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A Toiling Darkness

A Toiling Darkness

Jaliza A Burwell

A Toiling Darkness

By Jaliza A Burwell

 

Shakespir Edition

Copyright © 2015 by Jaliza A Burwell

All Rights Reserved

Cover Design: SelfPubBookCovers.com/dormantwing

This eBook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This eBook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each reader. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to your favorite retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

More From the Author

Reyna’s Blood: Her Reality (Book One)

 

Coming Soon:

Reyna’s Blood Book Two in March 2016

 

To Jonathan for loving this story so much.

Chapter One:

The woman caught my attention the moment she entered the alley. And not because her ass was hanging out of her short leather skirt or her breasts were nearly tumbling out of her blouse. It wasn’t even because she was stumbling around, completely plastered at two in the morning. I mean, she should know better by now. Don’t go into dark scary alleyways. Nothing good ever happens.

No, none of that got my attention. What did was the fact that she just became part of a scheme. A bloodborn down there has his sights on a soon-to-be mugger and the mugger now had his sights on the woman. The mugger-to-be was going to attack the woman and then when he was busy focusing on her, the bloodborn in the dark corner was going to take him down and call him dinner. It was a classic attack-while-they’re-distracted method.

Help them. They’re young and weak, and don’t deserve to be killed like this.

I snorted as El’s words from long past as they came to the forefront of my mind. Sorry El, but if they wanted to spend their nights sleuthing around in alleyways, then they got what was coming. Besides bloodborns have to eat too. Who was I to deny them a dinner?

Correction, vampires. Bloodborns were called vampires now. When one particular vampire made himself well known and coined the term vampire, creating legends about his kind, the other pires supported him. I thought he was just an attention seeking idiot and my opinion wasn’t going to change anytime soon—if ever. They are still bloodborns to me and will always be, but the humans knew them only as vampires and only as legends now, nothing real. They were only something fun to create movies and stories about to romanticize their existence. I wonder what would happen if they realize their vampires were real. Would they still want to have a romance with them?

I mean, I’m sure there are all kinds of fun for those who liked to toe the line between life and death. And I’m sure making out with a being who could only think about the blood pulsing through your veins is on the top ten lists of all line-poking enthusiasts. It definitely doesn’t make it on my list of things to do.

I looked back down into the alley, deciding to stay and watch. Why not? I got front row seats to the whole show, just the way I liked it. I sat on top of a building, my feet dangling and just waited patiently.

My body vibrated with unshed laughter. The bloodborn was still crouched down as the mugger tried to hide deeper into the darkness. He wasn’t doing a good job of it, at least to my eyes. The drunk woman stumbled to the wall and dug through her purse, cursing as she tried to find something. If she was smart enough, it was her phone to call for a ride. If she wasn’t then it was probably for a cigarette. She didn’t find whatever it was and cursed some more. The mugger had to be less than ten feet away and she still didn’t notice him, too focused on her little misfortune.

It was too damn funny. So evident that he was right there. Humans were so blind to their surroundings.

I felt a little generous and manipulated the darkness to wrap around the bloodborn who waited even deeper in the shadows than the mugger. This was the kind of night I needed—a night out in a city full of unsuspecting humans.

The bloodborn stiffened as he became alert. Though he didn’t fully understand what the moving darkness meant, the dangers I kept hidden in them, he knew they meant someone bad was nearby. Me to be exact. He looked up slowly and blanched when he spotted me. I smiled and jerked my head towards the humans.

You. Humans. Go for it.

I thought supportive thoughts, wanting a nice show out of it. I needed a good memory of the city before I left for a while.

Getting the message, the bloodborn smiled. He held a vile smile on vile lips that showed off his long pointy teeth. I wiggled my fingers at him in a childish acknowledgement and enjoyed myself as the scene was about to unfold. He turned back to his prey, feeling more confident now that he was so well hidden.

It was a simple scenario for tonight. A woman being stalked by a mugger who was being stalked by a bloodborn. I could already tell the scene was going to be quick, the script only a page long, if that. Still, a lot could happen in a very short amount of time, and I sat here, too curious about how it was all going to play out.

I was always curious about something. It could range to watching children playing in a park so innocently to beings preying on humans or my personal favorite, humans preying on humans. More times than I can count, it has been humans preying on humans.

And they like to call us the monsters.

She’s the devil’s child! A monster!

Kill her! Burn her alive!

I snorted at the jumbled memories.

I wasn’t any more a monster than the bloodborn. We all just want to survive in a shitty world. Eat when we needed to, sleep in peace, and just live. Instead we hide because humans will always out populate us and we don’t need another witch-hunt going global.

I watched patiently, nearly holding my breath in anticipation. One thing I learned, being alive for so damn long, was to wait. It’s all I ever do, especially now. Wait. Maybe I’ll figure out what it is exactly that I’m waiting for.

The scene began when the mugger finally decided his best chance was now, so he attacked. He grabbed the woman by her high ponytail and yanked her back, pressing his knife against her neck. The woman screamed and tried to fight back, but like I mentioned—she was too intoxicated. The struggle only caused her to throw up all over the front of the mugger when she managed to face him and tried to push him away. Instead, her weak attempt to fight turned into a grasp for an anchor as she bent over and hurled. She just wasn’t able to take the sudden movements. Surprise, surprise. Not really.

The mugger cursed with disgust as he shoved her away. The woman’s little purse was in his hands, so he got what he really wanted. Instead of leaving, like he should have, he stood there for a few moments, his chest heaving with adrenaline as he stared down at his victim. His mind worked through an idea that fluttered around, his adrenaline pumping a little too much for him to be able to completely grasp it. When he finally did catch it, his body broadcasted those thoughts loud and clear and they weren’t pretty. He was considering raping the woman, even after she threw up all over his jeans and shoes.

Disgustingness at its finest.

One of my little talents is reading people—no thanks to endless years of experiences. I can look at someone and easily get into their heads and figure out what they were thinking, especially if they were filled with pessimism. Pessimism called to the darkness and I was the one who answered.

Even now, I could feel his thoughts knocking at my psych, demanding attention. It made me hate my little talent, even if it saved my neck time and time again. There was nothing more uncomfortable than seeing into the mind of someone like his. His mind wasn’t dark; if it were, I would enjoy it. No, his mind was desperate, just plain desperate for things he wanted and couldn’t have. Pure greed.

Ugh, his thoughts were making me feel dirty.

At this point, the woman was nearly passed out on the ground, her cheek pressing against the dark asphalt, probably in something vile like piss or whatever else accumulates in alleyways. I was about to leave, not interested in seeing someone raped, but the mugger never made it passed his consideration. The bloodborn finally made his move and attacked. It was a completely boring and one-sided fight. The man didn’t even have a chance to scream. His mouth gaped open and before the scream ever left his throat, his neck was broken. The being buried his face into his neck and fed, his mouth feeding off the mugger’s blood.

Aaaand scene. A very quick script. Kind of disappointing really. I liked my shows with a little more action. A little more blood and fighting.

I stood up, dusting off my frilly dress, and wavered on the ledge of the building as I balanced my way back to the front.

This city was everything I needed. It was simple to hide here, with an endless supply of old abandoned buildings built hundred of years ago and enough tall buildings to create all the darkness I needed to enjoy myself.

Yeah, Rheems was just the kind of city I needed. This place was definitely better than New York City, with all its glass buildings and too many lights. Rheems worked hard to keep its history, and travelers from all over came here to see what kind of history it held so close to its chest. There was the tourist-attracting harbor that wedged itself into the city. The transit system was simple and easy, and contributed to the unnatural loss of tourists. If someone wanted to disappear, all they had to do was come here and throw themselves into the arms of strangers. Especially when more than thirty percent of the city’s occupants were beings like the bloodborn and me. A lot of them didn’t mind the extra snacks the unsuspecting tourists provided, especially when they practically delivered themselves into the arms of a hungry being.

I’ll have to thank Lord Kay later for finally convincing me to try out this city—if I ever see him again, and I’d rather not. Though it seems that lately, I’ve been seeing him more than I cared to, which is not at all.

A noise broke my thoughts. The sound was a mixture of a scream and a moan, followed by nothing but the sounds of cabs honking and people laughing as they went about their night. Something else had happened in the alley. I turned around and squinted, hoping to see anything that would give me a clue of what that noise was. Nothing. My curiosity got the best of me and I turned to go back.

What could have gone wrong in such a short time?

Dumb question.

I was in a world where anything was possible. Maybe another hunter showed up. How fitting that would be too, to have a hunter turning into the hunted, falling prey to another.

I took all of five steps when a man jumped up onto the building, using strength that would give pause to any human—if they weren’t already running away. The newcomer was tall, a little over six feet. Then again, everything seemed tall to me. My form was of a preteen, a pale little girl with curly blonde hair held back with a black bow and big blue eyes. I enjoyed being small. Others looked down at me and knew I was better than them, that they couldn’t kill me even if they wanted to. And if they dared, they died trying.

The man dropped the body of the bloodborn. His chest was torn out, eyes open and blank. There was nothing vile about the bloodborn any longer. He was just dead. The man turned, using the shadows to keep his features hidden. I flicked my hand and removed them with a simple thought.

If Darkness commands, darkness concedes. Hence my name, Darkness. At least my current name.

The shadows receded and the man stood in front of me in all his glory. He was amazing. His eyes were a radiating dark brown, filled with a power that hummed through his entire body unchecked. His shoulders were broad, his waist narrow and his hair a shimmering black. The dimple in his chin added a sense of boyishness to him. There was this soft glow around him, as if while it was nighttime, it couldn’t quite touch him. And he wasn’t rejecting the darkness either. There was this edge of compatibility to his soft glow and the night. I tried to tear my eyes away from him with difficulty and eventually just gave up.

What could I say? I was attracted to anything dark and he fit my image of the perfect man. Somehow looking at him, he just felt right to me. Which only made me think he was bad news, really bad news.

Nothing good ever comes out of handsome men. Lord Kay was a classic example.

“A little girl?” the man asked, sounding bewildered.

I glared at him, pouting my lips and putting my hands on my small waist.

“So what?” I finally asked after giving him another once over. He even shifted uncomfortably, glancing around the rooftop as if someone should be up here with me. “What’s wrong with being like this?”

“You saw what happened in the alley?” His voice carried easily to me and I could taste the concern in his words.

Concern?

I looked at the man again. He had a guarded look, but he was still inexperienced and his dark chocolate eyes gave him away. He knew I saw the scene that happened down below and he was worried about me.

Was I supposed to be freaking out? Crying? Screaming bloody murder? He was expecting something and wasn’t getting it and it was throwing him off. Well, he can expect all he wanted, he still wasn’t going to the reaction he wanted from me.

“What do you want?” I asked him.

He blinked, surprised by my question. The question did come out a little snippy. His brows furrowed as he tried to unjumble his thoughts.

“How old are you?” he finally asked.

I was tempted to tell him I wasn’t some child, that I was older than dirt. I wanted to watch him try to wrap his mind around it. I only held back because I couldn’t figure out what he was all about.

“And what about you? Who are you? Why are you here?”

Where did you even come from?

Even now I couldn’t really sense him. He had to have been nearby when the bloodborn attacked and yet I felt nothing. I always knew when a being was nearby, I could sense them in the darkness—little bleeps on my radar. And yet nothing from him. He was a blank space.

Already he was a confusing man and we’ve barely said ten words to each other.

I couldn’t call him a being of the night. He just didn’t have that flavor. He wasn’t a hunter, nor the hunted. That confused me even more because everyone was one or the other in my mind. I couldn’t even say he was human. Not when he leaped up six stories onto the roof while carrying a dead body. There was also this random feeling of familiarity to him, as if I should know him.

I shook my head and waited for a response, watching him cautiously. He stepped towards me, not saying anything, and I stepped back, keeping my distance. I understood beings and had lived long enough to know when something wasn’t right with one of them.

This man hit my intuitive radar as something different, possibly dangerous.

“You’re not human.”

He paused, not liking my statement. His reaction was like I called him scum or something. His face showed the disgust. The stranger was handsome with the square jaw and smooth dark skin. Kind of like an everlasting tan those orange women are always jealous of. Maybe they should try the beach instead of the tanning booths for the more natural look.

He looked me up and down, realization dawning on him. “Neither are you.”

“Hmph. Why did you kill him?” I pointed to the body. It wasn’t my business why, but like I said, I’m a curious little thing.

If he wasn’t a hunter, then why go out of his way to kill a bloodborn? No being would interfere with another over something like this. He glanced down, then back at me. His concern was still there, but now he was on guard, probably realizing I was more than I seemed.

Good. He wasn’t as dumb as I thought. Definitely slow on the uptake though.

“Why did you let him kill that man in the alley?” He cocked his head in puzzlement. “Never mind, forget I asked. You’re what? Twelve?”

I said nothing, silence being my best friend.

“Shouldn’t you be home, with your parents or something?”

I bit down the inside of my cheek, holding back a laugh. My parents?

He could only see me as a little girl. That was a first. No one ever saw me as just a little girl, even the humans. They looked at me and just knew.

I was Darkness. My name, my whole existence, everything about me radiated darkness. I was the root of most fears, the foundation of most horror stories, and the cause of all nightmares. In different parts of the world, I was even a legend.

Someone didn’t get the memo.

Hell, I’m in existence because of humans’ fear of the dark during a time period where fire was a rare commodity. Dirty little humans would huddle around their small fires in hopes of casting the darkness away. Of casting me away. When man learned to draw pictures thirty thousand years ago, some of their pictures were warnings against me. They created me and then casted me away. Human was something I never was. Parents aren’t something I ever had.

“If I’m not human, then why do I need parents?” I asked. I’m always surrounded by beings who already knew better and humans who wouldn’t even be able to grasp the reality of our existence. He was like a newborn, so unfamiliar with the world around him.

He blushed and mumbled something underneath his breath. It was kind of cute, not that I would dare call a handsome man cute. Wouldn’t want to step on anyone’s balls. “My apologies, I guess I’m still getting used to this.”

Aha, he was a newborn.

“Used to what?” I wanted to watch him squirm a little. Beings were created in different ways. The ‘natural, born this way’ way. The ‘this is my fate’ way. And my personal favorite, the ‘I’ve been cursed’ way.

He shifted from foot to foot, not disappointing me. He was embarrassed. “This world.”

I flipped through all the possibilities of his existence and narrowed it down to just one. He was still in human form, there was energy but he most likely couldn’t cast any magic even with an amulet to draw his energy out, he wasn’t of the night, the time of day probably did nothing to restrict him. And he knows jack-shit about this world, so it wasn’t like he grew up as a hunter or anything. He was just a normal human up until very recently. A couple of weeks tops, I think. An answer dawned on me and I didn’t want it to be true. I really didn’t want it to be.

I looked him over once again, but from a different perspective. He was still weak, but he was growing every second. His strength was more than just physical. It was deep in there. I focused so hard I nearly missed the small sound. Just a tiny little clanking noise. Chains. A sound I only heard once before. Goosebumps broke across my arms.

“You used to be human.” I forced a smile as it all dawned on me. Figuring out just what he was, how could I not laugh? So I laughed just a little bit. It sounded nervous to me, but apparently he thought I was teasing him or something. If only he knew. I felt my mask wrap itself around my face, protecting my emotions and hiding all my thoughts. It was instant. I went from laughing, with a small smile on my lips to an empty face, devoid of everything. The man blinked in a flurry of confusion at my sudden change. “Wow, you’re a very rare kind. How could I not tell?”

“Tell what?”

“It’s been a while…I nearly forgot about your kind.” I ignored his question, trying to stay grounded in the present and not the past that was trying to creep up on me. He flinched at the words.

I stepped towards him and when he didn’t move, walked up to him and reached out, laying my hand flatly against his chest. The response from inside him drew an inaudible sigh from me. It was there—a slight brush of his soul. There were chains wrapped around the poor thing, tethering it to his body. The soul was slumped over right now but when it felt me, it began to stir, recognizing something. I could sense its stare as it blinked awake and took notice of my presence. Then the soul jerked completely awake, the chains clanging from the abrupt movement. The noise was loud but only I could hear it. I don’t even think the stranger heard it. Maybe felt it. No, no maybe about it. He felt it alright. Every movement his soul made was probably tearing him apart inside.

I hope someone, somewhere, shreds your false immortality from you.

I remember some woman saying that a long time ago. I only smiled at her and said if they could kill me, I would welcome them with open arms. Now I was staring at a slauve created just for me. Someone, somewhere really wanted me dead.

Was this someone’s idea of a joke?

This man was a slauve, rare beings who died, their souls tied to their bodies until they achieved what their master wanted. Only higher beings could create one and even then, only a select few. It takes too much life force and magic to succeed.

And a slauve was incapable of killing me. I’ve already established that two hundred years ago. They just didn’t have the juice for it. As far as I was concerned, no one had the juice to kill me.

The slauve flinched as if something hurt him. I smiled, it coming out feeling fake. “And you died very recently. Who did you piss off?”

He backed off, out of reach, his face constructing itself into a mask. He swallowed and looked back down at the body. I carefully kept my own face empty of any emotions. The slauve didn’t really understand his situation yet. He was only a fledgling flopping around, learning the ropes still. If he did understand everything about who he became, then he would know to listen to his soul as it screamed and snarled at me, yelling for my death. This slauve was created just for me.

How…interesting.

“So you’re not really twelve are you?” he asked.

I shook my head. “No, I’m not.”

“What are you?” He glanced at the body and back at me.

“I’m not a being of the night either if that is what you’re thinking.”

Beings of the night were things that did go bump in the night like the bloodborn at our feet. They were the ones people told stories about around campfires; vampires and werewolves were not just lore and they were barely the skin of what really existed in the dark. They were also restricted by the sun. Just a little bit of sun was detrimental to their life. I had no such complication. Our relationship involved me providing the darkness for them to use. That was it.

I kicked the body lightly with the toe of my laced-up boots, my expression still blank. Having a half-crazed and starving bloodborn in the city was rare. Most bloodborns were more civilized than this one. They didn’t want to risk angering their king.

“Then what?” he asked again, frowning as he watched me toe the bloodborn some more. He was determined to put a label on me, to stick me in some kind of category. I was surprised he wasn’t attacking me outright instead of trying to have a decent conversation. The reaction from his soul told me enough to know he was meant to kill me.

“If you want to survive in this world, then don’t go around asking others what they are. You’ll get yourself killed.”

He went silent. Not just with his voice, but with his whole body. He went completely still, still enough for me to think he wasn’t there.

Did he use that talent to hide himself before attacking the bloodborn? I was tempted to ask him about it. I shook my head, the less he knew and understood about himself the better for me.

The slauve moved. Faster than my eyes could keep up with.

There was a whisper of disturbed air and then he was behind me. With one arm, he pinned both of mine behind me. His other arm snaked around my neck and he lifted me off the ground, blocking my airway with his forearm.

“It will be easy to snap this little neck of yours,” he whispered into my ear. Even though his words were harsh, I knew he had no intention in killing me. If he meant what he said, he would have just snapped my neck the moment he touched me. This meant two things. First, he wasn’t listening to what his soul was trying to tell him. Even I could hear the thing inside him, snarling at me, blaming me for putting it in this position. Second, this man cared. He cared too much and didn’t want to hurt me, and so was trying to scare me instead. What he didn’t know was that I feared very little, including him.

I choked and clawed at his arms for a moment. He only tightened his grip, believing it would be that simple. I finally laughed at his naïve thoughts and before he could process the sound, I was standing off to the side, a few feet away.

Misting is a favorite move of mine. Your body goes weightless for mere moments and when you’re back in your skin, you can be a few feet from where you once stood. The little move wasn’t a talent of mine personally. But I took it and turned it into one of my own, and now I can mist up to half a mile away. When I wanted to do longer distances, I simply used the darkness. Shadows are what I’m best at manipulating, I can make them do anything I want, attacking, shielding, and even making a sort of portal to travel through. With that, I can end up on the other side of the city. Of course, in this form, I could only travel a couple of times using that method before I needed some rest. My power pool was just as stunted as my height.

I wasn’t ready to run away yet, so I only misted to the other side of the roof, putting distance between us. The look on the slauve’s face was priceless.

He snapped his head around as he searched for me, completely confused until he spotted where I went.

“What? How?”

“You have some nerves of steel, slauve. Did you believe snapping my neck would end my life?” I allowed my voice to reveal that I wasn’t just a little blonde-haired child with big blue eyes. I allowed the wrath I kept locked away to fill me up, take me over and overwhelm him. He stood there, frozen. Not out of fear. That puzzled me even more.

I understood fear since that was an emotion everyone felt when they met me and yet he didn’t feel this. Not only was he naïve about our world and thick-headed about his situation, but he was also impervious to what I was capable of and didn’t even know enough to feel scared. Frustrated and confused, I filled the air with darkness, engulfing us both.

Then I escaped. I’m sure we were going to meet again.

The last thing I expected when I came here was to find a little girl who, in some way, came off as ageless. It was the best way to describe her. So tiny and young, and old enough to be called ageless.

I stared at the spot where the little girl was just standing. Then I stared at the thing I killed. The vampire. I swallowed past the rock in my throat, my mouth completely dry. No, vampires couldn’t exist. Could they? I glanced back at where that little girl stood and glared, hoping pure will would somehow miraculously make her reappear. Who the hell was she?

I felt torn. I needed to dispose of the body and yet I wanted to chase after that little girl, learn more about her. Get underneath that cold exterior of hers.

She was so small and thin. Her clothes made her look like she belonged on a shelf in one of those porcelain doll shops. And her expression…I shuddered. So empty. Her touch too. Her fingers were so cold, even through my black shirt. I couldn’t wrap my head around it. A little girl, as empty as the vast universe we existed in. And the space around her. It was like she kept a barrier around her. Even though it was clear she had long blonde curls, and her skin was Snow White white, and she looked like she should glow in the dark, it ended up being the exact opposite. The darkness liked her, congealed around her, and purred when she used it to disappear.

Something in me stirred, bringing my whole body to discomfort, just like the same feeling I got when she touched me. I wanted to chase after her, to wrap my hands around her tiny little neck and then just squeeze until she stopped kicking and clawing. Obviously that wasn’t going to work though. How did she just disappear?

Those dark thoughts made me want to punch something. Where were they coming from?

What have I become?

Chapter Two:

I fumed, my mind erratic as I tried to get the slauve out of my head along with the pesky little memories he conjured up. The only thought keeping me grounded was the fact that he thought he actually had a chance at killing me and that was pretty damn funny. As if. My long life taught me enough tricks to survive, and I wasn’t going to let a man who couldn’t even see past my appearance ruin that. Besides, I wasn’t killable in the first place. At least no one knows how to kill me, not even me.

My anger guided me through the maze of the city and to an abandoned warehouse refurnished into a bar specifically for anyone who wasn’t quite human. Normally, I would let the pulse of the city calm me with its constant chatter, but now all I could think about was the impending danger closing in on me. Someone out there finally made a move against me and I needed to figure out who. Otherwise, I was going to have pesky bugs looking for me and I’ve been enjoying the peace I’ve found. I needed to end this before things escalated.

The bar was the perfect place to start. Beings came here to be who they are without the scrutiny of human eyes. They could let go of their human form and just be themselves, and at this particular place, they could do this without getting into a fight. Rheems City’s very own Switzerland. No humans allowed. No conflict either.

If a human approached, they would fall under the effects of a defensive ward that sends them away. They would get a sudden urge to want to go the club a couple blocks down the road and they would too, as long as no beings caught them outside the bar and they became a late night snack. That’s only happened a couple of times since I moved into this city.

The bar itself was old fashioned, looking just like a tavern in the Middle Ages. Everything was made out of expensive wood like the cherry wood chairs, mahogany tables, and the bar counter made of teak. All the shelves holding the liquor were made out of some kind of white wood. Nothing was made out of metal to avoid allergies. Almost forty percent of the population was allergic to some kind of metal and the owner made sure they could come here and not worry about it.

The moment a being came into the bar, they were expected to conduct themselves properly and respect the owner’s number one rule of ‘No Fighting.’ If they broke the rule, they had to deal with the owner who was also the bartender—a wispy man whose existence was a little questionable. His presence was strong but sometimes it seemed like he was fading away.

When I walked in, the bar went a couple shades darker and completely quiet as every patron took in my presence. The place wasn’t very busy yet with only a few beings scattered around, all eyes on me as they watched for my mood. I scowled and everyone looked away except for a leggy blonde who was sitting with an older gentleman.

Her eyes were big and dark, twinkling with secrets, and right now were filled with disbelief as she stood up. Her magic was kept tight around her, the only thing it was telling me was that she was a witch. The older man who was yanking on her arm was probably her mentor. The man pulled on her until she sat back down and whispered something into her ear. A warning if nothing else. A warning against me.

Everyone here knew me as Darkness, but they didn’t realize what that really entailed. They just knew I was something big and badass, despite my size. I went to great lengths to make sure they thought this way. Only one person in the city knew who I truly was and Kay was good at keeping his mouth shut. He owed me at least that much. Others could guess or speculate, maybe even approach me to try and verify it—at least until I put them in their place. I wasn’t anyone’s prey.

I ignored their harsh whispers and made my way to the bar. I don’t tolerate ignorance very well. When I first moved here a couple months ago, only two days passed before word got around to not mess around with me and the teasing stopped. A being who looked like a seven foot tall hairy bison tried to pit his strength against my powers and now everyone wondered how I made the three hundred pound man disappear. I guess they never thought to look in his closet. They would find him hiding in the corner, his mind broken and his body frozen with fear. It was his fault for seeing me only as prey. I wasn’t prey, not for anyone.

Little girl, shouldn’t you be suckin’ on your mama’s tits instead of in a place like this. Hows about you come play with me, I’ll keep you safe from the big bad meanies.

Sorry, my dad told me to stay away from pedophiles, I had told him. Now look where he was. Stuck in a nightmare and slowly dying in some nasty closet that didn’t show up on any blueprints for his house. I locked him up with the rest of his dirty secrets.

Two guys moved away when I approached, freeing up the seats near where I was going to sit. I smiled and hopped up onto the stool, turning my attention to the owner. There were plenty of nasty rumors surrounding him—like turning others into dust with just a look. I’ve yet to see it but the rumors circulated enough to make troublemakers second-guess themselves before they tried to start anything. He was the owner, the bartender, and the enforcer of his little pub. He’s had plenty of time to spread rumors about himself. He doesn’t deny any of them either.

Today, his face seemed a little longer, his eyes wary. His blonde hair was slicked back into his usual ponytail, showing off his feminine features. On most days he was brimming with confidence. Tonight, instead of the straight and proper posture he normally held, his small shoulders were slumped. There was a little splash of blood on his long sleeve shirt. He saw that I spotted the blood and rolled the sleeves up to hide it, revealing his thin wrists and hairless arms. He seemed especially distant today, as if just a small breeze was all it was going to take to blow him away.

Someone must have caused trouble in his bar tonight and he must have done something heavy duty to make them go away if he looked like this. He seemed exhausted when he was usually overflowing with power to back up the rumors he liked to encourage. His appearance made me wonder what it was exactly that he could do to instil such good behavior in a bar filled with beings who liked to eat each other. Even those with extreme rivalries knew to back off in here.

“Darkness, I thought you said you were skipping out while Lord Kay ran his tournament?” Baron asked. His name described his position in the bar perfectly.

Kay was a really powerful and ancient magic user who basically led the beings in this city. He learned to cheat death during the Middle Ages and has been avoiding it ever since. We were both members of the False Immortality club and neither of us figured out how to kill each other yet. He was also a very old companion…probably. I do hate him most of the time, so it was hard to say.

The magic user started an underground tournament for all beings to enjoy themselves and since it wasn’t something I was fond of, I was planning to leave tonight. There were plenty of beings I’d rather not meet and Kay invited most of them to the city for a few weeks. If they knew who I was, they would try very hard to kill me and that just wouldn’t be a fun time. I would have made it out tonight if I wasn’t so easily distracted by the view. Then the slauve showed up. I shouldn’t have stopped to stare at the city lights before I bounced. Shiny things really do distract me too easily.

Now I needed to find that slauve’s master. Otherwise the sluave was going to keep finding me like a honing missile and it’ll never end until I was dead. Or I guess I could still skip out, let him try to keep up with me. No. Priorities were important. Right?

“I’ve been delayed,” I replied, not bothering to expand. “Is Seeker around?

He nodded towards a door at the back of the bar. It led into a small room used for special guests. “Taking his dinner right now.”

“Another hooker?”

“No, a drug dealer.”

“More trash,” I mumbled, and waited until someone disappeared into the room a few minutes later and came back out carrying a shrivelled carcass. The body was mummified, all wrinkled skin and bones. The leftovers disappeared out the door next to the one Seeker was in.

I didn’t dwell on what Seeker had to do to make the body like that. I already knew the process, even saw it happen live once. It was disgusting. He has to embrace them, hold them close while kissing them. Once his lips touched skin, he fed. And he fed fast. Or if he was in a really bad mood, slowly to torture his meal. I suppressed a grossed-out shiver. He held an unfortunate power, one I didn’t envy.

I survived off of human food, and even then, I only ever ate when I wanted to. I could go days without sustenance, no problem. My only reliance is sugar—a nice, safe little addiction that started when I came to the New World with Eithna, another old acquaintance. She was not part of the False Immorality club.

Baron nodded, letting me know I could go see him and so I hopped off, going into the room without hesitation. Not even his bodyguards could scare me away right now. Not that they ever could.

The room was only big enough for a small couch, a fireplace and a side table with a lamp on it. The lamp was on, the dull light casting dark shadows all around. Seeker sat on the couch, stretched out with his head back. His hair was pure white, almost translucent, his skin golden and limbs long and thin. When he was standing, he pushed eight feet tall.

I stood in front of him, waiting for his completely white eyes to open and acknowledge me. His eyes were always unsettling because they had the power to look right through me. He probably did too—his vision was a lot better than mine. His eyes were the whole reason he was known as Seeker.

He was a true seeker who not only saw the everyday things with an eagle’s eye but also information. He literally saw information. When I first met him, he tried to explain it to me and I couldn’t grasp the concept. Something about being bilingual and multicultural, and knowledge being opaque. Sounded like a bunch of garbage to me, but for him it all made sense. He was the best of the best after all. Seeker wasn’t just what he was, it was his name. He owned the name Seeker because he was the greatest. A lot of beings had ownerships to names, like Lord Kay being a lord for an example. Or Baron. Even I did too. I own quite a few names, actually. We were big and powerful, and not many tried to mess with us.

I inwardly sighed with that thought. Even in this weak child form I was still big and bad.

While Seeker was the best, he has one rather very annoying flaw. He has a really bad habit of falling into comas that would last days at a time. His guards claimed conservation, I say he’s just lazy. He also had the right to charge a lot for just the tiniest bit of information. In most cases it was a taste of life force for information—except me of course. I could get information for free, only because he fears me. I think he saw his death the day he met me and I was the cause of it. Not so much seeing the future, just the knowledge that I was capable of killing him and it was no skin off my back to do it. I would too. He’s been kissing my ass since day one.

“Darkness.” The seeker’s voice was raspy as he enjoyed the high off the life force he had just consumed. He wasn’t enjoying it as much anymore with my presence however. His words were slow and careful, a hint of fear in them.

“Seeker.”

“To what do I owe the pleasure of your company?”

“I want to know why a slauve is in existence.”

He closed his eyes and sighed, some unknown weight off his shoulders.

“This one only kills if it is justifiable.”

“Justifiable?” I asked, thinking about the word. I’ve heard it enough times.

I’ll destroy her. I’ll bring her the same misery she brought to you, Eithna. I promise this. I will have justice for your death. A little promise whispered into the depths of the darkness, carried off by the shadows to my ears a couple of centuries ago.

Justice was given to those who did wrong to another. It was a word I hated. Humans found injustice in everything. “Then every being is at risk.”

“They are safe as long as they do not attack humans. Apparently the master is really fond of humans.”

“And yet many of the beings live off of them,” I replied wryly. What kind of joke was this slauve’s master playing at?

He went quiet, thoughtful, before slowly sitting up. Sitting straight up, he was taller than me standing.

“Well, he is an angry man held down by morals. He also fears retribution by his own master.”

“Morals.” I chewed on the word, tasted it and spat it back out in rejection. Another stupid concept humans created.

“You do not believe in morals?” The seeker cocked his head questioningly. I glowered up at him.

“There is no right and wrong when it comes to how others act, not in this world. What kind of morals would even hold back a being strong enough to create a slauve?”

“He is simply a man who will follow his master to the end of time but needs justice to move forward,” he replied, using that damn word again and staying discrete, talking in little riddles. Like usual. “He’s torn by the duties to his own master and also in the need to right the wrongs done to him.”

“Who is the slauve’s master and what does he want?” I asked, trying to get more information out of him. Talking with a seeker was always sluggish—they talked like a philosopher as they contemplated all the information they saw.

Seeker shrugged as he closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He went still and after a few painfully long and suspenseful moments, he cocked his head as if listening to something. He jerked harshly, his head shaking before snapping his eyes back open. There was now a little silvery grey where his pupils would be.

“You. He wants you dead.” I rolled my eyes. I already knew this. “Who-”

He jerked again and his face slowly closed down, his eyelids drooping and all his muscles relaxing. Seeker was going into one of his comas and wouldn’t be able to wake up for another couple of days.

“No you don’t,” I said a little desperately.

I grabbed onto his shirt and yanked on him. His head rolled forward and when I shoved at him, his head rolled back against the couch. I swore under my breath and left. His guard stood in the door, big and imposing. I jerked my head towards his master and he scurried inside.

When I plopped back down at the bar, Baron came over with a mug.

“What is it?” I asked, looking at the contents suspiciously. Baron was well known for his weird concoctions. I had front row seats a couple of weeks ago to a woman drinking a shot of what she thought was virgin blood and her skin ended up bubbling, creating huge boils that when popped, showed a new, ugly hag-like appearance. She hasn’t been back since.

“Just a little something to help with all that rage inside of you.”

“That bad?” I asked, realizing that I was in fact raging—one of the terms the young kids like to use. It explained why a couple scurried away when I approached the bar, their faces paling when I got too close. I was used to others avoiding me when I got too close to them so I didn’t think it was anything new. Apparently Baron could read me loud and clear. He nodded and watched me with a careful smile.

I took a deep breath, reining in the deep dark emotions I usually kept hidden. The bar grew brighter as I relaxed a little. So did the atmosphere as the other patrons shared a collective sigh of relief. The witch was still at her table, her companion holding on to her hand. She looked like she really wanted to talk to me. I ignored her and turned back to Baron. This was the second time tonight my wrath showed itself. I was better than this at controlling the one emotion that used to be the only thing that kept me going until El showed up and taught me better.

El was a mentor who babysat me a very long time ago. He said I was on the brink of mass destruction and taught me control. Even with his help, it took a while to control all the fury I accumulated over the years. He said he looked inside of me and only found an endless dark pit of wrath. When we departed, he said it wasn’t so dark anymore, but still needed work. Said that would be my homework until next time.

As if there was going to be a next time.

Sniffing at the mug, I realized it was only tea. I eyed Baron before taking a tentative sip. The drink was laced with so much honey my eyes went big. He smiled carefully, enjoying my reaction.

“You’re doing it again,” I warned. Baron blinked and the soft warmth left his face. He retreated to the other end of the bar to attend to another customer.

Baron had a tendency to treat me like a child, the tea being a good example. I sipped it again, smiling to myself. I gave him reason enough to. I acted just like one.

The tea was perfect.

Chapter Three:

Birds chirped, kids laughed, and off in the distance, cars honked. The park was surrounded by trees to create a little world where nature existed and children could play freely without worrying about being ran over.

It was such a beautiful day and yet I was laying here, wishing I could throttle Seeker right now. I needed to find out who created that slauve, especially if he wanted me dead. I guess I could count my blessings because the slauve was as naïve as a newborn and couldn’t even recognize his target as she stared right into his face.

Hurrah for small favors.

Now all I needed to do was end things before he completely understood that I was his ticket to freedom.

A kid screeched, breaking me from my thoughts. The same little girl who made the high pitch noise ran past me, her brown pigtails trailing behind her as she focused on getting away from the girl who chased her. The other girl looked just like a slightly older version of the first one, her hair a little longer and a richer brown. She had her hands out, wiggling them as she threatened the little girl with tickles. I watched, envious, wishing I could be as carefree as them. I’ve never had that—someone to play with me. Someone to threaten me with tickles or vice versa.

Maybe things would have been different if I had someone like that older girl to play with. Maybe I wouldn’t be filled with the rage I fought to keep in check every day. Maybe humans wouldn’t fear me so easily and cower in my presence when I was in my true form. Maybe I wouldn’t hate them for it either. Maybe. Maybe. Maybe.

El told me once to respect humans at least a little, that their lives were fleeting and they worked every day to make it fulfilling before they came to an end. I called him an idiot then, and said they were only the hunted. Food for the strong. But now, moments like this left me jealous. At least they had a ‘family,’ people to call their own and to trust. Sometimes I have trouble even grasping the concept of a mother or father—the words were too foreign for me.

The closest I ever came to having a family was with Eithna and the time I spent with her was too short. When we first met, she used only a few words and held an upfront attitude to gain my attention. She didn’t have to work hard to make me want to hang out with her.

I smiled softly as the little memory rose up from the depths of my subconscious.

When we first met, Eithna came strutting over to me at the hotel I was staying at. Her long auburn hair framed her face like wild fire. Everything about her was fiery. She took shit from no one, was quick to laugh, but just as swift in her anger. She captured me with her stunning good looks and by the way she held herself. The strange woman was perfectly aware of how she came off to others and didn’t give a shit. She didn’t even give any of the humans staring at her a glance. All her attention was focused solely on me—as if I could be the center of the world she seemed to desperately search for. It was there in the corners of her eyes, a small desperation I never bothered to ask her about.

When she stopped at my table, she smiled down at me, mischief playing in her eyes. “Hallo. Are you Akhlys?” I just looked back up at her, wary but curious. She towered over my table, patiently waiting for a response she was so sure of getting.

I was only at the tavern because I needed a little break from wandering around while I figured out where to go next. Back then I had no real goal. I got into the habit of always moving around and during that time, even more so. I was trying to decide if I wanted to go to the New World or not. Start all over in a place where legends haven’t had time to be created yet.

Where I could pretend to be no one and get away with it.

I turned to the woman and cocked my brow. She held a small smile, as if everything was there for her to play with. She saw me as another toy and for once, her greed didn’t bother me. Charisma. Eithna had always been dripping with charisma.

“You are?” I asked in Gaelic. I already knew she was from Ireland by the sweet Irish lilt. She smiled, even happier with my response. She switched back to Gaelic, her words throaty and yet soft and beautiful.

She laughed. “Is mise Eithna.”

“Eithna?” I remembered the name meant fiery. “A fire elemental?”

“Tá, and you are less scary than I thought. Come to New World with me.”

“Why?” I asked. She was so bold and abrupt with me and I couldn’t seem to find it troublesome. Did I mention she was all charisma? It didn’t even take me long to be wrapped around her white slender fingers.

“You’re going to teach me your magic.”

She laughed at my blank expression and pulled a chair out to sit across from me, leaning forward as her voice lowered. “Come to America with me.”

Her demands caught me off guard. They were really demands, nothing that she said was poised as a question. It was like she expected me to do it. Maybe that was why I agreed. She came, she took control, and for once I could just leave it up to her. Making your own decisions for thousands of years really does get tiring.

I could tell she was young, if a couple hundred years could be thought of as young. So with the exchange of only a couple of sentences we took off for America. Simple and yet it led to so much more and ended with her death.

She wasn’t there anymore to laugh at me, or to tell me I wasn’t scary. She no longer woke me up in the middle of the day with her soft and throaty words, wanting me to teach her something else. I missed the child’s curiosity she held about everything I had to teach her.

I lay back down on the grass, coming out of my memories and hating where my thoughts went while I was in La-La land. I’ve barely thought about her lately. I worked hard not to. I gave her a spot in my heart and now it was empty with nothing to fill it up, right next to the other little holes created when I was a naïve little being. Well, if the slauve got what he wanted, maybe I’ll join her in whatever afterlife existed for beings like us. If he was capable of doing it—which he wasn’t.

Bits of clouds floated by and I lifted my left hand, pretending to squash them in my palm. Just like what I wanted to do to the slauve, but not before I got what I needed from him. With the seeker out for the count for the next couple of days, only the slauve would know who created him and I was almost sure I would do anything to get him to tell me. If he wasn’t under some kind of gag order, I could do it. I know I could. Hopefully.

Usually beings are proud of their ability to create a slauve, and yet there was no one out there claiming the one from last night. Eithna was the last one to create one and it got her killed by the Consort.

A goodie bag of mixed feelings rose inside of me.

Guilt, anger, fear.

Any thoughts of the Consort were good at doing that. My hand involuntary went to the little brand etched into my skin, a gifted curse from the very first time I met them. It was punishment meant for Kay, who bailed on me so long ago. He left me ‘hanging’ as some kids like to say. He left me to take his punishment for him. Now I carried a small brand on the inside of my left thigh to dampened my powers only a little bit.

If that was all the curse did, I would have been happy, but no. The main reason for the stupid annoying thing was to cause excruciating pain that would make me second-guess using my powers unless I wanted to feel the pain that went with it. The etching wasn’t even fancy, just a small double ring, the size of a quarter, and yet the mark could cause so much suffering if I tried to tap into too much of my power.

So when the Consort came and killed Eithna, I thought they were going to kill me too. After all, her death could be blamed on me. I told them the truth and somehow, they let me off. They said it wasn’t my fault, I never told her about the spell or helped her with it. Their job was to punish or kill any being who threatened the secrecy of our world. Eithna did just that.

I didn’t.

I was safe then and I’m still safe two hundred years later. Or at least I thought I was until I ran into that damn slauve last night. His very existence told me enough.

First off, the slauve’s master was a strong one. A being needs to have so much of the right kind of power to create a slauve. If not, the spell will drain them of their power and they die. For Eithna, she was left with so little after making the slauve that she became someone other than the fire wielding elemental fae that she was. That something else was only a shadow of who she was, a shadow filled only with hatred for the humans and she took all that crazy out on them—including a schoolhouse full of little children.

The Consort were the ones who took care of her within hours after that incident. All because I missed the signs, because I missed the gleam in her eyes as she asked about more powerful spells. I missed the fact that she was mourning the death of her two little children; children who were killed by humans who were unaware of their weakness for water. I didn’t even know she had children until she told me.

They did this to me. It was only a matter of time for me to return the favor…thank you for teaching me, for being such a good teacher. Let me help you put yourself out of your misery. It’s the least I can do.

Then I killed her slauve and the Consort came and dragged her away.

My memory chose that moment to flash on Eithna’s body after the Consort were done with her. Her skin used to be white and soft and warm. But not anymore. It was tossed out as a cold and leathery thing—devoid of the warmth that kept me from keeping her at a distance like the others.

Is that a weird thing to like the most about her? Her soft warmth?

It wasn’t just in her skin, but in the smile on her knowing lips and in the dark humor in her eyes. She shared similar pains as mine. I didn’t know the details back then, and now, I wished I had at least tried to ask. When the Consort used her body as a warning against others, all the warmth was gone. No more small smiles that matched my own and no more glances that only I could understand.

Her body was bruised and broken. They somehow shattered every bone in her body, turning her skin into a sack to hold all the bone fragments together. They broke her in every way they could, in both mind and body. Maybe that’s why whoever created the slauve wasn’t bragging about being able to do it. They didn’t want to catch the attention of the Consort. I can’t blame them for hiding, but it does make it harder to find out who I pissed off. The list was long, maybe never ending.

Dammit, all these thoughts and memories coming back just by meeting another slauve. I rubbed at my eyes, contemplating sleeping for a couple of years. I could do that, go into a catatonic state for a while. I think the longest I lasted was fifty years. Not long at all. But right now, that was probably the most dangerous thing to do. I would need to find someplace no one would ever find.

The grass rustled as someone approached and stopped just a couple feet from where my head was resting on the ground. I glanced away from the clouds and stared at the dark figure. Slowly their features came into focus as my eyes readjusted, showing a lean body with long legs, broad shoulders and that fascinating shimmer of black hair. I followed the lines of his jaw, noticing he forgot to shave and the bristles were growing in. Jeans covered the legs, hugging his body in all the right places. They hung off his hips in a seductive way, just asking for women to ogle, or for the braver ones, a good yank downwards.

I chose to ogle him.

The slauve was back and he looked even better in the light of day. His features were still dark and handsome, but the sun created a kind of halo that suggested he was also young and naïve. He had to be in his late twenties with the hard lines and lean muscles of someone who had physically worked hard throughout his life.

At least his appearance saved me the trouble of trying to find him. I expected him to attack, especially since I was the one he was ultimately supposed to kill. Instead he just stood above me, staring down with a very thoughtful expression. One thing that’s always been true about the older beings is we tend to be courteous antagonists.

Oh, you want to kill me? Here, have a cup of tea first while we catch up.

I guess it applied here too.

The conflict in the slauve was clear. He wanted to end me, felt it in his very soul. Hell, his soul was probably screaming at him to do it. And yet, he didn’t want to. Not when I lay there like an innocent child, a form that in a way made me untouchable. In my true human form, conflict was an everyday thing. I had to fight to survive because when someone feels threatened and scared, they either run or fight. When I came and they don’t run, they fight back, desperately, especially the stupid and weak ones who felt insecure around me. As a child that no longer happened; they just stayed away.

I smiled and made the decision easier for him.

“Good morning.” I sat up and stared up at him with my best innocent smile.

“You’re here. What are you doing?”

“Just chillaxing.” I straightened out my dress. The dress for today had extra frills and made me look like a doll. It was a soft pink with ribbons and beads strategically placed to accentuate the cuteness of the design. To match the dress, my hair was in ringlets held back by a dark pink bow. I thought the outfit suited the day perfectly.

