Solara’s hands trembled not from the cold swirling around her, but from the icy stare, a strange man struck her with.
“Solara, don’t be rude.”
Her hands tightened around the washcloth and she returned to wiping the counter, hearing Trevan’s voice drift from somewhere behind her. Averting her gaze, she focused on wiping the residual drink condensation from the bar, gathering used napkins and dishes along the way before continuing into the dining area. At the last stand-alone table, Solara shivered at the chilly presence from earlier, knowing the stranger sat tucked in the back corner where the shadows gathered. She flinched as a gentle touch brushed her shoulder.
“Solara, what’s wrong? I’ve never seen you so jumpy before.” Turning on her heels, she faced Trevan. A worried expression contorted his captivating face as his large brown eyes sought the cause of her discontent. He leaned forward, planting a kiss on her forehead, calming her racing thoughts. His hands worked magic, cradling her chin while simultaneously stealing her rag. “You’ve been working since sunrise this morning. The dining area is cleaned and there’s only one guest left. I can take care of him. Why don’t you go sit down for a bit?”
She closed her eyes and wrapped her arms around his athletic sculpted figure, embracing her fiance tighter. “Fine, Trevan. If you insist.”
Solara sat at the bar and devoured the meal in front of her, satisfying the roaring beast within. She smiled, considering herself lucky that her fiance knew her better than she knew herself. A perfect gentleman in every way. Glancing up, checking her reflection in the bar mirror, a pair of glowing green eyes floated on a shadow of darkness sitting next to her.
White teeth gleamed as the devious shadow spoke. “So this is where you’ve been hiding and playing house, no less? How quaint.”
The hair on the back of her neck rose as she turned to the stranger. She cowered seeing the crimson sun rays paint his animal pelts the color of blood. Frozen, like a deer in the sight of a predator, she felt ready to faint. Words escaped her lips before her mind could think them through. “What do you mean? I am not hiding or playing house. I live here.”
A scar on the upper lip of the stranger twitched with his bemused smirk. “Right. So that Trevan, as you called him, isn’t hiding you?”
A heat melted her fear, and she banged her balled fists on the counter. A muted chime resounded as her gold bracelet hit the counter. “What are you talking about? Trevan has been my best friend since we were kids.” She glared, seeing him ignore her outburst and instead lift a drink to his lips, his Adam’s apple bobbing as he swallowed.
“Why don’t you tell the young witch the truth now, acolyte?”
Seeing his reflection in the mirror, Solara whipped around, facing Trevan. He stood in the direct center of the emptied room. No longer aloof and relaxed, but instead ready for battle. He even wore a baldric and sword. Items that only caught dust in his closet. She doubted he knew how to use them, as she had never witnessed him fight before. “Trevan, what is he talking about?”
His brows tightened, staring at the stranger. His hand gripping the hilt of his sword. “I’m sorry Solara, I should’ve told you this sooner.”
Solara tried to take a hesitant step forward but was interrupted by leather-gloved fingers deadlocking around her right forearm above the gold bracelet. Instinctively, she jerked inside the grip, her eyes darting between the bracelet and the stony stare of the stranger.
“Why don’t you start with telling her the truth about this?” Before Solara could process what was happening, the stranger stood, jerking her arm up and thrusting the gold bracelet into the flickering candlelight until yellow enshrouded the room. Solara winced from the pain and stretched on her tiptoes to prevent her arm from being torn from its socket.
“Trevan, tell him it’s an heirloom passed down through your family. A token of our engagement.” Her body sagged in his vice-like grip, waiting for Trevan’s response.
“Quiet.” His one-word sliced through the frigid air and she flinched from the invisible sting, dropping to her knees as the stranger finally released his grip.
“Now, we’re getting somewhere.”
“How did you find us?” Trevan’s eyes narrowed at the stranger.
“It was easy once the old hag died. Whatever protection spell she had over the two of you finally faded.”
“Did you kill her?”
“What do you think?”
Trevan charged the stranger, drawing his sword in one swift movement. Solara gasped at the sword swinging through the air as a flawless extension of Trevan’s own arm. Right as the blade descended on its target, metal chimed out as the stranger drew a sword of his own and blocked the attack. Trevan’s movements persisted as if the scarred stranger wasn’t an actual competition. Solara’s mouth dropped open, watching the beautiful display of swordsmanship taking place in front of her. Both their bodies harmonized with the weaponized extensions. Sparks flew out when the stranger thrust forward, slicing up Trevan’s blade inches away from his face. The stranger rebounded, pushing himself away from Trevan. Trevan sprung back, settling on the opposite side of the room, his knuckles whitening around the hilt, waiting for his next attack.
“I didn’t kill her. To answer your question. When I came to collect her debt, she was already dead. That’s when I decided her daughter would pay her debt for her.”
“I’ll never let you take Solara.”
“Then I’ll just kill you first.”
Both men screamed a battle cry before rushing the other. Solara’s eyes blurred the quick successions of attacks and counters, watching as blood and sweat pooled between the two combatants.
When a strike grazed Trevan’s face, leaving a gash along his cheek, Solara stood. “STOP!” Her demand was sharper than the ringing of steel. Both men stopped and faced her. “Just stop, please.” She took hesitant steps towards a panting Trevan, reaching out as if to soothe a wild beast. “I can’t bear to see my fiance die.”
Trevan’s shoulders hunched, defeated by her words. “Solara.”
“Please, just tell me the truth.” Her bracelet caught the last sun's rays before it plummeted beneath the horizon, drawing her attention to it. “What is this if it’s not a token of our everlasting love?”
Trevan bit his quivering lip, unable to answer.
“It’s a magical artifact given to you by your mother to conceal your powers.”
