Evan stood outside the gates where Beverly had dropped him off just the morning before. The air was chill, the night wrapping around him even though the lights floating kept the dark back. It felt a lifetime since he had left home and the idea of returning was a numb spot in his mind.
His Sunday had been spent avoiding Devlan and Vesper and the annoying feelings that arose every time he thought of the two boys. Nicholas had eventually decided that Evan wasn’t going to get himself mauled if left alone even if he was just a human, this being, of course, less than half an hour before Beverly was due to arrive and pick him up. Evan didn’t really care—the elf would probably make a good nursemaid or some shit if he didn’t hate on everything.
Nicholas had grown on him. He wouldn’t rush to spend a day with the boy but the kid was smart and they’d had a few interesting conversation where Evan hadn’t felt like he had to pretend to be an idiot to fit in. Nicholas didn’t care what other people thought of him to the point of being an annoying dick at times and Evan could appreciate the sentiment.
“You gonna stand there all night?” Evan finally asked, not bothering to raise his head. He was leaning on the wrought iron fence, feeling the buzz of magic trying to repel him away. It was mildly tickling and distracting enough to keep him from thinking about all the things he didn’t want to think about, mainly Sebastian and the ridiculous amount of hope and hate warring within him over moving in with his uncle.
Gilda stepped out from the shadows, her silent footsteps intentionally heavy so as not to startle him. While Evan was in his rumpled clothes of the day before, she was clad in a new set of creamy leathers, these looking more eye catching with slashes of rust orange color splashed across smooth expanse with a window to show off her cleavage and cut to cling to her tight waist and toned thighs. Her dirty blond dreads were pulled back in a thick ponytail making her unmasked violet eyes look sharper and more dangerous. But Evan had already dealt with Asher and Gilda was a sweet, sharp clawed kitten in comparison to that weird freak show.
“Wasn’t sure you’d welcome a goodbye,” Gilda said with a smirk, a wariness shown in her stance. They hadn’t spoken since Nicholas had accused the group of lust creatures of attacking Evan and, considering the incident, the boy could understand Gilda’s worry that he might never want to see her or another lust creature ever again. But Evan wasn’t a normal kid and Gilda sure as fuck wasn’t normal and he might just like the fierce siren who had led him into trouble and defended his life just as readily.
He patted his hand to the spot next to him welcomingly. “I’m going to be here a good fifteen minutes. Long enough for a goodbye or a see you later, anyways.” He hadn’t found a way out of the Hierarchy just yet. Evan could expect to see Gilda once again and he’d prefer it to be on good terms.
“Actually, I was thinking you might want to check out my village,” Gilda said with ease, going to lean against the spot Evan had indicated, only to jolt away when magic sparked at her angrily from the fence. “Fuck.” She gave the blond boy a dubious look, Evan shrugging apologetically. “Have you ever been to the Rocky Mountains? My Clan’s village is up there—A town, if you want to get technical—but you wouldn’t really recognize it as one. Half of us live at the foot of a cliff and the rest take up the old hollowed out rooms in the mountain face above. We even created a waterfall that rains down from the very top that we all swim in at the bottom. It’s really unique and the view gets tourists coming in from all over.”
Evan raised a brow, smirking slightly. “What exactly are the tourists going there to look at?”
Gilda grinned back, relaxing completely. “I’m sure it’s the mountains and sky. Totally couldn’t be all the hot women with allure my Clan is known for. Probably doesn’t hurt that we all swim naked.”
Evan snorted softly, meeting her eyes flashing with mischief. Gilda certainly sounded like she didn’t have to fear starving even when living on the side of a cliff in the middle of nowhere.
“So, what do you say?” She prodded, plucking at one of the feathers tied into her hair. “We could make a month of it or whatever. It’s not like I have pressing plans or anything. Once this Hierarchy crap starts up, it’s going to be more networking and kissing sorcerer ass until I want to hang myself.” She glanced at him sideways, her gaze assessing. “You know, unless you have plans or something.”
Evan couldn’t think of anything he’d like more than to spend his summer seeing Gilda’s village of sirens, even if they were all women. He also knew there was no way in fuck Stephan would allow it. He shrugged again, pushing his shoulder blades flat to the fence to feel the magic try and fail to snap him away. “I don’t have plans… A village of lust creatures probably wouldn’t be the best place for me given my current record.”