“Chillaxing?” he asked, taken surprised by my use of slang. Though I haven’t heard that word in a while. What was the new one? Just hanging? That one didn’t make much sense to me. What were they hanging onto?

I shrugged.

“Are you hiding in the shade? Allergic to the sun?”

I glanced up and into the green leaves of the large bur oak tree. Just because I could go out into the sun didn’t mean that I liked to. Daylight had no life-altering affect on me—I just wasn’t at my strongest. Days lacked darkness. The sun prevented shadows and left me with very little to play with. It also went along with the idea that everything seemed safer during the day; nothing could be hidden so easily.

I decided to ignore his dig for more information.

“Would you stop towering over me and sit down or are we going to fight?” I glanced around. Would he risk all these children? They were only playing about fifty feet away, climbing all over the playground with little grins on their round, elastic faces. It was around lunchtime now, so the place was packed. Parents were setting up at tables or blankets for a picnic. Overall, it was a really nice day to be out.

I patted the grass next to me as he tried to figure out what he wanted to do. All I knew was that I didn’t want to fight yet. He had information I needed and I wouldn’t attack him first until I got it. So it was all up to him. Fight or not. There was always a later for fighting.

A couple walked by with three little ones. The parents tried hard not to look in our direction while the little boy clutched his father’s hand and the two little girls gawked at us openly, and even pointed until the mother whispered something to them and they hurried away towards the parking lot.

“No, no fighting,” he sighed. He was frowning at the mother. Whatever she said, he didn’t like. He has heightened sense. Okay, good to know. “No reason to.”

The slauve settled down next to me, stretching his legs right out while he watched the retreating family. He sat about a foot away and I could still feel his power as it hummed around him. The slauve needed to learn how to hide that power; otherwise it would leave him at a disadvantage against other beings. Right now, they can look at him and find all the chinks in his armor. That left him open to attack.

I mapped out how I could go about it. He didn’t protect his mind strongly enough and all minds have shadows. I would find his, exploit them and slowly engulf him mentally with that shadow until he was nothing but a man stuck in his own personal nightmares. That was my personal favorite attack. And sometimes it was just too easy. But not for the slauve. I could already tell it would take some work to do. He seemed like he didn’t have very many shadows. But everyone had something they feared the greatest, something they wanted to keep a secret. Everyone.

We sat in silence for a couple of minutes, just enjoying the soft breeze that went through the park. This area had the freshest and cleanest air, but there was still the scent of exhaust and pollution. If you wanted clean air, you had to leave the bustling city and go up into the mountains an hour away.

“I thought you couldn’t come out in the sun,” he said, still determined to learn more about my weaknesses. I glanced over at the slauve and found that he was staring at me intensely. All his attention was on me, his expression willing me to tell him what he wanted to know. It was really unnerving.

I snorted. “The sun and I have an understanding. I don’t engulf it with darkness and it doesn’t toast me.”

“Wait, the sun is alive?” he asked, looking like his world was coming to an end. What the hell was going on in his little head? So naïve. I wanted to say stupid, I really did, but I had to take into consideration that not so long ago, he was a simple human living in a simpler world.

I gave him a wry smile. “Yeah, I’m just being sarcastic. The sun is just another bright star in the sky.”

He blushed, pink creeping up his throat and into his cheeks. Really? Who was the real child here?

I played a prank on Eithna once, made her believe an owl was cursed and was really another being. She spent two days trying to break the curse until I finally told her the truth. I thought it was funny, her not so much. I looked at Kalen and wondered if he would believe me too. Probably. Now I just needed an owl.

“I’m not a being of the night, nor am I restricted by the sun or the moon,” I expanded feeling a little bad. That was a rare feeling. This slauve, with all his innocence, was making me feel guilty.

He cleared his throat and looked at the playground. “Then what does restrict you?”

“Not telling,” I sang. I cleared my throat and said nonchalantly, “Since this is our second time meeting, what should I call you?”

“Kalen.”

“Darkness.” I introduced myself and watched his reaction to see if it was familiar to him.

“Darkness? Really?” he asked in disbelief and something in me relaxed a little. He wasn’t looking for a little blue-eyed, blonde hair child. He was looking for someone more mature, someone I haven’t been since Eithna’s death nearly destroyed me. “What’s with everyone’s name? I met a succubus this morning who goes by the name Fantasia.”

I giggled, happy with the reprieve he just presented me. “You really are new to all this.”I looked him up and down. If he met Fantasia, then I was surprised he wasn’t already enthralled by now and turned into a sex slave. Fantasia was a very sexual woman and Kalen was her type. As a succubus, she enjoyed breaking men. And if she was around, it had to be for Kay’s tournament. That damn tournament invited all kinds of powerful beings into the city.

“Names have power. You won’t get a being’s real name—ever. Unless they are as naïve as you are, Kalen.” I flashed a predatory smile that didn’t affect him a single bit. Apparently I was losing my touch to terrify people with a single smile. I couldn’t decide if I liked that thought or not.

To be liked or not, that is the question.

Kalen stayed relaxed, even with my words. His shoulders were slumped as he leaned back onto his elbows, his forearms flexing as they held some of his weight. He might as well have been lounging around for a photo shoot. The sun added to the scene as it brightened the air around him, showing where the natural light was mingling together with his powers.

“So Darkness isn’t your real name,” he said.

I gave him a cryptic smile and shrugged. No one knew my real name and I wasn’t going to start sharing now. Not when there are beings out there who could curse you simply with your name, or gain access to your mind or even control you. Can’t forget the high volume of spells that could make magic with a name.

“I’m guessing your name has to do with your powers though. Like Fantasia and her ability to make a man’s fantasy come alive.”

I didn’t say anything, letting him work through his thoughts. It was an interesting process to watch. He was looking at me but not really seeing me. He shifted through each thought, either accepting what they said or pushing it to the side to find a better answer. I’m always surprised with how much a human shows in their expressions. And yeah, Kalen was no longer a human, I know. It’s just that he hasn’t exactly accepted that yet and so still acted like a one; making him amazingly easy to read most of the time.

“Do you manipulate the night?” he asked, something like suspicion crossing his face.

I smiled a little. “I manipulate shadows.”

“Then shouldn’t you be called Shadow or something?”

I laughed that time, shaking my head. “Watch.” My powers reached out to the shade we were sitting in and I pulled it towards Kalen, just beyond his feet. The shade rose and I manipulated its form until it looked like a little girl’s shadow.

Kalen’s reaction was priceless. He scrambled back a foot or so, his eyes big. He looked around, then back at me, unable to believe what his eyes were showing him.

“Th-that’s…don’t other people see that?” He pointed at the shadow. I made the shadow do a curtsy and he just watched as the shape grabbed a makeshift dress and lowered herself politely.

“Humans only see what they want to see,” I replied watching him as the shadow walked towards him. At least this time he held his ground. “I’m not strong enough to manipulate the night.” At least in this form I wasn’t. My true human form was on a whole other power level. “But I can manipulate the darkness, or shadows, around me to a certain degree. No one else has as much control as I do so I got the name.”

Kalen examined the shadow for a while, even moved so he could put his right hand in it. His hand disappeared into the darkness while his whole body shivered and I knew he felt the coldness in it. If I wanted, I could steal his warmth while he touched the shadow. I didn’t though. I stayed still and acted like a good little girl while he poked at it before sitting back down.

“That’s kind of neat,” he finally said and watched as I released the shadow and it seeped back into the shade of the tree.

“Yeah, it is.” I couldn’t hide the pleased smile on my face.

He said it was neat and I was a sucker for compliments.

A small green plastic ball rolled over to us, bouncing off the large tree trunk and stopping a foot away from where my white boots rested. A group of children ran over, laughing until they spotted me. I was hidden from their view with Kalen between us and now that they saw me, the smiles and laughs were wiped right from their faces. They all stopped.

A brave boy, probably around nine years old with floppy red hair and narrow brown eyes stepped forward. His eyes widened even more and his fear clued me in on the pounding of his heart against his chest. The pupils in his eyes danced with the uncertainty he felt about me. The boy still came forward even though his mind was probably telling him to run. The others cowered behind him, giving him what little useless support they could.

This little human child was going to grow up to be a leader some day. His strength glowed in his eyes behind that fear and in his stance. And the fact that he even approached me when he was scared silly only proved how brave he was. Stupid but brave.

“Can you pass us the ball, please?” he asked politely while staring at it studiously.

“Just come and grab it,” I said, making my voice higher in pitch to sound like a girl. In the corner of my eye, I could see Kalen as he cocked an eyebrow. I ignored him and focused on the brave boy. He looked at me and swallowed, his face paling even more. The freckles stood out from his skin like a constellation going across his nose, acting as a tell for his fear.

He thought about it and the reluctance was there. He stepped forward, his body shaking slightly. The boy didn’t want to get any closer but the tension in his body said he would. He really wanted that ball.

“It’s okay. I’ll pass it to you,” I said, taking pity on him, and stood up slowly. He flinched but didn’t falter. The other kids jumped and backed off a little, leaving the boy to his fate. I grabbed the ball and threw it to him gently. He caught it and tucked it under his arm like a football he needed to guard against me.

“Thank you, ma’am,” he mumbled and they scurried off. Some of the other kids patted the boy on the back.

I sat back down, watching them run off like there were hounds snapping at their heels. It made me wonder what made humans fear me so easily. I looked like a little angel and yet they still knew I was off.

“He called you ma’am,” Kalen remarked as he watched me carefully.

I shrugged. “I have that effect on humans.”

“But you’re a child.”

“Kids have great intuition. My appearance may be childlike but not my presence. He intuitively figured that out and his subconscious recognized me as a ma’am. He’s a polite little kid.” I nodded to myself, agreeing with my earlier assessment. “He’s going to grow up to be an amazing man.”

Kalen’s eyebrows knitted as he tried to grasp what I was trying to tell him. “I get the impression that you’re a lot older than you look.”

“That’s because I am.”

“In this form?”

“Two hundred years strong.”

His eyebrows rose at that tidbit of information. “You’ve lived for two hundred years?”

No, more, I wanted to say. Instead I said, “To survive, I blended in. I stayed quiet with my ears open and my presence in the background. I try hard not to attract any attention.” It was easier to survive as a child, easier to hide who I really was. Those that wanted me dead didn’t try to kill me when they met me like this. They just didn’t recognize me.

“That’s it?” he asked.

“Yeah, that’s it. It isn’t as easy as you think.” I glanced at him through my peripheral vision, wondering what he was thinking. “So why are you here? I doubt you were planning to spend time in the park.”

He smiled a little. “No, I definitely wasn’t. I was walking by when I felt something and…I don’t know…my body just brought me here on instinct. It seems to do that a lot lately.” He glanced around, watching all the kids run about in fits of giggles and playful screams. “This place is nice.”

I went to say something, but a loud childlike shrill interrupted our conversation and brought silence to the entire park.

Chapter 4:

The sound was filled with a wordless agony that brought every human in the area to a complete stop, including all the kids. A being with heightened senses would be able to hear every human’s heart in the park as it pounded painfully against their chests while their body went into a hair-raising, spine shivering shock. It was that kind of scream.

I simply looked in the direction it came from but couldn’t quite pin it down. I scanned the area. We were in an open field that eventually blended into a border of trees a few yards deep. The trees wrapped themselves around the park, cocooning all the children to one area. About half a football field separated us from where the scream originated from, on the far end of the park.

A long moment of complete silence fell on everyone in the park. Even the sounds of honking horns, sirens, and moving cars didn’t reach the small area to all the occupants who were rooted to their positions. A hum of energy broke that silence as parents began searching desperately for their children and others tried to find the source of that horror-filled shrill.

Kalen was up on his feet and halfway across the field before I made it to my own. He ran towards the line of trees, his figure a blur. He knew exactly where that scream came from.

As I strolled in the same direction, a commotion broke out as a mother cried out, searching for her little girls. The others around her looked at her with pity and relief as they located their own children. The words were unsaid but it was clear in their expressions: Better her than me.

One look at the mother and I knew who her kids were. She looked just like them.

Well this sucks.

When some of the parents were reassured that their children were safe, they decided to organize a little search party to try and find the two missing girls. They had to at least pretend they were concerned when all they wanted to do was take their children home and gossip about what happened at the park. To talk about how this little safe haven was now tainted with death. I could feel it in the air. Whichever girl shrieked like that was now dead, leaving behind waves of death energy.

I reached the tree line and spotted Kalen’s tall figure only a couple of feet away. He was looking down, his face blank. His body was still, filled with tension as he examined whatever was on the ground. I approached carefully, not wanting to cause him to erupt with the anger he was trying so hard to hold back.

My eyes traveled down to the ground, finding what had Kalen so stiff and clarifying who I thought made that noise. At his feet was the little girl with brown pigtails—the one who was running away from the other girl who wanted to tickle her. One of the pigtails was still tied up but the other had been pulled out. Her arm was bent at a bad angle, suggesting it was broken, and her mouth was slack. Her eyes were wide with terror, still registering the pain caused by whoever took her life away. Red angry lines dotted her neck and along her cheek. Whoever did this made her suffer first. The child was strangled to death, probably smacked around a little first.

She wasn’t going to screech in laughter any more as she ran away from someone trying to tickle her. She wasn’t going to ever laugh again.

“I should have sensed this.” Kalen’s voice was gruff with his grief. “I know when those things attack humans.”

“Well those things you speak about didn’t do this,” I said. I didn’t like his attitude since I was considered one of those things and so was he. He needed to accept that, though now was probably not the time to point that out. I knew for a fact no beings were in this area. I could feel them, well except for Kalen. For some reason, I just couldn’t sense him when he was nearby. Maybe it had to do with that weird stillness thing he does or maybe because he was created to be my hunter.

He spared me a glance, barely keeping himself together. The air around him thickened with anger. “No human would do this. Look at her!”

I did. I took in her small frame, her delicate bones and the pale white skin. If you took away the horror on her face and the weird position she was sprawled in, you would simply think she was napping or something.

“Humans are capable of doing exactly this.” I kept my voice low. I knew well what humans were capable of doing. “No being did this. If they did, there wouldn’t be a body to find. She wouldn’t even have had a chance to make a noise.”

He fell silent, staring at me, his fists clenched and eyes wide. I looked around wondering where her older sister was. Did she run away or get taken? Was she hiding right now, hoping to evade the horror that took her little sister away? I reached out briefly to see if the other girl was hiding in the woods. I found nothing but critters. The humans were still out in the light, so I couldn’t sense them. The mother was going to be devastated. She came here with two little girls and was most likely going to leave with none.

“I can’t believe those words came out of your mouth,” he whispered, drawing me back to my immediate surroundings.

“What words?” I scrunched up my eyebrows. Had I said something weird?

“That there wouldn’t be a body to find or that she wouldn’t even have had a chance to scream. You said it with the most emptiest face I’ve ever seen. Does this even bother you? She’s just a child.”

“I. Am. Not. Human.” I bit out each word slowly, growing impatient. “You don’t even know me to make a statement like that.”

“Oh, I think I’m learning enough about you. You’re a heartless little brat who only likes to sit on the sidelines while others suffer. This isn’t even bothering you!” He pointed to the body.

You have nothing inside of you. Nothing. You’re just this empty shell, making yourself go through each day simply because you can’t die. That’s no way to live.

I almost growled at him, hating those words. Heartless. What a word. Did he even know how heartless I could really be?

Instead of giving in to my anger, I shrugged. I didn’t even know what should be bothering me. I saw death on a daily basis. Some would even argue that I was on really good terms with Death. I always tell them I met Death before and he was even scarier than me. I have a very short list of those I feared and Death was second to the Consort. The only difference between them was that Death didn’t differentiate who died, nor did he really care how. He just wanted their souls while the Consort aimed at the most creative way to kill their victims.

“We should leave,” I suggested, glancing around. The humans would be here soon.

“I can’t just leave her here. And where is the other one? I thought her sister was with her.”

I risked touching him and tugged on his arm until he looked away from the girl and at me. There was such pain in his eyes—a grief I’ll never fully understand. “Let the police handle the problem. This is between the humans. It has nothing to do with us.”

“It has everything to do with me.”

“Why? Because someone died while you were nearby?”

“Because I could have protected her! Why didn’t I sense this?”

“You can always sense when someone is dying?” I asked.

He shook his head. “Only if a being is the one causing the death.”

That’s a weird prerequisite to have.

“Can I ask what your orders are?” I carefully held back the wave of excitement for the new tidbit of information. Instead I made my expression look impatient. It was easy to do since I didn’t want to be here when those humans finally decided to check this area over.

He paused, taking a deep breath as his mind switched gears. His eyes grew empty as he recited the orders, sounding like a robot. “First and foremost, I need to find a woman and kill her for the wrongs she has done. While looking, if I come across beings who bring injustice to humans, then to end them.”

Just like I thought. He was meant to kill me and it also explained why he was able to find the bloodborn who killed the guy in the alley. He sensed it. And he was probably already in the area because he was honing in on me, even if he still doesn’t realize it. I shook the dread inside of me and pointed to the body, keeping my expression neutral. “She was killed by a human. You know your instincts are telling you this. This wasn’t done by a being. Otherwise you would have known something was wrong before you heard her scream. You would have sensed them.”

He stayed quiet as voices came from the park. They were looking in this area now for the girls. We needed to leave before we got caught and were forced to answer uncomfortable questions.

“Can you trust me enough to understand that staying here right now is not in our best interest?” I asked and grabbed his wrists. My small hands couldn’t even wrap around them properly. He looked down at me and stayed quiet. “If you stay here, you won’t be able to help that other girl. You’ll just be thrown into jail for who knows how long.”

“Fine.” He clenched his teeth and nodded. I shook my head, wondering if he was always going to be so trusting or if he lived long enough, would he grow as uncaring and passive as me.

I hoped not. His passion was part of his charm.

Since I had his permission, I was able to teleport both of us out of the area. I pulled us into a dark shade of a hedge maple, thought of a more peaceful, public area and enjoyed the cold sensation of the shadows as it came alive and wrapped around us. Kalen’s arm jerked uncomfortable with the foreign feeling and then we were weightless, the laws of gravitation not applying to us as we moved.

We stood in the shade of a large tour boat that floated next to a large wooden dock. The boat rocked gently with the waves that sloshed against the dock and left behind small puddles of water at our feet. I had teleported us to the harbor on the south side of the city. New Rheems stood on the other side of the water, all the tall steel buildings acting as a contrast to the rest of the historic city. It was one of the reasons it was called New Rheems instead of North Rheems. The business district has become an imposing force against the old harbor, proof of the future’s encroachment. The harbor itself was filled with life. Large boats made their way in and out, yelling at each other with their horns. Small yellow taxi boats zipped around in the water as people paid for rides across the harbor or for a little tour. A gentle breeze tickled my skin, bringing with it the smell of brine and seaweed.

I brought us here, to a public place, to prevent any fights but there was only us two at the end of the dock. There were others around, just not close enough to keep us in check if we decided to fight. It was all up to Kalen. I knew I wasn’t interested in fighting anymore. I went through a very long phase of fighting and I was done with it now. These days, I only fight to stay alive instead of going out to look for it. I expected them still, I couldn’t help it. There was always a possibility of fighting between any two beings. It could be something as serious as being forced to do it like with Kalen or over the simple fact of looking at someone funny.

There was a very basic rule that most beings followed. If you couldn’t handle yourself, then don’t look them in the eye.

I looked up at Kalen now as he briefly glanced around and took in what I just did. He ignored the charm of the area and focused on me after only a couple seconds.

“Why did we have to run?” he asked. “Why did you bring me with you?”

“I’ve seen it all too many times. A child dead only leads to chaos filled with quick irrational judgments. That group would have seen us and turned into a lynch mob.”

“You could have left me.”

“Probably should have,” I grumbled and then sighed. “I couldn’t risk them hurting or taking you. You have information I want.”

Kalen raised his eyebrows. “Then ask.”

“Do you like McLaren’s Burgers?”

“McLaren’s…What is that?” he asked, completely confused by the question. He was definitely not from this city. Anyone local knew the place.

“A great burger joint. Best burgers in the city.”

“And…you want to go eat some with me?”

“Their fries are good too.”

“A date?” He cocked his eyebrow.

I laughed. “Not in this decade. What about hotdogs? Do you like hotdogs?”

He turned to me, completely suspicious now. Good.

“Do you like to drive? Ride a bike? How about running?”

“Is this an interview?”

“You said ask, so I’m asking.”

“I doubt my personal life is a concern of yours.”

“Really? Are you sure? I’m always interested in how humans like to live.” I smiled.

“Aren’t there more…I don’t know, more important questions to ask?”

“You know, you haven’t answered a single question yet.”

“Maybe because your questions are childish,” he said with a glint in his eyes. He was totally amused now.

“Well, I’m not living a complete lie.” I shrugged and when I moved closer to him, he stepped back. Still so untrusting.

“So is that the kind of information you want? Just some basic, personal bio stuff?”

“Who’s your master?”

His whole body grew still. “From one extreme to the other,” he muttered.

“I like to cover all my bases.”

“I can’t tell you and even if I could, I wouldn’t.”

“Why not? You easily told me what your orders were. I thought that was nice of you by the way. Could’ve just told me to scamper off, instead you answered me seriously. And yet you can’t tell me who put this curse on you? Tell me, maybe I can help you.”

“Look…Darkness, I don’t get what you’re about and even though I’m curious, I don’t have time to find out. I get the sense that you want something from me, but right now I need to find who killed that little girl.”

“I told you, a human did. It has nothing to do with you.”

He stepped towards me, his expression twisted in anger. “It has everything to do with me. That little girl is dead and her sister is missing.”

“Still nothing to do with you. A human killed her. Not a being.”

“A being has to be involved.”

“Why are you so damn determined to blame a being?”

“Because it is! I can feel is.” His anger was barely contained now.

“Instincts?” I asked thoughtfully. “Those have to be some damn good instincts.”

“I’m going to find her and you aren’t going to stop me.”

“Actually, I can and I’m willing. You’ll only get yourself killed and I need you alive for now.”

Kalen pulled out a ten inch silver blade. He pulled it so fast that I ended up missing where it came from. To think he was hiding that on him the entire time gave him brownie points. He was more prepared than I thought.

My eyes trailed along the sharp edge of the blade. Magic dripped off the tip and dissolved into the air. Only a witch could make a blade like that and from the looks of it, it could do some serious damage. The sun glinted off the blade making it reflect the light into my eyes. I blinked against the glare and got ready for a fight. No one but me could see his knife. He faced away from the public’s eye and held it in a way so that only I could see it.

“Is that supposed to scare me?” I asked, unimpressed with his little show. He handled the blade well, moving it about in a graceful way as it sliced through the air.

I’ll slice and dice you until your only one inch squares. I bet you can’t come back from that.

I did. Took a couple of years, but I did.

A blade was just not going to kill me.

“No, it’s supposed to kill you.” His voice wasn’t as completely empty as he wanted it to be and he grimaced, knowing he failed. Ah, he didn’t have the nerve to hurt me. How…different. He fought with himself and the blade disappeared behind his back. His body slowly relaxed as he released a sigh. “I don’t understand what it is about you.”

“I can say the same about you.” The tension I didn’t know I had in my neck and shoulders left. I knew exactly what it was about me.

I was the woman he was supposed to kill if he wanted to release his soul.

I’ve done a lot of bad things that probably pissed off a lot of beings. I could come up with at least twenty beings who wanted me dead and that was only a second’s worth of thinking. I knew there was a reason I kept this form for so long. Otherwise I would be fighting someone off every day.

But with Kalen, there really was something about him I couldn’t understand. Something that sang to me like a calming lullaby, keeping back the rage within me. Around him, I didn’t need to work so hard in controlling it. He was relaxing, whatever that word meant.

A boat horn went off, loud and obnoxious, as the occupants on it cheered, excited to get out to the Atlantic Ocean for a whale watching expedition. Kalen jumped a little at the sudden noise. He blinked and watched the boat as it moved out into the ocean.

“Why here?” Kalen asked, this time looking around carefully. The place really did have its charm. This side of the harbor was older, the history etched in the docks and buildings surrounding the area. Vines were growing alongside the rusty brick buildings and trees larger than those in the park towered around the area in different spots.

“Why not?” I sat down on a nearby wooden bench and just watching the view. Kalen’s backside to be more specific. He was a nice view. I couldn’t even figure out where he was keeping his blade.

He turned and gazed at me for a few moments before shaking his head, perplexed. He always seemed confused about something or another. What went on in that mind of his?

Whatever it was, I was unfamiliar with it, which is saying something. I thought I saw everything I needed to see and Kalen just kept proving me wrong in small ways. He didn’t have the fear or anger that I was used to, making it harder to read him properly. His belief in humans was another amazing trait. He believed so much in those I couldn’t even look at without distaste.

“I have to go. I need to find who killed that girl.”

I resisted the urge to shake him and instead huffed. “Fine. Just don’t get yourself killed yet.”

He smirked, making himself look boyish and nodded. While he made his way down the dock, a group of women stopped and turned to watch as he walked away. Their eyes were definitely on those jeans and how they hugged him perfectly.

By the time he made it near the end of the dock and turned north, I decided to follow him. What better way to find information than to follow the man who has it all? I stayed to the shadows, keeping them tight around me and just followed him around the city.

Chapter Five:

For about two hours, Kalen just wandered the streets in no particular order. He did manage to help in some very weird situations.

He helped a mother with her groceries while she held onto her crying baby to comfort it. She looked so exhausted and tired, but when she smiled in gratitude she was beautiful despite her rundown appearance.

He talked with a fae child and showed the child where his home was. The fae mother was so happy with his help. She treated him to one of those shaved ice-cream cones, except she made it on her own with her powers.

He also talked to humans as if it was the easiest thing for him to do. It probably was too. They told jokes and laughed while slapping each other on the back. To them, he was just one of the guys in a matter of seconds.

You know we aren’t normal. I’m a fire wielding crazy ass elemental fae and you’re…well, you. We don’t get that. We don’t get to be friends with the humans. I’m okay with that though. Are you?

I agreed with Eithna then, but now…not so much. They have this companionship with other humans that I’ll never get to be a part of. They can talk to each other, make plans for the future, and not worry about hidden blades and unknown motives.

Eventually Kalen came to a decent neighborhood, with some graffiti and homeless people, but the streets were clean and people were happily out and about, not worrying about having to be dodgy. He wandered around the neighborhood aimlessly. I was about to just give up and go be productive when he stopped and faced my direction. He squinted his eyes, trying to see. It made his eyes even darker, hidden deep in his face.

“How long are you going to follow me?” he asked, looking in my general spot. He was about ten feet off.

I grinned and stepped out of my little hiding spot, flinging the shadows away so he could see me. “When did you know?”

“When I was helping the fae child.”

“He sensed me, didn’t he?”

He frowned. “Why? Is it so hard to think I was the one who sensed you?”

I grinned. It irked him not being the one to notice I was stalking him. I couldn’t help it, my grin widened. Which irked him even more.

“You’re too human,” I replied.

“What’s wrong with being a human?”

“Nothing,” I smirked. “Just blind and naïve.”

If I had super hearing, I would hear his teeth grinding. He was getting angry or frustrated. I was betting on frustration. He wanted to yell at me and yet I was just a kid and he didn’t want to be seen yelling at a little girl. That was definitely frowned upon among the humans.

“Do you hate humans?” he finally asked.

I cocked my head to the side, thinking of the question. Did I hate humans? At one point it was an easy, automatic yes. But now? I stared at Kalen for a moment and decided to tell him the truth. “I’m more numb to them than anything else. Sometimes they interested me but most of the time I don’t care.”

Something in my voice must have told him how hard it really was for me to admit something like that. His expression softened a little, some of the tension leaving his jaw. He was no longer grinding them together.

“So why are you following me?” he asked.

“Curious, I guess.”

“About what?”

Everything.

I smiled a little, looking around. We were standing next to a little coffee shop, people giving us a wide birth as they walked by. Some of them casted glances at us, curious. Others ignored us the best they could, keeping their eyes focused straight ahead. The rest made use of their little phones. I think they were referred to as smart phones. Some of those devices were definitely smarter than their owners.

“I’m curious about you,” I replied, watching as someone ran towards us, a desperate expression on her face. Kalen had his back to them so he didn’t notice them and no human was in danger so he didn’t sense anything.

Blood stained the woman’s cheek, a bruise was forming around her left eye and her clothes were ripped, blood staining the white shirt and plaid shorts. A boy ran a couple of steps behind her, glancing behind him while pushing the woman forward. And when I say boy, I mean a young adult. I think that’s what they are referred to as now.

The desperation in them was palpable as they ran. Anyone in their way moved to the side to let them pass. None of them did anything to help—even with the three others chasing behind them. Their pursuers were about ten yards behind.

“Troubles a-brewing,” I sang as the woman focused onto Kalen. She knew instantly he was someone who could help. Kalen looked over his shoulder and took in the scene, his body going on alert. Getting ready for business.

“Please, help us,” the woman wheezed when she was a couple of yards away. Her grey eyes were desperate, pleading for Kalen’s help. And I knew without any thinking involved that he would too. I was beginning to learn just who he was exactly. A good guy. A real good guy—the kind that would run into a burning building to risk his life for a child’s cat. His life for a fricken cat. Inconceivable.

I mentally sighed. This was just inconvenient.

Kalen grabbed her right arm and tugged her into the tiny side street we were standing in front of. He didn’t even think about it, just grabbed the woman and herded the two refugees away. I followed behind as they went to the back of the cafe, where there was a small ‘Employees Only’ parking lot with only one car sitting there.

“Please, they want to kill me,” she pleaded.

“They want to sacrifice her in a ritual to get in touch with a very old soul,” the boy wheezed, keeping the woman behind him. He was in his early twenties with moppy black hair and a roundness of the inexperienced.

“You mean let the soul possess her,” I said. “You guys are necromancers.”

“Please. Help us,” she pleaded, ignoring me and trying to appeal to Kalen’s weak side. It worked.

We heard muffled voices, Kalen stiffening up as feet pounded against the asphalt. When they came to where the side road opened up into the small parking lot, they spotted us off to the side. One of them snickered.

“Hiding behind a human?” the man in the lead growled. He wore a big bushy black moustache I wanted to pull off, and his hair was long and scraggly. Hygiene was not his top priority in life.

“Who are you?” Kalen asked, stepping between the woman and her attackers. The boy with her stood beside him, ready to fight for her. I just stood off to the side, watching it all. As long as Kalen didn’t die, I could care less about what happened. He was my ticket to his master.

The guy jerked his head and the fight broke out. No reason to delay the inevitable. Kalen took two of them, including the leader, and the boy took the third one. Kalen moved with deadly expertise, all his punches and kicks hitting his target. He dodged as if dancing and his face was completely blank as he went into his fighting place.

I knew that place intimately. It’s a place where emotions are nonexistence and all that matters is you and your targets. You become numb to any pain, you ignore all distractions as if they weren’t there, and you zone in on your objective. I used to live in that place nearly every day. It can be a very comfortable, safe place.

When fighting among beings, one thing is sure to always happen. Someone brings into the fight their magic. It was the equivalent of bringing a gun to a knife fight. In this case, when the boy was knocked out on the ground, the one he was fighting stopped and knew they were losing. Kalen was a strong foe to deal with. Stubborn too. He had one guy down on the ground and the other barely on his feet.

The man looked at Kalen and made a quick decision. I was the distraction he needed to force Kalen out of his fighting place. His lips moved soundlessly. The air grew cold and I could feel a wind as it blew around the alley. Except it wasn’t a wind. They were souls. The bastard was going to use souls to try and harm me. Not that it would…but still. It was going to hurt like a mo-fo.

Ha, ha. Mo-fo. That one always makes me smile.

Oh right, souls. Mind back on track. Check.

Kalen noticed the change in the air too because before I knew it, he was between me and the man casting the little spell.

“Move!” I yelled, already too late.

Three things happened at once. The man threw a blade at the same time as when he let go of the spell, sending thousands of whispering souls straight towards us, and I misted in front of Kalen, taken the brunt of the spell and the impact of the blade. My body moved on its own, knowing the spell could potentially kill Kalen and I couldn’t let that happen just yet.

The spell sent me backwards, into Kalen’s arms. All my senses went on the fritz, blinking in and out. I knew Kalen yelled my name. I knew a woman screamed. And someone died. I just didn’t hear or see any of it. My body went cold, filling to the top with thousands of screaming torturous souls. Each one of them begging for salvation and crying out in vain.

Save us.

Help me.

Save us. Help me. Save us. Help me. Save us. Help me.

Save us. Save us. Save us.

Help us.

Their begging drowned me. A part of me wanted to reach out and help them. Instead I found my inner strength and pulled at it, tugging as the souls tried to tear it away from me.

No. I won’t do it. I refuse.

I screamed, not out of pain, but out of anger. This was my body. There was no room for them.

None.

It took a good amount of power. I collected it all within me, and then used it to push all those damned souls out.

They put themselves in that situation, doing things in life and being punished for it afterwards. They had no right to take their suffering out on me. I have my own suffering to deal with. Who knows, maybe one day I’ll be just like them.

Just not today.

I felt each soul leave from every pore in my body as I casted them out. It was like forcing them through a pasta machine. Slowly, my senses cleared up enough to know I was on the ground and Kalen was above me, shirtless.

Nice.

“Where’s your shirt?” I coughed, hacking out another soul, distracted by all the hard ridges of his body. I followed them from his collarbone, down the defined lines to his abs and then to his hips. All the delicious looking muscles were bunched together as he leaned over me. He didn’t even know the kind of affect he was having on me. I was still a woman after all. He was so damn oblivious.

Blood was splattered on his shoulders, slowly dripping down his chest. I checked again. No wounds. Good.

“Stopping the bleeding.”

I tore my eyes from his chest to look at his face. He was in freak-out mode. His face pale, eyes big and mouth tight. Why?

I tried to sit up, only to be pushed down again.

“Stay down,” he growled and put more pressure on my stomach. I looked down and realized he thought I was going to bleed out or something. He was genuinely scared for me. I stared at him, trying to figure out why. Where was his foundation for this fear?

I finally gave him a genuine smile, the muscles around my mouth confused at the new way it was being used. “No worries, doc. I’ll be fine.” I grabbed his arm and tried to get him to move, but he wouldn’t budge. The wound didn’t even hurt. I healed fast, faster than most beings. It made that simple knife useless. There was no way it was even going to put my life in jeopardy. To a human, this wound was on par with being just a scratch, maybe a really bad paper cut. Definitely not life threatening.

“You were stabbed, you’re not fine.”

“Kalen.” My voice was cold now. If he didn’t move his shirt, it was going to become part of my body. The last thing I wanted was to walk around with part of a shirt embedded inside of me. “Move your hand.”

He glanced at me before looking back at where the wound was. Slowly he drew his hand away, taking his blood-soaked shirt with him. The shirt even made a sloshing wet noise. Ick.

Kalen drew in a breath. “Wha-how?”

“I’m not human, remember?” I said, feeling tired. Kicking out all those souls took a whole lot of power and now I was using the rest to heal myself. “I’m harder to kill than even you.”

Kalen was speechless, not sure how to react. I just stood up, looking around the alley. Two men laid dead on the ground, the third was gone. Their boss-man was not one of the guys on the ground, meaning more would probably attack later on, after regrouping and a little more planning than just chasing them through the crowded streets of Rheems.

The woman was checking on her little savior.

“Chris,” she said, patting his face lightly.

“Tracy? Are you okay?” The boy, Chris, sat up with alarm, taking in the scene. Tracy let out a small sob as she wrapped her arms around him, so relieved that he was okay.

“Where’s the boss-man-dude?” I asked, looking at Kalen.

He stood up slowly, leaving the shirt on the ground. I reached out to the shadows and called to them. They responded, going towards the shirt, wrapping itself around it. I pictured my small apartment and in moments the shirt was gone. So was any blood that was staining the asphalt.

“What did you do?” Kalen asked, watching me carefully, as if I might all of a sudden turn into a raging beast. Did that little move scare him? I frowned a little.

“A lot can be done to a person with just their blood,” I said simply and asked again. “Where is the guy who was in charge?”

I jerked my heads towards the dead bodies.

“He got away.”

I cocked my eyebrow. “And how exactly did he get away?”

His voice was angry when he responded. “You were on the ground bleeding. What else was I supposed to do? I picked you over him.”

Me over him?

My face scrunched up a little. “I don’t understand.”

“You were on the ground, bleeding. I decided your life was more important, so he got away when I decided to help you instead,” Kalen talked even slower and louder.

“I’m not deaf, Kalen! I just don’t understand. You should’ve chased him,” I snapped at him.

“When someone generally sees a child on the ground, bleeding from their stomach, they usually pick them over chasing the bad guy.”

“I’m not a child.”

“Apparently,” Kalen snapped right back at me. After a moment he sighed and went to rub at his face and stopped just as his fingers were about to touch his skin. He jerked his hands away and wiped at his jeans, trying to get the blood off him, like it was going to burn him or something.

I took in a deep breath and let out the tension in my body. It was best to dwell on what he was saying later on. I came before someone else? I shook my head. No. Just no. It never happens.

I brought the shadows over and let them crawl all over Kalen who just stiffened. When they fell away, my blood was off of him.

“I’m serious about the blood,” I said. He just kept quiet.

Chris and Tracy were back on their feet, watching us carefully. Chris stared at me, pondering over some thought he just couldn’t quite put together.

“Thank you so much for helping us,” Tracy said, looking over at Chris fondly. “We should probably get out of here.”

So that’s how it was. I smiled a little. They were all lovey-dovey with each other and Chris couldn’t let her be used like that. She would have been fine—eventually.

“I should walk you back, in case anyone else comes,” Kalen said, being the gentleman that he was.

Tracy seemed just as surprised with his attitude as I was. There just weren’t many true gentlemen around anymore. “Are you sure?” she asked, probably trying to decide if she should be suspicious or not.

“It’s no problem,” he replied, smiling. It was a soft, open smile and transformed his entire face, making him less predatory.

Chris jerked back, finally becoming very alert. “I know you,” he said, swallowing. He pulled his precious Tracy behind him.

“Know who?” Tracy asked.

He pointed at me. “Her.”

“I know me too.” I smiled up at him.

“You’re Darkness.”

I curtsied, lifting up my dress a little. “The one and only.”

Tracy looked between us, confused. Chris looked at Kalen then back at me, his eyes dropping down to where I was stabbed. My poor dress was definitely ruined. It was one of my favorites too.

“The rumors about you have to be true.”

“Then it makes it easier,” I smiled, showing my teeth. When I spoke again, I weaved in the threatening tone with a hint of magic to drive it home. “Kalen is under my protection.” The air around us shifted, accepting my official words.

Chris stepped back, looking at Kalen again for a moment, swallowing again.

“Under protection?” Kalen sputtered. “I don’t need someone to protect me.”

I turned to him. “You have no idea what you’re saying.”

Protection from a being meant any threats to those they were protecting go to the being instead. I pretty much claimed Kalen, telling Chris that if any harm came to him, I was hunting his ass down and destroying it. When I’m done, there will be nothing left of his ass to hand back over to him.

“He doesn’t want your protection,” Chris pointed out. I rolled my eyes.

Men—stubborn mules to the max.

“I could care less what he wants. If any harm comes to him, consider yourself dead.” I smiled, making myself look just like a child. It had the affect I wanted. Chris swallowed, paled, and was ready to make a run for his life.

“Darkness! Enough,” Kalen growled. I just stared at Chris, smiling.

“I understand,” Chris finally said.

“As long as we are on the same page.” I turned to Kalen. “I have shit to do. Don’t get yourself killed.”

He glared at me, angry. I shrugged.

He was in a new world. He was going to be used, no doubt about it. Looking at Chris, I couldn’t help but think he was the one who was going to be doing the using if Kalen didn’t toughen up soon. Necromancers were never up to any good.

I watched as the shadows engulfed Darkness. She was still smiling at Chris, her blue eyes cold enough that even polar bears wouldn’t be able to withstand her stare. When she disappeared it was as if my body wanted to go back out into the city and keep looking for something.

What was it about her? She wasn’t Akhlys. She was just a child, a little girl. Nothing like the being my master wanted me to find.

“Do you know what she is?” Chris asked and I turned to him with a frown.

“I think I’m beginning to figure it out.”

Chris shook his head. “It’s better to just avoid her, save yourself the trouble.”

“Why? Who is she?”

Chris shrugged and pulled Tracy into his arms. Tracy looked at me with such sad grey eyes that I wanted to ask her what was wrong. I bit my tongue and followed as we made our way back down the side street, getting back to where people were.

“Where do you live?” I asked them.

“Not far from here,” Tracy replied with a small voice. She looked exhausted, and definitely still scared. I didn’t blame her.

We walked in silence for a few minutes. I kept my eyes on our surroundings, taking in the small hotdog and ice-cream vendors, the families on their way towards some touristy attraction. I picked out each homeless man, assessing their risk and finding them lacking. Nothing dangerous stood out and I couldn’t sense anything.

“She’s Darkness,” Tracy finally spoke as she stopped and turned around at some apartment complex. It was a small one, about three stories, newly built with a doorman and bushes planted around the front. “She showed up a couple of months ago and within three days, everyone knew to stay away from her. She keeps to herself so there isn’t much anyone knows about her. Some have tried to look into her past and found nothing. It’s as if she just came into existence three months ago.”

“Why does everyone stay away from her?” I asked, my interest now peaked.

“She made Vernon disappear. He’s a powerful bison-shifter. When she first went to Baron’s Tavern, he decided to pick on her and then the next day, no one could find him. Still can’t. We all know she did it.”

“Did anyone actually ask her if she did it?”

“No.” Tracy shook her head.

“Then you can’t possible know she did, right?”

Tracy looked at Chris and he frowned. She looked back at me, her eyes unblinking. She was so deeply rooted in her belief that Darkness did something to this Vernon she mentioned. “She did it.”

I sighed and looked away, tired now.

“Just stay away from her. It’s the best advice we can give you. She’s bad news, man. Bad news,” Chris spoke up, his voice going all dramatic.

“I’m not going to condemn her just because of rumors.”

“Just know that these rumors will keep you alive.”

I nodded, not so much as in agreement, but more like an acknowledgement.

They really didn’t believe I was agreeing with them, but they didn’t press the issue.

Chris let go of Tracy’s hand and stepped forward.

“Listen. How about we get Tracy settled into a hotel and then I’ll help you with something. I need to return the favor. You saved us back there.”

“Are you sure?” I asked.

“Yeah, I’m sure. Besides, I’ve lived here for a few years. I’m sure there’s something I can help you with.”

I nodded. This could work. He could probably point me in the right direction at least. I know a being was involved with that little girl’s death at the park. I just didn’t know how to start looking. My gut was telling me I was right with these thoughts.

Now if it would just tell me where Akhlys was. Then I could be free from these shackles around my soul. I could feel their bite on my skin, their weight holding me down.

Akhlys.

Where are you? Who are you?

Chapter 6:

I needed information and what better person to go see than a being just as powerful as I am in my real form. He made it a business to always know what was going on in the world. Unfortunately, said powerful being was Kay and could be real jerk when he wanted to be. But he would know Kalen’s master. He knew everyone. Of course he only worked at night to cater to all beings for his little underground business, so today was as good as a time as any to visit.

The hotel he owned was officially closed—no naïve little humans around. Or gluttonous little beings who Kay would never grace with his presence. Unofficially, Kay was meeting with some of his special guests, probably to plan for the annual tournament that was going to take place next week. I got an invitation for it over a month ago and sent it right back to him the second I got it.

I tried to get excited about going to see him. I just couldn’t. Not when he was the reason I was branded. It was just a little grudge against him. I swear. Something I’ll get over…just not today or in the next thousand years or so.

It really didn’t help that the Consort even had the nerve to banish me from parts of Europe in an attempt to stop the rumors that were spreading around. Since I have yet to be back to Norway since the banishment, I should only be a legend now, passed down through stories around the campfire or to make children behave. That was a bit of an insult. I never touched children and Kay was the one to make them sick in that village. I still resent him for the whole incident. I liked Norway.

So yeah…just a little grudge.

When night fell, I went directly to Lord Kay’s little business in the middle of the red light district. They called it Salacity Hotel. It was the place to go if you were a powerful being. And it was the perfect place for those that longed for anything and everything, from more power, to prestige, to passion, and hunger. The clients hang out, get the latest gossip and feast on whatever their hearts desired. The location made it rather easy for hookers, drug addicts, and homeless people to disappear for those who wanted some fine dining. The area was nearly forgotten by the police. They only ever swing by when they wanted information from one of their snitches. Even then, their visits were only minutes long and they turned a blind eye to everything they saw. They wouldn’t want to disappear like the other do-gooder cops.

The building itself was dark and cold, and not for the weak. At least for beings, it wasn’t for the weak. Humans just didn’t know better to realize the risk they take every time they step into the building. The restaurant-slash-hotel acted as a cover for the underground tournaments Kay loves to put on. The underground arenas were available only for the chosen few to go and place bets on specially chosen fighters. I went down there once out of curiosity and hated it. The place reeked of death, blood and magic, and while there were shadows to play with in every corner, there was nothing fun down there for me.

I get my kicks out of many things, but fighting for money was not one of them. If I was to hate a deadly sin the most, it would be greed, and the place was filled with nothing but it.

Half the occupants that usually occupied the restaurant part of the hotel were greedy little shits hoping to get the invite to go beyond the door with the ‘No Admittance’ sign on it. The door led down to an entire underground area as big as a football stadium and set up with an arena in the middle, surrounded with seating for the clients, and lockers, and sparring rooms hidden in the back. Think coliseum underground.

There were even living quarters down there for the teams when tournaments were going on and they had to stay in them for a couple of days. I stared at the door that led down to the dark arena stained with blood and thought how I never wanted to go back down there again. The upcoming tournament was going to start soon and I wanted to be out of the city before then. With the way things were going, that wasn’t going to happen. I had my priorities and life preservation triumphed avoiding annoying beings every time. I’ll just have to stay away.

