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Inked

By Nalene All Rights Reserved ©

Adventure / Fantasy

Prologue

Lux, Aletona, Town Square

“Any last words, human?”

Her hands quivered; her lower lip trembled. But her eyes stayed steady and strong. They were focused directly on him as she voiced the only words she wished to last. “Sic itur ad astra.” She closed her eyes. The ax rose over her head, a harbinger of death.

Sic itur ad astra. Only he knew the meaning.

Why couldn’t he stop it? Why couldn’t he rewind time? Why couldn’t he redo it all for her, the person who deserved it most? Why couldn’t he…

Freeze time?


~ L ~

Lux, North of Aletona, West of the Ruins

Lesila’s gown was yanked along the ground, the delicate fabric pulling and ripping at every rock or twig. The veil tore at branches that reached for her, the pale runaway bride. Everything seemed to want to stop her, to turn her back. But she couldn’t. Not now. Eventually she flung her veil down on the dirt, and lifted the dress as her bare feet scraped over the forest floor.

Is it worth it? her conscience seemed to ask. What kind of daughter are you?

Lesila wanted to cry. She wanted to collapse and hide. But she pushed on, running farther and farther away from the place that had been her prison for the last eighteen years. She would rather die than give in.

Then why could she still hear his voice in her head?

She gritted her teeth, the animals staring her down from trees towering over her head, the shadows swaying like tormented creatures. They seemed to taunt her, filling her head with his voice, his questioning.

“Why?”

“Why, Lesila?”

Why?

A tear escaped, and she swiped at the drops that continued to fall, despite her efforts. The clumps of trees were breaking, much to her relief. She sighed, realizing that she’d finally reached the meadow.

She was exhausted. She still wished she could collapse, but she didn’t. Shaking from head to toe, Lesila dragged her feet across the untouched grass, soothing feathers to her feet compared to the needles and knives she’d stumbled across. She could hear the trickle of a stream nearby, and memories of their secret trysts flitted back to her. She was almost there. She’d almost made it.

Heaving a slow, unsteady breath, she pushed the door of the chapel open. It swung forward with an echoing groan, the hinges rusty and unused. And she smiled.

He was like an angel. A beautiful, wingless angel, standing in the halo of light streaming in through one of the high stained glass windows. He stood, waiting, between the never-ending rows of pews. Smiling back, he reached out a hand towards her. For her. The other hand was tucked behind his back.

“Cole.” Her fears fell away as she dashed toward him, not caring whether her dress was dirty or ruined. She only wanted one thing, and she cared for it—him—enough to throw away everything in her life. Within the blink of an eye, she’d closed the gap between them. She threw her arms around him, sobbing. “I-I did it! I left him. I left all of them.”

“Shh,” he soothed, running a hand through the dark locks of her hair. “It’ll be alright now…now that you’re here.”

“I love you,” she gasped, her lungs nearly giving out. She was so tired, so worn out, but that didn’t matter to her. She was safe, as long as she was with him.

If only she’d really looked. “I know.”

Her breath hitched, feeling the liquid running down her back. He dropped the dagger. No matter how she looked at him, gripping onto him, he wouldn’t face her.

He closed his eyes. “I’m sorry.”

She collapsed.


~ C ~

Two Years Prior, the Ruins

“No!” Caden stumbled backward, his heels digging into the dirt as he braced for another attack. His brother swung.

“Why don’t you fight back?” he snapped at him. “I’ll kill you if you don’t!”

Caden shook his head. His hands gripped onto his sword for protection. “No,” he repeated. “Luke, stop it. Don’t!” Metal clanged against metal as he blocked blow after blow.

“Suddenly had a change of heart, brother?” Lucas hissed. “You’ve gone soft.”

“This isn’t you,” Caden said, ducking as the sword swiped over his head. “They kept us out of Earth for a reason.”

Out of nowhere, a voice boomed from all around them. “Stop talking, boys. Battle!”

“Wait!” But before he could react, his weapon was knocked straight out of his hands.

Lucas smirked, his chest slowly rising and falling as he caught his breath. He set his sword down in the dirt. “I win.”

Caden’s jaw set, his eyes focused at the ground. “I lose.” Suddenly, he found he couldn’t face his brother anymore. The full realization finally dawned on him—he’d sacrificed himself. No matter how he knew it was for the best, he couldn’t help but feel fear. What now? Would he die? Caden’s eyes squeezed shut, trying to block out the pain he was prepared to bear. “I’m ready.”

But nothing happened. Instead, he heard what he’d feared most. A sickening slice. Caden’s eyes flickered open, and his body instantly went numb.

It was his brother.

Dead.


~ G ~

“Xana!”

Greyson felt his limbs move, felt his body lurch forward, but he had no idea what he would do as he pushed through the crowds, time slowing down all around him.

Literally. 

