The Beast Chronicles

“Ha! You expect me to believe such a whopping big lie as that? What do you take me for? A fool?”

“But I’m telling the truth, Jaden! I swear it!” Amarin’s eyes were wide as he tried, albeit in vain, to convince his friend that he had indeed gotten a kiss from the pretty little kitchen maid that he’d had his eye on for the past few months.

Jaden shook his head and grunted as they continued to make their way down the long, winding staircase that lead to the underbelly of the keep, being careful to avoid loose stones. A quick and nasty tumble to the bottom was a trip neither boy wished to take.

Amarin sighed loudly and it seemed to echo in the vast space lit only by the two torches he and Jaden carried.

“What would it take for you to believe me?” he asked while resisting the urge to beat Jaden over the head. Truthfully he wasn’t sure why he entertained the idea in the first place. Explaining Jaden’s disappearance to his parents would be a headache that Amarin would rather do without. Jaden caused him enough problems as it was, adding his death to the list would be like cutting off his nose to spite his face–completely pointless. And stupid, besides.

Chances were he’d be found out and then be put to death as well, and all because Jaden had been too stubborn to believe he’d kissed Alana.

“What are you mumbling about?”

Amarin blinked, then wiped his nose on his sleeve. “Nothing.”

Jaden gave him a look but didn’t comment as they continued down, down, down, until they came to the bottom and both heaved a sigh at having made it at last. It seemed as though they’d been descending the stairs for hours now.

“Remind me again why we’re doing this?” Amarin said in a peeved tone, though his eyes were darting here and there, searching the darkness for anything unusual.

Jaden looked over his shoulder and flashed him a smile. Amarin wanted to punch it off his face.

“Because you lost a bet.”

Amarin visibly wilted and they continued walking.

“And since I’m such a good friend, I decided to tag along.”

He perked up a bit. Not much, mind you, but a bit.

“Besides,” Jaden continued, making Amarin want to squirm. “Someone has to make sure you don’t die of fright. Then there would be no tale to tell.”

Amarin’s entire sense of self-worth completely vanished and he figured it wouldn’t be too much of a loss if he just found a quiet corner down here and curled himself into it for the rest of his life.

No, on second thought, because then he couldn’t convince Jaden he’d really kissed Alana.

Jaden scoffed. “Why do you care so much whether or not I believe you kissed Alana? I’m sure lots of boys have kissed Alana.”

Amarin realized he’d been voicing his thoughts out loud again, but he pushed the thought away. “But those boys weren’t me,” he stressed. Really, why couldn’t Jaden understand that? Amarin didn’t see himself as the type girls like Alana paid attention to, so getting a kiss, even if said kiss was quick and stolen in the dark, was cause for celebration.

“Amarin, you’re not making sense. Girls like Alana get kissed all the time, and by slimier men than you. What do you think Teague will have to say about you kissing a girl like that, eh?”

Amarin was slightly confused now. “What does Teague have to do with it? I’m sure Teague could care less, because Teague is Teague, and doesn’t care about such things. Why did you even mention her?”

Jaden looked at him in that way usually reserved for imbeciles, which made Amarin feel more than slightly offended, then shook his head and didn’t say anything else about it.

Amarin was in just the mood to pick at him about it, though, and so the two of them spent a good ten minutes arguing about what kind of person Teague was and how she saw the world and the people in it.

“You know very well Teague isn’t like most people, Jaden. She sees things that aren’t there.”

“Which is precisely why you should avoid kissing girls like Alana.”

Amarin leaned his head back and groaned. “Why can’t you allow me my moment of glory?”

“Because you stole it.”

Amarin’s head snapped up so fast he snatched a muscle in the side of his neck, and he emitted an involuntary and very girlish squeal that he would deny until his last moments on this earth. “What do you mean, I stole it?” he grouched, rubbing his neck.

“You said it yourself,” Jaden said almost lazily while he peeked in alcoves and around corners. “It was dark. She couldn’t have known it was you. Therefore, you stole the kiss and are not entitled to any amount of manly glory in whatever way you see it. You, my friend, are a dirty thief.”

“I am no such thing!” Amarin denied hotly. “And why should that make me a thief? Hmm? Jaden, answer me! You’ve stolen your fair share of kisses, so why does me having taken this one brand me a thief in your eyes? I certainly never thought that of you.”

Jaden sighed so deeply it was as though it were being pulled from a part of himself that wasn’t of this world. Raking a hand through his hair, he said, “There’s a very big difference between you and I, Amarin. A difference that you have yet to fully realize. You think it is one thing, but it is not. I cannot tell you what it is, for it is something you must figure out for yourself. That is what makes you a thief.” He paused, brows dipping low for a moment, then he added, “Among other things.”

Amarin was silent as he digested his friend’s words, then he squeezed his eyes shut and screwed up his face in an expression of intense confusion and frustration.

“That makes absolutely no sense!” he fairly yelled, flailing his hands about, causing the flame of his torch to sputter and flicker frantically as his words bounced off the walls around them, sounding louder than they actually were due to the dark and the fact that he and Jaden were the only two down here. At least, that was what they hoped. If that wasn’t the case and they were found out, well, there would be two less people in the parish come morning.

“Keep your voice down!” Jaden hissed, eyes searching the area for any sign of others.

Amarin felt guilty enough over the outburst to keep quiet for a moment, but he was still angry with Jaden for not being clearer with his words. It was Teague’s job to be vague and run him in circles. He could handle her because he was used to it. It was what Teague did. Jaden was another matter. Jaden wasn’t supposed to speak in riddles. Not without memorizing them first, and not without letting Amarin in on the riddle.

Life, Amarin was fast deciding, was hardly ever fair.

He sighed a little. “Enough bickering. Let us get to this chamber we’re supposed to find and leave before something bad happens.”

“Tired of me already?” Jaden teased, smile flashing for a moment. “Or did something spook you?

“Jaden.” He waited until he had Jaden’s undivided attention, even if it was only a quirk of his brow, then finished with, “Be quiet.”

He noticed the way Jaden’s lips twitched with suppressed mirth and tried to not let it irk him any more than his actions already had. But it was difficult.

Surprisingly (or not), the rest of their foray into the dark, abysmal unknown of what was rumored to be an immense cavern of torture carved deep into the mountainside the manor resided on, was quiet, neither of them speaking a word to each other.

Their ears were filled with silence and their eyes flicked over darkness. They had expected the place to smell like rotting flesh and fear and wet, but it was almost dry. The air was slightly moist from how far into the earth they were, but it held no scent aside from cold stone and dirt. There was no scurrying of rats, no crunching of bones. No moans of pain or plea’s for death.

In truth, it was a bit of a disappointment. Amarin had expected to come face to face with screaming, disfigured bodies and catch glimpses of raw power and hunger for pain in the eyes of the torturer, and here he had to console himself with nothing.

