Read Return (Awakened Fate Book 3) Online
Authors: Skye Malone
Book Three of the Awakened Fate series
Copyright 2014 by Skye Malone
Published by Wildflower Isle | P.O. Box 17804, Urbana, IL 61803
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this text and any portions thereof in any manner whatsoever.
This book is a work of fiction. All characters, names, places and incidents appearing in this work are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Library of Congress Control Number: 2014906858
Cover design by Karri Klawiter
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Branches snapped beneath my bare feet and only the fact my skin had changed enough to handle it kept the twigs from hurting. A frigid wind rushed through the forest around us and rain drizzled past the trees, the drops feeling so much colder than the water we’d left behind.
“There should be a road soon,” I assured Zeke, silently praying it was true. I had no idea where we were, short of being somewhere
north of Santa Lucina, but I couldn’t believe we’d gone so far as to leave any trace of civilization behind.
Zeke didn’t respond. But for the few moments in the water when he’d sent a message to his sister, he’d hardly spoken a word, and when I glanced back, his gaze was locked on the forest floor in a way that made me doubt he was seeing it.
I hesitated and then kept walking. I didn’t know what to say. His brother, Niall, was a Sylphaen. He’d murdered Zeke’s dad, and nearly killed their oldest brother as well. And barely half an hour ago, he’d kidnapped me to bring me to his master, the ‘Wisdom’ Kirzan, for some kind of sacrifice. If not for Zeke coming after us and stopping him – and having to kill Niall’s accomplice in the process – I’d probably be in the custody of the Sylphaen right now.
On the one hand, I couldn’t thank him enough for saving me.
I just didn’t know what to do about the rest of it.
Or how to feel about the fact that, the moment we did find civilization, it’d be time to say goodbye.
Letting out a breath, I tried not to give into how much the thought hurt. Living in Kansas, I’d stayed away from the ocean for most of my life. I’d never even come near the sea till I’d snuck out of the house for a short vacation with my best friend a few weeks ago. It’d only been then that I learned I was actually dehaian, a fish-person mermaid thing like in storybooks. But that came with problems, one of the biggest of which was the fact that most of my kind could no sooner live on land for an extended period of time than they could fly to the moon. And they couldn’t travel far from the ocean either. If they tried, it’d draw them back with a compulsion so strong, it felt like they were going insane.
I knew. It’d happened to me the first time my parents – my adoptive parents, anyway – had tried to bring me back home.
But now that I’d survived changing into dehaian form, now that I’d been underwater and not died from the shock, my half-landwalker heritage meant that I might be able to return to Kansas, and perhaps stay there indefinitely too. Which, considering it’d get me away from Niall and the Sylphaen, was great.
It just meant leaving Zeke.
And the more I thought about it, the less comfortable with that reality I became. I knew there wasn’t really a choice, though maybe someday the Sylphaen would be dealt with and I could come back.
But in the meantime… it hurt.
Leaves brushed my side when I skirted past another bush, the feeling strange against the faux-swimsuit covering me – as if the plants were touching my skin, though to all appearances they were running up against an iridescent and vaguely scale-like fabric instead. Shifting my shoulders against the sensation, I continued down the narrow deer trail.
Time crept by as the path twisted through the undergrowth, and only my awareness of the ocean behind us kept me certain we were moving in the right direction. The rain picked up, becoming a steady downpour. My hair plastered to my face and I swiped water from my eyes with every few steps. Mud covered my feet while leaves and pine needles stuck to my legs. The gray sky overhead grew darker as the afternoon turned to evening, and cautiously, I let my eyes take on a hint of the dehaian glow just so I could see through the twilight.
And still the forest remained unchanged.
I swallowed hard as darkness settled around us. I didn’t know what we’d do if we had to spend the night out here. It was true that, as dehaians, we rarely needed to sleep, but I also hadn’t managed more than a few nightmare-interrupted catnaps in almost five days. Even for us, that seemed like it was pushing it, and the exhaustion dragging at my muscles felt like it agreed.
But I really didn’t want to sleep on the muddy forest ground. For that matter, I didn’t want to sleep at all.
A light flickered in the distance.
My heartbeat picked up speed as my gaze locked on the golden glow flashing behind the windblown leaves ahead. Breathlessly, I turned my head, not taking my eyes from the light.
“I see it,” he answered, his voice far more reserved than mine had been.
I glanced back to him questioningly.
His mouth a thin line, he hesitated and then twitched his chin in silent agreement for us to go onward.
We continued past the bushes, leaving the deer path finally when it curved away from the light. Branches swiped at me as we picked our way through the undergrowth, and soaked leaves slid like cold, clammy fabric across my skin and scales alike. Wind tossed the treetops as we neared the source of the light, and in the last shadows of the forest’s shelter, we paused.
It was a porch light. Affixed beside the green front door of a two-story house, it shone over the yard, revealing a dilapidated shed on the far end and a stack of firewood beneath a blue tarp closer by. In the driveway, an old, cream-colored pickup sat with a camper shell attached to its back. The house itself had once been white, though age had chewed away at the paint on the siding and the shadows swallowed its second story. Light glowed behind the curtains of a single window on the lower level, and as I watched, a shadow passed across it like someone moving within the house.
