I sucked air into my lungs, breathing in the smell of sweat. My fists stung from the repeated impact against the punching bag. I could feel the skin beginning to peal off my knuckles from the force of the punches I was throwing, but I didn’t care. I focused on each movement of my muscles, keeping my heart rate and breathing controlled as I focused on the punching bag in front of me.

Speed. My father was drilling Shiva for speed again. He’d been focusing on speed for the last few days, and I’d been excelling at it. Speed was built into every fiber of my body. I was good at this. But of course, no one noticed.

I glanced over at Shiva, who was struggling to maintain the grueling pace our father had set for him. Shiva was fast, but he wasn’t fast enough. Not fast enough to make our father happy. He wasn’t as fast as me.

“I’ll bet even your sister could do better than that!” Father exclaimed.

I turned to face him, wondering if he’d seen how flawlessly I’d kept up with his commands, but he wasn’t looking at me. He was glaring at Shiva, and Shiva was looking dejectedly at his toes.

There was a long silence. I could feel my heart beating in my chest. Maybe this was my chance.

“You’re right,” I said. Father and Shiva both looked up at the sound of my voice. They turned to face me, as if seeing me for the first time.

“What?” Father asked, frowning. “Did you say something?”

“I said you’re right,” I repeated. “I can do better than him.”

Father laughed. “Go bake a pie, Rajani,” he said.

“No, I mean it. I’ll prove it,” I said, feeling anger churning in my stomach. If he would just give me a chance, he would see.

“Alright, we’re watching,” Father said, crossing his arms and looking at me with a strange expression on his face, like amusement mixed with boredom.

I turned to face the punching bag. I narrowed my eyes and focused on it, breathing deeply to calm myself. I was strong. I was fast. I could do this, and I would show them all.

I glanced at my father, waiting for his commands. He began to bark out orders, slowly at first, then increasing his pace until I was punching, kicking, and slashing at the bag so fast I almost forgot to breathe. There was no time to think about each action, it was just instinct, just reacting to the sound of my fathers voice urging me to move faster.

Then he stopped, and the room fell silent. I threw all my strength into the last punch, slamming my fist into the bag. I felt the shock of the impact travel up my arm. I would be sore tomorrow. Something wet was on my hands, and looking down I saw that my knuckles were bleeding. I looked at the punching bag and saw several red streaks where my blood had been smeared across its surface.

Finally I turned to face my father. He was still looking at me with that bored yet mildly amused expression. My chest rose and fell rapidly as I tried to catch my breath. Sweat was dripping into my eyes, stinging them. I could feel my heart pounding in my chest, measuring time. Ten heartbeats. Twenty heartbeats. Thirty heartbeats, and still my father hadn’t moved or spoken.

Finally his lips parted and my cat ears perked up as I waited to hear his words. He would be proud of me now. He would see my potential, he had to! He would praise me for doing such a good job and apologize for not recognizing my skill sooner. I straightened my shoulders, ready to bask in his approval.

“Not bad,” he said, “for a girl.” Then he turned and walked out of the training room without a backward glance. My shoulders sagged and I stared at the door where he had gone. That was all? Hadn’t I done well enough? I had done better than Shiva! I let out a hiss and slammed my fist into the punching bag again. It hurt, but not as much as my father’s empty words.

Turning away from the bloodied bag I stalked out of the room, my tail thrashing angrily behind me. I found a bandage and wrapped up my knuckles, then began prowling around the hallways of the huge mansion.

Why did my father pay so much more attention to Shiva than he did to me? In my mind Shiva was a freak – more animal than human. When I looked at those red eyes I saw a beast, not a person, and I knew my father felt the same. I’d heard him say so.

So why couldn’t he see that he didn’t have to put up with his defective son? Why couldn’t he see that the child he wanted was right here? I may be a girl, but I would show him that I could be as good as any son. Maybe better.

I rounded a corner and came across Shiva, who was nursing a scrape on his knee that he must have received during the training session.

“Why do you even try?” I asked him bitterly. He looked up at me, confused. “You know you’ll never be good enough. You’re just a freak, and father will never love you. No one will ever love you.”

