You have to remember, because if you don’t, we will all die. Lou shuddered and lifted her gaze.
Warren huddled against the corner of the small prison cell, head tilted back, eyes closed, as if he listened to some distant music. As soon as her gaze settled on him, he opened his eyes.
“Did he care about me this much back then? My first life.”
Warren cleared his throat, a rough, terse sound. “He did. Half-blood children are rarely healthy, and even more rarely do they possess any magic. You were … a novelty.” He flinched. “That was why she wanted to leave. She knew he would want to mate you off soon, as you were almost a woman.” He looked away. “As you are now.”
Her stomach tightened. “I’m only fourteen.”
“Age means little to my kind.” He turned his eyes to the ceiling again, and began to whisper, words so soft it took a full minute for Lou to understand. “I’m sorry, Bea. So, so sorry.”
“Bea. Tell me about her. I want to remember her.”
At first, she thought he would ignore her. Minutes passed in almost silence, while he muttered his useless apologies. Then his tone changed.
“I will tell a story about you.”
Lou looked up in surprise, but kept her mouth shut.
“You loved to dance, lifting onto your toes, arms flying. You never walked anywhere, you always ran, or skipped, or hopped. But your favorite was to dance. You loved music, and always, you lingered at the edge of the Court Hall, dreaming up dances.”
Faint wisps of … not quite memory, but sensation drifted back to Lou. Lilting pipe music, the soft melodies of a flute. Odd words that hung at the edge of understanding. More than a little afraid, she held herself still, not wanting to lose those traces.
“The others would marvel at you, as children are so rare among my kind. They would touch your hair, give you sweets and ask you to dance for them.”
Hands ghosted over her hair. So soft, they whispered. She touched theirs, felt the coarseness of roots and long grass. The taste of sugar and maple exploded on her tongue. Her breath hitched.
“You told me one day that you would learn to dance-“
“So fast I could fly.” She gasped as the words came, unbidden to her mouth. Like a dream, half remembered it started to fade away. She closed her eyes, called back the feelings. Tangled roots twining in her fingers, the coolness of rock against her bare feet. The music. Her magic, hot and bursting from her fingers.
My sweet Jay Bird.
“Mama,” Lou cried, vaguely aware that tears stained her cheeks. Her head pounded, as if the new memories had filled it to breaking. No, old memories, of a life she had forgotten. Memories of Mama, the smell of her skin and hair, and sweet sound of her voice in Lou’s ear.
Hands touched her arms, and she jerked away before realizing Warren knelt in front of her. “You remember?”
She nodded, brushing away the tears that clung to her cheeks. “It hurts. Like I have two different people in my head, or something.”
Warren muttered under his breath, one hand going to his stomach. Lou stared at the stain of blood on his shirt, and reached out to touch him. Green light poured from her hand, and she hissed at the burn. It overwhelmed them both, and Warren gasped. “Lou, stop.”
The magic faded, as if scared away. Warren stretched, moving easily despite having been stabbed less than an hour earlier. “Use too much, and they’ll notice. We don’t want then checking on us.”
Lou nodded, but she was barely listening. Her headache was gone, and fresh determination seized her. She went to the door, then turned back. “I’m going to find them.” She wasn’t sure what she expected from Warren. A refusal would not have surprised her, though she found her feelings toward him marred by the man she’d once known.
He nodded, touching his stomach. “Let’s go.”
The door opened at Lou’s touch. The corridor was empty, and Lou crept out, followed closely by Warren. She closed her eyes for a moment, and simply breathed. Her magic, so long forgotten, came to her slowly, like a timid dog. Lou pushed away any impatience, any worry or fear. Mama’s voice drifted to her, “be strong, Jay Bird. You can do anything.”
Lou turned and walked down the corridor. Warren stayed close, but always tossing cautious looks over his shoulder. They saw no sign of the fae, a fact that made Lou especially nervous. “Why isn’t there anyone watching us.”
Warren let out a quick hiss and shook his head. “The prince loves his games, Lou.”
“So this is just another trap?”
He shook his head. “I don’t know.” He stood silent for a moment. “If we escape now, what will happen? You and your parents will go back to your farm. And Cian will track you down again. Or will they agree to run away, and give up everything they’ve built. Because he won’t give you up.”
Lou allowed the words to sink in, and made a decision. It knotted her stomach, but she had no choice. She followed the guiding sense to a door that, like all the others, opened with a brush of her fingers.
Mami and Daddy huddled against the far wall. Daddy shifted forward as if to defend her, but Lou knew the moment he recognized her face. He surged forward and caught her up in his arms. Mami joined them, and Lou allowed herself one moment of peace. One more second to feel safe in her parents arms.
Then she pulled away. “We need to get out of here.” If it was all part of Cian’s plans, maybe they didn’t need to hurry. But Lou so no benefit in dawdling. Her parents reacted with some surprised at seeing Warren, but all three exchanged cordial nods. Warren took the lead, guiding them through the winding corridors, and finally back to the outer door.
“I will get you out safely.” Warren took her parents hands. “Lou, take the back of my coat.”
“No, get them out first. Make sure they’re safe. Then me.”
“Absolutely not.” Daddy yanked away from Warren’s hold at nearly the same second Mami did, and both went back to Lou. “Not for one second are we-“
“Daddy, listen. We both know, I’m not like you and Mami.” When he opened his mouth to protest, she shook her head. “I’m safer here than you are. Please, go first, so I know you’re safe. Don’t worry about me.”
The way he looked at her, she wondered if he could somehow read her mind. He yanked her into another tight embrace. “Girl, wherever you came from, whatever you can do, you are still our daughter. You always will be.” Mami nodded, tears in her eyes.
Lou swallowed down the painful lump in her throat, kissed them both on the cheek, and nodded at Warren. He led them outside.
Seconds later, he returned. “Both still young and healthy and waiting for you.” He held out a hand.
“I’m not going.”
Warren’s face fell, and he closed his eyes in resignation.
“You I can’t leave Cian to terrorize them. Even if we did move away, he knows who I am now. He won’t ever stop, will he?”
Warren shook his head.
“Not unless I kill him.”
“And how will you do such a thing?”
“I probably won’t, but I will try. And I end up dead, at least he’ll leave them alone.” She turned away, because she knew Warren wouldn’t stop her. A new thought came to her and she turned back to find him still watching her. “Keep an eye out for them.”
Heart hammering against her chest, Lou made her way to the Court Hall.