The other half of the clients who frequently visited were usually naïve humans making use of the dining experience before they take their companions up to one of the rooms. They really could not read the atmosphere in the place. It was dark and so they thought it was romantic, it was always busy and so they thought it was popular and good. They didn’t know the darkness hid the real purpose of the place or that the other half the occupants weren’t even human and just wanted to suck up to the most important person in the city—Lord Kay.

Sadly, Kay was as greedy as they came and for some unknown creepy reason, he adored me. He was small, looking more like a college kid who hasn’t had time to grow into his frame, and yet also a man who should be modeling the clothes he always manages to make so sexy and enticing. He was the kind of man that attracted both young woman and the crazy teen fan girls, or the couple of cougars who couldn’t keep their hands to themselves. He prided himself in making use of everyone, including those old kooks.

There was always a light glaze of silver covering his entire body that acted as a barrier against any magic. Silver has always been a favorite when it came to magic manipulation and Kay would be considered the most talented in the entire east coast. I’ve seen him completely covered in the silver glaze only a hand full of times, today was not one of them. They were more like swirls that moved along his body. Yes, they were moving. Soft waves rippling across his skin. Humans couldn’t see the markings, or if they somehow could, they would just think it was really intricate body art.

Kay didn’t fear me like other beings—he was too powerful to feel the kind of fear I instilled in others. Tonight, his two lackeys of the month sat next to him, kissing his butt to stay in favor. I approached them slowly, taking in the surroundings. The place was empty except for them. They whispered to each other, Kay facing the entrance with the other two flanking him. They sat on an elevated stage, looking just like a real lord surrounded by his two favorite vassals. The only lighting was by the candelabra on the table in front of them and another in the corner of the stage. Kay was old fashioned, really old fashioned. You know: dungeons, torches, chains, whips, and horses.

One of his lackeys was a Fae. Fae have two forms, their real form and the human one they used in this realm to blend in. Just like me in a way. If someone was powerful enough, they could see the Fae as they really were. The fact that his two forms were overlapping each other only showed that we were probably on par power-wise. I would have to try harder to see his true form clearly. From what I could see though, his skin was alabaster white with thin dark blue hair that shimmered with his human light brown curls. His eyes were big, blue and vast, and tiny blue lips hid behind his human lips that were still small, just longer. He reminded me of a frost giant and I wouldn’t be surprised if he was a descendant.

The other one was a plump warlock who tried to hide in the shadows. The man was short, his presence not important. He didn’t even leave an impression. He didn’t seem that powerful. The only thing interesting about him was the gleam in his dark eyes. He had some serious secrets and knowledge in them. It was tempting to try to dig inside of him and see what I could find. Lucky for him, I was more interested in the Fae Kay was keeping around.

When they noticed my approach, Kay beamed with delight while the other two glanced around, making sure it really was me. Their expressions looked like I forced a lemon down their throat.

“Ah, Darkness! Welcome back to my humble abode.” He stood up and I braced myself for his affections. He lifted me up like a parent would his child. I kept myself as relaxed as possible, refusing to let him know how much I didn’t like his touch. He knew I didn’t like it; which was why he did it. It was his way of showing his disapproval of my form.

I don’t like this, Akhlys. You’re running away by doing this.

Then let me. Just for a little while. I need this, Kay. Please, help me.

Ugh. Every time I see him I’m reminded of memories I’m still not ready to unbury. I stared into those hazel eyes and wondered why he even helped me create this form. He was never really clear about it.

Kay’s body dripped magic just like Kalen’s blade did. The affects of the excess magic turned his body into a furnace. His very touch could burn someone if they angered him enough. Right now his touch was similar to simmering water as he spun me around.

He finally put me down, laughing and taking a good look at me. The other two were standing up respectfully. The Fae stood to his right, his eyes frosty blue. The impression his eyes gave me was the kind of ice that didn’t melt unless he wanted it too. It was a little enchanting. Usually people like to make references to warm summer skies when someone has blue eyes like his, but there was no warmth in them. It made me wonder if his eyes were always like that or was it just me.

I stared at the fae curiously as Kay settled back into his chair. The being was taller than Kay but he stood in a submissive manner, his shoulders slumped and head tilted respectfully with his eyes downcast. The other lackey just kept himself in the background, definitely being shady and skittish, but still respectful to Kay.

Everyone was respectful to him. Even after he killed hundreds simply for wanting to test out some kind of Fae-enchanted ring he took from a child. Humans took candy from children, Kay took heirlooms.

“Lord Kay, care to introduce me to your companions?” I asked.

“Of course, this is Frey.” He pointed to the Fae and I smiled. Frey winced, not looking happy at all at being introduced to me.

Kay nodded towards the other man. I retracted the shadows he kept himself in and his eyes bugged out in response. “This shy little fellow is Devon. He just moved into the city.” Kay frowned at him before turning back to me.

“Now that the pleasantries are over, why, my dear, are you here?” Kay asked, relaxing into his throne-like chair made of all kinds of minerals and gems. He once told me the chair helped him with his magic, and after watching it absorb an attack by a vicious witch and sending the spell back to her, I believed him. Everyone learned quickly not to mess with Kay when he sat in his chair.

I looked at the three beings and wondered if one of them was the master of the slauve, and if so, who? Kay didn’t have the right kind of power, his was too based on using the magic around him and the spell required the use of the power within the being. The Fae could probably do it. Even the loc, he had the right kind of magic too.

“Someone managed to make a slauve. I’m just wondering who.”

Kay cocked his eyebrow and started tapping his armchair. “Ah, your curiosity at work again. Careful, you know it could get you killed someday.”

He patted his knee and I grimaced.

“You’re kidding right?” I asked.

“No,” he replied. “You came to me in such an adorable form. Come here. Let me hold a form so precious.”

I ignored him and pulled out a chair, setting it down a couple of feet from him, refusing to crawl into his lap. The chair was as close to the edge of the stage as I could get without falling off and making a fool out of myself. He hated that I made myself into a child and liked to treat me like one as a form of punishment. Sitting in his lap was a punishment meant to embarrass me. And it would too. He knew my reasons, even respected them. It didn’t mean he had to like it.

He sighed. “When will you move on and stop holding yourself back. Your real human form is glorious.”

“But not as glorious as my true form, right?”

“Nothing can ever compare to your true form. When will you let me finally see it?” His words came out wishful, his eyes a little distant as he tried to picture it. Tried being the keyword. No one but El knew my true form and I was keeping it that way.

This was becoming a pattern. I come to see him and he tries to get me to show my true form and I have to turn him down. My true form was up there with nuclear explosions. I came close once, but then El came and fixed it. He taught me ways to express myself, outlets to stay away from that spiraling madness. I like to think the Consort only sent him because they felt guilty for branding me and wanted to give me another chance before they were forced to kill me. I stubbornly accepted it, not wanting to look a gifted horse in the mouth.

“How about when the world ends?”

The delight in his expression melted away to a more serious expression.

“Don’t you miss it? All that power available to you to use again. Don’t you miss being who you were meant to be?” His words were seductive, like one of those billboards trying to sell a new perfume. I could feel my mind wander off into who I used to be. My powers were something to be feared and it used to be exhilarating to use them. I couldn’t do half of what I did in my natural human form. Just using the shadows to transport around could be tiring. Let alone, whole armies like during the Viking Age.

Ah, the good old ancient days. I smiled a little.

“You know I miss being who I really am. But this is who I need to be right now.”

“Someday, Darkness.” He raised his hand and a young man materialized with a tray of refreshments. After Kay got his drink, a thick blue slosh in a martini glass, the man disappeared. I had to wait patiently while he took a drink. If I showed any impatience, he would only drag out the motion.

When he finished, he leaned back with his eyes closed and minutes painfully ticked by before he opened them.

“A slauve, huh? And his existence important enough to grab your attention and change your rather recent sloth-like state.” When I met Kay hundreds of years ago, we went on little expeditions, causing trouble everywhere we went. How I am now makes me look like a saint compared to what I was.

“What would a slauve want with you?” Frey spoke up. Kay glared at him, not happy at being interrupted.

“Did I say he wants me? He’s just something interesting. It takes a lot of juice to make one of him.”

“Well you should probably avoid the slauve. Who knows what he will do.” Frey kept talking, ignoring Kay’s glare.

“Doesn’t that make him all the more interesting? I mean, come on. A slauve, out killing beings to protect humans,” I grinned. I glanced at Devon. He looked like he wanted to say something. “Do you want to contribute something to this interesting conversation?” I asked, staring right at him. He stayed quiet, looking down at the ground. “What? He doesn’t have much to say, does he?”

“Maybe he just has nothing to say to you,” Frey said, jumping in to protect the loc.

“Unlike you, apparently,” I muttered.

“I just like to make myself clear with others.”

I snorted. “Oh, I’m aware you don’t like me much. But you also fear me, so your attitude is moot.”

“There is no way a child like you will ever scare me,” he argued.

“I’m well acquainted with fear…in all its forms.” I stared at him, my eyes narrowed as I scanned his body. “I can feel your heart pound against your chest. Bravado is attached to your fear. Maybe you should keep that in check before it gets you killed.”

He snickered in disbelief. “You’re incapable of killing me.”

“You want to bet on that?” I challenged, preparing myself. If he pounced, I was ready.

After a few moments of an intense staring competition, he looked away, making me the victor. Kay laughed, clapping his hands excitedly. “Ah, Darkness, you still haven’t lost your touch.” Frey scowled, apparently not happy to be the butt of the joke. Kay chuckled again. “Enough, Frey. Not many can scare her, not anymore.”

I laughed and shook my head. “No, not many can scare me, especially a slauve.”

“Why are you really interested in the slauve?” Kay asked, trying to get us back on topic. I gave him a small sheepish smile. I almost forgot why I was here.

“I told you, I’m just interested in who had the balls and juice to create a slauve.”

Frey went to say something, but Kay lifted his hand as a warning. The look in his eyes told me he wasn’t fooled with my reasoning. If his lackeys weren’t around, he would try to force me to tell him everything. He was powerful enough to do it too, and it would end in only pain and misery for the both of us—if neither of us died.

What was the new term humans used these days, frenemies? Yeah, me and Kay were frenemies. Sometimes we loved to hate each other and it made for good competition. Way back when, we were both real competitive asshats.

Instead of trying to push the topic further, he said, “I wonder if Death is going to come. Having a slauve around is sure to attract him.”

“Do you know who his master is?” I tried asking again, not wanting to go down that route either. I have no intention of ever talking to Death again. He was a pompous know-it-all.

“No. This is the first I’m hearing about him. Seems my informants are starting to slack.” He glared at the shy loc who pressed himself into the chair and tried to disappear.

“Kay, if there was a slauve around, we would know. Making one is no small feat.” Frey jumped in.

“Enough, Frey. Darkness isn’t dumb, she knows a slauve when she sees one,” Kay snapped at him, his patience at a wits end. The temperature in the room increased with Kay’s anger. Frey closed his mouth into a thin line, and looked down at the ground, sweat forming on his forehead.

Ah, Kay cared, he really cared. I mentally rolled my eyes. Kay’s only real concern was power, anything else was disposable. “Did you go see Seeker?”

“I did. He went into a coma before I could finish talking to him.”

He nodded and tapped his fingers thoughtfully against the table for a few seconds.

“Since it’s you asking, I’ll point you to a very special woman. Not many know about her talents and I know you will continue to keep that number low.”

I nodded, understanding the threat.

“There is a seer you can go visit, living on the east side of the city. She likes to keep her life normal, but for some, she is willing to use her gift. I’ll send word to her. She’ll do it if I call. Don’t bother visiting until after the sun goes down, she’s a graduate student.”

“You her pimp?”

He smirked and shrugged. “Who knows?” He wrote down an address on a napkin and handed it to me.

“If you speak of her to anyone else, I’ll know.”

“Yes, sir,” I mockingly said with military flare.

Chapter Seven:

Not wasting any time, I headed to Kay’s precious seer’s home right after leaving his. The address Kay coughed up led me to a middle-high class area where all the street lights worked, and cop cars were passing by every fifteen minutes. Even the streets were clean, lacking the smell of old garbage and unwashed bodies. The neighborhood felt safe enough that women walked the streets alone, a jogger even passed by while listening to music and kids played in a small parking lot with a basketball net. The lot was well lit with more lights since the sun was down.

I strolled by the kids and turned into an alley that cut through the block to the other side, where the seer lived. The alley was spotless too. Lights everywhere and not a single piece of trash on the ground. The area had some very garbage-conscious tenants. An old fire escape came down the side of the building and when I passed it, a hooded figure dropped down.

The man grunted as he stayed kneeling on a leg, his hand holding his side.

“How the hell did you find me?” I asked, recognizing the hunched figure as Kalen. I did not need this right now, not when I was only a block away from the seer’s home. I glanced to the end of the alley wishing he wasn’t here. Not right now. “Can’t I have a night without you ruining it?”

“Darkness?” He stood up slowly, and the hood fell back to reveal a battered face. A breath escaped through my teeth, making a hissing noise. He looked horrible. His nose was broken, covering his lower face with blood. His left eye was swollen shut and a cut near his eyebrow was still bleeding. He looked like hell and from his slightly bent posture and rasping breath, hurt even more.

“Hell hounds, what the hell?” I basically swore.

“Hell hounds? Are those real?”

“Yes, and if you see one, then you’re already dead,” I responded. I reached up and touched his cool face. Images flashed through my mind. “I see,” I mumbled, my blood boiling. Someone was going to die.

“Huh?”

“That damn necromancer. I told you they were bad news. You should have stayed away.”

“It wasn’t his fault.”

“If that were true, he wouldn’t have left you surrounded by more of them.”

Kalen shook his head. “He was helping me. We got Tracy to a hotel and then we went to speak to some beings. On my way to see another necromancer, Tracy called Chris and he went to her. Apparently, without a necromancer, other necromancers are more inclined to redecorate your face,” he said and winced when something in him hurt.

“No duh. And didn’t I warn you that necromancers are no good. Stay the hell away from them!”

His eyebrows furrowed. “No, you never said anything.”

“Well, I thought it and that is what really matters. For future reference, necromancers are bad news.”

“Funny. They said the same thing about you.”

“Heh.”

His voice grew even more serious. “They know the woman I need to find. I know they do.”

“Whatever.” As long as he wasn’t dead, I guess. Side note: Talk with Chris. I take my threats seriously and Kalen was hurt. “Do you even know where you are?”

“No.” He looked around, completely dazed and confused. His pupils were dilated, the ring of brown nearly gone. The man was really pushing himself. He should be passed out somewhere. He really had no clue to how he got here. His body went into autopilot and went where it wanted to be most—in front of the being he wanted to kill the most.

“The east end of the city, a place someone looking like you shouldn’t be. If you were spotted, you would have been locked up just on principal.” If his face wasn’t so eff’d up, I would think he was blushing—always so quick to be embarrassed.

Kalen stayed silent and I grew impatient. I could just leave him here, in an area where he would only end up arrested in a matter of minutes. If only I could. The last place I needed him to be was in jail. It didn’t help he was appealing to my nicer instincts. I didn’t even know what to call these feelings.

Motherly? Sisterly?

Naw.

I didn’t do any kind of relationship like that. Not since Eithna and looked where that ended.

Empathy?

I smiled, thinking about the word. El would finally be proud of me if I was empathizing with anyone. He would probably get a kick out it being with someone who wanted me dead.

His unfocused eyes turned to mine and blinked a couple of times.

“Who are you really? You have to be more than what you appear.”

My heart skipped a beat and I couldn’t really figure out why. Why did the idea of this man figuring me out scare me? I could take him. I knew I could. And yet looking at him, I was…comfortable. I didn’t want to lose that. There weren’t even a handful of beings I could say I’m ‘comfortable’ being around. Which brought me to the bigger question.

Who here could possible know the version of me he was looking for? I haven’t been in that form for nearly two hundred years and I’ve only been in town for a few months. Lord Kay was the only one to know my real form and he was a little more face-to-face when it came down to revenge. Lord Kay would want to make sure his target was dead. He would want to feel their life force leave, revel in their blood, laugh at their fate. Not Kalen’s master. He was a schemer, hiding in the background pulling on strings.

“I’ll figure you out, it’s only a matter of time.”

I gave him a wicked smile. “Go for it. I know beings who have wasted their entire lives trying to figure me out. So is all this excess pain worth it? Did you find your child-killer?”

He shook his head. “I’m close, Darkness. I know I can find him.” His teeth clenched. “I’m close. A being is behind that girl’s death. I know it. The necromancers I managed to talk to said there were other children missing too. But just like you, they are staying out of it. Why is that? I’m so close.”

Why was he repeating that. Yeah, okay, he was close. I got that.

Wait. Wasn’t that a sign of a concussion? Shit. He had a concussion, didn’t he?

I sighed and answered at least one of his questions. “We are in a large city. People go missing all the time.”

He shook his head. “But it’s the same as at the park! An older sibling taken, the younger one dead. And my gut is telling me it’s a being. I know I’m right on this.” His eyes unfocused once again. “I’m so close.”

“No, you don’t know anything. You just want it to be one of us because you can’t accept a human killing a child.” I grabbed onto his arm and tugged him deeper into the shadows and out of sight of any potential onlookers. “I told you, stay alive. Just don’t get yourself killed. And look what happens in the same day. You’re nearly dead.”

He yanked out of my grip. The movement almost gave him a personal meeting with the ground. He steadied himself. “I’ll be fine. I just need some sleep, and then I’ll be as good as new.”

“So you can…what exactly? Charge off into the unknown again? Go get killed?”

“Why do you care so much?” he asked, staring right at me again.

“Like I said, you have information I want.”

“Bullshit, there is something else.”

He was right, but I wasn’t going to admit it. Kalen wasn’t human anymore, but he held on to his humanity with a stubborn fist and he wasn’t willing to let go. Being with him made me want to help him hold on to it.

“It doesn’t matter. We both have our own agendas, let us just leave it at that. Do you want a place to rest?”

He looked around briefly. “No, it’s fine. I’ll just find some place to bunk in.”

“So that while you heal, someone can kill you? I don’t think so.” I grabbed onto him and he stilled, looking down at me with those depthless brown eyes. I blinked up at him and waited until he finally nodded, so I transported us to my apartment, using the shadows.

When we landed, he stumbled a bit, almost bringing me down with him.

“Sorry,” he mumbled.

I steadied him as best as I could. It was awkward, him being around six feet tall and me a measly four and a half. I helped him gracelessly to the couch in my apartment. I shoved the couch into one of the corners of the room. The other corner held my twin-size bed. I would put him in the bed, but truthfully, it was my bed. And it was small, maybe less room than the couch. He flopped down and leaned back, his eyes closed.

My apartment was small, really small with my living room and bedroom sharing the same space. The lack of material possessions gave the place the impression of being bigger. There was nothing here but a twin size bed, a small couch and one shelf filled with photography books. The books were the only hint into my life; it was the only part of me I allowed to exist. Each book was filled with photos taken from all over the world, ranging from nature to families to famine and war.

They acted as a reminder about life, a reminder I always used when I started to fall apart. El suggested it and the collection grew. The older photos were paintings and drawings, but after technology advanced enough, my collection of photos started. Once in a while, I get a package from El with more to add. I have yet to figure out how he always knows where I am. I like to move around just as much as he does.

Next to the stack was a small kit of medical supplies. Kay left it here the last time he dragged one of his buddies to my apartment to fix him up. Apparently my apartment was closer than his place from wherever they were.

I grabbed it and stood in front of Kalen. His head was tilted back with an arm draping over his face. Bruising grew on his neck, revealing imprints of a rather large hand. I gently put my hand against the imprint to measure the size. He went up against a giant, not a necromancer. What magical human had hands that big? I gently grabbed his arm and lowered it so I could see the damage.

We may be really hard to kill, even next to impossible for some of us, but we can still hurt, get infections, diseases, and colds. Though colds only amount to a couple of sneezes and then all done. Our chances of recovering from them ranged from seconds to only a matter of days, depending on the being and the extent of damage. And some exceptions can take years to heal, like fifty years. Or more. HIV and AIDS, psh, no problem. Gone in only a couple of weeks. I didn’t know how it worked for a slauve, if he could get infections or how quickly he healed, so I cleaned up his wounds. I was methodical and careful—hell, I even apologized when I accidentally bumped his nose while cleaning the cut near his eyebrow. His nose bled again so I shoved a cloth up it so he didn’t bleed all over. He didn’t heal nearly as fast as I did or he had a whole lot of internal damage if his nose was a faucet. We healed the worse wounds first.

“I’m surprised,” he finally spoke, his voice nasally because of the cloth over his nose. It was already soaked with blood. I smiled. Nasally voices are always funny to listen to. Coming from him, even more so. He was a big guy after all.

“Why?” I asked carefully, trying to focus on bandaging his cut rather than the heat his body radiated. He gave off a comfortable heat. My smile faded away as words from Mother Moon came to mind.

Find someone, Nyx. Someone to keep you warm and be there when you need them the most. You’ll know when it’s them because they will be the ones to always come back for you. And when you do, don’t let them go. I let mine go and I regret it every day.

Mother Moon was a wise woman. I met her when I was known as Nyx, Greek goddess of the night. Yeah, they turned me into a goddess at one point. We met in my pre-Akhlys days. I was okay back then, still believed in humans and kindness and all those sappy emotions. She grounded me, kept me sane. I just couldn’t believe in what she told me half the time. Finding someone meant for me just wasn’t possible. There was no one out there meant for me. No one.

Kalen tried to shrug and stopped himself. Instead, he raised his free hand and grabbed one of my blonde curls, rubbing it between his thumb and index finger. My heart jumped a couple of beats in response to his tender touch.

“What do you really look like?” he asked, his words slurring. His body was going into a coma-like sleep to allow everything to heal. In a few more moments he was going to be out like a light for at least a couple of hours.

“You’ll probably never find out,” I replied. Not if I could prevent it.

When I went to step away, his arm shot out and he grabbed mine too tightly. It was going to leave a bruise against my pale skin. I yanked, but he held on firmly. I glanced at him, wondering what he was thinking about. His eyes were closed, but he whispered, “Who are you, Darkness?”

“No one,” I replied simply and managed to get loose. I moved him carefully until he was on his back, stretched out as best as I could get him. It was a small couch after all. His long legs had to dangle off the edge and his head leaned against the armrest on the other side. It would have to do. I took the afghan off of my bed, and covered him.

Look at me, tucking a slauve into bed. Made me wonder what El would say. He would definitely smile, maybe even pat me on the back, and then reward me by sending me out to do his damn errands.

I stared down at Kalen. He was a mystery to me. Even without the orders of his master, he was filled with justice. In right and wrong. Too bad he didn’t understand how bad I was—what I’ve done in my past.

Chapter Eight:

A loud thump roused me from my sleep. I glanced over to find Kalen gone from the couch. Not bothering to move, I closed my eyes, wishing for just another hour of sleep and knowing it just wasn’t meant to be. Yesterday kicked my ass and I still haven’t fully recharged. My fault, I guess. I should have just went to bed when Kalen passed out.

A soft swearing brought my attention to the doorway.

So noisy.

Kalen stood there, trying to put on his jacket and wincing at the movements. He looked a little tired, tense around the edges, but better. Determination was carved in the frown of his face and in every movement he made. He was a man on a mission. Probably had plans to get into more trouble.

Speaking of trouble, what has he been doing?

Especially if he was getting his face pounded in to the extent of last night. I could only hope he didn’t make it a habit, otherwise I was going to have to murder me some bitches.

I smiled a little. I never thought I would use that phrase. I overheard it last week when a teen wanted to get revenge on some ‘gals’ that beat the shit out of her friend. It was a good phrase.

Early morning light peeked through the blinds of my window. After Kalen passed out last night, I wandered the city, only returning a couple of hours ago after finding nothing of interest out on the streets. Usually I only needed a couple hours of sleep. Not today though. Just one more hour would be nice, maybe two.

Damn it all for being a light sleeper.

When Kalen managed to get his jacket on, he slipped out the door, closing it softly behind him and leaving me alone in my small home. At least he was kind enough to put away the medical kit and fold the afghan, leaving it folded on the couch.

I got up, feeling semi-refreshed and stretched out as I walked over to the kitchen window. Kalen appeared outside a moment later, pulling his jacket tight against him and putting the hood up as a shield against the winds. He turned north on the sidewalk and disappeared around the corner.

I should have killed him last night. It was the perfect chance as he lay defenseless. So why didn’t I? I even stood over him for half an hour, just staring at him, trying to figure him out. Trying to even get the blood thirst to do it. It never came. I couldn’t kill him. I even mentally came up with a damn pros list in doing it, though there is usually a con’s list that’s supposed to go along with it. The pros definitely outweighed the cons. But I didn’t do it. I didn’t kill him.

I should have. I so should have done it.

Then I wouldn’t have to worry about him figuring me out. When I came back last night and watched as he slept defensively in my apartment, he brought back memories. Memories of my mentor and his strong principles.

Back when I was going by Akhlys and still in Europe while the Middle Ages were in the late stages, El had brought me to a small town where humans worked hard for every piece of food they had. It was a period where lords still existed but were diminishing as towns popped up everywhere and grew. One of the houses was on the outskirts of a town, very decrepit and lonely. We stood in the shadows as we watched through an uncommonly large window as a family settled down for the night.

The air was clear, pollution having yet to touch the world. It’s amazing how the smell and taste of the air changed so much through the years and especially through the Industrial Revolution. But back then, every breath was like breathing in a whole new life. It was completely clean, no pollutants. The leaves were falling as winter crept up on everyone. Life and death were in the air—the life of the animals as they scurried around, preparing for winter and the death of the leaves and trees as they lost the battle to stay blossomed.

Farmlands were already being harvested, fields growing empty as the crops were taken. The sun was low on the horizon with only a couple of birds dotting the sky. The temperature was dropping. Wisps of my breath could be seen as I exhaled.

“Why are we here?” I had asked, in the common French language of that time period. I knew countless languages, both ancient and new. I had to, living for so damn long.

El looked at me, his greyish-blue eyes cold and calculating. They were the kind of eyes that still came up out of the depths of my memories in moments when he would reprimand me, reminding me who I was and what I should and shouldn’t do. I still didn’t always listen to him, even though his memory has become my subconscious’ figurehead.

“Just watch them, Melaena,” he replied, using a latin name for dark. He was the only one to call me this and somehow it became a pet name of sorts.

And so I watched.

The family was typical enough: a couple with a son and a whole lot of despair around them rooted to losing loved ones, probably children. This particular village had been hit hard with the Bubonic plague, especially the young. From the atmosphere and pain in this family, they were no exception. Looking at the father, I thought the other children were probably lucky, but I knew better to not say it out loud. The remaining family shirked away from the man. He sat at the head of the table while the mother filled their plates with vegetables, bread and whatever meat they were able to scrounge up from hunting, maybe a rabbit.

The son was only about seven years old and he sat meekly next to his father, staring intently at his plate. The mother moved around cautiously, trying to do her duty as a wife while also seemingly wanting to disappear. Fear permeated the air. The mother and son feared their father.

I cocked my head as I watched silently. The lighting wasn’t good in the house; they had one candle burning at the table and the fireplace kept only a small fire, just enough to keep the biting of the cold at bay.

The father tore a piece of bread apart and started eating it, glaring at his wife. She finally sat down and they ate quietly. It had to be one of the most awkward and silent family dinners I’ve ever seen. And fastest. The food was there, then it was gone.

When they finished, the wife cleared away the plates, nervously tugging on the end of her dirty blonde hair and glancing at her husband and child. She was preparing herself for something that was about to happen, as if whatever it was, was becoming a sort of routine for her.

“Where’s my mead?” the husband asked loud enough to be heard from where we stood watching. The wife mumbled something about not having any and the man’s face twisted in rage.

I stiffened as his rage washed over me. I even stopped breathing for a moment. It called to me, taunted me with its sweet and bitter aroma. It was sweet in its possibility but so bitter from its source. I answered that call as I gave in to temptation. The shadows in the room grew dark and daunting, the fire from the hearth dimmed. The wife paled and flinched, the son sat still with his hands in his lap and his head bowed down. He knew the routine, he knew he was trapped between his parents with nowhere to run.

Even though I was the one darkening their room, the son and mother probably chalked it up to their fear that pounded against their chest and their overactive imagination. Well, in this case it wasn’t too overactive.

They knew what was coming, knew already how it felt, how their skin would split open for blood to escape, how bones may break or splinter from too much strain and how they may, finally, not be able to come back from the rage that controlled the one man who was supposed to protect them.

I smiled, tasting their fear and enjoying the flavor.

The father grew angrier and stood up abruptly, sending his chair tumbling into the wall. The son stayed completely still and refused to move even a muscle, hoping to stay out of his father’s line of sight. The mother backed away as he approached her.

El shuffled next to me, his whole body rigid as he watched. When I glanced at him, I was expecting him to be watching the scene unfold inside. Instead he was watching me.

Something in his expression caused my chest to clench. I didn’t like the look, but I was a fighter. I wasn’t going to let El get into my head and make me feel emotions I tossed away long ago. He wanted me to feel compassion for the wife and son. I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t even feel the guilt I knew he wanted me to feel. It just wasn’t there.

I turned back to the family, ignoring him, and watched as the man beat his wife to near death. She was cowering on the floor, sobbing and begging for forgiveness as the husband hit her over and over again. All she did was cower and apologize. My nose wrinkled at her weakness. She acted as if the lack of mead was her fault when he was the man of the house. He was the one who was supposed to put food on the table, not her. I did give her credit for at least trying to protect her son from those sharp fists. She kept her husband’s focus on her instead of the child.

The man mounted his wife and grabbed her head, smashing it once, twice, against the floor. She stopped moving after the second time. The husband leaned back, his chest heaving as he just sat there on his wife’s chest, staring down at her. The woman was barely alive. I used the shadows to reach out and feel the pulse against her neck. It was there, weak and fading. If she didn’t get help, she would die.

The man stood slowly, the pulsating anger still in him. He cursed fluently enough that even my ears burned. The boy’s ears must have also burned because he finally made a noise and whimpered.

Damn, he was doing so good staying quiet too. Through the whole ordeal, the boy huddled in a dark corner of the room, wrapping his small, boney arms around his legs, keeping his face tucked into his knees. Knowing his mistake, the boy unfurled and prepared to make a dash for an escape as his father slowly turned to face his son.

I reached out again and tasted the anger, not liking the new flavor. It was a different kind of anger, leaving a sour bitterness on my tongue. He was blaming the son for something, probably everything.

“Look what you made me do?” he yelled.

Seriously? He was going to blame his son for beating his wife to death. I shook my head, growing disgusted with the whole situation. Why was El showing this to me?

The son scrambled out of the corner, trying to get away. In seconds, the father caught him and held him against the wall. His small feet kicked around a little as he scratched at his father’s hairy arms to get free. It was all pointless.

I didn’t want to watch, I just wanted to walk away. It was something I’ve seen enough times. I didn’t need to add to my repertoire of abusive people taking their anger out on children.

El had different plans.

The door burst opened before I even had a chance to realize he had reached his boiling point. By the time I walked to the door, El had the man up against the wall. The boy was on the ground, coughing and crawling towards his mother, crying out for her.

El’s rage was really something. My mentor came from the battlefields. He had fought for whichever side he thought deserved his services and could pay enough. His appearance was that of a middle-aged Swiss man with light brown hair with grey streaks, slanted greyish blue eyes, and a defined jaw line with high cheekbones. He used to be mercenary to the core. Now he just did whatever the hell he wanted. I always got the feeling he was trying to make up for what he did during the wars. Why else would he lug around medicine to hand out to the humans in need.

The man saw El, tried to fight, and failed miserably. El’s experience became useful when he moved swiftly and with great aim. The man threw punches that relied on power rather than speed and El had more than enough time to dodge and throw in his own punches. I waited for him to use a spell or something, but he didn’t. He just kept throwing punches that hit the man in the guts, face, or chest, with only a couple kicks thrown in there. El danced around the man like a pro, taking every opening he had to inflict pain. The man charged at El and he responded by moving to the side and then shoving him against the wall.

“You don’t have the right to be a husband or a father, not even a man,” El snarled and tossed his opponent through the window we were peeking through. Since glass was too expensive then, there was nothing to stop him from landing on the grass outside. He stood up and took off without looking back.

What a great guy.

I should probably just end his miserable life and do everyone a favor.

El went for help, leaving me with the two. I simply stood there awkwardly and watched them as the boy tried to wake up his mother, crying. There was nothing I could do anyways. El eventually returned with others behind him and stepped aside as they attended to the family. We slipped out, El bruising my arm with his death grip, while no one was looking. We made our way back to the cabin we’ve been using, El leading the way. Eventually he let go of my arm and I rubbed it as the pain already disappeared along with the bruising.

The walk was quiet and intense. Neither of us was willing to say anything. I had nothing to say and he appeared too mad to say anything. When we found the path to our little cabin and turned to walk on it, he finally spoke.

“You felt nothing?” he asked, his body language neutral. Only his eyes showed the depth of his anger, even disappointment. I stayed quiet as I climbed over a fallen tree.

“What should I have felt?” I finally asked. His lessons could be tiring if not annoying. We had already been together for a couple of months and I was envisioning leaving him. I used to think there was nothing he could teach me, not when I was older than him. I believed I understood life a whole lot better than he did. It took me years to realize how wrong I was. He understood so much more than me, probably still does. To his credit he remembers being a human once, before he was killed and by fate’s magic, became something else. I’m still not even sure what that something else is.

Me? I never got the displeasure of being a human.

“Anger, disgust, anything negative?” The small cabin came into sight. I picked up speed wanting to get away from this conversation. He easily kept pace. “Did you?

I shrugged. “I’ve seen worse—a man beating his family is a common occurrence.”

“It isn’t nothing when he hurts those around him, especially family.” He sighed. “Melaena, we are powerful, similar to lords. We have a duty—”

“To protect the weak. I know this already. You tell me nearly twice a day.” At least lords got homage for their protection. We were lucky if we could even find a warm meal in any given day.

“And yet it isn’t getting through to you,” he snapped. “You have more power than most beings and so this applies to you especially. You fed those negative emotions. And don’t think I didn’t notice. Why? Why did you do that to him? To that family? You made the entire situation worse.”

“It’s what I do. It’s what I’ve always done.”

El rubbed at his face, trying to wipe away his wariness. I was his most challenging student. The Consort had sent him to me to see if I was salvageable before they came to destroy me, and El was the one who was going to try and ‘salvage’ me. I was getting to a point where nothing but other’s suffering mattered anymore. If El hadn’t come for another couple of days, the Consort would have had no other choice but to kill me, if they could. We all knew they couldn’t but they would do far worse than death. They said I was too valuable to lock up and torture forever and ever but they would if they had too.

When he first found me, I was laughing while a group of men were sprawled around me, their senses lost, and with only the nightmares in their heads to keep them company. I was releasing so much power that I sucked out all the warmth in a three mile radius, freezing to death anything that lived. Even now, the area was still a dead zone and became one of the wonders of the world. Scientists strived to solve the mystery of the area. Life just refuses to take root there. El told me all this in his latest mail. He even sent me pictures of the area to remind me to be careful. As if I could forget what I’m capable of doing.

Back then it took El two days to convince me to release those men from their personal hell. I wasn’t impressed with him since the Consort sent him and I already despised them for branding me. By the time he finally got me to release them, I had already grown tired with the game and didn’t care anymore. Afterwards, he just followed me around and hindered anything I did.

And then he was expecting me to take action for the sake of the very humans who made me who I am. I failed his little test with the father, stopping him never even crossed my mind.

“That isn’t who you are. You forget; I can see more of you than you think. I probably know you better than you do yourself. I know there was a part of you that wanted to stop him. It’s a really small piece of who you are and probably the only part of you left that cares more than you want to. Try listening to it next time.”

“Why should I? Why should I help those who only fear me?”

“They’re scared of you because they don’t know any better. Prove them wrong.”

“But they are right.”

“No, they aren’t,” he replied.

I looked into his eyes and saw so much pain, pain I didn’t understand then and pain I still don’t understand now. It was raw enough that I had to look away. The rest of the walk was quiet. The critters scurried away in the dark, staying completely hidden but on my radar as they put distance between me and them. When we reached the cabin, we entered quietly. I threw my cloak onto the kitchen table and sat down on the couch.

I watched as El neatly hung up his coat and started to slowly pack up. We never stayed in one spot too long. El said there were lessons to be learned in every part of the world. I, of course, didn’t agree. The same things happened everywhere. Pain and suffering was a universal epidemic.

“Why didn’t you use any of your powers to fight that man?”

He glanced over at me as he stuffed some items into his satchel. “He’s only human.”

“So?” I said, not getting his point. “It would have been faster to just cast a spell.”

“I already know I’m powerful. I don’t need to prove it by cursing someone a lot weaker than me.”

I shrugged. “He’s only going to go back and abuse his family again.”

“You don’t know that.”

“I do,” I replied. “They always come back.”

“Then her family will protect her.”

I shook my head, wondering where all his hope for mankind came from.

In everyone’s eyes, El was an affable medicine man. He only ever showed them that side of him. Never the ruthlessness, the emptiness he sometimes felt. He was a good man. I could admit that, even now.

“No. Not when having even one extra mouth could be the difference between starvation and survival, let alone two,” I explained.

“You seem so sure.”

“So do you. It’s amazing how you’re supposed to be an enlightener and yet you’re so optimistic about humans.” Enlighteners were those who mentored other beings, helping them learn about themselves and how to control their powers. El was supposed to be one of the best. I believed it. I was still with him after all.

He turned to me, his expression dark. Tonight was just full of disappointments for him. “Humans are more resilient than you think.”

“And yet they die so easily. I mean, come on. They can die from the sniffles.”

His blue-grey eyes narrowed, turning greyer as he figured something out. “Is that one of the reasons you can’t stand them? Because they die too easily?”

“I can’t stand them because they can’t stand me,” I said without flinching. His words had hit too close to home and I refused to let him know how close. There have been humans I liked enough to care a little bit about. Then they died because they were just too damn weak.

“What about Mother Moon?” he asked.

I jumped up to my feet in a fit of anger. The air around us darkened, a small metaphysical wind moving around the room, whipping my hair around my face.

“Mother Moon has nothing to do with why I can’t stand humans.”

It was his turn to shrug. He definitely saw what I was thinking. At least he didn’t say anything more. He continued to pack up and I didn’t bother helping.

El and Kalen.

The only two men who I could tolerate and may even like, and it was for the same reason—they weren’t so quick to fear me or use me. They were both upfront with me, not afraid to say what they thought. Lord Kay used me. Eithna too.

I shook my head, shaking out of the memories of my past and changed into a simple dress with sandals. It was time to go out into the city. See what I could learn today. Maybe even find this unidentified master who wanted me dead.

Chapter 9:

The clouds were rumbling by the time evening came. I stood on top of a large rock and looked out into the ocean. The outskirts of the city had some beaches and I was at a smaller, more private one that was surrounded with cliffs and large rocks.

Seagulls took to the sky and flew away to find shelter from the impending storm. Their shrill squawks acted as a warning of the coming thunderstorm and the crashing of the waves supported their claims. Everything was screaming out, warning everyone that a very violent storm was brewing.

I could feel the hum of my body as it prepared to respond to the storm with excitement. My power wanted to open its arms wide for it. I love storms. The anticipation was worse than having ants crawl underneath my skin.

I laughed, thinking of something some painter said so long ago. Apparently it was a popular quote now. I took in a deep breath, spread out my arms and let out the familiar words.

“‘The fishermen know that the sea is dangerous and the storm terrible, but they have never found these dangers sufficient reason for remaining ashore.’” The wind snatched my words up to join in with the whirlwind of the coming storm. I sighed and spun around briefly with my arms out, closing my eyes and just letting time slow down for a moment. The cool air brushed against my skin. The oceanic smells surrounded me, bringing me to a new height of freedom.

Nothing mattered. Nothing.

It was just me, being me. Enjoying myself.

Eventually I had to ground myself back to reality. I took in a deep breath and opened my eyes, taking in my surroundings before I left. If only things were as easy as closing your eyes and picturing a different reality.

Laughing interrupted my ‘me time’ and I turned to look to see who was braving the weather this late evening.

A large group of teens must have agreed with the fisherman quote because they were out and about, making use of the storm and the deserted beach for partying and drinking. A couple of them were passing around joints while others ran around, tackling each other. There were eight of them, all of them naïve to who were with them. Predators had managed to mix in with their group, three to be exact—one woman and two men.

They blended in, looking the same age and acting just as foolish as the rest. The only difference was the gleam in their eyes and the hunger almost consuming their minds. I could touch that hunger, make it devour more than just their minds. Then they would just become raving, unable to control themselves as they shredded their victims apart.

I did that once. Made the demons raving enough to tear apart the attendees at a wedding reception. The bride barely made it out alive, the groom not so lucky. They got what was coming to them, hunting beings and getting too close to me.

I jumped down from the rock and strolled around, keeping myself hidden. My sandals were in my hands as I walked in the sand, enjoying the feel of the sand between my toes. I paused and wiggled my feet until the sand went up to my ankles, burying my feet. I smiled, wiggling my toes.

I jumped up on top of the sand and started walking again, keeping one eye on the kids fool around, my smile turning predatory. There was no one around to see it anyways.

The storm made it easier, its dark clouds casting the entire area in shadows with its gloominess. All I did was wrap them around myself so that when they glanced in my direction, all they would see was a shadow just slightly darker than the other ones around it, not the little girl hiding in it. Since they weren’t used to looking for danger around them, they would only see it as such. The demons hidden among them were too consumed with their goals to even give me a second glance or to even notice my presence. They were starving.

The kids kept messing around as time slowly passed. They never noticed their day growing darker, and not only because of the setting sun. If these kids wanted to play with demons, who was I to stop them? With my powers even the patrol car driving by didn’t see them. I watched the taillights of the patrol car, waiting for it to realize what was going on and make a screeching turn. It didn’t.

As the hunted grew inebriated, the hunters grew more excited. I had other plans, so I about to leave to give them their privacy. I had a seer to go talk to.

I just made it off the beach and onto the sidewalk when I spotted Kalen down a ways, looking at the kids or trying to. He could probably barely make out their figures, the darkness making it hard. He knew what to look for though, so there was no hiding them completely from him.

Kalen scanned the beach, looking for a source, his instinct telling him something was up. Chris stepped up to him and said something. Just seeing him, I knew he was up to no good. Maybe I’ll have to remind him, give him a fright, especially since Kalen was hurt badly last night.

Kalen responded to whatever Chris said by shaking his head. When he turned towards me, his whole body went still. He said something to Chris before walking towards me, the other trailing behind, keeping a safe distance away. Oh, Chris knew he was in trouble.

I inwardly sighed as I stopped and watched them approach me. The stubborn man should just listen to me and stay the hell away from Chris.

When Kalen got close enough, I could see his face more clearly. It was mostly healed now, with only faint bruises left behind.

“What are you doing here?” I frowned.

“Undo what you just did.” He ignored my words and got down to business.

“Are you following me around? Because I’m sure you have better things to do than stalk a little girl around a city,” I snarled.

The man was a honing missile, showing up everywhere I went. It was beyond annoying and counterproductive. With him looking over my shoulder and watching everything I do, I couldn’t exactly go talk to the seer. Lord Kay would blow a casket if someone found out about the girl, especially someone who only represented danger.

And that was exactly what Kalen represented, no matter how nice and helpful he was. He was made to butt into other’s business. I mean look at the facts. He already got his ass handed to him last night. Don’t forget I’m another kind of danger too. Kalen needs to kill me if he wants to be truly free—if he can even do it. I’ve yet to find the solution to my immortality. Maybe he knew something I didn’t.

I let myself ponder that question for all of two seconds.

So not going in that direction.

He glowered and shook his head. “I was nearby when I felt your powers.” He nodded towards the direction he came from. Standing a safe distance behind Kalen was the tall, lanky boy. A small amount of power hung around him and it tasted of recent death. He really, really, wasn’t the best company to keep, but who was I to throw stones? Neither was I.

“Why is Chris with you?” I threw the stone anyways.

“He’s helping me with finding the children.” Kalen shook his head. “That isn’t what I’m here about. Darkness, this isn’t right. Don’t hide those kids.”

“Hanging out with a necromancer will get you killed,” I warned him again, ignoring his words.

I stared at Chris, the warning in my eyes. I will destroy you in ways you can’t even imagine. He already got hurt once under your watch.

Any beings with age knew what necromancers were capable of, what they’ve done. And looking at Chris, I could see some of that darkness, that corruption. They were considered the trash of the supernatural world. They deal with the dead on all kinds of different levels. People thought warlocks and necromancers were the same. They weren’t. A necromancer created zombies, played with souls and ghosts, and a really powerful one could even control a bloodborn since they were technically undead. Wars were started because a couple of necromancers made an army out of a bunch of bloodborns. All they had to do was summon the other half of their soul and the bloodsuckers were theirs. Nothing in their history smelled like fresh roses. Just blood, death, and decay. And they were definitely not like warlocks. Locs didn’t deal with the undead; they dealt with demons and black magic. The closest they got to the undead was with sacrifices. The two were apples and oranges, really.

I stared at Chris with all the knowledge of his kind’s history in my eyes. I wasn’t messing around and he needed to know that. He got the message, paling. He ran his hand through his moppy black hair and took a step back, looking towards the kids on the beach.

“Hey, Chris, how’d you let Kalen get hurt?”

His attention went right back to me. He swallowed and almost looked away again. He wanted to. “I didn’t let him do anything. I had to go see Tracy.” The man was lying through his perfectly straight teeth.

“Kalen still got hurt. I warned you.” I stepped towards him and he stepped back. I whirled my finger in a circle briefly, directing the shadows that wrapped around his feet, up his body and ending around his neck. I made sure the shadows were a little snug around the neck to.

“Darkness!” Kalen growled.