I glanced to Zeke.
His expression hadn’t changed.
“We need a phone,” I whispered. “I have to be able to call Baylie or someone to come get me.”
He didn’t respond for a heartbeat, and then gave a nod. “When they ask, our boat sank. We couldn’t save anything.”
“And pretend to be cold.”
“I am cold.”
He looked to me. “Colder.”
I hesitated, realizing what he meant. We’d been walking for hours in the rain, the wind and now the dark, all in swimsuits.
If I wasn’t dehaian, I’d probably have been freezing.
He nodded again. Drawing a breath, he made the faint glow fade from his eyes, returning them to normal human appearance. He pushed past the last of the branches and headed into the yard.
Swallowing nervously, I let my eyes do the same and followed.
The steps creaked as we climbed to the porch, and beneath the aged gold light of the lamp, I felt painfully exposed in the black night. As Zeke knocked on the chipped surface of the green door, I hugged my arms to my sides, not having to fake my shivering.
A moment passed. Heavy footsteps sounded within the house, coming closer.
The door opened a fraction, affording us a view of a hardwood floor and a burly man, while the smell of dinner cooking spread into the night air. Standing nearly seven feet tall, the man eyed us with alarm that turned to wary suspicion when he ran his gaze over the two of us in our swimsuits.
“Can you help us?” Zeke asked, a hard note of challenge in his voice despite the question.
The man’s brow furrowed. He looked past us to the yard, as though checking for anyone else there. “What are you doing out here?”
“Our boat sank,” Zeke told him flatly. “We barely got away, but we lost everything. We’ve been trying to find someone to help us since we made it to shore.”
The man paused. “Your boat?” he repeated as if testing the words for their sound.
For a moment, the man didn’t respond. “Huh. You, uh, you injured?”
Zeke shook his head. “Just cold and tired. We need to call our friends to come get us. Could we use your phone?”
Again, the man hesitated. His gaze returned to the yard, scanning it briefly, and then he nodded.
“I don’t have a phone,” he allowed. He pulled the door aside. “But, uh, yeah, come on in.”
Still hugging my arms close, I followed Zeke in. A sparsely decorated living room waited beyond the door, with a couch covered by brown blankets facing the cold fireplace. A scuffed coffee table sat between them, a dirty plate and an empty glass on top of its wood surface, while a weathered easy chair waited to one side with a reading lamp nearby. To our right, a stairway stretched up into the shadows of the second floor while a darkened kitchen lay past a narrow door on the other end of the living room.
And that was it. No pictures hung on the walls. Nothing warm or familiar dotted the room. Functional defined the space, as much as it defined the man still watching us. Dressed in a green flannel shirt with faded black cargo pants below it, his only concession to being at home seemed to be the fact wool socks covered his feet instead of the muddy work boots resting to one side of the door. With his graying hair pulled back in a rough ponytail at the nape of his neck and his salt-and-pepper beard reaching from his chin to the top of his chest, he looked like the kind of person who had little need for society, and could probably live quite happily without coming near it for years on end.
“Let me find you some blankets,” the man said, keeping an eye to us while he headed for the closet below the stairs. The door squeaked when he tugged it open and, a moment later, he came back with a pair of rough gray blankets in his arms. Handing one to each of us, he waited till we’d wrapped them around our shoulders and then motioned to the couch. “Take a seat. I’ll get you some…” He seemed to run a quick inventory in his head. “You drink coffee? I think I have decaf.”
“Sure,” I said when Zeke paused. “Thank you.”
We sat down while he left the room.
“Now what?” I asked softly.
Zeke didn’t respond, his gaze on the kitchen. The sound of running water came from farther inside, along with the clink of mugs. A moment later, the steam-puff noise of a coffee maker followed.
The man came back in. “Should just be a few minutes.” He crossed the room to his easy chair and sat down on the edge of it. Bracing his elbows on his knees, he folded his hands and regarded us both.
“You all from around here?” he asked finally.
Zeke shook his head. “Just on vacation.”
The man nodded. “Well, like I said, I don’t have a phone. No good getting cell signal out here, and the landline went down in a storm a few weeks back. Nearest place to make a call is down at the gas station about ten miles away.” He glanced to the window as if he could see past the curtains to the rain. “Not smart to be out driving in this weather, though.”
I kept my gaze from going to Zeke worriedly.
“I guess you all could crash here for the night, if that’s what you’d like?” the man offered cautiously. “I got a room upstairs you could use.”
Zeke paused and then looked to me, considering. “That’d work. Thanks.”
The coffee maker quieted in the next room. Still studying us, the man made no move to go retrieve the drinks.
I shifted uncomfortably at the scrutiny, my scale swimsuit feeling little better than bare skin beneath the scratchy blanket. “Would you happen to have, like, sweatpants or something I could borrow?” I prompted, pulling the fabric around me tighter.