Authors: Alivia Anders
Tags: #Young Adult, #Fantasy, #Romance
"No one taught me to track demons," Ari muttered, shrugging his shoulders. "But if you wish for death, who am I to stop you? Not like we can save him, regardless."
My eyes narrowed. “What do you mean?”
“You’ll see,” was all he said, shrugging his shoulders once more. “Since you want to find him so bad, and engage in your little suicide mission, I might as well let you find out the truth.”
Deciding not to waste precious seconds arguing, I gave him a nod and took a step back, creating a small well of distance between us. Inside, I felt broken, lost in a swirling disarray that could only be explained as nausea with a side of adrenaline. I knew I had to focus if there ever stood a chance of me finding Kayden.
Closing my eyes, I took a deep breath, blinking out the voices in my head one by one, until nothing but silence echoed within. Outside I could feel my fire, cradling my skin like a favorite sweater, protecting me from the harsh cruelties of life. I locked onto that familiar feeling, letting the sensation take over me, loosening my iron-clad hold I kept on my soul.
Like a net casted over the world, my senses burst to life. Sharp, rushing waves of scents and sensations overwhelmed me, the effect like a numbing alcohol. I could feel everything, everyone, almost as if they all stood in front of me, each one branded with their own taste. With a test, I took a small inhale of the space between Ari and I. Pictures of fresh, wild grass conjured in my mind, visions of corn fields stretching as far back as the eyes could see. Without him having to say a word, I knew this was his home, the place he kept in his heart when the darkest of moments threatened to capture his soul.
I took another inhale, this one deeper than the last. This time I focused harder, looking for a lingering trace of an all too familiar black smoke. There, hiding within the corner of the room, my senses caught something, the taste unlike anything I had dreamt of. Dark caverns, crumbling towers, and the dirty copper taste of blood rushed through me, lingering like a foreign object lodged in my mouth. I followed the leftover remnants of his soulless being as far as it would take me, my mind rushing through quick glimpses of rooms with chairs and water and dirt.
My eyes snapped open. "I know where he is." Crossing the room, I placed a hand against one of the walls, fire sparking under my fingertips. "We have to go through the wall."
"But the door," Ari started to say, but I cut him off.
"Is completely useless. You open that door, and we'll die." I grimaced, tasting a putrid mix of perfume and rotting flesh. Definitely worse than bile. I eyed one of the walls across the room, planning the quickest way to reach Kayden’s scent. "Five Vens will be coming down that hall in a matter of minutes. Looks like we're making our own path."
Ari stared at me, utterly dumbfounded. Dangerous caution colored his eyes a dark, stormy blue. "Essallie, how did you do that?"
If only he knew that new powers were the least of my worries. "I don't know," I confessed, pushing down the urge to shake uncontrollably until my limbs fell off. Now was not the time to become weak and weighed. "Frankly, I'm not sure I want to know. We'll discuss it later, come on."
Concentrating on the wall, I let the familiar rush of heat build against my fingers, a dull burn settling just under my skin. Pictures of wildfires tearing through trees, consuming the raw earth and all its beauty rushed through my mind, and with a gasp, I felt something unlock in me. Dazzling, brilliant blue fire rushed out of my hand, spreading up the wall as fast as warriors charing into battle. The wall crumbled beneath the flames, leaving a gaping hole in its place big enough for the both of us to step through. Past the hole, the room on the other side was equally dark, hints of shimmering glitter reflecting off the light my fire gave off.
Ari moved forward without a word, white fire covering him like a suit of armor. One hand cupped, he raised it above his head, lighting the room for us to see. Sharp, jagged spikes of black jolted out of the walls, remnants of limbs sticking to them like a bloody afterthought. I met Ari's steeled gaze, forcing the roll of nausea back down. This was no time to get squeamish.
We rushed through the room, crossing the opening gap to a barren wall on the other side. As my blue fire melted another hole, Ari swear behind me.
