Read Riven Online

Authors: Alivia Anders

Tags: #Young Adult, #Fantasy, #Romance

Riven (7 page)

BOOK: Riven
9.51Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

"What does it look like I'm doing, having a cup of tea?" I managed a weak laugh, breaking the chains around his other wrist. They vanished in a heap of blistering blue and black smoke. "I'm getting you out of here. Ari's come to get us both."

"Get out."

I froze for the smallest fraction of a second, instinct urging me to listen. His voice was a far cry from the tantalizing sarcasm I was accustomed to. This was throaty, crunched with gravel and glass, sandpaper on a paper-cut. I pushed my warning instinct aside with a snap, raising both hands to snap the chains holding his feet. "We don't have time for this, Kayden. They're coming-"

Get out.

"What?" This time I paused longer than a second, lowering my hands despite the voice screaming in my head to free him from the last sets of chains. The sight of him, hanging there like a forgotten picture on the wall, sickened me to the point of wild rage. "I can’t just leave you here."

"You need to leave, now," he practically begged, a shadow dancing in his eyes. Fear twisted at my stomach, wringing it tight until the sour taste of bile rose in my throat.

I couldn't stop the shock and confusion from finding home on my face. My eyes narrowed, eyebrows bunched together. "This is some serious bullshit, Kayden," I said with a shake of my head. My hands grasped onto the chains holding him in place, fresh heat rapidly beginning to burn at the metal. "I'm not leaving without you."

"I don't think he's joking," Ari said, suddenly at my side. He pulled my hands away from the chains holding Kayden in place, the links a bright orange where my fingers had wrapped around them. "He reeks of blood. Your blood."

My hands shoved Ari away with a jerk, a snarl building on my lips. This was none of his business. We had a right to save Kayden. Whether Ari wanted to admit it or not, we needed him for more than just the pleasure of having a sarcastic demon making backhanded jokes at us the whole way. He was cosmically tied to me, and probably knew more about the Queen either Ari or I did.

"He probably reeks of blood because, I don't know, he's in here? To hell with both of you." With a single move, fire shot from my hand and sliced through the chain, and Kayden landed on the ground beside us on all fours.

I reached out to touch him, help him up to his feet, when he vanished. A violent, twisting cloud shot skyward, vanishing into the bottomless black above. I turned to look at Ari, confused, when the black clouded mass rushed for me, slamming into the ground around me before it engulfed me whole. Pressure pinned me inside the whirling vortex, forcing the air out of my lungs as it continued to spin faster than a tornado on its deadly course. The pressure of the haze was intense, too intense for me to handle, and I collapsed to my knees.

That’s when three things happened in a quick, sudden succession.

One, Ari slashed into the clouded mass, knocking me aside and onto my shoulder. In his hands a a shield of boiling flame spread farther than I could see, encasing the three of us in a ring of fire. Kayden scrambled into his solid human shape, sprawled on his back. Emotions flickered through his face faster than I could keep up, his eyes glowing a deadly obsidian.

Two, an army of Vens ascended from the ceiling, surrounding us in our small defense. Black on black, they swept into the room like vampires from a cheesy, teenage novel, feet virtually unmoving. Under any other circumstance, I would have laughed and made a smart remark to Kayden. Except, Kayden was pre-occupied for the third reason.

Three, Kayden’s eyes turned a violent, bold white, and he lunged for my throat.

I had maybe at the most a second to think. Kayden was in bloodlust, potentially manic, and highly likely to kill me if Ari so much as missed a step. That’s what Ari was trying to warn me of. If it had just been us, I probably could have handled a crazed demon, but we had company.

From my side of the triangle, I could count twelve Vens alone. Double that and you have yourself a party of too many for us to handle, even if I had another magical bottle of exploding liquid glory. And to finish it off, I was pretty sure that if we somehow made it out alive, Ari was going to kick my ass for trying to save Kayden.

The sound of a soft, hauntingly ethereal voice hit my ears, her tone amused. "Impressive work, Essallie. You managed to free a psychotic, blood-lusting demon and still find time to be cornered by my men."