Shiva glared at me with his red eyes. “At least I’m not a girl. I’m the son he wants,” he said.

“You’re not the son he wants, you’re a cheep substitute that he puts up with because he doesn’t have a better one,” I said. “He’ll never be happy with you because you’re not strong like Chand.” Chand was our older half brother. He was the perfect son in almost every way, except that he was a half-breed. His father had been a bird-different from Japan. Our family had worked hard to keep the panther line pure, so the existence of a half-panther was a shame to us. Father would never accept Chand, but Shiva still had to live up to his strength, courage, and intelligence if he wanted father to accept him. He couldn’t let himself be outdone by a half-breed.

Shiva’s lip quivered a bit. “Oh, did I hurt your feelings? Why don’t you go run to mama?” I taunted.

He snarled and tried to punch me, but I ducked under his arm and brought the heel of my hand up to connect with his chin. The impact felt very satisfying.

Shiva yelped and staggered back, spitting blood. “Look at that! You just lost to a girl!” I laughed. “Too bad father wasn’t here to see it.” With that I turned and marched away, anger still churning inside me.

To Be Continued…

< Chapter One

Copyright 2014 Arthwaya Valora & Alvara101

 

I was eight years old, standing in the training room where my father worked on his combat skills. My twin brother Shiva was standing in front of a punching bag, his forehead creased in concentration as he tried to obey our father’s orders. I copied his position, my muscles twitching in anticipation as I faced my imaginary opponent.

“Left, left, right, kick, slash,” father barked out a sequence of commands, increasing the pace as he continued. Every day before dinner Pardus would take Shiva to the training room and drill him. Because I had nothing better to do, I was allowed to tag along. I wanted to learn to fight too, but father never took the time to teach me, so I had to learn from observing Shiva’s lessons. I’d once asked my father if he would instruct me, but he said he didn’t have the time to waste. He’d always underestimated me because I was female, but I was determined to show him I was just as good as my brothers.

The smell of sweat began to fill the room as the drill continued. Shiva’s bare chest glistened, and my long hair clung to my sweaty face. Sunlight streamed through the windows, heating the room until it felt like we were in a sauna.

“Faster!” Father barked, and I quickened my pace, trying to keep up with his rapid-fire commands. My foot slipped and I stumbled, grabbing hold of the punching bag to keep from losing my balance.

“No, no, no,” Father scolded. I looked up and saw that he was glaring down at Shiva, his hands on his hips. My brother must have missed one of the commands, unable to keep up with the pace.

“Try it again, and pay more attention this time,” he ordered, and began barking out commands once more. I gave my full attention to the punching bag in front of me, feeling the satisfying jolt of each impact. My breath grew ragged and I was sure I was going to miss a step; I couldn’t keep up with this pace much longer. Sweat dripped down my forehead and into my eyes, stinging painfully. Finally the orders stopped and I stood panting and staring in wonder at the punching bag. I’d kept up! I wasn’t sure how I’d done it, but I’d kept up! I was about to let out a shout of joy and run to my father in excitement, but then his harsh voice sobered me.

“That still isn’t good enough. Keep practicing, the next time we train you’d better be able to keep up.” Shiva nodded and looked dejectedly at the punching bag that had managed to conquer him again. His muscles were trembling from exhaustion and he swung another halfhearted punch at the bag as father turned away.

“Father!” I exclaimed, wanting to attract his attention. I wanted to tell him that I’d kept up with his demanded speed. I wanted him to be proud of me. But he didn’t even glance my way as he passed, heading to dinner.

“Shiva!” I cried, turning to my brother. I was excited and wanted to tell someone about my success, and he was the only one still here. “I kept up!” I boasted.

“Don’t tell tales,” he scolded, smacking the punching back and watching it swing lazily.

“I’m not telling tales! I really did keep up!” I exclaimed, my voice rising in frustration.

“If I couldn’t keep up than you sure couldn’t either,” he informed me.

“That’s not so! I’m as good as you, maybe better!” I declared.

“Prove it then,” he challenged.

“I will, just you watch! You and father both, I’ll show you I’m as good as any boy!” I yelled at him, then turned and ran from the room, upset that everyone seemed to think I was useless. I’d show them, I’d show them all, and I’d make father proud. I’d make him love me.

