Authors: Alivia Anders
Tags: #Young Adult, #Fantasy, #Romance
“When it comes to the race of Nephilim, the world reacts in two ways. None will take kindly to your angelic blood; there will be those who seek to harvest your blood for their own gain. Others will want you dead, no matter the cost.”
The same wariness I had felt then returned, raising the hair on my skin. “You lied.”
“Did I?” Lucretia’s smile inched upward, reveling in the discovery of a chink in my armor. “Or did you think to consider that perhaps I was telling you the truth? Tell me, how have your experiences with the rest of our world faired?”
Doubt inched into my thoughts as I recalled pieces of the last few months. Kayden wanted me dead, Ursula would forever hold a grudge against me for killing Leo, Abigail lied, Serena had avoided me like the plague, even Ari at one point became fed up with my behavior.
“That’s what I thought,” Lucretia cut through my thoughts, a knowing smile firmly in place. Her eyes glowed with satisfaction. “What you fail to see, Essallie, is that I have been doing you a
by keeping you here. The world wants you dead, irradiated, gone. Even if you had managed to free yourself from the castle, how long would it be until you would be hunted by another?”
A sinking feeling in my gut brought me narrowly close to vomiting on the floor. She was right, as much as it pained me to admit it; who was to say I wouldn’t be hunted by someone or something else? If the Vens didn’t get me, what would? Another demon, one with ties to Kayden? A vampire, a witch, the list of enemies were endless.
This was it, this was my end. The room was surrounded from head to toe, Vens clustering in all four corners, elbowing another to gain a front row seat to the eventual fight. Whispers among them told me they didn’t expect me to live for long, five, maybe ten minutes at the most with help from my co-conspirators. Not that either of them would be of much help; I was standing next to a drug-intoxicated demon desperate for more of my blood, and a Nephilim who probably wished he had left me behind to rot and die. Even if by some miracle we took out every single Vens in the room, I stood no chance against Lucretia. Not here, not like this.
I froze, my breath catching in my throat. Kayden was whispering in my ear, his words an urgent crash of the tone and accent I knew to be his. For a moment, he was out of his haze, clinging to reality. I briefly wondered how hard he was fighting his instinct to draw every inch of my life force in him, to kill him like had so many others.
“She’s going to attack,” he whispered, his breath hot on my ear, the smell of blood tingling my nose. Panic made me itch to move away, afraid he may attack again. “She will take every inch of you unless we leave before she can. I know how to get out of here. You have to trust me on this.”
“It’s a little late for secret hatches in the floor, Kayden.”
“Listen to me, Essie,” he urged, his tone playing chords in my heart. His voice dropped even lower, barely above a growling whisper. Wrapping a hand around mine, I quickly drew back the sparks of my flame, feeling his icy skin press against mine. “Grab Ari, and when we break the ceiling, release your wings.”
,” he pressed, and somehow I felt reassured. His voice tensed every muscle in my body and unraveled them in the same breath. “You did it that night in the backyard, you did it in the hallway. You can do it now.”
Decisions, decisions. Everything tipped in the favor of me throwing myself at the Queen’s gnarled and malevolent skirts and dying trying to kill her versus hanging around a soul-sucking demon with a possibly manic-suicidal plan. But I didn’t come this far just to let everything slip from my fingers again. I made a promise to Ursula, to Jayson, to myself, that I wouldn’t be like everyone else; I wouldn’t leave them all behind.
Somewhere in my head, bells and the sound of sweet, angelic voices rang pure in a growing crescendo. My blood swelled in my veins, fire rushing off my skin and covering me in a blazing blue gown that adorned my shoulders and chest, swirling around my legs in a skirt wild enough to rival the Queen’s. Crystal wings shot from my back, glimmering with the gentle force fit for a true descendent of an angel.
“Your time has come, Lucretia,” I spoke with all the authority I could muster, drawing on my last drops of adrenaline. “No more pretending. I will slaughter the poison you’ve pushed into my veins, until every last drop is free. And then I will come back for you, and I will kill you.”
Kayden began to disperse, all of his body washing into a whipped cloud of black. I grabbed Ari’s hand, shouting in his ear, the black surrounding us. The sound of explosions and shattering glass filled my ears, a high-pitched whistling piercing my ears, and with a jolt like a rocket we shot through the ceiling and into the twilight sky. I pressed my face into Ari’s shoulder as my crystal wings wrapped around both of us, a scream of rage sounding from far below. The rush was too much. Just as I blacked out, I prayed that trusting Kayden was the right thing to do.
The first thing I tasted was blood.
Rolling over onto my side, I coughed, coloring the wet tawny sand beneath me splotches of dark red. Something in my gut twisted, a fire far from my gift burning in my chest. Voices swam around my thoughts, reaching deeper into the corners of my memories, pulling on the threads that barely kept me stitched together. My lungs burned, each breath of air becoming more difficult to finish. Spots of black decorated my sight, blocking out the oddly gentle, unmoving sky, until nothing but darkness pulled me under.
I was underwater.
Dark, twisting ocean waters seemed to stretch in every direction, leaving me lost in the midst of a never-ending sea. Swirls of bruised navy, burned green, and leeched grey lingered around me. They filled in the space, leaving me suspended in a backdrop of muted colors hinting at something far more dark than I was immediately aware of.
Oddly, my lungs didn't ache. There was no burning need to breathe, no sting of the chest to warn me that I was dying. Instead I felt peaceful, the misery compounded inside of me gone, vanished with the water around me.
I had only just begun to close my eyes when something caught my attention. A dash of yellow, coming in my direction. It came closer with every rocking motion of the sea, until I came face-to-face with a familiar person.
