I Am No Prey by Amal Clare May 25, 2021

29-Venice and War

Two and a half hours later, the train screeched to a halt and we piled out of the seats, stretching sore limbs and eager to get out. We still had an hour by car, and then fifteen minutes on boat before we got to wherever we were going. 

Easton scrunched his nose when we stepped out of the station, even though we weren't even in Venice yet. 

"Venice is sinking, in fact, it already should've sunk by now. So why are we going there?" 

"Because," was all Daniel said. "You'll see." 

Easton gave him an eye roll and got in the cab. Inside, the cab smelled strongly of air spray and beneath that, the smell of mothballs. I rolled the window down, the wind blew in my face and ruffled my hair. When the driver glared at me, maybe he had a flu, I ignored him. If he wanted me to close the window, all he had to do was ask. 

After an hour of staring at the passing scenery and torturing myself with what ifs and wondering what was going to happen, the cab stopped and we got out. After that, we followed Daniel to boats, or taxi boats. The entire time, I was operating on autopilot, my mind completely elsewhere as I wondered where we were going and what I was going to do when we got there. By now, it was easy to keep the shadows on my wings and fake scales on my face. It almost like breathing, I didn't have to think about it anymore. That meant that after Everard gave up, or failed to find me, I could settle down here. Finish my schooling, use my inventions and designs, get a life. Or if Everard continued to be persistent, I could move to a different Drakhenae country. I didnt' know why that felt like giving up, or hiding. And I was fond of neither. 

"This place is really sinking," I heard Easton mutter. 

He had a point. Already most of the buildings were underwater, but that didn't stop anyone, because above the sunken parts were new levels, and remade docks. The buildings were sinking, and then more was added to them, going higher and higher, always escaping the water and never giving up. Man, they were persistent and must've really hated dry land. I still couldn't believe this was where I was staying for an indefinite amount of time. 

The boat stopped in front of an apartment building, and the driver-what did you call a person who drove boats?-turned off the engine. We climbed onto the dock, or rather, held onto Daniel and used him for support as the boat wobbled on the water. He grunted and helped us on the dock, clearly not enjoying being used as a rod stick. 

"Ew," Easton kept muttering. "I got my foot in the water and now my sock is all soggy."

He glared at Daniel as if it were his fault. Daniel ignored him and stepped into the building. Inside, the floor was made of wooden planks, and the paint on the walls was peeling. The lobby would've been considered pretty with the decorations and coloring if it wasn't for the walls and creaky floorboards. There were stairs that led up on the right, and a pretty brunette sitting at the receptionist desk. At the front desk, the receptionist asked Daniel something, her eyes glued to the screen in front of her and fingers flying over the keyboard. 

Daniel sighed and waved his hand in front of her face. She started speaking quicker in Italian, probably insulting him and stopped mid sentence when she looked up. 

"Daniel!" she exclaimed with a wide smile on her face. "Ti ci è voluto abbastanza!" 

She stood up from her chair and walked around the table to him before wrapping her arms around him and pecking a kiss on his cheek. Even if she was acting way comfortable around him. 

She turned away from him to look at us and her brown eyes brightened when she saw Easton. 

"Come ti chiami?" she asked Easton. 

"Il mio nome è Easton signora." 

Great, now they were all having a conversation in Italian and I understood none of it. She turned to me and held out her hand, I took it and she shook firmly, her grip strong. 

"Come si chiama?" she asked me. 

"Her name's Cerise, like I told you," Daniel answered for me, switching to English. 

He wrapped his arm around my waist and tugged me into his side. The woman's eyes darkened. Daniel really failed to mention this. 

"I also told you she doesn't speak Italian." 

Her smile looked like more of a grimace now. "Sorry then, Cerise. Nice to meet you." 

She spoke perfect English, not broken in the slightest. 

"Well look who finally decided to show up!" 

We turned to see a blond man walk down the steps, he appeared a few years older than me, maybe almost Daniel's age. 

Daniel rolled his eyes. "Good to see you too, Joshua." 