I ignored him and got close to Chris. “You may use whatever excuse you want in the world. The fact of the matter is, Kalen got hurt while you should have protected him.” The shadows squeezed a little more, making sure my point got across. Chris’s face was nearly turning purple. I stepped back and recalled the shadows.

Kalen stepped between us and shoved me back a couple of steps. His face twisted with anger. I had to school out the murderous look on my face.

“He’s innocent. Did you even hear me?” Kalen didn’t miss the look. I didn’t care.

Playing nice was not something I needed to do. I warned Chris. He didn’t listen. It was in my right to kill him and boy did I want to. Kalen’s face was rearranged because he was going to meet with necromancers that Chris set him up with. It was Chris’s responsibility to take care of him and he didn’t do his job.

If Kalen wasn’t around, Chris would be dead.

“Yeah, I heard you. You want me to release those kids. I just know you’re wrong about Chris and that is where you aren’t listening to me. So why should I listen to you? Necromancers are scum, the lot of them. They’ll do what they want, when they want. And he isn’t innocent. You’ll stop saying that when he makes the undead drag you down to hell.”

“Enough! I’m not here to talk about the necromancer who is risking himself to help me. I’m here because you’re about to get those teenagers killed. Let. Them. Go. Don’t hide them.”

I narrowed my eyes and raised my chin. “What are you, my conscious? Why should I? They are the ones asking for it.”

“They don’t know any better. They’re just kids.”

“Kids who are old enough to know better.” This is why I hated humans. They were so damn blind to their surroundings. I mean, come on? How hard is it to spot a fucking being who wanted to munch on you for dinner? Just by looking at the demons, it was easy to see who they were. Their masks were already starting to slip away as they prepared to start their meal. A human’s instinct was laughable.

“Please, Darkness. It isn’t too late. A patrol car will pass by in a couple of minutes to stop the party. All you have to do is let them be seen.” Kalen was borderline begging now, determined to save those kids.

“Or what? You’ll try to kill me?” I asked.

“If I have to.” And that was a truth. He was desperate.

“I dare you to try. Or, if you’re so desperate in stopping those demons, why don’t you just go and do it yourself? Then we wouldn’t need to have this argument.”

“Because this way is less dramatic. No need to fight and scar their minds with violence like that when you can simply lift the veil. Then the cops would stop the party and the demons will be forced to back down.”

He really did remind me of El. Both of them didn’t like showing power when there was another, less flashy option.

“No. I won’t do it.” I stepped back and lifted up my arms in a wide shrug. “This is who I am, what I do.”

“This isn’t you.” He shook his head, his brown eyes darker with his stubbornness.

I laughed. “And you know me from three encounters in a span of a couple of days? How would you know this isn’t me? Why is it that it’s only you who can’t see me as I really am? Is it because I look like a child?”

“It has nothing to do with how you look. I see it in everything you do. You go to places like that park or the harbor—where it’s beautiful. You can’t go to places like that then tell me you are emotionless and uncaring.”

“There was nothing beautiful about that alley.”

“No, not the alley, but the view on top of that building was breathtaking. You’re always in places like that, aren’t you? When you’re there, even your eyes brighten up. At the park, the harbor, maybe even on top of that building, there was something…happy…in your eyes.”

“I’m Darkness, my eyes don’t brighten up from anything.”

“No, not now they don’t. Why is that?”

“Why not? I can’t let everything get to me. Otherwise I won’t survive, emotions will only tear me apart and I can’t afford that.” How the hell did he so easily take charge in the conversation, steering it where he wanted it to go. It was time to get my control back.

“Emotions are what keep us human.”

I let out a bark of harsh laughter. I couldn’t help it—those words were ridiculous. “Human? You should know by now that you aren’t human anymore. Letting human emotions run you will only destroy you.”

“And you would know?” he asked, flinching. My words hit just the right spot.

“Yeah, I would.” I looked away, back towards the beach. Before I grew so jaded, before my first meeting with the Consort or with El or even with Eithna, I allowed myself to feel things. But when humans keep turning their backs on you, it begins to hurt. When you’re new to life and don’t understand anything, it begins to hurt beyond any physical pain to be turned away and denied by humans. The pain settles inside of you and becomes chronic. Being burnt alive or skinned by humans can really shape who you become.

“Then I’m right. You aren’t this.”

“You seem to have it all figured out then, just from a couple of meetings, huh? Fine, how about I show you my bad side? The dark side you seem to not be able to accept. I’m capable of far more than what I just did. Everyone but you knows exactly what I’m capable of.”

“Well they’re wrong!” he snapped and stared at me. I flinched but didn’t look away. I couldn’t. His eyes were capturing me. They bore through me, to my own soul—if I even had one—and I swear he could see what only El was able to see. That little bit of me I have yet to destroy. The little bit I don’t even acknowledge but couldn’t get rid of. “They aren’t right about you. You’re more than what they see and you should know this.”

“Do you see how much more I can be?” I asked, referring to the woman he needs to find. He looked at me confused for a second.

The headlights of the next patrol car fell to the shadows of the beach as it approach from around the bend. I glanced back at the beach, at the kids laughing and messing around as the demons were about to pounce.

“Shit,” I sighed and waved my hands, basically blowing away the darkness. The veil covering them lifted. “Happy now?”

“Yeah, I’m happy now.” He broke out in a smile I’ve never seen before. It curved and softened the angry lines around his mouth and warmed the cold, dark eyes. It brought blood to the surface of my face and for once, I blushed. I never blush. Never. But that warm smile did it for me. I couldn’t even imagine what he saw in my expression in that moment.

Did a soft pink crawl up into my cheeks? Were my eyes as wide as they felt by the shock he gave me? I must have been a sight apparently. He stared at me and his smile widened even more. My face grew hotter.

“You’re going to regret not killing me,” I said simply, my voice quiet. Any fight in me was taken away by that damn smile. How was he able to affect me so easily?

“You haven’t done anything warranting your death.”

“You’ve only known me for a couple of days, Kalen. Keep it up and you’ll finally see me for who I really am.”

I stomped away, leaving Kalen behind to enjoy that smile on his face. A smile that wouldn’t exist if he even knew who I was and what I’ve done in the past. Let him play detective with his little necromancer friend. After he learned the truth, that humans are capable of killing children, then that self righteous smile will be wiped from his face. Then he can focus more on finding the real me and realizing who exactly I am.

And I can end this charade.

My chest tightened with unfamiliar discomfort but I pushed forward, not looking back.

I watched as Darkness walked away and eventually melted into the darkness. Part of me wanted to follow her, to learn more about her. There was something there. When I first spotted her on the beach, I was confused. I thought I felt Akhlys. Instead I found Darkness.

Were my senses out of control? I keep getting a sense of Akhlys out there in the city, somewhere. And then when I get closer, I lose that feeling. I needed to find her. To end this.

I squeezed at my chest, hearing the clanking in my ears though there were no physical chains around. It was all in me. Metaphysical chains holding me back.

It was painful. Constant.

I sighed and turned back to Chris. “Are you okay?”

He nodded, rubbing at his neck.

“Listen, Kalen,” Chris said, shuffling around on his feet. “I feel bad leaving you, especially since I know you’re getting closer to knowing who are taking those kids, but I need to get back to Tracy. I need to get her out of the city soon.”

I nodded, still looking in the direction Darkness went. “No, I understand. Go help her.”

Chris hesitated before jerking his head. “If I can, I’ll come back. Just remember the meeting with the loc is tomorrow night. Truthfully I’m still suspicious. He seemed a little too willing to talk.”

“Is it suspicious because you’re with me or because of me?” I asked, thinking about the distrust Darkness seemed to really have for necromancers. What was in their history? I knew so little about them. I knew so little about everything, in fact. Every choice I made always seemed wrong.

Chris ran his hand through his hair and sighed. “Probably because of me. Like what Darkness was saying, we don’t exactly have a clean history. But then again, I don’t think anyone has a clean one. Especially Darkness.”

“It doesn’t matter. Go to your girlfriend. Take care of her. I’ll take care of myself and I’ll go see the loc tomorrow.”

“Just be careful.”

Chapter 10

I hated seers more than seekers. A lot more. They played with fate, gave out information that was probably better left alone. While seekers gain knowledge in the here and now, seers looked at the future and what can be, will be, or will never be. Asking one to do the other’s job just made them grumpy and maybe a little entertaining—as long as they didn’t go into a long rant about the differences between the two.

I grinded my teeth as I glared at the door. I really did not like seers. Their possibilities aren’t always right.

If it were, then Eithna wouldn’t be dead. She would still be alive and well, probably a lot more powerful than she was. Instead, when it mattered the most, she changed her so-called fate by talking to me. She told me about it once, how she helped an old seer and was repaid with a free reading. She was supposed to stay in Europe and find happiness through some little fae boy who needed a mother. She threw that possibility out the window by inviting me to America with her. Then a different outcome became reality. She was killed.

It was tempting to just walk away. I was already standing here for a few minutes, glaring at the door, hoping it would implode on itself along with the entire apartment. The last seer I talked to was an old lady with pure white hair, sun-stained skin, and beady black eyes. I paid her a visit after Eithna died because she was the one who gave the reading to her. The old seer told me something I didn’t like, and I had hurt her in a fit of rage. It was a turning point for me in a way. It was where my decision to look like a child began to take form.

She died because she met you. It is as simple as that. You killed her.

Fuck you too, old hag.

Ugh, I really did not want to talk to a seer. I can always just say screw it and leave. Just disappear. I didn’t have any attachment to this city.

Kalen, dumbass. Don’t forget about Kalen.

I almost growled.

Was this visit going to be similar? Was something about me going to change again? I didn’t take well to changes, but I really needed to know who Kalen’s master was if I want to survive.

When I knocked on the seer’s door, a small woman answered. She was only a couple of inches taller than me, but her short shorts and tank top were what ensured no one would mistake her for a child.

“Yes?” she asked, pushing up her glasses and looking me over quickly.

“I’m Darkness.”

Her eyes widened. I just waited for her mind to work through my appearance. She swallowed nervously and stepped back to let me into her apartment. Her door opened right into a living room filled with knickknacks and books. The apartment was easily twice the size of mine. Her coffee table was covered in papers and textbooks with complicated science lingo I couldn’t even pronounce. Music played softly in the background—country music to be specific. That was different. Kids her age were more into techno music and the clubs catered to their interests with the hour-long songs and epileptic strobe lights.

I was kind of surprised by this. Kay was besotted with a college student. From the looks of it, he was also supporting her. No other way she could afford to live here. This area was for the middle-class snobs who were doing really well. It was the first step into getting in with the rich. It wasn’t a place a college student could afford without help.

I wandered around the living room, looking at her bookshelves burdened by all her textbooks. Her walls were decorated with photos, some of them scenery, others inspirational, but most of family and friends.

A photo of her and Kay attracted my attention. It was a standard amateur photo of the two of them at a concert, his arm around her shoulders and hers around his small waist. He looked at the camera with a small smile, looking like a normal college boy. She was looking up at him, pure lust naked in her eyes.

Was this why he threatened me? They had an intimate relationship and Kay was being protective of his little seer. Looking at her and at the picture, I just couldn’t believe their relationship was platonic. Lord Kay didn’t do platonic when the woman was someone as young and beautiful as she was.

I knew this as a fact since him and me were two beings of the same coin. We thought the same, acted the same, and we both reveled in the chaos we created. I could think just like him if I wanted to. Not that I wanted to, at all. I just knew enough to know his relationship with this woman was definitely not platonic. I was a hundred and ten percent sure. And from this picture, I’d guess they’ve been together for at least a year now.

“Kay is really something, isn’t he?” she asked, standing just behind me. There was pride in her voice. I turned to her and gave her a weak smile. I wanted to ask her how much she really knew about the man, but held my tongue. It wasn’t my place to meddle.

“Yeah, he really is,” I replied, not sure what kind of reaction she wanted. “How did you guys meet?” When in doubt, just get them to talk about themselves.

Even though I could feel her nervous energy as it washed over me, her eyes lit up. “At a specialties shop actually. I was looking for something to help with my divinations. I was listening to my iPod, rocking out to Chuck Berry and singing off key. Kay was there to pick up something he ordered and when he realized what song I was singing, he approached me. Our relationship took off from there.”

“Chuck Berry, huh?” I trailed off. I have no clue who the guy was. “Is that a country singer?”

“Huh?” She waved her hand. “Oh my God. No. I only listen to country when I study, helps me focus for some reason.” She shrugged, sounding just like a twenty-something. Of course she was trying to fake normalcy around me. It just wasn’t working. I could see the shaking in her small hands and the nervous glances behind those black frames.

I looked back at the picture and was able to believe that there could be love in there. Maybe. Anything was possible with Lord Kay. “I hope for the best,” I murmured.

She nodded and turned, motioning me to follow her. She led me to a bedroom she had fixed up to do her predictions in. She sat me down in a solid oak chair with a small round table separating us.

“Kay called me. I was expecting you last night.” She stared down at her hands. The lights in her eyes were gone now. She didn’t have something to talk about to break the tension in the air. I got the impression she didn’t want me there, that I was intruding in on the life she was able to carve out for herself. I mentally shrugged, not caring too much. If I had to use her to get what I wanted, I was willing to do it.

“I got distracted,” I replied and stared at her. It didn’t take long for her to start squirming.

The woman was pale, really pale and I couldn’t decide if it was because she feared me or if it was just her skin tone. She wore black-framed glasses to hide her lovely brown eyes and her hair was pulled back in a simple bun with some curls escaping it. I only thought her eyes were lovely because of what were in them. They were filled with secrets of what will be; things she can’t even tell anyone. They made her look older.

There’s a debate between seers about how much to tell someone. If they told a person too much, it could change the future—and not always for the best. A classic example is telling someone they are going to die, even how they are going to die. So what does that person do? They try to prevent their death and maybe they are successful. But at was price? The price of the family that took their place? Was it worth it to save one life over the life of an entire family, taking away the future of the little kids and any potential they had. That’s what seers live with; knowledge that they want to tell someone but can’t because it could make the situation worse. That knowledge made up the secrets that filled the seer’s eyes and made her lovely.

She shifted in her seat, looked up at me and then back down. Her throat worked as she swallowed.

“I don’t do this a lot with others. Kay is still helping me get a handle on it all.”

“You’re a seer-in-training?” I asked, finding it a little funny. I couldn’t prevent the small smile from forming.

She nodded, shook out her hands a couple of times before settling them, palms up, on the table. Her movements were jerky and unpracticed. “Hands.”

I cocked my eyebrows at her. She looked back down at her hands, her small shoulders slumping a little.

“All I need are your hands. When you touch me, focus on what you want to know.”

I nodded and put my hands in hers. Even though she was a small woman, her hands were still bigger than my own. She wrapped her clammy hands around mine, sighed, trying to relax and then closed her eyes.

I thought about Kalen and who his master was.

The seer started rocking, a small humming coming from deep within her throat. After a couple of minutes, she stiffened up before letting go so suddenly that my hands hit the table. She opened her eyes and stared blankly for a minute. I was tempted to wave my hands in front of her or throw something to see if she would react. I managed to sit there quietly and wait instead, sitting on my hands and rocking gently from side to side.

After a few minutes ticked by, she blinked rapidly a couple of times as if trying to blink away the images she saw. She slumped back in her seat.

“Akhlys, you’re Akhlys?” she asked.

Akhlys was the name I went by when I was in my original form. There was a whole lot of baggage that went with that name, like El’s mentorship, Eithna’s death, and all the suffering I caused. That name represented a me who couldn’t control any of my rage and took it out on everyone.

“I haven’t used that name in nearly two hundred years.” I readjusted myself in my seat, growing uncomfortable.

“And yet that’s who Kalen searches for. You.” She cocked her head in wonderment, no longer nervous or uncomfortable. She even smiled a little, her body relaxing.

Whatever she saw in my future, she liked. I frowned, already not liking the possibility she saw.

“What did you see?”

She smiled a little more, her eyes brightening. “You. Who you become, what you are going to do.”

“Is there a key to go with your cryptic message?”

“I can’t get specific. I just know that your finally going to open yourself up and you can finally begin the next phase of your life.”

“Next phase? Like what?” What was there left? I’ve already lived so damn long, done everything there was to do.

The seer shrugged. “That I do not know.” She cocked her head, a small curl falling into her face. She quickly wiped it away, never tearing her eyes away from mine. I tried not to fidget, feeling like I was in a line-up for some crime. She smiled again, bigger this time, showing off all her pretty pearly whites.

“If you’re smiling, then you saw wrong. Nothing I’m capable of doing would make you look like you want to be my best friend.”

Her smiled faltered, slowly replaced with a sad frown. “Akhlys—”

“Don’t call me that!” I snapped, unable to stand the use of that name.

Her lights flickered as my rage released a wave of power. It rolled out of me and dispersed into the air. I sat quietly, reigning the dark emotions back in. I forced the tension out of my body and tried to remain in control of myself. Not that I could calm down much, not here. Maybe I should go out to the docks. Enjoy the storm as it crashed around me, the rain pelting my face and wiping all the problems away. That would be really nice.

“Okay….Okay.” She nodded frantically with wide eyes. Her throat worked as she swallowed, trying to recollect herself. “Darkness, you’re capable of more than just causing fear. Your future shows that.”

“So what? In the future, I’m all sunshine and rainbows?” I laughed. My night was ruined so easily with the mention of my old name and I wasn’t above blaming her for it. The little conversation at the beach didn’t help any with my emotions. I felt like I was on a never-ending rollercoaster that just kept plummeting down into a gorge.

The seer reached over and grabbed my hands. “No, not sunshine and rainbows, that’s not you. But it will get better.”

“Enough!” I growled and stood up, taking back my hands and toppling the chair over. “I didn’t come here for a self analysis. I just want to know who Kalen’s master is.” I choked on the last couple of words. Emotions I haven’t allowed myself to feel for nearly two centuries were trying to come back. Useless emotions that wanted to chip away at my armor. I couldn’t, no, wouldn’t let it out. Not now.

I took a deep breath and fixed the chair before settling back down. The seer sighed with relief, and leaned back, tucking some stray strands behind her ear. “I couldn’t figure it out. Whoever it is was able to block me out. He’s shielded from me and anyone else who tries to track him down in any way.”

“Can’t you give me anything useful?”

“Kay knows him. I got the impression he’s hiding because he fears Kay.”

He also fears retribution by his own master. So Kay is the so-called master of the master. Kay had a lot of minions working underneath him.

“Okay.” I nodded and stood up carefully, not really wanting to take my anger out on the chair again. See? I can prevent unnecessary casualties if I wanted to.

The little bit of information the seer gave me was something at least, no matter how smalll. Unfortunately, Kay knew a lot of people. And a lot of people wouldn’t want to piss him off. And killing me was a sure fire way to piss him off.

Good thing I was patient. I didn’t mind checking off Kay’s acquaintances one by one. In fact, I would get pleasure from it. First, I needed to talk to Kay. Again. When I turned to leave, she spoke again.

“Darkness…when that small part of you tells you something, you should try listening to it. Even when it goes against everything you know.”

“This is why I hate seers,” I mumbled. Even someone as young as her could see and learn more about life than, say, me, who has lived since the dawn of mankind. I must be seriously fucked up if even a child was telling me to listen to the little part of me I still can’t get rid of. What happens if I don’t listen to little old me?

Do I even want to find out?

Chapter 11:

I made my way back to Kay’s place feeling like all I’ve been doing lately was running around. From Baron’s bar, to Kay, to a seer and now back Kay. What was next? A little trip down to hell?

When I got to his business, it was packed with fighters and their teams waiting to go down into the arena. Groups of them stood outside, talking and joking around, and I could only guess the inside was just as busy and crowded. The showcase for the tournament was for tonight.

Damn, how could I forget? I was beginning to feel dread in the pit of my stomach. Kay was going talk me into something I wasn’t going to like. I just knew it.

Off in the distance, rumbling could be heard as the storm approached. Some groups of beings huddled together, talking in whispers. Others were enjoying the impending storm and the rest kept looking towards the building, probably wondering why they decided to hang outside.

It wasn’t even that bad. Since the early morning, the humidity was increasing. My hairs were standing on end with all the electrical charges in the heavy air. It was going to be a big storm. Normally I would find someplace high up when the weather got this bad and just enjoy it all. Too bad I was too busy tonight. Maybe after this little visit, I’ll spare some time.

A small fight between two women broke out a few feet from me. They were screaming in a foreign language, cursing each other, and trying to stab each other with their wands. Some other men, dressed similar to them rushed over and pulled them apart, laughing. I recognized one of the men as a champion. He made these tournaments a career and most of the time, didn’t leave his opponents alive. He made the fight an art, making sure the other being suffered in the worse possible way.

I should have left—should have and yet didn’t. A place like this attracted all the wrong kind of attention that I didn’t want to face. Not tonight at least.

Just getting into the building was a pain. When I approached the front door, there wasn’t a line or anything, just a large man with bulging muscles and a clipboard.

“Sorry, little miss, but this is no place for you.” He glanced down at me, giving me the once over and then writing me off as unimportant, or maybe he thought I was some lost child.

“I’m not here for the showcase. I have business with Lord Kay,” I said, a little peeved. Tonight was just one big bad night and I didn’t need a dense grunt holding me back.

“He ain’t told me about no appointment.” He looked down at the clipboard as if having it in his hands made him the most powerful being around. In a way, he was right. Everyone had to get passed him to get inside.

I thought of just trying to squeeze past him, but the man was a mountain. There was nowhere to squeeze through, even for me. And I’ve slipped between legs a couple of times. His were just too chunky, like massive tree trunks.

“Tell him Darkness is here,” I huffed, trying to stay calm.

He glanced at his clipboard, back at me, then the clipboard again. His caterpillar eyebrows scrunched up as if the clipboard was lying to him and he didn’t like to be tricked like that.

“You’re not Darkness,” he mumbled. “There is no way.”

“What’s your name?”

“Mark,” he said slowly. The man said it like he wasn’t too sure. I didn’t roll my eyes at him. I wanted to. I really did, but I didn’t and just for that I should have been given a damn metal.

“Well, Mark. Either let me in now or the next time I see Lord Kay, I’ll tell him you refused me entrance. Then after he pulls your spine out through your ass, maybe you won’t challenge me again.”

He paled, his dark skin turning a weird dull shade of his skin tone. His throat worked like he was trying to swallow an entire rotten apple. Finally, he nodded and stepped to the side.

The room was still dark, but unlike the last time I was here, the place was filled with teams of fighters. The tables and chairs were all removed and the walls were lined with beings acting as guards, each one of them were capable of destroying the fighters in a matter of seconds if anyone started anything. Kay held the best security around.

I glanced around, looking for a familiar face when I spotted the warlock standing by the ‘No Admittance’ door. As I weaved through the crowd, he spotted me and had to do a double take, not believing I was coming to him. When I finally reached him, he had backed up against the door, glancing around for an exit that existed right behind him.

The plump warlock was someone to be hunted, and tonight he was a weak little gazelle in a den of lions. Why would Kay keep him around, especially tonight of all nights? He screamed victim and the others were beginning to notice, switching their attention to him, some sniffing the air and enjoying what they were finding. There was a lot of lip licking going at the moment. Maybe some stomach grumbles here and there too.

The loc was covered in sweat, his greasy hair plastered to his face and a pimple stood out against his skin as he continued to freak out even more. Now he was playing with his hands in an obvious sign of panic. He looked just like a sickly gazelle, the kind that gets chased down because they are the slowest and weakest in their herd.

“Devon,” I said, unable to prevent myself from flashing a predatory smile. He really did make it so easy.

“Darkness.” He flinched and looked away. “How may I help you?”

“I need to see Lord Kay.”

“I’m sorry but as you can see, tonight’s a busy night.”

“I’m willing to wait.” My irritation with everyone was starting to reach a new high. If this continued any longer I was going to explode and screw anyone who approached me. I just wanted one simple answer to one simple question: Who created Kalen?

He frowned, picking up on my irritation. “He wasn’t expecting you tonight.”

“Kay is always expecting me,” I said, letting the coldness seep into my voice.

“Are you sure you don’t want to come back tomorrow?” he asked. He really didn’t want me to be around tonight.

I shook my head. “Time is of the essence. I need to see him tonight.”

He nodded in nervous jerks before opening the door. “I’ll have you wait in another room while I tell him of your visit,” he said glancing around the room nervously. He made me want to look around too. What was he so worried about other than the fifty gazes that were now on him?

“Lead the way.” I followed him down.

The stairway was large and made of stone. It was also wide and from the looks of the steps, other forms other than human-like ones have made good use of these stairs. There were dry, dark stains on the concrete walls, suggesting blood, and looking down showed only darkness. Pitch black darkness. The good kind.

The stairway was set up to test the fighters. Only those brave enough could make it down into the bottomless pit of the darkness. Most of the fighters wouldn’t know how far down it would go and they wouldn’t be able to see anything. Small ruins in an ancient language was etched in the wall to ensure that they couldn’t use their powers to produce some kind of light source. The ruins also messed with their minds, using their imagination against them. For some, I’m sure there was no end, not if they weren’t worthy.

Wouldn’t want the weak down there, diluting the intensity of the matches. No cannon fodder allowed.

As we made our way down the stairs, the small light from the top dimmed until eyesight became a useless sense. Beings would have to rely on their touch and other senses to make it to the bottom. The air smelled of death and decay, the railing caked with dried blood and years of dirt, and only the sounds of our footsteps and water dripping could be heard. At least for other beings it was suppose to be that way. It definitely was like that for Devon as he slowly made his way down in front of me. He was already freaking out, and the test wasn’t even activated. It was just really dark.

I could see clearly in the dark, maybe even better than during the day. So when Devon stumbled a little and nearly tumbled to the bottom of the stairs, I giggled. That scared him even more and he looked back, scrunching up his pudgy face to make me out. Eventually he gave up trying to see me and turned back around to continue—this time keeping a death grip on the railing. I wanted to tell him he was lucky the spells weren’t activated yet. He wouldn’t make it three steps.

When we made it to the bottom, he felt around until he found a knob and turned it, opening up into a brightly lit room. I blinked, my eyes readjusting to the light.

This room was filled with the clients who were going to bet on the fighters. They talked with each other, laughing or scowling, depending on if they were the butt of the joke or not. The air was filled with all the different powers, some of them felt calming, others explosive and a couple of them elusive, as if hiding what they were capable of. Voices lowered when they noticed my presence. I recognized most of them from rumors and personal experience. His clientele was really impressive; they were all powerful in their own way.

They were all dressed in formal wear, the men in perfectly fitted tuxedos that probably cost more than all my custom made dresses and some of my dresses were expensive, pushing a thousand dollars for at least one of them. The women were in all styles of cocktail dresses ranging from long-sleeved to no sleeve and full length to almost showing off their ass. These beings were definitely the rich and powerful. They probably came through another entrance that didn’t involve testing their flimsy resolves.

I kept my mouth shut, head up, and strolled behind Devon. He led me to another door that opened into a small room. As soon as the door started to close, the voices rose up and some nervous laughter broke out. Funny how I was the one out of place with my simple dress and sandals and yet I made them nervous.

“Wait here.” He pointed to a small couch before quickly slipping out of the room.

The room was small, similar to a doctor’s waiting room, filled with sterile colors, chairs, and a table with all the latest issues of popular magazines on top. I ignored the magazines and stretched out on the couch.

I told myself I wasn’t ever going to come back down here—such a damn liar. Who was I fooling other than myself? Kay had been so sure I would come, even after I returned his invitation. He only sent it back. The man knew me to well. He knew I would find my way here.

If it weren’t necessary, I wouldn’t be here. I would have been busy gracing another city with my presence for a couple of weeks while the tournament went underway. This tournament attracted beings from all over the world, to either fight or make bets. Just in that room, I spotted beings I’ve pissed off hundred of years ago and beings are incredible at holding grudges. Half of those I pissed off could probably raise a slauve thinking this kind of event would attract me and so giving them an opportunity for revenge. The invitations were sent out months ago, plenty of time for someone to rally up and create a slauve. It would also explain why Kalen was so inexperienced about everything.

This was just the beginning of the tournament too. Not even the beginning. The fighters were upstairs, introducing themselves to their opponents and trying to find each other’s weaknesses. The clients were down here, also collecting information, trading and buying what they knew to others.

Tonight, the clients will go into the arena and settle down in their seat, and then one by one, the teams will come down, testing themselves with the staircase before introducing themselves to the clients and showing off their talents. The next week will be them training and sparring against each other before the tournament really began. During training some accidents may or may not happen and by the start of the tournament the numbers will mysteriously have dwindled down to only the absolute powerful.

I picked a hell of a night to talk to Kay.

Not even ten minutes later, Devon came back, not looking happy at all. I stopped banging my head against the couch and stared at him.

“Lord Kay will see you tonight, but he wants you to watch the showcase before you talk.”

“Of course he would,” I replied. The pompous ass—he would drag this out.

“He will let you sit with him in his private room,” Devon said it as the lord just graced me with his attentions, calling me to his quarters. I snorted, but still followed the loc.

Kay’s private room was like walking into a suite. It was large and roomy with large comfortable chairs. A full bar with a not-quite human bartender was tucked into the corner, and a long table ran along a wall, filled with fruits, cheese, and other delectable snacks I had no name for. Modern day foods still escaped me. A large TV hung up above a large one-way mirror and was zoomed in on the arena to better see the fights.

The mirror looked over the entire arena. Rows of chairs leveled down to an arena filled with sand and lit up with spotlights. The lighting on the upper levels of the stadium was dark, getting brighter as it got closer to the arena. At the bottom of the spectator’s section, it flattened out to a floor with tables next to the railing for the really rich and special clients. The fighter’s arena dropped down like a pit. The pit was large, about half the size of a football field. A massive screen was suspended above it to give the spectators a closer view of what was going on. Otherwise, they would need binoculars if they didn’t have excellent eyesight.

To think Kay was able to hide this place under a city. He was the strongest magic user on this side of the states for a reason. I was impressed the first time, and still am now.

“Enjoying yourself?” Kay asked from behind. His words were a tickle across the back of my neck.

I whirled around, surprised by his presence. He stood leaning in the doorway looking almost like a man out of a porn video. Leather pants hugged his legs and an off white shirt stretched over his chest. Kay may not have grown into his full body shape, but he wasn’t scrawny either. If he ever did grow into his body, he would be drop-dead runway gorgeous. His light hair was spiked up with gel and he played with the sunglasses in his hands. The normal swirls of silver in his skin seemed brighter and denser. The magic around him was drawn tight around him, acting as both armor and as a weapon. He was being especially defensive tonight. Why?

“I would rather not be here,” I replied. No, I’d rather be anywhere but here. Maybe over in New Rheems. Some of the buildings there had a great view of the harbor and city.

The impending storm was now underway and could be felt through the ground, a slight rumbling from the thundering. There were no windows since we were deep underground but the tight energy in the air told me the storm was picking up.

“I thought this place would call to you.”

“Greed has never interested me.”

He stared at me, his eyes twinkling, and his smile widened. “No. No…it never did.” Bastard was remembering our time together. If I had to choose a moment I didn’t like the most, being with him was high on the list. Not the highest, no, that spot was reserved for when I first came into existence, but it was close.

“Thirsty?” he asked. I nodded.

He snapped his fingers and the bartender came over with a tray. The bartender was pale with flaming red hair and green eyes that stayed down casted. He knew his place and it was below his lord. The man put coasters down on a small table between two chairs that overlooked the entire stadium and then placed drinks on them. By the smell, one was tea with a whole lot of honey and the other looked like some kind of kind of opaque blue martini.

“Tea?” I asked, trying to hide my surprise. I shouldn’t be surprised, Kay made it his business to always know about me.

“It really has always been your favorite, even when I first met you.”

I nodded and took a tentative sip. It was good, not as good as Baron’s, but still good.

“Why do you want me to watch the showcase?” I asked.

“For the pleasure of your company?” He stood at the window now, sipping his martini and watched as the spectators began to fill in the seats.

I snorted. “Doubt it. What do you want?” I pushed further. It was the strain in his shoulders, in the way he stood and kept his eyes out in the crowd, searching for something that may or may not be there. There was a dangerous level of uncertainty in him and Kay made it his job to always be certain about everything. He was “flipping out” as they say. “Why don’t you go out and visit with your clients? Go be the social butterfly you’re so well known for. I’m sure some of them are too important to ignore.”

He glared at me, slamming his martini on the table and breaking the glass. He swore and stood stiffly while the bartender cleaned up the mess. The temperature in the room went up a couple degrees and I swear the silver on his skin slithered.

“Out,” he barked and the bartender jumped before scurrying out the door when he finished cleaning up the broken glass. If I knew how, I would feel pity for the guy.

Kay paced around as the room turned into a sauna of nervous heat.

“Why are you hiding in here tonight?” I asked again. He stopped and glared at me before flopping down on the chair and stretching out his legs.

“Did my seer send you back here?” He ignored my question.

“Yeah, she’s a lovely woman.”

He smirked. “I know.” Well, any doubt I had about their relationship vanished with that smirk.

I sat in the leather chair and got comfortable. The chair was so large that my feet didn’t even reach the floor. My knees didn’t even reach the end of the chair. I tucked my legs under me and fixed my dress so I didn’t flash my underwear to anyone. Lord Kay settled down next to me and we sat in silence, watching as the event started. The first group came out and started showing off, trying to impress everyone with their killer talents. People cheered or booed, depending on which teams they were placing their bets on.

“These events really attract the big fish, don’t they?” Kay asked.

“I guess.”

“It attracted you, and you didn’t even want to be here.”

“I’m not here for the event, I’m here to talk to you about something urgent.”

“The slauve’s master?”

I nodded.

“You still came here tonight of all nights. You could have came here tomorrow if you wanted. Instead you put urgency in finding someone who really wants you dead.”

“I didn’t say the slauve was after me.”

“But it’s so easy to see that you’re the target. You’ve been quiet, in the background, these last couple hundred years. Then all of a sudden you’re proactive again, searching for answers that can’t be found. You’re easy to figure out,” Kay said. Not once did he look at me, his eyes were fixed on the audience. He wasn’t even paying attention to the fighters.

A different group was up, each one tall and bulky. A group of mountains relying on their strength. They weren’t going to last because there were very little rules to this tournament and any that did exist are only to protect the spectators or make the matches interesting.

Death, cheating, magic, power…all of it allowed. Mind control, manipulation, raising the dead, all allowed as long as they kept it to the arena.

Kay was right—a whole lot of strong beings were here, all packed into one area. Security was extra tight, any fights not taking place in the arena was unacceptable and Kay had the juice to ensure it, including the availability of some highly trained guards.

“Who are you scared of?” I asked.

He didn’t say anything for a moment, his hands clenching his armrest, knuckles turning white.

“The Consort are here to keep an eye on things,” he said in a tight voice.

The bogeyman for all beings. Here tonight.

You ever get that feeling where everything fades out on you. Your senses go numb as you focus on what was causing you to go into shock. That was happening to me right now.

I was reintroduced to truly feeling fear. My heart pounded a little harder and the hairs on my body stood up. Sweat beaded against my skin and my mouth all of a sudden decided it needed a drink of water. I sat up straighter and scanned the ground, looking at each being and trying to remember who I knew, what they were capable of and trying to spot anyone who could be a Consort member.

Meeting the Consort didn’t mean I knew them. When they did show themselves, they kept themselves hidden with cloaks and masks. Being near them when they are like that is like being in a vacuum. Magic is nearly impossible to use, your weaknesses are exploited and you can’t do much but wait for their verdict. Like I’ve said before, there are only two beings I’m afraid of, the Consort being at the top of the list. The first time I met them, they punished me for crimes I didn’t do, cursing me with the pesky little brand on the inside of my left thigh.

It was a bad start to my relationship with them.

Trying to spot them when they didn’t want to be seen was impossible. Everyone in the crowd didn’t seem powerful enough, important enough, or suspicious enough. If the Consort were in the crowd, I couldn’t see them and by Kay’s reaction, neither could he. Sometimes I really did wish the enemy walked around with a billboard attached to make them easier to spot.

I mentally swore a string of curses. I should have left the city until this was all over. Could’ve, should’ve and obviously didn’t.

“How do you know?” I asked, still scanning for them. “Does everyone know?”

“No…not many know and I only know because they gave me a little visit. Someone in the city has been naughty.”

“How long are they going to be around?”

“Who knows?” He sighed and rubbed at his face. “They are only gathering information right now.”

It explained why his skin was extra silvery. Lord Kay was upping his magic juice, preparing for the worse.

I swore out loud this time, using the vast repertoire of words I learned over the years.

“Yeah, my thoughts exactly,” he said.

We sat in a companionable silence, both our thoughts on the same thing. When was the Consort leaving? Who attracted their attention? I couldn’t help but feel I was on their minds. Years of guilt built up into this little hard ball in my mind and it kept telling me that whatever the Consort did to me, I deserved. It agreed with the little curse they put on me, it would support anything they decided.

Eventually the showcase ended when we didn’t notice. I blinked a couple times, surprised that time went by quickly and the arena was already emptying.

Yeah, the Consort had that kind of affect on even us false immortals. We may not be able to die but the Consort had the power to make our eternity a hell.

Chapter 12

We moved to Kay’s main office. It was a large office filled with old leather-bound books on magic, yellowing papers in mounds everywhere, and photos decorating the wall strategically to show Kay’s expansive history. The room was cold, a weird contrast to his body heat. The waves of hot nervous magic calmed down a little after the showcase ended and he was almost back to his self-absorbed self again. Probably happy that the clients were gone, meaning the Consort were too. For now at least. The fighters stayed behind, going to their quarters underground to rest or talk or compare muscle size.

Kay leaned back in his office chair, swiveling a little with his hands clasped over his stomach and his eyes closed. They have been closed for the past five minutes. I’m fine with the silence. I kept myself busy, still thinking about the Consort. I added that on to the list of my problems, but kept it below finding out who was Kalen’s master. Right now, nothing could top out the importance of that one. If I can kill the master then I can get Kalen off my back.

Neither of us said anything, neither of us wanted to.

Probably about another five minutes passed before his eyes snapped open and he looked at me. I narrowed my own, not missing the gleam in them as he thought mischievous thoughts. The roguish smile on his face told me I wasn’t going to like what he was about to say.

“Show me your true human form.”

Yeah. I didn’t like it at all. So much that shocked laughter escaped my lips.

“Why?” I asked, taken aback by the demand.

“It’s been so long since I’ve last seen it. I miss your beauty.”

“Only you would think that. Not many like it very much.”

He tilted his head, staring at me closely. I tried not to shift in my seat A long time has passed since I was in that form. A whole lot of mess came with it too.

Was this considered me avoiding my issues? Naw.

“That’s only because they don’t know any better,” he replied, looking solemn. Those words were starting to become some kind of annoying mantra others kept saying to me. Only because they don’t know any better. They were full of contradictions to me. What have I done except try to make it so they did know better?

I was nice once, full of positive emotions. I cared, I cried, laughed and smiled. But they took it away from me. They chipped away at my personality until all that was left was anger and apathy. I didn’t smile, I smirked. I didn’t cry, I lashed out. My laughing became manic. I became mean. Because humans didn’t know any better and they took more than I could give.

I growled. “You don’t know what you’re asking me to do. I haven’t been in that form for nearly two hundred years.”

“Since after Eithna, right?” His expression softened.

Kay was actually the one to help me create this little child form. It only involved two months of pain as my body shrunk and reshaped itself and then another couple of months getting used to being weaker. Becoming a child weakened me considerably—more than halved my powers. But it helped me fall off the grid. It constructed a door between me and my abyss of powers, though lately that door has been weakening.

There was a reason Kalen couldn’t recognize me as the one he was searching for, well, other than the fact that he wouldn’t listen to his soul. My power felt different, not so…dark. As a child, I played with shadows, as my true human form, I played with night itself.

“If I show you, will you tell me what I want to know?” I asked, getting used to the idea of being myself again.

I miss who I really am, even if I refuse to admit it most of the time. I missed being able to communicate with those who hid in the darkness, I missed the true control I had, and I especially missed the feeling of being complete. Maybe that was why I considered Kay’s request so easily. I smiled, remembering the conversations I had with El after we separated. All he had to do was focus on me and then talk into the night, and I could hear it. I haven’t heard his voice in so long.

Was I going to regret this decision? I hoped not.

He nodded, a glint of excitement growing in his eyes.

“It’s your funeral. Just remember I won’t have complete control. It’s been too long. And don’t forget the slauve. He will sense me.”

“I have wards up, you should be safe.”

“You say that until he swings in here like Tarzan and smites both our asses,” I said wryly.

“I feel like you just mixed up references.”

I shrugged. “Who knows? It’s hard to keep track of them all sometimes.”

With that said, I closed my eyes and sighed, trying to relax. Losing the childish form was a lot easier than it was to make it. I simply went back to who I was. I felt myself reconnect with powers I haven’t had access to. The door kind of crumbled away. I reached out to the deep dark pit of my powers and it responded, filling me up, making me whole again. In moments, I grew into my true human form.

I flinched, an old conversation with Eithna coming to mind.

Sometimes I wonder about you. You have all this power and yet you don’t do anything with it. You would probably just waste away in some hole if you weren’t mentoring me.

I could care less. I just want to be left alone for once.

The things I would do with your power.

Then take it. I don’t want it.

With my real form came even more power. The lights dimmed slowly until they went completely out, all the lights sniffed out of the energy saving light bulbs. They were no longer going to last the hundred years you were guaranteed to have. My powers washed over me, filled up the missing void inside of me. My body tingled, feeling a little high off of the rush.

This was who I was, who I was meant to be and who I always deny myself to be. Even now I worked at keeping myself under control, clamping down on my urges. El taught me enough. I took a couple of deep breaths, willing my power to listen to me, its master. It finally listened, but barely. It was neglected for so long and I presented it a chance to be released. I had to fight with it and force it to my will.

No, we aren’t going to kill Kay this time either.

No, leave those creatures alone. We don’t need chaos right now.

This city is off limits, come back to me.

It took a moment and I just stood there, watching everything as if it was the light of day as Kay lit candles. I blinked a couple times, readjusting to the little bit of light and Kay was now standing only a couple of feet from me. I watched with some satisfaction as a shudder crawled down his body. He didn’t balk in fear like a lesser being. This was how I knew who was stronger or on par with me. He stood his ground and smiled, glad to see me as me.

I guess I can admit it was nice to feel like myself for once. I smiled back, not caring that I was stark naked. My clothes didn’t make it through the transformation. A pity too, it was such a nice simple dress. I pulled at the shadows around me and fashioned what looked like a black outfit. It consisted of a low cut shirt showing off the mounds of my breasts and my midriff. The pants were formed to fit right against my skin, making it seem like leather but a hundred times more comfortable. Others would see it as such, not knowing that I was actually naked. I mentally shrugged—I was always a modest person. Not that Kay could make me blush. He never looked at me like something he wanted to fuck. The look was always closer to possession. I was something he wanted to possess and bend to his will.

“Beautiful, absolutely beautiful,” he breathed out, sounding breathless. He slowly reached out and touched the black locks of my hair. I no longer looked up at him, we were actually about the same height. It gave me a new perspective on his facial features. As a child, his eyes looked to be a brownish-grey type of hazel with very little green. As an adult, his eyes had more green in them, very blue and green at the same time. They were captivating, a woman could get lost in them if she wasn’t careful. I know I almost did so long ago. The magical currents moved through his eyes, bringing out a tinge of yellow.

I made out the reflection of my own eyes in his iris. Completely black, no whites at all.

I stepped back and out of his reach. “Talk.” I cringed at the powerful sound of my voice. It was a smooth sonata brimming with layered power I didn’t even want and yet missed. It was a siren’s voice, luring my victims into false security while promising their deaths.

He shivered again and settled back down in his chair, getting comfortable. I stayed where I stood and waited for him to tell me what I wanted to know.

“After you left yesterday, I poked around a little,” he said. “I couldn’t find anything. The slauve is nothing but rumors in the wind right now.”

“Your little seer says you know the master—someone hell bent on revenge against me because I may have killed someone important to him. The Seeker told me the same thing. This master is part of your crew.”

“I know a lot of powerful beings and right now this city is packed full with them. I work with all of them in one capacity or another.”

“You should have an idea on who,” I said, exasperated. Kay knew, he just didn’t know he knew.

“Akhlys—”

“Darkness.” I clenched my teeth.

All the rage that used to be so easy as a child to hold back surged forward and surprised me with its outburst. The already useless light bulbs in the room popped, sending shards all over and the candles dimmed, barely staying lit. My powers were throwing a damn tantrum. I needed to quickly get a clamp on this rage before it almost destroyed me again. I took a deep breath and the candles brightened up a bit once again.

Yes, I can do this. I can control this form, I mentally cheered.

Kay fell silent for a moment and cleared his throat. “Darkness. I wish I knew who wants you dead and I do want to help find him, but forgive me because right now my mind and attentions are elsewhere.”

“Oh, no of course I understand. You’re priorities are always you first,” I replied with frost in my voice. Where Kay was full of hot magic, I was full of cold power and some of it was leaking out. I was trying to keep calm but I was two hundred years out of practice. The power in me kept shifting around and stretching out, pushing against my skin. I wanted to self-combust just to end the intrusive movement.

He cringed, understanding exactly what I meant. “That’s not fair.”

“Oh yeah it is. I’m simply making an observation. It’s who you are.” I couldn’t help the sound of my words—cold and bitter. I took a punishment for him, he owed me and I was ready to cash in. He just wasn’t ready to accept. He probably convinced himself that I deserved the punishment. “This curse should be yours and you know it.”

He shook his head in denial and it confirmed what I was thinking. He didn’t change. I thought maybe he did if he was so possessive of his little seer girlfriend. Apparently she wasn’t as precious as I thought. He was still that self-absorbed ass who attracted me so long ago. It was attractive back then, but now it was time for him to finally grow up—to grow out of his college student form.

