Aequus (Royal Protector Academy 2)(3)

By: Randi Cooley Wilson


In order for Tristan to safeguard me, his protector mark was infused with my blood. It’s the only way a gargoyle can truly protect a charge. Once it’s broken or begins to weaken, the blood-bonded gargoyles become short-tempered and sullen.

I’ve been told that with time, the hostility will fade.

Just like my memories of Tristan.

I shiver, feeling lonely and rejected.

“The bond we share doesn’t leave me a choice,” I snap.

Zander doesn’t get angry at me for my short temper.

Instead, his demeanor becomes softer, understanding.

“You do have a choice,” he pacifies.

Elemental chaos reigns around us with my heightened emotional state. “Wrong,” I state sharply. “If I had a choice, I would have chosen Tristan and he would have chosen me.”

Zander swears under his breath and pinches the bridge of his nose. My gaze homes in on the dark circles that frame his eyes, and I’m suddenly aware of how drawn he appears.

His lips pull into a tight smile. “You think he likes this, Serena? Do you think Tristan isn’t hurting in the same way you are? My brother is miserable. If you thought he was dark and broody before his time with you, he’s worse now. Each time the lightning strikes our realm, a sharp pain literally rolls through him,” he forces a bark-laugh. “It’s true. He rubs at his heart—daily—at an ache that has settled there, a longing,” he pauses and calms. “For you.”

My words catch in my throat and my shoulders fall in defeat. I know Tristan feels this too. How can he not?

Maybe I should move on.

At the thought, the small mark behind my ear comes to life, reminding me it’s there. I lift my hand and rub at it, trying to soothe the sudden burn.

Zander’s ink-clouded focus narrows in on the motion.

“Have you told him yet?” he asks.

“About what?” I feign ignorance.

Rolling his eyes, Zander folds his arms across his muscular chest. “The mark. Behind your ear, Serena.”

I look away. “Why would he care about a freckle?”

“A freckle in the shape of his insignia,” he counters.

Tristan wears the Sun of Vergina symbol on a necklace.

It marks him within the supernatural world as nymph royalty. Oddly, the same mark is branded on my skin.

Sighing, I shake my head, suddenly losing the ability to argue anymore. Instead, I swallow the dryness in my throat.

“I have no idea why it’s there, Zander. Until I do, Tristan doesn’t need to know. Not now anyway—with everything else he’s dealing with,” I whisper.

Zander shakes his head in disagreement. “There is a deeper meaning behind it. It isn’t just a coincidence.”

He’s right. Before Tristan left, he handed me a note, which read: The Sun of Vergina is our cessation.

The words contain a hidden meaning that I can’t decipher. I’ve been going over and over them again in my mind, trying to figure out their importance. Exactly, how, or what, the insignia will stop or end, I have no idea.

“Do not tell him, Zander,” I demand. “Until I understand it, Tristan doesn’t need to be bothered with it.”

“He’ll be pissed off that you withheld this from him.”

“I’m not afraid of Tristan’s wrath,” I mumble, kicking and staring at the dry gravel under my feet. “I fear nothing.”

He releases a heavy sigh. “You’re too stubborn for your own good. Fear is not a sign of weakness, but of strength.”

Slowly, I raise my head and lock eyes with Zander.

“Why are you even here?” I snap.

“Freya’s father has moved up the date again.”

I try unsuccessfully to hide my surprise at this news.

“I wanted to let you know in person before you heard about it another way. I thought—well, you should know.”

“Why?”

He smiles sheepishly and waves toward the winds twisting the landscape. “Given how you took the news the last time, I thought perhaps I could convince you to harness your anger and fear into a less elemental outlet.”

I school my features, pretending not to have heard him.

“Serena?” Zander questions at my quiet state.

“I meant, why has Oren moved the ceremony up, again?”