The Lost Soul (Page 16)
His feet contact the bottom. “I love you too.” He strides forward, his lips pinned together, his brows set at a slant. “As much as I love hearing you say that, it seems like there’s something else you need to tell me.”
I untangle my legs and arms and wade to the shore. I collapse in the damp dirt, completely exhausted. Alex flops down on his back and drapes an arm over his face. Dirt plasters our wet clothes and hair and little beads of water sparkle across our skin.
“You can be possessed again,” I tell him, gazing up at the grey sky. “By a Lost Soul.”
His expression is impassive. “I know I can.”
I turn my head to him, the coarse dirt scratching at my cheek. “How did you find that out?”
“While the Lost Soul was inside me,” he explains, lifting his arm away from his face. “I got a direct link to his thoughts.”
“Is that a good thing or a bad thing?”
“Both, I guess. I mean, I saw some horrible things.” He winces. “But I also learned a little bit about how a Lost Soul’s mind works. They’re almost like puppets. In fact, Helena sometimes speaks directly through them.”
I shiver from nerves and from the cold air arriving with nightfall. “Did you ever talk to Helena directly? Through your thoughts?”
He shuts his eyes and folds his arms. “I did once.”
I place a hand on his arm. “Did you learn anything important?”
“Yeah, that no matter what we can’t let her get a hold of you.” He opens his eyes, which are sheen with water. “If we do, then the whole world’s as good as dead.”
It takes until the sun is behind the mountain before I locate my voice. “Why is it that I’m always associated with the end of the world?”
“I didn’t say end of the world.” He helps me to my feet and nervously scratches at his neck. “I said the world’s as good as dead. All the human population would be possessed by The Lost Souls if she got your soul.”
“She can’t get my soul unless I give it to her, which isn’t going to happen.” It feels like he’s hiding something from me. “And are there that many Lost Souls that it would be a problem?”
He plucks a leaf out of his hair, avoiding my gaze. “Not right now, but she’s working on a way to get enough.”
“Just like Stephan and his Death Walkers,” I eye him over. “Are you sure you’re telling me everything?”
He nods, staring at the horizon. “I told you I would from now on.”
Water Faeries dance at the surface of the lake, white wisps of fabric and bone. “Looks like they let Lucinda go.”
He glimpses at the water. “No more going near the lake, understand?”
I nod, but my mind utters: You belong there now.
Linking hands, we trudge over the grassy hill as the sun resorts behind the mountains. By the time we make it to the front porch it’s nightfall. The porch light is neon against the dark and moths cluster around the door and steps.
He shoos the moths away and chips dried flakes of dirt off his shirt. We enter the foyer of the castle and he blocks out the starry sky, shutting the door behind us. We’re only a few steps away from the staircase when Aislin comes barreling in. Tears streak her cheeks. She hugs me and before I can respond with an awkward hug back, she’s throwing her arms around Alex.
“Damn it,” she curses through her sobs. “Is there ever going to be a time where you two aren’t walking the line between life and death?”
Alex pats his sister’s back. “You worry too much, you know that? We were fine—we are fine. I had everything under control the entire time.”
I raise my eyebrows, questioningly, and mouth, really?
He shrugs, like what are you gonna do?
“I told you it was a stupid idea,” Laylen whispers over my shoulder. “And I was right.”
“I know you did.” I sigh and turn to him. There are bags under his blue eyes. “You were right. I probably should have never done it. But it worked, didn’t it? So I guess it’s okay.”
“It’s never okay for you to risk your life like that.” Laylen glances at Alex. “And how long is he going to stay like that? How long before you have to do it again to get another Lost Soul out of him?”
“I don’t know,” I say, overcome by fatigue. All I want to do is drag my butt to my room, take a shower, and fall into bed. “Thank you for trying to save me, though.”
“I promised I would,” he says. “I just didn’t anticipate the faeries.”
“Neither did I.” I wonder how much power the fey hold. During the momentary apocalypse, when I’d altered the vision, fey seemed like the weaker breed amongst the paranormal. But now, I am beginning to wonder if my first impression was incorrect.
Alex and I give them a quick recap of everything we learned while in The Underworld. Well, Alex does. I’m defeated by exhaustion and somehow I fall asleep on the bottom step of the staircase. I wake up in Alex’s arms.
“Where am I?” I ask with sleep disorientation.
He cuddles me against his chest as he carries me up the stairs and to my room. He gently sets me down on the bed. “You fell asleep on the stairs.” He places his hand on my forehead, like he’s checking for a fever. “You had a long day. Are you feeling okay?”
I sit up, examining his eyes. “How are you feeling?”
“I feel like myself.” He stretches and yawns. “I’m a little tired, though.”
“Me too.” I chip a chunk of mud off my arm. “I think I’m going to take a shower and go to bed.”
