No matter how many times she tried, Carissa found herself unable to rid herself of her smile. She replayed her sword fight with Elon and laughed softly, recalling how large his eyes had grown just before she’d kissed him. Even though he had foresight, she was glad she was still capable of surprising him.
A sharp tug on her pants–Elon’s pants, rather–made her glance down. A little girl extended her arms, her eyes wide and pleading, and Carissa’s heart melted as she scooped her up. What would her child with Elon look like? She desperately wanted to know… but she supposed she had enough children under her charge between Lyron and Lila.
At the thought of the girl, Carissa began skimming the crowd for her among the women. Lila was nowhere to be seen. Perhaps she’d stayed at camp. It seemed Lila had been keeping more and more to herself lately. After seeing Lila’s self-loathing once they’d rescued her, it was rather concerning.
Although Carissa had felt the same way when Akar had tossed her aside. She shuddered. Perhaps once Lila was given enough love and time, she’d begin to heal as Carissa had.
The hush of running water grew louder, and Carissa set the girl down as they approached the river. The women spread along the banks of the river, setting their baskets of clothing at the edge of the water.
Carissa swiped a few rags and shirts before moving upriver of the rest of the women–where the water was cleaner. A few girls chased each other before wandering into the cold river water. Their squeals echoed through the forest as they splashed each other.
Carissa glanced up to scan her surroundings—a habit she’d picked up since crossing the border. The noise seemed too loud in the forest. But then again, most forests in Esmeray were deathly silent. Perhaps she was just uncomfortable because it was unusual to hear laughter ring out in this place of death.
She returned her attention to her washing, and a prickling sensation spread across her arms. Perhaps she should have asked Elon to accompany them. Esmeray was no place to—
“What do we have here? A nightwoman away from her nighthouse?”
Carissa tried to whip around to face him while rising, but in her panic, she twisted her ankle before crashing into the shallow riverbed behind her. The water was like ice, but staring at Akar, she could scarcely feel it.
He loomed above her, towering and dark as a storm cloud. He held Lila captive in his large hands, a dagger pointed at her throat, just above a bejeweled collar. He must have used the collar to suppress Lila’s powers again.
His gaze raked down her clothes, now wet and plastered to her figure. He smiled, and terror clutched Carissa’s chest, stalling her heart. She should move, rise, run, fight.
Before she could do so, Akar pressed the dagger more firmly against Lila’s pale neck, drawing a ribbon of blood and a whimper from the girl. “It’s your choice, Carissa. Who gets to be my plaything today: you or Lila?”