The Shadow Prince Page 23

“Are you real?” I ask her. I have heard stories of mystical creatures that can enchant men with their voices. It is one of the reasons this singing—music—is forbidden in my world. And she is unlike any mortal female who has ever been brought to my realm.

I have also heard stories of sprites that can create mirages.

I raise my hand toward her face, wanting to touch her to see if she is real, but I hesitate, not quite wanting to know the answer. She lifts her hand toward mine, and I can feel electricity pulsing into my fingers. I look from her eyes to her mouth and then lower. A golden pendant sits in the hollow of her neck.

It spells something in English. It takes me a second to translate it. “Daphne?” I ask, dropping my hand. Can I really be reading that correctly? Can it really be her? “You’re Daphne Raines?”

“Yes,” she says.

The energy coursing through my body intensifies with her positive response.

I cannot believe my good fortune. For once in my life, the Fates have smiled on me. I have followed my impulses—no, my instincts—to this place, and here she is.

I’ve found her. My Boon. My prize. My destiny. Just waiting here to be plucked, like an asphodel blossom. With the gate, pulsing with life, only a few yards away, at that. This couldn’t be more perfect.

An idea strikes me like an arrow hitting a bull’s-eye. Why wait six months to do what I can accomplish right now?

I could be the fastest-returning Champion in the history of the Underrealm. Surely that would warrant glory and honor like no one has received before me. Rowan could not call me a failure again. My father would not look at me as though I am a disgrace.

But at the back of my mind, a worry pulls at me, making me wonder if the situation is too good to be believed. Why would Dax implore me to be patient if my quest were this easy to accomplish? I hesitate for a moment.…

No, I must act.

I reach for the girl’s hand. “Will you come with me?”

She pulls away. “Um, no.”

“I need you to come with me,” I implore.

“I need to leave,” she says quickly, hitching up the long object she’d been strumming on a few moments before. It did not seem dangerous then, but now she holds it as if it can be used as a weapon.

It doesn’t frighten me.

“Say you’ll come with me.” She has to say it. I know that from the Oracle’s instructions. She has to go willingly. I need to convince her. I advance toward her. I can be persuasive like Rowan. “You have to say you’ll come.”

“Get away from me, perv!” She backs away. “Creep!”

I reach out again, trying to clasp her wrist. Electricity surges into my arm, and before I can stop it, a spark of lightning escapes my fingers. She yelps with pain and twists out of my grasp. I reach for her again, and her fist—thankfully not the one holding the wooden object—goes flying at my face. I am so surprised by the action that I don’t have time to block the blow before she punches me. Hard. In the jaw. I stop, completely stunned, and clasp my hand to my face. I’m not injured. It would take more than her small hands to hurt me. But I am still shocked. I did not know Boons are capable of violence.

I don’t regain my composure quickly enough to stop the girl from getting away. She grabs an object, which I recall from Simon’s monologue is called a bicycle. She glances back at me as she flees, fear dancing in her blue eyes.

Chapter twelve

DAPHNE

My hand hurts from punching him, but it’s caused enough of a diversion for me to get away. I run for my bicycle, realizing that I don’t have time to stop for my tote bag or guitar case, but I won’t leave Gibby behind. I sling her over my back, with her strap resting against my chest, and jump onto my bike. I glance back at the stranger, and then pedal as fast as I can from the grove.

Gravel spits out from under my tires as I hit the narrow trail that leads from the grove to the bridge. I don’t know if he follows, and I don’t stop to check. I cross the bridge that connects the grove’s island to the paved jogging paths that surround the lake, and keep on going.

I careen down the trail, gaining speed, putting as much distance between me and the stranger as possible. I don’t see the girl until it’s too late. I try to stop, but the brakes on my vintage bike are old and I don’t normally ride this fast. I try to skid around her just as she looks up and counters in the wrong direction. I clip her elbow with one of my handlebars.

“Ouch!” she shouts and tries to push me.

“Sorry!” I swerve away from her, and it takes all my balance to stay upright as my bike keeps skidding along the path. I glance back at her once I’ve regained control.

“You’re such a freak!” she yells when she sees me looking. She clasps at her scraped elbow and starts jogging up the trail despite the fact that she’s wearing a miniskirt with pink and silver wedge platform sandals. Hardly the right outfit for a run.

That strange boy is nowhere to be seen, but I still don’t stop for anything until I get to the school.

Chapter thirteen

HADEN

I could have caught her easily. But it is the fear that I saw in her eyes that stops me. Makes me realize my grave mistake.

I have done it again.

I’ve acted without thinking.

I have been here for fewer than twenty-four hours, and I have already erred in the most terrible of ways. If Rowan were here, he would delight in telling me that I have no idea of what I am doing. That I am failing before I even get started.

She fears me now, instead of trusting me.

Another pulse of energy swells in my chest. I grab the branch of the nearest tree. I squeeze the energy into it until the branch disintegrates. The ash slips through my fingers.

I am fighting the urge to fall to my knees and send up a prayer to plead for forgiveness from the Fates, when I hear the crackle of footfalls on the forest floor. A low hiss echoes through the grove. Someone else is coming. I can’t afford to be seen. I can’t afford to make another mistake. I pick up one of the items that the girl left behind, then slip behind the partially burned tree.

I disappear into the shadows.

Chapter fourteen

DAPHNE

My legs shake from riding so hard as I roll my cruiser into one of the slots of the bike rack. My voice warbles when I try to whisper to myself to calm down.

“I’m okay. Nothing bad happened. Not really.”

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