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Defiance rising, p.28
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       Defiance Rising, p.28

           Amy Miles
 
TWENTY-SEVEN

  Apologizing to my friends wasn’t an easy task. I know Zahra will never accept my apology, so I didn’t even bother. Aminah was the first to offer a warm smile, always the forgiving heart. She worked on Toren for several days and eventually he came around, but I have no doubt he will be keeping an eye on me for quite some time. Eamon, on the other hand, was a different story all together.

  Although I never saw condemnation in his eyes, I did see fear and no small amount of pain. He was already healed by the time I came back to camp, but there was nothing Kyan could do to mend his troubled heart.

  Bastien returned to camp as promised, but stayed to himself that night. By the time I woke up the next morning, his cot was stripped and his clothes were gone. I tried not to let my panic show, but Eamon saw right through me.

  I knew this wasn’t going to be an easy road but, to be honest, it’s proving much harder than I thought.

  The relocation was Bastien’s first sign of withdrawal, but there were many more to come over the next few weeks. He changed his training location, which drove him out into a blizzard when no one else would dare leave the warmth of the fires. He worked harder and longer than any of us, but eventually he was forced to remain at camp.

  All the while, Eamon watched us, waiting for one of us to slip. I won’t lie and say I wasn’t tempted. To see Bastien’s sarcasm wane and his smile vanish completely is gut wrenching, but his complete refusal to acknowledge my presence has been the worst part. He walks past me as if I don’t exist. He sits with the Caldonians, his back toward me.

  He never looks at me. Never hints at a desire to. Each day, as his face becomes drawn and the life in his eyes dulls, a little part of me dies too.

  You did the right thing, Kyan’s voice breaks into my silent nightly musings. The fire crackles nearby and a hearty banter rises from Bastien’s table. I try my best to ignore it, for both my sake and Eamon’s. Bastien knows that too.

  My head droops over my cooling soup. I haven’t had much of an appetite over the past few weeks. Eamon has tried to coax me to eat and even braved the blizzard to find me a nice rabbit to stew. I ate half of it just for his efforts, but I can’t stomach food now.

  I’m too young for this, Kyan. How can I save the world when I’m only eighteen?

  I know this is not the path you would have chosen for yourself, he thinks, glancing at me from the end of the table, but we do not choose our destiny. It is chosen for us.

  Yeah, that’s the part that sucks. I sink my chin into my palm.

  Kyan’s face betrays his sympathy. We each have our role to play, Illyria.

  I turn and look toward the fire, praying Eamon won’t see the tears pooling in my eyes. I don’t how much longer I can take this. Eamon is pulling from one side and Bastien the other. Both are as miserable as I am. How can this be my path, to hurt everyone I love?

  There is no answer that can ease your pain. I’m sorry. I wish there was.

  I pull away from him, locking him out of my mind. I need to be alone with my thoughts.

  Eamon bumps my shoulder. “You ok?”

  “No.” I have found that even though the truth hurts, he wants to know. Over the past few weeks, our relationship has been strained, but Eamon has made great efforts to be a shoulder to cry on, even when he’s the last person I should turn to. He knows my pain is still raw, but he waits, with as much patience as he can muster.

  He is silent for a moment. “Do you want to talk about it?”

  I laugh, knowing he can hear the bitterness that tinges it. “No. I think you’ve been through enough of my dysfunctional issues.”

  I reach over and squeeze his hand. He smiles hesitantly as I scoot closer and allow him to pull my hand into his lap. It’s a small breakthrough, but my heart feels a bit lighter because of it.

  He loves you, Illyria. Just give it a chance.

  Gee. Thanks, Dad. I call back to Kyan.

  Glad to see your sarcasm has returned.

  The temptation to stick out my tongue at him vanishes the instant Bastien rises with his bowl and turns to walk out. His gaze lifts off the floor just enough to see my hand tucked into Eamon’s. Bastien’s face darkens and his shoulders hunch over as he rushes to set down his bowl and escape.

  Perfect.