“I never thought they would do that to you.”

“Then repay me. Don’t leave me out hanging to dry again.”

“If I knew, I would tell you,” he said defensively. He was sitting straight up in his chair now, not lounging around anymore. The tension between us was thick with unresolved issues.

“That’s the thing. You do know! You know who his master is and yet you won’t even try to look into it.” I wanted to punch something, preferably his face.

The candles blinked with my anger and the shadows in the corner grew darker, creating an endless pit of possibilities. I could do so much with that pit. Summon different beings through it; beings who would gladly try to take down Kay. I could feel the presence of each of those beings in my head as they waited in the darkness with anticipation. It was so damn tempting. I could only take so much shit from Kay, then I would start to fight back and I probably should have done it a long time ago.

Lightning flashed and barely a moment later, thunder rumbled through the room. It was as if the storm was responding to my emotions and it gave me a small satisfaction as Kay also responded to both me and the storm. He paled and swallowed visibly, so unaccustomed to my anger. I was no longer that docile little girl he was used to pushing around.

“Darkness…I didn’t mean to upset you,” he stumbled with his words. The room grew a little warmer as he readied himself for a fight. A wall of thin mist formed between us as my cold anger met his hot magic. The two temperatures met and battled for control.

We have always been hot and cold emotionally through our weird affiliation. Being too similar for a sexual relationship created a kind of twisted friendship—at least until he went too far and left me behind to deal with his own bloody mess.

What did that kid say to his friend? Not cool, dude. Not cool at all. Yeah, I agreed. It wasn’t cool at all to force me to take the fall for him.

I reigned in my waning self-control, allowing the candles to stop flickering and slowly the mist between us dissipated.

“I won’t fight you, relax.” Even if I did, there was no telling who would win. I was really out of practice.

“Good,” he sighed and the magic in the air around him loosened. “If I could help you, I would. I care more than I like to think I do.”

I shifted, uncomfortable with his little revelation. They were words I wasn’t used to being aimed at me—especially by Kay.

“If you want to help, then at least think about it.”

He considered what I said before nodding.

A loud thud drew our attention to the door. Someone grunted followed by another thud.

“What the hell?” Kay grumbled and walked over to see what the disturbance was.

“Don’t,” I said as my stomach twisted with knowledge. At the same time as when I spoke, the door flew towards him. Kay barely had time to dodge it by throwing himself towards the wall and into a bookshelf.

I stood frozen to the spot as I took in Kalen’s figure, his face twisted with anger, his knife in his hands, dripping with both magic and blood. One of Kay’s bodyguards was behind him on the floor, barely moving with small noises escaping his lips. Kalen had stabbed him in the throat. I could see the splatter of blood as the man tried to breathe or talk.

Kalen looked at Kay and then dismissed him, turning to me instead in what felt like slow motion. His body was drenched from the storm, his hair plastered around his face, and his eyes nearly black as his master’s biggest command kept him enthralled. Those eyes reflected his soul, screaming for my death, for its freedom and he was finally listening to it.

I stood there completely shocked at his showing and stayed that way until he shoved me down onto the large solid desk. Papers fluttered around us from the force and I winced in pain as my breath was forced out of my lungs and something rigid and sharp pushed into the middle of my back.

There is a defense mechanism programmed into me. If my life is threatened, my instincts automatically take over and I fight back. It makes suicide impossible and keeps me from dropping my guard and letting someone else kill me. It also makes making friends nearly impossible because I became a really self-persevered person from years of betrayal and the inability to trust people’s intentions anymore. In this case, Kalen showing up short circuited my brain and allowed those instincts to instantly click on and take over.

Kalen was no longer Kalen. He became just a slauve, a being intent on killing me and I responded to those intentions.

“Slauve,” I snarled and blocked the knife as it came down, aiming for my heart. In this form, I had a hell of a lot more power than as a child. Blocking him was easy, even easier to do was forcing him to stumble back and releasing me as I engulfed his eyesight with a temporary darkness. Just enough to throw him off his game.

A small part of me yelled at me to not hurt the slauve and my instincts forced me to shut up as I protected my life. He became the enemy and enemies needed to be terminated. No one, not even a slauve, was going to hurt me. I wasn’t going to let them.

The slauve blinked a couple of times as his eyesight cleared. He came at me again, his knife flashing through the air as he tried to slash me. I moved, always just out of reach and slowly an angry smile crept into my face.

We circled each other, testing out the waters. He made a slash at me and I dodged, then I kicked out and he dodged that—both of us testing out the distance between us.

“Kay, do you trust me?” I asked, barely aware of the man biding his time to attack the slauve. We had our differences, but there was no way he was going to let a slauve make a mockery out of him by attacking his guest in his own establishment. It would bring up a lot of rude questions about his magic abilities and security.

“Of course I do.” He didn’t hesitate with his response, which would have probably surprised me if I weren’t so focused on surviving.

“Good.” I waved my hands and heard as he yelled in protest. A moment later he was gone and it was just me and the slauve in the room. Me and the enemy. If Kay stayed around, he would have only gotten in my way. Right now he was probably in my apartment and by the time he got back here, the fight should be over. Only one of us was going to survive this fight and I really wanted it to be me.

I finally found Akhlys. When I first sensed her, I blacked out and when I came back to myself, I was outside this building and my body kept moving on its own.

Now I faced her.

Now I can kill her.

I can be free.

Can I? Can I be free? Is this okay?

The woman was breathtakingly beautiful. She was tall and lean, in only leather pants and what could be mistaken as a leather bra. Her long black hair flowed around her delicate face. And yet something was wrong.

I stared into the black pits that were her eyes and a shiver crawled along my spine.

Kill her. End her.

Freedom.

But why does she remind me so much of that small child. Of Darkness.

She looked…broken.

Attack.

Is it really okay to do this? There was no real proof. Just my master’s orders and his stories. Is this woman in front of me able to do something so horrible?

My body moved on its own, my soul crying out as it charged at the woman, swinging the knife at her and hoping to land a hit. I tried to stop, to pull back. But I was in the back seat. My soul had control and he wanted her dead.

Something wasn’t right.

Chapter 13:

The slauve attacked, quicker than my eyes could follow. By the time I saw him again, he was back in the same spot he started from and my arm was burning from a cut. It was a shallow wound on my arm, but the pain was massive. A fire entered through the cut and into my blood stream, spreading from my forearm and up to my shoulder.

Magic, in a way, can be poison and that was exactly what was coating the blade. In normal circumstances I could heal the cut in less than a minute. There was nothing normal right now. With whatever magic was coating that damn blade, it not only slowed down the healing process, it also kept the wound bleeding.

I shook off my surprise and the pain, and focused on the slauve. I’ll have to deal with the wounds later.

The slauve went for another swing and I jumped back. I kicked out my leg, getting him in the stomach. He let out a grunt as he stepped back a little. I kept up the offense and whipped my leg out in a classic round house that got him in the head. He staggered, eyes a little unfocused and I used that moment to bind him with the shadows. They wrapped around him like the chains on his soul. His soul yowled, making his eyes dance around in the madness he was stuck in.

He fought against the chains and I had to mentally fight to keep him strained. The slauve was stronger than I anticipated. Probably too strong for a slauve. The last slauve wasn’t even this close, power-wise. He had to be more than I thought as a human if he was so overpowering now that he was something else.

I released even more power and aimed it all on the slauve. My brain pounded against my skull at the strain, but I pushed through it. He fell to his knees, his face twisted in a grimace. I pushed into his mind, to find that little bit of fear in there. Everyone had fear and it was easy to find his. It was in the forefront of his mind, always there, even now as he fought for his life. It wasn’t what I was looking for and I lingered in that fear in wonder. Usually, at this point, I could just use their fear of me and who I represented—but no, it wasn’t me he feared. He feared failure. There was even the fear of failing to kill me, but what overshadowed that was the fear of failing to find who killed that child in the park and took her older sister.

Leaving the park and her body behind had bothered him more than he let on. The thought fluttered through my enraged mind, muddling my instincts. He wanted to keep those children alive and for some strange reason, I was one of those children he feared he couldn’t protect. He was still stuck in the alley, looking down on me as I bled. I caught the scene, a flash of my small white body. So frail. My stomach was a puddle of blood and I was squirming around. He didn’t know what to do or how to help. All he could do was watch while I fought of the souls that had invaded me.

He’s scared for me. Not of me.

He’s a slauve. Ignore it. Kill him.

I shook off the image and began constructing my metaphysical attack. The only tangible fear that was useful was his fear for the children. I grabbed onto it and sent in my power, intensifying it.

Another image of me popped into his mind. A little girl with big empty blue eyes, porcelain flawless skin, wavy blonde hair done up into two puffballs, and small delicate bone structures that looked so breakable. His image of me was of one of those delicate and yet cold and empty looking porcelain dolls. He didn’t want this little child to be hurt. He wanted to protect her. Seeing his image of me stirred something in his chest.

Is he using me to represent the children?

No, ignore it! Kill him.

Shut up.

I stood there, warring with my instincts, hesitating to finish what I started while he kneeled down in front me with so much hatred and disgust in his expression.

Don’t do it. Don’t kill him.

The little voice that kept telling me not to kill him was louder now, pounding against my skull and driving back the instincts that I allowed to control me through the entire fight. I did not want to kill this slauve. In a way, I couldn’t. I just couldn’t.

I touched his hair and felt the soft curls as it glided through my fingers. It really was as soft as I thought.

“Kalen,” I whispered, still warring with my psyche.

This man wanted me dead, the look he gave me told me this clearly enough and yet I couldn’t find myself to kill him, to protect myself. He blinked up at me, the hatred dimming a little as he looked lost and confused, my reaction not what he wanted. Even his trapped soul hesitated. I ran my hand through his hair again, enjoying the silky strands as they glided through my fingers. I could not kill him.

Finally, I gained control of my instincts and managed to push it down. It was like I was crawling out of a muddy pit in the middle of the forest. It was completely exhausting. I don’t think I ever went against my instincts and to do it took everything I had.

Pain burned through my stomach, up to my chest and wrapped itself around my heart.

I looked down and realized the dagger was sticking out of my stomach. I had loosened my hold on Kalen and he used that opportunity to stab me. A whimper escaped me as he pulled the dagger back out.

I stepped back, shocked. The shadows surrounding him dissipated and he stood up slowly.

“You can’t kill me,” I said simply, tampering down on the instincts as they tried to surge back up once again. I couldn’t let them control me, not anymore.

He smirked and moved his knife around. It was now stained with my blood, all the way up to the hilt. I was pretty sure he added a little twist when he stabbed me to do as much damage as possible. The blood dripped down onto the beige rug.

“I can certainly try. Doesn’t feel too good does it? Do you even understand what it feels like to suffer? I can feel it.” He moved his hand through the air, caressing it, before he continued. “All the pain and suffering you caused, it stained you and follows you around.”

“Enough chatting, slauve,” I seethed, my anger getting the best of me. If he wanted Akhlys, I was going to give him her, along with everything she is. Everything.

For the first time in nearly a thousand years, I let go. I dived right into that abyss of power and swam in it. The curse on my thigh burned, trying to dampen down on my powers and failing, keeping back only a small amount. It was like using a cup to scoop out an ocean. Completely ineffective. What did work was the pain. It originated on the small brand on my thigh and spread itself through my entire body, cell by cell. I pushed through it, not caring at the moment.

I knew pain, better than the slauve liked to believe. I was born out of man’s fear of the night and what resided in it. The moment I existed, I only ever met animosity and fear. People lash out if they think they are pushed into a corner and in my case, whole villages grabbed their makeshift weapons and torches. I’ve been whipped, beaten and tortured. Men came up with creative ways to kill me, always failing and in most cases ending with me surrounded with dead bodies. I became a survivor and I wasn’t going to let some slauve end me. My instincts wouldn’t allow that.

El was in there, in the back of my mind, yelling at me. Whether it was the real him, using the night to communicate, or just my consciousness making an appearance was up for questioning. He kept telling me not to do it, to remember who I was. I pushed his annoying voice to the side and just let myself go.

My body grew light, expanding beyond my skin and blacking out the entire room. I became the very darkness I manipulated. I no longer saw, not with eyes at least. I felt and tasted everything—the cool rain-spotted windows, the lemon from the cleaning products used on the mahogany wood, the coarse rug, the dust particles in the corners of the room, and especially the warm body of my victim. I could also hear every single living being within the city as they stalked in the night, making use of the storm. Before I got too caught up in the vast expanse of my powers, I focused back on to my victim. A heart pounding against a chest resonated through me, narrowing down my search for him.

I wrapped myself around the warm body, trying to suffocate him. A white light glided through the darkness, cutting me. Hot pain shot through me along with a scream. It wasn’t a scream of pain, but of desperation, a small plea from my psych to stop. It tugged on me until I was back in my human form, completely naked and confused.

And so damn tired. Last time I even did something like that was when I was with Kay and we were playing with a tribe that no longer existed. We teased them while they were out hunting and stayed out too long. Out of the five that were out, only one survived and only because Kay wouldn’t let me play with him.

Practice really did make perfect and I haven’t even tried to do that for far too long.

The slauve stood there, his chest heaving, his face pallid and beads of sweat fell from his hairline down to his neck and soaked into his shirt. I glanced down and wrapped the shadows around me, creating a little black dress. Two new cuts added to the already infernal pain dispersing through my body. One of them was on my right arm and the other on my left thigh.

I stared at the slauve.

Who the hell are you?

The fight slowly left me as I grew too exhausted. My body grew numb from the power strain and knife wounds marring my body.

“You really are an abomination.” His voice was gravel, each word painfully scraping against my skin. I flinched and stared at him in a new and yet old kind of pain.

You’re an abomination!

A monster!

The devil!

You mean the devil’s bitch!

Kill her! End her! Monster! Abomination!

Burn her! Drown her! Cut her up!

Die, you abomination!

“I’m only what humans made me to be,” I whispered, saying what I always said to others. This time the words were different. They weren’t cold and empty. No, they were full of agony, and the slauve heard the emotion. He stiffened and looked me over, a confusion so familiar falling over his features. Something wet trailed down my cheek and I wiped it away, expecting blood or sweat. Instead I found tears.

I was no longer the woman I was before El got his hands on me.

I couldn’t go back to being that woman again, even if I wanted to. Not when the man in front of me called me an abomination and the word felt like a skewer in my heart. Abomination—a word I heard thousands of times. The word had hurt at first and then I grew unflinching and numb to it. Not anymore apparently. I began to care about what Kalen said and thought, and now the word held the power to hurt me once again.

I didn’t even notice how important Kalen became to me. He managed to slip into my heart and make a place in there, right next to El, Eithna, and in some twisted way, Kay.

I couldn’t help it; I let out a small laugh. It sounded childish to even my own ears. Another hysterical laugh came out before I clamped my hands over my mouth. Then my body began to shake as I swallowed back the laughter.

Kalen stood on the other side of the desk that somehow managed to survive when nothing else did. His expression was completely blank, his head tilted to the side as he watched me mentally break down.

Me. Darkness. Having a goddamn breakdown for the first time ever.

Finally, having enough of my antics, he lifted his blade and made a small move as he prepared to attack.

I shook my head furiously and pulled the last remaining power I had left together and somehow, some way, managed to wrap the shadows around me.

When you don’t have a specific destination in mine while moving through the shadows, it becomes a game of roulette as you hope you land in a safe and appropriate place. All I thought about was the need for someplace empty and dark, someplace I could be myself and safe. I ended up in the tallest building in New Rheems, with a good view of the harbor and city below. I was on the top floor, the large office completely empty and lights off. The rain pattered against the window like a spray of bullets. Lightening went off right outside, lighting up the sky with flashes, revealing the angry clouds that were still coming in. The storm was going to last the night, and go into the morning.

This place was exactly what I needed. I could be here, in the dark, and be alone. I could watch the storm and heal without worry.

I slumped against a wall, stared out the window that took up the entire wall, and allowed myself the freedom to hysterically laugh.

I mentally shook my head at the irony of it all. I spent my entire existence keeping everyone away and Kalen—a slauve created to kill me—got through my defenses in only a matter of days while it took even El a good two weeks before I even tried to consider that maybe what he said and did was okay.

Chapter 14:

I laughed and laughed until my sides hurt and then I couldn’t stop hiccupping and my sides were on fire. I couldn’t even remember why I started laughing in the first place. None of what happened was funny. I think I even brushed against death tonight. To think I was emotionally numb for so long, only to break down so easily by a slauve calling me an abomination.

Oh, that was the cherry I needed to top my day off. I banged my head against the wall.

And then did it again and again until I saw fog.

Fucking abomination, huh?

Religion is an interesting concept and one I don’t poke at, even with a fifty-foot pole. It shapes how people think, what they believe in, and how they should act. Religion controlled people and led to war, massacres, persecutions, and more pain and suffering than anything else in the world. El explained it to me once and I couldn’t deny anything. Everything he said was true. His explanations answered questions I searched for, for a very long time. I’ve had humans try to use their religious symbols and texts against me countless times.

When the Bible or Koran or even the Pyramid texts from Ancient Egypt didn’t work, I became an abomination, a problem they couldn’t find a solution to. The only thing all the different religious figures agreed on was that I shouldn’t exist, that no god or goddess would create someone like me because it would only be cruel. I’m not human, I’m not meant to exist and therefore I’m not any god’s creation. So what was left but to call me an abomination?

Back then, I didn’t agree with them. I was simply someone trying to exist, trying to carve a place for myself in a world that didn’t want me. Now, I wasn’t so sure. Even Kalen came up with the same conclusion.

The same fucking word.

My body was going numb both mentally and physically. My wounds were still bleeding and if I didn’t stop it soon, I was going to bleed out. I wanted to just close my eyes and let myself drift off to sleep. Instead, I closed my eyes and focused on the poison crawling through my body. I took deep breaths and forced myself to relax. It took who knows how long because time became inconsequential as I looked within myself.

There it was, little particles of poison moving in my blood stream, causing a surprising amount of damage. A tear here, a scrape there, and then my body working overtime to heal those cuts and bruises. The kind of poison that was working so effectively against me made me want to laugh again. Good thing I was too tired to go into another fit of laughter. What made so much damage to me was magic of the light—an irony I couldn’t ignore.

Only a witch would be able to make such a poison and a powerful one at that. It involved harvesting the light, subjecting it into reality, quantifying it, and then using it as a basis for the poison. What better way to defeat the darkness than to use the light? Brilliant. And so damn simple. If I was a lesser being, I would have died the moment his blade came into contact with me.

I stared at the white light. It was off though. Light magic was yellow, even red. But not white. It felt like light magic, tasted like it, and worked like it, but it wasn’t quite it. That was something I needed to think about long and hard—just not right now.

I focused even more on the white light traveling through my body and leaving a path of destruction in its wake. Sweat gathered across my skin, sending shivers to follow their trail as they traveled down. My breathing hitched and I grunted as I forced the light to surface on my skin. A scream tore through the empty office and I was barely aware that it came from me as I did one last final push. Giving birth naturally to a child would have been less painful than this. Not that I would ever know for sure.

The poison created a path of scorched flesh as it made its way outside. Eventually, the sounds of beads hitting the linoleum floor mixed in with the scent of burnt flesh. I slumped against the wall I had propped myself against and watched as the beads of light rolled around the floor. They lit up the floor with a beautiful white light as they moved around and it was mesmerizing in a way.

I carefully went to pick one up and pulled back in a conditioned response as it burned my index finger. The little beads were burning hot which explained the excruciating pain and exhaustion. My body was working overtime to heal my body.

I slumped further back against the cool wall, completely drained. Was it possible to grow numb from exhaustion? I couldn’t even lift a finger, let alone get back to my apartment. I nodded off just like that.

Cool hands pressed against my cheek and I blinked open my bleary eyes and stared right into vivid hazel eyes. Kay was bent over me, his face empty of any emotions as he checked over me carefully.

“What are you doing here?” I asked, my mouth dry. I licked my lips and tried to sit up. I must have fallen over last night after I fell asleep. Normally I was a light sleeper, any movements would have woken me up. In this case I passed right out, dead to the world around me. A baby could have taken me out with its rattle while I was out of it.

Kay cocked his eyebrows. “When the repairman was having trouble turning on the light, I figured you were here. Only your powers would prevent a security company from figuring out how their back-up generators and alarm system didn’t reboot after the storm ended.”

I blinked, looking around the room slowly, confused, until I looked out the window. It had to be early morning, the sun fighting for ownership of the skies, bringing with it a passionate fire that has always been the focus of the fine arts. The sky had cleared up, the clouds drained and still dissipating, or moving on after depleting their supply of rain.

Kay helped me stand up slowly. A quick body check showed the wounds nearly healed and my body not so surprisingly sore.

“Lord Kay, we need to leave,” a male voice whispered impatiently. I glanced off towards the door and found Frey standing there, his hands in his designer jeans and his hair ruffled. He lifted a hand and ran it through his small curls in agitation.

Frey didn’t want to be here and neither did I. He has only ever been aggressive since I met him and I didn’t need that kind of attitude around me, especially right now. While as a child I would probably goad him or ignore him, in my true form I wanted to kill him, put an end to his miserable attitude and do everyone else a favor.

I curled my lip, barely holding onto myself. He saw the look and openly glared at me. I tried my best to ignore the open aggression, but Kalen opened a door to all my emotions I normally kept clamped down since forever ago and now I found his hostility to hurt a little. So I responded the only way I knew how to, with the same kind of hostility he showed me.

“Why is he here?” I snarled.

Kay stiffened, picking up on both of our moods. “You should be happy he’s here. He’s keeping the humans from finding you. We’ve been searching for you all night.”

“I’m fine, so you don’t need to keep worrying. It isn’t like you.”

“Why did you do it?” Kay asked with steel in his voice. “I could have helped you.”

I had to tear my eyes away from Frey to look at him. He looked exhausted, dark circles around his eyes. His usually immaculate appearance was marred with his ruffled clothes and disheveled hair. He was still wearing the clothes he did last night and now just looked like a porn star with a really bad hangover.

“No, you would have only gotten in my way.”

“I didn’t give you permission to move me to some small crappy apartment.”

“That crappy apartment is my home,” I mumbled, knowing he heard me. With a louder voice I said, “At least you didn’t end up outside in the storm.”

“Oh, how considerate of you.” He rolled his eyes. “You didn’t even have my permission to move me.”

I smirked at him. “Yes I did, or it wouldn’t have worked. When I asked if you trusted me, you said yes.”

“That shouldn’t have worked,” he growled.

“Then admit you wanted out. You can be brave all you want but the expression on your face was enough. You wanted out, you wanted to protect yourself.”

“Sir—”

“Shut it, Frey,” Kay snapped before turning back to face me. Some of the anger had leaked from his expression and the waves of heat lessened. “I told you, I don’t want you to die. That I wasn’t going to leave you hanging like last time.”

“I know.”

“Then why did you do that to me?”

I had to look away from those intense eyes. I looked down at my hands and the dry flakes of blood on them. I will have to scrub them raw later on just to get all the blood and dirt out from beneath my nails. Most of it was probably my blood too.

I cringed, slowly understanding how close to death I was. Even us immortals have a weakness and apparently mine was Kalen’s weapon.

“I was cocky. I believed nothing could kill me. I thought I could handle it and keep you out of harm’s way.”

He stayed silent for a moment, thinking about something. “And now?” His voice was soft and understanding. There was nothing worse than to believe you were invincible and letting that conceited attitude lead you to your death.

“There is a big possibility that I can die.”

He stared at me, his face careful, but not before I saw the fear in his eyes. He was surprised and it wasn’t a good surprise. “How? I’ve seen some pretty fucked up shit happen to you throughout the years and none of it killed you. It may take you a while to heal, even years, but it never killed you. Fuck, you were pretty much all bones at one point and still you managed to come back from it.”

I shrugged. “I’m not too sure. There’s something familiar about the method though.”

“Familiar how?”

I shrugged again, feeling useless. “Like a memory, but it was so long ago that it’s more like an impression now. Something that happened. Something that I should remember, but I just can’t.” I shook my head, hoping to dislodge the memory. No such luck. “It was too long ago.”

Kay’s jaw tensed, not happy with my response. He glared down at the floor for a moment before his eyes narrowed. He reached down and touched some kind of white dust on the floor. The only signs that the beads of light existed were the dust particles. He rubbed it between his fingers and sniffed at it.

“Is this from what was killing you?”

I nodded. “Do you know what it is?” I asked, hopeful.

“No,” he shook his head, unhappy with his lack of knowledge in something magic related.

“The best I can describe it is as little beads of white light. I had to push them out of my body and any flesh that came into contact with it burned. It was like I was burning from the inside out.”

“I’ll have to look into some stuff, see what I can find.” He took out a handkerchief, put some of the particles into it and then rolled up carefully before tucking it back into his pocket.

I leaned back against the wall, barely staying on my feet. My body relaxed a little. Kay was finally going to help me, even if it was just a little bit. I’ll take what I can at this point.

“We should get out of here before your lackey pops a vein.”

Yeah, Frey was that angry and impatient.

The Fae glared at me but held his tongue. It was for the best because all I wanted to do was show him how much of a lesser being he was. I was more powerful than him in this form.

His two forms no longer overlapped and I saw him as the Fae he really was. His skin wasn’t just alabaster white as I originally thought. It was nearly transparent too. He was still really tall, a good foot taller than me. Some of his skin has a dark blue hue to it to match the not just big, but huge blue eyes. His eyes took up half his face. The thin dark blue curls looked stiff and sharp, and made me wonder how he was able to run his hand through them without cutting them up.

“Don’t worry. It isn’t just you. He’s like that with everyone.”

“Aw and I was starting to think I was special,” I teased a little. “I’m a little surprised though. If his attitude is like this, then why do you keep him around? Your tolerance is worse than mine.”

“He’s a powerful Fae, especially with barriers and the likes.” He shrugged. “He’s been very useful, though I do wonder about last night.”

“How did the slauve get through his barriers if he’s so powerful?” I finished for him.

“Exactly.” He nodded. We both looked over at him and shook our heads.

“Maybe not so useful anymore?” I asked. “I don’t know. That slauve was pretty kickass, gave me a run for my money.”

“Maybe,” he said thoughtfully. “Anyways, lets get you back to my place.”

He pulled me with him towards Frey. Frey was smart enough to ignore anything we said about him. If I was him, I would have started a fight. It was probably why more people hated me than they did him.

“Your place? Why?” I asked. The last place I wanted to be was in Kay’s home.

“Because I can protect you better there than at that dingy place you call home. You can rest up, recharge, and I’ll make sure no one bothers you.”

“I think your place bothers me enough. No way I can rest there. There’s too much going on with your place.”

He smiled, knowing exactly what I meant. His place was one massive death trap for strangers, and his taste in decorations…dark. It made me feel homesick sometimes, not that I had any particular home. His place just made me miss some things from the past. Not all of it was bad.

Chapter 15:

Kay’s home was in a concrete building with ten floors. From a distant it looked like an enormous rock that fell into the middle of the city. Whenever I saw it, I always thought the architecture lacked creativity. Kay loved it, which wasn’t surprising. It has way too much security. We were on the outskirts of East Rheems, with the harbor and South Rheems only a couple blocks away. This area was built by the paranoid. Most buildings were well built, sturdy and meant to survive any natural disaster. There were even underground bunks underneath most of them in case of radiation or bombings. Ever since terrorist attacks went on the rise, the bunks were well stocked with plenty of water and canned goods to last months, if not a year.

Entering, it became even clearer to why he chose this particular building. The security was top of the line, the elevator needed a key-card just to open the door and a passcode to go to the floor you wanted. We went to the top floor without ever feeling the elevator move. No inertia took effect and within seconds we were stepping out into the Renaissance period.

The spacious flat was filled with expensive Renaissance art and sculptures. I recognized some of the paintings as being Masolino’s and another by Fra Angelico. He had one of my favorite oil paintings hanging on the wall, the familiar strokes of the landscape done by Giovanni Bellini. There was a small wooden sculpture by Brunelleschi sitting on a small table. Every piece of art was the original and if money ever became an issue, all he had to do was sell one of them and then he was set for the rest of his eternity. All the artwork brought me through a portal and right into the Renaissance. I always knew he loved that time period. I just never knew how much. Maybe obsessed wasn’t enough to describe his passion.

“Careful not to touch anything. Wouldn’t want to set off a trap,” he smirked as I reached out to caress a sculpture. I curled my fingers into a fist and brought it back to my side. It was just the beauty that was drawing me in but all the magic. These were more than artwork. Their creators had etched into ever part of the work their lively hood. Anyone with a drop of magic in them could feel the pieces screaming for attention. And underneath that was a little taste of Kay’s personal magic. His little traps for the foolhardy.

“You would,” I mumbled and worked hard to keep my hands to myself. It was so tempting to reach out and caress the sculptures or to feel the brushstrokes on the paintings. The entire flat was done up in all kinds of shades of red and brown, giving it a dark, homey feeling. It was a huge contrast to how the outside of the building looked.

There wasn’t much lighting, just soft lamps here and there. They softened even more in my presence, but at least I didn’t shatter them like the ones in his office. I was starting to get a handle on my powers again.

Frey disappeared into one of the rooms we passed and I followed Kay into a living room filled with large old-fashioned furniture. The room smelled of cigars and lemons. Cabinets lined one of the walls, filled with antiques I recognized from the Middle Ages. There were bronze knives and jewelry, stained with age and yet still well preserved. I recognized an original patina made out of pewter from one of the churches we ransacked in Italy as a challenge to all things holy. The patina was a shallow pan, with an intricate carving at the bottom and the handle was an elaborate design.

“You like?” Kay asked, standing next to me. I could feel his eyes as he watched my face. My fingers were touching the glass lightly. I made a noncommittal sound and sat down on one of the couches.

He sat down across from me and leaned back. Devon came into the room, his eyes subservient as he stared downwards and whispered something into Kay’s ear. I couldn’t make out the words. After a moment, Kay nodded and Devon left the room. Not once did the shy little gazelle look at me.

“Please stay here and rest.”

I shook my head. “I don’t have that kind of time. I can only think that the slauve now knows who I am and he’ll be able to find me here. He’s a honing missile locked onto me.”

Kay gave me a smug smile. “I set up my place so he won’t be able to locate you. Are you planning to stay in this form?”

I glanced down at my body. I wasn’t used to having the long limbs, long slender fingers or even the breasts. They were large, round and firm…and in my way. I was wearing clothes Lord Kay was smart enough to bring with him when he went searching for me. It was a simple man’s t-shirt and sweatpants with the strings pulled tight against me to hold them up. “No. It’s too dangerous right now. But you’re going to have to help me go back to the other one. My power tank is really low.”

“I can help. Just a warning though, you probably won’t like it. If you did it on your own, it would be less painful.”

“I’m used to pain,” I smiled weakly.

“No one, not even you, should be used to pain.” His words came out resigned.

Devon and Frey came into the room and started setting up candles. They moved about the room in sync to each other, placing the candles the correct distance from each other. The whole process was well rehearsed. Kay must have been making them help him with his magic and now they had a routine down perfectly.

It took a lot of trust to let someone else help you with your own magic circles. If they fucked it up, a whole lot of nasty shit could go down.

“We can only hope the slauve doesn’t recognize you as a child,” Kay mumbled as he lit the candles. “Your power is barely the same between the two forms. They fascinatingly have a different feel from each other.”

“So if I run into him as a child, he won’t recognize me. Even though we nearly killed each other last night?”

“That’s my guess.”

“Want to place my life on that guess?” I asked.

I relaxed a little with that tidbit of knowledge. If he still didn’t recognize me as Akhlys then I still had a chance. That wasn’t the whole reason it felt good to know he wouldn’t try to kill me when he saw me again. It hurt just thinking that Kalen wanted me dead and would try to do it. The slauve had really grown on me. His stubbornness, naïve beliefs, and unconditional kindness, all of it was cute, and different, and refreshing.

Kay stopped lighting a candle and glared at me. “No, I don’t. I told you earlier, I don’t want to leave you hanging again. If I find whoever made that slauve, he’s going to learn just why I’m the best magic user on the East Coast. Probably in all the states.”

I couldn’t prevent a shiver from crawling down my back, reminding me that he had the juice to back up that claim.

Turning into a child the second time around was easier than the first time, but it was still no picnic. Kay had me lay down in the middle of a circle he formed with salt and chalk. Symbols I somewhat recognized from the first time he helped me do this were drawn onto the wooden floor. He circled me, standing outside of the magic circle and after three rounds, he stopped at my feet and began to chant.

His words were fluid and smooth. The warm magic reached out and lightly touched my skin, caressing me. As Kay kept chanting, the ancient words began to flow together, no separation in what he was saying—whatever that was. I didn’t know the language or if I ever did, I forgot it in the recess of my unending memories. There was something warm and comforting to them, kind of like a lullaby someone sang as they gently woke me up from a deep slumber. Not that anyone ever sang a lullaby to me. And why was it to wake me up from a deep slumber if they did? Wouldn’t it be to put me to sleep? Before I could ponder on that even more, the pain came.

It really wasn’t that bad. Really.

I only convulsed on the floor, my back bending and my body spazzing as I lost all control of myself.

I could feel every bone in my body shrink. What took a span of months happened in a couple hours. I probably screamed, cried, yelled and cursed. Probably.

I just couldn’t remember as I lost myself in the pain. It could have been seconds or hours that went by and during that time, I didn’t care. I just wanted it to be done with. I wanted to be that little girl again, to get away from all the problems being Akhlys gave me. You’d think that would have helped me make it through—by thinking of all the pros about changing into a child. Well, it didn’t. All I could think about was to try and find a way to end it.

The purpose of the circle wasn’t to help with the spell but to keep me inside and everyone safe. At some point, I know I smashed against the barrier, trying to break it with everything I had. I expanded, fought back and lost as the magic ran its course and I became the child I wanted to be.

When I had enough sense to even move, the soreness was on par with being hit by a truck and then thrown off the Empire State building. Overkill. I felt like overkill. Someone had moved me to one of the couches. I could feel a fire from the hearth on my face as it kept the room warm and cozy. As I looked around, for a second I really did believe I was back in the past until I remembered Kay’s taste in art.

I slowly sat up, dazed, my brain trying to catch up with everything. I rubbed at my face and felt the familiar features of my new and yet old appearance. It was once again childish, my cheeks soft and round, my eyes big, my nose short and wide, and my lips thinner than they were as an adult. My hands were pale and small, no longer long and graceful. My chest was light, no longer held down by big breasts. I wanted to smile and laugh—and yet at the same time I wanted to cry.

It was like I lost myself again. Being an adult was natural; it was who I truly was and becoming a child once again felt wrong. I could hear El in the background telling me I was running away from my problems again, trying to take the easy way out. At least this time his voice was quieter. When I did this the first time, he was in the front of my mind, screaming and yelling at me to face what happened. Of course, me being me, I ignored him. The pain and guilt of Eithna’s death was too strong then.

Her death was the reason I searched for Kay. It took a couple of years, but when I tracked him down, I convinced him to do what I wanted. I can silently admit now, that back then, I was running away from everything. This time was different though. I wasn’t running away once again, was I? I just wanted to stay undercover while I tracked down Kalen’s master.

“You seem unsure about something.”

Startled, I looked over and saw Kay in the same chair he was in earlier. At some point he had changed into black sweatpants and a dark gray t-shirt with Rock’n Roll on the front. Below that said ‘Going To Be A King Today.’

I licked my lips, my mouth completely dry. “I’m just trying to figure out why I put myself through this once again.”

“You regret turning back into a child?” He kept his voice neutral, but his eyes gave him away. He was hopeful about something.

“I really can’t say if I do or don’t,” I replied, giving him the truth.

“Being a child protects you.”

“Yeah.”

“You don’t have to worry about losing control of yourself.”

“Maybe.” I stared at him. It was like he was playing devil’s advocate. Why? “What’s going on?”

His smile widened, his face brightening up. He shook his head. “Nothing too much. I just think you’re finally seeing what I’ve seen for the past two hundred years.”

“What?”

“That you were running away.”

I kept quiet, unable to say anything against that. Hadn’t I just admitted at least that much to myself?

“At first, I couldn’t figure out why you were so adamant about making yourself so weak. You were never one to go into hiding, even when men with torches surrounded you. You faced them down every time, even when it was painful and all you wanted to do was quit.”

“So? What’s your point?”

“Last time was different. It was like you were weighed down with some kind of knowledge you couldn’t accept. Like you were scared of something you did. Something you refused to admit. It took me a while to realize it was because of Eithna’s death. You don’t get attached too easily.”

“So why are you so damn happy?” My face was stiff, my words cold.

“Because I think you won’t be needing this weak form anymore very soon. I’ve had the pleasure of watching you throughout the years. I have to admit I grew somewhat fond of you. You were always like a stray dog, always on alert, keeping others away, fighting to stay alive. Then when you came to me two hundred years ago, you were a hurt stray dog and have been ever since.”

I stood up slowly, stretching out my childish body a little. Kay just sat there, grinning like a fool. I could feel the truth in his words. The fact that I was so easily willing to go back to my true human form was evidence enough.

“I can’t go back to who I once was.”

“No, you can’t. Even I know that.” His words were sad. “Ever since that enlightener got his hands on you, you changed, became softer.”

I shook my head. “Don’t bring El into this.”

“But he’s the start of it all, isn’t he? He created a kind of rule book to follow, to reshape your decisions.”

“He saved me from myself—”

“And the fact that you think like that makes what I said true. He thought you needed to be saved, but are you really?” he interrupted me, his face going serious. It made him look slightly older, maybe more like a graduate student instead of an undergrad. I wasn’t the only one changing these last two hundred years. “Look where meeting the enlightener got you. A weak stray. That slauve almost killed you because you couldn’t properly control your powers. You’re weak like this.”

I glanced around, my eyes flickering quickly around the room as I grew confused. How did we even get onto this topic?

“Then why help me?”

“Because I owe you. The Consort would have killed me, but not you. You’re special and they knew it. Even I knew it back then. They only gave you a slap on the wrist because of who you are. They are willing to invest in you, and so I left you behind to deal with them. I know that doesn’t excuse what I did. That village was all me and yet I dragged you into it.”

“Just say what the point of this conversation is. I need to leave.”

“I simply want you to stop being weak. If you stay like this, you’ll be killed.”

“I can’t be killed.”

He shook his head. “You don’t believe that anymore.”

No, I didn’t believe in those words, but I wasn’t going to admit that out loud. Saying it out loud brought a kind of reality to the situation I didn’t want. So I stared at him and said nothing.

He sighed and stood up. Once again I had to glance up at him. I kind of missed seeing eye level with him. It made it easier to understand him. I would give a finger or two to know what he was thinking. They would grow back eventually, so it was no real lost. He walked over to me slowly, his movements graceful and slow.

“I get it, okay. I don’t like it but I guess I understand. Just be careful. Whatever magic they are using, it’s rare and ancient—before my time.”

“I’m always careful.”

He grunted. “Once, I would have called you a liar, but now…” He scanned my body, not happy with what he was seeing. “I guess you are.”

I wanted to say I’m sorry. It was like I let him down. I guess we both were realizing there was no going back.

“Bye,” I said simply.

“Bye.”

With nothing left to say, I left, closing the door softly behind me.

Chapter 16:

It was late evening when I stepped out onto the streets. The sun was low in the sky, taking with it the light that made people feel safe. I lost a whole day. That was not how I wanted to spend my day. I don’t think anyone wanted to spend their day withering in pain. The air was still warm and clear, lacking the pollution the storm was able to wash away. By midday tomorrow, exhaust and pollution will once again take over, but for now, I enjoyed a few good deep breaths.

I strolled slowly towards the subway. It was late enough to have the streets packed with people on dates or going to dinner before the nightlife began. I kept my head down and ignored everyone as I weaved through the streets. Kay let me borrow another shirt and a light jacket that looked more like a trench coat on me. I pulled the jacket tight around me and hoped no one was stupid enough to ask if I was lost.

I never considered El as a turning point in my life. Yes, he gave me a rulebook to make use of, but half the time, I threw that rulebook out the window. At least until I met Eithna. Then I got a taste of what being a mentor was like.

Eithna was a breath of fresh air, always upfront with me, asking questions about not just spells and magic, but about me and who I was underneath the façade I hid behind. She had opened up to me as much as I opened up to her and trusted me in a way no one ever did, not even Kay or El. They expected me to be ruthless and mean first, she at least waited on her judgments, waited until I betrayed her personally and I never did until I handed her the key to her death.

I smiled to myself as I got on the subway, squeezing between a man and an old woman. If Eithna could come back from the dead, I could picture her flipping back her hair and saying feistigh do thóin féin or the equivalent of go fuck yourself. Then she would pout and make me pay her back by showing her something new that I refused to show her before. She was forgiving in that way.

She would agree with the Consort saying it wasn’t my fault. She would say she made her choices. Eithna always took responsibility for her actions. Like when she accidentally turned a family into stone. She refused my help and spent a month trying to fix it and when she finally did, she created a spell that ensured their crops to be bountiful for the next ten years as an apology. She was good like that.

If only I could agree with her on this one. She should never have found that spell.

When my stop on the subway came, I finally drew out of my memories long enough to take notice of the ten-foot radius between the humans and me. I gave a little amused smile as I stepped off and went back out onto the streets.

Baron’s bar was located in the old downtown of the city, meaning it was in South Rheems. Abandoned buildings surrounded the bar, with other businesses littered around. The walkways were real cobblestone, but no upkeep on them for years. Some green moss was growing on the rocks and dirt in between them. It made the walk a little tricky, especially after the heavy rainfall. They were extra slippery. I could hear my borrowed black Mary Janes as they clacked against them.

A lantern was what marked the bar and the big heavy wooden door helped differentiate the building from all the others around it. I walked over and opened the door to loud and obnoxious singing.

I paused a moment and then dove inside, squeezing my way to the bar. As the beings noticed me, they began to inch away until there was at least a five-foot parameter around. I tried not to grin, thinking about the subway. At least they weren’t quick to try and kill me.

Baron spotted me and nodded before grabbing a mug and preparing my drink. The man looked good compared to when I last saw him. His blonde hair was braided this time and snaked around his petite frame, reaching down to his waist. Tonight he was full of energy that kept him rooted to the reality he appeared to fade from. His usually summer green eyes were now feline-like as they stayed alert, looking for any possible trouble.

When he came and gave me my drink, a light shock went through me, going from my fingertips all the way to the ends of my hair.

“Sorry.” He gave me an apologetic smile. “My body is responding to all the energy in the air.”

I glanced around at everyone. Someone started singing another song in Old English and others were clapping. I recognized a few faces and realized the place was packed with the top dogs of our world. Beings I wanted to avoid since I was on their shit list.

Like Old Burn, dancing in the corner by himself. I killed his wife before I came to the States and now he wanted to turn me into barbeque. In my defense, that old bitch threw me off a cliff. I simply returned the favor when I was up and running again. Not my fault she wasn’t as durable as me.

“What’s going on?” I asked.

“They’re all Lord Kay’s clients. I think they are pre-gaming until they head out to a bigger party Lord Kay is hosting.”

“Alcohol affects even the strongest of us all.”

He leaned forward and his voice was lower. “I just want them out. This many in an enclosed space, something is bound to start.”

“And you’re just waiting for it to happen so you can dust their asses.” I smiled. Maybe I’ll see something good tonight.

He grinned and walked away, laughing, while he attended to another customer. Glad to brighten someone’s night. I took a drink of the tea and felt all the honey relax my own body. I enjoyed the drink, allowing it to brighten my own day at least a little. Nothing could come between me and my drink right now.

The beings stayed strong for another hour, drinking and singing. To Baron’s disappointment, no fights broke out and when they finally left, I felt like I could breathe again. Apparently Baron felt the same way because when he gave me my third tea, I didn’t get a shock with it.

“So what happened to you?” he asked, his head tilted to the side.

“What do you mean?” I asked, feigning ignorance. Did he already know about my fight with Kalen?

He shrugged. “You seem different. Not so closed off.”

“You mean vulnerable?”

He shook his head and gave a weak smile. “No, not vulnerable. Just open—a little less scary.”

I cocked my eyebrow and he pushed forward, trying to explain himself. A light blush crept up into his cheeks, going across his nose. Well would you look at that? I made Baron blush. I held back the smile that wanted to break across my face. He probably wouldn’t appreciate me grinning like a fool at his expense.

“I just mean it seems like you’ve face something you’ve needed to face for a long time and now you’re healing a little.”

I was silent for a moment, thinking about his words. “I don’t know about facing it completely, but more like an acknowledgement maybe?” My words came out slow and uncertain.

Baron nodded as if he understood. He probably did too. Sometimes, when he thought no one was looking and his mask cracked a little, a sadness overtook his expression. It’s a brief moment, quick enough for people to not recognize that look. I only recognized it because Eithna got the same look sometimes too. I just wish I knew it was because she lost her children. Did Baron lose someone important to him too?

Why do you look like that,” I had asked her.

Because pain isn’t something you can hide forever. It’ll come through sooner or later. It always does.”

Then a couple days later she made the slauve and died.

“It’s a start,” Baron said.

“Yeah,” I mumbled and took another sip. I could never have too much sweetness, no matter what anyone says.

Baron went away to help more customers. I swiveled in my chair to see who was left after that crowd took off. There were some beings scattered around, keeping to themselves. Two men caught my attention. They were in the corner of the bar, a lot of empty mugs in front of them.

They looked like they were trying to drown their sorrows away. Something about them made me think they came from the tournament. They had to be fighters who failed to even get down the dark stairwell. Their figures were buff, tribal tattoos scattering their dark arms and their hair pulled back in tight braids, giving the impression of short hair if you didn’t see the little braid at the nape of their neck. Everything about them screamed defeated fighter. Kay’s tournaments were no joke. It wasn’t for the weak. And those two were weak if they were here and not underground.

Eyes in the room all turned towards the door. I glanced over to see what caught everyone’s attention and found the leggy blonde who wanted to approach me the night I first met Kalen. This time she had no one to stop her and she headed directly to me, an excited cockiness in her smile.

