The Shadow

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My heart skipped a beat.

“Caeli, don’t!” I turned to look at Syrus who had shouted the words, he was standing with Nylah and Vince. All three of them were together… and all of them looked worried. I didn’t blame them, it terrified me as well. I mean, there’s a pile of dust where a human being was standing just over twenty seconds ago. Just because a scroll from the past claimed I could drink this water did not mean that I in any way trusted it.

“To what end?” I asked, wondering how me drinking this water and gaining its power could benefit the Priest. My eyes snapped back to the man in the white cloak, I could only see half of his face because of the glow from the pool of water.

“Do you think I don’t have a way to steal the power from you? It’s just a harrowing experience that I had hoped we could avoid, for your sake. It’s a pity that it didn’t work out that way, now come, before we kill your family.” The Priest responded, I couldn’t argue with his words or try to spin them. He still had the power in the situation, the numbers and my family trapped. I walked to the pool and held my shaking hand towards the Priest who grasped my wrist and cut my palm. He moved my hand over the water, and I watched as a few drops fell and dissolved into the blue glow.

Then my body froze. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t drink it. I could die.

“Hold her.” The Priest stated simply, obviously seeing the terror in my eyes and guessing I wouldn’t drink voluntarily from the pool. Four assassins left their post around my family and took hold of my body as the Priest pulled a cup from inside of his cloak and filled it with water from the pool.

I said nothing, I knew it would be pointless if I even knew what to say, instead I started thrashing my body, trying to break the hold of the four assassins on me. I looked to Leopold for any last hint that he would help me but only received a blank expression in reply. He would die if I didn’t turn to dust.

The Priest grabbed my chin and tilted my head back, he then held onto my nose as I started thrashing my body once more. I held my breath for as long as possible, but my lungs were burning, and I couldn’t stop myself from opening my mouth to gasp for air.

Instead of air, I got a mouthful of water which I choked on before it ran down my throat.

Assuming he was satisfied with the water entering my system, the Priest let go of my nose, and the four assassins that had been holding me pushed me down to the ground. I wanted to throw up, to get the water out of my body, but every move I could make at the moment wouldn’t end well. Drink the water, I could become dust. Don’t drink the water, one of my three idiots gets killed. Drink the water, I get the power, and I probably die later after the Priest extracts it from me.

Later was good enough for me, it gave me extra time to work something out.

My body shook again, but this time it was different. The convulsions were so bad it was like I was being shaken by someone, their hands on my shoulders as they tried to wake me up. My muscles were constricting, my eyes involuntarily shut tight. It hurt. It all hurt so much.

“Caeli!” Someone shouted my name in the distance, but I couldn’t tell from where. However, I knew the voice, it was Syrus. My shaking got worse, on my back, my limbs kept hitting the solid ground over and over, the muscles burning from the use.

And then it all stopped.

“Caeli…” Syrus’ voice was quiet but close, and I could feel someone touching my shoulder. When I opened my eyes I saw it was him, but how did he even get to me?

“Syrus?” I asked, my voice hardly above a whisper. I couldn’t manage more than that if I wanted. “What the hell?” I sat up slowly and looked around, he was the only one who had come over, the other two were trapped in between assassins.

“You okay?” He asked me, I looked down at my hands. Neither were turning black. My head was throbbing, and my entire body was aching from the convulsions, but I was alive, so I nodded.

“Why are you-”

“They let me through.” He said, and he seemed to be just as concerned about it as I was. Why would they let him through? I pulled him into a hug, his ear close to my mouth so I could speak and no one else would hear me.

“Who has the guns?” I whispered, he didn’t answer me and instead wasted my time.

“Caeli, what are you planning?” He asked me, I squeezed his chest with one arm as he wrapped his arms around my torso and helped hold me up.

“You’ll find out when the time is right,” I answered, looking at each of the assassins in turn. My body still wasn’t rotting, which meant one thing… the power from the pool of magic was mine.

“Get the guns whenever you do something?” He whispered, I pulled away from him and nodded my head. The Temple had let him through to remind me they had control. And they did, for now.

“Not planning anything, are we Caeli?” The Priest asked, I shook my head as Syrus moved away from me, for us to be separated by five inches instead of one. He still had a hand on my shoulder, possibly resting there to make sure I stayed upright.

“Good, we have what we came for, now let’s get moving.” The Priest stated, taking some water in a vial before they dragged Syrus back to the other two and kept me next to the Priest and Leopold.

“You know, I expected more fight from you, this isn’t like you at all to be docile,” Leopold said, but I could see through his facade now. He didn’t care, he probably never did. I would never make the same mistake again.

“How can you expect me to fight when it would get my family killed?” I asked rhetorically, my eyes locked on the ground as we filed back into the tunnels and made our way back to the cavern where I had come face to face with the Priest. That would be the place, breaking my family free in a tunnel would be too hard to get them through the wall of assassins. In the vast cavern, it would be easier to slip through. I would have to use this power, try to put us all into blind darkness.

Whatever the power was, it was tied to my anger, so I had to rile myself up.

I thought about everything that had happened in the past two hours, how much danger the Temple was putting my family in, how I had been played so effortlessly, how Leopold had manipulated me.

My breathing sped up as my anger rose, so I kept going.