  As soon as the snows begin to melt, Kyan puts me back onto a rigid training schedule. Although I’m thankful to be enjoying the outdoors again, I can instantly tell I’ve grown accustomed to sitting for long periods of time. I’ve become weak and lazy, or so he tells me over and over again.

  “Focus,” he scolds, batting the back of my hand for the third time in a minute. “You are supposed to become invisible, not the box!”

  I wipe the sweat from my brow, irritated and sore from an entire day of wasted practice time. Once we discovered that I was dismal at levitation and even more so when it came to healing, Kyan moved me on to invisibility. The idea of that even being a possibility is preposterous to me but Jardin, Kyan’s friend is a pro at it. He made me watch him disappear and reappear all morning so I could learn.

  “Again!”

  I groan and sink down onto the ground. It is cold and moist from the newly melted snow, but I don’t care. I lay flat out on my back, palms pressed against my eyes. “Just face it. I can’t do it! I can’t do any of this stuff!”

  “Self-pity does not become you,” Eamon calls as he steps out of our cabin. The collar of his jacket is turned up to keep the biting chill out. He buries his hands deep in his pockets and his breath hangs in the air before him as he leans against the cabin’s front porch post.

  “An audience isn’t going to help me,” I say.

  Kyan crouches down beside me. I look up at him and scowl. “I suck at this.”

  “It’s not your abilities that are backfiring, it’s your brain. We need to find a way to tap into your emotions…” he trails off, scrunching up his face as he falls silent.

  “Care to share with the rest of the class?” I ask, intrigued by his sudden change.

  “What’s going on?” Eamon calls as he hops down from the porch and approaches. He squeezes my hand before helping me up. Even after nearly a month, this is the full extent of our relationship. Holding hands is innocent, but still weighty enough to riddle my mind with guilt.

  Kyan rubs his jaw as he rises from a crouch and paces. His feet trample a muddy path through the grass. “Illyria’s training is, I hate to admit, far more delayed than I’d have hoped by this point. It’s not her fault, we just need to find a way to bypass her brain. Try something drastic…”

  “And you’ve got a plan?” Eamon asks, giving my hand another squeeze. This one for comfort.

  Kyan nods. “I don’t think you’re going to like it, though.”

  Eamon waves off his concern. “If it will help then we need to try it.”

  The tiny hairs along the nape of my neck rise. Something isn’t settling well with me. Kyan is trying too hard to avoid looking at me.

  I try to focus on Eamon when he places his arm around my waist. “I know you’ve been scared to use your abilities since you lost control in the woods. Maybe it’s time to try again.”

  “We will have to use a trigger that can get past Illyria’s safety guards…” Kyan trails off.

  I groan, instantly understanding Kyan’s discomfort. “We can’t ask that of him,” I whisper, shivering at the thought.

  “Who?” Eamon asks, perplexed.

  Kyan shuffles his feet, his head ducked low. I sigh, hating Kyan for even considering it. “He wants me to work with Bastien.”

  Eamon sucks in a breath. “Why would you even suggest that? He makes her volatile. Who knows what could happen!”

  “Exactly my point, Eamon.” Kyan steps up to him, staring down his obvious defiance. “He is her trigger. It should have been obvious from the beginning. He is the only one that can help her.”

  “No! Ther
e must be another way,” Eamon protests.

  “What is more important,” Kyan asks, “your pride or helping the girl you love?” Kyan’s question is harsh and brutally direct.

  Eamon’s lip curls with disgust and his teeth grind together as he fights to control his anger. “Fine, but just for the record, I’m totally against this idea. It will only cause trouble.”

  I have to agree with him, but for very different reasons. It has been over a month since Bastien and I last spoke. I would rather not confront him or the pain I’m trying to hide.

  “I don’t even know if he would be willing, Kyan. We’re not exactly speaking anymore.”

  Kyan steps between Eamon and me, taking my hands in his. His smile is warm and understanding. “No matter what has happened between you two, you know Bastien would want to help. You just need to ask.”

  “But you know what this will do to him and to me. It’s not fair!” I plead with Kyan, praying for any other solution even though I know there isn’t one. We have tried countless ways to tap into my abilities, but each time I lock myself out. Bastien is the only one who can bust through my walls and bring out the Shadow.