Fixing the boy with a stern look, Gilda tilted her chin up. “No one will fuck with you while I’m around. No one, fae or human. I can show you how to use magic, Evan. I can show you how to protect yourself.”
Evan didn’t reply, his gaze stuck on his boots. He didn’t know how to go into the whole Stephan Grock thing and wasn’t sure he even wanted to. He was used to struggling alone and somehow the idea of speaking of the problem was more anxiety causing than just living with it as he always had.
“My village has a barrier in place,” Gilda continued, “to protect visitors and us. We’re not a barbaric people even if we feed off of the lust of those who visit. It’s a symbiotic relationship. You could use help with your exritus and there is no one better equipped to help a newborn than an entire village full of fae, Evan.”
Evan forced himself to look up, finding the girl staring at him with a fair amount of worry hidden in her violet depths. He wasn’t used to that look being directed at him but he was pretty sure the girl was afraid for him. He hadn’t dared to look at his back in years—It probably hadn’t been a pretty sight.
“I can’t, Gilda. It sounds cool, really, but I can’t.”
Pursing her lips, she nodded curtly. “At least give me your contact info. We can talk and stuff until it’s time to come back here.”
“I don’t have a portal.”
Her frown growing, Gilda folded her arms over her chest. “Fine. Email, phone number. We have shielded tech at the village. We can IM.”
Evan shook his head wearily, feeling for the first time the absolute weight of his situation. “My aunt doesn’t allow technology in the house, shielded against magic or not. She might let a letter through on occasion, but that’s about it. And it can’t be with the mail cus Stephan will literally go through and throw the stuff out he doesn’t like. The only way my uncle could reach me was with the sicarius, and for real, Gilda, that shit is expensive. I think he only used them because of his work. He probably didn’t have to pay anything.”
“Your uncle is an assassin sorcerer?” At Evan’s silent nod, Gilda straightened, inhaling sharply. “Bitchin. I always wanted to get in with the Nightbringers. I don’t think the Council would even consider me because of my Clan roots, though.”
Feeling a twinge of bitterness, Evan leaned his head back against the fence, his hair fluffing up from the flow of magic. “Oh, I’m sure they’d be happy to exploit you till you’re dead. It’s the Council way.”
Gilda nodded slowly, falling silent. She ran her tongue over her sharp teeth, shooting the boy a careful look. “You know what you can get if you’re a Nightbringer?”
Evan shook his head, not sure if he really cared.
“Passage to the Arc Fault,” Gilda explained. “A lot of other shit too, but believe me, for a Clan raised outside of the ancient lands with little hope of ever seeing home, it’s a big deal. I’m going to be killing anyways—All fae train to fight the Possessed. We live too long to be allowed to pretend the Unnamed One won’t effect our lifetime. Being allowed to see what we’re fighting for, our homeland, it helps things. Reminds us what’s at stake.”
Evan processed what the girl was saying, not having realized Gilda had grown with the understanding that she was probably going to war. “Why can’t your Clan return to the Arc Fault?”
“We got too buddy buddy with the humans.” Gilda’s grin was vicious. “Don’t let the talk of the civilized, merciful Regents fool you, kid. Those elves are fucking bloody. My Clan has lived in peace with the humans, and the Regents think that we’re soft because of it. They have it in their head that we won’t kill the Possessed as needed because it’s always a mass of soulless humans running at the Gate, not fae. I can tell the difference between a Possessed and human but I have a feeling the Regents would prefer us just to kill any human that comes too close, just to be safe.”
Evan was waiting for the day when someone would tell him about a leader or government that didn’t seem ruthless as fuck. The Hierarchy probably wasn’t the place for that wish to come true.
“Anyway, don’t worry about the letter thing,” Gilda said, returning to her original point. “We’ve got ways for communication. Even if I have to hire the damn sicarius, I’ll find a way.” She flashed him a wicked smile, leaning close to whisper in his ear. “Or, you know, I could just have Devlan get you in your dreams. I’m sure he wouldn’t mind.”
Fighting back a blush, Evan glared warningly at the cheerful girl. He had a thought to shove her into the fence but had a feeling Gilda would easily break his arm if he even attempted it. It was still a difficult urge to fight.
“What’s his deal?” Evan finally asked, wondering if Gilda might know more about the incubus because they were both Clan raised. “Is Devlan ever, you know, serious about anyone?”