I stole a look over my shoulder, a flicker of shadows moving along the black spikes. Inky bolts of burned lightning scurried across the way, hiding exactly where Ari's light wouldn't reach.
Turning around, I blazed my blue fire higher, flowing off my shoulders and chest like extension cables. "Come out, or by death we'll light the whole room on fire!"
Ari looked at me in mild horror. He looked like he wasn’t sure if I was all there. "We'll do what?"
"Shut up and go with it," I whispered in a hiss.
He looked back at the shadows, the black and white startling enough to create a vintage movie effect throughout the room. Where the light would not reach, darkness seeped out as if it were blood leeching from a wound, yet where the light danced it looked grey, marred by the dark pooling under the blaze of white.
A flash in the top corner caught my eye, the shine reflective. Small, pinpricks of eyes danced above the reflection. Something, or someone, was lurking in the dark, watching us.
Ari fashioned his fire into a full length sword. "One last time, come out, or it'll be your end."
The eyes vanished, the reflection fading with it. Once again the shadows within the darkness moved, dancing like graceful ballerinas across a fortress of a stage. Ari's mouth thinned into a hard line, eyes narrowed as he took a step further into the room, but I stopped him, silently nodding my head toward the floor. The eyes had reappeared, this time level with us. The scent of crushed rose petals, apples, and fresh blades of grass hit my nose, followed by a deeper and more pungent smell of mold. Whoever it was, they weren't a Vens, nor the Queen, but they weren't the person we needed to find either.
"Stop," I raised a hand, Ari standing slightly in front of me as a guard. Giving his shoulder a nudge, I gave him an evened stare. "Watch."
As the shadow came closer, I noticed how small it was. The figure couldn't have been more than four feet tall, and walked with a deep, hunched limp in his right leg. Dark blue skin covered him from head to toe, save for a sea green patch of skin covering half of his face. Pointed ears longer than a foot winged out along the sides of his head. His clothes were destroyed, tattered and ripped and burned, stains of blood and oil standing out against the dirty cream of his shirt and pants.
The figure fastened its eyes on me, two dark, stormy purple orbs without iris. "Do not burn me, I am here to help."
Ari stared at the creature, his face torn between barely contained amusement and sputtering shock. "What are you?"
"It matters not," the creature replied, its eyes still locked on mine. Clouds moved within them, like personal planets buried within each eye. "What matters is you, and the decision you must make."
I was taken aback. What did this person know about me? Gazed locked, I fought to keep the accusations out of my tone. "Decisions?"
The figure's eyes flashed, a inch of pink tongue sticking out of the corner of its mouth. "Will you live, or will you die?"
"You can't make that choice, no one can," I let out an impatient breath, my body itching to move. What little adrenaline I had left was rapidly fading, leaving me with a drained feeling worse than before. "We're wasting our time, let's move Ari."
The figure's hand was wrapped my lower arm before I had taken a single step. His touch was cold, a sickening slimy feeling raising goosebumps up on my skin. Pitch black eyes stared unseeing into my face, the purple vanished.
"You have a choice, Nephilim. Life or death. Which will you choose?"
"Let her go," Ari hissed, sealing off any extra space between us with a single step. His fire ignited brighter, white tendrils curling off him in waves, aching to consume the blue-skinned man before us.
"She must choose," the figure insisted, tightening his grip on my arm. His eyes never left my face as he spoke, low and guttural, like gravel shaking on an unpaved road. "There is no other way."
I'd had enough. Fire flickered on my arm, the flames burning at the man's fingertips, but he refused to release his hold. If we stood here much longer, the Queen and her backup henchmen would be on us like hunters on a prized buck.
"I choose life."
The second the words left my lips, the figure released his grip, wincing no doubt from the blisters rapidly forming on his fingers. Still his eyes remained black, reminding me of someone else I knew who sported black eyes. A demon I was knowingly risking my life to save.
His features were achingly familiar, and I couldn’t help but feel a familiar twinge of memory to the man.