< Prologue ~ Chapter Two >

Copyright 2014 Arthwaya Valora & Alvara101

It was a bitter December night. Frost crept up the glass on the windows of the old Minnesota mansion and snow swirled outside, while the wind rattled the windowpanes like it was determined to find a way into this ancient refuge. Every light in the house was on, and people rushed around frantically. Somewhere upstairs a woman was screaming in agony. A boy ran through the door into the parlor where a man was seated before the dying fire, reading a newspaper.

“Mother’s calling for you. She’s in a lot of pain,” the youth said, his brow creased with worry.

“I’m busy,” the man said gruffly, not bothering to look up from his paper.

“But…” the boy began, but was cut off by a sharp rebuke.

“Shoo!” the man snapped, releasing the paper long enough to wave a hand dismissively at the boy, who turned and exited the room reluctantly.

A few minutes later the man folded his newspaper and made his way to the bedroom where the exhausted woman was lying. The smell of blood hung in the air and he wrinkled his nose in disgust as he approached her bedside. Her dark eyes looked nervously up at him as she pulled aside the blankets to show the face of the tiny child at her side.

“Boy or girl?” he asked harshly.

“She’s a girl. Her name is Rajani,” the woman said.

“A girl?” he bellowed. “You gave me a girl? You gave a son to the last man, but you curse me with a daughter?”

She winced at his words, then let out a cry of pain as her body contorted. “There’s another,” the nurse said, hurrying to the laboring woman’s side.

“If it’s a girl, drown it,” he ordered, turning for the door. “One is bad enough.”

It was hours later when the second child was finally delivered. The exhausted mother clutched her two children close, barely able to keep herself awake as she waited for her husband to return. He kept her waiting for a long time, then finally he appeared.

“Well?” he asked, crossing his arms.

“You have a son,” she said tiredly. “His name is Shiva.”

The man looked down at the baby, still pink and wet from its birth. The tiny eyes opened and peered up at the father, who recoiled at the sight. “What is THAT?”

“His eyes. Aren’t they gorgeous?” the mother said with a tender smile at her son. The baby’s crimson eyes closed again and he nestled closer to her side.

“They’re hideous. You’ve given me a defective child,” he complained. He looked down at the boy with a resigned sigh. “He’ll have to do,” he decided, then turned on his heal and left the room, closing the door loudly behind him.

Chapter One >

Copyright 2014 Arthwaya Valora & Alvara101

 

Twitter: @Arthwaya

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Dr. Wesley A. Canton was rummaging through the papers on his desk when the phone rang, startling him and making him drop several paper clips on the floor. He glanced at the caller I.D. and then picked up the phone.

“Harrison, you’re finally returning my calls. What took so long?” he said into the mouthpiece of the phone.

“I’ve been out of town,” Dr. Harrison replied.

“I’ve been talking to Hugo and according to him you’re both giving up on getting Kalinda. Is that true?”

“Yes, it is. We bit off more than we could chew last time. That assassin, Axiss, was there to protect her,” Harrison said.

“But you’re not planning to just give up are you?” Canton prompted. “You’ve got to try again!”

“Hugo and I have decided not to go back. She could make us a fortune, I know, but it isn’t worth risking our lives for.”

“Risking your lives? I hardly think you would be in any danger,” Canton scoffed. “She’s just a girl, after all.”

“As I recall, you were the one who was too cowardly to come with us the first time,” Harrison said defensively. “She’s not ‘just a girl,’ she has some rather frightening friends.”

“Yes, I know. Axiss the assassin. So you met him, did you? Now you can see why I decided not to come along. But if you’ve been watching the news you’ll know that Axiss is dead,” Canton informed his friend. “He was arrested and dealt capital punishment for his crimes. With him out of the way I thought I might come help you, and now you’re telling me that you’re too scared to go back?”

“Axiss may be gone, but he wasn’t our only problem. She has her brother watching out for her, and even she herself can be dangerous when she’s threatened,” Harrison argued.

“Kalinda? Dangerous? She’s a healer, she wouldn’t hurt a fly,” Canton scoffed.

