Sunday, January 30, 2011
One woman, one bond, one final battle ... can even Nexi Jones defeat the deepest darkness of evil?
Nothing could have prepared me for what faced me now--nothing at all.
Magnus, my destined mate, was dead, by my own hand. Since Magnus and I had completed the bonding ceremony, the role of Ruler over the Underworld had now landed in my lap.
Oh yes, it’s unbelievable. I’m now the Lady of the Underworld. Coming to terms with such insanity, my body reciprocated with full out laughter.
No one said a word. The demons, witches, and warlocks that filled the room all studied me. Some of them laughed a couple times. Others just looked royally pissed.
“Ahh...” I finally managed after my laughter ceased and my breath returned. “Wow, that’s funny.”
Kyden brushed the hair back from my face, his touch gentle and loving. I glanced up and saw my hunky Guardian--his typically strong features soft with relief and dazzling green eyes more than amused by my fit. As his gaze held strong with mine, the memory of all that had taken place hit quickly. For the first time since this whole bizarre situation started, all the emotions I should have felt slammed into me, and my breath caught in my throat.
You see, while Magnus was here and our bond held strong, all I could feel was anger, and my love for Kyden had vanished. Now that Magnus’ hold was gone, it took all of a second before those tears of laughter became ones of sadness.
I let out a scream that echoed the pain in my heart and did nothing to hold back the tears that began to fall.
Misa rushed forward, grasped my arm tight. “My Lady, are you all right?” Her all-American girl look was troubled indeed, but don’t be fooled--she’s a demon.
Kyden gathered me up into his arms as I sobbed heavier than I had in my entire life. Sobbed that I almost lost him and everything that mattered, but mainly because I’d betrayed him. Not only had I slept with Magnus in the dreaming, but Kyden had seen me want him. Had seen me kiss him and witnessed my undying love for Magnus.
I couldn’t even look him in the eye.
Zia, Master of Witches and one of the four master supernaturals who governed the Otherworld, knelt down beside me. Her long strawberry blond locks brushed against my arm. “You have nothing to be shameful of, Nexi. A soul bond is not one by choice.” She gave a firm look that I’d expect to see from someone who was as close to me as a mother. “Do I need to slap you to make you see reason?” She made it a habit to smack some sense into me if I couldn’t see it--regularly.
I glanced up at her, momentarily eased by the distraction of receiving a blow from her. “No, that won’t be necessary.”
Kyden let out a long deep breath, which I only heard, since I refused to look at him. How could I? After all that happened, how could he still love me? He stood with me in his arms, said nothing to the others and quickly left the auditorium.
When he reached a large Maple tree, he sat beneath it, cradled me in his arms, and took my chin in his hand to force my gaze to his. “We’re going to sort this out now. I won’t have you feeling shame or guilt. So, tell me, Álainn, what troubles you?”
Álainn, Gaelic for beautiful--normally hearing him use the pet name he gave to me sent waves of love straight to my soul, but now all I felt was empty. “I slept with him. We were bonded. Oh my God, Kyden, I’ve betrayed you.”
His grip on my chin tightened, his eyes bore into mine with such intensity it captured my already shallow breath. “You think I give a fuck about Magnus and his attempt to lure you?”
“How can you not?” My voice squeaked, tears streamed down my cheeks. “How can you forgive me?”
He brushed his fingers along my cheek to wipe away the tears. “There’s nothing to forgive you for.” His voice gentle and so unlike Kyden. “I don’t doubt for a moment where your heart lies. Besides, he took you in the dreaming--it wasn’t flesh on flesh. And what happened in there,” he nodded back to the auditorium, “is to be expected. His bond had taken you. The fact that you had the ability to deny it and destroy Magnus in life itself is enough. But I know you. The real you--the Nexi Jones that stole my heart would never have considered another.”
He put his finger on my lips to quiet my words. “No. I told you, there’s nothing that needs to be forgiven.” He sighed again, even deeper. “All that matters is that I still have you.”
Tears still streamed down my face as I wrapped my arms around him and hugged him as tight as I could. “I love you, Kyden.”
“As I do you,” he whispered against my ear.
