The group gathered in front of us divided, making a path. As they did so, a voice sounded from that side of the room. “I’m so glad you could join us,” he said. “It saves us from having to go get you.” With that, a man appeared before us. He was nowhere near as tall as the others and he didn’t look like one of them. He looked human and not much older than me. When he stepped forward, the pain in the shoulder I had been cradling all but disappeared. Or, at least, it felt as though it had. It was more like I had forgotten about it. The man before us had all of my attention. Something about him had me on high alert, while at the same time, something was making me feel detached from what was going on around me. I can’t describe it now, any better than I could have then.
“My name is Sullivan,” he said. Though he looked at both of us, I felt as though he was speaking to me alone. And I didn’t like that feeling. “There’s no reason to be afraid. We won’t harm her.” He directed this last part toward Derik.
“Excuse me, if I don’t believe you,” Derik replied between clenched teeth.
“Well. I suppose I understand.” He waved the others away, and they went back to their seats, keeping their eyes on us. “Come. Sit.” He gestured us to follow him to the nearest vacant seating area.
As soon as he turned away, I became acutely aware of the pain in my shoulder. I glanced down at it and saw it was only slightly oozing blood, though it must have been bleeding profusely for a few moments. I looked up at Derik, who still had not moved nor taken his eyes off of the man. Derik’s right arm had blood on it. I moved closer to him, touching his arm, and was relieved to note the blood there was not his own.
He looked down at my touch and, before he could voice his concern, Sullivan called out, “Icarus, get the first aid kit.”
I saw one of them stand as if to protest, then, thinking better of it, marched out a nearby door. It was one of only two doors exiting this room. I glanced toward the other one, at the far end of the room.
Sullivan turned back to us, indicating a sofa in front of him. “Sit, please. As I have said, no harm will befall you. Let us take a look at your injury. It hurts, does it not?” When his eyes met mine, pain shot through my arm.
I sucked in a breath. Derik’s eyes narrowed, but he pulled me toward the couch and sat me down. I thought he must have been thinking what I was. We didn’t have much choice in that matter, at the moment. Why not get my shoulder treated, in the meantime. Then we’d think about escape. So, I sat down across from this man named Sullivan.
He looked at me. “Haylee, is it? Not very fitting for someone of your abilities, is it? We’ll have to think of something more suitable for you.” I just frowned at him, as I held my arm. “Ah, there you are,” he said over my shoulder. To me, he said, “This is Icarus. He will tend to your wound, while we talk. Icarus.” He gestured to me and, after a moment, I felt someone touch my arm.
I jumped a little. When I turned to look at Icarus, he would not meet my eyes, simply working with a slight look of distaste. He looked like many of the others. Pale, tall, and leanly muscled. I felt a small shiver run up my spine, closed my eyes, and swallowed it back down. I could have sworn an amused smile touched his lips. At least his amusement was not enough to show teeth. I jumped enough when he wiped the cold, damp cloth across my skin, cleaning the area. I looked away quickly. On the other side of me, Derik placed his fingertips on the back of my hand. My heart slowed slightly. When my eyes met Sullivan’s once again, it was as if the slash in my shoulder did not exist.
I blinked at him. Now that I was closer, I could see he was entirely – or at least nearly entirely – human. Why was he here? How was he here? Though we were both sitting, I could tell he was no more than three or four inches taller than me, and he appeared to be no older than maybe twenty-five. But he seemed older. As I was studying him, I noticed his lips spreading into a wide smile. Though it made him more handsome, his smile threw me. “What? What is it?” I glanced back and forth, searching for the source of his pleasure.
He laughed lightly. “You. You are most certainly not what I expected.” He studied my face intently. “Much more pleasing to the eye, yes, but not at all what I expected. You’re so…” he shook his head, still smiling. “I’m not sure young would be appropriate. Inexperienced, perhaps.” The way he looked me up and down, made me uncomfortable.
I shifted slightly and was immediately reminded of my wound, as Icarus tugged at it sharply. I winced.
“Icarus! I’m not going to warn you twice,” Sullivan said, menacingly. Icarus was much more gentle after that.
I glanced down at the wound to see it was clean and had actually been stitched up. He was snipping the thread, as I watched. How had I not felt it all this time?
“It’s best, Dear, if you do not look at it.”
I looked back to see Sullivan trying to catch my eyes again. And the pain was gone once more. “How do you do that?” I asked.
