Early evening was one of Bastian’s favorite times to watch humans. The low light made their souls so easy to see, but that wasn’t the only reason. As nighttime approached, they changed. The carefully composed people that smiled innocently during the day, that were polite turned into entirely different people once the sun went down. He was sitting on the roof of a five-story building, looking down at them moving along the busy sidewalk. Picking a location with coffee shops and fast food always ensured his entertainment.
With the vast number of years he’d been alive, his entertainment was very important. Without it, the years, decades, and centuries dragged out at a mind-numbing pace. The previous century, he’d been assigned to other areas, but then they’d—as in whomever it was that made ridiculous decisions about what was best, without ever asking those doing the work—decided each authorized watcher would be placed in one area going forward, so the chances of missing any souls in need of aid would lessen. It had made for some very tedious decades for him, but he’d also gotten to know the area better than his own home, which was useful at times.
Leaning over the ledge, he looked down and smiled. There were so many of them down there right now, if he’d been higher up they’d look like ants in their colony. The addition of cell phones into society made for some humorous moments. One of them would stop dead and stare at their phone and the entire flow of the group would change to move around them. Of course, the collisions of two watching their phones instead of where they were going happened too often to have any entertainment value now.
A waning soul caught his attention. It wasn’t pulling at him yet, but the body it was in wasn’t long in this world. He’d been seeing it soon, or one of his kind would be—Bastian couldn’t be everywhere all the time. It was disappointing his kind couldn’t teleport with a thought as the Alterealm royals could.
He held his breath as another bus moved down the other side of the street. The main reason he’d chosen this location tonight, was the bus terminal was half a block over. Studying any females close to it, he looked closely, not having a clue of what or who he was looking for. The seer princess in Alterealm could have at least supplied him with a rough description. A woman and bus are what she had said. He had to find the woman. None of it was helpful.
None of the women, or rather their souls struck him with any sense of urgency in any way, so hopefully, he didn’t miss the one he was supposed to save. Of course, if the bus-woman scenario meant for him to be at the bus station watching those boarding and departing buses, the mystery woman was good and truly screwed because the tedium of that held zero entertainment value, so he was here instead.
Many from his realm complained about the modernism of the human realm, there were too many to watch over now, they traveled too quickly and many more obscure grumblings. Bastian, he loved the fast pace of this current time. So many souls, so little time. He chuckled. Although lately, he’d been busier than he cared to be with a lot more than watching for souls to help cross to their next life, it was— Pausing, he turned and looked back the other way again. The darkness of a soul popped out like a flashing nefarious sign. One from the lawless faction was down there and they were coming down the street in his direction.
“Won’t be a fruitless trip after all.” He watched as the man impersonating a normal human paused a moment before moving again in his direction. “That’s it, come to Bastian, you traitorous cur.” He rolled his eyes at the word from long ago, then shrugged, he was allowed to think in any time period, he’d been around for many of them. Too many some days.
He glanced along the sidewalk, trying to find the soul the lawless traitor was after. It wouldn’t be the sickly one whose time was almost up. They didn’t highjack those. They liked the strong souls with many decades left in their current bodies. There were too many strong ones in the area. Most were just human with very little hints of anything otherworldly mixed into their genes. Maybe he was going to pick some random soul, that was happening far too often lately. Headlines of people’s sudden, unexpected deaths were far too common. The lawless ones weren’t behind all of them. After all the human body was fragile and sometimes unforeseen things did happen. He’d been on morgue detail a lot recently and after tracing the soul’s signature in the corpses, he knew many were being taken by the unsanctioned soul suckers from his own realm.
Standing up, Bastian glared at the other side of the street. Another dark souled bastard was on the other side. Two in one area was not a whimsical coincidence. They were hunting a specific soul. “Now, I’m intrigued, boys. Thank you for keeping things interesting.” He exhaled slowly and focused on making himself invisible, taking a deep breath. Of course, if his brothers knew he often perched in very visible, precarious locations where the chances of being seen were high, they’d have monumental conniptions. Did he care what they thought of his habits? Not in the slightest. Being invisible was necessary this time though, it wouldn’t do if these lawless spotted him, then he’d have to run. Being a prince and somewhat a celebrity among his people, made him very memorable.
Keeping them both in his sights, he quickly moved down the fire stairs. Getting both of them was going to be a challenge, but nothing spiced up an endless day better than an impossible task.
