“Gods bless us,” Kyne whispered, after the two of us moved away from the office. Mina, Talitha, and Meriel were gathered around the computer and watching some cartoon on YouTube.
Before the cartoon characters on the screen mesmerized the children with their chattering about friendship, sharing, caring, or whatever life lesson was being taught, Kyne and I pulled out the bottle of tequila we kept stashed in the office. After we’d suggested they pull up some age-appropriate show–the equivalent of throwing meat to a hungry wild animal to distract them from ripping out your throat–Kyne and I beat a hasty retreat to the other side of the kitchen. We sat on the stools used by our employees to sit and decorate various confections.
“That was…intense,” he lamely finished, and threw back another shot.
I looked down at my half-full shot glass and swirled the potent liquid. He was on his third and I was still nursing my first. I wasn’t a drinker under normal, or even abnormal, circumstances, but I’d have felt like a poor sport if I’d left him to drink alone, especially at the moment.
“I mean,” he continued, “I’ve had people try to kill me before, many times, but to accidentally be killed by a kindergartner would have my relatives laughing themselves to death,” he said, and shook his head in disbelief. The thought of his family chilled my blood and my eyes widened.
“You don’t think your mother…” I left the grim implication hanging there like a dead man at the gallows.
Kyne kept his gaze firmly on the bottle of tequila. “She can’t do anything to any of her subjects, or our family, for trying to kill me, but Meriel,” he sighed and closed his eyes, “Meriel is another story. You’re all a different supe race, and fair game for my mother’s retribution. Not to mention she’d likely take the opportunity to dish out all her anger on you guys that she can’t to those of her people trying to kill me.”
He opened his eyes, his soul bare in them and brittle as glass. A sardonic smile spread across his face in a way that made him flinch, as though he was in pain. “The perks of being the bastard son of the Queen of the Sea Folk—she can’t protect me from being assassinated, but she can rain her wrath down upon those who succeed. As long as they aren’t her people,” he bitterly finished, and poured another shot of tequila too forcefully, which sloshed the liquid over the side.
He softly cursed in a language I’d rarely heard from him, the one used by Merfolk and Sirens, and thunked his head onto the metal table in front of us. I slid from my stool and went to grab some paper towels to clean up the mess. Seemed as though today would be an emotionally draining day for everyone.
When I walked back over to the table, despair hung on his hunched shoulders like a cold, wet blanket. Kyne looked up at my approach with the towels, a jaded resolve set in the line of his clenched jaw and bitter grimace, as though he’d already decided to take that step over the edge of the cliff. He opened his mouth but I held up a hand.
“If the words; ‘I’m leaving for your safety,’ are about to pass over your lips, you can stop that right now, Kyne,” I said, and his mouth snapped shut, but reopened again almost immediately. I moved forward the last step to close the space between us, and let my upraised hand drop on his shoulder. “We made a deal that we’d get through the rough times together, Kyne, no matter what, and I’m keeping you to that. This is a rough patch, but rough patches don’t last forever. We’ll figure all this out with Meriel and everything will be fine,” I said, and gave him a, (hopefully), hopeful smile. “Whether it’s the danger from my family, or your family, there will always be danger. Running from something wonderful we’ve created together is not the answer.” I leaned in the last bit and gave him a quick hug, and the smell of whatever expensive cologne he used mixed with just a hint of saltwater, encompassed me. I almost sighed in delight, but refrained. He returned the hug, and I moved backward to sit back down on my stool.
I passed the towels over to let him clean up the mess when a commotion came from the front of the store. It wasn’t the kind of commotion that came from a busy room full of people eating their food, but the kind that had the tang of fear edged with real danger.
Kyne and I exchanged a look, and stood to make our way to the front. As we passed some of our employees we told them to remain calm and head to the pantry near the emergency exit. They quickly obeyed, though they cast concerned glances our way as they did so. We employed mostly supes, yes, but that didn’t mean they were combative, or any more prone to violence than the average human. It simply meant our insurance rates were higher because they were perceived as being such.
I swung by the office and Mina was looking toward the doorway as I walked up. She’d noticed the change in tone from the front, but the two younger girls had not, thankfully. I really didn’t need anything to upset Meriel right at the moment.
“I’ve got to go check up front. Why don’t you girls close the door so you can hear the cartoon better?” I suggested. Mina set Meriel down on the ground from her lap and walked to the door. The younger girls paid us no mind. It was a testament to the disturbing capability television had over people.
Mina grabbed the handle but looked me in the eyes, her jaw set in determination. Unlike Kyne’s desperate determination earlier, hers was teenage stubbornness and a belief that she was ready for things far beyond her ken.
“I can help, Erryn, you know I can!” she whispered, reading the, ‘no,’ in my stance before I uttered the word.
“I need you to watch the girls and keep them safe. What happens if Meriel freaks out and Talitha is the only one in here?” I asked, trying to win her over with logic.
She blew out a frustrated sigh and scowled. “Whatever,” she said, and nearly slammed the door in my face.
“Whatever, indeed,” I muttered under my breath and headed for the front, putting the teenage drama behind me as I made my way toward the front.
When I got to the door separating the kitchen and the front, Kyne was standing to one side and peeking through the window. He motioned me to stand to the other side and take a look. I pursed my lips and frowned, my concern dial cranking up a few notches.
I passed wide from the view of the door, and moved along the wall so I could peek out the window. The customers were frozen like statues at their tables or the counter, as were the employees. A man stood near the door, with an amalgamation of dangerous energies moving around his hands like snakes roiling in a ball. The power was a sickly green that sucked the light from the room, and threw his face into sinister shadows. It made his cheeks sunken and the hollows of his crazed eyes deep. His head was shaved completely bald, and from where I stood I could see the sheen of sweat on it from the effort of controlling the power he was holding in check.
Power was similar to a bow and arrow. You can nock the arrow in the bow and pull back the string to draw it—you can summon the energy and hold it at the ready until you’re ready to use it for whatever purpose you choose. Or you can disperse the energy into the ground, the atmosphere, or whatever medium jives with your power. What you cannot do, just like a bow and arrow, is hold the power at the ready position for an indefinite amount of time. It can quickly drain your power, and also cause you to potentially die.
“I will have the girl. Send her out to me now! If you don’t, I will kill everyone in here!” His voice was hoarse from the yelling.
I cringed, and moved my face away from the window and looked at Kyne, who did the same to me. I had a sinking feeling I knew who he was looking for.
“We can’t let him have her,” I whispered my plea, desperation and fear zinging along my nerves like a small electric shock, and I clenched my fists against the sensation.
“Of course we won’t,” he said, and ducked down a touch so he could reach my hand with his and not be seen through the window. He grabbed my hand and gave it a reassuring squeeze. “We’re in this together.”
I nodded and released his hand and looked out the window again. “What are we going to do about this guy?” I asked, and bit my lip.
“I have an idea,” Kyne said, and headed to the back.
Dark Goddess let it work, and may no one be harmed, I prayed as we made our way back. I was confident in Kyne’s abilities, but a little divine assistance never hurt.