Kiss of Light – Eve Langlais

LET ME DİE. Not the first time she’d wished it. Unfortunately, also not the last. She hung suspended by the wrists, the chains rattling each time she twitched. She had to crane on tiptoe because if she sagged, gravity showed no mercy. Her own weight turned against her, wrenching her shoulders, tearing ligaments. The longer she hung, the less it hurt, mostly because there was not much left of her. Barely more than skin and bone. Even her hair was gone. Once a point of pride, now shorn to the scalp. What stubble remained was dark with the blood and dirt that caked her from head to toe. While her arms were tethered, her captor left her feet free. He thought it amusing when she mustered enough strength to kick at him. She never had enough force to do any damage. And he knew it.

Knew it and laughed at her. Then beat her, because while he liked to tease, he enjoyed it even more when she screamed. She screamed often. The initial days of bravery had long fled and given way to sobbing and wondering what she’d done to deserve this. No one deserved the depravity heaped upon her daily. No sin was great enough for this punishment. But who could she ask for help? The one person she trusted to rescue her never appeared. Never would, according to her captor. “He is happy you’re gone. You should see Desmond, cavorting with the ladies.

Why there’re even rumors one is pregnant,” came the sibilant whisper. The words stole all hope. She wanted to die. Even that small mercy was denied her. When her captor entered, leering and wielding a barbed crop, she closed her eyes and escaped inside her mind. Locked what little sanity she had left into a tiny room. Not much of her mind remained. The spells layered on her along with the torture meant she was starting to forget. Little things thus far, such as her childhood, even the name of her horse. Over time, he would take everything from her.

Even her name. Her captor liked to taunt her with the future. “Pay me mind!” The slap rocked her face and snapped her head to the side. It didn’t even draw a whimper. She was sitting in her secret room, staring at the wall. It angered him when she did that. “Scream, harlot.” So, she did, loudly. Without real heat. He beat her anyway.

Hard. Furiously. Pummeling her to the point of death. Then stopped. Why won’t he kill me? “Do it,” she begged through loose teeth and bloody lips, her eyes so swollen she could barely see him. “Kill me.” He wiped his bloodied fist on a rag. “And stop all the fun we’re having? Not yet. We still have much to do. First, though, we must fix my broken doll.

” The fist to her face didn’t knock her out. It did shatter her nose. Again. How many times could a nose break? She lost count. Given her stupid will to survive, it took several shots to the head before she succumbed to darkness. She woke, cheek pressed to the sticky and cold stone floor. Not something that occurred too often. Her captor rarely unchained her, and only so she could be healed. The metal cuffs on her wrists interfered with the process. Flattening her hands on the floor, she tried to push to her knees.

This was her chance to scrabble to freedom. Only she wasn’t alone. A heavy boot landed on her back, a sudden weight that shoved her down. “Where do you think you’re going?” “Seems as if she’s tired of your hospitality,” said a new voice tinged in amusement. It had a familiarity, and yet she couldn’t put a name or face to it. She blinked from her prone position as the edge of a robe, dark as night, entered her field of vision. A nice garment, the material finely woven without a single pulled thread. Clean, too. Now there was a concept she barely remembered. “She loves the fun we have together, don’t you, harlot?” Her captor ground his heel into her back, but she’d endured worse.

“Leave the chit alone and move aside.” The man in the robe crouched and reached out a hand to grab her chin. He turned her face left then right. “She’s almost dead. Again.” “Don’t lecture. You said I could do what I liked with her,” was the grumble by her captor. “You were told to keep her alive.” “She’s alive.” “Barely.

” “Then fix her.” “Fix her, he says. As if it were a simple matter,” the robed one muttered. His hand pressed against her, the fingers digging into her forehead as if they would reach into her skull itself. Magic pulsed from his hand, soothing the aches, reducing the pain to a more manageable level. He tsked. “This will take some time.” “I have matters to attend. See yourself out when you’re done.” The heavy tread of feet receded, and the ominous weight of her captor’s presence lifted.

This was her chance. With this man of healing, perhaps she could find mercy. She fluttered her lashes, and her lips parted. “Help me. Please.” The robed figure recoiled. She reached for him. “Please.” “There is no help for the Forsaken.” “I’m not Forsaken.