What was it Jaden had said earlier? There would be no tale to tell? Well, it certainly looked that way, even without Amarin fainting of fright.

He sighed heavily and rubbed at his burning eyes. “Come on. We should leave. There is nothing down here.”

“Wait,” Jaden said, holding up his hand, his voice pitched low. “I think I saw something up ahead. Not too far.”

Amarin’s brow wrinkled in frustration. “Jaden, we’ve already been down here longer than we should have been. There’s nothing to see, nothing to find. Probably never was.”

“Sh!”

Amarin frowned and stepped closer.

Jaden looked at him over his shoulder, eyes glittering with anticipation. “See there?” he asked, motioning towards a faint glow of light coloring the floor of an open hallway a soft yellow.

Amarin’s brows rose to meet his hairline even as his heart thudded painfully in his chest. “Do you think it could be…” He let the sentence trail off, fear and excitement thrumming through his veins as all he could think of was Teague’s warning words from long ago. That there was a beast living within the bowels of the place.

Of course, Teague had also said that Ruchan was said beast, but no one paid her any heed, for Ruchan was as fierce and scary looking as a newborn bunny.

Still, Amarin knew Teague’s ‘prophecies’ were never to be taken lightly. If Teague said something, it was for a reason, and Heaven help you should you choose to ignore her.

And yet Amarin couldn’t find it within himself to completely believe her. Not this time. There simply wasn’t any proof.

“Do you think we should explore further?” Jaden asked, his words sounding bottled to Amarin.

He licked his lips and closed his eyes, taking in a deep breath before opening his eyes again and giving a quick nod to Jaden. “Yes. But just enough to see what is in the room, then we go back as quietly as we came.”

Jaden gave him a droll stare and Amarin refused to acknowledge the fact that he had been talking rather loudly a goodly portion of the time they’d been down here.

He shook his head, his temples pounding. “Just. Look, and then we leave.”

Jaden nodded and the two proceeded cautiously, laying their torches out of the way when they got closer to the lighted hallway. Amarin felt it would give them away if they even breathed.

The hallway was wider than they’d first anticipated, and curved along the top. And still, it was quiet. Not a sound to be heard even as they approached the open doorway the light was spilling from.

They crept to the edge and cautiously peered inside, their hearts beating so hard and so fast in their chests, both boys felt as though at any minute, the vessel would burst from their bodies and echo the sound throughout the walls. So Amarin placed his hand over his chest where the organ beat so fiercely, as a precaution.

What his eyes beheld as he peered around the open door had his blood heating and congealing at the same time.

Standing in the middle of this gargantuan room was Ruchan, and around him was nothing, save for candles. Hundreds and hundreds of candles. His back was to them, his arms outstretched, and Amarin could hear him speaking. Words he couldn’t make out spilling in a continuous stream, the sound as steady as a sigh and soft as down.

“We should go,” he whispered fearfully to Jaden, his mind and body urging him to go, to leave before something dreadful happened, but his feet refused to obey. Jaden didn’t reply. Amarin was too entranced to find out why.

But then it was too late to flee, for all sound stopped then, as though it had never been there to begin with, and then a horrible, bloodcurdling scream rent the silence in twain. Amarin cried out in fear, his pathetic cry swallowed by the immense bellows coming from within the room as his hands went up to cover his ears.

There was the horrific sound of bones crunching and flesh tearing and stretching, followed by increased screaming, and then sudden blessed silence, and he was left facing a beast of ungodly proportions. It began to turn, so quiet, so graceful. Knowing he was about to look the thing in the eye and possibly become its breakfast was what finally got Amarin moving away from that place.

He ran swiftly, stumbling only slightly when he tried to retrieve his torch from the ground while attempting to maintain the same speed. He pushed himself until he tasted the metallic tang of blood in the back of his throat and didn’t stop to catch his breath until he was free of the manor and the hellish creature it housed.

He stopped a little ways down the mountain to calm his racing heart and breathe something other than the taste of blood. Suddenly his belly decided to rebel and he doubled over, emptying the contents onto the chilled ground, steam rising from the heated mess. He spit and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and then he continued on until he reached the foot of the mountain.

He had to get to Teague, and quickly! Only she would know what to do.

He was getting closer to his destination when the piercing howls rent the peaceful pre-dawn silence, causing even those who slept to shiver and curl into themselves in an attempt to hide away from the frightening thing, though none of them awoke.

Amarin slipped and slid through the muck of the yard as he hurried as fast as he could to get to Teague and warn her of the coming catastrophe, his breath puffing out in white clouds as he panted with exertion, his hot breath mingling with the cold air of morning as he ran and ran and ran. The mud was slick and cold from last night’s rain and the chill of autumn taking hold of the land, and it caught and held to his tattered leggings. Under any other circumstances it would have caused him to shiver and at least try to wipe away the mess, but those circumstances weren’t these and he hadn’t had to think of the safety and well being of his friends. Not like this.

He came to a stumbling halt in front of Teague’s home, the sound of his labored breathing loud in his ears as he panted from his mad dash down from the manor on the hill. Teague had been right all along. There was a monster lurking within the damp bowels of the manor and they had all turned a blind eye.

He’d been a bloody fool for not believing her.

Not giving himself another second to catch his breath, Amarin pounded on the door, calling out Teague’s name hoarsely. A moment later the door was snatched open and Teague stood before him with a scowl marring her otherwise pretty face. Her clothes were rumpled and askew on her petite frame. “What?” she hissed, thoroughly disgruntled. “What in the name of all that is holy has you pounding on my door and disturbing my sleep before the sun has even risen, Amarin?”

Still trying to catch his breath, he leaned heavily on the door jamb and managed to get out in strained breaths, “You…were right.”

The scowl deepened and Teague shifted her hands to her hips. “About what?”

Amarin swallowed hard, wincing a bit from how scratched and wrecked his throat felt. He waved his hand in a general manner. “About everything. We are all in danger.”

He watched as the color drained from her face, replacing the peaches and cream complexion with one of ash. “You mean…?” she whispered.

Amarin nodded. “Yes. The beast has been unleashed.”

Teague sucked in a harsh breath and waved Amarin inside. “Quickly now!” she urged, shutting the door and locking it once he was inside, taking no chances. She spun around and pointed to a chair placed by a small table. “Sit.”

He did so without protest. Teague walked over to the bucket of water she kept at her bedside and dipped a wooden cup within, then handed it over to Amarin who drank it greedily, choking a bit on the thin liquid. When he was done with it, she filled it again, and he partook of it more slowly this time. Teague took the cup again and filled it once for herself, draining it in hard swallows, then set the cup away and sat with Amarin at the table.

“What exactly did you see?” she asked softly, her fingers drumming an agitated rhythm on the scarred wood, and though her voice was gentle, her countenance was not. Her mouth was set in a firm line and her normally soft gray eyes glinted like polished steel in the dim light of the room.