We stayed that way for a while, just holding onto each other. Sure, my heart still felt heavy, but something else filled my thoughts. I backed away to meet his gaze. “You almost died.” I could barely even say the words, unable to think of what could have been.
“But I didn’t.” His gaze was unwavering. “This is the last conversation you and I will have on this subject. We have been granted the right to be together again and we won’t waste it. We won’t worry about what has happened or took place, only focus on each other and our future. Am I understood?”
I nodded, understood his words perfectly and sank against his chest as he wrapped me in his strong protective hold. This was the last time we would ever talk of Magnus, and what took place, because he didn’t matter--what happened didn’t matter. All that mattered was us, our love and life--no matter how strange it was about to become.
We stayed like that for a while, hugging each other, never letting go. Never again would we be apart and I relished in the love I felt in his embrace.
After my tears finished, Kyden leaned back and smiled down at me. “We need to get back. You have a world to rule.”
His gaze was amused. It was a great restraint on his part that he wasn’t doing a serious belly laugh. I gave his arm a good smack. “It’s not funny. This is insane. What are they thinking? I can’t rule them.”
He stood with me still in his arms, then placed me on my feet, took my hand and squeezed it tight. “It’s a peculiar situation for sure, but one you can’t deny. So, best we just go face this and see what they want from you.”
“Just when I think I can’t take anymore, life only seems to get harder. You know, I’m thinking your whole idea about leaving the Otherworld doesn’t sound all that bad right now.”
He cupped my cheek, ran his thumb over my bottom lip. “I’m afraid, Álainn, that isn’t a choice anymore. Don’t worry, I’ll be with you. We’ll get through this together.”
I leaned into his hand and smiled. At least, I had that. He would be beside me through anything. With him, I had everything.
Hand in hand, he led me back toward the auditorium. When I entered, everyone stood and bowed. I snorted, thoroughly annoyed. “Oh, please.”
“Are you okay?” Zia inquired.
I loved the telepathic communication we shared as Spirit Witches, especially in times like these, when others didn’t need to hear.
“Better. But what the hell, is this for real? Do they really think I’m going to lead them?”
Her smile was more than amused, it bordered on hilarity. “I’m not sure what they expect of you, but it seems as though Azar and Misa must have a plan since they assisted you against Magnus. Be kind to them, Nexi. They gave you a great gift by helping you.”
“I know you’re right, but Zia, I can’t do this. I. Don’t. Want. To. Do. This.”
“There are steps for you to appoint a new leader, but right now, we need to learn more of this world. You cannot appoint someone who you know nothing about. Think of the consequences. Let’s just take this one step at a time, all right?”
Just then, Misa approached me and bowed. “My Lady...”
“Nexi,” I interjected before she continued. “My name is Nexi.”
“Okay then.” She smiled. “Lady Nexi.”
“No, drop the Lady, just plain old Nexi.”
Misa looked around completely confused. “You’re asking me to call you only Nexi?”
“That’s right.” I glanced around the room to all the Underworld creatures. “All of you. My name is Nexi. That’s it! Got it?” Everyone in the room exchanged a confused glance. The sight of it made me laugh. “And none of this bowing stuff. It’s quite ridiculous.” Their befuddled expressions shifted to complete bewilderment. I had the real feeling that I was asking for the impossible.
To hell with it, I had other matters to attend to. My gaze fell upon Azar. A warlock who looked just as one would expect--scruffy with long white hair and dark eyes that exuded power.
I released Kyden’s hand and stepped toward him. As I reached him, he bowed. I touched his arm, drawing his gaze back to mine. “Why did you help me?” He’d withdrawn the hold Magnus had on me. Without his help, it wouldn’t have turned out this way. I would have been lost to the darkness forever.
He held his hand out, an offering for me to read his thoughts. Just a neat trick the Spirit Element gives to me. I took his hand without hesitation and opened myself up to him so that I could get a grasp on what this was all about.
In an instant, visions flashed through my mind and I recognized the first one immediately. I’d seen this memory in Misa’s mind at the beginning of this mess. At the time, though, she’d pulled away so I couldn’t see more. Now, it became clear.
