Adrian growls and steps forward, threatening. Isha smiles darkly.
"Where is she?" he demands.
"The hybrid child?" Isha asks innocently, cocking her head to the side.
Anger burns deep inside me like a white hot flame. "My daughter." I step up so I'm next to Adrian. Eoin and Nell stay back, knowing they are just here for back up. This isn't their fight.
Isha's dark eyes flicker to me. "She's safe. That's all you need to know."
"I'm her mother. You took her from me," I snap.
"It was necessary."
"Why? Why was it necessary? What could you possibly want with her?" Adrian asks, now with a hint of intrigue in his aggressive tone.
"Better yet, what do you want with her?" She steps up, challenging.
Adrian's eyebrows furrow and I suddenly get the feeling that I'm missing something. That Adrian is missing something.
"I need her to cure our hunger," he replies hesitantly, as if he is not sure that that is the right answer. His golden eyes flash to me for a fraction of a second. "She is the start of a new race." He narrows his eyes to Isha. "And I care for her dearly. I'm not leaving until I get her back."
Isha laughs lightly but her humour quickly disperses. "She is an abomination; you know that, don't you?" I tense, pressing my tongue against my cheek to stop me from attempting to sever her head from her shoulders. "She is not supposed to exist. You have brought something knew into this world, Adrian, and how much do you actually know about what you have done?"
Adrian gulps and suddenly looks paler. What is happening? Worry clutches my heart. I turn to Eoin and Nell. They give each other a confused glance before shifting on their feet and return to scowling at Isha.
"Tell me, King, can you sense her?" Isha arches a dark eyebrow.
Adrian's lips form a harsh line. His jaw tenses. "No."
"Hm." Isha presses her dainty finger to her chin, pretending to ponder over this new information. "And yet you drank her blood, did you not?"
Adrian lets out a steady breath, clearly frustrated by her haughty demeanour.
"Yes," he says, seething.
She smiles a little. "See, Adrian? She is not only half human, half Pixie. Her blood is something we cannot explain. And people don't like things they do not understand. People fear the unknown."
"You mean you do," Adrian hisses spitefully. "We were doing fine before you showed up."
She laughs a little and shakes her head with pity. "Oh, no you weren't."
The Pixie King bristles. "Are you telling me that you know something I don't?"
"I am telling you nothing, King. I do not trust you with the hybrid-"
"But she's my daughter." I step up, cutting through Isha. She glares at me. "She belongs with me. What gives you the right to say that my own daughter is better off with you?" My voice starts to break. The backs of my eyes burn and I fight with myself to not let the tears fall. A wave of emotions has hit me, taking me by surprise. All this talk about Leonna being new and not being understood has hit me in a way that I can't even describe. She's my daughter. My flesh and blood. And I'm stood here, separated from her because she is an abomination? Because she is not supposed to exist? She is the product of mine and Kendall's love and…and she's wrong?
I blink hard and a tear falls down my cheek. Of course Isha thinks it's wrong. She hates anything to do with Pixies. I used to be the same. But then I fell in love with one.
Leonna is wrong. My relationship with Kendall is wrong. I'm wrong.
I shake my head to wash away those thoughts.
Back then, I would have been on Isha's side. I would have taken her side with anything but things change. I love my daughter with all my heart and I am not going to let her take her away from me.
Isha studies my tear-filled eyes. I glance at Adrian and my heart flips. He looks so helpless by my side, like a warrior stripped of his armour. Exposed like a nerve.
"You're in way over your head, Aria. You should have never have gotten caught up in their business. Pixies are vermin. They prey on those that are weaker than them. They are the enemy, remember?" At the last part, her face softens and I hold in a gasp. She looks exactly like she used to. The mothering look has returned in her eyes as she searches mine, looking for the girl she once knew. The girl that is gone. Long gone.
I clear my dry throat. "You took my daughter, Isha. Don't expect me to be on your side. This is not you. You're a good person-"
"And so are you," she cuts me off. "At least, I thought you were."
This cuts me deep. I almost buckle at the pain in my chest and the gravity in her voice.
"I've lost my son, Aria, don't tell me that I have lost you too."
I fall silent. A lump swells in my throat. Adrian glances at me, I see him in the corner of my eye. His face grows sombre when he notices my distress.
"You are in no place to look down on us, Shifter. You are just as bloodthirsty as we are. Or should I say, as we were."
I blink at Adrian. His strong persona has returned. He watches Isha with cold, glistening eyes.
"You killed my kin," he continues grimly. "You and your pack slaughtered them then kidnapped an innocent child."
"I only did that because you broke the truce-"
"Your son broke the truce," Adrian counters. I almost feel like I should step back and leave them to it. Isha's eyes narrow at the King but then they shoot to me. My heart flips.
"He killed Bramble, Aria. Don't you care?"
A choked sob escapes me. I clear my throat. "Of course I do," I rasp, tears burning my eyes. "Not a day goes by that I don't wish I could have done something to stop it-" My heart fumbles when Adrian places his cold hand on my shoulder. He looks into my eyes soberly, shushing me. He turns to Isha.