“It’s quite simple,” he replied. I wasn’t sure whether or not I heard conceit in his voice. “I could show you, sometime.”
I frowned again. Was he flirting with me? This was just getting too weird. Looking away, I reached for Derik’s hand, which was still lightly against mine, and felt him gently squeeze back. I felt calmer.
When I looked up, Sullivan’s eyes were on our joined hands. For a moment, I thought he might be scowling, but he looked up instantly, his face pleasant. “So,” he said. “You’ve given us a lot of trouble – both of you.” He took a deep breath. “But all’s well that ends well, they always said. So. We should prepare you for introductions, I suppose.” He looked me over again, raising his eyebrows. He stood. “Icarus. Have them prepare a bath and everything else for the Presentation.” He gestured indifferently, as if suddenly he had no interest in anything whatsoever. He moved closer to me, and I felt Derik tense, ready to fight if need be. Sullivan looked down at me and held out his hand. “Haylee.” It still sounded as though he was having trouble with my name. “Please, walk with me.”
I swallowed a lump in my throat and looked over to Derik. He eyed Sullivan suspiciously for a moment and got up, towering over him. Sullivan chose to ignore him, as he gazed down at me. Still, I wasn’t sure what to do. I glanced from his hand to Derik once more.
“Of course, your… friend… may accompany us,” Sullivan said, pleasantly, though I could tell he disliked the idea.
I looked to Derik once more, who finally gave a single nod. I hesitated and slowly began to raise my hand, the one that had so recently been within Derik’s grasp. When it rested ever so slightly against Sullivan’s, he wrapped his fingers around it. I had expected his hand to be cold but it was actually warmer than Derik’s had been. I don’t know why this surprised me. He caught my gaze again and pulled me up from the sofa. It seemed to take place in slow motion and, by the time I was wholly upon my feet, I felt dizzy. I felt as though I was going to fall back again, when Sullivan’s other hand came around my waist and caught me. Suddenly, I understood what was happening, as I saw Derik reaching for Sullivan.
“Derik, wait,” I said. “It’s alright.” I blinked up at Sullivan, narrowed my eyes and pulled them away from his. Then, everything was back to normal, and Derik was frowning at me. He and all of the others in the room were frozen mid-movement. He had been in the process of possibly decking Sullivan, and they had been preparing to stop Derik. Interesting.
“I could show you how I did that, as well,” he said, his voice enticing me.
It took some effort not to meet his eyes again. I knew that was what he wanted.
“You don’t sound alright,” Derik said, accusingly. “Your heart’s racing.”
I met his eyes instead and took a deep breath. “No, I am. He was just… sharing something with me. That’s what you would call it, right, Sullivan?” Still I looked only at Derik.
I could hear the smile in his voice. “That’s exactly what I would call it,” he said. “And I could share – teach you – much more than that.” What he was doing was showing off.
His voice sent a small thrill through me, which I quelled immediately. Oh, he was good… whatever he was.
I heard him laugh. “Oh, you have no idea.” He slid his hand around and away from the small of my back and placed it at his side again. “You’re wondering what I am? When you already know?”
I cheeks burned slightly. “Seer. You’re their seer. Like Sabella, only… not like Sabella at all. She would never treat me like this. Never use her abilities to persuade, to…” I swallowed, not wanting to continue that line of thought.
“Seduce?” He finished it for me. “Is that what I’m doing? Trying to seduce you with power? Seduce you to the dark side?” I could hear – no, feel – his smile. And it made me shiver.
“Stop it, now,” Derik growled at him.
Sullivan sighed. “Very well… for now.”
I could feel his eyes upon me, more intense than ever. Then I felt my body relax. I hadn’t even realized it was tensed.
“Shall we go now?” His tone was light, so I chanced a look at his face. It had changed somehow, but I couldn’t place the difference. He still had my hand, and I nodded. He gave me a friendly smile before indicating, “This way, then.”
We left the room, only to enter a hallway. It, too, was lit by lanterns, and guards stood at regular intervals. We passed between them every twelve feet or so. How many were there? None of them were the royal guard from the field or the cave. Where were they? Guarding his immortal highness?
Sullivan tucked my arm into his elbow, basically sandwiching my hand between both of his, as we walked. He was closer to me than I would have liked. And Derik was right behind us. “Where are we going?” I asked, as I watched various doors go by.
