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« Empress, I have learned about you in these days. I’ve realized that I can’t compel you to go with me—or it’s meaningless. And that I should tell you everything that affects your future. I’ve learned, sievā–, but have I learned too late?”

I didn’t reply, refusing to commit to anything.

“If you choose me, I want it to be because you love me in turn,” he rasped, “so I offer you nothing this night. Just my hope.”

Even in the face of my anger and confusion, Aric pulled at my heart. “It means a lot for you to say this.”

“But does it mean enough?”

This man was a part of me, had been for epochs. I felt our soul-deep bond, could almost hear that endless wave along the shore. Still I had to whisper, “I don’t know. »

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“You once told me I was so good at this game because it’s all I’ll ever have.” The sadness in his voice had drawn me up short. “Your words were true, though I didn’t wish them to be. Not then. Or now.”

I’d heard Aric enraged, playful, fierce, in pain, and in lust. I’d never heard this soft sadness before.

In a murmur, he’d added, “I am ready to defy the will of gods and the dictates of fate to possess you, and yet a mere mortal stands in my way."

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"If someone had told me a week ago that I’d be riding with Death,” Selena continued, “I would’ve shoved his head up his ass."

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"You think that’s all I see in you? I told you I was raised to be a warrior scholar; my match must be one as well. Quintessence might read alongside me, but she’s no warrior. Selena is all warrior, but no scholar.” His thumb stroked my cheekbone. “I didn’t want to fall in love with you, equating it to my own doom. I resisted with everything in me but was no match for your fierce courage and keen mind."

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