He continued to regard me coolly, rich amber eyes narrowed in a bitter discontent. “You are wrapped in promises, Nephilim, promises time has failed to keep. Do not make the same mistakes as they did. Honor your blood.”
Honor my blood?
“You will need this,” the man continued, quiet but unwavering. His spare hand held the glimmering object I had originally spotted. It was an orb, roughly the size of my hand, the faint glow of blue and red swirling within it. The second he deposited it into my palm, I knew what it was; one of the orbs from the former room, the ones with the golden plaques underneath them. Which one had he taken? “The time to use it will come to you. Now go.”
Ari didn't need to be told twice. Grabbing my upper arm with an emblazoned hand, he pulled me away from the blue figure, dragging me as I continued to look over my shoulder back at him. He stood there, eyes focused intently on the both of us, the look so familiar it hurt.
“Who are you?” I called out, trying to move back. A cold, icy rush of familiarity ran over my skin, the picture of Serena’s beautiful face burning the front of my mind.
“Tell Serena, that I am sorry,” was all the man said. I could barely make out his face, twisted into a mask of pain. Bands of black snaked around his ankles and wrists, fastening to him and pulling him further into the jagged black. “Tell her... tell her Carsanthum kept his promise.”
Ari tugged me forward, inching us further into the next room, the blue-skinned man vanishing into an inky outline before the darkness swallowed him whole. Somewhere, in the pit of midnight misery, Carsanthum screamed until he was cut off with a sudden force.
I could feel the start of tears burning my eyes, a choked cry caught in my throat. Ari ignored my urge to stop and mourn, his fire already blazing through the next wall, white flames devouring the shining black surface. Tapping into my senses, I recoiled from Ari with a jolt, shaking my arm free from his grasp. Blue and black wisps of flames kindled on my hand as I joined him in carving our path, urgency making me shake. "I can sense Kayden, he's on the other side, hurry."
The wall collapsed, chunks of rock and glass shattering at our feet, raining from the ceiling like a deadly snowfall. But it wasn't an avalanche that greeted us on the other side.
At first, I could barely make him out amidst the dark. The next room was just as dark as the last two, imitating an emptiness I imagined the Queen must have felt. Raising my hand, I held a tight fist, hues of blue bathing the room into an eerie version of the ocean. He was in here, I knew it. His scent was overwhelming, blood and bone mixing with the foreign darkness I had originally picked up on. Stepping further into the dark, my fire revealed the outline of something across the room, something human.
I ran, dropping the crystal ball behind me as I went. Ari shouted behind me, but I didn't hear a word. All I saw was him, that familiar black hair, the same set of shoulders I had pictured for the last two weeks.
WE ARE BROKEN
Kayden. Kayden, Kayden, Kayden.
Kayden, the demon who had risked his life to protect mine, the creature who more and more began to feel like a human to me. The person I could no longer imagine my life with, no matter how soon it would end.
" I nearly screamed, flinging myself around him before I could think. Fire automatically leapt from my skin, the explosion of blue startling me. I stumbled back, hands out at my sides in fear. But he didn't move, didn't gasp or roar in pain. That's when I took a closer look.
Chains wrapped around his wrists, waist, and ankles, dangling him from the side of the wall like a decor item to be admired. They glittered in the darkness, sparks of red and white dancing atop the metal. I had a good feeling that whatever the sparks were, they were preventing him from dissipating into black smoke to flee from this place.
Taking a step back, I raised a hand up to the metal encasing his left wrist. "Hang in there, Kayden." Heat bubbled in my stomach, a rushing river of hot flame building pressure against the skin of my palm. With a gasp, jaded blue fire shot from my hand and sliced through the chains, incinerating them before they could hit the ground.
Kayden's head gave a jerky shake. He raised his chin skyward, holding back a barely-contained cry of pain. Black eyes, void of anything, met mine. His voice was nothing more than a breathy whisper as he asked, "What are you doing?"