He was on the last few steps when his heart practically did a flip inside his chest. He looked around with a feeling of urgency. He didn’t have time to help a soul pass right now, he really didn’t. He glanced around looking for the soul calling out to him and then he saw her. Stopping, he put his hand over his heart, which now felt like it was going to beat right out of his chest. She was breathtaking. Miles of pale blonde hair, high cheekbones—Bastian wanted desperately to see her eyes. It wasn’t a myth that you could see a person’s soul through their eyes. Of course, Bastian could see it regardless, but the view from those intriguing orbs was always better. That and his people had black, without variation irises and humans’ eyes were so pretty with the flecks and differences in color. She glanced behind her and much to his disappointment, she was wearing sunglasses, which was odd for the fading light, but each to their own. He more than agreed with that. He was the epitome of that.
There was something more important than her beauty and no doubt lovely eyes, that made him dizzy with joy, she housed the very soul that haunted his every dream and all his nightmares. The soul he had chased through time since his own began. He’d never felt drawn to a soul that wasn’t close to passing on or burning out, just this soul that was now in her fragile human body had many times over the years given him the motivation to carry on. He wanted to rush to her, touch her skin, and feel that she was real. He wanted to kiss her. Take her breath of life into his body—
Movement caught his attention, and he remembered the lawless ones. They were both moving in her direction. All the pieces clicked together in his head like cogs on a gear. They were here for her and now he knew why. Grabbing his phone, he knew he should call Tor or at the very least Trendan for backup, but did he? No. He dialed the first number on my call list. Chase, one of the kings from Alterealm.
Scowling, Bastian watched her look over her shoulder again, over the rim of the glasses covering her light-shaded eyes, she was afraid. She knew she was being hunted. He remembered the king, “yes. Where is the little seer? Is she there?” He’d hoped to bring these bastards in alive to question them, but that probably wouldn’t be happening now. Pulling the wand from his pocket, he decided he was sucking their souls right the hell out of those bodies. He’d have to send in clean up afterward, couldn’t have any of his kind ending up in a morgue somewhere to terrify and amaze some coroner when they sliced them open to discover the secret inside.
“I’m here.” Princess Crissy said.
“The woman—the one with the bus, what did she look like?” Jerking his head in the other direction, he looked one way and then the other, checking for a bus.
“I-I didn’t really see her.”
The woman started to hurry along the edge of the sidewalk, to avoid collision with others, she was barely staying on the curb. A loud hissing drew his attention. A bus was coming along the same street.
“I think I’ve found her. This can’t happen. Kings, I may need that favor soon.” An ambulance went blaring past, the bus moved over into the other lane to get out of the way. It was very close to the curb now. They weren’t getting her. “Someplace secure in your realm. It can’t be here, and it will have to be guarded.”
Bastian ran down the steps, then jumped over the last few. “Damn, why didn’t I see this?” Another ambulance went by “The easiest way to take down the leadership of my realm…” He was such an idiot. He froze, trying to decide the best course of action. Then remembered he was on the phone, “would be to take out the soul I can’t live without, the one that I live for—” How did she know she was being hunted? He could count on one hand the number of times in all his life when a human knew one of his was nearby. He ran, trying to avoid the people on the sidewalk and failing. “I’ll call you later.” Hanging up, he shoved the phone into his pocket and ran toward her.
He felt the pull of a hot soul and stumbled, debating for a moment if he should see who it was from. He couldn’t, not this time. One lost soul was worth the answers. Answers he’d been looking for since that first time many centuries earlier. He’d end up doing penance later for losing a soul, but he needed to save her.
Bastian rushed through those coming toward him on the crosswalk and then started looking, searching—she had to be here. He couldn’t be too late. He just couldn’t, not for her. Spotting her, he sucked in a breath, she was going to step off the curb. It couldn’t end this way. He jumped out onto the street, not caring about the cars flying past him. “Stop.” He bumped into someone and didn’t care that now he was no longer invisible and would also be a target for the lawless—if they didn’t run the other way after seeing he was also in the neighborhood. He hopped back up on the curb when she paused and looked in his direction. Dammit, he wanted to see her eyes, needed to, but the glasses covered them.
