There was one place I knew I could find my mother alone. When I was little, she always went into my father’s painting room and stared at his art. She said it brought her comfort and peace. Ever since then, I found myself doing the same. However, I hadn’t been in that room in a long time.
Closing my eyes, I pictured it all in my mind and summoned my magic to open a portal. When I stepped through, I opened my eyes, and there standing in the middle of the room, staring at her favorite painting, was my mother. She didn’t turn around, but I had no doubt she knew I was there.
I stood by her side, focusing on the painting she couldn’t tear her eyes away from. It was a picture of a small cottage on the other side of the palace, where she and my father had completed their marriage bond. There were times I’d caught them sneaking off to that particular place. It wasthatkind of love I wanted in my life. But sadly, it didn’t look like I’d ever get it. I could never have that with Iston, and there was no way I could have it with Kai, not if he constantly had to fight the inner darkness within him that wanted to kill me.
After a few minutes of silence, I sighed and looked over at my mother. “Please say something.”
She turned to me, her icy blue eyes full of concern but also filled with doubt. “The elves are furious, Ella. Iston more so than anyone else. He feels betrayed, and rightfully so.”
Swallowing hard, I rubbed a hand over my chest, wishing the pain would go away. “I know. If I could change things, I would.”
“What’s going on between you and the Shadow fae?” she demanded.
I didn’t know if she’d understand, but I had to try and explain. “His name is Kai.”
Her gaze hardened. “You were supposed to kill him, Ella. Not fall in love with him. His father got off on tormenting me and so many countless others, including your aunts. Who’s to say this Kai isn’t doing the same with you?”
I shook my head. “He’s not. Kai isn’t like Alasdair. He has good in him; I know it.”
“How?” she asked.
“Because he has some of your power in him, and Calista’s, Meliantha’s, and Sorcha’s, too. Alasdair transferred some to him when he was younger.”
My mother’s eyes widened with fear. “You can’t be serious? This isn’t good, Ella. Our magic used in a dark way is dangerous.”
“But he doesn’t use it that way,” I said quickly. “He doesn’t use it much at all.”
I wasn’t about to tell her that if he did, it would only heighten his desire to hurt me.
Brows furrowed, she clasped my face with her hands. “He can’t be your mate, Ella. It doesn’t matter if he loves you. This land and the people in it will never accept him. Plus, Iston isn’t ready to give you up. He’s telling everyone the Shadow fae has bewitched you.”
“No,” I fired back, taking her hands off my face. “I know what’s in my heart. There’s a connection between Kai and me that I can’t explain. Yes, he’s our enemy, but I can’t let him go.”
My eyes burned and a tear fell down my cheek. Then, with a heavy sigh, my mother hung her head for a moment before lifting it back up.
“I trust you, Ella. You’re my daughter, and I love you more than my life. But I’m not going to lie, I’m terrified. If it comes down to a war between our people and the Shadow fae, you know what side I’ll be on. Kai will be the main target.”
I wasn’t ready to think about that, but after what happened, I knew the war was coming. “I know,” I said, feeling the dread in my gut. “I’m just hoping something changes between now and then.”
What? I had no clue. My mother hugged me, and it killed me having to leave home. How was I ever going to come back after what I did?
“I will always choose my people,” I whispered. I could still feel the pull of the land, wanting me to claim it. At least it hadn’t forsaken me. That gave me hope. Maybe I wasn’t a complete traitor to my realm.
“I know you will,” my mother replied, letting me go. “I’m going to let everyone know you’re okay and you’ll be back soon. Just don’t stay gone long. You’re going to have to face Iston at some point.”
The rock in my stomach grew heavier. “I know. I’m dreading the day.”
We said our goodbyes, and instead of returning to the mortal realm, I stepped into the Hereafter. I wanted to see Merrick before I disappeared for a while. He wasn’t near the lake like usual, but it was easy to find who you wanted in the Hereafter. All I had to do was picture him in my mind, and the magic of the Hereafter would take me there. That was one of the things I loved about this place. It was infinite and made of a higher power that began long before humankind.
Closing my eyes, I thought of Merrick, and instantly, the tingling of magic spread across my skin. There was no longer grass beneath my feet but sand, and I could hear waves crashing against the shore. The smell of the salty sea air filled my nose, but it was mixed with the fresh, crisp scent of fall.
When I opened my eyes, I saw Merrick sitting in the sand, watching the sunset on the horizon. He looked lonely, sitting by himself with miles and miles of beach all to himself. However, behind the dunes was a whole landscape of trees, its leaves the shades of fall. I knew why he picked this place. It was a mixture of Summer and Fall. If he were alive, that was what he would be.
“Hey,” I called out.
Merrick glanced back at me, his smile sad. “Hey, yourself.”
I sat down beside him in the sand. It was warm as I slid my hands through it. “This place is new,” I said, nodding at the ocean.