But I still have questions.”

  “Understood,” he agreed. Then, he stopped next to me as I stood and spoke in low, unyielding tones. “Understand this though, Amelia, whatever you have with Aidan Montgomery ends today.”

  Had I been holding anything, I would have dropped it. As it was, my mouth fell open and I couldn’t speak. When my voice finally came, I could only sputter at him. “Excuse me, what?”

  The look on Derreck’s face was one of cold, steel determination. “You heard me correctly, Amelia. You will not see that human again. He is a liability and he is not your kind. You need to be focused on finding and building the relationship with your mate.”

  How did he even know? I turned to Cole and he refused to meet my eyes.

  My heart physically hurt, but I refused to allow the emotion to overtake me. I had already known that Aidan and I weren’t meant to be, but having it put into words, as a proclamation from the only man who could explain who and what I was, was like seeing small pieces of my heart crumble and then be crushed under the thick soles of his boots. How could fate be so cruel to put Aidan in my path, to let me fall for him, to let me feel loved for just being myself for the first time, and then rip him from me so quickly? I blinked back the tears that kept threatening and nodded, which was truly the only thing I could do.

  I sat back down and stared out into the room, looking at nothing and wondering where Aidan was and what he was doing. I wondered if he had missed me, or if he was worried. My phone had died on the way here while it kept searching for service, so I hadn’t even had the ability to check it. I didn’t understand why my mind wouldn’t let him go. But, it wasn’t just my mind — my soul ached for him. For the safety of his arms and the soothing tone of his voice. If I closed my eyes and sat still enough, I could even smell him. Citrus and trees. Summer. I could feel myself pressed into his warm chest with his arms around me.

  But these thoughts would do me no good. I had to make a clean break. I had to sever all ties. This was too real. What Derreck was saying was too much for Aidan to have to deal with. He wasn’t of my people and that could get him killed. Derreck and Cole were still talking as I abruptly stood, resolute in the fact that Aidan and I had to be over. I turned to them and said, “I want to leave tomorrow. I’m going to bed.” I went through my nightly rituals, put on my favorite sweatshirt and yoga pants, and laid down in the over-sized guest bed.

  I thought I would lay awake for hours, but I was out in an instant and slept hard until I awoke screaming. Cole came banging through my bedroom door, Charlie barking his head off not far behind. “Hey….are you okay? Amelia? Amelia!” he shouted.

  I was sitting straight up in the center of the king-sized bed with the covers tangled around me, looking around with wild eyes. I was awake, but I wasn’t seeing the room.

  I was seeing the woods. I was running through the woods, but I wasn’t me. I was far too close to the ground. The last thing I heard before Cole shook me to my senses was howling.

   

   

  Derreck and Cole grilled me over breakfast, yet again, about my dream. Something about it felt so weird and personal that I decided to hold back. I told them I had no idea what the dream was about or why I was screaming. Neither of them seemed to believe me, but they also didn’t argue, which I appreciated. I was collecting a vat of my own secrets, I just needed some time to piece it all together.

  Before we hit the road, Derreck decided we needed to have one more discussion — in private. Cole gave him an odd look, but shrugged and went out with the dogs.

  As Derreck sipped his tea, I squirmed, feeling scrutinized under his gaze.

  “You know, we can’t keep doing this thing,” I said as I flapped my hand between us. “This thing where you just stare at me and make me feel like I’m either in trouble or you’re about to drop another bomb. You’ve had enough time to figure out what to say to me all these years you were ignoring me, so just spit it out already.” I sank back in my chair, feeling smug.

  “Has anyone ever told you that you are far too honest?” Derreck questioned with a smirk.

  “Huh,” I grunted. “Only like every day.”

  He chuckled a little. “Well, you are your mother’s daughter, that’s clear enough.” That got a genuine smile from me as my heart warmed a little. No one but Rynna had ever compared me to my mother.

  “Well, Amelia, this is another one of those things you aren’t going to love hearing, but it’s been said to every Elder and so it will also be said to you. Your mother should have been the one having the discussion with you, that’s how this is typically done. But, since I am technically an Elder, though just a lowly male, I can do the honors. Your case is especially different, given you are the Keeper, but this is a rite of passage I won’t deny you. You wanted the whole truth and so you shall have it.” He set his cup down and leaned toward me.

  I couldn’t help but lean in as well. I was a little apprehensive, but finally being a part of something and not feeling alone was something I couldn’t hold back from. No matter what he had to say.