“Well, I thought you would enjoy a nice hot bath. A real one. A soak in an actual tub. Not a quick spray off in a makeshift shower. Did I mention hot?” He glanced down at me and used one of his hands to dust mine off. “I mean, have you seen yourself lately? You’re a mess, no offense. But you were just crawling around in an old ventilation shaft.” He paused. “Besides, one must be in their purest state before meeting the Master. Before the Presentation.” He stopped walking. “Here we are. This will be where we part ways. Don’t worry. I will send someone for you, when He has arrived.”
“I – I don’t understand. Purest state? Presentation?” I shook my head. “Do you know what he’s talking about, Derik?”
Derik frowned, shaking his head briefly. “No. This is all new to me… He didn’t have a pet seer when I last saw him. Donal is coming here?” He looked back to our host.
“No one refers to him by that name!” Sullivan said harshly. “He is the Master to you, and only the Master. And yes, He wishes to see this one in person.” He turned back to me, trying to smooth his features, because I had jumped at his sudden loss of temper. “Now, where was I? Oh, yes. I just meant you must be presentable when we introduce you. That’s all. Now, you’re bath is ready, right through this door. When you are finished, proceed through the other door, and you will find a fresh change of clothes. Alright?” Keeping my hand in one of his, he placed his other hand on the knob and began to turn it. “Oh, one more thing. Are you a virgin?”
“Huh?” I asked, as Derik growled, “Hey.”
“Are you a – ”
“I know what you said, just not why you asked it. It’s not any of your business!” My face had turned bright red now, and I didn’t know where to avert my eyes. I felt as though everyone was staring at me.
“You are right, of course. It’s not important anyway. I was merely curious.” And he eyed Derik significantly.
It took me a moment to get his meaning and I blushed more deeply, though I wouldn’t have thought it possible.
“Hm… I see,” was all he said, as he met Derik’s eyes. He seemed to get the answer he was looking for, at least where Derik and I were concerned. He turned back toward me and bowed slightly. “Forgive me. I overstepped.” Then he opened the door. “Go on, enjoy. We will see you again shortly.”
Slowly, I pulled my hand from his, afraid to look away from him, not trusting his explanation. I glanced at Derik, who had moved closer during the exchange, and reached for his hand. With our hands entwined, I began to move forward.
But Sullivan stopped us. “Ah… He is to come with us.”
I blinked, looking back and forth between the two of them. Derik looked unhappy about the idea. “I’m not leaving her alone,” he said.
“And I don’t want to be alone.” My hand was still firmly attached to his.
Sullivan seemed to think about the dilemma, then replied, “Well, I suppose I could have one of the guards stay with you then.” His eyes were calculating, as they met mine.
“No.” Derik and I replied at once.
“I want Derik…” I said, sensing this was a loosing battle.
The eyes that met mine now were cold. “Well, I’m afraid that’s not going to happen. He is coming with us, and you are going to get ready. Either you go in alone, or one of them stays with you.” I glanced were he indicated. The others all looked at me hungrily. “So, what will it be?”
Derik tensed up beside me.
“Now, now. We don’t want to cause any trouble and have anyone get hurt. Do we?” Sullivan turned those eyes on Derik now.
A frown flickered across Derik’s face, then his eyes met mine. “I have your word nothing will happen to her? She won’t be harmed, in any way?” What was he doing?
“You have my word.” Sullivan’s voice was like silk now.
I felt his grasp on my hand loosen. I held tighter, as he pulled away. “No. Derik, please. I can’t. Don’t.” I grabbed at his hand with both of mine now, and he still managed to pull away.
“Haylee. It’ll be okay. Whether or not I’m with you, I won’t let anything happen to you. Alright?” I felt him steering me into the room, then they were pulling him back. He even fought to free himself but there were too many hands pulling at him. “Hey, let go. I’m trying to – ” As soon as he had cleared the door, it slammed shut.
“Derik! Wait, please!” I grabbed the doorknob, but it wouldn’t turn. I yanked on it, and it wouldn’t budge. Then, I pounded on the door with both fists until I was tired. Turning, I fell against it and gave it one final kick, before sliding to the floor. I listened for a moment but heard nothing. The door and walls must have been thick. So, realizing I wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon, I took the opportunity to study my surroundings.
And I realized I wasn’t alone, after all.