Olivia’s heart fluttered in her chest as Cryo took her to a room tucked away in some corner of the temple and sat her down.
“So,” she said after Cryo remained silent for the next minute, his gaze staring out the curtained window. The room she usually would have found interesting with its starstone walls carved with various decorations, the furniture immaculately detailed, but right now, she didn’t care about any of it. “What’s this research thing you figured out?”
“It is something that concerns rather sensitive information,” said Cryo quietly, his voice like the thick snow that was pushed aside on the starstone pathways by shovels and feet in the winter. “I trust that you will not repeat it to anyone.”
Nerves knotted Olivia’s stomach. He couldn’t possibly mean… “Of course. Complete secret.”
Cryo closed his eyes, leaving Olivia desperate for any word to hang onto. Because if he said what she was daring to hope he was going to say, then she’d know. She’d know. Everything would be a million times easier. She could--
“Banshee and I successfully completed a task during the festival, and because of it, we were rewarded with this.”
Cryo pulled out his Starsong amulet, and Olivia’s heart was so loud she swore she could hear it in her ears.
But because her adrenaline was pumping. Because every piece of her was screaming danger. Because his voice was different. Sharp. No longer snow but icy sleet in a storm that stung her face and had her hopes retreating down into the depths of her boots.
Frost crept over the room as his aura took hold.
“This amulet allows me to trust one person and one person alone with my civilian identity. On the night of the festival when I confessed my feelings for you, I had greatly considered you being that person, Olivia, but now, it can no longer be so. I cannot give you this amulet, not now, and not ever.”
His eyes froze over, hardened as she watched. He looked away from the amulet as if it were nothing. Transferred that same, empty, razor-sharp expression that didn’t care who it cut towards her. A glacier of silence, a graveyard of spiny icicles where everything she loved about him would go to die.
She’d seen it. Heard it. Knew this line of melody. It had whispered in her ears as its frosted fingers claimed him piece by piece.
Olivia laid a hand on his forearm and squeezed just enough to let him feel it.
He didn’t blink. “I can’t give you--”
“I’m not talking about the amulet.”
Silence. The kind that only happened during winter, when the world was covered in a thick layer of snow. Dead, utter silence, and then--
With a small huff of breath, Cryo’s frozen stare cracked into a gaze of shattered ice. His eyes glistened as he dropped his wings and folded onto the seat beside her, completely and utterly defeated.
Relief stung Olivia’s cheeks as she furiously blinked it back.
Cryo covered his face, his amulet pressed between his hands and his forehead. “I wanted it to be you. I so very badly wanted it to be you.”
Olivia held herself in check with a long, deep breath. “And I’m guessing it can’t because of Banshee.”
Cryo turned the Starsong amulet over in his claws like it held some kind of answer he didn’t have. “Can you promise that you won’t tell Banshee?”
Well, she wouldn’t tell Banshee the way that he was imagining, and whatever it was… maybe it was what had been bothering him for the last two weeks. Why he’d been so willing to kill the most important part of himself for her. “I won’t tell her.”
“If I give her my amulet, then there’s a better chance she’ll live.”
Olivia stared down at her feet, digging the toe of her boot into the rug. “What do you mean?”
“Luminaries have patterns. Banshee’s always ends in her death. Their average ascension span is three years, and if their death didn’t bring about the end, they die within a year of going Dark. Every Banshee who lived beyond the average had their partner’s amulet.”
Was that what he’d been researching so obsessively? She’d thought it was to do with the Serpent as he so often claimed, or the Ascended being linked to the districts, or… or just anything else. In hindsight, it should have been obvious.
Behind him, Cryo’s wings were nearly flat, like he could barely hold them up.
“I can’t fail my Banshee, Olivia.”
She nudged him in the arm. “You never have, Featherbutt.”
His violet eyes burned into her own, searching, reaching, until with a breath, Olivia forced herself to look away.
A moment passed.
“This isn’t how I’d imagined this conversation,” Cryo murmured. “I thought I could freeze whatever I felt over and cut you loose, as it were. I had imagined you hating me after it, and I had imagined it for the better.”
“You tried something similar before. I think you almost drove me nuts.”
Cryo sighed. “Olivia, you understand that whatever it is you might be hoping for from me, I can’t give you anymore, correct?”
There was pain there, deep through the layers of ice and snow. Pain that not even the most complete cold could numb, no matter how hard he tried. “I know, Cryo.”
“And you understand that it’s not fair to you. To keep doing this.”
“That is one way of looking at it.”