” She pushed to her knees and managed a glare through puffy eyelids. “He took me prisoner.” “Even before that, you were unclean.” A reminder of the law she’d broken. “I fell in love. How is that a crime?” Her voice trembled. She pushed herself to her haunches, the movements exhausting to her starving and broken body. “You of all people should have understood the gravity, half-breed.” The words emerged with a sneer that cast blame. “The sins of the parents shouldn’t stain the child,” she repeated as if by rote.

She’d had to say it often enough. “I’m the ward of King Marduk.” “You were a mistake that is now being rectified. You were found guilty of your crimes, and you know the punishment for that.” “I won’t be Forsaken.” Her gaze steadied, and she peered up at the man with the cloak, his features concealed within the hood. A shroud of dark silk with no adornment save one. An insignia, a lion’s head caught in a circle. “You’re part of the tribunal.” One of the beings who called her guilty.

Who had sentenced her to a lifetime of pain and torture. She stood on legs that wavered. “You did this to me.” “You left us no choice.” “I was never even given a chance to defend myself.” “And you never will.” He whispered a word of power and thrust it at her. The magic stung like acid, and yet her skin didn’t burn. Her mind did. She went to her knees, screaming.

“Who are you?” a voice boomed. “I am Erela.” “Wrong.” More stabbing agony. “Who. Are. You?” He didn’t let her reply. “You are nothing. Time you understood that.” The pain intensified, and she screamed and screamed— CHAPTER ONE A SHİELD SLAMMED down over those memories, jolting her out of the dream, leaving Adara frustrated.

She pounded the mattress beneath her. Why couldn’t she remember past that point? The rest of her recollection proved so vivid. She could feel the cold stone still on her cheek. Taste the salt of her blood. And yet she couldn’t see the face within the hood. Couldn’t remember who was responsible. The person who deserved her wrath. A man with no compassion. She’d remember that when she found him. Her scant memories made it obvious that he wasn’t the one who’d helped her escape.

So, who did come to her aid? Not Desmond. Or her king. But given how Mammon and his cloaked ally had broken her, she couldn’t see how she’d ever managed to escape on her own. Those memories remained locked away. Odd how she had no issue remembering the torture she endured. That she recalled in glaring color and pain. She also had sporadic memories of her childhood: the pampered ward of the king. Did he look for me? The only father she knew. A man she worshipped despite his flaws. She had memories of Mammon, her captor who had been nameless at the time, claiming her king was fully aware and didn’t care.

Didn’t care that the half-breed girl he’d taken under his wing was in the grips of a mad demon. It can’t be true. How could she find out the truth when parts of her past eluded her? The magical block on her memories had only partially lifted, giving teasing glimpses. A peek at another world, not the human one she currently lived in. A place of impossible things. She knew its name now—Babylon, the ruling city in the territory of Babylonia—but not the one that legends claimed once existed on Earth. The one she recalled layered the ground and the sky. The hanging gardens were the path leading from the heavens to the solid dirt. In her mind, she could picture the massive city, the lush greenness of the foliage kept cultivated by an army of gardeners. She remembered the columns of the many palaces, some projecting towers ringed with minarets.

But the beautiful city wasn’t the most amazing thing. The inhabitants were. So many fantastical creatures, such as the tiny fae with their humanoid bodies, pastel hair, and jewel-bright eyes. The winged horses owned by those well placed enough for palaces in the sky. A fairy-tale place. Her home. As a special ward of the king, Erela lived in the biggest castle. Her father, the ruler of Babylonia, a man whose face she still couldn’t see. Whose name slipped away with the dream. The only thing she could be sure of was his affection for her.

But if he cared so much, why hadn’t he found her? Mammon—a dead demon with a nagging voice—whispered, “He doesn’t care. None of them do because of what you did.” Falling in love with an Ifrit. Apparently, a bigger crime than she expected. Someone took offense to them indulging in sins of the flesh. A sin that still had the power to heat her blood. She rolled out of her bed and went to the window, throwing up the sash so she might feel the refreshing air from outside cool her feverish skin. She hated Desmond. Hated him, and yet couldn’t seem to stop thinking of him, the memories of their time together vivid. Why could she remember the square angle of his jaw and not the face of her friends? The way the corners of his eyes crinkled when he smiled, a rare thing just for her, and nobody else.

