“Listen,” I said, my voice a little more stern, “remember a few weeks ago when I told you I’d do anything for you? That hasn’t changed; It wasn’t conditional. I can help you with whatever you have to do here. I’m not completely sure what you have to do, so I am kind of limited in knowing how I can even help you, but I’m still willing. I just need to know what’s going on, and what we’re up against.”
I didn’t really like the way the pieces were falling. It reminded me too much of some anime or fantasy movie I’d watched, where that was one of the lines: “What are we up against?” A task? Evil beings that want to stop us at any cost?
Leila sighed. “Okay,” she said. “Okay. Just… can we just sit down together? Maybe have breakfast first?”
She eyed the couch, and then the small dining table near the windows.
“Just stop,” I grumbled. “You’re stalling again, and I can’t keep talking to you like this. These conversations that are like pulling teeth. What is out there that you’re being so evasive about? What do you think I can’t help you with? And why are you still trying to get involved with it if it’s something that even I can’t deal with?”
“You think it’s dangerous here?” she asked. She was trying to sound as though that concept was absurd, but her voice was shaking. She was hiding something. “I mean, if there’s dangerous in this world, the people who live here can defend against it, right?”
“You sound like you’re still trying to convince yourself of that,” I said. There was no humor or patience left in my voice.
“Well, I mean…” she was stumbling over her own words, wrapped up in whatever lies she’d been telling me.
“We looked out for her just fine the one time there was any danger,” Aubré snapped. He seemed to be at the end of his patience, too, though I had a feeling that he’d less of it to begin with. “Here’s a truth for you, human: she wouldn’t have gotten hurt if she’d stayed inside with Evander like we told her to. If she had trusted us to take care of things, the werewolf never would have gotten close enough to scratch her.”
I stared at him. What he’d said was jaw-dropping. I wasn’t even sure that I’d heard him right, or if I had, that he wasn’t speaking in riddles and metaphors. “What the hell did you just say?”
The elf scoffed. “You heard me. I don’t think she has her mind properly wrapped around what’s going on. She’s a member of the Moss bloodline, she loves music, and she believes in magic, but I don’t think she’s the right one to be helping us.”
I glared it Leila. I hate to admit it. I would’ve punched anybody else who’d looked at her like that. Maybe I shouldn’t have either. But there were enough lies going around that day, and I wasn’t going to add to them.
“Leila, he just told me more facts in one minute than I’ve been able to pull from you in ten!” I should have controlled the frustration in my voice. But I hadn’t, and I knew from the moment she took a step away from me that I’d made a mistake. “You… Leila, what does this have to do with your family?”
“And why were there werewolves?”
“I just want the truth, Leila! Tell me about how you got hurt.”
“They…” Her voice was shaking. “The werewolves were… They were chasing the centaurs.”
“There are centaurs here, too?!” I don’t know why that had me angry, aside from the fact that everything they were saying added another layer of complexity to this world.
“Please, sir,” Evander said when all Leila could do was stutter. “The centaurs are our friends, as are the dwarves, and a good many other beings. They didn’t know that Lady Moss was here when the werewolves gave them chase, or else they would not have come directly here. Jean-Marc, Aubré, and Brom went outside to help fight them off. I stayed inside with her–“
“But she was reckless and went out there anyway?” I shared a narrow-eyed look with both him and her. “So you let him pursue you, but you can’t trust him to keep you out of danger?”
“He did keep me out of danger, Stefan!” she cried. “If he hadn’t used his magic, the werewolf would have left me with a lot more than just scratches!”
I glared at Evander. “I think the elf is right. It sounds like whatever you want her to do cannot be done alone, but as you have already seen, she can’t trust anyone enough to actually help her, and she ends up sabotaging herself.”
“Stefan!” Her tone was more chastising this time. She said nothing more when she saw the look on my face.
“I don’t know whether to go back home and let you do what you want here, or carry you back kicking and screaming.”
“I… I want you here with me.” I could hardly hear her words, between how her voice shook and how softly she spoke
“What for?” I snapped. “You won’t even tell me anything!”
“I… I will…” she whimpered.
“Sure… after how much wasted time?” I looked back over at the other men. “You’re going to have a hard time helping her whether or not I stay.”
None of them said anything to me. They were all looking past me. After a moment, I turned around and followed their gazes. It was Leila. Or more specifically, it was the tears that were streaking down her face. I felt my heart plummet. It was like being pierced through, and everything in me went cold.
Time slowed. I could hardly feel the air move as Evander rushed past me. His voice seemed distant as he said her name– well, the title he used with her. Watching him pull her into his arms, I couldn’t breathe. She didn’t resist him. She didn’t look at me. She all but disappeared into his embrace as she cried.
And I had made her cry. I had spoken too harshly, had lost my patience. Then again, she had been hiding things from me for months. She lied to me. She was in another man’s arms, and he’d seen my temper.
“Okay,” I gritted out. I didn’t deserve her. “You clearly have things under control here.” I turned around and headed for the door.
“Where are you going?” I think it was the elf asking.
“You wouldn’t care,” I snapped. I kept moving.
“Monsieur,” the other man called after me, “please, tell me what you need, and I shall see to it.”
I opened the door and paused to glare at him. “Weren’t you paying attention? You heard what I want! She won’t open up to me, so I’m going to figure this place out on my own.”
“What?!” he squawked, following after me. “How? Where?”
“Anywhere I can.” I headed down the first staircase I found.
“Je t’en pris, do not leave the manor house! I will tell you what you want to know.”
“I don’t want your explanations.” I wound through the hallways until I found more stairs leading down. “You clearly have secrets you’re not willing to tell”
“You don’t understand! Sir, please, let me get Brom. He can explain all of this so much better than I can!”
“Quit following me.”
“You don’t even have shoes!”
I stopped at the bottom of the stairs and glared up at him. “My ancestors were Vikings! Do you really think I care about rocks and twigs?!”
I didn’t wait for him to respond. I just headed out the front door and down the path to my left.