Tires screeched as a van lost control for a moment, swerving. If she had stepped off that curb, it would have hit her. The glasses slid down her nose and revealed to him the most beautiful pale eyes he’d ever seen. They were huge as she realized the near miss she’d just had. She was all right. His shoulders slumped in relief. For the briefest of moments, she looked at him and he held his breath for fear she would look away if he moved. A horn honking brought them out of the hypnotic moment and then he remembered those after her.
Before he could take a breath and search for those two bastards, he found himself standing in the command center of Solrelm. He hadn’t taken the link off his wrist. Dammit.
“Have you completely lost your mind?” Trendan growled at him from the other side of the desk.
“Forever ago.” Bastian slapped his wand onto the desk and then hopped over the table to stand beside him. Why was he monitoring him during his downtime? He’d ask in a minute, right now he needed to get some guards to that location and find those two soul-stealing bastards.
Bastian’s brother watched him tap the screen with more force than necessary as he brought up the location, then hit Tor and Ulric’s badge numbers. Dragging them to that location, he leaned over the mic switch. “Two from the lawless faction.” He scowled at the screen, “I need them alive to question.” He had to know how they knew about her. Huffing out a breath, he turned to look at his older brother. One of his two older brothers. This one standing here looking at him like he’d lost all touch with reality, he trusted. “I was visible when you jerked me back here.” That ought to be fun for some human counselors when their clients tell them about the disappearing man. He wanted to laugh but was still annoyed.
Trendan rubbed his hand over his short, well-trained blond hair and frowned. “You had two closing in on you. You know they’re only visible on here,” he tapped the screen, “for a few moments and three you were running around like a madman.” He gave his head a quick shake. “Was there a reason for that?”
Bastian looked around the control room, noting a few curious glances their way. “Yes. Was there a reason you were in the control room during your downtime?”
Trendan scowled at him. “I was looking for you.” He gave those monitoring the screens a quick side-eye. “We need to talk.”
Glancing down at the screen, he saw Tor and Ulric’s markers moving around the area he’d been yanked out of. She had to be all right. “Yes.” Bastian clicked his teeth together, “we do. Next time try phoning me instead.”
He messaged Tor as we walked to his quarters, telling him to text as soon as he was back. Opening the door, he went in, leaving it wide open for Trendan to close behind us.
Shrugging out of his leather jacket, Bastian tossed it to the sofa and then took off his link bracelet and set it on the table. He ran both hands through his hair as he went over to the black cylindrical shelf in the wall. Opening it, he looked inside. It was empty.
“You’re about six hours early for that,” Trendan said, sounding amused.
Closing it, Bastian blew out a breath and went over and dropped down onto the sofa. “I don’t even know what day or time it is.”
With his ever-serious expression on his face, his brother sat on the arm of the chair across from him. “You need some downtime.”
Bastian snorted, “I need something all right.” Leaning his head back, he looked over at him. “Why did you need me?”
“I found three more.”
Bastian didn’t need to ask three more what, he knew exactly what he was talking about. The men that had been taken, their minds wiped and then records of their human realm visits erased. But it was so much worse than they thought. “How long ago?”
“Two from a dozen decades ago, one of them was recent. This decade.”
Bastian sat up so quickly, he almost slid right off the cushion. Holding his hand out he narrowed his eyes at him, “this decade? So,” he jumped up and paced to the other side of the room, “so,” Bastian spun around and looked at him, “we might have a chance in hell on tracking this one?”
“Holy hell.” He put his hands on his head and blew out a breath. “Answers,” he mumbled, “we could actually get answers.” Dropping his hands, Bastian looked back at him. “We might be able to reverse what was done to him, restore his memories with it being so recent…”
“That’s my thought too.” Trendan looked guilty, “I still think we should discuss this with—”
Bastian shook his head, “no. Mother and Father can’t be brought in until we know more.” Neither of them wanted their parents to be in on the wicked scheme of hiding the fact their kind could indeed have a mate and child outside this realm, but until they knew more, they couldn’t risk revealing their hand.
“They can’t be part of it.” Trendan slid down off the arm of the chair and sat in it properly. “Being able to have children with others outside our realm would be a blessing, the female…”
“No. We can’t chance others knowing.” Bastian rushed over and sat on the table. “I have the powerful royals from Alterealm assisting me, as well as FaTerra…”
“You spoke to the FaTerra princess?”
Bastian nodded, “yes, there’s some serious magic,” he waved his hand around, “juju in play here and no one has the juice like they do.”