I didn't need to turn my head to know it was Queen Lucretia speaking to me. The room's perceptible light shrank deeper, reducing the glow of my fire to a dim, and nearly useless burn. Swirls of whispers trailed around the room, shadows gathering into a pool several feet in front of me, until it stretched out into something resembling a human form. Lucretia's face was just as pale as it was the last time I had seen her, her cheekbones sharp and angular, eyes digging deep into her face as they burned in black. This time her dress came with a red bodice, black lace rushing down the sides of her hip and blending into the fray of her pet shadows that lingered in a symbiotic limbo around her feet.

“You know, in a way, I almost wish you had escaped,” she teased, a wicked grin cutting into her face. “I haven’t been this excited or challenged in nearly three hundred years.”

“Back when you killed Lucy?” Ari interjected, hands burning in a cascade of heavenly white fire. “Isn’t that what you meant to say?”

The Queen’s delightful expression faltered, the smile rounding her sharp cheeks slipping just a fraction before ramming back into place. Pressing my back against Ari’s, we circled the room in slow, cautious steps.

Chin tipped high, Lucretia’s smile clashed evenly with the dark, ratting tone of her voice. “What I was going to say, fledgling Nephilim, is that you almost got away with your superficial plan. Almost.” She snapped her fingers, and a sea of Vens parted behind her. Two Vens dragged a semi-conscious body forward, waves of dirty, blood-stained platinum blonde hair covering half of her face. The other half looked like something out of a bad horror movie, blood smeared over her eyebrow, a jagged cut running from her temple to her cheekbone. Her hands had been bound by a hot coil of red metal, the waves of heat dancing off it making me flinch. Somehow, she still managed to offer me an amused, yet grim smile.

Lucretia’s expression, however, was far more entertaining, her malicious grin wider than before. “Seems your co-conspirator ran out of artillery.”

I stepped forward, ready to push through the fine barrier keeping us safe. The longer I stared at her, the harder my lungs burned as I fought to keep breathing. Ari latched onto one of my wrists, his eyes harder than sharp, blue diamonds. He shook his head, no need for words; Ursula was lost to us.

“You’re a sick, twisted, horrible woman,” I hissed at Lucretia over the barrier keeping us safe. The flames on my hands re-ignited with a boiling wave, streaks of blue brightening the room. “What do you want?”

“Oh Essallie, if only you were a pure angel like your darling father. Perhaps then I could confess my sins, for you see, I have a problem,” Lucretia purred, but didn’t look at me. She was turned towards Ursula, her expression as curious as a cat. Running a hand under Ursula’s chin, she tilted the girl’s face upward with a light press of fingers, until nothing but pale neck lay exposed. “Terrible things happen to those who stay around me, terrible, horrible accidents. Like right now, my darling Ursula looks so hurt, so defenseless.” Lucretia’s fingers began to extend, sharpening as they molded into one long, blood-red dagger. “If I’m not careful, my fingers might slip-”

The scream building in my throat nearly exploded from my chest. “Don’t!”

Slowly, she turned back to look at me. Black voids bored into me, the look scalding. Scales rose on her cheeks like a fine blush, and the smallest hint of needle-sharp teeth peered from her thin, calculating lips. Beside her, Ursula looked oddly at peace, her eyes faintly closed, as if she were merely sleeping. For a moment, everything was silent.

Then Lucretia drew her bladed-shaped hand across in a single, swift motion, across Ursula’s neck. “And slit her throat.”

I screamed.

Blood gushed from the fatal wound like a bursting dam, Ursula’s eyes flying open in reaction to the pain. Her body twitched with panic, foamy blood sputtering from her lips as she tried to draw breath. The two Vens holding her upright dropped her to the ground, watching her thrash in her own pool of dark, sticky crimson liquid.

Everything started to tilt sideways, a rushing sensation rolling in my ears. I was dimly aware of someone laughing in the background, the sound echoing off of Ursula’s weakening gurgles as she struggled to live.

I rushed for her, running past the fire shield to throw out my own. White fire and black smoke instantly wrapped around my limbs like cuffs, yanking me back behind the barrier just as each Vens drew out their ashpods. It was a ploy, and I knew it; she killed Ursula to instigate a blind fury within me. Part of me knew I shouldn’t react or respond, but the other part of me said to burn her where she stood.