“I thought the same, until she stabbed me in the arm with a knife,” Harrison stated. “I don’t think we should underestimate her.”

“She really stabbed you?” Canton asked. “Wouldn’t have thought she had it in her. But obviously you lived to tell about it, so it couldn’t have been too serious,” he reasoned.

“Maybe not, but my point still stands,” Harrison said. “The money isn’t worth the risk. I think we should let it go.”

“Are you kidding me? The police even took your side, from what Hugo told me. How can you pass up such a golden opportunity?”

“Well I don’t see you rushing in after her,” Harrison snapped.

“Maybe I will, now that the creepy guy is dead!” Canton shot back.

“Trust me Canton, going after that girl on your own is just plain foolish, and don’t expect Hugo and I to help you. If you want her, you’re on your own, but if you know what’s good for you you’ll take my advice and leave her be.”

“Fine, I’ll leave her be,” Canton grumbled. He slammed the phone down without waiting for a reply from Harrison. Deep down he knew he wouldn’t have had the guts to go after her anyway, even if Harrison had asked him too. He sighed and returned to rummaging around on his desk. Maybe someday I’ll get up enough courage to go get her, he thought. But not today. 

< Chapter Forty-Five

Copyright 2014 Arthwaya Valora & Alvara101

It was a few weeks since Axiss had left, and I was sitting in the living room watching the news while May and Marie played with their stuffed animals on the floor. I wasn’t really paying much attention to the television; I was just staring at it while my mind wandered. I was thinking about Axiss, wondering where he was now and if he was ok. I didn’t have to wonder long.

Something on the TV caught my eye and I focused on it, than sat up straight when I realized it was a picture of Axiss. “An escaped serial killer known as Axiss was arrested this morning in New Hampshire and taken to the state prison in Concord,” the news reporter was saying. “Police informed us that the convict has already been dosed with the new Dissimilis drug in order to prevent any future escapes. Citizens can rest easy knowing that this time, Axiss will remain behind bars.”

I grabbed the remote and hit the power button, silencing the reporter as the television screen went dark. “No…” I moaned, resting my head in my hands. “Please, no.”

I was still sitting there when Ylva got home from work. She took one look at me and knew that something was wrong. “Kalinda?” she said, walking over and putting a hand on my shoulder.

“Axiss is in jail,” I informed her. “They’re using that new drug to keep him from escaping again.”

I felt the couch cushion shift beneath me as Ylva sat down. “I’m going to go see him again,” I decided.

“Kalinda…” she started.

“I’m going,” I said firmly, cutting her off. My mind was made up.

“Alright,” she said reluctantly. I could tell she thought it was a bad idea, but she knew she couldn’t talk me out of it. I stood up and pulled out my cell phone, did a few Google searches and then sat down and started making phone calls.

It took a long time before I was finally given an appointment to see Axiss. There were all kinds of hoops to jump through. In the meantime the news reports kept on updating me as Axiss was tried and found guilty for crime after crime. He didn’t even try to defend himself, he simply pleaded guilty. After a few days I stopped watching. The stories were too painful for me, and I already knew what the result would be anyway. Axiss would be in prison for the rest of his life. He wouldn’t be able to escape again while they were using Rakta’s drug on him.

After weeks of phone calls and paperwork my background checks were completed and everything was finally in order for me to visit Axiss. Shiva offered to come with me, but this time I wanted to go alone. I took a bus from Boston to Concord, and spent the whole drive trying to figure out what I wanted to say to him, since this was probably the last time I’d ever get to talk to him, but when I sat down on my side of the bullet proof glass I still didn’t know what I was going to say.

I had a feeling of déjà vu as I looked at Axiss through the glass. He seemed to be moving a bit sluggishly and I guessed it was a side effect of the drug they were giving him. He kept his head lowered, staring at the ground, and for several seconds we were both silent.

“I’d hoped this wouldn’t happen,” I said finally. He didn’t respond, and I swallowed dryly and tried again. “I probably won’t get to see you again, so…” I stopped as Axiss looked up at me, his red eyes meeting mine.

“Capital,” he said. One word. One horrible word. It took a moment for my brain to accept the meaning behind the word. They weren’t just going to imprison him; they were going to kill him.