Blowing out a breath, Bastian closed my eyes. “Can we get to him? The dad?” He looked at Trendan.
“Most likely. We’ll have to enlist Tor and Ulric’s help and come up with a good plan.”
Bastian waved his hand around, “they know.” Trendan’s eyes rounded; Bastian smirked. “We grew up with them, they’ve been attached to our hips as our guards since puberty, if we can’t trust them there is no hope in life left.”
“Ulric is solid.”
Bastian nodded, “as is Tor.” Getting up, he went into the kitchenette area and opened the fridge.
“What about Sigor? We could call him back.”
“No.” He perused the contents. “He’s still chasing down the barrier issue.” What was he in the mood for? “I think he’s in Aridon still, helping them figure out where their barrier might be breached, or might have been,” he paused, “blown up or whatever that lunatic Arwan was trying to do.”
“Yeah. Elyas is thrilled being the acting commander of the guard while Sigor is taking personal time.”
“Now do you want to tell me what you were doing? Was it for the Alterealm Royals? The reason you were running about the human’s space.”
Bastian grabbed a bottle of juice and then put it back and looked at the coffee maker. Did he need caffeine? Probably not, but it wasn’t like he was going to die from drinking too much. “No.” Did he tell him? Picking up the coffee pot, he went to the sink and glanced at him. He already knew how he was going to react to this, they’d run this gauntlet with this many, many times. “I found that soul again.” Bastian had honestly thought it was gone forever. Watching the liquid as it filled the pot, he closed my eyes for a moment. She had to be all right.
Trendan didn’t jump on him, which was a first. Usually, when he brought up that haunting soul, he scoffed. The coffee was brewing before his brother spoke again.
“The same soul you’ve been chasing through the centuries, across the universe. How do you know that this is the soul intended for you?”
“I don’t. All I know is I must find it each time it is reborn. I feel more of a connection to it—more than anyone I’ve ever felt in my life. Even you.”
“I’m missing something. We’re missing something. Why that soul?” Trendan leaned back and looked relaxed for all of three seconds before he tensed again. “Could it have been one of ours at some point?”
“No.” Bastian frowned, “ours don’t…”
“Wait.” Their cousin Aliria bolted out of Bastian’s bedroom.
Bastian spun around, Trendan reached behind him and pulled out a knife.
“Seriously, Liri, how many times do I have to tell you to announce when you’re hiding in here.” Bastian put his hand over his heart and tried to settle his breathing.
“I could have stabbed you,” Trendan mumbled as he put the blade away.
She shrugged, “it’s close to banquet time, you should know I’m here hiding.”
Both his brother and he nodded, all of them made themselves scarce when the banquet season was near. Endless dinners, luncheons, and parties leading up to the parade of new eligible females. He’d offered her his suite as refuge years ago when she’d come of age. How she was still single and his aunt hadn’t tied her to a partner, he really didn’t know. She might be better at avoidance than even he was.
“What were you talking about?” She went over and perched on the sofa, sitting more on the top of the back than the cushion. She flipped her red ‘mermaid’ hair back, “what dad, what soul,” she gave Bastian a hard look, “what is so special about this soul?”
Bastian crossed his arms over his chest and turned to look at his brother, silently telling him they weren’t going to get out of explanations, not with Liri. He adored her, she was a fellow rebel that bucked the system as hard as he did, but she was viciously tenacious when she set her mind to something.
Trendan sat down and heaved a loud sigh. “We—”
She dropped down onto the cushion of the sofa and leaned forward, “don’t say can’t. You know I can keep a secret.” She motioned around the space they were in. “I’ve been using Bast’s place for years to hide and never once told anyone about the things he’s up to.”
Bastian raised an eyebrow at her confession. “I don’t hide my rebellious streak.”
She gave him a blank look, “no, you have a penis, you don’t have to.”
He conceded she was right with a shrug. “She could…”
“No.” Trendan glared at him, “just knowing any of it puts her at risk.”
“Don’t I have a say?” She looked from Trendan back to him, “I need some other purpose than primping and preening to attract a partner that I don’t want—yet.”
Trendan’s expression softened, “I know it’s hard, Liri, but all of us have a duty.
Bastian snorted, “Attending the never-ending luncheons with the females of the realm can be trying. Everyone looking at you with that watchful look.” He scowled at him, “I don’t see you going to a lot of these, Elyas goes to even fewer—why is it all falling on me?”