She looked beautiful, her soft blonde hair floating calmly about her. Perfect, pale skin gave way to dainty and fragile features, instantly reminding me of a porcelain doll.
This wasn't the first time I had her. Then again, it probably wouldn't be the last. It was me, an imprint of what I once was, back before I knew how marred my life was. Back before I learned how important I had become to a mix of supernatural races, all pining for my blood.
Oh Ebony, how you continue to haunt me.
She lingered in the water in front of me, hands wrapped around her sides as if she were cold. Her eyes were shut, face composed into a mask of peace and serenity. If I hadn't known better, I would have thought she was sleeping.
As if she could read my thoughts, she opened her eyes. Large, bottomless brown orbs stared back at me, their stare practically digging into my soul with chipped, broken nails.
“You came back,” she said, a hint of surprise in her tone. Her red lips spread into a small, yet bright smile. “I knew you'd see me again.”
“Where are we?” I waved a hand through the water, keeping my eyes on my carbon copy. “Is this all a dream?”
Her smile widened. “Not exactly.”
“Then what is it?” A shock ran through my body. “Am I... am I dead?”
A flash of something, sorrow perhaps, ran through her eyes. She placed a comforting hand on my shoulder. “That's your choice.”
“Oh, so there's a choice now if I die? Not sure if Death will like me messing up his collections roster,” I muttered sarcastically. A heaviness was beginning to seep into my body, the all too familiar sensations of life blossoming on my skin, charging in my cells. Bruises I hadn't even realized I was missing rapidly pooled in patches over my body, each one like a bee sting.
The lovelier version of me remained unharmed, hand still on my shoulder. Either she had one hell of an iron stomach, or she was used to seeing bruises spawn on people in record time. Then again, if this was all my imagination, maybe I made her up to be stronger than me.
“Essallie, look below,” she told me. Turning my gaze below the both of us, all I saw was an endless stretch of black. A mystery, hiding secrets far beyond my reach. “What do you see?"
I stared down at black expanse below. At first, nothing but darkness stared back at me, and I had half the nerve to call Ebony out on messing with my head. But a closer look brought out shapes, features of a person, chained to the ocean floor.
Without words, I knew who it was. How could I not know that hair, the set of those shoulders? I looked up at my copy in horror, the question glued to my lips.
“You have a choice,” she whispered, a grin of pure malice spreading across her face, her enjoyment barely containable. She raised a hand and pointed above, then pointed back to the very thing ripping my heart in two. “The question is, which one will it be? Which one will you choose?”
I opened my mouth again to speak. This time, water rushed into my empty lungs, the taste of salt and brine cloying my senses. I couldn’t die, not like this, not in a dream. Not with the way things were left.
I had seconds, ten at the most, to decide. To free myself from the burning sensation of dying by drowning, or to save the person below in an act of sacrifice. Fight or flight, that’s what it came down to. That’s what everything came down to at this point, and I hated it. Despised it with a violent, boiling passion.
Someone was shouting, begging. The voice was aching, smooth and fierce. Weight pounded on my chest, slamming into the fire that rippled inside of me like a wildfire.
repeated in my mind, the word boiling deep in my chest and throat, begging to be free. I had to tell the voice I wanted to fight, had to breathe. My lungs stayed still.
“Essallie, for the love of it all, open your eyes,” the voice commanded, stronger, more frantic.
I could feel the body attached to the voice, his breath splashing against my cheek, tickles of heat itching my nose. The voice was close enough to kiss, to feel the faint whispers of breath. I moved to open my eyes, to see what was causing the painful pressure weighing on my chest, but couldn’t. Warm lips crashed against mine, air rushing down my throat, chest inflating.
“Dammit, why did you have to trust that wild idiot?” The infuriated voice nearly screamed, and I felt another jolt shock my chest. Electric flew through me, shocking my eyes open faster than I could register the movement. I coughed again, this time harder than the first, the taste of copper, salt and sand coating my lips.
Ari was hovering above me, a fist driving into my chest repeatedly as he pushed for me to breathe. Small, jagged cuts covered his face and barren arms, tiny rivulets of blood running into one another to form a bizarre look of red chain mail. His eyes crackled a dark, ocean-bottom blue against his smooth, pale skin. The moment he saw my eyes flutter open, he stopped, reaching for my face with his raw, scratched hands.
Nausea shoved my stomach high into my throat. I had barely made it onto my side when I heaved what felt like a gallon of bile, salt water, and blood. I must have fallen into the water, and Ari saved me. But the dream, the one I had blacked out into that had me underwater, I thought it had only been a dream. It wasn’t real, it couldn’t have been. I was so deep in the ocean, the pressure would have crushed me instantly. And what was at the bottom...
I collapsed onto my back, staring unseeing at the dawning sky above. Not too far in the distance, I could hear waves breaking against the shore, a familiar slosh of frothy waves tearing into the rough sand. I pushed up onto my elbows, staring at the waves of waist-high grass and damp sand surrounding us. A far cry from the black walls and eerie sensations of Lucretia’s castle.
“Thank you,” I whispered and winced. My throat felt like it had been scrapped clean with sandpaper, leaving my voice hoarse and raw. “Where... are we?”
He collapsed against the sand, laying alongside me with a weariness I had never seen in him. Anger touched his face, setting his mouth into a tightly drawn line, eyes quickly changing from the damaged, hurt look I had watched to sweltering rage. Fear blew off him like a fine mist, blending with his anger. “I don’t know. All I saw was smoke when we left.”
“Where...” I took in as shallow a breath I could to avoid the pain in my throat. “Where... where is Kayden?” When Ari didn’t answer at first, I repeated the question, growing frantic. “Ari, where is he?”