Page 41 of The Lover's Leap

Syndrian took my hand and helped me into the back of the cart. “Are you hurt?” He touched my face and looked down to where the blood at my knees had seeped through the borrowed dress. “I will find the bird that hurt you and end it!”

“No.” I gave him a sad smile. “I’m fine. These are just scrapes.”

“Flynn!” Syndrian leapt over the side of the cart and landed on the ground. He motioned for his brother to ride Rowan, while he assumed the driver’s seat and took over the cart in Flynn’s place. “If you can get ahead of us, ride fast. Alert Odile. Wake Neo and Rain if they are there. Let them know we have someone with vengersax poisoning.”

I had no idea who Neo and Rain were, but none of that mattered now. Biko was lying on his back in the rear of the cart, and I clasped his uninjured hand in mine, kissing his fingers.

“Biko, you’ve always meant everything to me.” I thought through the years I’d visited at his table, played with his mother, and daydreamed about his best friend, never once making certain that Biko knew that I valued him. My brother. My blood. I would not let him leave this realm ignorant of my affection. “I love you, Brother,” I whispered against his hand. “Please, please stay with me. I can’t lose you.”

Biko weakly clutched my hand and blinked. He stared blankly into the sky, but he seemed to try to reply.

“Love you,” he gurgled.

I whispered prayers against his uninjured hand over what seemed like the longest, roughest ride of my life. When we finally slowed, I peered out from the back of the cart as Syndrian climbed down and opened an iron gate set into a chest-high stone wall.

Flynn rushed ahead of us. Within moments, there was a commotion at the entrance to the manor, but I was transfixed by the surroundings. Behind the stone wall, the grounds surrounding this estate glowed red, as if the grass was illuminated by a colorful fog. I watched in awe as Flynn and Odile ran toward the cart, followed closely by an enormous man with black hair that fell to his shoulders.

Idony was just a few steps behind the man, screaming after him. “Neo, help him! Please help my son!”

“Neo!” Syndrian waved the man over to the cart, and together, they took Biko under the arms and behind the knees, then carried him inside the manor.

Wherever we were was a far smaller place than the Lombard manor, but it was a stately home nonetheless. Odile, the healer, chatted with a short, older man, who I assumed was the butler of this estate, while I grasped Idony in a tight hug.

“Thank the gods you’re here.” I wept. “When Biko said you were missing, I had no idea where you might have gone!”

She clung to me tightly, then released me, her eyes and hair wild. “I came here searching for options, Pali. I wanted to meet with the friend I told you about. The one who helped you before. But this…what’s happened to Biko…I don’t understand. What happened tonight?” She seemed dazed and looked as stunned as I felt.

“Go on inside, miss,” the elderly gentleman said to me. “Follow yer friends there. My wife, the butler of this fine manor, will see to you. The horses on Flynnie’s cart know me well, and I’ll stable your girl as well.”

“Thank you,” I said. Gripping Idony’s hands in mine, I followed behind Odile.

“Tell me, Pali,” Idony begged. “How did he…”

I didn’t stop to tell Idony the whole story. “I’ll explain everything… He was attacked by vengersax. His injuries would have been so much worse. He was protecting me, and he… He…he turned into a…”

“Shhh…” Idony nodded, closing her eyes. “Inside. We’ll speak freely there.”

Once we were indoors, a woman with long white hair was shuffling several children up the stairs. “Odile’s needed for healing, kids. Everyone back to bed.”

The manor, as far as I could see, was bustling with activity. Syndrian and Neo had Biko laid out on a red velvet settee in the sitting room. They urged both Idony and Odile to join him, and then Syndrian attempted to close the door.

“Are you serious?” I demanded. “You would shut me out of my own brother’s deathbed!”

Syndian looked pained. His hair was loose again, falling against his damp, flushed face. “Neo must…” He let the words die on his lips as he grabbed my hand and pulled me inside. “What you’re about to see, Pali…”

I shook Syndrian’s hand away, bristling at the suggestion that I hadn’t the stomach for this. “Whatever happens, I’m more than capable of being here for my brother,” I said.

“It’s not about being capable.” Syndrian rested a hand on my arm, begging me with his eyes. “Pali, please…”

“Please, what? I don’t understand.”

Idony stood with her back to her son, praying into the fire. Her hands were clasped in front of her, and her chin was lowered to her chest. Neo stood behind her and rested his hands on her shoulders.

“I’m going to help him, Idony,” he said, his voice low and deep. “I’ll save him if I can.”

As Neo spoke, a shock struck my body, memories driving my attention away from the scene before me. Neo was, I was absolutely certain, the guide who had taken me to the goblins. He’d been the one Idony had gone to when I needed help. He had helped me obtain the death mask.

I swallowed hard as I took in the face of my guide and watched as Idony turned away from the fire to address him. She placed her hands on either side of his handsome face and nodded. “Help my son,” she said. “No matter what is required. He cannot leave me. I cannot lose him.”

Tags: Callie Chase Fantasy
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