  “It’s your choice, but you know the consequences if you don’t.”

  Kyan’s words hang heavy in the air. I look to Eamon and know he’s thinking the same thing I am…they are going to need me to help with the Rising. Without my abilities, we can’t possibly hope to win against Drakon’s army.

  “As much as you know I hate to say this, I think you need to try. Kyan is right.” Eamon sighs, slumping with regret. “If anyone can trigger your powers, it’s him.”

  “Are you sure?”

  “Go on,” he nods. “I’ll wait here.”

  I blow out a breath, shocked that I am even considering this. “Where is he?”

  “In the clearing. It’s where he goes every day,” Kyan replies.

  This revelation cuts me to the quick. Why does he go back there? Is it to reminisce over the destruction I caused when he ran or to try to forget?

  I leave with shoulders hunched and a heavy weight in my chest. I wind through the forest, trying not to notice the lingering damage from my rampage, or think about why it happened in the first place.

  As I enter the clearing, I spy Bastien just sitting in the middle. His head is bowed and his legs are crossed, almost like he is meditating. He stiffens when I step down on a twig. His eyes widen in shock but his expression quickly sinks into a grimace as I approach.

  “Wait!” I call out. “Please, don’t go.”

  Bastien’s face is void of emotion as he watches me. “What do you want?”

  My voice catches in my throat at the sound of his voice. It is dull and lifeless compared to how it used to sound.

  “Kyan sent me.”

  His cold exterior melts into crazed enthusiasm. “Does he need me for another scouting run?” Bastien has volunteered to join every group that has left the camp over the past month. His desperation to flee my presence has morphed into a need to pick a fight with enemy Caldonians.

  “No. Actually…I need your help.” My throat constricts making it hard to breathe, let alone speak. I drop my gaze and shift uncomfortably.

  “You need my help?” He glances in my direction but can’t quite make eye contact.

  “I’m not doing so well with my training…” my cheeks flush with embarrassment. Bastien has always believed in me. I don’t want to disappoint him, even if he is no longer a part of my life.

  He steps forward, the tension in his legs making him look like a wooden toy soldier. “What can I do?”

  There is no hesitation to his offer of help. My heart clenches painfully at his continued promise to be there for me. “Kyan thinks you can trigger my powers…”

  Bastien’s eyebrow arches. “How?”

  A blush reddens my cheeks as I twist my hands, unsure of how to explain without feeling like a complete fool. “My mind sabotages me every time I try to practice so Kyan thought you could…unsettle me.”

  I look away as my embarrassment rises to torturous levels.

  Bastien’s silence is unnerving. I peek up at him and watch a wide variety of emotions play across his face──fear, doubt, longing and then finishes with smug pride. “Kyan knows your emotions for me are stronger than for Eamon.”

  “Yes,” I whisper.

  My admission appears to crack through Bastien’s cocky façade. His shoulders slump as his entire being seems to droop. “I understand if you don’t want to…if you can’t…” I gush, eager for him to refuse.

  I want to run and hide from the wounds seeing him has inflicted, but I remain. I am here for Kyan, but I’d be a fool if I denied that a part of me didn’t want to be here too.

  Bastien approaches, stopping less than a foot away. My vision is filled with his broad chest, etched to perfection in his tight fighting black top. His hair has been cut. It no longer falls shaggily over his ears, but has been trimmed short.

  Up close, he looks sexier than I remember. The stubble on his cheeks makes him look rugged, irresistible. I gulp, painfully aware of how his presence makes me weak in the knees. Even after all this time apart, it feels like only moments have passed since I was in his arms.

  He reaches out his hand, but reconsiders and draws back. “Will this help you?”

  I nod, not trusting my voice to withhold the tremor rippling through me as he searches my face. He appears to be memorizing, or at least re-familiarizing himself, with my face. His gaze is soft as it slides over the curve of my cheek and comes to rest on my lips. They part with longing as I force myself to remain rooted in place.

  He steps closer, entering my personal space. He pauses less than two inches from my nose. I close my eyes as his breath washes over my face. I stifle a moan and I open my eyes to find him gauging my reaction.