“And you’re clear that--” Cryo shook his head. “Of course you do. You knew all of this. And you did it anyway. Why?”
Olivia shrugged and pulled her knees up on the chair, wrapping her arms around them. “Dunno. Can’t help feelings, I guess.”
“Can I ask something?”
Olivia put her chin on her knees as she considered it.
“It’s not really any one thing,” she said eventually. “Banshee just… she told me so many things about you. She told me the things you did, and then there were the ones I witnessed myself, and… I don’t know. Under all that frost, there’s something there that I could never look away from, Cryo. Even if you were a complete ass on our first official meeting.”
“Did you know Banshee before the festival period?”
Olivia licked her lips. Vague. She had to keep it vague or the details would pull her apart. “She’s from my district. Ran into her a couple of times. She liked my singing. Guess we became friends after that.”
“I see,” said Cryo. “I’m glad.”
Comfortable silence drifted between them as a million threads of conversation drifted through Olivia’s head. She wanted to ask him so many things, but she couldn’t. Not as Banshee. Not as Olivia. Only as both of them, together--and now she doubted she’d ever get the chance.
In the end, she just released a small little breath and gave him a smile. “So, I guess this means you’re breaking up with me?”
“It seems the only way this can play out,” he said, shards flashing through his gaze. “But, if you would have it, I would appreciate your continued friendship.”
“You’d be hard pressed to leave this room without it,” said Olivia. “It’s kind of a lifetime deal for most people.”
Cryo stood up from his seat beside her and held out his hand towards her. “Though I cannot offer you more, may I give you a gift, to symbolise my own friendship?”
Curious, Olivia placed her hand in his and let him pull her to her feet. “I’d be honoured.”
He held her hand delicately between his icy claws the way he always did, his touch enough to thrill her and calm her at the same time. With his other hand, he reached up and plucked a feather made of snow from the top of his head. He laid the feather across her wrist, and with a small puff of breath, the snowy feather curled to perfectly meet the shape of her skin.
Olivia withdrew her hand, inspecting it. Its chill only seemed noticeable when she focused on it. It wasn’t soft, but rather, like carved ice, each beautiful detail catching a new fleck of light. When she tugged the end of the feather, it slid off her wrist easily before curling back into shape.
“Thank you, Cryo,” she said with a small smile, placing it back on her wrist.
Cryo caressed the side of her face as he stepped forward and kissed her forehead. “You’re welcome, Olivia.”
He didn’t immediately pull away. They stood there, his gentle claws resting on her cheek, his forehead on hers, his wings around them glittering like the finest chandelier. Olivia stepped closer, pressing her face into his chest. She wrapped her arms around his back, her fingers curled to fists as he wrapped one arm around her waist and the other flat against her spine.
“Even if I never learn who you are,” she said quietly. “I still feel like I know who you really are. Don’t let it freeze over, kay?”
She felt his fingers brush through her hair.
“With you around,” he said, “I’m not sure it can.”
A familiar, buzzing ringtone coming from Olivia’s bag was the thing to break the moment.
Cryo’s arms fell away, his fingers lingering around her wrist. “You should answer it. Someone may still be concerned for your whereabouts.”
Knowing he was right but still ready to kill anyone on the other end, Olivia walked over to her bag and pulled out her Liaiser, careful to ensure both Viri and her own amulet remained hidden inside.
Olivia held the Liaiser in front of her, keeping Cryo out of the shot. “Hello?”
Ericka shook her untamed mop of hair. “Heeey, Liv! Whatchu up to tonight? Wanna go shopping?”
Olivia frowned. “I thought you were going with that Lumi hunter group, or did you realise that was a bad idea and decide not to?”
“Doesn’t matter either way, the event was called off,” said Ericka with a pout.
Olivia looked up to Cryo. She wasn’t supposed to know about the Lumi’s planned nest raid, but the fact that she knew that Cryo didn’t know she knew gave her the perfect chance to feed him some information.
“No idea,” said Ericka. “Just said on their site that its cancelled as of like, five minutes ago.”
That gave them a time frame to work with. Fae couldn’t have spread the information far since they’d made the decision to cancel tonight’s nest raid, but it was also incredibly quick for the Lumi hunters to have found out. Olivia wasn’t too sure what that said about who was leaking to who: the Lumi hunters, or the Serpent.
“So,” continued Ericka. “Shopping? I think I need some new fabrics, and I’m kinda in need of a new model if you wanna stay the niiiiight? I invited Ariel too, but she said that it was date night for her and Lucian--not that she actually admitted that of course but whatever--so he’ll probably be there too.”
