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The Singer Elizabeth Hunter 2022/7/22 11:38:31

She closed her eyes, a frown between her eyebrows, then they relaxed and she smiled again.

“Oh,” she said. “Of course. I didn’t remember until you called me.”

“Like you called me.”

“You told me to come back to you. So I did.”

Tears shimmered in her eyes. “You did.” Her hand lifted to his cheek. “You’re here. You’ll always be here.”

He could deny her nothing. His mouth touched hers and she clung to him, deepening the kiss as she pressed her body to his.

“I want to stay here,” she murmured against his lips. “Forever.”

“We can’t.” There was that tickling at the back of his mind again. He needed to tell her. Needed…

“I need you,” she said. His body responded to the grip of her hands on his shoulders. And then all he thought of was her.

When Malachi opened his eyes,he was staring at the peeling paint on the ceiling of the scribe house in Budapest. He blinked to clear his eyes. The dream still lingered in his mind; he could taste her on his lips. Just then, flickers of the dream came back to him, and he lifted his arm.

They were still there. On his left arm were the spells he’d inked. But below them, faint shadows of other, older spells lay like smudges beneath his skin.

“Ava,” he whispered. “What did you do?”

There was no doubt in his mind anymore. The dreams were not dreams. He was reaching her somehow. On some plane they were linked, even though she thought he was dead. How was it possible?

A knock sounded on the heavy door to his room.

“Are you awake?” It was Rhys.

Malachi cleared his throat. “I am.”

“Come down for coffee. They’ve made breakfast.”

He could smell it. The spicy scent of peppers and sausages drifted in the air. His stomach growled and he sat up.

“I’ll be right there.”

“Hurry if you want to eat. Don’t forget, Max may not be here, but Leo is.”

Malachi dressed quickly, grateful that the weather had turned cold enough that long sleeves would not be questioned. He didn’t know what to make of the talesm that had bloomed on his arm, and he didn’t want to try to explain them. As far as he knew, none of the scribes in the house were mated. The house watcher, Phillip, had lost his promised Irina in the Rending, according to Rhys, and the other scribes in the house were young.

Phillip, Rhys had also explained, would need to know what happened to Malachi. According to his friends, Malachi and Phillip had been brothers in the Berlin house years ago. There was too much history for Malachi to pretend to be who he was. Luckily, Rhys also said Phillip was trustworthy.

He followed his nose down the narrow staircase. Unlike the scribe house in Cappadocia, the one in Budapest was showing its age. Frayed carpets lined the hallway, and Malachi could see stains on the walls. Even the lights seemed to flicker with uncertainty.

Luckily, the kitchen showed no such deterioration. Food was spread over the table, with a stocky man at the head. He was sandy-haired and fair-skinned, but his eyes and smile showed faint traces of the city where he lived.

“Good morning,” he said. He was American. Malachi didn’t know why that was surprising.

“I’m going to assume you still like a big breakfast,” Phillip said. He nudged the shoulder of the younger man sitting to his right. “Victor, move. Let my friend sit down.”

Victor didn’t seem offended. The young man simply picked up his plate and moved a few chairs down at the massive kitchen table, which was spread with all manner of food. Steaming plates of sausages and bacon. Thick slices of brown bread and cheeses, along with the stuffed peppers he’d smelled from his room upstairs. Eggs. Paté. It was a feast fit for the group of massive men who filled the room.

Phillip waved to the chair and Malachi sat down. Rhys took the chair opposite him.

“My mother would be proud,” Phillip said with a grin. “That is, she would be if I’d cooked any of it.”

“Who cooked?” Malachi asked, immediately beginning to fill his plate. For some reason, he felt as if he hadn’t eaten in days.

Phillip nodded to another man who stood at the sink. “You can thank Tas. He may be from the country, but he knows how to cook.”

Tas shrugged and reached for a pack of cigarettes by the window. “I know how to cook because I’m from the country, you American idiot,” he said in thickly accented English. He lit up the cigarette, scraping a hand over a jaw that looked like it hadn’t seen a razor in days.

Phillip smiled again. “I’m smart enough to make sure you’re the one cooking for guests, aren’t I?”

Rhys and Malachi shared a smile as the Budapest scribes laughed. Even Tas gave what Malachi guessed was as close to a smile as he ever reached, then he turned back to the stove. Phillip spoke again as the quiet hum of morning conversation filled the room.

“You got in so late last night we didn’t get a chance to catch up.”

Rhys said, “Life has been… interesting lately.”

“I heard about the fire,” Phillip said, shoveling eggs onto the edge of his toast. “And that Damien went to the city to petition funds to rebuild.” Phillip cast his eyes around the room and shook his head. “Good luck to him; he’ll need it. I’ve been struggling to get promised funds for years now. The bureaucrats are not very receptive. I’m assuming you’re on your way to join him.”

“Not exactly,” Malachi said, exchanging a glance with Rhys.

Rhys said, “It’s a bit more complicated than that, Phillip.” He directed his eyes toward the younger scribes at the other end of the table. Phillip caught the glance and barked out something that sounded like an order. Within minutes, the men had filled their plates with food and abandoned the room, leaving Malachi, Rhys, and Leo alone with Phillip and the sullen Tas, who grabbed an ashtray and joined them at the table, a cup of black coffee in front of him.

Phillip said, “Tas is my second. He’s very trustworthy. Anything said to me can be shared with him.” Then he turned to Malachi. “What’s going on? You seem different. What’s happened to you?”

Leo said, “You don’t miss much, do you?”

Sharp green eyes met Malachi’s. “No, I don’t. And I’ve known this one longer than you’ve been alive, boy.”

Malachi slowly chewed the bacon in his mouth, swallowed, and set down his coffee cup.

“Technically,” he said, “that might not be true anymore.”