Amarin shuddered as images came to life as though they were right in front of his eyes, visions of the hoary beast burning against the backs of his lids as he squeezed his eyes shut in an attempt to keep the foul pictures at bay.

Sucking in a breath he looked at Teague and said, “Think of the most terrifying thing you’ve ever seen in your entire life and multiply it by at least a thousand and you get what I saw.”

Teague’s breath released in a hiss between her teeth and she balled her hands into tight fists against the tabletop. Leveling a glare at Amarin, she said, “That’s not what I asked you, Amarin. I need to know in exact detail–” She stopped, shaking her head once, flattening her palms against the wood, a noise of exasperation spilling from her mouth. “Just…describe what you saw in the room. Please.”

Amarin opened his mouth to begin, but stopped and frowned at Teague, head cocked a bit to the side. “How did you know there was a room?”

“My dreams don’t just reveal people or things, Amarin. They also reveal places,” she said evenly, trying hard to hold onto her temper, though her words were thickly laced with sarcasm and all the pent up frustration she was feeling. “Usually in great detail,” she added as an afterthought.

Dealing with Amarin this early in the morning was never good for her day. Mainly because when Amarin showed up so early in the morning it was because he’d made some sort of terrible blunder or had been hurt. She wasn’t entirely certain where this latest mishap could be categorized, but it didn’t stop her ire from rising, nonetheless, even if he happened to be here because of her.

As Amarin appeared to ponder this, she sighed, her agitation rising to new heights. “Was anyone with you when you saw the beast?”

Amarin nodded. “Jaden.”

“Where is he now?” she asked.

“He–” his mouth snapped shut and he frowned, then gave her a stricken, panicked look. “I don’t know, Teague! Now that I think on it, he wasn’t with me when I ran away.” He slammed his hand down atop the table, making it quake under the assault, then raked his hands through his hair. “God, I’m such a fool,” he groaned, propping his arms on the table and lying his head against them. “I left him alone and now he’s probably being gobbled up by that foul, hairy thing.”

Teague leaned back a bit in her seat, content to let Amarin bemoan his loss as long as it got her the details she needed. Besides, he was quite entertaining when he was feeling guilty.

“It’s probably using his bones to pick it’s slimy teeth,” he continued, his words muffled by his arms. “What kind of friend am I, Teague? I went and left my best friend at the mercy of a monster. All because I was scared out of my wits. I’m a coward. A bloody rotten coward.”

She let him go on only a little while longer. This really wasn’t the type of detailing she wanted.

“Amarin,” she said tiredly, getting his attention with a gentle hand on his head. He lifted his head from the makeshift hiding place he’d made with his arms and gave her a most piteous look. Had it been any other time, she would have felt bad for him, because it was obvious he was hurting. But not now. This wasn’t that time. This time she needed to know things.

“The room. What did it look like?”

He frowned. “It was empty except for candles. There were hundreds of them all over the place and Ruchan was standing in the middle with his arms outstretched.”

“Was there anyone in the room with him?”

Amarin shook his head. “No.”

“What was he doing?”

He frowned again. “Chanting.”

“Chanting?” Teague repeated.

“Well, I assume he was chanting. He was speaking too low for me to really make anything out, and his words were coming too fast. It was like a steady continuous stream of words, but it…it sounded almost melodic.”

“And then?”

Amarin’s face blanched and he blinked quickly to dispel the image in his head. “And then he changed,” he said quietly. “It was terrible, Teague. What are we going to do? What’s going to happen to us all?”

“We’re going to fight,” she said simply, her voice strong in the quiet of the dawn. “And we’re going to win. No amount of witchery is going to frighten us away from whatever Ruchan is up to.”

“Who is going to fight, Teague?” Amarin asked softly, his eyes shining with doubt. “Shall we two go head to head against a catastrophic beast, fight the heroic battle and die in the name of valor?”

“You don’t believe we could? Win, I mean.” She was more than slightly hurt that he had so little faith in their abilities. “We will rally the villagers and tell them what has happened–”

“They didn’t believe you the first time you told them, Teague,” Amarin was quick to remind her. “What makes you think they’ll be any more partial to your warnings now? Do you want to be branded a witch for certain? Do you wish to burn at the stake? Or do you prefer drowning as your choice of death? How about stoning, hm?”

Teague frowned hard at him. “Why are you being so pessimistic now? Usually you’re bending over backward to help me, regardless of the consequences.”

“That was before my best friend got eaten by a beast that used to be human,” Amarin replied smartly, eyes sparking defiance. As his words sunk in, he wrinkled his nose in distaste, then said, “Come to think of it, Ruchan always has seemed the type to eat his own kind. I just wish he’d eaten someone other than my friend.”

“Amarin,” Teague said once, quietly, and Amarin winced slightly. She only used that tone of voice when she was very angry. He waited patiently for the blade to fall. “You have to the count of five to leave my home. One. Two.”

Amarin sucked in a breath through his nose, eyes widening for a fraction of a second as he struggled to get up from the table, but the chair seemed most happy with his presence and wished him to stay firmly seated upon its sturdiness.

“Three.”

“I’m trying, Teague!” he exclaimed with a mild dose of fear. Teague was ferocious most of the time, but when she was like this, she was volatile. Amarin had the right idea to be afraid, and if anyone should call him names and bully him for fleeing from a female, well, he welcomed them most heartily to stand up to her when she was like this. See if they survived the onslaught of flying projectiles and frighteningly well aimed punches and kicks, and that wasn’t even the hard part. Teague liked to play with her prey until they were fairly begging for her to do away with them. Amarin still had nightmares from the one time he’d defied her. He never made the same mistake twice…unless he failed to make it out of here before she said five, then he was doomed.

“Stupid chair!” he bit out before the chair finally released him, and nearly tripped over his own two feet in his haste to reach the door.

“Four.”

He snatched it open and had one foot outside and was in the process of getting the rest of his body to follow suit when she said the final “Five,” and he pulled the door to with a resounding thwack, his heart pounding against his ribs as he leaned over to catch his breath and calm himself down from that harrowing experience.

If he were to be entirely honest with himself, though, given the choice between facing down the beastly Ruchan and an irate Teague, he’d take the beast any day. Even if it had eaten his best friend.

* * *

After Teague was certain Amarin wasn’t loitering around outside within hearing distance, she sighed tiredly and stretched her arms out across the length of the table, resting her palms and head against the cool wood.

As much as it pleased her that Amarin thought she knew what was going on and how to deal with things as they were brought to light, in truth, she was just as much in the dark as any of them. And while she had dreams of foretelling, or rather foreshadowing, she had no way of knowing everything about them. They revealed only pieces here and there, but, just as she had told Amarin, they were very highly detailed…at least, the parts that were shown. In this particular case, the room she had seen had been revealed down to the finest crack in the stone, the lightest dust mote in the air. But that was all. She had no clear way of knowing where it was, what was going on, or what role Ruchan played in all of this save for that of the villain, and even that was left to chance. Someone else could be pulling the strings and none of them know it.

