She was in our usual spot, and I rushed to her side before she’d sensed my arrival. “We have to get out of here,” I said, grabbing her hand as she gaped at me. “What?” she asked, dragging her feet along the grass as I led her away from the forest. My father had sent the entire force out to find her, and we’d be caught if we stayed close to the shelter. “What’s going on?” I pointed to the sky, and her purple eyes darted up. Streaks of green and blue soared against the blackness, and her grasp tightened. “What are those?” “Shade energy,” I said, lifting her into the air as I soared along the river. We were flying. “They found out about us.” “How?” “I’ll explain in a minute,” I said, and the water flicked behind us as we passed over it. She steadied herself, let go of my hand, and flew by my side as we curved around the river bend. A cluster of trees—ones that I knew led to the school—hung over the edge, and she sped up, dipping into them.

Zui Gu Dao

She laid her feet on the ground, and the trees blew. I landed next to her, and the leaves waved between our faces. I pushed them away. “We’ll be okay here.” “It isn’t that far from our usual spot,” she said, allowing her gaze to linger behind me. I ignored her and wrapped my arms around her torso. She squeaked, surprised by my sudden embrace, but leaned into my chest. Her hand tapped against my ribcage. “Shoman,” she breathed. “What’s wrong?” “I’m glad you’re okay,” I said, laying my hand against her hair. She leaned back, looking into my eyes. “I was worried about you, too.” “I’m okay.” She smiled, staring at her hand as she spread her fingers over my shirt. “I know that now.” I held my breath. Did she feel the same way about me? She had to. “Are you in trouble?” she asked. “They sensed our power,” I admitted. “But I don’t want you to be involved.” Her eyes widened. “They’re looking for me?” I nodded. “I’m not comfortable with it either.” Her hand curled into a fist. “Is it the Light?” “No.” Not that I know of. Her brow furrowed. “Then what’s the problem?” I wanted to tell her that she was the third descendant, to explain the prophecy, but I couldn’t, and she frowned at my silence. “You can’t tell me,” she said, and I looked away. “It’s complicated,” I said. “Did you use any of your powers?” She shook her head. “Believe me, I took your word to heart. I haven’t even transformed until tonight.” “Good,” I sighed, knowing she could’ve been tracked. We both could be, but I could defend myself. “Are you feeling okay?” Her shoulders dropped. “I’ve been exhausted.” “That’s expected after activating your powers,” I explained, knowing the descendant power came with faults. It completely drained me the first time. “The descendant powers,” she said, biting her lip, and I knew what was coming. “Did you figure out what I am?” Yes. “Not exactly,” I said. “But you aren’t Darthon. You don’t have to worry.” She folded her arms and leaned into me. “But the war.” Her words shivered through my chest. “If you’re the first descendant that means you have to fight. You have to win.” “I know.” Her forehead pressed against my sternum. “How long do you have?” “Less than a year.” She laid her hands on my hips and stepped backward. “But—” “I won’t be alone,” I said, trying to calm her. “The Dark will be with me.” Hopefully. It wasn’t guaranteed. In fact, it was more likely I would be alone, but I couldn’t tell her that.

zhan-long-5525127

She’d be upset. “I want to help,” she said, and I froze. “No.” She dropped her hands. “Why not?” she asked. “I have powers. I can help.” “You aren’t going near the Light,” I said, knowing her life was more precious than mine was. They could absorb her, whatever that meant, and her death would cause their success. I couldn’t risk it. I wouldn’t. She folded her arms. “Whether you like it or not, I’m going to help. I’m here to stay, Shoman, or have you forgotten that?” I sighed, running a hand through my hair. “It isn’t that simple.” “Then make it that simple.” I can’t. “You aren’t fighting, and it isn’t up for negotiation.” She dug her toes into the dirt and snapped a leaf off a branch. She fiddled with it in her hands and sat down, tearing it down the middle. “But I’m capable—” I sat next to her. “I know you’re capable,” I said, sighing. “But it’s too dangerous, and you’re not going to get hurt because of my inability to fight.” Her mouth opened. “You’re protecting me from something.” My shoulders tensed. “Why do you say that?” The leaf sparkled purple beneath her touch. “I can read you better than you think,” she said. “You aren’t confident about defeating this Darthon guy, huh?” I laid my arms on my knees. I had yet to tell her about Fudicia. “I don’t know what to expect from him,” I admitted. She eyed me. “Or from yourself.” I tensed, and she leaned against me. “I’m not trying to upset you,” she said. “I’m just trying to figure this out, and it’s hard when you don’t tell me everything—or anything, for that matter.” My jaw popped. “It’s better if I don’t.” She was quiet, and her cold cheek pressed against my bicep. “I’m worried about you. I care about you.” My stomach churned.

Zhan Long

Was she supposed to love me, too? I didn’t know. “Don’t worry about me,” I said, fighting my emotions away. “I’ll be fine.” “I can’t lose you, Shoman.” I straightened up, and whiplash stung my neck as I turned to her. Tears pressed against her eyes, and my stomach twisted. “You’re not going to lose me,” I said, but she turned away. “Hey.” I moved toward and leaned over. “Look at me.” She didn’t move. “Please look at me.” I touched her chin, lifting her face, and she blinked, pushing tears back. “You really think you’re going to lose me?” I asked, and she almost nodded. I kissed her. She tensed, and I moved back, looking into her eyes. “You aren’t.” “Then let me help,” she said, and I grabbed her hand. “I can’t,” I said. “You need to trust that. You need to trust me.” “And I do—” “Then forget about the battle,” I said, running my thumb over the back of her hand. “Please.” She bit her quavering lip, but she didn’t nod. “I can pretend to,” she said. “But I won’t.” I sighed, opening my mouth to argue, but she placed a finger on my lips. She smiled, “I may not know all the details,” she said. “But I know you’re in trouble, and I don’t want to see you get hurt.” I wrapped my fingers around her wrist and kissed her finger. I loved being near her. “We should talk about something else—” “About how much I care for you?” Her voice was sharp, but her eyes were soft. My jaw locked, and she hugged her knees, laying her chin on them. She blinked, and the purple color glowed in the shadows of the trees. “I don’t know how I can feel this much when I barely know you, but I do.” Her words explained everything I felt, and I knew I couldn’t deny it anymore. I was falling in love with her, and she was falling in love with me. It was fated, decided before any of us were born, and I hated it as much as I loved it. I could barely stand it. “I don’t know either,” I whispered, and she scooted closer, lying on my lap. I leaned back, placing my hands on the dirt, and she stared up at me. “Do you think fate’s possible?” she asked, and I stiffened. Fate was a reality, but it wasn’t a beautiful or angelic thing. It was a heart-wrenching nightmare. And we’d fallen blindly into it. We had no escape. It was happening, and it was up to me to guarantee our survival of it. “Yes,” I said. “I think it’s very possible.” She smiled and pulled me down to kiss me, even though I knew she wouldn’t if she understood the ramifications of it all. Her kiss could kill us, and my consent signed our death certificates, selfishly and without control.

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