  Seeing he had my full attention, Derreck continued. “There will come a time, Amelia, where you must choose love or duty. You have a duty to your people — not just Mages, but to all of our people — Mages, Hunters, and AniMages, alike. Your duty is to protect them, to honor their ways and to heal their hearts. You are a symbol of all that is good and right. Your magic is a gift, not only the gift that all women of your line carry, but a gift that holds the power of all five families. This gift allows you to rise above those who would tear our people apart and make them weak. Your strength is their strength. Your love is their love. But, they must come first. That’s not to say you won’t love, because you will, but you will love your people first. Do you understand?”

  “I think so,” I said weakly.

  Derreck shook his head. “No, I don’t think you do. Amelia, this life you yearn to understand and the woman you want to become will always be ruled by the needs of the people. You are last. Always. This will not fully make sense to y
ou for some time, but it needs to sit in the back of your mind. You need to seek these words and remember why we are here. Elders are needed to keep the balance and maintain order. The queen must be stopped and you are our only hope.”

   

   

  It was decided that Derreck would come visit the following weekend. That he would leave his self-imposed solitude to come to Brighton and help me work on my skills, as well as start taking me on trips to visit other areas. I truly had no interest in finding my supposed mate, but at this point I didn’t know how to argue about it either. His words kept repeating over in my head.

  You will love, but you will love your people first. You will always be last.

  I couldn’t argue with what he was saying, but my mind couldn’t truly grasp the magnitude of what I had just been handed. So many dots were connecting in my mind. My father’s odd behaviors. Why I could never even begin to control my own power. The fact that my mother had trusted me with this. She had chosen me for this.

  What a mind job.

  As soon as we got in the car, I plugged my phone in to charge, but I hadn’t actually turned it on. About mid-way through the drive, when I couldn’t even stand being inside my own head anymore, I realized it and powered the phone up. With a swipe across the screen, I was suddenly inundated with all the beeps and buzzes that meant I had messages from every angle. There were texts, missed calls, and voicemails. I was a little overwhelmed because I’d told both Micah and Bethany where I was going — sort of. They both knew I was heading out with Cole for the weekend.

  I started with the text messages since they were the easiest to get through. A few benign ones from Bethany on Friday, telling me she hoped I had a great weekend with Cole and that she was thinking about poor Charlie and his shots. One from Micah that only said: Call me when you get this. Immediately.

  Then, there was one from Aidan. My phone wasn’t showing me a preview and I couldn’t bring myself to touch his name on the screen. I closed my eyes and took a deep inhale. After I’d emptied my lungs, I pressed my index finger to the screen and watched his message appear under the last one I’d sent.

  Leaving? What do you mean leaving? Please don’t leave me, Amelia. We need to talk first.

  The broken pieces of my heart split and fractured yet again. I could have handled it better if he had told me he never wanted to see me again. I could have even taken being called a freak that he didn’t want to be associated with. I could not, however, take this. I saw his pleading eyes in the back of my mind. I heard his voice as if he stood in front of me saying the words, and the pain reverberated through me. I closed my eyes and leaned my head against the window, staring back out at the coast.

  “It was Aidan, wasn’t it?” Cole’s quiet question broke the silence.

  “Was it that obvious?” I responded with a groan.

  “I know you don’t want to do this, Ame, but you’ve got to cut the poor guy loose. If for no other reason than he could really get hurt. I know you care about him, probably more than you should. I’ve seen how happy he makes you, but you know it’s for the best.”

  I groaned yet again. “I know, Cole. My head knows all the reasons, my heart just isn’t interested in the conversation.” He grunted, as if to say he knew exactly what I meant, and we left it at that.

  My phone let out another reminder beep, letting me know the unheard voicemails were still sitting there waiting for me. I put the phone to my ear and hit the button. Micah was suddenly screaming into it.

  I shot up in the seat and in the process dropped the phone. Scrambling around, trying to dig between the seats, all I could say was, “No, no, no, no, no.”

  Cole finally pulled over to the side of the road when I wouldn’t answer his third “What?” and grabbed me by the shoulders. “AMELIA — WHAT HAPPENED?” he bellowed.

  I could only whimper Bethany’s name. “They took her, Cole. They took Bethany.” The roar he let out and the magic that came with it set Charlie howling.

  “This has nothing to do with her. Dammit! She can’t handle this crap,” he yelled. I wanted to tell him she was stronger than he gave her credit for, but instead I sat mutely, trembling, apologies I couldn’t give her burning in the back of my throat.