She sashayed towards me, her smile growing as others watched her hips move with hungry eyes. Her magic was kept close to herself, making it hard to gauge her potential. She had amazing control—even I had to admit I was jealous of that control.

The woman was what others called a smoking babe. The two words together didn’t make sense to me and Kay had to explain it meant a beautiful woman. I still didn’t get it but that was what this witch would be called. Smoking babe. Her blond hair was cut in short layers to frame her face. Her full lips were rose-colored, nose straight, and the little bit of makeup made use of her high cheekbones and twinkling dark eyes. Her eyes were framed with long eyelashes. Every time she blinked those thick lashes, I swear I could hear them as they collided against each other. How do her lashes not get tangled up together? The witch wore a short navy blue strapless dress that hugged every curve on her body.

When she made it to the bar, she hopped up on the stool next to me, turned to face me and crossed her long legs. Her dress hiked up to her upper thighs, showing off her perfectly tanned legs. Everything about her made me wonder why she was here. She should be either at a photo-shoot, at the gym to keep that athletic figure, or at a dance club, grinding against a man.

“You’re Akhlys, aren’t you?” Her smiled widened.

I stilled, completely shocked that she knew that name.

How?

The room started to chatter again when they figured out she wasn’t going to give them the attention they so desperately wanted. Low murmurs surrounded us as I stared at her, speechless. Unfazed by my reaction, she sat there, smiling like a queen with a new jester to keep her entertained. It didn’t take long for me to hate her. I wanted to wipe that smile off her face, show her who she was dealing with. Instead I sat there and tried to regain my composure by taking a drink. It didn’t work, she knew she had my attention.

I finally responded, my throat still dry even after a drink. It was like the honey congealed inside my throat, preventing me from speaking clearly enough. “How do you know that name?” The words were too thick and I had to take another drink.

She smiled even more. I didn’t even know someone could smile so big, especially a human.

There was a small debate in the supernatural community about whether witches were human or not. They created their own magic, magic inherited through their family, and if they were lucky enough to get it, it allowed them to live up to three hundred years, max. Other than that, everything about them was human.

When this mysterious woman grinned, her face pretty much split in half, making me question my original opinion.

A human shouldn’t be able to smile like that, right?

“How do you know that name?” I tried asking again. This time my words were clear and strong.

She laughed and raised her hand to get Baron’s attention. Not that he was already keeping an eye on us. Remember when I mentioned we were civil antagonists? Well, now was the perfect example. We were like two smiling pit bulls in a dogfight, just waiting for the perfect opportunity to attack. Will it be through words or through punches—well in our cases, through magic and power?

Battles of wits, I could handle fine. I have centuries of practice. Battles of supernatural gifts was a whole other satisfying meal that always got my blood pumping. While magic for a witch was self-made by components in their blood and their surroundings, mine was more of a natural gift. My power was more than just magic and I knew witches were nothing for me.

Of course, it was all on this woman if she wanted to fight or not. I respected Baron enough not to fight in his bar. I think he believed that too because most of his focus was on the woman. She ordered a Blue Rague and was given the same drink Lord Baron was always drinking. It was light blue at the bottom, darkening as it got closer to the surface.

“Anything else?” he asked, looking at me. I shook my head, watching as the woman took a sip. He left reluctantly to serve other customers. Maybe he’ll still have a chance to smite someone tonight.

The woman held out her hand. Her fingers were long and well pampered with her fingernails manicured. “Paige Chambers.”

I glared at her hand until she placed it back on her la, next to her other hand. “How do you know that name?” I asked again, my words clipped.

Her smile faltered as some of her confidence left. Uncertainty flickered through her eyes before she hid it behind another smile, full of perfect teeth. I wonder what her smile would look like if she was missing a tooth or two. My fists tightened in my lap, but I kept my face as neutral as possible. I’m sure she could still feel my anger.

It finally clicked why it was too easy to hate her—other than the fact that she knew that name. She was too damn perfect. Her skin was flawless, not a single wrinkle, pimple, or blotch on that tanned skin. If she spent so much time out in the sun, there should have been imperfections somewhere on her skin. She revealed enough of herself in that dress to suggest she didn’t have any. Not even a single strand of hair was out of place on her beautiful little face. Her body was well toned, her legs shapely, her breasts plentiful and her neck enticing. Everything was so perfect, her age was actually non-descriptive.

“I was with El for a couple of months, a couple of decades ago.”

“Even then you wouldn’t know my name.”

“No, I wouldn’t.” She simply agreed. Her head tilted as she searched my face for something that wasn’t there. When she was certain she wasn’t going to find it, she sighed. “The enlightener didn’t tell me anything about you. He wouldn’t, so you can relax. But I did get to touch something you used. A spell book you sent to him two hundred years ago. I got a taste of your power then. And I saw you a couple of nights ago and put two and two together. You could be no one but Akhlys.”

“That isn’t possible. My power doesn’t feel the same as Akhlys’s.”

She smiled, her confidence coming back. “No…no it doesn’t. But I don’t look at the outside appearance of powers. I can go deeper than that.” She stared right into my eyes, unblinking. With that one look, I could believe her. Her eyes were dark, full of secrets only she knew about. It was like she was almost looking right through me. Almost.

I shook my head, trying to shake off her stare. She blinked rapidly a couple of times. Yeah…I can definitely hear her blink. She took another sip of her blue drink.

“You still didn’t answer me. How do you know that name?” My annoyance slipped out and the lights dimmed. The room grew quiet and everyone stared at me.

I glared at them. Keep looking at me and I’ll cast you into the darkness to be fed on. They got the message loud and clear, finding their companions or drinks more interesting.

I turned my glare to the witch.

She swallowed, no longer the cocky bitch she started off as. Apparently she wasn’t getting the reaction she wanted from me. I mentally shrugged. Fine with me. The sooner she left me alone, the better.

“There is a, uh, family legend about Akhlys, about what she is capable of doing. I matched the legend with your powers.”

“A legend?”

She nodded.

“Which one?” I’ve heard all kinds of legends involving me. Some of them were absurd and others were too close to the truth.

Paige paled a little and played with a ring on her finger. She was nervous now. She glanced around before dipping her dress further down, bearing the left mound of her breast. I could tell how skimpy her bikini was by her tan lines. On the breast was a family tattoo that each witch got when they were initiated into their family. The ink was a dark black and created a small circle. In intricate details, the lines crisscrossed each other creating a patterned line in a ring. Lines came together on the outside to make it look kind of like a sun. Outlining the curving lines was another in the color of yellow. There was a slash through the tattoo, creating a scar. It had to have been a couple decades old.

Memories crashed over me when I realized just what kind of witch sat across from me. I could hear the screams of women as they huddled from me, the yelling of angry men as they tried to fight back, and the smell of decay that permeated the air. The smell wasn’t of death or of blood, but of decay. Kay and I combined forces and took out a whole family of powerful witches. Kay was going to be pissed when he found out we didn’t get them all.

They had sent some powerful witches after us when they learned of the hunters we killed and we just wanted to pay them back. We were already watching them closely because of rumors of ancient magic being available to them. Deciding to kill them cost nothing to us after they sent those witches. By the looks of it, they would have become pesky later on.

I leaned against the bar top, not believing what I saw.

She shouldn’t exist. None of them should. They were dangerous back then, their magic old and their ability to wield it amazing. Kay suffered from some serious injuries from our attack. I had to take care of him for weeks before we could move on. I only suffered minor injuries thanks to my use of the darkness. I created a shield, blocking their attacks. It was hard. Nearly ran out of power and afterwards, when we were finished, I slept for two days straight, recharging, before I could help Kay.

“How?” I whispered, unable to hide my shock.

“Two sisters got away. Took a very long time, but they rebuilt the family.”

“Not much of a family if they exiled you. That’s what the scar is right? Proof of your exile?”

She nodded. “Yeah, we have different opinions. I wanted more power, they didn’t agree with my methods.”

My eyes widened with understanding. “You used black magic.”

She nodded again.

“And you approaching me, is what? Revenge? Do you plan to kill me?”

She let out a bark of laughter, coming out as angry. “There is no way I can kill you. We lost a lot with that little massacre you did.” Something dark passed through her expression when she stopped laughing and before she smiled. It was right in there for a brief second, quickly covered by that cocky smile that was getting annoying. “Including a lot of our spells.”

I sighed. “Then, why are you here, talking to me?”

“I simply want to look into the eyes of the one who was cruel enough to destroy an ancient family who existed before even Ancient Greece.”

“Apparently not destroyed if you’re still here,” I muttered.

Her smile grew cold, the twinkle in her eyes dissipating.

“I still don’t understand what made El so proud of you. You’re not much.”

“Neither are you if he dumped you only after a couple of months. Why were you with him? Too much magic that you couldn’t handle.”

“El didn’t dump me.”

“You said it yourself, you were only with El for a couple of months. I wonder what he found lacking in you.”

“Nothing,” she snarled. “I left on my own.”

“And he let you. If you were worth his time, he would have followed you around.” I found something to tick her off. Maybe I could piss her off enough to leave. One could only hope. “When I tried to leave him, all he did was follow me around for weeks until I paid him any attention. The man has too much resilience.”

She glared again. “The Consort sent him, maybe he let me leave because he saw that I was no risk.” This time she hiked up her dress. On her right thigh was a similar brand as mine, except it was only one circle. “Becoming a true dark witch takes sacrifice.”

“And you bit off too much and choked.”

She glared at me. “I did what was necessary.”

“And it goes back to what I was saying—you’re still useless. No coven to help you and no proper magic to use.” I pointed to the brand. It was probably the only thing that kept her from trying to kill me.

She went still, glaring at me until she turned, downed her drink, threw a tip on the table, and stood up.

“I know you’re the type to destroy whole families because of possibilities and you’ll always be like that. I hope we don’t meet again.”

I smiled politely, embracing the victory. “I sure hope so.” I saluted my drink to her as she stormed out of the bar. A moment later, Baron came over.

“What was her deal?” he asked.

“Probably wanted to get a rise out of me so you would have to smite me.” I gave him a little smile and downed the rest of my drink. “Hey, I have a couple questions for you.”

He stared at me for a moment, taking in my appearance. I knew I looked upset, I couldn’t help it. Not when a witch from a family that should be long gone was being openly aggressive. That and I really was losing control over my facial expressions for some reason.

“Have you heard about the slauve?”

He thought about it. “I think so. Someone’s been going around, asking a lot of questions. All kinds of questions actually. About missing children and a woman.”

“Missing children?” I asked.

“Apparently eight children have gone missing over the past week.”

“And that has to do with the slauve because?” I asked.

“Nosy?” He shrugged. “Some believe a being is involved. Of course, no one is trying to do anything about it either.”

“Seriously?” I asked.

What if Kalen was right? What if a being was killing and kidnapping children? No. No being was in the area except me and Kalen when that little girl was killed and her older sister taken. I was absolutely sure of it. And what being was dumb enough to leave such an important task up to a human. They leave breadcrumbs all over the place and Kalen was apparently doing a decent job of finding them here and there.

Baron shrugged again. “Who knows? It’s all rumors right now. I think he has a necromancer helping him out. Anything else?” He looked over to another customer, holding up a finger to let him know he will be right there.

“Yeah, is Seeker awake yet?”

He shook his head. “Sorry, not yet. At least not yet a couple hours ago. When he’s at his weakest, his guards like to come in and let loose a little. They left just before you got here.”

“Alright,” I sighed, not happy with the new information. “I better get going.”

“Okay, just be careful.” He gave me a look that told me he knew what I was thinking.

Once again I reassured someone on my wellbeing. “I’m always careful.”

“Sure you are.” He went to turn and paused, his expression darkening as he glared over at the door.

I glanced over to see what put him on alert and saw nothing. Then I could feel him.

Kalen.

His power brushed against my skin, uncertainty showing in the hesitant way it crawled across my arm. It thought it found its target, but now it wasn’t so sure. That was what Baron felt. The power wasn’t just uncertain, it was raw and angry. And it was aimed at me.

I could feel her. Her existence was calling to me. She was close, so damn close.

My body moved on its own. My surroundings blurred as I ran faster than what should be possible. I still couldn’t get used to this new body. It was sturdier, stronger, and so damn angry. Chains clanked in my ears, my chest tightened and I wanted to howl as a response to the howling of my soul. He was just as angry, even more so. She was close.

I almost had her too.

I can take her. She should be weak, hopefully dying.

Her tender touch as she ran her hands through my hair.

Kalen…

The pain in just that one word, in that one gesture. She didn’t want to fight me. She didn’t want to kill me.

No! She has to die. I can feel her. It’s faint, but it’s her. Her existence is calling to me.

I grabbed onto my anger, wrapped myself in it, and then pushed forward. She needed to die if I wanted to be free. I needed to find her.

I can do this.

I have to do this.

Kalen…

Chapter 17:

“Something very angry is coming,” Baron murmured. The room grew quiet as everyone’s own warning bells went off.

Just as the last noise stopped—someone placing down a cup—Kalen burst through the door. His eyes were black with power, his pupils nearly completely expanded. At least this time there was a ring of dark brown. Maybe he wasn’t as dangerously enthralled as he was last time. His nostrils flared with anger and he moved through the room with desperation. He glanced around, searching for the source of his anger. Seeing him again like this gave me a second dose of how dangerous he really was. He wasn’t holding his knife like I expected, but I was sure it was on his person, somewhere.

Baron jumped over the counter with the grace of a cat, his own power crackling around him. I stood up and walked slightly ahead of him, giving him a free path to the slauve and still keep myself between them.

“Don’t hurt him,” I whispered, my chest tightening by all the possibilities. I kept Kalen in view, not quite trusting him. He stood there, staring at me now that he spotted me. He wore a dark V-neck sweater with dark jeans.

I once asked if he trusted me enough to keep us safe and he nodded. He trusted me at the park and now I had to trust him not to fight in here at least. Baron wouldn’t tolerate it, not even for me, not even if he feared me. This tavern was his baby and fathers protected their babies fiercely. Baron was no exception.

“He either reigns it in, gets out, or faces me.” Baron kept his eyes on Kalen, unimpressed with the man. No one in the bar moved. No one wanted to set off either men.

I backed up a little so I could see them both clearly.

“Kalen…” my voice trailed off and I swallowed over the dread in my stomach. Kalen was a freakishly strong slauve, but he was still no match against Baron. Not when Baron had the something to protect. When I said Kalen managed to carve a place in my heart, I wasn’t lying. He has. I’m still trying to figure out how he did that exactly, but he did.

Now the idea of him dying turned my body cold with anxiety. My gut twisted with a finality of loss that only death could bring. He found his way past my shields and now I had to deal with the emotions I never wanted to face again—the feeling of loss. It was going to happen.

“Darkness.” He glanced around briefly. When he first walked in, he was full of confidence that his target was in here. Now he wasn’t so sure and it showed in the shuffle of his feet and the glances he made around the room. He was second-guessing himself now. If only he knew how right he was. The air was thick and heavy with his furious power and Baron’s electrifying power. “What are you doing in a place like this?”

I shook my head at his question. “You need to either swallow your power or get out.”

Something in my expression must have warned him against possible danger. He finally looked at Baron, taking him in. Baron’s skin had turned translucent, his power running through him. I could swear humming was coming from him, as if his body was charging up for an attack.

The two beings stared at each other and if they did it any longer, a fight was going to break out. I stepped closer to Baron, wanting to defuse him. He himself was one large electrical charge just waiting to go off. The rumors of him turning others to dust with just a look didn’t seem like just a rumor anymore. This was the first time I was getting a real taste of his power and it really was electrifying. He was still tense from the crowd that was here and now Kalen showing up in a whirlwind of power and anger. One more little thing and Baron was going to reach his limit.

Fortunately Kalen came to the same conclusion because he did what I asked. He swallowed his power. I say swallow because when a being reigns in their power, that’s what it can look like. Kalen took a deep breath, drawing in all the raw power he could. His large chest puffed out and slowly, very, very slowly, he let out a breath that came out more like a hiss.

He shook his head, probably trying to shake off the remaining power. “I apologize for causing a scene.”

Baron eyed him before sighing. He didn’t need to swallow his power like Kalen did. He simply dissipated it into the air. All the hairs on my body stood on end, attracted to the charges in the air. I had a feeling if I touched someone, I would get a little shock. Kind of like going down a plastic slide and then touching someone to shock them. Except his would be a bigger shock, maybe even deadly. I didn’t want to find out.

“Since you’re new, I’m only warning you once. I don’t tolerate any fighting in here.”

Kalen nodded. “Consider myself properly chastised.” If anyone else said those words, they would have been sarcastic. With Kalen, they were simply the truth. He really did look sorry.

Baron nodded, accepting his response. He went back behind the bar, poured a shot of something dark and took it. When he noticed everyone was still staring at him, he smiled. His eyes stayed cold and watchful. “Shows over, go back to your drinks.”

It took a couple of moments, but they all took his advice. I stayed standing, cautious, as Kalen walked towards me, his eyes never leaving mine. They were no longer black, his pupils were back to their normal size with the dark brown surrounding them. His eyes seemed endless; they were the kind of eyes women got lost in.

“Why did you enter like that? We felt you long before you came through the door,” I said. I knew why but I still needed to ask. I needed to know if he figured out who I really was yet. I needed him to say it. I still expected him to look at me with recognition and betrayal in his eyes before his fury took over and we fought again.

“I felt her here. She was here, had to be.” Kalen ran his hands across his face, clearly frustrated. He plopped down on a stool, his feet easily touching the ground. I hopped up on mine and let my feet dangle. Some of the patrons looked at us, curious about the man and wondering why he was talking to me so easily. Maybe I affected him just as much as he affected me. He always seems quick to answer my questions if he could. A very rare trait to have in this world.

“Her being the woman you have to kill?”

He nodded. “Akhlys.”

My heart skipped a beat.

I had to work hard not to give myself away, schooling my face to be the perfect nonchalant one I could manage. It should have been easy and it has always been. Just not recently. He glanced down at his hands, clenching them. “I almost had her the other night too.” His voice was barely a whisper—filled with desperation and pain.

I don’t know what it feels like to be a slauve, to be held back by someone’s orders. I never want to know either. Can you imagine being chained inside a dark dungeon, a window your only taste of freedom? You’re so close to it too, close enough to taste and feel it on the fringe, only a few feet away. And yet you’re shackled to the wall, with barely any slack, and when you reach out to that freedom, your fingertips are only inches away. Inches. Just thinking about it was frustrating. I’ve been a prisoner before, more times than I can count, but freedom was always easy to obtain. But when you’re a slauve, your body is the very prison that holds you shackled. Frustration is too easy of a word to use. It doesn’t do him justice.

“Do you think you will be able to kill her?” I asked.

He stared at me, and took a deep, resigned breath. “She deserves to die. I met her last night, got a sense of who she is. She needs to die.”

“You sound so sure,” I mumbled. Though, he really didn’t. It was more like he was trying to convince himself of that.

Kalen went to say something. He closed his mouth and shook his head.

“What?” I asked.

“You’re a couple hundred years old, right?” He paused for a moment, trying to form his question. “Living that long, is it tiring?”

I shifted in my seat, surprised by the question. I didn’t know how to answer it—wasn’t even sure if I knew the answer.

“I’m sorry,” he tried to back off from the question. “I don’t mean to make you feel uncomfortable. Just forget I asked.”

“Too late to forget.” I sighed and looked into my mug. The tea was cooled off now.

“You don’t have to answer if you don’t want to.”

“No, it’s okay. It’s a pretty loaded question. I’m just trying to figure out how to answer.”

I stared at Kalen, took in the lines on his face and found myself wondering who he was before he died. He was young no doubt about that, but he also had some kind of experience. There was a look in those eyes only a man who fought with life and lost a couple of times could have.

“I take it one day at a time,” I finally responded. “That’s all I can do.”

“Do you get tired?”

“Sometimes.”

“How do you keep going?” he asked. So persistent.

“Why are you so curious?” I asked, finally too uncomfortable with the barrage of questions. I ask myself the same thing every day and still didn’t have a satisfying answer. When life enjoys knocking you down and works hard at trying to keep you on your back, how can you keep getting back up each day?

You just do. Sometimes it hurts too much, but you still need to crawl out of bed and live. We are all programmed to do it—to live.

He shrugged. “I don’t understand what it means to live a long time. I can’t even imagine it. She seemed so lonely and lost. Some of that came from what she said, but most of it was how she fought. Kind of like on autopilot. She fought because she had to, not because she wanted to.” He shrugged and rubbed at his face. “I don’t know, she just seemed tired.”

“Well, I imagine she is tired.” I spoke slowly, picking through my words. I felt an urge to just come out and tell the truth. But the fear in telling him kept my mouth cemented shut. He had only one choice and that was to kill me. I was the key to his shackles. I was the one who kept him from his freedom.

“Darkness? Are you okay?” Kalen leaned forward, worried. His face was only inches away now.

I nodded. “Yeah…yeah, sorry, just got lost in my mind.”

“What were you thinking about?”

“How badly do you want to kill this woman you seek?”

He thought about it for a moment, straightening back up. “It isn’t that I want to kill. Truthfully when I saw her, I had to fight with myself, unsuccessfully, but I still fought.”

“What do you mean?”

“I lost control of myself. My body moved all on its own and fought her. I just sat in the back seat.”

“Don’t you want to be free? You should probably be more proactive in your fights with her then.”

I reached out and touched his chest. His sweater was thin and soft, more of a piece of cloth to help him blend in with his surroundings then to keep him warm. Fall was just around the corner now but it was still hot outside. The warmth of his body seeped through the sweater and into my hand. I could feel his heart as it pounded against my hand, slow and steady.

He reached up and wrapped his hand around mine. I closed my eyes and metaphysically looked at him. His soul watched me, wary and cautious. It still knew who I was, but it either gave up telling Kalen or it was just like Kalen, personality wise—both of them willing to look past all the rules and orders that would weigh down any other slauve.

The last slauve was so determined to do what Eithna wanted. I’m not a hundred percent sure what her orders were, I just know the slauve did it, powerless to fight back. He wanted to make Eithna happy, all in hopes that he will be released from the curse. Slauves tend to be determined to become free. So why wasn’t Kalen just as determined?

“I do want to be free but not at the expense of someone else who only wants someone to accept her.”

My eyes snapped open and I drew away from him in shock. I didn’t realize how close I was to him until I repositioned myself on my stool. I was practically in his lap. It explained why I could feel his words as they vibrated through his chest.

“What makes you think she just wants to be accepted?”

He hesitated, not sure if he wanted to say anything more on the topic. Finally, he spoke, his words low and careful. There was a lot of cautiousness in our conversation tonight, both of us not wanting to say anything wrong. “Because she has the same look that you do.”

I gave him a weak smile, trying to downgrade how much those words affected me. To think he was so intuitive. “Are you saying I’m a desperate, lonely child?”

I didn’t realize how many emotions he was allowing me to see until his expression went blank; his eyes empty of the warmth they held. I wondered if we had similar blank expressions on our faces right now; both of us trying to be so careful with the other.

“I don’t think desperate is something you’ve ever been.”

Don’t die. Please don’t leave. Please.

I was pretty desperate once, when the one human I cared for with everything in me finally passed away. Old age. Mother Moon never wanted to be more than who she was. She allowed herself to grow old and die, and I got to watch it. I was pretty desperate way back then.

I stood up. “We all have our moments. Trust me.”

“Where are you going?” he asked, standing up too.

I glanced over my shoulder and took him in. Standing there, he looked like an abandoned puppy. I knew what it felt like to be put into a world without anyone to guide you. All you could do was fumble around and hope that when you screwed up, you didn’t get killed. Then, if you lived, you learned from the mistakes and don’t do them again. It was the best anyone could do.

“How are you getting along?” I asked.

He looked down at me, then at the floor. “As good as I can, I guess.”

Meaning he wasn’t do too well. I nodded, accepting his lie for what it was. “Come on, I want to show you something.”

I turned and walked out. If he wanted to follow me, cool. If not, then he doesn’t and he can just keep fumbling around, trying to learn about this new world on his own. Maybe he’ll find a good Samaritan like that necromancer. Not that I thought that necromancer had any good intentions. I doubted it. Everyone wanted something.

Chapter 18:

The abandoned school building was long with two floors. The gate in front was rusted and almost off its hinges. The sun was completely gone, the crescent moon high in the sky, casting very little light, making the building ominous. The ominous look helped keep people away. There was also a high magical ward to alert the occupants of anyone going through. We stood just outside the ward.

I reached out and stopped my hand just before the ward. The energy from the ward sent out a lick, getting a taste of me. It snapped back into attention when it decided I was an enemy. I lowered my hand and eyed the ground.

“Why are we here?” Kalen asked, standing next to me.

“Can I ask you something?”

“Nothing has stopped you before.” He smiled a little.

I couldn’t help it, I returned it with my own little smile, and then let it slip from my face. He shifted a little, but stayed poised. His little movement made me want to smile again. He was bracing himself for my question, like it was a fist instead. I let it loose. “How can we be monsters, or as you like to call us, things, when we’ve been in existence just as long as humans?”

“You guys feed on humans.” I noticed he still considered himself a human and included me with the monsters.

“And you feed on cows. You don’t see us killing you for slaughtering thousands of cows a day.”

“It isn’t the same.”

“No? So your life is more precious than a cow’s? I’m sure a cow wants to live just as much as we do.”

The smile was tugging at the corner of my lips as I held back my laughter. Instead, I stayed strong on my assessment. Kalen probably thought I was making him out to be a fool because his face darkened. I guess he did feel like I punched him instead.

“How are we on this ridiculous topic? We have humanity, we are capable of caring for others.”

“So compassion makes you human?” I asked. I really couldn’t figure out how his mind worked. One thing that has always been true when it came to humans is my lack of ability to think like them. Our brains were wired so differently and trying to figure them out became a little hobby. Kalen was just as hard, maybe even harder to understand than the humans.

I was seriously interested in how his mind worked, in how he is able to put humans up on a pedestal and then scorn beings for being who they are. I wanted to tear that pedestal down, show him that it all comes down to survival. Humans, beings, animals—we all just wanted to survive. “The woman you’re looking for, do you think she has compassion?”

“No, she doesn’t.” There was a note of anger seeping into his voice.

“And yet she seems lonely and hurt? You want to kill her, but you pity her at the same time. You’re full of hypocrism.”

“I can’t help how I feel.”

“No, you can’t.” I couldn’t keep the sadness out of my words. He noticed it too because he frowned, not getting why it was sad. “You’ve drawn a line between humans and beings.”

“I’ve seen what they can do, what they do without a second thought. Of course I drew a line.”

“And which side of the line are you on? What about me? Where do you see me?”

He didn’t respond and that was an answer all on its own. Truthfully, it hurt a little. I knew which line I should be on and why. Yet, he didn’t have reason enough to put me there on his own. I was automatically on the side with the other beings simply because of who I was. I was a being and therefore I belonged there, on the bad side. It was kind of funny. I was actually getting mad over this. And yet, I’ve done far worse. If he knew about everything then he would have to draw another line between the beings and me.

“I thought so,” I muttered.

I turned back to the gate and had to work hard to concentrate. It took so much power in me just to wrap shadows around us. I almost collapsed, and might have if Kalen wasn’t around. I wasn’t going to show him any weakness. The shadows touched my skin, acting as a cool blanket. Kalen took in a sharp breath, surprised and unhappy.

“What are you doing?”

“Shush. We need to sneak in.”

Happy with the results and sure that we wouldn’t alert anyone to our presence, I slipped through the barrier and squeezed between the gates. Kalen followed silently. A level five barrier, like the one we passed through, is built to keep anything and everyone unwelcomed out. Of course, since I’m so damn old, I’ve mastered slipping through them a long a time ago.

A fringe benefit to being an old lady, I guess.

I didn’t release the shadows until we reached the double doors that led inside. As soon as the shadows receded, the warm air took its place and began warming us back up. I stumbled and Kalen grabbed my arm, keeping me from falling. When I gained my balance, he released me and stepped away.

“Are you okay? You don’t look so good?”

“I’m fine, just tired,” I replied. “It’s been a long day.”

A long couple of days more like it. If I didn’t get sleep soon, my body was going to go into its own little sleep coma to heal and replenish itself. I did not want to do that out on the streets.

Kalen looked like he didn’t believe me, but he didn’t push me. Good boy. Instead, he looked around the building. It was old, decrepit and looked like it was going to fall apart any second.

“What is this place?” he asked.

“A place created to hide what humanity is capable of doing.” I grabbed his hand and took a deep breath, readying myself for the next part. “Don’t let my hand go.”

“Why?”

“Because others don’t take to me as well as you do. I don’t want to scare anyone to death.” I pulled him along as I slipped inside, using the shadows to keep us hidden. I could probably keep this up for an hour or so. Then I really needed to get sleep. I really wanted him to see this though. I wanted to make him think hard about that line he drew.

The doors opened to a small waiting area, empty. The only sign that the building was in use was the little touch-ups done in the room. There was no dust on any of the surfaces, no spider webs in the corner and no critters skittering about. The room was only a small improvement than outside the building. The overhead lights were on, humming through the room. One of them flickered but stayed strong.

I dragged Kalen behind me as he looked around suspiciously. I went straight to the other door and pushed it, tugging on Kalen as a sign on the door distracted him. It was one of those building notices, warning us the place was going to fall down anytime and to not enter.

When we were only a couple of feet into the other room, I took a sharp right and stayed up along the wall, giving Kalen enough time to take it all in as his eyes adjusted to the dim lighting. Kalen froze at the site and if I didn’t already know what to expect, I might have done it too.

The room was impressive. It was large, the second floor taken down, so the room went all the way up to the ceiling. It was just like a warehouse, but instead of being filled with packaged goods, it was filled with sickly beings.

Rows and rows of beds lined the room and most of them had occupants, each with their own wounds. Ventilation was going strong. It did nothing to hide the stench of unwashed bodies, weakness, and worse, the death and decay.

I glanced up at Kalen and watched as he scanned the room, taking it all in. He swallowed.

“What…how?” He fumbled with his words, unable to find the proper words for what he was seeing.

“There is a secret human group, been around for a while now. They hunt us,” I whispered. Sweat was forming on my skin as I strained to keep us hidden.

“I thought humans didn’t know about your existence,” he whispered back, picking up on the need to be quiet.

“They don’t. Only a select few do and they work hard to keep us a secret. Something about mass panic or other.” I waved my free hand dismissively. Frankly, they were a greedy elitist group of hunters. They wanted to kill us, but above that, they wanted our goods and the glory and power they would gain from getting it.

“And everyone here?”

“Victims for the most part. I guess you could call this place a hospice. They are all going to die eventually.”

“How? Aren’t you guys supposed to be hard to kill?” he asked.

“And how many of us have you already killed?”

“But all this, by humans?”

“This is just in this city. These are victims in the truest sense. Not everyone is hard to kill. For some, water can burn, or maybe a dash of sunlight. All the hunters have to do is find their weakness and use it. These beings here have been tortured—used and abused until they were useless and then tossed out like garbage.”

“Use you? For what?”

I turned and stared at him. I finally noticed that his thumb was rubbing against my hand as if he was trying to draw comfort from me. “Those diseases you’re so proud of finding cures for or ways to fight them,” I pointed out to the room. “It all comes from them. We do have immunities to some things. Our bodies are capable of fighting back against foreign bacteria, viruses, etcetera. Hunters like to use us for the good of the humankind.”

My tone was cold and matter-of-fact. He looked away, had to since my tone didn’t match my face. I knew the pain was in there, in my eyes. I couldn’t keep it out, not from Kalen.

“There are children and women in here. Trying to live and knowing they won’t because of humans.” I looked back out into the room.

Beings in nursing outfits moved between the beds, helping where they could, trying to make the transition to death easier.

“Some of those nurses are taking away some of the pain and making it their own. They are suffering too, just to make the victims’ deaths just a little less painful. Is this not the compassion you speak about?”

A loud, ear-splitting scream tore through the building, using the cement walls to bounce off. It slammed into us and I had to hold on tightly to Kalen’s hand as he stumbled back. The scream ended just as abruptly as it came, as if someone pressed the mute button.

Kalen recomposed himself, his face pale and hand growing sweaty. He was holding just as tightly to me as I was to him. Both our hands were turning white. My nails were digging into his skin, but he didn’t say anything. I wanted to ask if he even noticed. I don’t think he did. I forced my grip to loosen.

“What was that?” he asked, his voice breathy.

“A keener’s scream.”

“Keener?”

I thought about it for a moment and nodded, happy with my answer. “Banshee. I’ve heard you guys call them banshees.” Keeners, banshees, and other loud obnoxious beings really jumbled up the human folklore for them. They were all grouped together and called a banshee. That’s what happens when you let Queen Baeir into the limelight. She outshined all other beings in the screaming department, making a name for them all.

He looked at me incredulously, his eyes wide. “Someone died?” He just couldn’t believe it. He wanted to be angry. I could feel it in the tightness of his grasp. But who do you take your anger out on when there is no one person responsible around? There wasn’t even a face we could put on the hunters. They were just as mysterious and hidden as us beings.

“Yeah, probably the keener.” Which would explain the sudden stop.

Humans believed that if you could hear a banshee scream, then a member of your family was going to die soon. It was an interesting lore, just completely wrong. They screamed because they communicated that way to each other. Anyone not a banshee just didn’t have the right translator for their language. I met a man once who acted like a translator. He said they sounded like they were singing and it was beautiful. I could only go off by what he said because to me, it was like they were scratching their nails against a chalkboard, only about a hundred times worse, and doing it right inside my ears.

Kalen stepped forward, still holding my hand. His eyes were focused on a young woman on one of the beds. Her eyes were closed and I gave her another day or so. She looked like a teenager. Her hair was thin enough to see a pale white scalp, barely a shade lighter than her face. Her lips used to once be big and luscious. Humans described them as kissable. Not anymore. They were deflated and a weird shade of pink, more like a greyish-pink. Spots of rot dotted her skin. If we looked closely enough, we could see a white flash of bone. She was rotting from the inside.

“How can a human even do this?” Kalen asked. I could feel his need inside him. He wanted to help.

“You used to work in a hospice,” I said.

He looked at me surprised by the answer.

“How’d you know?”

“Woman’s instinct?” I shrugged.

“How’d you know?” he asked again.

I sighed and looked back out into the room. “Your eyes, and your emotions. You want to help, probably already thought of a thousand different things you could be doing right now.”

“Of course I want to help. Seeing others suffer is hard. Don’t you want to help them?”

“No, I don’t. I won’t get anything out of it.”

He looked at me hard. “Are you sure it’s humans who did this?” It sounded like he was trying to blame me. I didn’t rise to the bait.

“Witches are humans. They like to work with the hunters. Their organization has some really powerful witches in their care.”

“Is this what you wanted?” he whispered. “To destroy the line I created between humans and beings?”

I kept my voice low and my eyes on that girl. Her chest was barely rising, her breaths coming out ragged. “Humans are not the only ones who suffer.”

I nearly lost the hold I had on the shadows and it took almost everything I had left to keep them. If we were revealed, all these beings would try to run away and most of them couldn’t even get out of their beds. I made that mistake once. I walked into a hospice and caused a massive panic. Even at full health, these beings were weak. But like this they were hurting and scared, and my presence didn’t help. Then again, back then I was in my real human form. Maybe the reaction wouldn’t be so extreme this time. I didn’t want to find out though. So I clenched my teeth and held onto those shadows, drawing them closer around us.

Kalen was silent long enough that I had to glance over at him. He was staring down at me, his face soft and filled with a foreign expression. I wanted to say it was a mixture of pain and pity, but that just didn’t cut what was deep in those eyes.

“You know this personally, don’t you? That’s why you didn’t care about what happened in the park.”

I looked back at the room, at the nurses moving between each patient, looking haggard but determined.

“Darkness, am I right?”

“We all have our stories,” I snapped at him. His eyes widened and he tried to step away. I held onto him tightly, unwilling to break the connection. Touching him made it easier to hide us. He stopped moving away.

“I’m sorry.”

“It’s not your apology I want.” I yanked on him hard and headed back out of the room. I was at my limit. We quietly left the room, leaving all those beings behind to suffer. There was nothing I could do anyways. I was busy fighting for my own survival. When we got just outside the gate, on the other side of the barrier, I let him go. It felt like I was letting go a part of myself. My hand was still warm from his touch and the place he rubbed with his thumb tickled.

I walked away, wanting to just lay down and go to sleep. Each step was hard and only Kalen’s presence kept me moving.

I am not going to show weakness in front of an enemy.

I pushed through the exhaustion.

Kalen followed behind quietly, lost in his own thoughts. Minutes passed as I just kept walking, one step at a time, back to my apartment.

“Where is that necromancer you’ve been keeping with you?”

A couple seconds passed and I just kept walking without looking back at him. I was tired, I just wanted to sleep and recharge. My apartment was only a couple blocks away.

“I killed him.”

That made me stop in midstride. I turned and didn’t miss the betrayal in his eyes.

“Oh?”

“He was only leading me around, hoping the beings he brought me to would kill me. I guess I was getting too close to the guys who are taking the children and he didn’t want me to.”

“Before you killed him, did you at least find out who he was protecting?”

Pain crossed his handsome face and I wanted to be able to take it away. That necromancer made Kalen cross over another line he made. If this kept up, he would lose that innocence. Did I want him to lose it? I can’t say for sure. I just didn’t want him to die and if that meant becoming cold and hard, then so be it. Right?

If Kalen didn’t kill Chris, I would have done it. And knowing Kalen, he made it as quick and easy as he could. I wouldn’t have. That boy wouldn’t be anything but skin and bones when I was done with him, maybe even still alive, unable to move, no warmth capable of touching him. It would have been so easy. And I wouldn’t be so damn tired afterwards. I would be full of energy.

“I did.”

“And yet you’re here instead of going to him.” That must take some huge restraint. To waste time with me when he can go save those children he desperately wanted to protect.

“It’s a man who works for a warlock. I want the warlock.”

“Use the servant to get to the monster?”

“Something like that.”

“Who’s the loc?” I asked, pushing further.

Kalen paused, trying to decide if he should tell me or not. “Devon.”

I cocked my brow, completely taken by surprise with the information. What were the chances that there were two warlocks in the city with the same name? “No, shit. Really?”

“Yeah.” His face lit up with hope, making him look boyish again. “Why? You know him? You know where to find him.”

I let out a small laugh. “Yeah, I met him a couple of times. Shy little bugger.”

“Do you know where he is?”

I nodded.

“Tell me.” Kalen got even more excited. He hopped from foot to foot, all ready to head out.

I shook my head, hating to have to disappoint him. “Not tonight.”

“Why?” He narrowed his eyes suspiciously. His mood swing made me laugh.

“Because tonight he’s busy with Lord Kay’s party bash. He’s one of his lackeys. Tomorrow, I’ll bring you to him.”

“Do you know where he lives?”

“No,” I replied, still confident. Finding beings was easy for me, especially someone like a warlock.

“Then how can you bring me to him?”

I smiled, letting my cockiness get the best of me. “I have my ways. Tonight, rest. Take a break. You’ll need to save your strength.” I started walking again. He followed closely behind, his pace twice as fast as mine so while I walked quickly, he simply strolled.

“You can’t bring me,” he said.

“Why?”

“It’s too dangerous.”

I laughed loud enough for a homeless man to look at me like I was the crazy one for once. Kalen didn’t like my reaction too much either. To think he still worries about my safety. “A loc won’t even be able to lay a single finger on me. Don’t worry.”

“I don’t like it.”

“You don’t have to,” I replied. “You just need to follow me if you want to find those kids.”

We stopped in front of my apartment. The irony of him walking me to my home wasn’t lost on me. He probably wanted to make sure no one tried anything on me. If only he realized others needed protection from me, not the other way around.

“I’ll meet you at the harbor tomorrow night, around midnight.”

“So late.”

“I love the night.” I smiled and went into my apartment, leaving him to stare after me.

Chapter 19:

The room was an off white with nothing on the walls, or on the tables. It was more like an empty office space instead of a living room. Usually homes had something, anything, to give a little clue into the life of the occupant. Even my apartment had some clues into my life, like all those picture books I collected. Seeker’s living room had nothing, spotless, probably too clean. There were no worries about dust bunnies coming out from under the chair.

I wanted to wander around, see if there were more in the other rooms or if they were just as blank as this one. I stood up and started pacing.

I slept half a day and then the other half of the day was spent looking for Seeker’s house. If I were in my other form, it would have taken maybe an hour, tops. This form limited me too much. Kay was right, after all this stuff with Kalen and his master ended, I had to stop hiding like this. I had to face everything. For the first time in nearly two hundred years, I felt that I could do it too—face Eithna’s death and everything I’ve done up to that point. I needed to if I wanted to be whole again.

I looked at my small hands, clenching and unclenching them. The palms of my hands were soft and pink, my fingers short stubs. They were the hands that were incapable of protecting Kalen properly. They were too small. And yet if I protected him as my true self, he would only try to kill me and that will lead us to a fight I knew I would try to win. Dying was not an option but killing Kalen was no longer one either. Where did that leave me when we fought? I didn’t want to find out.

The door opened slowly and then Seeker walked through it, moving every bit as gawky as I expected. His limbs were too long, making what normally would have been a graceful walk clumsy. Kind of like a doe learning to walk for the first time. I had to stop myself from saying: “You can do it, Bambi.”

Similar to a blind man, he didn’t look at me. He didn’t need to. He knew I was in the room, where I was standing, and probably any decisions I had made in the last five minutes. He wasn’t blind though, he could still see what was in front of him. It was up to him if he really chose to look or not. Eyesight was not one of the senses he relied on.

He paused in front of the chair I had vacated to pace the room. He turned to the couch and slowly sat down. His limbs spread right out, taking up the entire couch. He looked right at home, completely comfortable with where he was. How he could be so comfortable in such an empty room, I have no idea.

“Darkness, so quick to visit me, are you not?”

“You’re the one who decided to pass out right in the middle of a conversation.”

“Is that what that was? A conversation?”

I frowned. Seeker’s words were sarcastic, maybe even angry.

“What has your breeches in a twist?” I asked.

My breeches, as you put it, are in a twist because the Consort are in the city and even I cannot see why.”

That was really saying a lot. Seeker has pride in his power and being the best of the best at what he does. My heart added an extra beat to its rhythm and I slowly sat across from him, tucking myself into the big cushion. I felt like it was going to eat me.

“Have they contacted you?”

He shook his head. “They have not. But they are asking uncomfortable questions to every being they meet.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Like I have said, I cannot see. Therefore I cannot tell you. No one knows. It is only speculation right now.”

Growing irritated, I asked, “Can you at least tell me who they are.”

“Death.”

That extra heartbeat that came to me at the mention of the Consort was taken back as my heart tried to stop.

“No he isn’t,” I said, refusing to even entertain the words. They just sounded so wrong.

“He is. Has been since the Early Middle Ages. Why do you think you still live? He keeps you alive.”

I licked my dry lips. “Death hates the Consort.”

Seeker cocked his head with a small smile. The bastard was happy to shock me. He was now enjoying himself at my expense. My anger rose and I had to force myself to sit there. Seeker’s head on spike was looking like a pretty good idea right now.

I took a deep breath and released it slowly. It’s okay. I’ll bring him down a notch in a couple of minutes.

“Maybe he does. What better way to change the Consort then by joining them?”

“Change them from the inside,” I said out loud as I thought about it. Death was no pushover, and he was definitely more dangerous than anyone else who held a position on the Consort. He made it clear to me when I first met him that he didn’t believe in what they stood for. There was no one to police them and it allowed them to get away with too much. Death believed in democracy, before the concept even existed, and the Consort was more like a monarchy—their word was law.

“Yes,” Seeker replied. The word came out more like a hiss, sounding less like a word any human would be able to say.

I sat quietly, trying to get my brain to work properly again. To think Death joined the Consort. My earliest memory of him was from when Ancient Greece still existed. A long time, I know. He used me to take control of a society just so he could get a specific high-ranking soul.

And now Seeker was telling me the arrogant bastard was in the Consort to protect me. I wanted to call bullshit to his bluff—if only he did bluff.

“What kind of questions are they asking?” I asked, swallowing my fear and hatred.

“From what I can see they are asking about some witch.” Something inside me relaxed. As long as it didn’t have anything to do with me, I’ll be okay, even if it has been thousands of years since I’ve been in the same city as Death. I worked very hard at avoiding him.

Seeker tilted his head, considering something. “You seem more relaxed.”

“Just glad I’m not the focus of their attention.”

“Oh, you are always the focus of their attention, like a spoiled little daughter.”

I stilled at his little comment. “What’s that suppose to mean?”

“You still have not figured it out yet?” He still held that smug little smile on his face.

I reached the end of my patience with his cocky ass attitude. He should know better by now. Apparently I was softening too much if he thought he could treat me like I was some kind of simple child.

I pushed power into my words and when I spoke, the lights flickered with each word, hammering in my point. “You forget yourself, Seeker.” I stood up and stalked over to him.

His body went still and he just watched me with fear. I slowly crawled into his lap and he didn’t dare push me away. He could see it in my expression. He could see the death I promised him. I knew my eyes were dead, all life out of my body and I used it to my advantage. Nothing like a child crawling into your lap, not to cuddle or be held, but to get close enough to kill you. Even I could taste the bile in his throat. It had a little aftertaste of life.

I sat back on my thighs and reached up to his cheek, rubbing it gently. I let my hand make its way back to his throat. My hand was too small to wrap around his throat, but I didn’t need to. I could feel his pulse just under his skin, pulsing blood just under the tip of my index finger.

I leaned into him, my lips just a centimeter from his temple. I was close enough that if I took in a deep breath, I would be touching him. The warmth of his skin seeped into my lips as I stole some of it from him.

Seeker stayed as still as possible. He just ate recently and now I was stealing those nutrients. It was a little trick I picked up from Kay. Seeker’s body grew cold. Shivers started in his arms and in seconds, spread through his entire body.