Azar and Misa wanted to change the path of their world, protect and make it different--better. But Magnus was set in his ways. Yes, they could have defeated him, but then Pye would have taken his place. This would have been worse. So, that’s where I came in.
Misa planted the idea into Magnus’ head to have Pye destroyed. Then, with him out of the way, they put the plan into motion to destroy Magnus. They believed I had all the qualities of a supreme leader and no longer wanted to live in the realm of evil. They would have stopped Magnus’ hold over me earlier if they hadn’t needed me to bond to him first. It guaranteed that I was next in line to rule.
The visions stopped and I released Azar’s hand. Stunned, shocked--I was speechless.
Kyden stroked my arm in a soft touch. “All right?”
I glanced at him. Still unable to speak. This was all very serious, but to be truthful, I had no idea what to say. Off all the things that I thought this might be about, this had never once crossed my mind.
They chose me to lead. Me.
“Nexi, you have to say something.” Zia’s voice filled my mind.
I glanced at her. She gave me a nod of encouragement, to say whatever needed to be said, but still I couldn’t. I seriously drew a blank. I’d never been without words before or so completely dumbfounded.
Misa cleared her throat, broke the silence. “Um...Lady...I mean to say, Nexi, needs some time to process. Let’s give it to her.”
Just like that, every warlock, demon, and witch stood in unison and left the auditorium. All that remained were Misa, Azar, Zia, Talon, and Kyden.
When the final Supe left the room and the door closed, Zia ran to me, hugged me with every ounce of her strength. “I didn’t think it was going to turn out this way.” Her voice hitched. “I love you, Sweetie.”
Still, I stood speechless.
Zia leaned back, then glanced worriedly at Talon. The Master of Guardians, and Kyden’s father, had just released his son from a tight embrace. He looked a lot like him--had the whole ‘slay my dragon’ thing going on. “I think she’s in shock,” she said.
Zia glanced back to me, kept her hold tight on my arms, and released her magic. A rush of ease filled me.
I exhaled deeply, then gave my head a shake. It relaxed me enough to ground myself again, but I was still unbelievably shocked. Clearly, Zia didn’t want to take away the sense of what was going on here, knew I needed it to make good decisions, but took the edge off.
“So...” I hesitated. Everyone looked at me, waited for me to continue. “You do know that I’m a White Witch?”
Misa nodded, a sweet smile spread across her face. “Yes, we know.”
“And you do know I won’t accept Black Magic, right?”
“Why do you think I didn’t allow you to accept it after the bonding ceremony? We don’t want you to change.” Azar smiled.
Now it made sense. At the time, he suggested that Magnus and I wait until we were alone for me to accept Black Magic. With all types of sultry promise, Magnus had agreed. A deep shudder erupted within me as I remembered the way he looked at me then, the way I felt and wanted him. Just yuck!
I shifted my focus away from thoughts along that line and got back to business. “Why?”
“We like how you are,” Misa responded.
I gave my head a shake, tried to understand all this, but nothing seemed to make sense. “I’m so confused.” I gave my temples a good, hard rub.
Misa laughed. “What’s there to understand? I told you repeatedly that we’re not what you think we are. Yes, we’re demons and must siphon souls to feed our world and our magic, but we disagree with our past leaders. We don’t want innocent souls taken.”
I had to laugh at the idea of such insanity. “You’re good evil guys?”
“Makes you like us, right?”
I did remember when she’d told me this awhile back but I thought she was totally nuts. The truth was, now, I did like her. Demons are the pure essence of evil and she denied her very own soul to live in kindness. That definitely put her on the side of the good guys. Still, none of this made any sense.
“Honestly, why have you chosen me? There were lots of powerful witches and warlocks here tonight. You could have picked any of them.”
Misa’s smile was shrewd. “Not as powerful as you. With you leading, it puts us in a position of great safety. No one can go up against you, which will keep our world and our wants, protected.”
Before I could process that, Zia said, “She’s right, Nexi. You’ve grown undeniably strong. You shielded Kyden against Magic--used your shield on another. I still don’t believe it.”
