Where dense forest joined water on the outskirts of Forest Blakt, I crouched. I stared unblinking out into the Waterfalls of Lake Neb, focused on any movement among the cascades. Lined with jagged rocks and algae that waggled beneath surging water, the Skyggen prince Azrayh stood motionless under the deluge, his lean and pale body almost luminescent under the glow of the moon. Frightened that any movement could scare away my prince, I watched him carefully, as I had since he’d surfaced when the sun disappeared beneath the horizon some hours ago. I’d been waiting for the young Skyggen to lift his head and take a breath, but Azrayh remained as he had, a drowned water statue.
‘Azrayh,’ I whispered finally, desperate for my lover’s return. Impossibly, he snapped to attention, his amber eyes finding mine in an instant. He dove into the water and surfaced just metres away. I could almost touch him. I edged closer but he stayed just out of reach, his wings slowly undulating the water, gazing vacantly at me. His eyes, once bright and filled with curiosity, were empty and hollow, devoid of the passion he’d once had. I could have sworn there was a faint blue tinge to his skin, he’d never been quite so pale, his scars transformed into translucent purple veins about his flesh.
Stepping into the muddied edges of the lake, viscous darkness engulfed my legs to the ridge of my black boots as I waded further into the water – closer to Azrayh. I reached out to collect him into my arms but he frowned and backed out of reach with a flick of his wings. In the water he was faster. He smiled at me, as if this was a game, lifting a svelte arm and holding it out for me. I grasped it before he could change his mind. With a strength I had never imagined he dragged me down into the water, laughing as I was doused up to his chest, soaking my clothes through.
I threw my arms around his naked waist for an instant before recoiling so violently I smashed backwards into the surrounding banks of rock. His skin was ice cold, even in the tepid water. The void that embraced me when I held him was endless. Desperate I pressed my hand against his chest. ‘What’s happened to you?’ I withdrew. ‘How long have you been out here?’
‘Swim with me pretty,’ he cooed, ignoring my questions. ‘I will show you sights of this world unknown to the—’
‘Azrayh, do you know who I am?’ He wasn’t there.
He laughed delightedly and for a moment I allowed myself to indulge. That laugh. But it wasn’t him. He wasn’t there. ‘Of course I do… You are beautiful…’ He ran a finger down my cheek. I could see the green tinge of algae collected in his long nails, and he reeked of the depths, of coral and darkest caverns. All familiarity I once knew – gone. ‘I would show you a world that mirrors—’
‘Come with me!’ Angered at the unfairness of life, I hauled my lover from the water.
Azrayh shrieked as he hit the rocky banks, water running in rivulets down his torn and scarred leathers – last remnants of the proud armour he’d once donned.
I collapsed next to him, my hand on the Skyggen’s chest holding him against his will, with strength and incantation. ‘Your heart is not yet cold,’ I warned. ‘You are not yet of the deep. Please fight it Azrayh. Please.’ The fear of losing my lover was too real.