“This is just a taste of freezing to death. Next time you want to play with the top dogs, try to remember that you’re just a nobody.” I leaned back and broke out into a satisfied smile. Seeker’s skin was turning blue, his lips grey. “Understand?”

He nodded and happy with his insistence, I crawled off his lap. My body was warmer and my belly full from the life I stole.

“Good. Now, I need to know where a pudgy little gazelle lives.”

Kalen, with the water behind him and the moon above him, was stunning. He looked like he belonged in a painting, the moon as his siren. The moonlight lit him up, creating an aura of light that wrapped around him. His back was to me as he stared out into the dark pit of the water. If I didn’t know what true darkness looked like, I would mistaken the water as such. And yet, there was still a small shimmer here and there letting me know that if I dived in, I would swim in water instead of darkness. Water could be heard as it splashed up against the docks. The whole scene was very majestic.

I stepped out of the shadows and his body tensed up. He turned around, eyes scanning the shadows until he spotted me, and then slowly the tension left his body.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

He shook his head, his mind apparently not agreeing with his body. “Nothing.” He scanned the harbor again, his frown deepening when he didn’t find what he was looking for. “Did you find where the warlock lives?”

“I did.” I smiled. “Lets go see if we can go save your little pups.”

Kalen scowled but still followed as I turned and walked into the city. We were silent, staying as unobtrusive as possible.

“Do you have a plan?” I asked.

He kept scanning the streets for potential dangers and I held back a laugh. I knew there were no beings lurking around the dark near us. If they were, I would feel them as if they were an extension of myself. As a child, my range was only a block or two, as my true human self, it would be the whole city. That was why I knew a human took that child in the park. If Devon was the mastermind behind it all, it just meant he was using a human to do his dirty work. It was a very messy thing to do.

“Plan?” I asked again. He finally turned his attention back to me.

“Find those children and get them out.”

“Simple words.” As if it would be so simple. “Do you understand what a warlock is?”

“Someone who deals with the devil?”

I shook my head. Not knowing the facts can get you killed and he knew nothing. “They don’t so much as make deals with them. They summon the demon and pray to God that they are strong enough to control them.”

“And if they aren’t?”

“The demon will devour them and they are free to wander earth until someone strong enough destroys them or sends them back.” I stopped suddenly and turned to face him. He took a couple of steps until he realized I stopped.

“What?”

“Some demons need strong sacrifices. Do you understand what that means?” I observed carefully as he thought about what I just told him. I saw the very nanosecond when he finally understood. His power intensified, his pupils expanded, almost doubling in size, and his face schooled itself carefully into a mask. I took the small rings of brown around his pupils as a good sign. He still had some control over himself.

“You think they are all dead?”

I shrugged. “A really high chance, yes.”

He nodded, his movements definite in his understanding.

We might find all those children dead. For Kalen’s sake, I hoped at least some of them were alive. His fear for them wafted off him and mingled with the darkness around us. In this, failure was not an option for him.

Not bothering to say anything else, I started walking again, heading east, towards one of the worse neighborhoods in the entire city. The address Seeker gave me brought us to a small one-story house. The area was crummy, the crime rate highest here then anywhere else. It was like the police have completely forgotten about this six block little section. People high on drugs littered the streets. Addicts, both young and old wandered around looking for their next fix. Their age didn’t matter in this kind of world. Drugs did not discriminate.

“Is he here?” Kalen asked, skeptic of my information.

“Yeah, the good old gazelle is here.”

Maybe I should promote the loc to a badger for kidnapping little children incapable of protecting themselves. Opportunistic little thing too, making use of a human to do all his dirty work.

Magic raised all the hairs on my body as it moved through the air. It told me one little important fact. Blood was spilled. It was just a matter of whose blood.

Kalen swore as he felt the same tickles of magic that I did.

“Any idea how to go about it?” I asked, trying to give him leadership. It was his mission after all. Me? I would just storm right in and hand the loc’s ass over to himself.

“Sneak in, get a feel for the situation,” he replied.

“You should already know what’s going on. He’s already summoning the demon.”

“How long until he completely summons it?”

“Well, eight kids, so he has to go through a lengthy little ritual with each sacrifice. I can’t tell how many, but the total time is probably thirty minutes tops. We need to go in now.”

“And if he succeeds.”

“With that many kids, a greater demon will come into our realm. I have had the pleasure of never having to deal with them and I’d like to keep it like that.” I moved forward, passing Kalen and cracking open the little door. “Enough chatter.”

Kalen followed and took lead, his movements silent and graceful. It was cool to see his stealth mode. I really couldn’t feel him at all. I carefully drew in the darkness to make it easier to hide. Not too much in case Devon was smart enough to set up little magical traps.

From my interactions with him, he seemed paranoid enough to do just that.

Chapter 20:

The door opened up to a foyer just as abandoned looking as the outside. Furniture was set around the room, old and neglected. Spider webs and dust covered every surface in existence. The only sign anyone was ever here were the footprints on the floor. Boot prints with a cluster of smaller shoe prints led to another door off to the right. As we followed, the magic grew thicker. Now instead of just brushing up against us, it pushed against our skin, feeling like a film of grime collecting on us. Kalen rubbed at his arms, not liking the feeling one single bit. I had to agree.

Magic for summoning otherworldly creatures was immensely uncomfortable. It didn’t quite feel like dark magic, it was more neutral than that, as if the magic could care less what it was used for, as long as it was used. In a way, that made using magic more dangerous; more addictive and those that used it were harder to read. Their intent could go both ways, either for good or for bad. Maybe that’s why when I met and talked with Devon, he never stayed on my radar for any kind of threat. For all we knew, he could just be summoning a unicorn—possible if he wasn’t sacrificing a group of children.

The door led into a hallway. A small light spilled from underneath a door on the right side at the other end of the hall. It left a splash of light on the dark dusty wood.

I stayed behind Kalen as he walked carefully, testing the floor for creakiness. I wanted to tell him it was already too late to save some of them, but if he stayed at this pace, it would be too late to save any of them. I thought urgent thoughts, hoping he would pick up on them. You know, things like: Hurry. Walk faster. Kids are dying right now. Thoughts like those.

He sped up.

Would you look at that? He has ESP too. As if.

He must have realized what I already figured out because when we got to the door, he didn’t pause, just burst through the room. The door flung back, bouncing against the wall and then coming to a stop by Kalen’s hand.

The room was the size of a small classroom. Devon stood in the middle, wearing ceremonial robes the color of angry storm clouds. When Kalen burst through the door, he kept chanting, not even caring that someone was here to crash his party. He kept speaking in a language I recognized as ancient—ancient enough that I could only make out a couple of the words. Words like: summon, come, live, feed, blood, innocence. You know, the usual.

His speech picked up, the words spilling out faster and faster, until they came to a halt when I made myself seen.

The complete surprise on his face made him perfect for a cartoon. His jaw dropped, eyes bugging out and he stepped back. I was the last person he was expecting to crash his party.

I simply stood in the doorway, staring at him while Kalen took in the rest of the scene. When his power turned furious, I knew it wasn’t good. I tore my eyes from Devon, curious as to what got Kalen all worked up.

And what a site it was.

Torches mounted the walls, giving the room a soft yellow glow. Four children lay dead on the floor around the room, their bodies tossed to the side like garbage. Three more were shackled to the wall farthest from us with just enough slack for the kids to move positions and that was it. Tears streamed down their dirty little faces and they huddled as close together as they could get, looking tired, scared, and hungry.

Devon was not taking care of these kids before their sacrifice. They were simply sacrifices, nothing more and nothing less. Why waste resources taking care of them when they were only going to die. The smell was enough to tell me just how badly he mistreated them. It smelled worse than an outhouse, with blood and death mixing in with the stench of their bodies and excrement.

A middle-aged man who looked like he was more comfortable in a suite with an office job rather than jeans and a shirt was clutching the same girl from the park to his body. The man seemed horrified by everything and yet determined to do his job. The little girl was crying, a nice size bruise on her face. She was just as dirty as the other kids, her brown hair in tangles and her clothes with holes in them. Her eyes were huge and bursting with fear, but there was also determination in there too, around the edges. She was barely holding together with death looming over her only a couple feet away. The man had her arm twisted behind her back and he controlled her movements as he tried to herd her to Devon.

When Kalen finally came back from his shock, he didn’t say anything, just attacked.

“Wait, Kalen,” I called out, already too late.

When he got within five feet of Devon, he fell to his knees, body straining to move forward. His muscles bulged and veins popped as he worked hard to move forward. His face was twisted with all the rage and disgust he held towards Devon.

Devon simply laughed. The laugh rolled around the room, high on magic. Kalen reached out to try and touch the loc again and was stopped by the invisible wall. His arm jerked back as if burnt by it.

“Level four barrier,” I said, walking up to a couple feet behind Kalen. Kalen wasn’t going to be able to get passed it, but I could. Devon’s smile dripped away as he realized the same thing. He knew who I really was now, that I wasn’t just a little shrimp playing around. I was the manifestation of mankind’s fear of the night. Not just of the beings that lived in it though that was an extra bonus, but of darkness itself. The thing that came everyday and seeped the warmth out of bodies, stole bodies without leaving a trace. Darkness was more than just a blanket to hide those that wished to be hidden. I was Darkness. If I wanted something, I got it. And right now, I wanted to kill Devon.

The loc stared at me as I slowly approached his little barrier. He no longer felt safe in there and for a good reason. He wasn’t. When I reached Kalen, I touched his shoulder lightly, like a feather. He seemed to draw strength from it, his body relaxing. He slowly got to his feet, aware of the barrier now inches away from him.

“You won’t be able to touch him,” I said.

Kalen glared at me. “Then what am I supposed to do?”

“Take care of the human. I’ll deal with Devon.” I said all this while staring right at Devon with a satisfied smile. Devon paled. I looked over at the human man and he stepped back, finally realizing how much shit he really stepped into.

Kalen nodded and turned all his anger on to the human. If humans were more sensitive to beings and the power they held, then this human would really know how much trouble he was in. He might have tried to run away too. But since humans can be insensitive bastards, the man did not run away. He stood his ground, determined to get that little girl to the circle. I ignored them, trusting Kalen to do what I told him.

I cocked my head to the side, taking a moment to think about that. Trust. Not something I gave out freely or at all really. Well, why don’t you look at that. I trusted Kalen at least to a certain degree.

I shook my head and turned back to Devon with a small smile.

“To think you were capable of doing something like this.” I talked as I reached out to the barrier. It was a well-designed one, allowing only humans to pass back and forth. Anything with even a tinge of power would be denied. It wrapped around him with a five-foot radius, with the only sign of its existence being the shimmering in the air.

“You can’t break this.” His words said one thing, his tone another. He was scared. When I could feel the barrier against the palm of my hand, I stopped and just felt it. It was warm and electrical. “You aren’t strong enough, not like this.”

“You seem so sure of that,” I whispered, closing my eyes and pushing a little of my power against the barrier. Nothing happened.

“You don’t have the power. You’re weak, nothing but a child right now.”

I pushed harder, my power banging up against the barrier. I heard a grunt and then something fall to the ground. I glanced over to see the man on the ground unconscious. Kalen couldn’t even kill him. Kalen was now checking over the girl as he gently pulled her over to the other kids.

I turned back to Devon, my smile widening. “It’s surprising how much you’ve underestimated me.” I pulled all the power inside of me and into my hands. The shadows in the room darkened and reached out to me, my power calling them. When they reached me, I let out a grunt, pushing as much power as I could out against the barrier. The barrier thrummed before it shattered, sounding like crumpling plastic to my ears.

The push of power forced Devon to fall backwards. I walked towards him slowly as he crab crawled backwards, until he bumped into the wall. His pudgy little face was white with fear. A wheezing noise came out as he tried to breath. Devon was about to have a panic attack right in the middle of the fight. Truly a gazelle.

I bent down in front of him, wrapping my arms around my knees. “You tried to play with the big leagues and now you’ll pay.” I made the darkness around him liquid and touchable. So palpable that he started to choke on it. I could feel his suffering. He couldn’t draw a single breath, his lungs contracted, screaming for air and I refused him that breath of life he was seeking. I felt nothing.

Nothing.

You’re pathetic. I bet if you had children and they were killed, you wouldn’t even shed a tear.

Good thing I can’t have children, I had replied to Eithna. I guess I’m still incapable of shedding that tear she wanted to exist.

Even after Devon turned all blue and stopped struggling, I kept the shadows around him. Hands pulled at my shoulder and I still didn’t stop. Finally strong arms wrapped around me and tugged me up into the air.

Kalen pulled me away, back to the other side of the room before setting me down and kneeling in front of me. His mouth kept moving, but it was soundless. As if someone put him on mute. He shook me lightly and made my ears pop.

“Darkness, are you okay? Hey, focus,” he said.

“I’m focused,” I whispered and glanced back at Devon. His body was motionless, eyes wide and bloodshot and he had a perpetual scream carved into his face. He was no longer going to sacrifice children for his own little hobby.

“How could you do that?” Kalen asked.

I glanced at him and then at the human he knocked out. “How could you not kill the human after what he did?”

He shook his head. “He’s only a human—”

“Who kidnapped a bunch of children to sacrifice for a greater demon,” I interrupted.

“It isn’t—”

“Kalen,” I interrupted once again. “That man killed four children. He got what was coming for him. You should be happy.”

“You shouldn’t have killed him.”

“Say that again, but this time with the same expression as those kids.” We glanced over at the children. They were still huddled together in the corner, minus the shackles. Each one of them looked at me with horror in their eyes. “See how they see me. That’s how you should look too. Horrified at what I just did.”

Kalen patted my hair as if I was truly child. Somehow I managed to draw comfort from the simple touch. “I don’t see you that way because that isn’t you.”

I let out a tiny laugh and stepped away, no longer wanting the comfort he was so easily willing to give me. We heard one of the children scream and turned to watch as the man rose slowly to his feet.

“What have you done?” he whispered and began to look around at all the shadows.

“What have we done?” Kalen said with a level of rage I have yet to see. “What have you done? What made you even think that killing children was okay?”

The man shook his head and inched his way around the room, farther away from us and closer to the door. “They’ll get me now. Oh, God. Why did you have to meddle?” Tears filled up his eyes, making him look more like a wild animal.

I felt something familiar push against my shadows, trying to get through. It scratched at them, trying to tear them apart with its claws. “Oh…” I trailed off understanding.

“What?” Kalen asked, not taking his eyes off the human.

“He made a deal with a demon.” The pressure was building up as I prevented access to the little hounds. “And now the demon is collecting.”

The man stared at me and probably saw some kind of possibility. “You can do it. You can protect me.” He fell to his knees and crawled towards me, begging. Pathetic.

I snarled in disgust at his attitude. “You made the deal, now it’s time to pay them back.”

The man shook his head. “Devon could have protected me, why did you kill him? He could have protected me. You owe it to me to protect me now.”

My anger flared at the man’s audacity. “Who the fuck do you think you are, human? Telling me that I owe you.” I snorted. “I owe you nothing. You’ve done nothing to give you the right to demand for my protection.” I stepped towards him, my power whipping out at him. He cowered on the floor with his arms over his head.

“Please, please. Please don’t let them take me.”

“Why did you even do it?” I asked. “For money? Fame? Sex? What got you to give up your soul?”

The man looked up at me, probably hoping for hope. Something I just couldn’t give him. They wanted him and I wasn’t going to put myself through unnecessary pain because of some scum.

“To save my business. I was going bankrupt, hundreds of people were going to lose their job. I wanted to save them.”

I felt the lie press up against me, hoping for acceptance. I shook my head and growled. The noise in my throat was unnatural, nearly beastly.

“What the hell is going on?” Kalen asked, standing in front of the children now and looked back and forth at us.

“This human sold his soul for money. Now he wants to go back on his word.” I laughed, the sound angry and disgusted. I stared at him, unblinking and he paled even more when he realized he wasn’t getting any help from me. They were coming. Soon they were going to break through my shadows. “Humans always do that. They promise something and the moment it doesn’t benefit them anymore, they go back on their word. Try to find ways to save themselves. No matter the cost to those around them.”

“And you think you’re any different?” the human said. The man had a backbone now. Of course his bravery was only made out of desperation and fear. “You think you’re better than everyone and so you just push us around to do your bidding, using us only when we suite your needs and then toss us away.”

I laughed again. “Says the man who tried to use a loc to back out of a deal he, himself, made.”

“You can stop them!” he screamed in desperation, spittle spraying out of his mouth. “Your capable of helping me.”

Why won’t you help me? You can. You know you can, and it won’t cost you anything. Just help me with this.

“I probably could,” I agreed with him “But I won’t. Not for you.”

He screamed wordlessly and in that moment they broke through, bursting out of my shadows in a fit of hunger and excitement.

The creatures were long and sleek. Their heads were black and as you looked down their body, it lighted up to grey, to silver, then to white, and finally near the end of their tail, lucent.

“Bloodhounds,” I whispered, in awe. Always in awe with those majestic creatures. To think hell had something so beautiful.

I knew they used shadows to move about, and they have even used the ones in my immediate control quite a few times. But still. Every time I saw them, I was awestruck. They are one of the most beautiful creatures in existence. The creature was a little over seven feet long and about three feet tall. The tail itself was about three feet long with a fan at the end. There was a fin along its back, the ends sharp enough to cut off a limb or two. I’ve seen it happen.

The man screamed and tried to scramble away but the bloodhound latched on and began dragging him back to the same shadow it came out of.

“What—?” Kalen moved to help the human. I moved just as fast to stop him. He had a clear path to the man and then I was just there, in front of him. I wrapped my arms around his waist and pushed. Kalen stopped trying to plow through me and instead tried to get me off him.

“If you interfere, you’ll only be in the same situation as him, probably worse,” I said.

“We can’t just let it take him.”

“Yes, we can. He made the deal himself, knowing exactly what that meant. This is their payment.”

“This is murder.” He tried to get me off him, but I held on tight.

“No, this is a deal in our world.”

“How could he know this would happen?” He tried again to pry me off. I only crawled up and wrapped my legs around his knees. We probably really did look like a child trying to play with her father. It was definitely a ridiculous sight to see. I was using his caring nature against him. He wouldn’t move if he thought it would hurt me.

“It would have been written out for him, and they even tell him. They don’t trick him. Besides summoning a demon for a deal isn’t as easy as you think. He knew what he was getting himself into. It isn’t like he just stumbled across some fucking demon.”

The man was screaming now, barely louder than the children who were crying again. The bloodhound dragged him into the shadow. The man scratched at the floor, breaking his nails, and calling for help. Kalen wanted to give him that help. I felt the bloodhound as it moved through my shadow with the human. I shivered and watched as the man disappeared into a black endless pit. Then it was over.

Kalen glared at me until I let him go. He stalked over to the kids. The closer he got, the more the tension and anger became well masked. By the time he reached them and began comforting them, he seemed more like an older cousin than a seething man. He hid himself very well.

“I’ll call Kay and tell him to clean up this mess. Calm them down and I’ll have a cab sent here.”

“Fine.” He ignored me.

“Fine,” I replied and slipped out of the room. They wouldn’t calm down until I left the room anyways.

When Darkness left the room, somehow I felt like she needed someone to hold onto. Someone to comfort her. I wanted to offer it, but the kids needed me. They looked so sick. They were all underfed, dirty, and scared shitless.

So I stayed behind.

My chest tightened again. It always tightened when I was near her. Something about her called to me. I just couldn’t decide if it was something good or bad. Sometimes I got the urge to hurt her, and other times, I just want to keep her safe. Away from all the horrors around us.

Then I remember she’s already seen two hundred years worth of horror. She wasn’t a kid. She only looked like one.

I turned to the four remaining kids and gave them a solemn smile.

“It’s okay. We are going to get you out of here.”

The kids looked at me with very little hope. As if my words meant nothing to them…or they just didn’t want to believe in them. Some of the children were only a shell, but hopefully, with help, they could be children again.

Not likely. This was their initiation into adulthood. And they were still so young. They didn’t need to be adults.

The irony wasn’t lost on me. Darkness was an adult. And yet she was a child.

And now these children were getting that very same look that sometimes creeps into Darkness’s expression. That look that told everyone that she has seen some nasty shit throughout her life. It made me wonder what fazed her. What would have to happen to get a real reaction out of Darkness? I shook my head, trying to shift my thoughts from her to the children instead.

I kept my eyes on them, trying to not draw any attention to the dead bodies in the room. I grabbed a couple of hands. They were so cold and small.

“How about we go into a different room?”

They looked up at me and slowly a couple of them nodded. One of the little girls simply stared blankly, completely lost within herself. I ushered them out of the room as carefully as I could.

They were only children.

Chapter 21:

I stepped outside and took in a couple of deep breaths. Kay was going to be pissed with what I was about to do. It was only possible because we were so interlocked with each other. We shared hundreds of years of experience together.

I closed my eyes and focused on the darkness around me. When I connected to it the way I wanted, I used it to find Kay. It took some prodding and pushing, but eventually my darkness locked onto him. I used it to reach out to him, feel his awareness of me. He knew what was about to happen and he was not a happy camper. Ha-ha, camper. After technology grew, he would never be caught camping. He stayed far away from nature now.

When I touched him, he tried to fight. I ignored his wishes, pushed myself a little further, and took him. Pain flashed through my body. The little trick only cost me a little piece of myself. A piece that will heal back eventually.

In moments Kay was in front of me, his face twisted with rage.

“Hell hounds, Darkness? Don’t you know how to pick up a damn phone by now.”

“Hello to you too.” I rolled my eyes. He knows technology and me don’t get a long.

“You promised you would never do that!”

“Yeah, but I added a stipulation of being allowed to do it if it’s an emergency. Well, it’s an emergency.”

He looked around, quickly getting his bearings. “No one’s dying. You’re still standing and there aren’t any dead bodies. What kind of emergency? It better not be something stupid like the last time. I swear domestic chores are not considered an emergency.”

“If only it was that simple,” I grumbled. “I’ve got some dead bodies you should clean up.”

“I told you, I’m not into domestic chores. It’s your mess, you clean it up.”

“It’s your fucking loc! Stop acting like an asshat and take responsibility.”

Kay’s mouth snapped shut at my outburst. I was tired and annoyed. Why was I annoyed? I shook my head and glared at Kay. I can analyze my emotions later. Always later.

“Devon was sacrificing children to summon a demon. He used a human to kidnap them,” I expanded. “He was your lackey. Clean it up.”

Kay’s eyes fogged up a little as he worked out what was going on.

“How did you get involved with Devon?”

“The slauve found him,” I shrugged. “I just tagged along.”

His eyes narrowed on me, focusing on the first part of my answer. “The slauve? Why are you with him?” he seethed, in a low whisper. “He wants you dead.”

“You’re right, he doesn’t know it’s me. Besides, I figured if I keep him close, then maybe I can find his master.”

“You should just kill him.”

It was my turn to get furious. “No!”

“No?”

“No.”

“He’s going to kill you.”

“And I don’t care. I refuse to kill him.”

“Why?”

“He’s the only one who knows the one who wants me dead. I need him alive.”

“Don’t bullshit with me. That may have been the original plan, but you wouldn’t be just tagging along if it were. Why?”

I sighed and looked down.

“Darkness,” he warned.

“Because somehow, I care. Okay. I can’t kill him.”

We fell into an awkward silence as Kay took in my admission. Finally, some of his anger dissipated and he started gathering magic around him.

“Fine, whatever. Just don’t get killed.”

“I’ll be fine as long as I stay in this form.”

“One can only hope it’ll be that easy,” he muttered. We walked into the building and back into the room. The children weren’t there, neither was Kalen. Probably for the best.

Kay pulled out a light blue chalk from his pocket and then quickly took in the scene. He didn’t linger long on the dead children. He could care less about them. He did linger as he stared at his lackey, his face unresponsive.

“What did you do to him?” he asked.

“Drowned him.”

He stared at the body for another beat, and then nodded.

“Well then, lets get to work.”

He had me move all the bodies into the middle of the room as he cleaned up all the markings that made up the summoning circle.

“Bastard really knew his shit,” he grumbled.

“It would have worked, too.”

If I weren’t so focused on Kay, I wouldn’t have notice the shiver that crawled along his body. This was bothering him more than he was letting on.

“A real good chance it would have. There’s only four bodies. I’m sure there should be more.”

“Kalen probably took them into another room to help calm them. Four more are still alive.”

He nodded. “I’ll suppress their memories.”

“Thanks.”

He snorted. “As if you really mean that.”

I looked down, feeling slightly embarrassed. “No, I could care less. But Kalen will be thankful.”

“Then he can express it. You don’t need to.”

I shrugged and watched as he started to draw his own circle.

I stepped outside the circle and watched as he gathered more magic, his lips moving soundlessly as he mouthed a chant. The circle lit up, created a barrier between us and the bodies. Slowly the bodies disintegrated.

First they lost all their fluids, turning into wrinkled husks. Then they flattened as their bones became dust and only skin was left. After a few more moments, their skin and clothes turned to dust too. It all happened in minutes.

“Still have your touch, I see,” I remarked.

Kay sighed and released his circle. All that was left was a pile of dust, making the room look like it simply hasn’t been cleaned in a very long time. It was going to match with the rest of the house.

“Now to go check on the children,” he said as he turned. I followed behind. We checked a couple of rooms until we found them in what looked like a master bedroom. They were still huddling together.

When we came in, Kalen was up on his feet, ready to protect them against anything.

“You!” He was ready to charge at Kay, probably recognizing him from when he attacked me at Kay’s office.

“Kalen,” I said, stepping in front of Kay, acting like a bodyguard.

“Darkness, do you know who he is?”

“I do. Everyone worth anything knows who he is. It doesn’t mean anything.”

“He knows Akhlys!”

“He knows everyone,” I snapped back. “My patience is at its max right now, so back off. If you’re going to live in this world, then you need to realize that there are those you simply cannot attack just for knowing someone. I’m sure there are a lot of people who know Akhlys. Are you simply going to kill them all for it?”

Kalen’s clenched jaw, unclenched. “Do you know Akhlys?”

I stared at him for a moment, thinking of the question. “I do. Everyone knows Akhlys.”

“And yet no one knows where she is.”

“Akhlys has been off the map for nearly two hundred years,” Kay spoke up, not looking at me.

“And yet she was with you,” Kalen growled.

“And now she isn’t.”

“Where is she?”

“Probably where she wants to be most. Why’s it so important to you? Are you planning to kill her, slauve?”

“What I do with her is none of your concern.”

“It became my concern when you attacked my establishment, killed two of my guards and severely injured another three of my employees.”

Kalen backed down at that. I could see it in his expression. Regret. He felt bad for doing what he was created for doing.

“I apologize.”

“I don’t want it. I’m simply here now because Darkness called me and she asked me to help her. She never does that, so I’m inclined to do it. That means I need you to move so I can see the children.”

“No.” Kalen didn’t even think about it. So damn protective.

“Kalen,” I warned.

“I don’t know what he’s going to do to them. They are already scarred.”

“He’s simply going to suppress their memories.”

He frowned. “He can do it.”

“He can and he will. He owes me. He’ll suppress their memories and send them off to the police station. They’ll help them from there.”

Kalen looked between Kay and me, then at the children. He was so conflicted. Finally he nodded and stepped to the side.

Kay approached the kids slowly, his expression soft so as to not scare them anymore. I guess he could be courteous when he wanted to be. When he was less than a foot away, he knelt down with a solemn smile. Expressive in everything he was doing, though I knew it all to be an act. Kay was the actor I’ll never come close to being, and I thought myself to be pretty decent; pretending to be a child and all that.

He spoke in a low murmur and slowly the children stopped shivering, and then their bodies went completely relaxed. Their expressions grew blank, their lips slack, eyes big and unseeing.

Chapter 22:

We watched as the kids drove off inside the taxi. Kay was quick to disappear after he finished up, so it was just Kalen and me left behind. Kalen stayed quiet, not saying anything. I couldn’t figure out what he was thinking about and it worried me. Did I finally convince him that I was one of the monsters he hated?

Eventually he turned to me, his face carefully constructed to show nothing. “Why did you just let that thing take him?”

“I told you, he made a deal. He has to hold his end of the bargain.” I stayed cautious, unsure of how he was going to react. I may have finally did something he could not accept—I allowed a human to suffer. Oh, the alleyway when I first met him was similar, but not quite as bad. But tonight? That man begged me to save him. I just wouldn’t. He wasn’t worth the trouble. Now, if only Kalen would accept my decision.

“Could you have saved him?”

I shrugged. “Probably. It’s more of a hassle in doing it though, and when, not if, but when they do get him, his fate would be a hell of a lot worse.”

“You held so much hate for him,” he whispered, staring down at me.

“What are you so pissy about?” I asked. “We got him, we got the bad guys and saved those children. Isn’t that what you wanted to do?”

“Yeah, it is.” He started pacing taking a couple of steps before turning and taking another couple of steps and then repeating it, walking only a short distance between me and light post that no longer worked. Probably never worked.

“Then why are you angry?”

“I just…hell, I don’t know. I just don’t understand. You seemed so cold, as if that man being dragged off, to God knows where, had no affect on you.”

“Because it didn’t.”

“No one should have to go out that way.”

“Are you trying to convince me or yourself?” I asked. He was genuinely upset about that man. He stopped pacing, his expression showing me he didn’t like the answer he came up with.

“Do you think something like that is going to happen to you?” I asked and reached out for his arm. He stiffened under my touch, but didn’t move away. I took that as a good sign.

“I don’t know what is going to happen. All I know is, if I want to be free then I have to kill Akhlys. And I’m starting to think I don’t want to do that.”

“You said it yourself, she needs to be killed.”

He shook his head, confused with his own logic.

“You won’t die like that man,” I said.

“How would you know?”

“You can be freed only by two ways. First one, completing your mission and the second way is killing your master. No bloodhounds are going to come for you. You didn’t make a deal with a demon.”

“Bloodhounds? You called those things that, right?”

“They do the bidding of the demons, mainly fetching the souls.”

“And they come out of the shadows?”

I nodded. “Yeah. They use darkness to travel. They would keep coming until they got their target.”

“I don’t want to go like that,” he whispered, looking out into the streets. It was the same, still dark and still full of drug addicts. I squeezed his hand.

“When you do go, it will be peaceful for you. One of the requirements in making a slauve is the type of person they use. You are pure in a way.”

Kalen pulled away and started walking down the street, not responding to my answer. I followed, keeping my mouth shut as he thought about everything.

“Why did you come with me?” he asked. “I doubt you cared about those children.”

I nodded. “You’re right. I don’t care about them.”

He grimaced.

“Then why?” he asked again.

“Because you would have died,” I finally admitted it to him. I was almost a hundred percent sure he would have died. He wouldn’t even kill the human—even after everything that human did. Kalen would have risked his life to save him from the bloodhounds. It was just who he was. He still believed in the justice system, still believed that everyone deserved a fair trial. If I asked him, he would probably say he was against the death penalty. My codes are a lot older than just the death penalty. I was more of an eye for an eye kind of gal.

“You sound so sure of it.”

“You didn’t kill that man. You simply knocked him out.”

“He’s human! He doesn’t deserve to die like that.”

“He’s still a human even though he took part in sacrificing four children? Those kids are dead now because of him and you still see him as human? What about their little siblings that he had to kill to get them? That’s a lot of children he killed for his selfish reasons.”

He made a weird frustrated noise that originated more from his chest than his mouth. He punched a nearby tree, despair in every line of his expression. He was pissed more with himself than he was with me.

“I couldn’t even save them.” He choked on his words, the pain in each syllable. My heart hurt for him. I wanted to comfort him and tell him everything was going to be okay, but it wasn’t. Not for him. I looked down at my small hands and curled them into fists. To him, he failed those children and nothing I say or do will going to make it okay.

“You saved four children. They get to go home, crawl into their parents’ arms and cry and eventually heal. You did the best you could.”

“My best wasn’t good enough.”

“For those kids still alive, it was.”

“Shit,” he swore. More words escaped his mouth and he leaned his forehead against the tree he punched.

I just stood there and let him have his moment. I could feel him as he pulled himself together again. He picked up each piece that had broken off him and carefully placed it back where it belonged. When he was as whole as he was going to be, he straightened his posture, took a couple of deep breaths and began walking again. I followed silently behind like a trained dog. Well, not so much trained as just infatuated with him. Sometimes I still wished I could care as much as he did about strangers.

“Why are you so goddamn jaded?” he asked, the question coming out of nowhere.

“God has nothing to do with my jadedness.”

“Stop avoiding my question with sarcasm. Just tell me why.”

“There is nothing to tell.” I shrugged.

“So you’re going to admit to being a cold-hearted bitch?” He shook his head. “I don’t buy it. Something happened. What? What got you to hate humans so much?”

“I can’t tell you.”

“Stop being stubborn!” he yelled. “I’m sick of all the secrets. You hate humans and don’t make a point to hide that hatred. You look at children with jealousy and adults with disgust. You just sit on the sidelines when someone is in trouble, even when you obviously have the power to protect them.”

“I can’t tell you because it isn’t just one thing to tell,” I yelled back. “There are thousands, hell, millions of years attached to it! And I don’t completely hate them. At least not all of them anymore.”

He fell quiet and stared at me in disbelief. I just continued, making use of that silence.

“For my entire existence, I’ve been nothing but tortured, beaten, used and abused. I have had things done to me that your simple little brain won’t even be able to wrap around. That’s why I’m jaded. That’s why I don’t trust humans and why I just can’t get myself to care about a bunch of children going missing or being killed. I’ve seen worse, done worse.” I was breathing heavily after my tirade. Somehow it made me feel better, like admitting to it was my way of letting go. Parts of my mind relaxed, finally accepting some of what happened. It simply became facts that occurred. Some of my rage dispersed with the words.

“Millions of years?” His voice was tight with emotions I couldn’t identify.

“I’m more than two hundred years old. A lot older with a whole lot of history attached to it. Since the beginning of mankind.”

“No one has lived that long.”

I shook my head. “There are a couple, not many since most gave up and allowed themselves to simply end.”

He tried to wrap his mind around the age. Sometimes I couldn’t do it either. I always wondered why I was still alive, how I was able to keep going. It all boiled down to just taking it one day at a time.

“And that whole time, humans did all kinds of things to you?”

“Why should I show kindness to those that never showed me any?” My pain was in my words and in my expression. There was no hiding it. “I’m on the other side of the spectrum. As far away as I can be from being a saint.”

Kalen didn’t have an answer to give, not after we just killed a man who was willing to sacrifice innocent children so he could end something he brought onto himself. We just kept walking in silence until we were in front of my apartment.

He walked me home again, forever the gentleman.

Kalen turned to leave and I grabbed his wrist, stopping him. He stared down at my hand until finally giving me eye contact.

“What are you going to do now that you found the children?”

He stared at me a moment longer before looking up to my apartment. “Figure out how to get free I guess.”

“You don’t want to kill Akhlys any more?”

“I don’t know.”

“So you’re going to kill your master?” I let go of his arm and stepped away to get a better look at him. He seemed so lost and confused.

“I don’t know if I’m capable of doing that. I can’t go against any of his orders and I’ve tried.”

“You’re different. Haven’t you noticed it yet? Slauves are normally strong, but you’re easily twice as strong as they are. You also don’t make finding Akhlys a top priority like you should. Normal slauves would be obsessed with finding her.”

“You seem to know a lot about slauves, why?”

I blinked, automatically thinking of Eithna. “Someone I knew a long time ago made one. He was strong too.”

“What happened to him?”

“He was killed. His master made him do very bad things and he was dealt with.” I shivered, remembering Eithna standing there like a crazed phoenix and a man standing slightly behind her like a bodyguard. He was taller than Kalen, with blonde hair and feline green eyes. His pupils were fully dilated, no trace of the green left. Tears flowed down his cheeks as he just stood there, begging me with his eyes to save him. I denied the man help simply because Eithna was too important to me to kill. She looked so young again, like she was getting back her life again.

I didn’t realize then what she was planning. I thought she created the slauve more to have a companion than to help with her plans to destroy mankind. She was always like that, always upfront with her feelings. She went for what she wanted while I always just stayed back and let them do to me what they wanted. If I was more like her I would probably have done just what she did—taken my anger out on the humans.

“Darkness,” Kalen called out to me. He was kneeling down now, his face only inches from mine. He looked in my eyes, searching for something. “Where are you right now?”

I took in a shuddering breath and blinked a couple of times, focusing on his eyes. He lifted his hand and gently brushed my cheek. A teardrop was on his thumb. I stared at that tear in complete shock. When was the last time I ever cried about something? This was twice now that my tear ducts have decided to work and all because I was with Kalen.

“I’m sorry,” I apologized and tried to step away. He held onto me, not letting me go.

“There is nothing you should be sorry about.” He smiled a little. “You seemed completely shocked. When was the last time you let yourself cry. Just a nice good cry.”

I tried to laugh off his question and it only came out weak. “Cry? I don’t cry.”

He brushed my cheeks with the pad of his thumb. “Everyone cries.”

I tried to look down, but Kalen didn’t let me. He forced me to look into his eyes. The brown in his eyes were rich, the depth of them never ending. I touched his cheek tentatively. I could feel the tiny little bristles of his stubble. My thumb went over his wide jaw enjoying the feel of the little hairs and the angles of his jaw. He’s been so busy the last couple of days that he hadn’t had time to shave. He was handsome the first night I saw him, all clean-shaven. Now, he was gorgeous. He still held that innocence I found interesting in humans, so blind to the possibilities of the world. I wanted him to learn about the beauty that did exist in my world. I wanted him to have more time.

“I pray to whoever is out there that you stay exactly how you are,” I breathed out the words softly. He shivered as my words caressed him.

“And how do you suggest I do that?”

I leaned back, putting some distance between us. “If you kill Akhlys, you get to go into the next phase of your life, whatever that may be. If you kill your master, you’ll stay like this, a slauve, just no orders to control your actions. You’ll always be chained to this body, incapable of moving on until someone strong enough kills you. And you’re pretty fucking strong so that’ll be hard too.”

He finally released me so I could step back. He stood up slowly.

“So it’s up to me if I want my soul to be free.”

I nodded. “I’ll help you, either way. Just decide and I’ll help you the best I can. Do you want to see what more is out there in this world or do you want to be free of your chains.” The tears pushed against my face, they wanted release. I just agreed to help him kill me if he wanted to be released.

I don’t know what it was about him. Maybe it was in his stance, or in the choices that flittered around in his eyes. He made a choice and I knew which one. He wanted to be free of those chains.

He needed to kill me.

“I want to be free. Every second feels like a painful strain, like I should be able to go where I want but instead I’m held down against my will. I want to be free.”

This is freedom, Akhlys. I need this. I’m suffering with this gaping black hole in my heart because my babies are dead. So yeah, I’m going to embrace my decision and follow it through until the end

They are going to kill you.

I know. Like I said, freedom.

Shit.

“Darkness?” I blinked, refocusing on Kalen. He was looking at me funny. “Are you okay?”

“Ya—Yeah,” I gave him a weak smile. “Don’t look like that. I said I’ll help you and I will. You’ll be free soon enough. I’ll see you tomorrow, yeah? I’ll help you with Akhlys.”

“At the harbor?” he asked.

I let my smile grow a little more. He was starting to understand me at least a little bit. Too bad he was going to kill me. “Yeah, at the harbor.”

I turned and went into the apartment, knowing he was watching me as I disappeared through the door.

I wonder what death will feel like. Will it be the ultimate end? Blissful and peaceful like the humans liked to believe or was I meant to go to a place full of suffering to pay for all the crimes I committed. The bigger question was how was I going to let Kalen kill me? Saying I would and actually doing it were two different things. Good thing I didn’t go back on my word. I’ll help him find a way to do it.

Chapter 23:

The apartment building was weirdly quiet.

I mean, it has always been quiet, but now it was too silent and for that reason alone, I went on alert. I made my way slowly up the stairwell, casting out all my senses and got back nothing, not even the normal feel of another being in the area.

That couldn’t be right.

There were at least ten other beings who lived in the building right now. Some of them bloodborns, a couple of locs, and even a Fae. Everyone kept to themselves and it helped keep up the pretense of the building being abandoned. It was the perfect place for beings always in transit. I’ve always been able to sense them, like background noise. Tonight, I got nothing.

The eerie quiet raised my shackles. Something was very wrong. When I reached my floor, it became even quieter. There wasn’t so much as a skitter from the rats. It was like being in a sound proof room. There should be noise, like the dripping of water that leaked into the hallway, the skittering of a rat or two, the distance voices of the other two occupants on my floor, or the creaking of floorboards. But none of it was reaching my little ears. I pushed out my power, trying to check my apartment and found nothing. So very cautiously, I opened my apartment door, pushing the door against the wall to make sure no one was hiding behind it. From what I could sense, there was no one in there.

Am I being overly paranoid now? I let out a small laugh, feeling silly.

I went inside, changing quickly into a pajama dress. Why was I becoming so paranoid? Kalen still has no clue about who I really am. Was it because the Consort were around, or to be more specific, Death himself? I have a feeling he was going to pay me a visit. What would he think about me dying for the sake of a slauve? What about El? Surely I was doing something humane, and El would approve of at least my willingness to help someone else, even if I was doing it in a way he wouldn’t approve of. To him, self-sacrifice was just taking an easy way out.

The biggest problem with the promise was finding a way to allow Kalen to kill me by overpowering my instincts. Because with my life in mortal danger, my instincts will take over before Kalen even has a chance to wound me enough to kill me.

I went towards the kitchen, only to find myself shoved against the wall across from the bathroom door. Something wrapped itself around me and searing pain scorched my skin. I barely kept in a scream, not wanting to give my attacker that satisfaction. The smell of burnt skin and smoke became noticeable and a part of me was screaming, yelling at me, telling me I was the source of the smell. I was being cooked. I grunted from the pain and clenched my teeth, tasting blood. I tried to untangle myself, all my limbs useless against the net. I was truly captured liked this.

Over the roaring in my ears, I could hear a loud, wicked laugh. I moved just enough to see Paige Chambers towering over me in a skin tight strapless red dress cut low enough to show her coven tattoo. She looked just like a sensual cat who caught the mouse she’s been hunting for far too long. Unfortunately, I was the mouse.

I tried phasing, but whatever was over me prevent me from doing it. It didn’t take long to figure out that the net was able to cut me off from my shadows and made me more useless than at high noon on a sunny day.

I stopped struggling. There was no point. I was completely caught. As soon as I stopped, the burning stopped too, to my relief. I laid there and did the only thing I could do best, considering the situation. I glared at the witch, mentally promising her demise. I made the look a challenge.

Release me and lets see who defeats who. Lets just end this. She saw the look, understood it and only smiled more, her face nearly cut in half with that smirk.

“So quick to realize struggling is pointless, how disappointing.” She did a fake pout that only made her look spoiled.

“What do you want?” I put power into my words to show her I wasn’t giving up just yet. I was a huge acquaintance of torture and pain. I even grew partially immune to the pain, treating it as only another sense I could dim a little.

Paige bent over and went to caress my skin. When she got close enough, I snapped my teeth, nearly getting her fingertips. Damn, I missed by a mere hair width. The net came alive and burned briefly at the movement but the look on her face was worth it. Her smile faltered as I rained down on her parade.

I’m good like that.

“I’m going to ask again. What do you want? I thought you weren’t into revenge.”

She glanced to the side and I refused to look at what had her attention. Anyone else here were just grunts.

“Our master got tired of waiting for the slauve to stop fumbling around. Really, I told him Kalen wouldn’t be the best choice. That man is all about life. But then again, so is my master.” As she spoke, her face lit up with adoration for her master. It was raw enough that I wanted to look away from it.

Me, embarrassed? Yeah, just a little.

That kind of look was proof of a bond stronger than just a master and his lackey. She may go to the end of the world for him, probably already well on her way if he’s the reason for her becoming a dark witch.

“Does this infamous master have a name?” I asked.

She ignored the question as unfamiliar hands grabbed me—along with the net—and brought me to my feet. I looked up at the man to find a complete stranger. He was large, similar to a body builder, with a square face, dark beady eyes and a clean-shaven head. All brawns and no brains—the perfect thug. His meaty hands stayed on my shoulders, just as strong and heavy. When I tried to move, all he did was flex his fingers, squeezing my small shoulders and keeping me still.

Paige simply smiled and walked into the one room in the apartment. One of the walls were now cleared, the bookshelf pulled away. Scratched into the plaster of the walls were strange markings I couldn’t recognize, but somehow felt so familiar, like a fleeting dream. If I have seen them before it was too long ago to be sure. That thought alone was scary. If this was ancient magic, then that wasn’t good for anyone. Not for Paige, Kalen, and especially not for me.

The witch walked over, placed her hand in the middle of all the circles and said an incantation. The magic whirled from around the room and into the wall, creating a sort of portal. It was like looking down a dark grey tornado. The witch turned to me, pleased with herself.

“You’re messing with magic beyond you. It’s only going to come back and bite you in the ass. All the black magic in the world won’t be able to save you by then.”

“Shut up,” she said. “Time to go meet your end.”

The thug shoved me through. Pain whipped at my skin and I screamed as I grew weightless and everything went black.

When I came back to myself, I was in a pure white room with lights all around. On the ceiling, the floor, the walls, and leaving not even a shadow to exist. I couldn’t open my eyes without burning them, so I left them closed. I tried to move my limbs, only to be restricted by shackles.

Okay then.

I was definitely a prisoner. I inhaled and smelled nothing but cleaning products. I tried to cast out my powers and it only bounced back weak and useless. All these lights were making me useless.

Don’t worry, no one is going to miss you. You can stay down here and rot for the rest of your abominable life. I’ll be back later on for some fun games.

How many times have I been shackled? Locked up to rot in some basement or dungeon? How many times have I been tortured, experimented on? Too many. Way too many.