“NOOO!” I screamed, flying to my feet and sending my chair skidding backwards across the floor. My hands were clenched in fists at my sides. This couldn’t be happening!

“Yes, Kalinda,” Axiss said quietly. My fists opened and I pressed my palms against the glass to steady myself. Tears began to spill from my eyes, blurring my vision.

“They can’t… they can’t do this,” I choked out.

“They can,” Axiss said, “And I deserve it.”

I wanted to deny it, to say that this was wrong and unjust, but I knew it wasn’t true. Axiss did deserve this, but I still didn’t want to see it happen to him.

I wanted to say goodbye. I wanted to tell him how much I cared, how much I would miss him, how glad I was that I’d known him, but I couldn’t speak. My throat had sealed itself shut, but there was one gesture that I knew he would understand. I touched my hand to my heart and then extended it toward his, pressing it against the glass that was in my way. It was the gesture I had used to say thank you all those years ago, before I had healed my voice. Now I used it to communicate how grateful I was for those days we had spent together on the roof. For the time when he had been my friend.

Axiss looked at me for a long moment, then he slowly touched his hand to his heart and pressed it against the glass opposite to mine. I looked at our hands, his dark and mine pale, and my mind went back to the day on the roof when he had called me his friend. “Ami, friend,” he had said, and then he had pressed his hand against mine.

Ami, friend. The words echoed in my mind as I looked at our hands, separated by the glass. The two gestures merged in my mind into one message. Thank you, friend. I raised my eyes to his face. His red eyes met my golden ones and held them for a long moment.

I raised my other hand and kissed it, then pressed it against the glass as well. His expression softened and he gently touched the glass, taking my kiss, then stood staring down at his hand for several seconds before gently touching his cheek.

My vision began to swim and I watched blearily as he pressed both his hands back against the glass, opposite mine. I suddenly hated that glass more than anything, as if it was somehow responsible for keeping us apart. I wanted to feel his hands against mine.

The edges of my vision began to go dark and I felt myself falling. The last thing I saw was my hands slipping away from Axiss’ as I fell backwards. I was unconscious before I hit the ground.

The rest of the day was a blur for me. I remember waking up with a police officer standing over me, asking me if I was all right. I assured him that I would be fine. I don’t remember the trip home, but I must have taken a bus. When I reached the apartment I went straight to my room and curled up on my bed to cry.

It wasn’t long after that when an evening news story informed us that Axiss had been executed by lethal injection. There had been no question of Axiss’ guilt, and the families of countless victims had been lobbying for justice, resulting in one of the fastest convictions and executions our country had seen in decades. The television played security camera footage of Axiss being led into a small room and strapped onto the gurney, just moments before his death. I turned off the television, unable to watch any more.

I didn’t go back to the roof until months later. The snow had all melted away and the weather was warm and sunny when I stepped out onto the concrete surface. Everything seemed to remind me of Axiss, from the shed where he had lived to the bench where I’d fallen asleep. I circled the roof, gently touching places of significance as the memories came, one after the other. Some of them made me smile; others brought tears to my eyes.

Finally I made my way to the little shed and pushed the door open. Axiss’ coat was still lying on the floor where I’d put it the day that he left. Slowly I knelt down and picked it up. It still smelled like him, and I buried my face in the leather, closing my eyes to hold back my tears.

The sun was going down when I picked up the jacket and exited the shed. I climbed down the fire escape and crawled through my bedroom window. Kneeling down on the floor I pulled a box out from under my bed and removed the useless junk that was stored there. Neatly folding the leather trench coat I placed it in the box, then reached under my mattress and pulled out my diary, letting it fall open in my hands. It opened to the entry from the night of the masquerade ball.

He was so close tonight, I read. For a moment I thought he would do it, I thought he would try to change. That thought was the most wonderful thing ever. That moment of hope when I saw beyond his past and saw what he could become…

I turned the page, flipping through the diary. In some places my writing was large and sloppy, showing the emotional state I’d written them in. The last several pages were wrinkled and smudged from tears falling as I wrote. I slowly closed the diary and laid it on top of Axiss’ coat in the box. I carefully slid the box back under my bed and stood up. This chapter of my life, the part about Axiss, was over, but the memories couldn’t be tucked away as easily as the diary. I would always remember those crimson eyes, the leathery wings, and the rare sound of Axiss’ laughter. I would never forget the feeling of his arms around me, or the wind blowing through my hair as we flew. I would always remember the days when Axiss was my friend.