  Cole immediately sprang into action. He had Micah on speaker phone in less than ten seconds.

   

   

  “Where in the hell have you two been?” Micah greeted.

  “You’re on speaker. We were out of cell range trying to get some space and sort some things out. What happened? Where’s Bethany? Why weren’t you protecting her?” Cole was screaming at the phone and looked like he might shatter it in his hand. I slowly wrapped my hand around his wrist to get his attention and took the phone. He slammed himself back in the seat as Micah responded.

  “Do not even go there with me. I’m not the one who ran off. And I couldn’t be expected to be with her every second. If I hadn’t kicked in her apartment door last night, we wouldn’t even know what happened since you both abandoned her!” I could hear the anger and the fear in Micah’s voice.

  “Just explain, Micah. We don’t need to point fingers. We need to know what happened and what we can do,” I said, my voice surprisingly strong as I tried to take control of the situation, though my hand was shaking so badly I could hardly hold the phone myself.

  My best friend. They took my best friend.

  If I weren’t completely terrified, I would have laughed at the stereotypical nature of it all. How could I have possibly imagined that by leaving her alone, I would actually protect her?

  “All I know right now is that she’s gone and the red-haired woman is Melinda, as I predicted. She left a note saying to stay near your phone, so I would appreciate it if you’d keep the damn thing charged and on.”

  I felt a nudging on my shoulder and Charlie was there with my phone in his mouth. Giving him a scratch behind the ears, I took it and wiped the slobber off on my jeans. “I’ve got it here, Micah. I had more voicemails than yours, let me listen to them. Just a sec.”

  The fear inside me was almost paralyzing, but she — my dark power — raged inside me as well. She was pissed. I was pissed. How dare these people hurt Bethany? One of the few people I loved. I stabbed at the voicemail button again and skipped past Micah’s message. Left only an hour ago was one from Bethany herself. I listened to it, trying to hold back a scream of my own, and then replayed it on speaker for the boys.

  “Um…hi, Ame, it’s me. I…uh…I have to tell you some things. First, these people kidnapped me from the parking lot after work last night and they…um…told me to tell you that (sniffle) if you don’t come to them (sniffle) they, will…oh, honey, they say they’re gonna kill me. What the hell is going on, Amelia? Who are these people?”

  Then she screamed. Not in pain, but someone clearly did something to her.

  “Goddamnit. That was unnecessary and that was MY HAIR. Amelia, this red-haired witch just singed my hair with a damn lightning bolt that came from her hand. She isn’t messing around.”

  I couldn’t help the tiny satisfied smile that played at my lips. Only Bethany would toughen up over her hair being damaged.

  “They know you aren’t home yet, but they said you had to meet them at midnight tonight in the woods behind our apartment. Way back. They said to go where you went before.”

  The phone made a bunch of garbled noises and then Melinda came on the line as Bethany shouted in the background. I would recognize her voice anywhere.

  “I told you, sugar, I will do what I have to in order to get your attention. You shouldn’t have played with me. Your little human is fine right now, she’s actually quite the feisty one. But, she won’t stay this spirited for long if you don’t do what I’ve asked. Come to the woods and come alone. We’ll know if you don’t. Go until you see the tree marked with a slash and then head south. We’ll find you.”

  Cole was the first to speak, his voice hardened steel. “Be at the gym in a half an ho
ur. We’ll be there. We don’t have long before midnight and we need a plan.”

  “Fine.” Micah disconnected.

  I started to speak and Cole merely held up his hand. I closed my mouth and sat back. Charlie whimpered in the back as both of our magic raged inside and around us in the car. Cole finally picked his phone back up and explained the situation to Uncle Derreck. He was jumping in the car as soon as possible and would meet us later. He had been off the grid for so long, he didn’t want to expose himself to anyone else so he wouldn’t meet us at the gym.

  My thoughts were racing. I wanted to break things. I wanted to cry. I wanted to call Aidan and hide in his arms. I wanted to rewind my life and not even choose to come to Brighton, effectively stopping all of this from happening — or at least keeping the humans I loved out of it. But, instead, I sat back and opened myself up to the severely pissed off dark power flowing through my veins, letting it penetrate every cell and fill me with frenzied anger instead of fear. If this chick wanted to pick a fight, she came to the right place. At this point, neither of us truly knew what I was capable of.

 
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