My magic always did seem to be stronger with emotional motivation behind it so it really didn’t surprised me anymore that my powers exploded when I needed them most. Besides, my mind just couldn’t break away from how insane this all was. “But I have no experience with leading anything. I’m only twenty-four years old for gosh sakes. I can’t do this.”
Azar placed a hand on my shoulder, his smile kind. “You were born to do this and we’ll be here to guide you.”
I waited a good ten breaths as I let my mind process the situation. It wasn’t going to go away and would happen whether I liked it or not. So, as they say, better face the music and find out exactly what they wanted from me. “Lay it on me then, what do I have to do?”
“First, we need to establish rules that your minions must adhere to.” Misa informed.
Suddenly, a horrific thought came to mind. “I don’t have to live here, do I?”
“You are the Ruler of the Underworld. You can do whatever you like--the rules are yours to make.”
My gaze met Kyden’s, relief palpable in my tone. “Well, that’s a bit of good news.”
“You can assign yourself minions to handle your daily duties, and to look after the world for you, if you don’t wish to live among us.” Misa continued.
Okay, easy decision. “I appoint you.”
“Me?” Misa gasped.
“Well yeah, you seem to know lots. You’ll do fine.” Better than I could do, and oddly, I trusted her. Yeah, I trusted a demon, never thought I’d see the day.
She started to bow, but I grabbed her arm quickly. “Please don’t. That’s just too weird.”
“As you wish, my...” she stopped herself and smiled. “Nexi.”
I smiled in return. Whoever guessed that I’d find a friend in Misa? I would never have thought it possible. Friends come from unusual places, and I couldn’t deny that when I looked at Misa, all I saw was a friend.
“We’ll be in nightly contact with you about situations that arise and matters you must deal with. It’d be my pleasure to act as your Siren to assist you and deal with most of the trouble without you. The role is normally given to a witch, but times have changed now, haven’t they?” Azar cut in.
“Great.” Maybe my involvement wouldn’t be as much as I thought. These two seemed to know what the hell they were doing. “So, you’ll only come to me if something really serious comes up?”
“As Siren, I’ll deal with anyone who goes against the laws you put forth. We’ll detain them here. Then, weekly you’ll need to come so they can stand before you.”
I sighed loud and proud. There went my whole plan to let everyone else handle it thing for me. “All right, got all that, so what do we do now?”
“We need to bring everyone back in so you can set in place the new rules.” Misa stated.
My gaze hit on every face here. “Er...I hope you are all going to help me with this?” I was glad to get a nod from each of them in return.
Half an hour later, we had rules to set the Underworld to rights. The crowd piled back into the auditorium and took their seats. Misa gave me a quick nod to begin.
“Here goes.” I said to Kyden, who gave my hand a squeeze before letting go. Nerves rattled me. Public speaking was never my strong suit. So, I made it quick.
“Rule one: No more taking innocent souls. Anyone who does will face destruction. Understood?” Every head nodded so I continued. “Only humans who have done something wrong, murder, rape, you know that kind of stuff. Those souls you can drain, and do whatever you want with, but that’s it.”
When a Demon drained a soul, it didn’t actually kill them, just weakened their life force--took a few years off. If they ruined lives, who cared that they’d die a little early. I sure didn’t.
“Rule two: If a human asks for something in return for giving his soul,” Which was how the majority of the souls were taken--given freely in exchange for something. “You cannot do anything evil. Got it? No hurting others, stealing, murder, anything that falls into those categories.”
I continued for what seemed like hours, until my mouth ran dry from talking. The rules were simple ones, we weren’t able to change the way of the Underworld, but we could run it along the same lines of the Otherworld. With the only difference being, I was the Council. What a big joke, right?
“I have put Misa in charge. So, anything needs to go through her.” Everyone nodded again. “Azar will now be my Siren. If there is trouble, go to him, and he’ll sort it out.” With that all said and done, I looked toward Azar. “You need to choose your...” I hesitated, searched for the right word, “...guard.”
Azar leaned in, his voice low. “Sorry, that’s your job. We’ll arrange for a challenge for you to choose who defends you.”
“Oh. Well, okay. We can do that.” I had no idea what I was doing and really hoped I didn’t look as ridiculous as I felt.