Wide-eyed, Solara faced the stranger. “My what? My powers?”
He sheathed his sword and stepped forward. “Yes. Of course, you have powers. You’re the daughter of a powerful witch.”
Trevan took the opening as Solara distracted the stranger. He moved with a steadfast swiftness, rushing in faster than a wasp preparing to sting. The tip of his blade thrust forward, guided by the palm of his hand. A fatal blow straight to the stranger’s heart. If it had struck. Shadows coalesced where the stranger once stood, slithering around the extended blade. Pure disbelief painted Trevan’s face before he dropped his sword and it clamored to the ground.
Solara’s heart dropped, seeing the stranger had outmatched him, and now pressed a short blade against Trevan’s throat. Her shriek pierced the air as a purple-ish glow emanated from her raised hand. A mystical glowing cloud that sizzled with shifting lights.
All eyes looked from her to the gold bracelet laying at her feet. Her new unshackled powers threatened Trevan’s captor.
“Solara.” Trevan’s anguished voice spoke in the distance. “What have you done?”
Solara tore her eyes from the bracelet and peered through the murky storm brewing in her fist. Seeing Trevan pinned with a knife to his throat, released a tidal wave of pent-up emotions that overwhelmed her. A small enough break in focus that relinquished the magic in her hand. “I’m sorry. I can’t control it. I can’t save you.”
Trevan squirmed against his assailant in vain and froze as another blade pricked through his brown servant’s uniform and pierced the skin above his heart. “Solara…” She glanced through a tear-flooded vision, unable to answer, knowing his next words would be his last. “Solara, know that I’ve always loved you and I always will.” The stranger lifted his knives, gathering momentum, and plunged both instruments down.
Time stopped before they could pierce their final targets and fire flooded Solara’s veins. The once rustic dining area of the inn shimmered blood red. Pain ran through her, not the pain of something physical, but heartache. It was as if her body was made of glass and the thought of seeing Trevan murdered shattered it, shattering her. Unable to breathe or cry, she watched helpless to the surrounding world like an audience member watching a play in the theater.
Little charged bolts of lightning shocked different parts of her body. Revitalizing it, awakening it into this time between time. A voice she had only heard in her dreams whispered to her and she knew it belonged to her mother. “Solara, I can only help you this once. Please use this time wisely.”
A devastating cry erupted from her depths as she raised both arms into the air. Her legs sleeping beneath her. Unable to move, she focused on the task at hand and, using her fingers, guided her magic as an extension of herself. Invisible threads plucked the knives from the stranger’s hands, and threw them across the room, disarming him. The metal clattering from the fallen knives brought time back to the present. Exhausted, she lolled forward, watching the stunned faces of the two men slowly realize what had happened.
The stranger seemed annoyed but aware and adjusted his grasp around Trevan’s neck. Cradling his carotid artery in the crook of his elbow. Trevan’s eye bulged as he gasped for air, his face already turning purple. He clawed feebly at the man’s forearms.
“Nice trick, witch, but I’ve seen it before. You’ll have to do better than that if you want to save him.”
It took a few seconds for Solara’s hitched breath to return and allow her to talk. “I know. That’s why…” Gripping the barstool next to her, she drew herself up and steadied herself in a standing position. “I promise I will leave with you, without a fight, if you let Trevan live.” Body shakes threatened to topple her, but she stood firm, keeping her stare on the stranger.
“Solara, no!” Trevan’s choked words escaped on air without a sound.
I am sorry Trevan. I love you.
“Deal. But in order for me to keep you to your word, I want you to make a blood contract with me.”
“Deal. Please, just let him go.”
Solara read the parchment in her hands, surprised at how well worded it was. The stranger sat opposite of her and she shivered, feeling his unblinking eyes focused on her. She swallowed a nervous breath and searched for reassurance from a captive Trevan. I am doing this for you. Please don’t hate me. The stranger had bound him to a chair next to him and kept him silent with the sharp end of a blade delicately placed in his mouth. Trevan’s eyes darted back and forth, signaling his disagreement.
“I’m sorry, my love, but I can’t let you die because of me.” Solara reached across the table and placed her palm over his heart. “I will always love you.”
The stranger grunted, twitching the blade and making Trevan flinch. “This is sweet and all, but are you going to sign it now, or should I just kill him?”
“No, don’t! I’ll sign! I’ll sign.” Plucking up the gold hilt dagger marked with black engravings, she pricked her right thumb and placed a bloodied fingerprint on the paper. Satisfied, the stranger removed the makeshift gag and placed his own bloodied thumbprint down under hers.
“Good. Now, let’s get going.” Without wasting time, he stood. “One more thing. Just to make sure you don’t come after us. Here’s a little something to help you forget about your life with her.” Solara’s eyes widened, watching him retrieve a vial filled with a pink liquid from the inside of his coat. He pried Trevan’s mouth open and emptied the contents inside. Trevan lurched forward, trying to spit it out, but the stranger covered both his mouth and nose. “Drink it or die.”
No amount of tears could express her sadness over losing her best friend and lover. She had to be strong for him. If forgetting her allowed him to continue living, then he needed to forget. “Please Trevan…” It pained her to see the tears fall from his rebellious, wild eyes. In all the time that she knew him, she couldn’t remember ever seeing him cry. “Please. I love you.”
Relenting, Trevan swallowed. The potion worked in seconds, and Trevan’s eyes fluttered closed as his head lolled forward.
“Is he going to be alright?”
“He won’t remember you when he wakes, if that’s what you’re asking.” The strange knelt severing the bonds holding Trevan in place, leaving his sleeping body to slump on the table. “Now, let’s go. Your mother owed me a great debt, and you are going to help repay it.”