Her eyes narrowing, Gilda looked him over calculatingly as she thought. “Devlan’s not a bad guy, he just gets into a shit ton of trouble. He has an attitude problem—And believe me, he was tame this weekend. Probably all the monitors in this place. Devlan gets into shit and pisses a lot of people off, especially the sorcerer types. The kid is a fucking terror with his mouth and loves to cause drama.” She sighed, fiddling with her hair again as she drew her thumb down the length of a feather. “But under it all, Devlan is a total sweetheart. I can honestly say when I don’t want to kill the kid that I actually like him. He’s never hurt a person in a way that crossed the line and, being an incubus, that would be really easy for him. He’s a loner and a jackass, but he’s not a bad guy. I can bear to share space with him… when I don’t want to beat his head in.”
She flashed him a small smile, tilting her head closer. “And he might not suck as a boyfriend. Probably. If you like that sort of thing.”
Evan huffed, glaring at his boots again. “I don’t want him for a boyfriend. I was just curious.”
“Sure, right, whatever.” Gilda waved her hand dismissively, only to continue on as if Evan hadn’t spoken. “He’s an incubus, so he’ll either be fucking you like twenty-four seven, or getting off on anything hot that walks by. You know, unless you have a huge amount of magic after your exritus to be able to feed an incubus by yourself. An incubus’ mate usually has to be really strong in power and a total sex fiend. Incubi need sex to live. Without a mate, Devlan will need to feed constantly.”
Evan scowled, hating himself for his next words. “And if he has a mate?”
Gilda wagged her eyebrows at him. “He’ll still want sex, don’t worry. Sex is kind of their thing; you really can’t expect them to be monogamous. Not easily, anyway. Incubi mate by tying their energy to their partner. It secures the incubus, grounds him so that his intense need balances out. Most incubi will mate young for that alone; some to multiple partners for the extra stabilizing energy.”
Her smile fell and she gave a little sigh. “But Devlan is all alone in this area. His Clan came from the Arc Fault not too long ago but they were wiped out. He was the only survivor. He’s living with an adoptive Clan in New York but they can only do so much for him. Incubi outside of the Arc Fault are rare, and believe me, it’s impossible for them to get back home once they leave. The few Clans that moved out in the hopes of starting a life without the Regents giving them shit all ended up wiped.”
“Shit,” Evan muttered, running his hand through his hair and patting the blond locks down. “Are the elves, like, killing them all?”
“No one knows but there are a lot of theories. It’s never obviously connected to them, you know?” Gilda’s expression suggested she thought it was, though. “An Incubus Clan was wiped just five years ago by some sort of sickness. Devlan’s Clan was taken out in a fire. They credited it to the Possessed running around at the time, the theory being that they sensed the incubi were connected to the Arc Fault and were ordered to destroy them. It was a terrible blaze—What it would take to kill a Clan of warriors fresh from the Arc Fault…” Gilda shook her head, looking off into the distance of the forest. “I don’t think the Possessed have it in them.”
Devlan had to have been a kid when it happened. Maybe a baby. That fully grown warriors similar to men like Cornelius and Sebastian in ability could have been destroyed in one fire while a baby had survived didn’t make much sense at all.
Evan could see Devlan’s glowing amber eyes in his mind, the insanity of the night before rushing over him. It had been really strange. Confusing. He wasn’t even sure why he was thinking about it. He couldn’t be with someone like Devlan—Hell, he couldn’t be with anyone.
He needed to find a way to get out of the Hierarchy and to stop thinking about dick.
Vesper’s face flashed in his mind and Evan suppressed a sigh, rubbing his hand down the front of his face. He was losing it. A fucking weekend with these people and he was losing his fucking mind. Dead. He’d end up dead. Vesper was just a really fucking hot guy—everyone thought so—in a shit situation. Evan didn’t know fuck about him except that trying to get to know Vesper Malice would end up with him being dead.
Dumb. He was being so fucking dumb.
“Keep an eye out for my letter,” Gilda spoke up, straightening and taking a few paces idly. “I’ll let you know how my exritus goes.”
“Is anything going to happen for yours?” Evan asked, unable to hide his curiosity. He knew that most human looking people got different in some way or another with their exritus. He didn’t know what it would do for a fae, especially one that already had claws and fangs.
Gilda shrugged, not looking too concerned. “Wings, maybe, but that’s rare. My allure might kick up hardcore. I’m a siren, descendant of Siren. We all know what our ancestors used to look like when the blood was strong with magic. Nowadays, you don’t see many transformations, so I’m not too worried.”