He shrugged, “I have to…”
Liri laughed, a little louder than necessary, “you avoid them just like both of us.” She flopped back and made a pouty face, “if there’s a chance I don’t have to be tied to a stranger…”
“Your parents would never allow it.” Trendan looked at Bastian for backup.
Liri was on her feet, hands on hips and glaring at him before Bastian could open his mouth, “You have no say because last I checked, I was the only one here with a womb to procreate more females for the realm.” She crossed her arms over her chest, “my womb, my choice.” She threw her hands up, “I just want to do something. Anything for once that doesn’t feel like I’m selling myself to the highest bidder.”
“You are watched more than we will ever be.” Trendan’s tone told Bastian he was slowly caving, and he waited for that opening to jump in.
“You could tell them I’m needed to do something.” She smiled at him, and Bastian felt sorry for him, he’d been on the other end of that look before with her, and ended up giving in to some crazy ideas. Prince or not he could still be reprimanded in many unpleasant ways for doing some things.
“The little seer princess in Alterealm could use some help finding those mixed souls for us.” Bastian shrugged.
“Are you crazy?” Trendan’s harsh look returned in a snap. “How do we explain she’s in Alterealm or the human realm?” He stood up and glared at Bastian, “you are talking about finding humans that are part Solrelm, aren’t you?”
“Yes—or any souls that are half ours.” Bastian rubbed his hand over his hair and looked down at the floor. Tor should have been back by now. Feeling his pockets, he realized he’d left his phone in his jacket. Going over, he pulled it out of the pocket.
“I don’t understand this, like completely human or part of our DNA or other DNA?” Liri looked from Trendan to him, “is that even possible?”
Bastian grinned, “very possible and I have the proof.” He checked for messages. There weren’t any. “We’ve also found some of the Solrelm dads responsible for those mixed offspring and someone has known about this miracle and gone to great lengths to hide it.”
Liri’s eyes rounded to the point it had to be uncomfortable. “We can have children with someone not from here? Do-do they have our abilities still?”
Trendan blew out a breath, “yes.” He rubbed his hand over his jaw, “the only ones that know right now are us,” he pointed to himself and then Bastian, “and our two guards.”
Bastian wondered for a moment where her guard was, how was it she could dip on her guard so often? Tor was in on most of his plans, but he doubted her guard, what’s his name, knew half of the things she did.
She nodded, looking completely animated, “okay,” she nodded again, “good idea, too many knowing would be bad.” She sat back down, “have you interviewed these fathers?”
Trendan glanced to him before answering, “no, they’ve had their memories wiped.”
“Wiped? On purpose? Like someone knew and is hiding it?”
Trendan blew out a breath, “yeah.”
“Holy shit. This is huge.” A few expressions crossed her face then she nodded, sending her wavy locks bouncing on her head. “I want in on this. I want to help.”
“We should work on getting to the dads,” Bastian turned to Trendan, “she could help the seer.”
“Isn’t their seer a little busy with…”
“That prophecy of the Alterealm royal family, it’s been full filled.”
Trendan cocked one eyebrow at him, “the nine brothers?”
“Yes.” Bastian grinned wide, “and most of their true mates were half-human, well, except for the one that is half Solrelm.”
“Shit.” His tone was contemplative.
Bastian glanced at his phone, he needed to find Tor. He looked at Liri and then to his brother, “we need to find all the dad’s locations, find the traitorous bastards that were involved in that secret,” sucking in a breath, he continued, “find the traitorous bastards from here that were helping the insane mage, not to mention the lawless faction jerks were after the soul that’s mine—”
“How are we going to do all of that?” Liri asked quietly. Neither Trendan nor Bastian missed that she was making sure she was included going forward.
“We can call the Alterealm royals, one princess can hear thoughts, one of their kings can get inside heads—”
“You want to bring them over here? Wouldn’t it be safer if we met in the human’s realm?” Trendan was on the edge of the chair now.
“I don’t know.” Clutching the phone in his hand, he crossed his arms. “I don’t know. I just know we need to do something now.”
“This has to end.” Trendan stood up.
Trendan looked at his phone, “Ulric says they’ll be back shortly.” He looked back at Bastian, “meet me at interrogation?”
Bastian nodded, then motioned to Liri, “I’ll fill in a few blanks for her and then meet you there.” Why hadn’t Tor messaged him?