She had hoped Amarin would be able to help her fill in the blanks of her dream, and he had somewhat, but it still wasn’t enough. She needed more information before she could know exactly why this was happening and what their roles were in it.

She sighed, her breath hot against her face as it touched upon the wood and curled back, making her cheeks and chin clammy with each exhale. Grimacing at the feeling she raised up, wiping her hand across her face to rid her skin of the dampness. She needed to find out where Jaden was. Perhaps he could provide what Amarin could not. For all of Amarin’s whining and bemoaning the loss of his best friend, Teague knew Jaden hadn’t met his end at the jaws of the beast. In fact, if she knew either boy as well as she thought she did, Jaden had fled moments before Amarin, and as Amarin was prone to fits of overreaction, he hadn’t noticed while he had been busy panicking. Which is why, when Amarin had been whimpering earlier, she didn’t put too much stock in his words. Jaden had probably hidden somewhere he didn’t think anyone would be able to find him whether they be friend or foe, and if this beast that had frightened Amarin so badly was half as ferocious as he made it out to be, then Teague could understand Jaden’s flight.

She was almost tempted to go looking for the tall boy with brown hair that fell in disarray around his sculpted face so they could search for Jaden together. The boy whose blue eyes made her breath catch, and whose smile made her smile for no reason at all. For all that Amarin caused her no end of aggravation, he also brought her happiness in a form she was quite unfamiliar with.

Sighing again, Teague got up from her chair and stepped foot outside, taking a moment to breathe in the chilly morning air and admire the way the glare of the sun cut through the boughs of the pines and spilled in uneven patches on the ground. She closed her eyes and tilted her head back, basking for a moment in the warmth on her face, then, with a determination and specific purpose in her step, she went off to look for Jaden, praying her hunch was right and the boy was still alive.

Even though the hour was growing late, no one else had stirred from their beds, a curious thing indeed, and one that Teague tucked away to ponder later. She picked her way carefully through the mud as she ventured towards the woods, noting with a wry smile the places marked here and there where Amarin had no doubt slid as he sped towards her home, his mind a-whirl with blind panic.

As children, Jaden, Amarin, and herself, along with a few others, had hidden themselves many a time in the forest surrounding the tiny little village they called home, and it was the forest where she hoped to find Jaden. If Amarin had any sense in his thick head, he would be doing the same.

No sooner had the thought crossed her mind, than she was caught by the arm and spun around, her throat constricting with fear a split second before she saw exactly who her would be attacker was, and she scowled fiercely at him, jerking her arm from his grip.

“First you pound my door off its hinges, upsetting me from a very sound sleep to warn me a catastrophe has happened, then you whine about Jaden being eaten, and now here you are scaring the wits out of me! Do you wish to send me to an early grave, Amarin?”

Amarin scowled back just as fiercely. “What are you doing out here alone, Teague? Don’t you know it’s dangerous? You shouldn’t be here.”

She cocked her brow, crossing her arms beneath her breasts and giving him a look that said she did not like where this was going, not one bit. “You are here. What difference does it make that I am?” She paused, narrowed her eyes. “What are you doing here, anyway?”

Amarin gave her a look that said plainly why she shouldn’t be here. “You’re a female, Teague–”

She put her hand to her lips, widened her eyes dramatically, and gasped. “Oh! You don’t say.”

Amarin ignored her and continued. “It’s more dangerous for you to be out here alone than it is for me, and I’m looking for Jaden, what do you think?”

“Oh, so you decided to stop crying over him and actually look for him?”

“Don’t mock me,” Amarin said in a low voice.

Teague glared at him a moment more, then softened her gaze and sighed. “I’m not mocking you, Amarin. I’m just picking at you for scaring me. You should know my reactions by now, honestly.”

“I would if you would stop changing them all the time,” he grouched.

“I’m not bickering with you,” she said dismissively, making to go further into the forest, but once again Amarin stopped her. She glared over her shoulder at him. “What are you doing now?”

“You’re not going any further,” Amarin said firmly, shaking his head in a negative motion.

“Amarin! Yes, I am! I’m looking for Jaden, too, you know. I’m his friend just as much as you are.”

“Teague, it’s–”

“I’ll not hear it, Amarin! I’m going with you and that’s that!”

They glared at each other for nearly a minute, then Amarin conceded with a defeated, yet thoroughly disgruntled sigh and an irritated roll of his eyes. “Fine!” he snapped, throwing his hands in the air. “You can come. But one sign of danger and you’re to head straight back as fast as your feet can carry you, understood?”

She stared disdainfully at the finger he had pointed in her face, played with the idea of biting it just to see what his reaction would be and just as hastily threw it away lest she give into the childish urge, before giving him a small nod of acquiescence. “Fine,” she said, jutting her chin out.

They spent the next ten minutes avoiding clinging underbrush, briars, and the occasional low hanging branch while bickering back and forth, neither wanting the other to have the upper hand.

“This is all your fault, you know,” Teague said matter of factly.

My fault? How is this my fault?” Amarin demanded.

“If you hadn’t been poking your nose in places it shouldn’t have been, then we wouldn’t be out here.”

Amarin scowled, though Teague couldn’t see it, being in front of him as she was. “Jaden is just as much to blame as I am,” he said. “He was with me, remember? And he is also the reason we happen to be trudging about the forest this early in the morning.”

“Where exactly are we going anyway? Or do you have a hidden sense that allows you to track runaway friends in the forest?”

Amarin rolled his eyes. “I haven’t the faintest clue, really. I just decided to follow a hunch I had and ended up running into you instead. Imagine my disappointment.”

Teague scoffed. “Oh please. No doubt you were attempting to hide from me again, just like you did when we were children.”

“I believe I’ve outgrown fleeing you, Teague. I’m not a scrawny boy anymore, in case you haven’t noticed.”

Teague stopped, turned, and arched her brow, looking him up and down pointedly.

Amarin felt the tips of his ears burn. “Fine,” he bit off. “So I’m still a bit on the lanky side, the point I was trying to make is that I’m no longer afraid of being pummeled by your girly little fists, so don’t even bother trying to threaten me.”

“Oh? Then why did you flee from me this morning, oh great warrior?” Teague teased.

“Fleeing from you is far different than fleeing your fists.”

“So I frighten you?”

“Perhaps. Are you finished now? Can we keep moving? I’m positive we won’t find Jaden just by standing around.”

Teague spun on her heel and marched on, hands clenched into tight fists at her sides. She stepped around a nasty looking hole and called over her shoulder to Amarin, “Watch out for that will you? I’d hate to lose time because your clumsy self took a fall.”

“What exactly am I supposed to watch out for? I see nothing but dead leaves and twigs of various sizes.”

