Dominique stands in the open door of the carriage and smirks as he takes in the scene before him. Peter pulls away from me slowly, though our hands remain tightly intertwined on the seat between us.
“We’ll be stopping for the night, until I receive further directions from the King. Let us see whether you can be useful, Ringdulous. Build for us a campfire.”
Peter’s ears tinge red with anger. After a moment of trying to regain his self-control, he says, “You can make your own campfire.”
I steel myself for Dominique to lash out at Peter, but he seems amused by the retort instead. Somehow this reaction is worse than what I was expecting. I straighten up as Dominique steps into the coach. I’m not going to let him see that I’m afraid, even if I am.
Dominique takes a seat on the bench across from me, grinning cruelly. He takes my free hand in his. My shackles clunk together. I can feel Peter become tense beside me.
Something cold fills the air between our palms, becoming instantly harsh and sharp against my hand like glass shards. The ice isn’t like any that I have ever felt. It isn’t even like Peter’s, which is soft and quiet, even with all its deadliness. It feels… dry, dead. Different. I struggle to think of the right word for it and finally find one. Fake.
For a second, my hand just seems to go numb. I barely keep from looking over at Peter - I can feel the weight of his worried gaze but I manage to keep my eyes level, staring right at Dominique. My level-headedness seems to unsettle him. Good.
Then, finally, an aching cold pierces me. It’s so frigid it nearly burns. I shriek in surprise and try to pull back, clutching Peter’s hand too tightly with mine. All my focus scatters, muddled by the painful sparking of cold rushing in my veins.
“Alright! I’ll do it, I’ll do it!” Peter cries. Somehow I catch every pained word, even through the roar of blood in my ears. My heart twinges - like the string of a vrilain being plucked - at his tone.
Dominique finally lets go. I fall back against the carriage wall. He ducks out of the small space, sending one last satisfied glance over his shoulder before he disappears. His feet pound the dirt as he goes.
I wince as a tear trickles down my face, squeezing my eyes shut. Shame rolls in the pit of my stomach.
Peter crouches down in front of me, his gaze flicking from my eyes to my shaking, bluish hand. “I’m sorry, Azure, I’m sorry-”
“Don’t,” I say.
Peter looks up, abruptly. His eyes are stunningly dark. “What?”
“Don’t apologize. It’s not your fault.”
Peter suddenly turns quiet. Fury blazes behind his dark eyes. “I’ll kill him. If I’d just agreed to make the stupid fire…”
With one last wordless shake of his head, he takes my shaking blue hand in his. His hands are incredibly gentle.
“I’m fine,” I protest. But I stop when a light, subtle tide of warmth creeps through my hand - like honey dripping through me.
Peter and I lock gazes for a moment as the magic pulses between us like a beating heart. I look down at our joined hands, watching in mesmerization. Chords of yellow and red and gold dance between them like a staff pulled off sheet music.
When my hand is back to normal, Peter pulls away, looking stricken. I slump against the bench. I’m too exhausted to ponder the look in his eyes.
“Where’d you learn to do that?” I mutter.
“I don’t know. I didn’t learn to do very much.”
“Well,” I breathe, “it worked.”
But whatever it was, it had left me tired. I’m barely keeping my eyes open.
My vision blurs and turns black. The shadows swallow me whole.
Something whispers in my ear. The voice is so soft and low that I barely hear it at first. Alone, it says. You’re alone.
I open my eyes. I don’t remember closing them. I don’t remember standing up. I don’t even remember leaving the carriage, though I know I must have.
As I look down, I see that the ground beneath my feet it dark cobblestone. Something smells of the sea, though I can’t find any water.
The cobblestone appears to be part of a winding road. It’s grown over in patches with thick foliage, such a dark green it looks dead. The road itself seems to stretch endlessly to the horizon in either direction. The sky is dark and moonless. And the only light for miles is coming from… me.
I look down at myself. I’m shocked at my own appearance. My dress is spattered with rust-red blood, and dirt and filth covers the rest of it. My arms are scraped up and raw-looking and blood leaks down them, too, though I don’t feel any pain. And coming from my hands, burning as brightly as two stars, is a brilliant ghostly blue light.