She ran as fast as she could, but she could still feel the mist coming at her heels, threatening to overtake her. When its icy, invisible fingers brushed against her back, she knew it was inevitable, but still she ran, her breath lodged in her throat—-
Ice encased her.
She screamed, instinctively covering her face to ward off any attack, but nothing happened, and the sound of her scream also remained trapped inside of her. It was as if everything was commanded by the wraiths, even the very way her body functioned.
Soleil screamed and screamed, but still not a sound went past her lips.
Everything was so very silent.
Too, too silent.
Slowly, she lowered her hands, and Soleil gulped when she saw how much the world had changed. Everything felt darker, more oppressive, and the silence made it worse. The trees glaring down at her seemed endlessly tall, their claw-like branches innumerable as they reached for her—-
Soleil pinched herself hard.
No, this wasn’t real.
But even so, she couldn’t stop from moving instinctively, crawling away from the branches that kept coming towards her.
A feeling of abandonment struck her just as she heard a baby’s cry piercing the air.
Another infant, thrown away by a parent because it was imperfect—-
Her throat tightened—-
Soleil’s mind desperately clung to reality.
This wasn’t happening.
This wasn’t real.
This was an illusion.
But even so, long-buried feelings of abandonment kept flowing out of her, turning into ropes of despair that wrapped itself around her neck, tightening, choking her—-
Soleil began to panic. Illusion or not, this felt too real. She was going to die—-
Snap out of it!
The voice came out of nowhere, furious, but underlying it was concern and fear – for her.
Her heart leapt in recognition.
It was the Marquis of Lunare.
The wolf whose heart she was fated to keep.
She searched her surroundings for any sign of his presence, but all she could see was more and more branches that were just waiting to break her bones and tear her apart.
“I c-can’t see you,” Soleil choked out. “I can’t breathe, I’m feeling…”
And then she realized what this was.
It was not an illusion.
It was real.
It was her curse…killing her.
“Ilie,” she screamed. She was going to die. She really was going to die.
You know this isn’t real—-
“You don’t understand,” Soleil sobbed. More shameful sobs tried to rush out of her throat, but she did her best to swallow them back down. “I know w-what I’m seeing isn’t real, but what I’m feeling is. I’m going to die—-” Because she was cursed. He didn’t know it, and that’s why he didn’t believe her.
Whatever you think you’re feeling, I can make it stop. But you won’t like the way I do it.
“Anything is fine—-” Because she could already feel herself dying.
Then you need to think of me fucking you.
A moment later, she shrieked, “Are you insane? How can you make jokes like that? Don’t you see this is—-”
This wasn’t for real.
It couldn’t be.
Ilie Marcovici was a lot of things.
Playboy, killer, deceiver—-
Arrogant aristocrat hell-bent on seducing her—-
He was all of those things and more, but he was also a soldier like her, and people like them never made a joke at times like this.
Soleil closed her eyes.
This. Is. Not. Real.
When she opened them again, the world was back to normal. The Woods of the Wraiths was still creepy, but the mist was gone and replaced instead by the tall and impressive form of the Marquis of Lunare. His white blond hair was combed away from his face, and his silver eyes gleamed with amusement as he stared down at her. In his cobalt blue coat and tight-fitting breeches, he cut quite the dashing figure.
He looked like he was on his way to a ball, Soleil thought, only he had been forced into making an unnecessary detour to save a damsel in distress.
And of course, said stupidly helpless damsel had to be her.
Soleil’s lips pursed. She hated, hated, absolutely hated when she had to ask for this man’s help. She had been fighting since she was fifteen, so why was it all of a sudden she was unable to survive without being rescued?
Ilie Marcovici didn’t mind waiting for Soleil’s mental grumbling to finish. It was vastly entertaining, especially since his heartkeeper had once again forgotten the bond between them, which allowed him to listen in on her thoughts. When she looked up, as if suspicious of why he was content to merely stand there, he only smiled and instead offered one gloved hand to her, murmuring, “May I?”
Properly distracted, Soleil was now wondering whether she should accept or reject the marquis’ help. She could stand on her own, after all. But in the end, years of etiquette were too much ingrained in her, and Soleil reluctantly accepted the marquis’ hand.
Ilie repressed his smile as he took hold of her small, soft hand in his, knowing exactly how Soleil was feeling.