  I want to reach up and touch him, to feel his pulse against the palm of my hand as I cup his neck, pull him close and lean up into the kiss that I’m yearning for.

  The spell is broken when he retreats a few steps. He shoves his hands in his pockets and looks away toward the woods. “If it’ll help, then I’m in.”

  I shiver against the cold void left in his absence. “Thank you,” I whisper as he turns and marches toward camp at a fast clip, almost as if he is running away from me. I don’t blame him.

  Kyan waves us over as Bastien breaks through the tree line first. I follow, but make no effort to catch up. Eamon’s jaw locks down when he sees the flush that rises along my neck. I shrink into my jacket, scolding myself for not holding it together better.

  “I think it might be easier for everyone if you sit this one out, Eamon,” Kyan kindly suggests, tugging him in the opposite direction.

  Eamon pulls away and faces off toe-to-toe with Bastien. “I’ll be watching you.”

  He turns and envelops me in a bear hug, his arms clenched tightly around my neck as he buries his face in my hair. He kisses my forehead and then smirks at Bastien over my shoulder. Apart from the slight curl of his lip, Bastien betrays none of the rage I can sense simmering just under the surface.

  I blow out a breath as Eamon stalks off. He heads for our cabin and slams the door behind him. “I’m not sure this a good idea, Kyan.”

  “You’re committed now,” he says, looking between Bastien and me. It’s hard to tell if he’s following my neurotic feelings, Bastien’s tight lipped emotions or Eamon’s explosive frustration.

  “So what now?” Bastien asks.

  “You stand there. Illyria will do the rest.” Kyan pulls me a few feet away. “Close your eyes, control your breathing and focus on Bastien. Only him.”

  When I approach Bastien, I know I won’t be able to concentrate with him peering down at me; I go around to his back and position myself to face the woods. Just knowing he is right behind me is enough to make my pulse pound in my ears. I close my eyes and try to push the world a
way.

  Nothing happens.

  “I knew it wouldn’t work,” I mutter under my breath.

  “Try creating a picture of Bastien in your mind,” Kyan suggests.

  Chewing on my bottom lip, I think about him, but all I can conjure up are his purple-ringed eyes, sallow cheeks and the dull, haunted eyes that refuse to look at me.

  “It’s no use.” I throw up my hands, angry that I’ve failed again.

  “Don’t worry. We can try again…” Kyan’s voice fades away. I turn and watch as an intrigued smile parts his lips. “That’s not a bad idea, but are you comfortable with that?”

  “What’s going on?” I ask warily. Neither look at me as they keep their conversation private. Bastien turns and locks his gaze on me. I stiffen as he approaches, easily pushing my boundaries for the second time today. “What are you doing?”

  “Making you uncomfortable.” I have to widen my stance as he places his foot in between mine. He leans in so close, I’m sure he can feel the trembling of my lips. “You feel it, don’t you?”

  “Please stop,” I whisper, darting a glance at Kyan, who is trying his best to hide a grin. “It’s embarrassing.”

  “No can do, Princess. This is why I’m here.”

  “Close your eyes and try again,” Kyan commands. I shoot a poisonous glare at him before he turns away.

  I grit my teeth and close my eyes before facing Bastien again. I know this is a waste of time. It’s impossible to concentrate when I can practically feel his chest pressed against mine.

  “You’re trying too hard,” Kyan calls from behind me.

  “Maybe you should open your eyes,” Bastien whispers.

  I peek up at him and am hit by the full intensity of his nearness. It’s not just his proximity, but the look in his eyes, his unrepentant need. I have always known he wanted me, but this is the first time he has allowed his lust to consume him.

  He presses his thigh against mine, leaning in to let his breath wash over my neck. My skin tingles, betraying me. I waver, fighting for each breath as his hands encircle my waist, pulling me against the length of his body.

  Sweat beads along my brow as I roll my neck, allowing him access to my delicate skin. He lifts his hands and pulls my hair back. The feel of his skin against mine makes me moan with desire. Kyan fades out completely. There is only us.