Evan blinked, his gaze on Gilda shifting dizzily. For a moment, it was like Asher was grabbing his hand and he looked around, trying to see if the boy was near and messing with his head. He couldn’t find anything beyond the light’s illuminating the dark but when Evan turned back to the girl, she still looked different, the anticipation of energy in her calm, small, fluttering wings spread out on her back with a crown of feathers rising from her forehead.
The illusion didn’t dim, Evan’s eyes narrowing when Gilda turned to him and gave him a concerned look. “You alright there?” She pressed her hand to the boy’s forehead, Evan’s gaze focusing on the petite feathers dusting her wrist.
“Come visit this summer, Evan. It’ll be fun. Safe. I can show you around and, if you want, I can even call Devlan down. It’ll be hard for him to get into trouble in a village full of sirens.”
Evan didn’t speak, his eyes glued to Gilda’s forehead and the way her eyebrows had changed, a light spray of soft feathers teasing from the tips to join her hair. He sensed the car before it pulled up, felt Beverly’s presence more than the engine.
“Think about it, Evan. We have plenty of room.” Gilda kissed his cheek before he could find the strength to move. When she pulled away, her eyes were piercing, a violet-gray storm belonging to a deadly predator, her fangs elongated, demeanor regal. She was something different and Evan was certain he was going crazy.
Evan shook himself fiercely. Beverly was there. If he knew anything, revealing any sort of insanity was equal to death; one of Beverly’s big lessons. There were plenty of reasons he could be seeing things and as he blinked a few more times, the image faded, Gilda back to being her domesticated self, the sounds of the night roaring back around him.
“Do you have a ride coming?” He asked, his voice too hoarse sounding.
Gilda gave him a look, one he was growing familiar with. “I’m teleporting home. Magic, kid. You really don’t know what you’re missing out on.”
Evan wasn’t fully convinced on that topic even after a weekend at the Hierarchy. Stephan didn’t have the power to teleport but he made a big deal about portals. Evan didn’t want to do anything that would draw the man’s attention.
Nodding goodbye to the girl, he got into the waiting SUV, staring out at the window at Gilda. He wasn’t sure, but he had a feeling he was going to miss her. Evan couldn’t remember the last time he’d had a conversation with a person. Even though Gilda was weird and a siren and all, she had listened when he talked and had been interesting. He couldn’t remember anyone ever inviting him over to their house. If Evan was the type to have friends, he’d probably put Gilda at the top of the very empty list.
Beverly was silent through the drive home and Evan was grateful for it. She had taken one look at him, turned the car on and just driven away. He wasn’t sure if it was because of Gilda or how he looked but he wasn’t going to ask to find out. His mind was a mess. He felt like he’d been turned upside down and the feeling was only growing worse the closer he got to what right side up had once been.
Evan couldn’t help but think just how easy it would be to step through a portal or cast a teleportation spell now that he had actually experienced the mirror portal at the Hierarchy. It would have been an instant instead of the hours driving. His world could open up so far beyond Beverly’s house and Stephan’s grasp.
Beverly really was a strange sorceress in a lot of ways. It wasn’t that she didn’t have access to all this magic. She had used it when she was younger. Not just when she had fought to protect the Arc Fault, but also before. She had been raised to be a magic user among family that had taken things like portals for granted. He couldn’t help wondering why it had all gone crazy for his cousin.
Sure, Beverly could say things like how a portal could be hijacked, but couldn’t a car be hijacked as well? Wasn’t it just as easy to cast a spell on a moving vehicle full of unsuspecting occupants as it was to target the interspace travel involved in moving through a portal? She didn’t have any magic on the SUV to protect them from such an assault; Beverly tended to avoid magic at all fronts, even the kind that could protect her.
Evan stared out into the dark as they pulled into their neighborhood. Beverly stopped at the corner, putting the car into park without a word. He pulled his attention from the window when he realized there was nothing to see, meeting the woman’s eyes through the rearview mirror as she peered at him. She looked tense, her gaze sharp, and Evan braced himself for what undoubtedly would be something about the woman’s boyfriend.
“Stephan knows,” Beverly said curtly, not bothering to elaborate.
“He’s had one of his moods.”
Evan nodded, his muscles growing tense even as he told himself to remain unaffected. “So?” He asked, his voice coming out too sharp. Beverly ignored his tone, her eyes continuing to pierce into his.
“He won’t let me clean it up,” the woman said blandly. “He said he’ll be home to ‘educate’ you. I wanted you to be prepared.”