Sighing exasperatedly, Teague turned around and practically stomped her way back to show him the hole. She pointed at it sharply. “That is exactly what, now come on!”

“I still don’t see it, Teague.”

She couldn’t hold it in any longer and growled. “Oooh, you stupid, stupid boy! It’s here!” she exclaimed, stomping her foot down right in front of it. “Here, here, here!” She stomped in time with her words to emphasize where it was and then spun around again, intending to put as much distance between the two of them as she could, but fate wouldn’t let her have a moments reprieve it seemed, for before she could take two good steps, the earth beneath her feet gave way and she was falling. Her scream rent the air and then there was darkness.

* * *

“This…is definitely your fault.”

Teague came awake with a moan and Amarin’s voice ringing in her ears. Sitting up gingerly, and wincing when her head gave a particularly painful throb, she searched the dimness of what she assumed were the catacombs that she and Amarin, along with Jaden, had spent countless hours of their childhood looking for. This wasn’t exactly how she had hoped to discover them.

“What?” she asked quietly, her voice scratchy. She couldn’t see Amarin, but she knew he was here somewhere. His was a voice she had never been able to just dream up.

“I said it’s your fault we’re down here. You just had to let that temper of yours get the better of you again.”

Swallowing a sigh, Teague rubbed at her eyes and struggled to her feet only to have the room spin in front of her eyes. She stumbled back, a strangled sound escaping her throat, certain she was about to become painfully reacquainted with the ground, but strong arms caught and wrapped around her from behind before that could happen.

“Careful.”

Amarin’s voice so close to her ear, laced with care despite his obvious irritation with her, caused an involuntary shiver to race down her spine.

“Thank you,” she breathed and quickly moved from his embrace, her heart racing from something other than anger, which, given it was Amarin that caused it, was unusual.

He made a noncommittal reply and Teague happened to be at a loss for words for once. She could hardly believe it herself, but that’s how it stood and she found herself trying to think up something that would have them back at each others throats so long as it meant they were on familiar ground with one another. However, Amarin solved the problem for her.

“Why did you have to go and cause a cave in?” he asked wearily.

“It’s not something I did intentionally,” she said with a scoff. “I was trying to get you to notice the hole so you wouldn’t trip, but no, you just had to go and not see it.”

“You didn’t have to stomp it so hard.”

“You weren’t paying attention.”

“Doesn’t mean you couldn’t have been a bit more calm in pointing out the danger, now does it?”

“If you weren’t so bullheaded then I wouldn’t have reason to lose my temper!”

Amarin sighed exasperatedly and looked away with a roll of his eyes. “Why I ever thought females were gentle, calm creatures, I’ll never know.”

“Are you insulting me?” Teague snapped.

Amarin glanced over to see her eyes glittering with passionate anger and bit his lips to cover up a grin. “Merely stating an observation.”

Teague was ready to fire off another cutting remark when someone neither of them had anticipated running into in this place interrupted.

“Why am I surprised you two are at each others throats even after the tumble you took?”

Teague gasped in shock, eyes easily finding Jaden where he was coming up from the tunnel thanks to the torch he carried.

“Jaden!” she called happily, running up to him and flinging her arms around him. “You’re all right!”

“Of course I’m all right,” he replied, lips splitting in a grin. “I had help.”

Teague blinked up at him, mouth open in surprise. “Oh? From who?”

“From me,” came a little voice just behind Jaden, shy and girlish sounding. Teague wasted no time in shoving Jaden out of the way to find out who this person was, because the voice hadn’t sounded at all familiar.

What she found was a girl slightly shorter than herself, with long black hair that hung in soft waves down her back and big wide eyes of a dark, earthy green. She was delicate looking from the tilt of her eyes down to her toes, and that irked Teague. The girl smiled cautiously up at her, eyes darting away after a minute under Teague’s heavy scrutiny.

“Who are you?” Teague asked caustically, for some reason not liking this girl.

“Teague.” Amarin’s voice, sharp and reprimanding, cut through the dark haze bleeding into her vision and she turned to face him, only now realizing he hadn’t been shouting for joy at the top of his lungs when Jaden had revealed himself to be quite whole and alive.

She blinked at him questioningly, waiting for him to elucidate.

“Is there a reason you’re trying to scare the poor girl before you’ve been given a reason to?”

Teague opened her mouth, to say what, she wasn’t really certain, but she was sure that words were waiting to be said.

A tinkling noise that reminded Teague of overly sweet syrup came pouring out of the dainty girl’s mouth, halting Teague’s words before they could be free of her tongue.

“It’s quite all right. I’m used to getting such reactions from other girls. It seems they feel threatened by my face and lash out at me before they even get a chance to know me.”

Teague was shocked, unable to call forth the words that she had been so eager to spew mere seconds ago, or any other for that matter. She could only look on at the girl and wonder if that had truly been the feeling she picked up from Teague, because while she admittedly felt something was off about the girl, she most certainly did not feel threatened by her.

“Though I can’t say I wasn’t expecting it,” the girl continued. “If I were in her position, I would most likely feel the same, especially if I wanted you for my own and had yet to stake my claim.”

Teague’s eyes nearly bugged out of her head at the glaringly obvious mistake the girl had made. Oh, this was utterly laughable. In fact, she said so. “You think I have designs on Amarin? Ha ha! That’s hilarious. What ever gave you that impression? If you want him, you can have him, be my guest! He’s far too irritating for my tastes.”

In her haste to dispel any such thoughts to the girl whose name she still did not know, Teague failed to notice the hurt look that passed over Amarin’s face, the way the usual glimmer that lingered in the depths of his eyes was snuffed out completely.

“Ah, no, Ella,” Jaden cut in quickly, eyes darting back and forth between the two in question before settling on Ella again. “Teague and Amarin have no such designs on each other. Their relationship borders on abhorrence, really. Though I will admit it can be quite entertaining to watch at times.”

“Quiet, Jaden,” Teague snapped, brows furrowing in a ferocious scowl.

“Well it is,” he pushed.

“Never mind about that,” she said dismissively. “How did you know we were down here?”

“We didn’t know exactly who, or what, was here, actually. I just heard a noise and thought I should see what caused it,” said Jaden, shrugging. “I never expected to find you two down here bickering, though it shouldn’t have surprised me. Where there is trouble to be found, you two find it.”

“The same could be said of yourself,” Teague said sullenly, giving Jaden a side-eyed glare. “Or haven’t you realized your part in all of this? You and Amarin get in just as much trouble.”

“Shouldn’t we be finding a way out of here, Teague, instead of arguing over who has tallied up the most trouble amongst the group?” Amarin interrupted, his tone sharp. “Jaden is with us, we can go.”

Teague pursed her lips, looking a bit sheepishly between Jaden and Amarin, but not sparing a glance to the too sweet Ella. “I suppose you’re right. We found what we were looking for and must be on our way. After all, we have a fiend to catch.”