  “Breathe, Illyria,” Bastien whispers in my ear.

  His sultry voice smashes through my flimsy resolve. Passion, raw and untamed, flows through my body as I wrap my leg around Bastien, pressing intimately against him. Bastien lowers his head and presses his lips to my neck, sending me into a tailspin of hormones. His lips trace a slow line toward my jaw, tender and achingly controlled.

  I want him to let go, to break through the bond that restrains him. I long for it as I ache for his touch. My hands splay across his back, begging him to continue.

  “Whoa!” Bastien cries out and backs away, staring down at my body.

  I stumble, irritated with his sudden rejection. “Why are you looking at me like that?”

  “Well…technically I’m not. Look down.”

  I suck in a breath at the stunning smile that chases away the dullness in his eyes. His pride pours off him and bowls me over. It’s hard to break my stare as I catch a glimpse of the boy I fell in love with. When I look down, my vision spins as I try to comprehend the complete lack of me. No torso, arms or legs. “I’m invisible?”

  I squeal with delight and leap into Bastien’s arms. He stumbles back, trying to compensate for my sudden weight. His arms tighten around my legs and back, easily holding my weight. “Warn me next time, will ya?”

  “Opps. Sorry about that.” I wrap my arms around his neck as Kyan rushes up, pumping his fists in the air.

  “I knew you could do it!” He crows proudly.

  “Yeah, it’s great but now that I’m all turned on…uh…crap,” I groan, slapping my forehead. I’m thankful neither of them can see my flaming red face. “How do I turn it off?”

  Bastien smirks and tugs me closer as Kyan frowns. “I’m not really sure. Try backing away from Bastien.”

  He lowers me to the ground and backs away, his gaze remaining steady on the place he thinks he left me. Once he is about ten feet away, I feel the tightness in my chest release. The sensitivity of my skin diminishes and the warmth recedes.

  “Well done,” Kyan grins as I reappear. He cocks his head and his smile fades. “I think that is enough for today. Eamon has had about all he can stand.”

  I turn to find Eamon storming across the clearing toward us. I rush to his side, looping my arm through his to prevent him from pummeling Bastien. He offers me a tight smile before turning on Kyan. “You proved your point. It worked. Now let’s find a better solution.” He casts a murderous glare at Bastien. “I’m sure Bastien has better things to do with his time.”

  Bastien shrugs, unconcerned by Eamon’s anger. “I’m sure I can make time in my schedule to help out with anything Illyria needs.”

  Eamon lunges, yanking me off my feet, but Kyan leaps between the two guys. “That is enough. There will be no fighting here today, is that understood?”

  Bastien grins and backs away, his hands held up in peaceful surrender, but I know it’s not over. The hard glint in his eye is too evident. “Not my fault you didn’t like what you saw.”

  “Of course I didn’t!” Eamon’s face contorts into a mask of rage. “But just remember one thing, Bastien…you might be the hero of her dreams, but I’m her destiny.”

  Bastien stumbles backward, his face ashen. The hollow man returns with a vengeance as he casts one horrified glance at me and then flees to the woods.

  “Good riddance,” Eamon growls, tugging me close into his side.

  I shove him away, furious at him. “How could you do that to him?”

  “I knew you’d take his side!”

  “No,” I shake my head. “I chose you, that’s true, but you don’t have to be cruel about it. Can’t you see that I’ve hurt him enough already?”

  Eamon is taken aback. Kyan turns away from the woods to glare at Eamon. “Helping Illyria cost Bastien a lot today. I would think you, of all people, would know what it is like to desire something you know is out of reach.”

  Gulping hard, Eamon nods and drops his head. “Yeah, I guess I do.”

  “Will he be ok?” I whisper

  Kyan steps between us and wraps his arm around my shoulder, comforting me as tears sting my eyes. “He knew what he was getting himself into when he agreed to help you.”

  “I wish I’d never agreed to try.” Tears slip silently down my cheeks.

  Kyan squeezes my shoulder and then steps back. “I’ll go check on him if you’d like.”

  I nod and watch as he slips into the woods, wishing more than anything it could be me that goes to comfort Bastien.

 
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