How could she recall the heat of his kiss and yet, when it came to details about herself, there was only blankness? Or worse, the oily feeling of the block on her mind. The Forsaken weren’t allowed to recall their past. But who made that decision? The man in the cloak had implied it was the entire tribunal. Who were they to judge? And how could she find them? Seriously. How? No one seemed to know of whom she spoke, or they played stupid. Which was possible. Titus himself, the head vampire for his cabal, claimed ignorance. Logan, the mighty werewolf who never left her side hadn’t even known about demons until he met her. Those on Earth didn’t seem to know of any worlds aside from their own. They couldn’t help her.

Who could tell her how to find these mysterious beings who’d banished her without even giving her a chance? The one name that kept repeating itself was the one she refused to call. A driving desire to find the answer sent her from the safety of Titus’s new home almost nightly, to hunt demons as a way to vent her frustration. She had a lot of pent-up anger, which meant there were fewer and fewer demons to taste the sharp edge of her blade. Worse? Beheading them did nothing to fill the hollowness within. When the bloodshed didn’t help, she turned to a more scholarly approach. She hunted through old tomes, looking for references to Babylonia, a territory that had supposedly existed centuries ago. Had she been lost that long? Ask him. I can’t. The very thought filled her with turmoil. An urge to cry waged a battle against her rage.

She didn’t want anything to do with her old lover, Desmond. He thought she’d betrayed him and thus never looked for her. Left her to rot in that prison cell. Claimed he didn’t know. Claimed he still cared. Ha. Adara knew that to be a lie. Even if Desmond had watched her from afar after they found each other again. His gaze burning hot, his need tugging at the strand still connecting them. She ignored him even as she got used to his presence at the edge of her periphery.

He’s not there now. Gazing out the window, she told herself that she didn’t miss his stalking. Finally, he’d gotten the point. She didn’t want him. Now tell that to her dreams. Turning from the window, she stretched and reveled in the sensation of feeling whole again. No longer did her body feel as if it belonged to a stranger. When Adara looked in the mirror, she recognized her face. At last. And yet at the same time, she hated it.

Because she looked untouched. Surely, after everything she’d been through, she should bear scars. It took forever to wash and rinse her platinum locks. Ever since they’d turned from dark to light, they’d grown faster than normal. She kept getting it cut, restricting the hair to a manageable length. Yet every morning, it extended a few inches longer than before she went to bed. She wrapped it into a bun atop her head, pulling the strands taut. Debating, not for the first time, shaving it all off. When she’d mentioned it to Logan, he’d been horrified. “You can’t shave your fur.

” The answer from a man who thought more hair was better. A werewolf thing, obviously. As for Titus? “Whatever makes you happy, dearest.” The vampire never said no to her. She wondered if he’d say a word if she held her sword to his neck, or if he’d tell her to go ahead. At times, when the restlessness proved particularly bad, temptation prodded at her to find out. Rather than go downstairs, Adara opted to head out the window. The idle chit-chat Titus and Logan would impose upon her didn’t appeal today. Which made her seem ungrateful to the men who’d sacrificed so much to help her. Yet they didn’t understand her turmoil.

The sense of something left unfinished. They talked about her moving on with her life, forging a new one. Whereas she wanted answers. She also wanted to escape the question in their eyes. The one that asked if she was ready to choose. Ready to— Nope. She shimmied down the drain pipe, noticing it had been reinforced since her last climb. It would appear her method of escape had been noticed. At least they didn’t try to stop her. Probably didn’t dare because she might say something.

Something to put an end to it all. She jogged across the lawn, not bothering to hide, which meant she wasn’t too surprised when a shaggy form bounded by her side. Logan must have been watching and waiting. “I don’t need help,” she muttered. A reply wasn’t forthcoming. Wolves didn’t talk much. “They might not allow you passage where I’m going.”


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