"When is it ever not good to see me?" he answered and walked up to me. 

He was a few inches shorter than me, but he carried himself as if he were the tallest in the room, his confidence unmistakable. He held his hand out and I shook it. Like the brunette, his grip was firm. 

"So you're Cerise." 

They knew me? Daniel was going to be in so much trouble when we were alone, seeing as he failed to mention all this. 

"That's me." 

Besides the brunette, his features matched hers, wide cheekbones and straight nose. But where she was brown eyed, his eyes were blue. 

"I take it you don't know us." 

"No, Daniel clearly forgot to tell me." I looked at him and he cleared his throat, looking nervous. Good. "Is there anyone else who knows me? Or anyone else we're going to meet and you aren't going to tell me beforehand?" 

He coughed. "Quite a few." 

My hand went to his back and I pinched him. "Great." 

The blond man grinned. "Finally. Someone to knock Daniel down a notch or two." 

The girl muttered something that sounded a lot like, "I used to do that just fine." 

Her brother and Daniel shot her a look and she covered her scowl with a plastered smile. No one fell for it. 

"Well, I'm Joshua, and this is my sister, Judith." 

"Nice to meet you." I frowned. "I think. Anyone else I should know of, and also what's going on?"

I turned to Daniel, trying to convey the rest of my questions. Do they know what I am? How much do they know about...why I'm here? 

"You can drop the fake scales and Drakhenae wings," a new voice called. "The wig too, and giant sunglasses."

Descending from the steps was a woman who appeared to be in her late thirties. Her brown hair was pulled back in a bun, not a strand of hair out of place, and she wore plain, black, rectangle glasses and a loose blouse over dress pants. Her jet black wings were neatly tucked in and the scales gleamed. 

I took off the wig and thrust it in Daniel's hands. Let him carry the annoying thing. I didn't drop the shadows though. The lady noticed and raised a slender brow. 

"I'm Emily."

"You didn't strike me as an Emily," I answered.

She cocked her head to the side. "What do I strike you as, then?"

"A Lilith," the words burst out of me before I even realized it. 

I expected her to be offended, or at least appalled, but she threw her head back and laughed. 

"You've got a spine."

I didn't know whether she meant it as a compliment or an insult. I didn't really care either way. 

I looked at Daniel. "Anyone else?" I asked as I opened my hair from the tight bun. 

He looked at Joshua. "I take it Adrian and Tess are...busy with each other." 

Emily let out a sigh. "You know them. Either they're at each other's throats, or their tongues are down each other's throats."

Easton made a gagging sound and Emily realized a second too late that she probably shouldn't have said that in front of a ten year old. Joshua laughed and pulled out his phone, his thumbs flying over the screen. A few moments later, two people-a brown haired man and a petite, tall girl- stumbled down the steps. 

"This better be good," one of them growled. 

"Oh, it is, depending on how you look at it," Joshua answered. "Daniel's back with Cerise, and they brought a kid too." 

"This kid has a name," Easton mumbled. 

The two newcomers came and stood in front of us. They still looked upset to be interrupted, and clearly hadn't bothered...fixing up. Their hair stuck in all directions, clothes wrinkled. I was pretty sure the brown head, Adrian, was wearing his pants backward and the girl's shirt was inside out. 

"You picked the worst timing in history," she mumbled. 

"Good to see you too Tess." 

"It's Tessa to you," Adrian growled. 

Tessa shot him a look. "Quit being possessive."

"I am not possessive, I am in a very, very bad mood." 

Emily let out a sigh. "Well, I'm sure you're tired from the long ride. Daniel knows where to go, and you can freshen up. We'll...explain how we know about you and why later." 

I would freshen up in the quickest time known to history, because this came out of nowhere and I had no clue what she meant by why. 

"You interrupted us for a one minute conversation!" Adrian exclaimed. "What the hell!" 

He was in a really bad mood and Daniel quickly escaped up the stairs. Easton and I followed, leaving the rest of them to argue. 

