Our party sat huddled around the campfire after dinner, the cold nipping at our noses, ears, and fingertips. I couldn't seem to warm myself no matter what I tried; my armpits offered mostly frozen pockets for my aching hands, and my absence of essential body fat left me exposed to the elements.
Conscious of my misery, Beckett offered me his flask, insisting the rum would heat my bones and inflame my gut, but I declined. I couldn't afford to impair my focus tonight. I had to remain alert and headstrong.
Across the fire, Siren tended to her arrows, using her swollen belly as a working table. A few feet away, Victor watched on with trepidation, but etched in his face was an unparalleled degree of affection and longing.
Did Siren know how much he loved her? Or did she know, and that's why she pushed him away?
The warrior once told me she couldn't care about people in that capacity. She couldn't love her army—she had to send them to die.
But what happens when your soldiers love you anyway?
My gaze drifted to the pale-eyed demon sitting at the base of a tree, a safe distance away from the crew. The gag hung around his neck where I'd left it earlier, and although Torian had offered up his down blanket, the demon still sat in the sparsest of layers, almost like he enjoyed the freezing temperatures, almost like he welcomed the pain of survival.
He observed the rocky mountain peaks above us, and his blank eyes harbored a kind of yearning and melancholy, feelings unfit for such an arrogant creature. Then he blinked hard, shaking his head like a wet dog, and he turned back to camp.
I glanced away before he caught me staring.
Harden your heart, Kingsley, I commanded. Will is suffering. You know what you have to do. There's no second guessing yourself.
No turning back.
A sharp and sudden gasp had me flinching in place, and my gaze darted back to Siren. She glared down at her stomach with an arrow in either hand, completely still.
The men quieted, watching the unmoving woman with wide, worried gazes. Her expression might have meant anything—pain, alarm, fright, anger. She'd worked hard to mold a mask as unreadable as this one, as expected of a cross-dressing soldier in a vicious patriarchal society.
It took me back to the many instances I'd struggled to interpret Will's frowns, and the memories of reluctant smiles and tender gazes brought a dull ache to my ribcage.
With a breathy exhale, I forced the pain away.
There'd be plenty of time for that later.
Victor moved to the woman's side, his calloused hands hovering a few inches from her elbow, as if he expected her to smack him away the second he dared touch her. "Sye? Are you okay?"
The Reaper of the Canopy blinked down at her stomach.
And then she did the most unexpected thing of all. She giggled.
My mouth dropped open, and a couple men inhaled sharply around me, others hacking up swills of alcohol that had entered the wrong pipe.
Was that an actual laugh?
Was she possessed?
"The baby just kicked," she whispered, setting the arrows aside so she could run her hands over her navel—her nimble, bronze digits spreading across the forest-green fabric of her undershirt.
YOU ARE READING
The Ephemeral (Book 2: Ikelos)Fantasy
Book 2 in The Ephemeral trilogy. Two months have passed since the battle at Holly, and Alex is back on her feet again. Under the Command's supervision, she's working day in and day out to master her power, desperate to gain control of her own curs...