"Don't try and guilt trip her, Shifter." He turns his body to her. "Your boy knew what he was doing. He knew the consequences of his actions. The boy killed one of my own. I only took his life to pay for it. I was trying to avoid a war." He narrows his eyes to her. "But you went ahead and started one anyway."
Isha narrow her eyes back, challengingly.
"If the ambush was revenge for your son's death, I hope you are satisfied."
She laughs scornfully. "That was not revenge. Don't think so low of me. I was making up for lost time. I should have killed them months ago."
Chills crawl up my back. Who is this woman? So dark and power-driven. Has Bramble's death made her this bitter or was she just able to cover up this side of her when she was with me? Either way, I don't like it one bit.
"In this world, it's kill or be killed. You know that-" She turns to me, "don't you, Aria?" I gulp and turn to Adrian for guidance. What is she talking about? "Tell me, after killing all those Pixies, did you just fancy a change when decided to kill Lupin?"
I hear a growl from behind me. I turn to see Nell holding back Eoin as he bares his teeth menacingly.
"He tried to kill Adrian. I didn't know it was him. I-if you hadn't set up the ambush, he would still be alive," I say, choking on my tears
That got her. She clenches her jaw to fight back the wetness in her eyes.
"Who are you, Aria?" she asks, tears breaking her voice. But then she blinks and the darkness consumes her again. "You've taken too many people from me. I'm just glad I still have your brother."
I gasp and feel a stab of guilt when I realise I had completely forgotten about the other person I had come here for.
"Dillon." I blink up at her, straightening and replacing the guilt with anger. "You took him too. Where is he?!"
My heart thumps at the familiar voice. The crowd of Shifters part and there stands my brother, his shoulder slack and his hands buried in his pockets. He shows me a rueful smile.
I gasp. "Dillon!"
As I run up to him, he opens his arms, ready to embrace me. I wrap my arms around him and sink my head into his neck. His strong arms envelop me and I feel him nuzzling my hair.
"You're okay," I breathe with relief then hold him at arm's length. "You are okay, aren't you? What did they do to you?"
He opens his mouth to speak but Isha sighs loudly, breaking him off. We both turn to her. She has this tedious look in her eyes. She arches a dark eyebrow.
"You really know nothing, do you?"
I look to Dillon, confused.
"He came here willingly, Aria."
I furrow my brows as Dillon's glistening blue eyes drop to the floor.
"What? Why?" I breathe, feeling completely betrayed.
"The same reason he has been living here the past few months. He hates Pixies. As he should. As you should. Your brother still sees sense, Aria. How have you let them infect your brain so easily? I honestly thought you were the stronger one."
"Dillon, how could you do this to me?" I ask, shaking him a little when he doesn't look up. Finally, his eyes find mine. "They took Leonna." His jaw clenches and his eyelashes flicker. I think back to what Eoin had said earlier on our walk over here and my stomach knots. "Did you know they were going to take her?"
He gulps. I almost heave and push him away, suddenly feeling sick to my stomach.
"She said they would keep her safe. She said it was necessary," he follows me desperately as I head back to Adrian. He grabs my arm and yanks me back. His touch makes my skin crawl. I push him back and spin round to him, my anger overflowing. "They killed almost half the kin! They almost killed Kendall!"
"I didn't know that was going to happen, I swear!" he pleads, anguish clouding his eyes. Tears fall down his cheeks. "Isha told me she was going to explain things cordially. If I knew a war was going to happen, I would have warned you!"
"But you're still here!" I cry. "After everything, you still went back with them!"
He sighs and rakes his fingers through his hair, clearly distressed. "They're Pixies, Aria," he says as if that is going to answer all my questions. But in a way, it did.
Being brought up hating Pixies has warped his judgement. It took me falling in love with Kendall to understand that everything isn't just black and white. There is a grey area. But Dillon didn't have an epiphany like me, his heart was crushed by Cera, a Pixie, which only confirmed that they are not to be trusted. We had grown up on the same page but now…we belong to completely different books.
"Where's Leonna?" I finally say.
"I don't know," he says hollowly. "No one will tell me."
My heart swells. "If they put her in danger-"
"I won't let that happen," he adds determinedly, looking into my eyes.
I clench my jaw and nod stiffly. I brush my fingers down his arm and hold his hand loosely. He squeezes mine a little.
"I love you, Dillon. Nothing will ever change that."
He smiles at our entwined hands, letting loose another tear. "I love you too, sis. If you ever need me, I'll be here."
I squeeze his hand back. "You know where I am, too."
He smiles a little and I drop his hand. I turn and head back, walking past Adrian.
"Wait. We need still don't know where Leonna is," he says as I brush past his shoulder, watching me in confusion. I glance to Isha. She nods with a half-smile. My gut twists.
"It's no use. They won't give her back. She's safe. That's good enough for me right now," I say hollowly, feeling like the life has been drained out of me. "Let's head back."
"Wait, no," Adrian's vice-like grip strangles the top of my arm. I clench my jaw and narrow my eyes up at him. "Not until we get her back."
"Adrian," I say coolly, my nostrils flaring. "Let. Me. Go."
Sensing that it is a good idea to do what I say, he drops my arm and allows me to continue through the wood. I hear the three Pixies hesitate but after a few seconds, their footsteps trudge behind me.