“You want some company?” He teases with an arch of his eyebrow.
I laugh, shaking my head. But a part of me actually considers it and doesn’t want to leave him ever again. “I think I’ll be okay by myself for five minutes, but thanks.”
He shrugs and assists me to my feet.
“Are you sleeping in here, tonight?” I ask, optimistic.
His lips span to a naughty grin. “Are you asking me to go to bed with you?”
“You’re really on one tonight,” I say and throw my arms around his neck. “I really missed you… even though you’re kind of a pervert.”
He kisses my cheek. “I think you secretly like it.”
I roll my eyes, confiscate some pajamas from the dresser, and head to the bathroom. “You’re coming back, right?”
“Of course,” he says and leaves my room, closing the door.
I take a shower, scrubbing the mud and today’s memories away. I get dressed and run a comb through my tangled brown hair. I wipe the fog from the mirror and note the dark circles under my violet eyes. I trace my finger along them and down to my mouth where there’s a tiny cut across my bottom lip. I lean forward, studying it. Blood drips from my nose.
“What the?” I wipe the blood away, but it continues to dribble out. My ears ring. I clutch my head and grab a ball of tissue, pressing it to my nose. My heart pounds and I think I’m going to pass out. But as quickly as it starts, the blood stops, my ears silence and my head is clearer than it’s been in days.
I toss the ball of tissue into the garbage and open the door, steam funneling out with me. Alex is in my bed, dressed in black pajama bottoms, lying on his stomach. I crawl into bed and run my fingers through his damp hair. I want to talk to him more, but he’s breathing peacefully in dreamland. I lie on my back and play with his hair until my eyelids become too heavy.
“It’s not about winning,” Helena says. She’s perched in her throne, twisted with thorns, the blood red podium pooled beneath it. She added chains to her dungeon wall and her thin lips have plumped out. In fact all of her has changed a little. She looks less old, although her skin is wrinkled. But her gray hair now has streaks of honey.
“With you it’s always about winning.” Annabella sighs, collects the train of her dress, and moves beside her sister.
Helena saunters over to a pool of clear liquid shimmering on the wall. “What’s the matter, Annabella? Afraid I’m looking younger than you.” She admires her reflection in the liquid.
Annabella’s red lips purse and her silver eyes narrow at her sister. “It’s not youth that will make you more powerful. You’ve always been so vain.”
Helena’s hollow eyes dart to Annabella. “You’ve always thought you were better than me; you and Lucinda because you represent the better part of life and death. You with your Essences and Lucinda with her Immortality.” She tips back her head and laughs. “Now look at her. Trapped in a lake, reigning over a bunch of spineless faeries who don’t respect her.”
“Laugh all you want.” Annabella’s voice is cold. “But one day your Lost Souls may turn on you.” Her heels click against the floor as she storms for the throne, back to her world of Essences.
“Annabella,” Helena calls out. “Aren’t you forgetting something?”
Annabella turns, her eyebrows knitting to her long nose. “I’m sorry, but I thought we were done here.”
“Tsk, tsk, tsk.” Helena waves her finger at Annabella. “Never turn your back on your family, Annabella.”
Annabella laughs, her thin fingers curling into fists. “Is that a threat, Helena? Must I remind you who mother left in charge?”
Helena ambles up to Annabella, like a cat eyeing a mouse. “Mother always did like you best, didn’t she? Too bad she’s not around to see this—she’d be so proud of me. I’m more powerful than she ever thought I would be. I have a human connection now, in the Human World. Did you know that? And soon I’ll be able to be there myself.”
Before Annabella can react, Helena grips her by the throat and raises her from the floor. Annabella’s feet dangle as she struggles to breathe. “Helena,” she gasps. “Please don’t do this.”
“It’s not fun being the weaker one, is it?” Her eyes blacken. “And when I’m done with you, I’ll be even more powerful.” Her mouth opens up and she sucks in a breath. Annabella’s skin pales as Helena shoves her into her throat, like she did to me once.
After she eats her sister, she smears her lips with the back of her hand, looking satisfied. “Now onto the Essences.” With that, she marches for the rear of the throne, for Annabella’s kingdom full of Essences.
“Come to me,” she whispers. “All of you give me your life.”
I wake up shivering and clutching the blanket. I feel for Alex, seeking his comfort. My hand lands in something warm and wet. The room is dark and I fumble for the lamp. I click it on and gasp at the blood soaking my hand. My fingers tremble as I stare at the empty space beside me. Alex is gone, and there’s a large pool of blood in his place. The red liquid streaks down the side of the bed and to the floor. I throw on a jacket and track the trail out of my bedroom and down the stairs. The front door is dripping with blood and a bloody handprint streaks the glass. My heart leaps into my throat as I open the door. Alex’s car is missing from the driveway.