Closing his eyes and exhaling slowly, Evan gave another nod. “Right.”
“Try to keep things quiet, Evanel. Edward has final exams to study for. I don’t want the house upset.” Beverly put the car back into drive, the black SUV gliding forward. Evan kept his mouth shut, stuffing his retort down so deep he couldn’t even fathom the words he wanted to say. His eyes caught on something white as the car pulled into the driveway, the headlights illuminating a mess strewn across the lawn.
It was his clothing and things from his room. His bureau was shattered, drawers pulled free and crushed in the dirt. The books he could see were torn in two, pages ripped out and fluttering in the light breeze outside.
No, Stephan had not taken the news well.
Beverly turned the car off, staring out the windshield at the mess as the headlights faded. “If you learned to repair things with magic…”
Evan blocked his cousin out, glaring Beverly’s way until she fell silent. She unbuckled her seatbelt and he followed suit at a slower pace.
If she hadn’t hooked up with a psycho, he wouldn’t need magic. He wouldn’t need to protect himself—He wouldn’t fucking need anything. She was just going to bliss out again, probably the second she got into the house. Fuck, she was probably already halfway there in her mind already.
Beverly could tell him a million way that magic could sneak its way in and fuck their lives but apparently it could never happen through the mind and emotion altering potions she downed like water. No, Beverly being poisoned to death never seemed to cross her mind even though the woman had grown shakier and more weak every time she drank the numbing shit.
He stepped out of the SUV, looking at the house he had lived in for years. It looked tired, as tired as Beverly and just as shaken, the beige paint peeling, shingles off the roof lost and unmissed. The driveway was full of cracks, weeds quick to come in and fill the gaps. The hedges were overgrown but maybe that was a gift to the neighbors down the street that never talked to the family. Sometimes Edward got a hello but never Evan. Edward was going to grow up to be a sorcerer while Evan had just been the weird science geek without any parents.
As he stared down at one of his torn textbooks, he couldn’t help thinking his previous principles had been proven. What use was anything beyond cold, hard facts? What use was this seething pit of emotion in his stomach? It wasn’t real. None of it was real. The soil was real he was standing on, the granite underneath. Metal and minerals were real. Atoms, protons, electrons. The cycle of the water that rained down and seeped deep into the ground. These things were real, not the pain trying to pry into his heart. Not the fantasy of waving your hand and having all your problems just disappear. What a joke magic made of the world.
He left his robe in the car, not seeing the point in ruining it as well as he bent to clean. Beverly left him to it but he didn’t miss her presence. His heart winced and then hardened with every article of clothing he pulled from the damp grass and mud, each ruined book, destroyed dream. It had all been destroyed with the letter from the Hierarchy, this was just the physical manifestation finally revealed. It wasn’t going to get better. He knew Stephan Grock and he knew the way the fucked up man thought. No, there was no seeing this better. All he could do was wait it out and hope he’d make it through.
As he crouched over his broken bureau, carefully pulling shards of wood free from his tangle of shirts, he considered going to Gilda’s, only to shake his head with a sigh. Who the fuck would want to put up with this sort of shit? Stephan would surely follow him. The man would not let him free so easy, not after years of trying to get even the smallest admittance from Evan that he had power. The man would make an ass of himself in the middle of a village of sirens, and make Evan would look just as bad in association. Stephan hated the fae possibly more than anything else because the beings were magic while the warlock fell short in every regard. Making friends with the fae was the fastest way to get on the man’s bad side. Hardly something Evan needed to do more of.
He felt a familiar numbing draining his anger and hurt away as he piled his scavenged belongings together and prepared to step into Beverly’s house. It stole the strange spark Evan had felt since meeting Gilda and the others. Maybe things had been interesting at the Hierarchy. Sebastian had always spoken of having so much fun and crazy adventures… But then, Uncle Seb’s idea of a good time was going off and murdering people so he probably wasn’t the best judge. Evan could only imagine he had experienced something of interest that weekend because now it was gone. He was back home. His days were back to being filled with the same mundane mixed with fear of what might come depending on Stephan’s mood.
Straightening, he exhaled slowly, his eyes sliding up to the dark, cloudless sky and the bright pale moon above. At least it wasn’t a demon, right? He could have been tattooed and waiting for some demon master to drain him until he was dead.
Evan took small comfort in the fact that he wasn’t Vesper Malice even while silently hoping the boy was well and unafraid.