Olivia needed more information. She needed to find out how these Lumi hunters worked. “Sounds great, Rikky. Count me in, I’ll meet you in our usual spot in an hour or so?”
“Can we grab dinner at your parent’s place after?” said Ericka. “I’m dyyyying for some of your mum’s soup.”
“Freebies,” said Olivia, rolling her eyes. “You owe her a hug.”
Ericka touched two fingers to her forehead. “Consider it paid! Seeeeya later!”
Ericka disappeared off the Liaiser’s screen as the call terminated. Olivia lowered it, trying to look as casual about the whole thing as possible--but maybe Cryo needed a little bit more of a nudge.
“I don’t know about that girl,” said Olivia with a sigh. “She’s obsessed with Luminaries. I keep telling her that Lumi hunter group is bad news, but she keeps trying to get in with them anyway.”
“How did she get involved with them?” asked Cryo.
Come to think of it, Olivia had no idea. The hunters were a fairly public group, but anything about them was near complete secrecy. She’d always thought of them as a group of people with a shared, annoying interest, but maybe there was more to it than that. “I’m not sure. Probably through sheer determination.”
Cryo nodded, his eyes moving like he was thinking, planning. “I see. Any additional information you may come across on them could be rather helpful.”
“I’ll tie her down and force it out of her.”
Cryo hesitated, concern crossing his face before he shook his head and headed for the door. “If you’ll excuse me though, I have some things to attend to before the day is out.”
Olivia shoved her Liaiser back in her bag and smiled at him. “Of course, Cryo. I’ll see you later.”
“Indeed,” said Cryo. He stopped in the doorway as he turned and gave her a smile of the softest snow, one that would have taken nothing but a breath to send it scattering, yet for her, he wore it. “I’m… glad we were able to talk, too. Thank you for everything, Olivia.”
Olivia could have sworn she floated right out of that room.
An hour and a half later, Olivia was yet again sitting on the bench in their usual spot, waiting for Ericka to show up.
She swung her legs under the bench, the wheels of her rollerblades set spinning with a rather pleasing noise as they caught on the starstone below. The sun was starting to dip, the City was starting to glow, and despite the warm air and the icecream she was totally going to get later, Olivia found herself worrying.
Despite Cryo’s reassurances that Jason was fine, she still couldn’t help but flash back to her nightmare. The sheer and utter knowledge that somewhere, somehow, he was gone.
It didn’t make sense. It was a nightmare, and yet… it felt familiar. She still felt that pain, that agony, deep inside her chest like it was her own, and with every minute that slipped by, with every sliver of sunlight she lost, it seemed like it was creeping higher.
Olivia forced all the air from her lungs in one, big, audible breath.
She was just paranoid from today. It seemed like everything had hit her at once. Nightmare, Cryo’s stalker, the Manifested, Nereid’s Ascended, the government potentially undermining the Luminaries, Cryo’s research… yep. That was it. Just all the things happening at once.
She puffed out her cheeks. She deserved a snow cookie after today--but prices had skyrocketed after Gerald’s shop had been destroyed by the Serpent’s minions. For whatever reason, it still hadn’t reopened, something she’d consistently checked on with her previous searches for Jason.
Tomorrows mission: Find Frostsong, and ask him what in the cursed name of the Other he thought he--
Olivia shouldered her bag and stood up on her rollerblades, lifting a hand in greeting as Ericka zoomed towards her.
Ericka crashed into her, nearly knocking them both over as momentum carried them around in a circle.
“I missed youuuu Livvy!” said Ericka with a laugh.
“You,” said Olivia. “Are gonna kill me one day with that move.”
Ericka flashed her a smile. “You’re tough. I don’t think you’re gonna--”
“Hey! You cheated! You can’t just say go without any warning and call that a race!”
Olivia turned around, wondering if she was hearing it right.
Sure enough, Ella was rolling towards them, her hands on her hips in the same navy blue coat and corset get up she’d been in earlier. She didn’t exactly look impressed with Ericka, but honestly, Olivia was shocked to see them talking at all.
“Just did!” said Ericka before she raised an eyebrow at Olivia. “We have some extra tag-alongs tonight thanks to Ariel, though I think you already know them better than I do. Group shopping trip!”
Olivia looked past Ella, who continued to berate Ericka about the definition of a race. The final three members of their shopping trip didn’t wear rollerblades, content to take their time with an even-paced step so familiar of the temple.
Ariel, Lucian, and Jason.