“Fiend?” Ella asked, all innocence. Her eyes fair glittered with it. That, and just the faintest trace of fear mixed with something else. Teague didn’t like her at all.

“Yes,” she said casually, looking her up and down in hopes of finding what was so off about her. She found nothing, of course, which was just what she thought she would find. This girl hid her true intentions well. Teague would find her out soon enough, though. They had a rigorous task ahead of them. If that wouldn’t bring her true nature to the forefront, then nothing would. Suddenly she pasted on a toothy grin and said, “We’re going to be fighting a terrible beastie!”

Then she turned away, pleased at the way Ella took a step back, eyes flashing something other than feigned fear, and began walking down the same way she’d seen Jaden and Ella come up. “Aren’t you all coming?” she called out when she noticed a decided lack of footsteps echoing her own.

Jaden sighed as he watched Teague march away like they hadn’t a thing to worry about. A smile tugged at the corners of his lips and he turned to look at Amarin whose expression mirrored his own. “She’ll be the death of us one of these days,” he stated casually.

Amarin chuckled. “Oh, I’ve no doubts. In fact, I see our end coming sooner than either of us anticipated.”

“How much sooner?”

Amarin shrugged. “Before the day is out, I’m sure.”

“Ah.”

Shaking his head at the both of them, Jaden took Ella’s hand in his and followed after Teague.

Amarin waited until Jaden and Ella were a goodly ways ahead of him before following along behind them. A frown marked his brow as he watched Ella daintily tread alongside Jaden. There was something not right about that girl, he was sure.

* * *

“Why is it the manor was as empty as a graveyard this morning, but is brimming with activity now that we have a valid reason to be sneaking around?”

Amarin released a harsh sigh and rubbed at his temples. “We’re never going to make it down there with everyone bustling about like this.”

“You just don’t want us to hear you scream like a girl when we find Ruchan,” Teague said blithely.

Amarin glared daggers at her. Teague could feel the fierceness of his stare like a palpable touch on the back of her head as she surveyed the bustling crowd from their hiding place behind a large stack of crates and barrels, and was ever so thankful that looks couldn’t kill, because otherwise she would be a bloody mess on the ground right now.

“Could you two please stop throwing barbs at one another for even a minute?” Jaden hissed. “We will never figure out a clear way down there if we don’t come up with a plan, and to do that, the both of you need to get along for however long it takes to formulate said plan. For the sake of my sanity, do either of you think you could possibly grant me this one small request?”

Teague glared at Amarin over her shoulder. Amarin stared at her down his nose. Their eyes held little bits of hostility within their depths as they stared each other down.

Jaden waited while the two waged their silent war until finally, they backed down and gave him stiff nods. He released an audible breath of relief. “Thank you,” he sighed, giving a little roll of his eyes.

After a handful of tense minutes it was decided that they would simply go where they were headed as though they were meant to. As long as they acted like they had the authority to go snooping about below then perhaps those who knew otherwise wouldn’t stop them.

This was Ella’s brilliant idea, and Teague didn’t want to agree to it or like it one bit. It felt too much like walking into a trap and she didn’t think they had a sensible weapon between them. You couldn’t exactly go around bashing men with swords on the head with an unlit torch. Teague had a dagger that she kept on her person at all times, tucked snugly in her boot, but it wouldn’t do her much good in a fight where they would be surrounded.

Nevertheless, they went forward with purpose, none of them fully convinced it would work, and that their plan would be seen through as the farce it was, then they would be back at square one.

Teague was tense as they made their way to the corridor that would lead them down to the room Amarin and Jaden had discovered.

“Pardon me for asking, but what exactly is the plan when we get to the chamber?” Jaden asked.

They hadn’t really given that much thought apparently, since the only thing they’d been worried about whilst coming up with this brilliant plan, was whether or not they’d get caught.

“Leave it up to me,” Ella said firmly, drawing all attention to her. She arched her brow. “I may look delicate and frail, but you are not the only ones who felt something was odd about Ruchan suddenly coming in and taking over without a fuss. There are a group of people willing to fight with us to see Ruchan finally taken down and a worthy ruler placed in his stead.”

Teague arched her brow slightly and looked at Amarin who was frowning down at the beautiful Ella.

“Where are they?” he asked. “Why weren’t they with you and Jaden in the tunnels?”

Ella didn’t bother looking at him as she replied, “They were waiting as I told them to. But don’t worry,” she said, looking over her shoulder to give Amarin a sweet smile, “they’ll come as soon as I give the signal.”

Feeling the same uneasy shift in the air around them, Amarin, Teague, and Jaden exchanged quick looks and were immediately on guard for anything out of the ordinary. Well, more so than they already were.

They descended the stairs and all was quiet, just as it had been that morning, and yet it was different. Where it had been dark when Amarin and Jaden explored, it now seemed to be lit up from within. It was as though the very walls were aglow with soft golden light.

Teague noticed a faintly cloying scent hung heavy in the air and it became thicker the further they ventured. It made her head feel heavy and her movements sluggish. She tried to warn Amarin and Jaden not to inhale too deeply, but when she turned to look at them, they were no longer there.

She hadn’t the reasoning to feel fear, to become panicked. They were gone and that was that.

She felt as though she were being led and couldn’t stop until she reached the room. Even Ella had vanished, and how Teague knew where she was going was beyond her. The only thing she was sure of at this point was that something strange was happening. Something she hadn’t anticipated. Something that was a little more than frightening.

But then she was there, standing in front of a huge open door that marked the room Amarin had described to her, only it wasn’t the same inside.

She stepped over the threshold and the heavy feeling was gone instantly, the cloying scent vanished and she was in full control of her senses and actions once more.

Teague looked around the room from her dream, totally different as to how Amarin had described it, how she had seen it. It was no longer empty, but filled with rich tapestries and heavy wooden furniture. A desk sat near the far back wall. From here she could see papers scattered along its surface, along with an inkwell and feather pen. The only thing that was the same was that it was filled with candles, so the place fairly shone as it was lit up from the multitudes of tiny flames.

The sound of the heavy door closing behind her made her whip around and she came face to face with the sinister creature who had caused all of this, lips parted in an easy smile.

“Are you surprised?”

Teague arched her brow and stared down at the tiny girl before her. “Of course not, Ella. I had you figured out the minute I laid eyes on you in the tunnels.”

Ella’s smile widened. “If that is so, why didn’t you call me out then? You want to hear my thoughts on the matter?”

Teague resisted the urge to roll her eyes. “Not really.”

Ella winked. “I think you didn’t say anything about me to your friends because you really didn’t know. And I also think-”

Teague did roll her eyes at that and mumbled beneath her breath, “It’s a miracle.”

“-that you have feelings for Amarin despite your strong objections.”

Teague blew out an aggravated breath. “What does your supposed thoughts on my feelings for Amarin have to do with anything that has happened so far?”