I was angry. I was confused. I didn’t know what was going on, except that I was a means to an end. That was something I had never wanted to be again, and yet I had walked myself right into the situation.

I could feel the power starting to build in me, it was almost enough to do what I needed to. I just needed a few more thoughts, a few more truths, to push myself over. I waited until we were all in the cavern before I let myself admit to it all.

I was angry at the Temple for underestimating me because I’m a girl. I’m something they aren’t used to facing. But most of all, I was beyond pissed at myself for allowing… no, for dragging my family into this total mess.

I raked my hair into a ponytail, tying the strands back tightly before I looked over my shoulder at my family. Vince nodded slightly, to show he had seen the signal. It was enough. I then kicked the Priest in the knee and then let my anger turn into energy, which turned into pure darkness. I couldn’t see anything, but I could hear everything around me as I made one lamp flicker back on—Leopold’s.

With his face clear to me, I punched him in the nose before I used the minimal light to get to my family. I took down as many assassins as I could with one blow each. Whatever came from the water, it was giving me enough strength to make this escape far too easy.

Once I reached my family, they had our guns back, and so I dragged them to the exit before I took a lamp from an assassin but left the rest in darkness.

“What the hell was that?!” Vince shouted as I let the lamp turn on, and we ran through the tunnels. Syrus tossed me my handgun as we moved, I was glad that my hands had stopped shaking, so I didn’t fumble the weapon.

“Me.” I answered. I could hear more footsteps behind us, “faster!”

“No shit!” Ny yelled as we all picked up our pace. We quickly made it back to the cavern of the dead city dwellers and climbed the stairs faster than I had ever climbed stairs before to reach the city. It was far too open to make it to the exit quickly without being noticed. Or, at least, without killing a few of the Temple assassins.

“Get to cover,” I said as an arrow landed on the ground next to my foot—terrible aim. Honestly, and whoever shot it was ideally a highly trained assassin, what a joke. I looked towards the person who had shot the arrow at us, and I aimed my handgun and took them out with a single bullet through the skull.

The Temple had made sure there would be assassins in the city, to bottleneck any kind of escape. Smart move, but we would still get out.

There was no other option.

We sprinted behind a home, one next to a path which could take us up levels to get out of this damned city. We had to be smart, light on our feet and fast to get out in one piece. And they could not spot us. I looked to the entrance we had come through, there were too many assassins there to even bother trying.

“They kept us separated because they know that we are a deadly force when we’re together. We need to watch each other’s backs and listen to each other to get out of here alive.” I whispered, but the three of them heard. We had to work as a team.

“There’s an exit above us, it just means we’ll be south of the city instead of the west near the lakes,” Nylah stated. I nodded as I looked up.

“But, we will be in the forest, which means we will have some cover. We have to get to that exit, get out of this city and get back to the helicopter. We have to avoid using guns at all costs, the shots will give out position away.” I explained. The other three nodded, so I pulled out the spare daggers I had hidden in my boots. I always carried them, and it was strange that the Temple hadn’t bothered to check. Or they knew I wouldn’t use them with my family in danger. It was lazy and would now I could use the blades against them.

“We won’t be able to get out without killing some of them, so we must use these instead. Aim for the throat or for the lungs, it will stop them from giving away our position.” I said so fast I wasn’t sure if they caught it, but none of them had a confused look on their face. “Ny, lead the way,” I said, she nodded and crept. We followed her as we crept up the city, one level at a time, taking out assassins when we had to.

Once we reached the last level, I looked around the corner of the building we were hiding behind. They guarded the exit, but not substantially. There were only three assassins, not enough to stop us, but too many for one person to deal with them without another raising an alarm. We had made it this far without guns, so I wanted to get out without using one.

“There’s three,” I said, tucking myself back around the corner before I looked to the others.

“One for each of us, except the kid,” Vince stated, I shook my head.

“Too many people moving at once. Two of us should be okay, I can take down two of them.” I whispered, my eyes shifting between Vince and Syrus.

“I can take the other,” Sy spoke for the first time since we had been below the city.

“Okay, take a look.” I nodded as he moved to stand next to me and look around the corner. Once he had, I told him the plan. “You take the one closest to us, I’ll worry about the other two,” I told him, he nodded slowly. I wasn’t sure if he was ready to kill someone in this fashion yet, but I guess we would find out. “Ready?” I asked, looking around the corner to see all three guards were facing away from our location.

“Yeah.” He whispered.

“Now,” I said, sprinting around the corner of the building and threw the dagger I had into the skull of the assassin furthest away. I then focused on my other target and snapped his neck with my bare hands. I double-checked my victims were dead before I looked back at Syrus, who had driven his dagger into the temple of the assassin. I ran over to the body of the assassin I had thrown my blade into and took the weapon out of his head, turning to see Syrus staring at his kill with regret and remorse in his eyes.

“Hey, I don’t have time to talk you through this but I promise I will after we get back to the helicopter. We have to keep moving, or we’re going to die.” I told him, he nodded as Vince and Ny came running around the corner. We all turned and ran through the exit, a feeling of relief washing over our group as we got closer to the sunlight and trees.

But Sy’s shoulders seemed to carry more weight than usual, and it was worrying me.

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