 THE END

< Chapter Forty-Four ~ Epilogue >

Copyright 2014 Arthwaya Valora & Alvara101

The smell of good food wafted through the house as Ylva worked away in the kitchen. It was Saturday, so she was home from work, and she wanted to make a nice breakfast to help cheer everyone up after everything that had happened the previous day.

She carried the pans of food to the table and then walked down the short hallway to my room and knocked on the door.

“Kalinda, breakfast is ready,” she called. She waited a moment, listening, but there was no answer and no sound of movement from inside the room. “Kalinda, please come out and eat with us,” she begged. Still there was no answer. She gripped the door handle and tried to turn it, but it was locked.

“She’s not there,” Shiva said, coming up behind Ylva.

“What?” she asked, turning to look up at him. “Then where is she?”

“On the roof,” he replied.

“But if she’d left her room this morning I would have seen her! Besides, her door is locked from the inside. She must be in there,” Ylva reasoned, but Shiva shook his head. Taking Ylva’s hand he held it over the crack around the bedroom door.

“Feel the draft?” he asked. “She’s gone out the window and climbed up the fire escape.”

“Then go after her!” Ylva exclaimed, but Shiva shook his head.

“I want to protect her as much as you do, but she’s a grown woman now, we need to let her make her own decisions,” he pointed out.

Ylva sighed. “I suppose you’re right. I just don’t want her to get hurt.”

“Me neither,” Shiva agreed. “But she knows the risks, and she’s willing to face them to help Axiss. We need to let her go.”

Ylva nodded resignedly and leaned against Shiva, who wrapped his arms around her for comfort. After a moment she pulled away and smiled tiredly. “Come on, let’s go eat breakfast before it gets cold.”

 

I had woken up early that morning, planning to get up and help Ylva with breakfast, but while I was brushing my hair something on the fire escape caught my eye. I walked over to the window and looked out to see that Axiss had forgotten his coat outside my window. I hesitated, then slid the window open and climbed out. Bending down I picked up the heavy leather coat and shook the snow off of it, then began climbing the metal stairs towards the roof.

“Axiss?” I called as I climbed over the railing and dropped lightly down into the snow. There wasn’t any answer. I crossed the roof to the shed and knocked on the door. Nothing. Holding my breath I turned the knob and pulled the door open. Empty. A thousand emotions rushed through me, and one thought surfaced. He was gone. Calm down, I told myself. Maybe he’s just exercising. He can’t stay up here all the time.

I turned in a circle, looking around the little shed. It felt very empty without Axiss. The sleeping bag I’d given him on the first day was still spread across the floor, but it was cold to the touch. He hadn’t slept in it last night. I sighed and laid the coat down on the floor for him to find if he came back. As I bent down my eye was caught by a small object half buried under the sleeping bag. It was the baby monitor. So that’s what happened to it, I thought, picking it up and sticking it in my pocket. I must have left it up here. It wasn’t until later that I began to wonder how much of Axiss’ time had been spent listening in on me in the apartment below.

I stayed on the roof for at least an hour, pacing around and staring down at the street below, but Axiss didn’t show up. Finally my ears began to hurt from the cold wind and I decided to go back down to the warm apartment.

All day my mind was on the empty shed. I couldn’t stop wondering if he would come back. By mid-afternoon I couldn’t stand it anymore, I had to go check and see if he’d come back yet.

When I stepped onto the snowy roof the first thing I saw was Axiss, standing with his back to me. I opened my mouth to greet him, but then I stopped as my eyes fell on the red splatters of blood staining his white hair. Somehow I knew that it wasn’t animal blood. I closed my eyes for a moment, composing myself. Pretend you don’t see it, I told myself.

“You’re back,” I said softly.

“Yes, I am,” he replied stiffly.

“I was afraid you’d left.”

“I did, for a while. Now I’m here again.”