“Let me at her!”
I howled, kicking and screaming as Ari wrapped his arms around me with an iron-clad clasp. “I’ll char you to ash you soulless monster!”

“There’s nothing you can do,” Ari insisted, walking back to the center of our enclosed space. “She’s gone, Essallie.”

The moment he said it, I knew he was right. Her body had stopped struggling, the left half of her face submerged in the blood that had collected beneath her. All I could make out was a single eye on the mess of her face, vacant and void of any spark of life.

First Leo, then Gram and Gran, and now Ursula. They were all dead, and it was my fault.

Lucretia stepped forward, her skirts barely an inch from our protective barrier. The smile had never left her face. “Hopefully sooner, rather than later, you’ll understand how easily this can all go away.” Her gaze swept over the three of us. “All it will require is your undying declaration. Kayden knows better than anyone what happens to those who go against my wishes, isn’t that right?”

Beside me, I heard his breath catch. Kayden stood with rigid posture, hands curled into fists hard enough to draw blood. Smoke curled off his skin like a physical perfume. Head tilted down, he refused to meet my gaze.

“I’d ask what you’ve done to him, but something tells me you wouldn’t give me a straight answer,” I said, fire dancing over my knuckles in a fresh blaze of power.

“Would you be satisfied if I did?” Lucretia asked in a bitter purr, watching me through sharp eyes. She sauntered a bit closer, shadows coiling around her feet reaching up the sides of her dress to meld into her waist. “Would you surrender and let fate play out as it rightfully should?”

“Or do you mean how you want it to play?” I volleyed back, unable to hide the smirk hiking up my lips, Ari still holding me against his chest. Lucretia’s eyes narrowed to slits, her skin paling, and I dug deeper. “I know all about your precious little plan, you can’t fool me any longer. You need me to give you the one thing you desire the most, a daughter to bring about the end to all Nephilim. A daughter to replace the one you so carelessly let die before. A daughter you could never have because of your tainted bloodline.”

Beside me, I felt Kayden twitch. His head jerked up to see Lucretia before turning to face me for a brief moment, and I understood why he was trying to hide. Blood ran down his eyes, smearing into the scales that had raised over his cheeks and forehead. His eyes were a vacant, bottomless black, the kind of stare that made you feel as naked and vulnerable as a newborn child. It was his true self showing through, like the night I had seen him in partial form across the bonfire. But what had once scared me to the bone now awakened something raw in my heart. I wanted to protect him from the monster across the room, throw myself in front of him like a shield to save his soulless shell.

Lucretia’s laugh cut through my thoughts, jerking me back to face her. She looked genuinely amused, her eyes glittering as a smile cut through her lips. “So that’s what you think?”

“Essallie,” Ari’s voice, barely audible, sounded in my ear. His hands slowly released me until only his fingers lingered on my hip. “We need to move before she closes in.”

And what, leave Ursula? I stared at her immobile body on the floor, wishing I could will her back to life. I let out a small sigh, hopefully tipping him off that I understood. “It’s what I know, you crazy hag. That’s why you’ve been hunting after Nephilim the last three centuries, isn’t it? You’ve been waiting for us to make your dream come true.”

Ari made a quick move, white fire lancing past my face and striking at the Queen’s black shadows circling her skirts. Loud, high-pitched screams rattled the room just as the Queen staggered back, hissing in contempt.

“Watch it, woman,” Ari chided, a smirk gracing his lips like a heavenly fallen angel. “Distracting someone to attack them from behind is a sad, childish move.”

If Lucretia was rattled by his chilled aura, she hid it well. Gently she fluttered her lashes, turning to face me with a look I could only describe as malevolently charming, and damning in the same heartbeat.

“Tell me, Essallie, do you remember what I told you about your kind that day in the graveyard?”

Her question sounded innocent enough to the rest of the room, but I knew better. The graveyard, dark and compressed in my mind, came forth with the words she had said to me as if she had once truly cared.

BOOK: Riven
9.51Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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