Ella hummed softly, tilting her head slightly to the side before casually walking towards Teague.

Teague kept careful watch on the deceptive girl. When she began circling her, Teague followed her movements.

“I am surprised no one has told you, Teague.”

“Told me what?”

“Why, about your heritage, of course. The prophecy and all that.”

Teague frowned. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Ella shook her head, looking sad. “Of course you don’t. And it’s a good thing too, for had you realized your true potential, your deeper purpose, then I wouldn’t have been able to take over as swiftly and surely as I have. It’s all thanks to you, Teague, that I am in control. And if you do as I say, carry out my will, no harm will come to you or your friends.”

“And if I don’t?”

Ella shrugged. “Then I’ll kill you.”

Teague’s hands tightened into fists at her sides. “Not if I kill you first,” she said simply.

Ella smirked. “And how do you think you will you be able to do that, Teague? With that silly little blade you carry? Yes, I know you have one, don’t look so surprised.” She took a step forward, and Teague took one back. “I don’t think you realize just what you’re dealing with to threaten me like you have. I could crush you with but a snap of my fingers.”

Teague snorted. “Not before you have to mumble all that gibberish, you witch. I’m not so stupid, either. You’re nothing without your incantations.”

Ella stopped, eyes blazing, and then her lips formed a smile so sinister Teague thought for a moment that she had stepped too far over the line and was about to pay dearly.

“Let’s put it to the test then, shall we?” said Ella.

Teague clenched her jaw, real fear beginning to gnaw at her insides and not for the first time since coming inside the room and being face to face and alone with Ella, she wished Jaden and Amarin were there by her side. She had a feeling she’d just brought about her own doom, thanks to her big mouth, and she didn’t see a way out anytime soon.

“Draw your weapon, Teague. I haven’t all day to wait on you.”

Narrowing her eyes at Ella, Teague knelt and retrieved the thin blade from its resting place then stood, holding it at the ready. “Whenever you’re ready, little girl.”

She barely had time to block Ella’s attack, and that’s when she realized this may take longer than she thought. And it would most likely be more difficult than anticipated. Where were Amarin and Jaden when she needed them?

* * *

After being dragged away from Teague and into a room neither boy had seen on their previous exploration of the manor, pain had descended on them both in the form of harsh blows dealt by the village men, which answered the question of why no one had been out and about that morning. Apparently Ella had them all entranced with one of her spells and were currently under orders to beat Jaden and Amarin to bloody pulps.

Currently, Jaden was engaged in a fierce battle of fists with the blacksmith. He was not enjoying himself, but at least he was winning. Sort of. He wasn’t bleeding as much. The brawny blacksmith landed a solid punch to Jaden’s mouth, knocking him back several feet. Struggling to keep his wits about him and breathing heavily, Jaden wiped his hand across his mouth, grimacing when it came away sticky and wet with blood. He spat what had gathered in his mouth to the ground and gingerly checked with his tongue to see if his teeth were still intact. “I’m just going to blame all of this on you,” he told Amarin as he braced himself for another attack. “It makes things much easier on me if I do.”

Amarin ducked the fist coming towards his face and elbowed his attacker in the side, grinning when he heard the accompanying grunt of pain. “Or you could blame it all on Teague and make things easier for us both.”

Jaden cocked his head to the side as he thought about it, then shrugged. “I suppose I could, yes. But I will tell her it was your idea.”

“You just want to hear her yell at me.”

“No, no. She likes you better. She won’t be as hard on you.”

Amarin snorted. “You do remember our childhood, do you not? She terrorized me. Still does, actually.”

“She did it out of love,” said Jaden, avoiding another punch to his jaw.

Amarin took a blow to the stomach and doubled over, too stunned to retaliate. Luckily Jaden was free of sparring partners and took over for Amarin, knocking the man back with a well placed punch to his solar plexus. He lay on the ground, wheezing and rolling around in pain.

Jaden wiped his hands together and looked around the room taking note of how many of the villagers were on the ground. “Well, I think that does it, then.” He held his hand out for Amarin to take. “We should go look for Teague now.”

Amarin groaned. His stomach felt like it was on fire and Jaden wanted him to move of all things. He didn’t even want to breathe, much less do anything that required him to move around. But Teague was possibly in more trouble than either of them had been, and although he and Jaden knew full well Teague could take care of herself, she was up against a foe they’d never expected to encounter.

He sighed before taking hold of Jaden’s hand and coming to his feet. “Come on then,” he said after dusting himself off. “Let us go forth and rescue the barb tongued harridan from the monstrous, yet beautiful, evil witch who thought it a good idea to try and take over our parish.”

He took a few steps toward the door, then stopped and turned around. “Um. We haven’t any weapons.”

* * *

Teague landed hard on her back, the breath whooshing out of her, the force of the impact stunning her for a moment, and then Ella’s face was mere inches from hers, her eyes brimming with hatred and her lips stretched in a horrible thin lipped grin. “Your friends are almost here,” she said sweetly. “I think I shall wait until they arrive before killing you, just so I can have the satisfaction of watching your lover go crazy from losing you, and then I’ll kill him and the other one.”

Teague grunted and shoved Ella away. Coming to her feet, she ground out, “He is not my lover. How many times do I have to tell you that he’s only an obnoxious boy who happens to be my friend? We can’t stand each other, and all this stupidity you keep prattling on about me having hidden powers and unlocking things, or whatever it was, is complete nonsense. I am all I’ve ever been. Teague. I just happen to have premonitions that more often than not come about, but I really don’t see that as a gift. It’s caused more trouble and pain than anything. You want to know why? Because no one, save for Amarin and Jaden, listens to me. And the crucial thing you are missing in your diabolical little plot is that I cannot dream things at will. You think you can use me to further your plans, but that’s not how it works.

“Now, if you will excuse me, I have to get back to hitting you, because that part was actually fun.”

Ella had only the time to blink before Teague’s fist was plowing into the side of her face and she stumbled back a good ways. She wiped at the blood trickling from the corner of her mouth and scowled darkly.

“I’m going to kill you very slowly,” she said harshly.

Teague grinned. “Only if you can get to my dagger before me.”

And she hurried away to the other side of the room where her dagger had been lodged after Ella had somehow wrested it from her hand earlier.

Ella screamed and Teague’s heart beat tripled and for a split second she thought she felt Ella’s claw-like fingers digging into her back, but the feeling vanished and she was still too far away from the only means of forever ridding this place of Ella’s vile taint.

She stumbled and tripped and watched in horror as Ella reached the dagger before she did.

Pulling it from the desk where she had had lodged the blade previously, Ella turned with wild eyes to strike at Teague, but something was between her and her target. Two somethings actually, one tall and scrawny, and the other tall and stout. Both of which she would take great pleasure in killing right in front of Teague’s eyes.

“I fully expected to come in here and find you all hairy and ugly like when I first saw you. Why aren’t you? You’d have a far easier time taking Teague out if you were in your beastly form.”