“Which you?” I asked before I could stop myself. He finally turned to face me, and I wasn’t really surprised by what I saw. His face and hands were covered in blood. I looked at him sadly for a few minutes before dropping my eyes to the snowy ground.

“Nothing happened,” he said sternly.

“How stupid do you think I am?” I asked, suddenly angry.

“I said nothing happened!” he shouted. I just shook my head and turned away from him, walking over to the railing and leaning against it. A thousand things were running through my mind, and I didn’t want to think about any of them.

I heard him stoop and pick up a handful of snow, using it to scrub the blood off his face. “Why did you have to come up here?” he muttered. I could tell he was talking to himself more than to me.

For several minutes I was silent. Finally one thought rose to the surface of my mind, and I spoke it aloud. “What makes me different?”

His feet crunched on the snow as he walked over and stood beside me. “Different from what?” he asked.

“From everyone else. I practically had to make you take my blood, but with others you don’t think twice,” I explained without looking at him.

“For one thing I can’t take your blood,” he said bluntly. “Your healing power prevents me.”

“So, if it wasn’t for that, would you take it?” I asked. Then added softly, “Would you kill me for it?”

He didn’t answer me. We stood silently for several minutes, staring out at the distant horizon.

Finally I turned and looked up at his face. “What is it you wanted?” I demanded. “Blood? Thrill? Money?”

He turned his back to me, refusing to answer. I watched him for a moment. I was disappointed, and I was angry, but I knew that I shouldn’t be surprised. I should have seen this coming.

I felt sick to my stomach, which was a strange feeling for me. Turning my back on him I began to walk towards the door, not wanting him to see how strongly this was affecting me. I hoped I would be able to handle this better once I’d had some time to calm down and think things through.

“Goodbye Kalinda,” he said as I walked away. “You probably won’t see me again.”

That stopped me. I spun to face him. “You’re leaving?” I exclaimed, eyes wide.

“I don’t see why I shouldn’t,” he replied, still keeping his back to me.

“Will you come back?” I asked. I had nearly forgotten everything else in my fear of losing him.

“I just said you probably won’t see me again,” he reminded me.

I stared at him for a moment, feeling paralyzed. My heart was beating so loud I was sure he could hear it. I tried to move, but I was frozen in place. I willed myself to say something, anything, but I couldn’t. I hadn’t imagined just how hard news like this would hit me. I hadn’t realized just how much I really cared for this man.

I struggled, trying to speak, to beg him to stay. Finally I managed to force one word from my lips. “Please.”

He coughed and turned to face me. “Please? I’ve heard that word so many times it makes me sick,” he spat. “That has been the last word of so many people. You could fill a book with that word.”

His words barely registered in my brain. I shook my head a bit, trying to clear my foggy thoughts. “Don’t go,” I begged.

“I have to. You,” he paused and pointed at me. “You are suffocating, and it’s my fault.”

“What are you talking about?” I asked.

“You need to open your eyes and stop focusing on me.” He started to back toward the edge of the roof, preparing to jump off and fly away. I could feel him slipping away from me, and it was agonizing.

“No! Axiss, don’t leave me!” I exclaimed, reaching towards him. I wanted to run to him, but I couldn’t make my legs move.

He closed his eyes and shook his head. “I can’t stay.”

“Why? What did I do wrong?” I asked. My eyes were filling with tears, blurring my vision.

“Absolutely nothing. You’re perfect,” he answered.

“Then don’t leave me,” I whispered.

“I’m corrupting you. And misleading you,” he said. “Even if you somehow changed me, how would I live? Everyone knows who and what I am. I would have to hide away in a dark hole until I die. Is that what you want for me?”

My hands were shaking. I clenched them into fists and shook my head. “No… Oh, I don’t know! I just want you to stay!” I exclaimed.

“Look at you! Is this really so hard for you? You’re too attached to me; it’s clouding your judgment. Snap out of it, Kalinda!” he ordered.

“I love you,” I whispered, finally voicing what I hadn’t been able to admit before now. Axiss’ eyes widened and he stumbled as if he’d been struck.

“You what?” He leaned against the rail for support, staring at me. “What?!”

“I love you,” I repeated as the tears spilled from my eyes and ran down my cheeks.