“Is that all then, Lady...I mean to say, Nexi?” Misa asked.
“Yes, that’ll do.” I glanced around the room and looked upon a few faces before me. “I guess I should probably thank you all. If it wasn’t for your support, things would’ve turned out very different.”
When Magnus called out for help, no one had given him aid. A couple of firm nods acknowledged me, but that was about it. I glanced back at Misa who smiled at me. “I guess that’s it, so can I go now?”
“You do not need to ask my permission,” she replied softly.
“Okay.” I walked back to Kyden and grabbed his hand. “Let’s go then.”
Everyone in the auditorium stood and bowed as Kyden and I walked, Zia and Talon followed. “Stop doing that.”
No one listened.
Zia chuckled and stepped alongside me. “Better get used to it, Lady Nexi.”
I scowled at her. “This is so not funny. I’m just glad I don’t have to really do anything. Anyways, it sounds like they want most of the things we do, so that’s good right?”
“We’re entering a new time. I never thought I would live to see the day when the Underworld joined the Otherworld in its endeavors.”
“Or that I’d be running it.” I had to laugh at the craziness of it.
“We always knew you were special. Drake and Tryianna would be proud of what you’ve become. Their daughter, the Ruler of the Underworld.” She laughed quietly. “They’d never have believed it.”
“Will I...do you think...” I searched for words.
She took my hand and smiled. “You’ll do fine. Not to worry, Sweetie, we’ll assist you. You won’t be alone in this.”
The second we reached the bottom of the hill, Kyden squeezed my hand while Zia did the same to the other in preparation for the coming teleportation. That’s how the portal works. Wherever you come in, you only need to go back to that same place and think of home.
A moment later, it hit. My breath sucked into my body as my eyes closed for the force of it. When the air quieted and I could breathe again, I opened my eyes, glad to be back in the Council’s Foyer. The portal belonged in the Otherworld, and was a thick wooden door that sat in a room better described as Kings Chamber than a Foyer. I never could understand why they called it that.
My gaze immediately landed on Kyden’s. “Home, sweet home.”
He smiled, wrapped his arm around my waist and opened his mouth to speak but I put a hand up to silence him.
“I have been a mess. Do you know what you’ve done to me?” Willow’s annoyed voice rang through my mind.
My familiar had probably been in hell these last few hours. As my protector, we’re always connected in mind, therefore, she would have known everything that happened through my eyes. It’s the way she could sense if I was in danger and protect me. However, since she was unable to enter the Underworld, she couldn’t do anything about it. It must have been hard.
I picked her up and snuggled my face into her black fur. “I’m sorry, Willow. You must have had a rough go of things.” My tone came out sarcastic, but I could tell from her purr that she knew how happy I was to be back here with her. She felt whatever I did.
As I placed Willow back on her paws, another person I loved came to my mind. She would have gone through hell these past couple of nights too.
“Haven.” My soul-sister, the equivalent to a soul-mate, but without the romantic junk. We are sisters destined to be together and can sense what the other feels. Usually, it annoyed me that I couldn’t feel anything without her coming to investigate, but right now, all I knew was that I needed her. “Where is she?” I asked Zia.
“Finn took her home to sleep,” Zia answered. “I’ll come with you and we’ll wake her.”
“I’ll go and inform the others of what has taken place.” Talon said, as he leaned in and kissed my cheek. He glowed with happiness. He hadn’t lost his son, and I could tell from the look in his eye that he was just as happy not to lose his daughter. Warm fuzzies spread through me.
With Talon on his way into the Council’s Hall, Kyden kept my hand tight in his as we walked toward the Witches House located at the east side of the castle. It was a blessing that it is not too far from the Guardians House since the Gothic castle was big enough to get lost in--it’d happened on numerous occasions in fact.
The entrance to the Witches House was marked with the word Witch etched into the stone wall. Suddenly, urgency ripped through me. The memory of her in pain, how cold I was to her, overtook my thoughts. I needed to get to her.
I released Kyden’s hand and ran for Haven’s door. Luckily, it was only a few doors down. Once there, I grabbed the handle and flung it open to find Finn sitting on the couch, his head in his hands.