Teague chuckled behind them. “She can’t do any sort of transformation without her incantations, and I gave her a pretty good wallop upside her pretty little head earlier so she’d have a hard time concentrating even if she could get to her book.”

Jaden cocked his head, the tiniest of smiles tugging up the corners of his lips. “I see.” He crossed his arms and looked over at Amarin. “What do you think we should do with her, eh? After all, she did throw us in a room with all those disgruntled villagers and ordered them to kill us without hesitation. And I believe she was going to kill Teague when we came in.” He sighed and shook his head, clicking his tongue against the roof of his mouth. “She must be done away with.”

Amarin grunted. “Is she even really a girl?”

Ella growled and lunged at the two of them, dagger aimed for Amarin, but Jaden easily grabbed her wrist and twisted until she let the weapon go with a feral cry. It fell to the floor with a loud clang and Jaden had his arms full with a struggling witch of a girl.

Knowing Jaden would take care of Ella by whatever means he saw fit, Amarin took this time to see to Teague who hadn’t bothered to get up when he and Jaden had entered the room.

“Are you all right?” he asked, smoothing her hair back from her face. She had bruises already forming and scratches here and there, but for the most part looked well enough.

Teague nodded, skin feeling hot from Amarin’s touch. “I’m fine.” She looked away from him and said, “Thank you for helping me.”

Amarin grinned and laughed. “You would have handled it, I’m sure.” Then all laughter and teasing left his face, and his eyes grew dark and troubled looking. Teague bit her lip, wondering what was on his mind.

“Teague, I–” his words were cut short as at that moment Jaden cried out and Amarin stood and spun around to see what had happened.

Jaden was on his knees, hands clutched to his side where blood was already soaking through the fabric of his shirt. Ella stood above him with a thin bladed dagger of her own clutched in her hand and a look of malicious pleasure on her face.

She glanced over at Amarin and started towards him, arm raised, ready to strike.

“Amarin!”

He looked over his shoulder at Teague’s call to find she had lunged for her blade where it had fallen from Ella’s grasp and promptly chucked the dagger at him.

Amarin caught the blade and plunged it to the hilt in Ella’s chest without a seconds hesitation. She screamed, a shrill, bloodcurdling sound and with her fingers curled into claws, she struck out at Amarin’s throat but he easily stepped out of the way. Tears of frustration and pain welled up in her eyes. She opened her mouth to speak but no sound came out, and with a final hate filled look at Teague, she collapsed to the floor where her final breath left her on a soft sigh and her eyes closed for the last time, her blood pooling in a dark curtain around her.

A weight seemed to be lifted from the room. Teague heaved a sigh of relief, her body feeling heavy now that everything was said and done. Her anxiety faded into fatigue and she crawled over to where Jaden lay bleeding.

“How do you feel?” she asked, kneeling beside him.

“Like I’ve been stabbed,” he said through clenched teeth. “Though I don’t think she did that much damage. Her aim was off and she didn’t cut that deep.”

She chuckled, knowing he’d be all right. Which left Amarin to see to. She glanced up at him, feeling an odd sort of fluttering in her belly when their eyes met. “I think he’ll live, don’t you?” she asked.

“If he survives your treating him, then yes, I suppose he will.”

Jaden gave a harsh sort of laugh, then cringed when it caused parts of him to move that he really didn’t want to at the moment. “Don’t encourage her,” he gasped.

Teague smiled and shook her head.

“Thank you for helping me. Both of you. I don’t know what I would have done had you not come when you did.”

“You were handling it really well from what I could tell,” Amarin said, avoiding her gaze. “I don’t think Ella would have had the chance to use the dagger on you.”

Teague smiled again, though it was a bit wobbly about the edges. No one said anything for a goodly length of time after that, despite the need to tend to Jaden’s wound. They were content in the moment to just be. Be together. Be alive.

Throughout the time they took to calm down and come to terms with what had just happened, Teague and Amarin kept shooting glances at each other and looking away when they caught the other looking, too.

“Would you two just confess your feelings already?” Jaden grouched. “Your fawning looks are making me nauseous.”

“I have nothing to confess,” Teague said haughtily. “He knows exactly how I feel about him.”

Amarin grinned. “Of course I do,” he said with a light chuckle. “You like to hate me and hate to like me, just as it’s always been.”

Teague nodded. “Precisely. Now that that’s out of the way we should get out of this place. It’s making my stomach churn, and if we keep sitting here letting you bleed you’ll be nothing more than a corpse when we get out of here.”

They helped a grumbling Jaden to his feet and made their way from the manor. It wasn’t until much later, after they’d bandaged Jaden’s wound and were settled in Teague’s cottage with bellies full of hot food and cool drink that Amarin voiced the question that had been on all their minds.

“What do we do now? We’ve vanquished a witch and are still alive to tell the tale. The villagers have fled and we are the only three left.”

Teague sighed and rested her chin in her palms. “How about we go on an adventure, just the three of us? See what else is out there? We’ve been cooped up in this tiny parish our whole lives, and after what we just went through I’m feeling the need to experience more than the drudgery I’ve had here.”

She grinned and looked back and forth between Amarin and Jaden. “So? What do you think? Are you two up for it?”

“Give me a moment to think about it,” said Amarin. “There will be many, many chances of getting into trouble, especially with you there, Teague. We may not escape what trouble we fall into unscathed, and I will have to put up with the both of you all the time….”

He grinned, eyes glittering with anticipation and the young hunger to see what else lay before them. “Sounds like a recipe for disaster, but it’s better than nothing. I’m up for a little adventure.” He turned to look at Jaden who lay in Teague’s bed feigning sleep. “What say you, Jaden? Are you up for a bit of adventure?”

“It doesn’t sound like I have a choice.”

“It’s settled then,” Teague said brightly, sitting up straighter in her chair. “We leave tomorrow at dawn.”

“I believe you are forgetting something,” Jaden said. “I am currently bedridden. And I refuse to leave and risk the chance of my wound becoming putrid.”

“You are already putrid,” Amarin mumbled, rolling his eyes.

“What was that?” Jaden demanded, glaring at Amarin from across the room.

“Nothing,” Amarin answered hastily. “I didn’t say a word.”

Jaden grunted and settled further down in the bed, eyes closing once again. After a while his chest rose and fell in the even rhythm of sleep.

Teague looked across the table at Amarin only to find him asleep as well, slouched over the table with his head pillowed on his arms.

She smiled to herself and settled for watching the moon sink lower in the sky and become replaced by the sun, the birth of the new day holding all sorts of promises and treasures should you be bold enough to take hold of them. Smiling sleepily she figured that between the three of them, they could gather plenty and disperse them well enough.

Unless Amarin became greedy. Then they might have problems, but Teague didn’t really think he would do that. He was still scared of her, after all.

(c) Brianna Somersham