“You- you can’t!” he exclaimed. “Why, why, why… why, how?”

I finally managed to move my legs. I took one shaky step towards him, my eyes pleading as I blinked back my tears. “Axiss, you said we were friends. If you ever meant a word you said to me than please, I’m begging you, don’t leave,” I said, my voice cracking as I spoke the words.

“I’m sorry,” he said. Without warning he appeared in front of me and gently tipped my chin up so I was looking into his crimson eyes. His expression softened as he gently brushed his fingers over my cheeks, wiping away the tears. Slipping his arm around me he pulled me close and slowly pressed his lips against mine. The kiss was soft and tender, and he held it for a few seconds before pulling away. I felt his warm breath tickling my cat ear as he whispered something to me in French, and then he was gone.

I stood frozen for several heartbeats before realizing what had just happened. “Axiss?” I whispered to the air where he had been, but of course there was no reply, just the empty whispering of the wind.

“Axiss!” I screamed. My legs gave out from under me and I collapsed in the snow, sobbing uncontrollably. I had been shot. I had been kidnapped. I had been forced to marry a stranger. But I’d never felt this much pain before.

I curled into a ball, hugging my knees and shaking violently. I had never cried so hard before in my life. My world was a blur of tears. I couldn’t see, and I couldn’t think.

I don’t know how long I lay there, but eventually I ran out of tears. My eyes stung and my lungs hurt. I was trembling from the cold, but I didn’t care about that. Slowly I got to my feet, wobbling on my stiff legs. I stumbled to the door and down the stairs, probably looking like a drunk. I entered the apartment and was greeted by the sound of Marie crying. Baby, I thought. What’s she got to cry about?

“Kalinda?” Ylva stood and walked over to me, concern in her eyes. “Kalinda, are you okay?”

It took several moments for my mind to register her voice. I turned slowly to face her, my eyes red from crying. I opened my mouth to answer her, but I couldn’t find the words.

“What happened to you?” she asked. “You look half frozen!”

“Axiss,” I said. My tongue felt heavy in my mouth.

“Axiss?” she exclaimed. “What did he do to you?”

I stared at her for a moment, uncomprehending. Then I realized what she must be thinking and I shook my head. “He’s gone. He’s gone and he’s not coming back.” My voice shook as I said it.

“He left? Did he harm you?” she asked, looking me over as if she expected to find a wound, which was silly since I was a healer.

I shook my head again. “I asked him, no, begged him to stay. But he left. He’s gone…” I raised a hand to my head. It was throbbing from all the crying I’d done. I probably could have healed it, but it was the least of my problems at that moment.

I saw understanding dawn on Ylva as she realized that my pain wasn’t physical. “Come on,” she said. “Let’s get you to bed.”

I nodded and turned towards my bedroom. I was thirsty. Dehydrated probably. But I didn’t care. I walked into my room and crawled gratefully into bed while Ylva pulled the covers up around me and brought me a glass of water.

“Ylva,” I whispered as she fussed with my blanket, “please, don’t blame him.”

She stopped and looked at me, confusion in her eyes. “But… he did this to you,” she said angrily. “How can I not blame him?”

“He left, Ylva. Yesterday you would have been glad. Now you’re angry with him? He did what you wanted.”

“But look at you! He may as well have tried to kill you,” she said.

“He left to protect me,” I said, still choosing to think the best of him, even now. “You should understand,” I pointed out. “You thought I was too close too him. I guess he thought the same.”

“I’ll admit I’m glad that he left, but… when he left he stole your heart.”

I shook my head. “He stole the kiss, but I gave him my heart.”

Ylva’s eyes saddened. “Kalinda, Kalinda, Kalinda…” she shook her head dolefully.

“This is my fault Ylva, so don’t blame him. I was digging my own grave and I knew it,” I told her.

“I’ll try my best for your sake,” she promised. “Now get some rest. You need it.”

I closed my eyes obediently. The extremes of emotions had left me feeling exhausted, and it wasn’t long before I slipped into a weary sleep.

< Chapter Forty-Three ~ Chapter Forty-Five >

Copyright 2014 Arthwaya Valora & Alvara101

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