His gaze immediately snapped up and he was off the couch in a second flat. His slender muscled body tightened tremendously as this surfer babe’s expression shifted to confusion. “Nexi?” Kyden stepped in next to me and leaned against the doorway. Finn looked like he saw a ghost. He rubbed his eyes and looked again. “Kyden,” he whispered.
“Yes, you fool.” Kyden laughed.
Finn ran at full speed toward us and lunged himself at Kyden. The second they thudded to the ground, he started laughing. “I expected to float right through you.”
Kyden chuckled along with him. “Mind getting off?”
Finn jumped up, reached his hand out for Kyden. He took it, hopped to his feet and embraced him in a tight man-hug. The two would never use words to say just how glad they were to see each other. Male pride and all, but I could see it written all over their expressions.
He released Kyden and latched onto me with a hug. “What happened?” he asked, backing away from me and glancing between Kyden and I.
“Let’s wake Haven first,” I said and moved into the living room. “I don’t want to have to repeat it.”
I headed past the kitchen and into the bedroom. When I entered, Haven looked so peaceful as she slept on the bed. I sat down next to her and took her hand. She is a ray of sunshine, and it never left her even when asleep. She practically glowed. Her bouncy brown curls lay across the pillow and cradled her sweet face. Zia sat on the other side, and ran her hand along Haven’s head.
Instantly, Haven’s big blue eyes fluttered open and her gaze met mine. “Nexi.”
“Yes, Haven. It’s me.” Tears filled my eyes as I squeezed her hand. We were home and safe.
Seconds later, Haven jumped to her feet, glanced at everyone in the room, then fainted. Finn lunged for her and scooped her up. “Well, that wasn’t the reaction I expected.” I laughed.
Zia chuckled along with me, stood and approached Haven. She rested her hand on Haven’s cheek and immediately woke her.
“You are all right? Kyden is alive? You’re back?” She rambled on.
I laughed, patted the bed for her to sit with me. “Okay, take a deep breath, and let me tell you what happened.”
By the end, Haven sat with her mouth wide open. Finn looked equally shocked.
“You’re the Ruler of the Underworld?” Haven whispered, disbelief clear in her tone.
I nodded. It was all I could do; worried she wouldn’t be pleased with the news.
Haven blinked twice, then burst out laughing, as did Finn. Kyden and I joined in.
“Just when I think it can’t get any worse, something always proves me wrong.” I sighed and wiped tears from my eyes.
Haven wiped her own and took a deep breath to gather herself. “It’s not so bad. You said it yourself--you don’t really have to do anything.”
“I guess.” I shrugged a little. “It’s just so bizarre. I never thought I would be grateful to a bunch of demons.”
Haven giggled. “Me neither.” Suddenly, a curious look came upon her face. “Are you feeling okay?”
“Yeah, I feel fine. Why?”
“Then we have somewhere to go.” She smiled.
“I’m not going anywhere. I only just got back.” I jumped off the bed and moved next to Kyden. He wrapped an arm around my shoulder and lightly ran his fingers across my skin.
Haven stomped her foot, her lips pursed in a pout. “But I have something planned for you.”
“How have you had time to plan anything?”
“Well...” She smiled sneakily. “It was something I planned a week ago and since all is well now, we should continue on with the plans, don’t ya think?”
“Plans for what?” I asked, hesitantly. I’d become suspicious, who can really blame me? Haven had a knack for doing the unexpected.
Kyden leaned down and whispered in my ear. “Have you forgotten what tomorrow night is?”
I met his eyes, trying to think. Tomorrow. What was happening tomorrow? Then, it hit me like a smack in the face. “Our bonding ceremony?”
He smiled, brushed his fingers across my cheek. “I’m glad you haven’t forgotten.”
Haven watched me impatiently to give her the acknowledgement she sought. As much as I wanted to stay with Kyden and never leave his side again, we had agreed that this wouldn’t rule us. This situation was over and I needed to treat it as such.
As the acceptance settled in, I noticed the mischievous look in Haven’s gaze. “What have you planned?”
She wriggled her brows. “You’ll see.”
Oh for Christ Sakes! This was going to be bad.
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