The stairs went up in a zig zag motion, back and forth, back and forth until we reached the first floor. We passed it and kept on going up until we reached a locked door. Daniel took a key from his pocket and opened it. We walked into another floor and Daniel pointed at the second door to the right. 

"That one's for you, Easton. No one's been in there before and it's completely clean. There are chocolates on the bedside table." 

Easton opened the door and a few moments later we heard a wrapper ripping. 

"How old are those chocolates?" I asked as we walked down the hall. 

"They bought them today."

"And how exactly did they know a ten year old was coming?" I prompted. 

"I called beforehand."

"And failed to mention that to me." 

His Adam's apple bobbed as he swallowed thickly. Good. "I was....going to." 

I kicked him in the shin. "Don't keep secrets from me again," I growled before opening the bathroom and slamming the door shut, not even bothering to take in the room. 

Inside, the bathroom was like every bathroom one finds in a hotel. Simple, smelling nicely, plain, boring. I washed my face and brushed the mess that was my hair in record time. Then I dropped the shadows on my face and wings. They knew what I was, I didn't see why I should hide it. 

I stepped out of the bathroom to find Daniel still rubbing his shin and sitting on the bed. I looked around the room. Even though this was clearly a hotel room, it had personal touches; paintings and pictures on the wall, clothes hanging from the hook behind the door. The room looked used and I immediately knew that it was Daniel's. 

"You have a bunch of explaining to do." 

Daniel let out a sigh and nodded. "The whole reason I started teaching you and spending time with you was to get you out from there."

"Ouch. Was seducing me also part of the plan?"

His brows shot up. "Never. I was supposed to get you away from Everard weeks ago but I didn't want to just kidnap you, even if I was supposed to. It would've been easy, knock you out and then come here. I was going to that day when we went to the Piazza."

"Why didn't you then?" 

"I didn't want you to think that nothing was real, or to lose your trust." 

"Okay. So what? You were basically making sure that Everard wasn't able to make more like me?"

"Him and the Commander. You don't know him like I do. He hates the Commander, and sure, everyone does. But if he was able to become the Commander himself? He'd jump at the opportunity."

That didn't add up, because if he wanted to become Commander, he wouldn't have needed me. All he needed was to assassinate the Commander, keep the blame off him, and he'd have the position. 

"You didn't think of telling me any of this on the way here?" 

He at least had the decency to look guilty. "And make you think that I was using you like Everard was?" 

"You don't get to keep secrets from me and decide what's best for me." 

His reply was cut off when his phone rang. He gave me an apologetic glance and fished it out of his pocket before answering. 

"Yeah," he said. "Coming."

He hung up. "They're waiting for us, apparently something came up." 

"This isn't over," I warned him. 

He nodded and stepped out. Instead of walking to the stairs, he went down the hall in the other direction opened a door that led to a different set of stairs and we went down the wooden steps. 

Instead of opening to the lobby, it opened to a kitchen with a dining room area and a TV hanging on the wall. 

Everyone I had met in the lobby was here. "What happened?" Daniel asked. 

Everyone motioned to the TV. Plastered on a side of the screen was a picture of Daniel's face. On the screen read 'Traitor to the country and kidnapper. Daniel de Luca, former soldier of the country kidnapped an eighteen year old.' Kidnapper? Daniel let out a series of curses that made me glad Easton was still in the room. 

Other than my age, there was nothing about me, no pictures, descriptions, nothing. That could only mean the Commander still didn't know about me, or else I wouldn't have been painted the victim and everyone would be on the lookout for a red head with feathered wings. But why would Everard still care if I was a secret when I had run away? Why was he keeping what I was a secret? Because he obviously thinks he's going to find you and get you back, finish what he started. I accepted what the voice told me even if I didn't agree with it for some demented reason. 

"It gets worse."

I was pulled from my thoughts when Adrian spoke up. Only he would be a deliverer of bad news. 

"How does it get worse?" Daniel asked. 

Adrian turned his gaze to me. "Your stepmom's formed a military agreement with Switzerland, the UK, Greece, and Spain and has declared war on Italy, and this time, the other Drakhenae countries aren't coming to help."