I don’t know how long I stayed shackled to the wall. It could have been minutes, hours, or days. Who knows? Living for so long, years can pass by in what would feel like seconds. In this moment, it felt like decades. I couldn’t keep my eyes open longer than a few seconds, my sight unwilling to adjust to all the light. I swear, the longer I stayed here, the more my skin roasted. Is this what they wanted to do to me? Roast me like a Thanksgiving chicken? Or was that turkey?

From what I could see, the room was the size of a master bedroom and other than me, there was only a large steel door. Nothing else. Well, magic was there too. It hummed through the air constantly. There was so much of it that my skin grew sensitive.

Magic is always in the air, waiting for someone to come along and use it. Normally it stayed in the background, acting more like wisp than anything else. It wasn’t like that in here. The magic was so condensed in the air that I could probably choke on it. It existed as a blanketed reminder to the danger that has yet shown itself.

The heavy metal doors clanged open. And the danger finally showed itself.

I peeked long enough from under my red-hazed eyelids to sear my retinas and find Paige standing there. Not a lot of time passed if she was still wearing the red dress. I was starting to think they forgot about me and days were passing by. Then again, maybe days have passed by and she was just wearing the dress again. Doubt it. She seemed like the type to only wear something once and then forget about it in the back of her closet.

There was a fizzle and then the pink haze behind my eyelids lessened. I opened my eyes slowly, weary. The lights on the walls were off.

“So now that I’m here, what’s next?” I asked, tired of being in this situation time and time again. I was familiar with imprisonment enough to know that I could only wait and see to know what they wanted to do. I was well captured and at the mercy of their hands; at least until there was an opening for me to escape.

She smiled. “We wait for my master to come back with his little pet and then kill you. Fortunate for you, only Kalen has power enough to kill you.”

That’s interesting, I thought. They were betting everything on Kalen.

I sighed. “Simple plan.”

Paige frowned when she didn’t get the reaction she wanted.

I guess in a way, this will work out perfectly. I just agreed to help Kalen kill me and now here I was, all wrapped up in a magic tight packaging and powerless. Whatever magic they were using kept me weak.

“You act as if being chained to the wall and waiting for your death means nothing to you.”

I shook my head. “Not nothing. It means a lot to kill me. I hope you’re prepared for what happens though.”

She let out a small laugh that gave her nervousness away. Was my aloofness getting to her? I could stay aloof. I was a master at it. “We have considered everything.”

“Everything?” I cocked my eyebrows and tilted my head to the side. How much did they know about me?

“Yes, everything, Akhlys.” My name was a purr on her lips and I pictured her choking on it the next time she used that name.

“Good luck with that.”

She scowled, her beautiful face twisting with anger. “You’re cocky. Why are you cocky?”

I was expecting a foot stomp to go with the question, but instead she waved her hands in a weird fashion and the lights blared to life, making my skin grow even hotter. I tried to coil away but there was no place to cower to. It was like being in the middle of the sun, surrounded by solar flares. The light stayed strong until I whimpered, then it was like a flick of a light switch as the room went back to its normal brightness.

“Not so cocky now, are you?” she said with a satisfied smirk. I tried to smile, pulling the muscles around my mouth taunt. My skin was tight enough to split open. She burned me to a crisp. I could only stare at her, wide-eyed, as a new kind of fear blossomed in my stomach.

No being was truly immortal—just really hard to kill. All anyone had to do was find that one way that could do them in and looking at Paige, I could only believe that she found the way to kill me.

That wasn’t what really scared me though. I could accept death, maybe even welcome it. But if Kalen was the only who could kill me, then all Paige could do was torture me. I tried to draw comfort from that thought except being barbequed made that a little hard.

There was no darkness to draw power from and by hurting me constantly; my body was too busy healing itself and keeping me weak. If they were careful enough, they could keep me locked up for a very long time and that was what scared me.

She can’t kill me but she can make it hurt. She can make me wish I were dead

No. No way.

My power tried to flare to life as my instincts screamed in denial. For once, my instincts agreed with me. We would rather die than be stuck here forever at the hands of beings who hated me with every cell of their existence. My power stretched against my small skin, trying to find release and finding none. Not in this tiny body. It lashed out at my skin, wanting to break free and I screamed out in a furious frustration. I wanted the witch dead. I wanted her to suffer in the very depths of purgatory for hurting me. I snarled, my eyes filled with power and my being lessened to nothing but an animalistic need to survive. I was dangling there, holding onto my sanity with a pinkie.

“I don’t care who your master is, but I will promise you this,” my voice was deeper, closer to my real voice, except deformed by the growl in it. “Both of you will be so deeply buried into the pits of the night that all your senses will be nonexistent and you’ll never know when true death will come for you or how. When I’m done with you, you will beg me to end it and I will gladly do it, but not before turning you into nothing but a whimpering husk of dark misery.”

Paige swallowed. She believed me. Good, at least she wasn’t completely dumb. I tried to hold onto whatever existence I had left, refusing to give in completely to the raging beast of my instincts.

“You’re in no position to make threats,” she replied, her face pale. I gave her a feral smile, letting her know I was no one’s victim.

I pushed out as much power as my little body would allow. My brand even flared to life, only a dim pain compared to how much it could really dish out. I was hurt, scared and absolutely frustrated with everyone. I traded in all those emotions for rage, something I was familiar with. I still came out short, my power only inches away from her. My body was too damn weak.

I slumped back down, all the tension leaving me feeling like Jell-O. Page seemed to understand I was exhausted. She smirked and left the room briefly. I closed my eyes.

So tired.

A sharp pain flared on my arm and began spreading through my body. I grunted and Paige laughed as she stood over me with a whip in her hand. It was like a cat o’ nine tails, with multiple ends. What made them worse than the normal whips were the tiny little spikes on the rope that bit into my skin and tore it open.

She hit me again and I could feel each spike go into my skin and then when the whip retracted, the spikes tore at my skin, taking with it a scream.

“I thought you said you couldn’t kill me,” I managed to say through clenched teeth.

“Oh, I know I can’t.”

“So you’re just going to torture me?”

She laughed manically. “Yeah. I’m going to make you feel the same pain my family has felt for hundreds of years.”

She whipped me again, hitting my shoulder. I withdrew inside myself as best as I could. It was the only thing I could do.

Chapter 24:

“Why does she look half dead?”

I pulled myself out of my self-induced oblivion and slowly opened my eyes to notice that some of the lights were off.

“I think she’s too tired to heal properly.” Paige’s voice.

“Good, that’s really good.” That voice was familiar.

My left eye was sealed shut and my right one blurry. I could make out the shape of a really tall man. Swirls of colors made it hard to distinguish his features, but I got an impression of brown on top of blue. “Wouldn’t want her to be strong enough to fight back.” The voice was so damn familiar, but who? Who was it?

Cold hands grabbed my face and tilted it up. I ended up looking into big pale blue eyes on the cusp of an ice storm. I kept seeing blue then brown, my vision too fucked up to differentiate anything else. A cold hand went to my temple and after a jolting stab of pain, my eyesight cleared right up.

Oh.

I blinked a couple of times, thinking the magic was giving me hallucinations now. Frey stood, towering over me with complete satisfaction on his pale face. We had one of those everlasting moments as I stared at him and him at me while my brain jetlagged through the revelation.

“‘An angry man held down by morals and fears retribution by his own master,’” I whispered, quoting Seeker the night I first went to see him. My voice was more of a screech, my vocal cords still damaged and unable to work properly.

Frey’s smile faltered, the gleam in his eyes dimming down. Good. “I knew Lord Kay was friends with you. That’s why I kissed his ass for three months.”

“And he admits it!” I acted astonished when really I just wanted to curse him.

He frowned at my enthusiasm.

“So, kiss Kay’s ass to get to me. Why?” It made no sense. I was a hundred and ten percent sure that I’ve never met the man until a couple of days ago. I would remember a descendant of a frost giant. They were rare enough.

I looked Frey over again, trying to figure it out. When he first met me, he feared me and showed that through an act of bravado. He still feared me now—I could taste it like a sweet addictive elixir.

Frey kneeled in front of me and wrapped his hands around my small neck. He squeezed, barely allowing me to breath. The movement was to make me realize he had a lot of strength and he was willing to break my neck. I already knew this though. It was evident in every cell of his body. His mind screamed out with his rage. There was no reason to prove it to me.

I stared at him, my face completely empty of any emotions. It was the kind of stillness only those who have lived long enough could do. It showed that his gesture failed to scare me. I could heal from a broken neck.

Paige may be right about me being too weak to heal as quickly as I normally could. But I was still healing. Even now, I could feel my shattered cheek bones knit themselves back together.

“I’m going to bring you the same kind of pain you forced on my sister.”

“Your sister?” I flicked through all the female beings who could possibly be his sister and drew a blank. “Who?”

Frey did not like that response.

He squeezed my neck and then banged me against the wall with a lot of force. My head snapped back, hitting hard against the wall. Pain seared through my brain and I could feel blood as it dripped through my hair and down my back, warm and sticky. It left a warm trail behind and only made my back itchy. And I couldn’t do anything to make the itchiness go away.

“How can you not even remember her?” he screamed into my face, spittle flying from his mouth and showering me. His eyes were wide with his rage, and underneath that, his grief. “She worshipped you. Couldn’t even stop talking about you, and then you set her up to die.”

My eyes widened as it all clicked into place. If my jaw wasn’t in so much pain, it probably would have hit the floor. Holy-fucking-shit.

“Eithna’s little brother…” It came out as a whisper as a different kind of pain struck my heart. I masked my reaction as best as I could and only hoped he didn’t catch that flicker of weakness. He didn’t. Good.

“That’s right. I’m her little brother.” He smiled and it was a freezing cold that sent icicles through my body. “And I’m going to make you suffer just as she did.”

“How?” I asked, it being the only question I could think of. I knew she had a little brother, but how was a fae related to an elemental? They were literally the opposite, fire and ice.

“Same mother, different fathers.”

“Oh.”

I glanced behind him at Paige. She leaned against the wall, her arms crossed and a huge grin on her face. I’m sure she was the one who was going to deal out the pain. And she was very willing.

“Shouldn’t your anger be for the Consort? They’re the ones who killed her.”

Frey grabbed my face and forced me to look back at him. His eyes were a full-blown ice storm now. A storm so cold, it could probably make hell freeze over. His fingers were as cold as the ice he could manipulate. The burning cold of his fingers stung as my cheeks grew numb from his touch. “She got the spell from you.”

I glared back. “I never showed her that spell. Her using it was her decision.”

“You gave her that book. You corrupted her.”

I barked out a surprise laugh. “I corrupted her?” I snarled. “What was she, some kind of angel?” I shook my head. Eithna may have been warm and full of laughter but she was like me too. We both had deep everlasting wounds created by the humans.

“Eithna breathed life. She was so full of warmth that she loved to share it.”

“Even to those humans who killed her children?” I asked in a dry voice.

He flinched and moved away a little, giving me some breathing room.

I continued, my grief showing in my words. It must have been weird, to see a little girl shackled to a wall and talking as if she were an adult with the most emptiest face ever. I only allowed my emotions to show through my words. They came out angry, with a hint of regret. Probably a dash of warmth. It was hard to tell. There were too many different emotions I was feeling right now. Even I couldn’t shift through them or keep them out of my voice. “Eithna was not an angel, not for anyone. Why do you think we got along so well? We were pretty much the same. We both got our kicks in making humans suffer.”

Frey shook me, pretty much dislodging my brain. “Lies,” he seethed.

His voice in that moment was so full of desperation and anger, that something clicked into place. It was the same voice of someone who spoke to me a couple days after Eithna died. A voice seeking retribution against her sister’s killers.

“‘I’ll destroy her. I’ll bring her the same misery she brought to you, Eithna. I promise this. I will have justice for your death. Akhlys had no right, no need to do this to you.’” I quoted those words I heard back then while staring at Frey.

His face fell, color leaving his complexion. “H-how—” he sputtered.

I smiled weakly. “I know I’m not much now, but stop forgetting who I really am. I am Night. So next time, don’t whisper your secrets into the dark. It’s like whispering it right into my little ears.”

He stared at me, his blue eyes trying to penetrate and read me. He got nothing so he tried a different route. “You’re nothing.”

“Not now, I’m not.” I cocked my head. “It took you long enough. I paid close attention to that threat and nothing happened for so long that I forgot all about you.”

Frey’s face turned red with anger. Veins started popping up around his eyes. He moved closer to me, his fingers poking at my body. Each poke was more of a stab.

“I keep my threats,” he said, moving his face closer to mine, intruding in on my personal space. He was only inches away.

When he got too close, I pulled my head back and then head butted him as hard as I could. I swear I heard my own skull crack and blood started dripping into my eyes. It was worth it though as I watched the blood spray from Frey’s nose. Maybe that was the crack I heard.

“You bitch!” His voice was nasally as he tried to stop his nose from bleeding. “You little bitch.”

Like I said when Kalen had the nasally voice; it’s funny when they talk. It’s hard to take a person seriously when they spoke like they had a blow horn shoved up their nose. For the life of me, I couldn’t take his anger seriously.

I think Frey understood that too because he stood up and kicked me in the chest, hard enough to lift me up an inch or two from the ground. He did it again and then again before he stopped, his chest heaving. He swore before storming out of the room, leaving Paige behind with me.

She sauntered over to me as I tried to breathe. My chest was making a wheezing sound and I knew if I was human, I would be dead.

“You gave him the spell,” I wheezed.

Paige tilted her head, considering me for a moment before she smiled big. “Of course. When I was with El, I made a copy of it.” She sounded absolutely proud of herself. If I learned anything about her, it was that she was always boastful. “It was surprisingly hard to find a being who hated you enough to risk summoning a slauve. Then it took even longer to find the perfect man to become a slauve.”

“And Kalen was the perfect man?” My voice was strong again. Good.

“Ah, yes. He’s definitely special. Probably the only one who can kill you.”

“How so?”

She shook her head. “I think I’ll just leave it as a surprise.”

“So this is your revenge? Use others to do it for you.”

Paige laughed. “Oh, don’t worry. My hands are very dirty and they will only get dirtier.” She paused for a moment, finding amusement in something only she knew about. “Besides. Who do you think ensured Kalen was killed?”

She did? She caused Kalen’s death?

That little confession brought my rage to a boil inside of me. I managed to keep my body still and my face blank. Just barely. I was going to fall apart soon and when I did, I was going shatter and it wasn’t going to be pretty.

She was the one who killed such a sweet man, the one to curse him. Oh, Frey casted the spell, but Paige orchestrated it all, hiding in the background, tugging on the strings to make Frey do her bidding.

I smirked, making sure to show all my teeth. “I wonder how Frey feels about being a puppet.”

She blinked, surprised by my statement. Then she smiled softly. “Frey is no puppet. We both had an agreement and we acted on it. He’s capable of doing far more than me.” There it was again—the reverence in her voice. There was no doubt that she would jump if he said jump. It made it harder to determine who was in charge. She was the one making all the plans and executing them while Frey was the one with all the power. Power Paige wanted and knew she could never have.

“Which is why you have to leech off of him.” I allowed myself to painfully relax against the wall. “You are weak.”

She smacked me. Hard. My teeth cut open my cheek and the sweet coppery taste of blood filled my mouth.

“Shut up! You understand nothing! Nothing! You destroyed everything my family worked hard to achieve. We lost so much because of you. Because you just up and decided that someday, just maybe, we would be able to end you. A fucking possibility.”

“Possibility? There was no possibility. Your family was high risk. They were always aiming to destroy me. I’ve been their prisoner more than a handful of times. Of course I would wipe them out the first chance I got. Besides, they asked for it, sending those men to me. What did you think was going to happen? What was I suppose to do? Just take it laying down?” I shook my head. “You’re so full of delusions.”

She shook her head and stepped back lifting her hands in defeat. I would really believe I won if she wasn’t smiling.

“You know what? It doesn’t matter. Kalen will come and when he kills you, you will be dead and I’ll be the one to look down at you, laughing. Revenge makes the best satisfaction.”

I spat a mouthful of blood at her feet. She stumbled back a little. I grinned, showing all my teeth and watched with satisfaction as she paled. “Oh, yeah. Revenge is always satisfying,” I purred. I allowed all my plans to show in my eyes. None of what I wanted to do to her was pretty.

Paige backed up until her back hit the wall. When she realized she just retreated from a little girl chained to a wall, she snarled. How very beastly of her. It went against her sophisticated appearance.

“You’re going to get what’s coming.”

“Looking forward to it.”

She glanced at me before escaping out of the door and closing it behind her with a definite click. The lights flared back to life and I settled inside of myself, nursing the embers of my rage, keeping it alive.

Chapter 25:

There is an abyss of power inside of me, just sitting there untouched. To touch it means death and suffering for those around me. To touch it means to reach my full potential. The day El came to me, I was so close to embracing it. I was tired back then, sick of being in existence. I was self-destructive and I almost used my true power to end the problems to my suffering—the humans.

Only my promise with Kalen kept me from tapping into it now. That and this form of a child. I could still feel all that power, there was just a door between us. Well, more like a screen door, with little leaks. Being angry really did help a lot.

After Paige left, I collected those little leaks of power and filled myself up with as much of it as I could. I needed to heal as best as I could and reserve strength to fight back the moment an opportunity presented itself. My body kept roasting and I kept healing what damage I could. It was like I couldn’t get ahead, couldn’t collect a little to reserve. Most of the power went into healing my body and even then, the damage was constant so I couldn’t completely heal.

“What is the meaning of this?” A familiar voice roared and I realized they were back.

Paige took post, leaning against the wall again. She was in a different sleazy dress now. It was still red, but this time it was made out of satin and there were tiny little spaghetti straps. Kalen stood just in front of me, his broad back facing me as he yelled at Frey. Frey simply looked smug.

“Why is Darkness here?”

There he was, trying to do what was right again.

Seeing him stand up for me made me realize I didn’t want him here. My heart squeezed as my options narrowed dramatically. I guess I just couldn’t believe Kalen would come. I don’t know why. He does have to listen to his master after all.

His being here left me with only one option. I was going to do it. I was going to keep my promise to help Kalen get his freedom.

Paige said he was the only one capable of killing me and I knew he could fight. Now I just had to believe that he had the strength to fight me and win.

“Kalen,” I mumbled. His whole body went stiff and he turned around to look at me. I managed a weak smile. He moved towards me.

“Don’t go to her, Kalen,” Frey spoke, his words a resonance in the air. Kalen froze in mid-movement. His face tightened with strain as he fought those words, but he was only a slauve, a slave forced to listen to the words of his master. There was no going against his master’s words. Perspiration dotted his forehead as he fought.

I felt pity for him. Another new emotion Kalen taught me.

Kalen eventually gave up going against Frey’s orders and turned back to his master, but not before giving me a heart-wrenching look of desperation that nearly tore my heart out. I could see the fear he always kept tucked away. He believed he was going to fail me just like he failed those children who died.

I hardened my heart. He wasn’t going to kill me feeling like that. He had to see me for who I really was. I had to make him hate me and what better way than to make him face betrayal.

“What are you doing to her?” Kalen asked through clenched teeth. So brave, so very brave to stand against his master.

Frey blinked and looked between us before letting out a loud laugh. “I would think you would be happy. She’s you’re ticket to freedom.”

“What do you mean?”

“He means I’m Akhlys. The woman you have to kill,” I volunteered. Kalen whirled around to face me, his confusion as clear as the direction of his moral compass.

“That’s not possible.” I could see as Kalen’s mind worked to accept what we were telling him. “You’re power is all wrong.”

“Is it really?” Page asked, enjoying the show.

“Shadows, Kalen. I can manipulate shadows, remember. Truthfully, it is only shadows because I’m only a shadow of myself.” I made a small gesture to represent the form I was in. The chains clanked softly against the wall. “I dampened myself in many ways.”

“Bullshit. What game are you playing?” he said, still in disbelief. I guess if I was in his shoes, I wouldn’t be able to accept it either. I’ll probably just laugh it off, instead of looking like my world was falling apart, like how Kalen was beginning to look.

I laughed, the sound feral and bone chilling. “Game? I play none right now, not anymore.”

“I don’t understand.”

“No, I guess you wouldn’t.” I forced my face to look neutral. It was the kind of neutral that said I could care less about Kalen or the situation I put him in. It deserved an Academy Award for Best Actress. He saw that expression and hated it. His brows scrunched up as his frown deepened. “Let’s put it in way for your stupid little mind to accept. Why do you keep coming to me? How? Why do you think I pushed you to focus on those kids and even helped out? You’re so fucking dumb, and that in itself kept me entertained.”

“You didn’t push me to help those children. If I remember correctly, you were very adamant it wasn’t a being.”

“And it only made you want to prove me wrong, right?” I asked. None of what I was saying was true. I really did think a being wasn’t behind those children’s disappearances. I was wrong and he was right. Yay for him, I guess.

“I can’t believe you,” was his response.

“If not, then how about if she showed you her real face?” Frey asked. He nodded and Paige took it as a cue to work her magic.

It felt like they were tearing out my soul, separating my flesh from my skin. I screamed and tried to fight back, but failed horribly. My body elongated, my hair grew, turning as dark as the night with a new moon and my power flared. That screen door between the abyss and me was no longer there. I had full access to my powers. Did they take into consideration how powerful I could really be?

I reached out to all that power and found I was only inches away from it all. I almost felt complete, almost completely myself. So damn close. I shook in frustration, the cuffs around my wrists and ankles now biting into my skin. They were a size too small for me now that I was an adult.

I stared at Kalen, self conscious of my naked body, but worked hard to reveal nothing in my expression. I got to watch each emotion pass across his face. Confusion. Disbelief. Anger. Confusion again. Understanding. Then finally the pain of betrayal. All along I was the enemy he was created to destroy and he thought I strung him along.

Good. He needs to feel that. He needs to kill me.

“You’ve been here all along?” he asked, his voice thick with emotions.

“The one and only. Sorry, if I could curtsy I would.”

He shook his head—unable to find the correct words to express the anguish he was feeling. We had moments together these last couple of days. He thought I was one thing, probably thought he was beginning to understand me and then I shredded apart everything he believed to be true.

“You said you would help me,” he said, his voice thick with emotions.

“I said a lot of things, didn’t I?”

“Enough already,” Frey interrupted, his patience at an end. “Just kill her.”

Kalen stiffed, his whole body going rigid. The pupils contracted, engulfing the chocolate brown until they were only a tiny ring around black. He was barely holding onto himself.

“Yeah, just kill me already,” I said. He tried to find something in my expression and when he didn’t find it, he growled. It was the warning kind of growl. One that was from deep within his chest, warning me to not push him. I ignored the warning. I wasn’t going to give him the excuse he was looking for to not kill me. I needed him to fight and fight hard. I smiled wickedly, showing all my teeth. “Do what your master says.”

His hand shot out to his back as he fought with his master’s command. But his anger was rising and it didn’t help him at all. His body was moving on its own now.

“No,” he whispered.

“No what?” I asked. “No, you don’t believe it? No, you don’t want to kill me? Or no, this can’t be reality?”

The knife came out. It was still dripping with magic, even more so now than ever before. I caught a glimpse of Paige staring at the knife with want. She wanted it and yet Kalen had it. She was jealous.

She caught me watching her. “Only Kalen can hold the knife. It is his heirloom,” she said, clamping down on the jealousy that was eating her alive. It was probably a big itch knowing she couldn’t touch something so powerful. Power was what she was all about.

I looked back at Kalen. Heirloom?

I could see it now. An intricate design sketched into the blade. I recognized the markings as a language long dead from a long time ago. I could barely remember what the symbols were. Some kind of spell maybe. Either way, it couldn’t be anything good. Not for me anyways. I had a feeling that blade was meant for beings like me.

Kalen stepped towards me now, the knife pointed right at my chest. He was fighting hard with no avail. We both knew it. He was going to stab me and I was probably going to die. Those symbols said the same thing.

“I don’t want to do this,” Kalen grunted, his teeth clenched. He was biting down on his lips, trying to use pain to get out of the curse his body was under. Pain was usually useful in breaking trances, some spells, and other’s wills that pressed down on them. In this case, it wasn’t going to work. This spell was deeper than anyone’s will.

“But you will,” I smiled up at him softly.

His eyes widened as we both watched the blade cut its way into my chest.

Chapter 26:

I screamed. The blade slipped into my chest, between my ribs and right towards my heart, missing by only a hairs length. Every time my heart beat, it pushed against the blade. The blade was yanked out and I cried out as the heat spread across my skin, taking route in the wound and digging its way through my body.

As my insides burned with fire, I knew it was because of those little beads of light like in my last fight with Kalen. The pain fed my misery and my misery fed my anger. My anger snapped, along with all the bonds to my sanity.

My last coherent thought was: I hope Kalen is strong enough.

I screamed with full-out rage, my pupils expanding until my eyes were pitch black. I couldn’t see, the lights too strong for my new eyes.

I didn’t want to die. I couldn’t let them kill me. Why did I even let myself think I would die for someone else? I laughed a little, wondering just why I thought I could finally die. No way in hell.

Never.

Lights shattered and shadows grew, giving me that last little edge I needed. The little bit of distance left between my powers and me disappeared and I dove right into the abyss, letting it wrap itself around me.

I was scared. I was angry. I wanted to taste death on my lips. I fought back. Someone screamed in response to the sudden appearance of night. The magic thickened around me, trying to create a cage. I knew I was still in my human form. I could feel my arms as they pulled against the shackles. I could feel my heavy chest as it tried to properly breathe.

The restraint on my body broke and I knew my shackles disintegrated. They had no chance against my real powers.

I was free.

I laughed again, this time in ecstasy. I was free. Hurt—really hurt, but free nonetheless. The rest of the lights broke, washing the entire room in darkness and making everything crystal clear for me.

The slauve stood a couple of feet from me, holding onto his blade and trying to see. The witch was by the door, chanting something with her hands pointed out to me. The fae was next to her, trying to see, his lips moving quickly.

The room grew colder as Frey’s magic did their trick.

Ice formed at my feet, hindering my movement. It slowly rose up around my ankles, leeching the warmth out of my feet.

A net formed a couple of feet above my head and then dropped around me, the magic-infused rope burning my skin where ever they touched. This time I was able to mist. I misted to the spot right in front of the witch, leaving behind the ice and the net. I heard the net drop down onto the floor as I leered over the black, soul-sucking witch.

A white light took the place of the couple of torches on the wall. It felt like the slauve’s doing. He was trying to bring light back into my world. I felt it like a hole in my existence.

No. I patched it up, snuffing out the light and glaring at the slauve.

“I am Night,” I said. My voice was completely separate from me as I spoke. Even I couldn’t recognize it as mine, not with so much power and detachment in it. I just didn’t care anymore. I was hurt and about to die. I was foolish.

My instincts were in complete control as darkness deepened all around us. If I was going to die, then I was going to take a chunk of life with me.

All of them. They hurt me. Kill them all.

I blended in with the darkness, becoming one with it. My body wasn’t tangible anymore. I dispersed, becoming who I should have always been. My powers expanded outwards, filling the room and spilling out of any cracks in the foundation.

The slauve made a move for me, a shine in his eyes. The little orbs taking place of his pupils looked like two little moons. The witch was chanting again, the fae joining in with her.

The slauve slashed at me but how do you hit something that is everywhere and yet nowhere?

I could feel every being, including the humans, in the area to their very core. I could smell the dirt embedded in their skin, the alcohol on their breath. I could taste the sweat on their skin and the drugs in their systems as they huddled in for the night. They weren’t who I wanted though, my targets were the ones in the room with me.

I expanded completely, nearly entirely true self for once.

I felt the cold steel as it went for me. I resurrected a wall between me and the blade. It was no use. The blade cute right through it. The knife leaving behind a blinding white path. I jumped back, ignoring everything.

My insides were on fire, my cursed brand on full blast, trying to remind me who and what I am.

I know who I am.

I am Night.

I am the creation of mankind’s fear.

I can’t die. I won’t.

I came back into my human form and cemented the blackness, forming a three feet thick wall between me and the blade. A thump bounced around the room as I turned to face the witch. She finished chanting and sent a blinding yellow light of magic right at me. It hit the center of my chest and pushed me backwards, up against the wall I just made.

The pain of her spell was only a spark compared to the inferno inside of me. It was beginning to hurt to breath. I was going to lose.

No.

Yes. I was going to lose.

How? Why was I still so weak even though I have so much power?

I won’t die. I won’t.

I screamed and wrapped myself around the witch. She screamed, but it soon became muffled. I tasted her fear, her knowledge that she fucked up, that I was far stronger than she could imagine.

“How can you be so shocked?” I asked distantly. My voice was a whisper everywhere in the room. “I destroyed your family, remember.”

Her eyes grew wide with terror. I seeped into her psych and found a small pond of darkness. It was a cess pool, breeding her hatred and need for more power. Faintly, I felt more pain. Someone was doing more damage to me. I ignored it, focusing on my current victim. I’ll get to them all in due time.

I dipped my toe into the pool. It was freezing cold. I smiled softly and sat down, putting my feet inside. The witch screamed as I splashed my feet within her psych.

“Get out!” she screamed, her hands going to her head.

I looked up and out into the world of her mind.

“No more,” she whimpered.

“Yes, more,” I said simply and stood back up. “You want power, then here.”

I raised my hand over the pool and pushed out my own power. It mingled with hers, blending in before becoming explosive. She screamed again while I laughed. I flowed out of her and back into my human form, too weak to stay intangible anymore. That took more power than I had to spare, but I just couldn’t help myself. I smiled.

The witch was still screaming, magic around her pulsing as she lost control of herself. For what felt like forever but was probably only a few seconds, she continued to scream, holding her head as she rolled around on the floor. Finally, she stopped. Dead.

“What did you do?” the fae cried out.

The witch was at his feet, her eyes open and glossy. Her red satin dress surrounded her like a pool of blood. Her coven tattoo was a stark stain against her tanned skin. It didn’t have the shine it used to. All the magic within her dispersed along with her soul. Nothing, not even her coven could have protected her. Not that they would even want to. Now in death, she had to face an afterlife of suffering. A black witch was despised, even after death.

I turned and faced the two remain beings. The slauve was breathing heavily, warring with the darkness I pitted against him to keep him distracted. The fae was still looking down at the witch with grief. He didn’t want her dead.

“Kalen, do it now,” he said.

The slauve hesitated, looking between us. I didn’t know what he was about to do

“Yeah, Kalen. Do it.” I said, rolling his name off my lips. It was a comfortable name. I didn’t like the comfort of it at all.

He still hesitated. I couldn’t figure out why. Wasn’t I the enemy? The one he had to destroy?

“Kill her!” the Fae yelled.

The slauve flinched, but his mouth formed into a word. When he released it, all those fiery balls of pain turned into explosions in my body. I screamed and fell to my hands and knees. Black pits of blood grew on the floor, my life spilling out onto it.

The Fae snickered and walked towards me. I tried to breath out, but my lungs were crap now, one of them refusing to work and the other barely able to take in air.

My sight went in and out and somehow, the connection between me and my body grew back, putting my instincts on the back burner. I recognized this magic. It was ancient, very ancient and came from a family line just as old as I was.

“Moonlight,” I wheezed.

Frey laughed, kneeling down a couple of feet away. I glared up at him.

“Paige found him for me. It takes a special kind of person to be able to kill you.”

Tears pushed against my eyes as memories I’ve almost forgotten about came back to the surface. How couldn’t I figure this out before? Kalen was the descendant of a very old family. One of the few humans I loved was a woman. I met her when she was already old and I spent quite a few nights just talking with her. She was going blind, but it didn’t stop her from seeing into me. She was Mother Moon. Moonlight was hers to use and she could do such beautiful things with it.

Hey hun, look at this.” She held out her hand and slowly she collected the moonlight and subjected it into a reality, creating a small figurine in her hand of a beautiful bird long extinct. The feathers were long and flowy, the beak short, the eyes big and doey. “I heard it the other day. Didn’t think I would ever hear their song ever again.”

Maybe that was why I was so easily attracted to Kalen. He was the new Mother Moon. Or would that be Father Moon?

The night and the moon are true companions. It all made sense now. I was doomed from the beginning.

“You bastard,” I whispered, spitting out more of my life force. It was more than just blood. It was a mixture of blood, flesh, and power.

I can’t even explain the anger I felt. Mother Moon was someone I probably loved. I don’t really understand what it means to love, but I like to think I loved her. And then here, in front of me was her descendant and Frey turned him into a slauve.

I wanted Frey’s death and more.

Kalen stepped towards me and I used up most of my power to create a wall. It was a wall of black with a depth of eternity to it. He would have to fight through it to get to me and Frey.

I stood up slowly, coughing out more of my life force. My legs were shaking, I was getting tunnel vision and light headed, and the pain.

Oh fuck, the pain.

I can’t let it stop me.

When I glared at Frey, he seemed surprised by my strength.

“Do you have any idea who Kalen really is?” I asked.

“He’s the man who can kill you.”

I shook my head. I was wheezing now, the edges to my vision were closing in on my sight. Was this death?

“He’s part of the revolution of the earth and you got him killed so you can control him?” I barked out. I stared at him, calling on the very last trickles of my power. Kalen’s magic was definitely effective against me. I felt so damn empty. I’ve never felt this empty. I would have said it was impossible, but obviously that was a lie. I gathered every last ounce available and focused on the fae in front of me.

The edges of the darkness surrounding the room crept in, getting closer and closer to us. I used it to reach out to Frey.

He noticed and tried to step away, but while he focused on one of them, another came up from behind and wrapped around his legs. It pulled on him and he fell down hard. It dragged him, pulling him a couple of feet away on his stomach. His long arms reached out, searching for anything to grab onto.

“Do you know where you’re going?” I asked through clenched teeth. I could actually feel my heartbeat slow down.

“Y-you can’t do this! You don’t even have enough power,” he screamed in pure desperation while clawing at the ground. His blue curls covered one of his frantic eyes. The other one was wide, his pupils bouncing around.

“No, I don’t.”

When he knew there was no hope, his expression twisted with anger. “I’m just the beginning, Akhlys. More will come. Especially since word has gotten out about who you are and what you will do.”

“What I will do?” I asked, a little surprised. I shook my head. “Never mind. It doesn’t matter.” I pushed out the last of my power, making the shadows’ grip tighten and pull him faster into the depths of its emptiness.

He screamed and I fell to my knees as I watched him disappear into the shadows with a one-way ticket to the underworld.

He was right. I didn’t have enough power to do that. I was more than on empty, I was in the red. The abyss within me was completely empty, with not even a drop to heal my body. This was why Kalen was capable of killing me. He destroyed most of my powers with those explosions.

The wall formed behind me shattered, sounding just like broken glass. I looked over to see Kalen standing there, his chest heaving and his eyes wide.

Chapter 27:

Kalen approached me slowly, unsure of what to do. I just stayed on my knees, too weak to move. Even if he attacked, my instincts wouldn’t be able to make me fight back. I just wanted to close my eyes and give in to the darkness all around my vision. And this was not the kind of darkness I was familiar with.

It was the darkness of death, of the end. Of finality. There was nothing to manipulate. Not that I could in this state.

“You killed him,” he asked, already knowing the answer.

“Not yet,” I wheezed. “If you hurry, you can finish me off.”

“Wha-”

“Just do it!” I screamed. He flinched, so confused and unsure of himself. “If you want to truly be free. You need to kill me.”

He came over and tried to help me to my feet. I shook him off and glared up at him.

“I’m going to die whether you do it or not. If you don’t, then I sacrificed myself for nothing,” I snarled.

His eyes widened. “You put yourself in danger on purpose?” he asked incredulously.

I snorted, spitting out more of my life force. Was the ground getting closer? “No, not on purpose. But I turned it into a good opportunity. You want to be free, right?”

“I can’t kill you.”

“You can and you will!” I closed my eyes. The ground looked so comfortable. No. He had to do it.

“I can’t.” His voice was gruff. Shit. This was exactly what I was afraid of. He felt compassion and it was hindering him.

I grabbed onto him, using his body as an anchor as I pulled myself up closer to him. “I am already as good as dead. You need to do it now, before Frey makes it to the underworld.” His eyes widened and when he went to say something, I shook my head. “No, shut up! Just do it. Move on to the next phase of your life. You’re the new Mother Moon.”

“Mother Moon?”

“Well, probably Father Moon. The point is, your existence is far more important than mine. You need to be free and to do that you need to kill me before Frey dies. Do it!”

“I can’t!”

“You can!” I screamed at him in frustration. Tears were falling down now. That’s three times now that I’ve cried. Thanks Kalen. Thanks a lot. “So many would jump up at this opportunity.”

“I’m not most people.” He kneeled down, his arms holding me carefully. He was panicking. I could see it in his expression. He wanted to save me.

Always trying to save me.

“No, you’re not. That’s why you can. Please.” I leaned my forehead against his chest. “I’m tired, Kalen. I’ve lived through too much. Please, give me a mercy kill. End me.”

He stayed silent, his body harder than a rock. He was warring with himself.

“Please,” I begged. I never begged, I didn’t know how to. Okay, apparently I did. I was desperate and if the saying was correct, this was a desperate measure.

“Okay.” His voice was tight with emotions. I nearly sagged against him, relieved. “I’m so sorry. I should have known. I should have.”

I shook my head, my eyes squeezing shut. Here was to hoping I knew how to die properly. I mean, come on. I didn’t even have any powers left to heal myself and half my life force was already on the floor.

I felt the blade’s tip in my back.

“It’s going to hurt,” he said.

I felt Kalen’s lips press against my temple.

“Just do it,” I replied.

I felt the tip slide in, quick and with precision. Right into the middle of my heart.

“I’m sorry,” he cried.

My heart tried to beat, moving against the blade and tearing itself up.

“Don’t be. You didn’t do anything wrong.” I tried to hug him but all my strength was gone.

My body grew still. I grew weightless. My eyesight went into an eternal darkness.

The pain went away.

Chapter 28:

I woke up with a gasp, screaming as something shoved itself inside of my body. It grabbed my heart and started squeezing.

I screamed. Hands pushed down on me. Words were spoken, but none reached my ears. I was in a world of pure agony. I thought I knew it all, felt it all.

I was wrong.

“No!” I screamed out and shot my hand out to hit whatever was touching me. I heard cursing, but the arms didn’t leave my shoulders as they held me down. I tried to kick out, but whoever held my legs down was strong.

The pain sent white hot flashes through my brain and then I was engulfed in complete darkness again.

This time, when I woke up, it was gently. I felt heavy again, weighed down by something intangible. I forced my eyes open and looked around carefully. The room was dim, torches on the walls all around, casting dancing shadows against the light brown ceiling and dark walls. It felt homey.

When I tried to sit up, someone helped me up, keeping me from moving too quickly. I looked up into sleepy deep brown eyes with an endless depth of knowledge. His face was strained with tension. His silky brown hair fell a couple of inches longer, needing a trim. The beard was full and made him look almost like a caveman.

Kalen.

“I’m not dead.” My words came out scratchy. I looked around but it was just the two of us. I did a quick mental check of my body and found I was completely fine. I sat in my true human form and felt completely whole. All my powers were back in its abyss.

“No, you’re not.” He smirked, his expression softening.

“And you’re still here,” I said.

“I am.”

My chest went heavy with dread. I cried out softly, my voice hitching with the next words. “You’re not free. You should be free.”

He grabbed my hands and squeezed. “Hey…hey, look at me.” He cupped my face and tilted it up until I was looking into his eyes. I nearly got lost in them, but a sickly feeling in my stomach kept me grounded. I failed him. “I’m free.”

My focus snapped back to him. I looked down at his chest and reached out. He let go of my hand as I pressed my palm against him and opened up my senses. It was true. His soul wasn’t shackled down. He was free. “I don’t understand.”

“You died.”

“But I’m here.”

“You were brought back,” he said. All I could do was look at him, completely dumbfounded. Kalen kept talking. “After you died, Death came, looking for Paige. He brought you back.”

“You’re joking.”

“No,” he shook his head.

I looked around the room, still stunned. Finally I turned back to him. “Why?” I asked, unable to grasp what he was saying.

“He’s saying I brought you back because it’s important that you live. You also help keep the world going right now.”

I looked to where the voice was coming from.

Death stood there, just as cocky as ever. He looked just like a middle-aged businessman. His suit was tailored to his lean frame. His face clean shaven, grey eyes still piercing and his hair cut short to his scalp, nearly bald looking. He looked like some rich CEO of some massive company. He probably was too. Rockefeller and Ford had nothing on Death when it came to business. The man has always been able to stay mainstream through all the eras.

“What are you doing here?” I asked.

“I was in town,” he said and stepped closer.

I wanted to shy away from him but held my ground instead. He knew it too, because he smiled. His presence pressed against my body, making me feel heavier. He always had a strong presence. If you weren’t careful, he’d crush you with it.

“I just wanted to see what my lovely little daughter has been up to.”

I scoffed, the hatred for him surfacing. “I’ve seen what a father should be, and you’ve never been one.”

“I think keeping you alive is fatherly enough,” he said, still smiling.

I snorted, very un-lady like. “For what purpose now? If I remember correctly, I’m only a… What were the words you used? Ah, ‘a token hell spawn to do everything and anything I need to be done. I can’t be bothered with lesser beings and you’ll be the one to do it for me.’” I mocked him.

“Wait a minute,” Kalen interjected. “He’s your father?” He pointed to Death, his mouth hanging open. I glared at him.

“No,” I said when Death said, “Yes.”

Kalen looked between us, lifting his hands up and took a step back.

“I found you. That makes you my daughter.”

“Found me?” I asked, laughing angrily. The man had balls. Big heavy, hairy balls. “You found me at one of my low points and then used me for your own benefits.”

“Okay, enough!” Kalen interjected again, stepping between us. “Darkness, you were dead.”

“You can call me Akhlys. No point hiding now,” I grumbled. I turned back to Death. “I heard you joined the Consort. Going against everything you were about, aren’t you?”

He smiled, still confident in everything he did. The damn hypocrite. “I did and I’m changing them.”

“Oh yeah? How?”

“You’re still alive aren’t you?”

I stared at him for a moment.

“They wanted to kill you. I got them to send El instead.”

“Why?” I asked, unable to believe him.

He sighed and for once, his cocky manner slipped. He looked out a nearby window. It was dark outside. I already knew it. I could also feel everyone in the city as they traveled around. I haven’t felt this busy in so long.

“You’re going to find out soon, but for now, all you need to know is that the both of you are a part of an important prophecy.”

“That’s all you’re going to tell me?”

“That’s all I can tell you. When the time comes, you’ll learn more.”

“What the hell?” I asked. “Are you a seer now?”

He smiled again. “No, of course not. Anyways, I have to bounce. Got me some souls to fetch.”

With that he slipped away into the darkness. I didn’t even feel him. He simply became the shadow and then he was gone. I stared at the spot he disappeared at for a couple of minutes. Then I turned back to Kalen. He was rubbing his beard, lost in thought.

“How long was I out for?” I asked.

“Six months. You became alive again about two months ago, but your soul couldn’t handle it and it took another two months for your body to properly heal and reattach with your soul again.”

“So I have a soul,” I trailed off. I didn’t think I had one.

Kalen frowned. “Of course you do. Everyone has one.”

I sighed.

What the hell? I finally die and I’m just resurrected because it inconvenienced Death. I looked at Kalen again, staring at him. I guess it was okay. At least Kalen was free. And he looked even better. He seemed more alive. There was a vibrancy to his skin that wasn’t there before. The torment in his movement and expression was gone. He looked free.

“So what now?” I asked him. Death’s words kept going through my mind.

A prophecy? What was it? I never heard about one. And when Frey died, he mentioned more coming. Who was coming? Something was stirring up the world and it all began when Kalen was created. I looked over at him, taking him in.

What could possibly happen now? Dumb question. Everything was possible.

Kalen shrugged. He seemed just as lost and confused as I was. I just woke up after being dead. What was his excuse?

“I guess we just live, take it one day at a time.” He smiled and my breath hitched.

I nodded. “I can do that.”

We just stared at each other, grinning. If Kalen was around, I could live. Prophecy be damned. And I was in my true human form too.

I guess it could be worse.

About the Author

Jaliza Burwell grew up in Akwesasne, NY, a small reservation right on the border of Canada and New York. She moved to Boston in 2014 to get her master’s degree in Publishing and Writing at Emerson College. Currently, she’s still working on her degree but is also working at Tufts University in the Office of Research Administration. When she isn’t reading or writing, she’s harassing her family and friends. Her biggest goals in life include Japan and also to find the perfect pork fried rice recipe.

You can connect with her on:

Website: www.jalizaburwell.com

Facebook: www.facebook.com/AuthorJaliza

Twitter: @JalizaBurwell

Email: [email protected]

Support the Author

If you’re reading this then you most likely made it to the end of the book and for that, I thank you. You can show your support by spreading the word about my book or leaving reviews on Amazon or Goodreads. As an indie author, reviews are very important and I would love to hear your thoughts on the book.

 

 


A Toiling Darkness

No one knows Darkness was once the most feared being in the world since the dawn of mankind. No one knows she once went by Akhlys and nearly destroyed the world, and she’s fine with that. Darkness gets to be alone. At least until she meets Kalen on a rooftop. Meeting him causes her past to clash with her present, and she can only hope it doesn’t end her future. Someone wants Darkness dead. Dead enough to risk summoning a slauve. Too bad that very slauve is Kalen. Now Darkness has to find the slauve’s master before they realize she is no longer who she was two hundred years ago. Or even thousands of years ago. Darkness races against time while keeping tabs on the slauve who hunts her and searching for his master who wants her dead. Along the way, she learns she shouldn’t let the past dictate her future. And maybe, just maybe, doing something for someone else isn’t so bad. It really doesn’t help that Kalen is truly a good guy. How is she supposed to kill a guy she actually likes?

  • ISBN: 9781311263544
  • Author: Jaliza Burwell
  • Published: 2015-12-05 17:40:14
  • Words: 86003
A Toiling Darkness A Toiling Darkness