Home > Ruthless (Immortal Enemies #2)

Ruthless (Immortal Enemies #2)
Author: Gena Showalter



   Astaria, the fae realm

   FIVE-YEAR-OLD VIORI DE AOIBHEALL raced to her parents’ bedchamber, frantic. A thick, overpowering odor infused the air, stinging her nostrils. Death comes...

   Tears welled as she placed a bowl of fresh water on the nightstand, next to her beautiful doll, Drendall. Viori’s most beloved possession. There was no lovelier sight than Lady Drendall, with her colorful porcelain face and lacy pink gown. A treasured birthday gift from her favorite person in all the realm, her older brother, Kaysar.

   Fighting for calm, Viori grabbed a clean rag from the nightstand’s top drawer. She dipped the shabby fabric into the cool liquid, uncaring when droplets splashed her dress. For weeks, her parents had suffered with “the crimson sickness.” A plague that had decimated half their village.

   As pixiepetal harvesters who worked public land, Momma and Papa made little money. But that little kept their family of four fed. No money, no food. Already supplies ran low, with only a few potatoes left.

   To make up for the loss, twelve-year-old Kaysar now spent the whole of his days slaving in the fields. A backbreaking job too difficult for one person. And yet, he never complained.

   Agonized moans whisked her back to the present. Momma and Papa lay side by side, a sheet tangling as they thrashed. Unnatural heat radiated from them, cooking both from the inside out.

   Viori swallowed a barbed lump, pasted on a smile and hurried to her father. She wrung water into his mouth, telling him, “Don’t worry, Papa. Everything will be all right.” Kaysar had promised, and he never lied.

   The frail man coughed up blood.

   More tears welled as she hastened to her mother. Trembling, she squeezed the rag directly over Momma’s chapped lips.

   Before this, anyone who’d met Viori and her mother had called them twins. They sported the same auburn hair and green eyes. Same delicate features and golden skin. No longer. Momma’s face had become a travesty of sunken sockets and hollowed cheeks, framed by a sallow complexion.

   Do not sob. Viori tenderly cleaned the blood from the woman’s nose, then returned to her father. An ox-strong charmer too beautiful for words, admired by too many ladies in town, according to Momma. With thick black hair, darker, dusky complexion and rich brown eyes, he resembled an older version of Kaysar. Or he used to. Like his wife, he looked ready for a grave.

   As gently as possible, Viori wiped his brow. He cringed from her touch, the slightest pressure seeming to bring him incomparable suffering.

   Do. Not. Sob.

   “Heal...us,” he rasped, his voice wretched. “Please. Must...try.”

   Distress choked her. She gave her head a violent shake. “I... I can’t.” Every day Kaysar had warned her: Do not even consider it, love. Not yet.

   He believed her glamara—a fae’s strongest supernatural ability—mirrored his. That she must only speak a command to force others to obey. And maybe he was right. But she had rarely practiced. With good reason!

   Fear, sadness and anger delivered a bad outcome for Kaysar. The listeners might obey him, but they did it...wrong.

   Her brother had explained it this way: Words are vessels containing everything we feel. Our secret and not so secret intents. When we speak, we unleash a creative force no one can outrun. A gift, if we use it right.

   Before she dare attempt to control a fae, she must first harness her emotions.

   “Please, darling,” her mother echoed, barely audible. “Can’t make it worse. Dying, anyway.”

   “No! You aren’t allowed to die.” To stop herself from agreeing to sing, Viori mashed her lips together. Do not even consider it. Except, she had brought birds, cats and deer back to life.

   What if she could do this?

   What if she couldn’t? She’d helped the animals only after she’d calmed. A process that had taken days.

   Momma issued a louder moan, almost a scream, and Viori sniffled. Did she have time to calm? Could she calm? Whenever she tried, she ended up hiding under her covers. But...

   What if she could save her parents and didn’t? Could she live with the guilt? Could Kaysar?

   What if he grew to hate her? What if she grew to hate herself?

   If she succeeded, all became right, exactly as he’d promised. Momma would smile again. Papa would ruffle her hair and tell her she wasn’t allowed to marry until she reached the age of two hundred and fifty—at least! Kaysar could finally return to his studies. How he must long to do so. No one enjoyed books and learning more.

   And if she didn’t succeed?

   Did it really matter if emotion warped her commands at a time like this? If she was her parents’ only chance, shouldn’t she offer one?

   Indecision gnawed at her. She wrung her fingers and glanced out the window, where a dirt path led to the pixiepetal fields. Should she speak with Kaysar first? A ten-minute sprint to the closest field meant another ten-minute sprint home. And if he labored in the second field, twenty minutes away? Neither of them possessed the ability to flitter—moving from one location to another with only a thought. Not yet, anyway.

   If he refused to help?

   “Please, darling,” Momma beseeched. “Never hurt so bad.”

   Tremors starting up again, Viori pressed clammy palms against her belly. What use was her gift if she couldn’t help the people she adored? “V-very well. I will try.”

   She trudged to the foot of the bed and drew a deep breath in, out. Like Kaysar, her glamara strengthened when she sang. Unwilling to hesitate, she closed her eyes and released the first note.

   A soft melody floated over the chamber. Her parents went quiet. She freed the second note and peeked through a slit in her lashes. Peace fell over the pair, their thrashing easing.

   I’m doing it? Relief poured through her. She increased her volume, commanding the couple to feel no pain.

   Neither moved, yet ripples disturbed the bedsheet. Odd, but not jarring. With the animals, she’d felt a wind that wasn’t there.

   Viori sang even louder, utilizing the full power of her glamara. And oh, wow. Black dots wove through her vision. Threads of weakness invaded her limbs, nearly toppling her. But she refused to stop until the last vestiges of the sickness faded from her parents.

   Had the pair healed at all? She focused on their expressions—and gasped, stumbling back as horror torched her relief. Momma screamed in silent agony, blood leaking from her eyes, nose and ears. Papa gritted crimson-smeared teeth. The sheet had somehow risen, taken the shape of a fae and sat with crossed legs between them. The creature had a hand wrapped around the throat of each patient.

   Viori smashed her lips together, ending her song.

   What is...? How can...? Impossible! And yet, she felt a connection to the sheet, as if it were somehow a member of her family. Her child, like Drendall. She even knew its name—Fifibelle.

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