Men, women, children; all seemed to slow and stop in place. All became dying wind-up dolls, powerless. All…but one woman who stood away from the audience, far apart from the other spectators. There she was, high up in the balcony of one of the buildings in the village square. She was in a closed shop directly behind them, to be exact. So he didn’t see her as she readied her bow. And the person she directed it at, Greyson was never aware of.

At least, not at that moment.

No. He only knew he had to save her. So sure was he, certain that all time had stalled just for him and his intentions. He never knew there were exceptions to every power in their world, that even his powers could be defeated. He hadn’t the faintest clue, the poor man. Not right then.

So, with a soaring heart, he freed his wife. He scooped her up in his arms, shielding her from the ax which had just begun to swing. He almost cried with joy, feeling her warmth and seeing her face again, safe and sound. “I have you,” he whispered in her ear, though he knew she couldn’t hear him. “You’re safe.”

The executioner released her arrow.


~ C ~

One Year Prior, the Ruins, Underground

He’d been hardened too much. Far, far too much for a boy of his age. He’d seen too much pain, had felt too little happiness, that he recognized nothing else. You see, Earth had changed him in far more ways than he could comprehend. Emotions a boy from his world should not have felt had been felt, and they had taken a hold at a much too unstable time for him.

That was why, ever since a year before, Caden had wanted to kill his father.

Despite his wishes, he had no choice. In a world of toys, his father was the puppeteer. Caden had no say and no one to listen. What could he do?

He tried. He planned his escape and waited for his sweet revenge. But it never came.

…one year after his brother’s death…

He could still hear the screaming. Images flashed through his memory of brothers, sisters, children, all dying. Too many bodies to count. Sacrificed. Few survived the Ink rituals. Few expected it. Even less knew their fate. Caden had seen it all, and he had learned to expect all the unexpected. Or almost all.

It was exactly a year after it’d happened. If only he hadn’t opened that door.

“What are you doing?” Caden barely managed to say, his muscles frozen in place. It wasn’t his choice not to move, but an invisible vice holding him in place. He felt them again—the cold, terror, and fury, all at once.

His father only smiled at him, tightening his fist. Likewise, the vice clutched Caden to the point he thought he’d choke. “It should only take another moment, son, don’t you worry.”

Don’t…you…worry. Caden felt his blood boil. He ordered his arm to move, but his father had a death grip. He could hardly even breathe. “Let her go!”

He only laughed, the sound absolutely devoid of any warmth or humor. “She’ll be out soon enough.”

Even through the water and glass, Caden could hear her scream.

His mother pounded on the transparent case, bubbles floating to the surface. Her muffled cries could barely be heard, but to Caden, they were deafening. Her eyes were round, her mouth gaping open with frantic shrieks, desperate calls for help. The pain was agonizing. To watch was unbearable.

Mom!” Caden shouted, tears running down his cheeks. The rage and hate he felt towards his father was volatile, powerful enough to break his father’s hold. “You bastard!” He rushed forward, an eruption of fire exploding from his fist. Flames engulfed the man’s frame as his son landed one crucial blow.

Not wasting another second of time, Caden grabbed a nearby vase. His mother’s screams were growing fainter. Upon impact, the vase immediately shattered against the glass case. Fainter. He had nothing else, nothing he was sure could break it in time. Panicking, he pressed his hands against the glass. He tried to focus, and imagined the glass burning under his fingertips. It worked.

All too well.

Too late, Caden realized the bubbles rising to the water’s surface weren’t just his mother’s. Suddenly, her screeches were not just from terror or alarm. The water was boiling.

She was burning.

“No!” He backed away from her, staring in horror as her skin seemed to glow red. He couldn’t stand to watch but, sickeningly, his eyes couldn’t look away. “No!” As soon as his fingers left the glass, the water stopped boiling. The case was still warm, but it no longer scorched under his touch. But he couldn’t do anything. Nothing. Caden collapsed to the floor, overwhelmed with grief. He wanted to die. Anything to escape this pain.

He was still glued to the floor when he suddenly heard the sound of clapping. Slow, deliberate, and mocking. “Well done, my boy.” Caden was too numb to do anything when his father strode up beside him, grinning with pride. “You and I? We can bring the king to his knees. You’re ready for it. You’re ready to be…”Too shaken to register any thoughts, Caden didn’t move. His eyes looked at, but didn’t see, the unburned hand on his shoulder. “To be what?”

His father chuckled darkly.

“Inked.”


~ L ~

“How could you?” she breathed, the shock numbing her. It didn’t make sense to her. Nothing connected in her mind, from why he kept standing there, watching her bleed, to why she never noticed. How? “I loved you.”

His jaw was clenched. He tossed down the ring at her feet—the ring she’d given him—as if she’d always meant nothing to him. And maybe it was true. “Call me heartless.” Reaching into the growing pool of blood, he picked up the dagger and wiped it clean.

“You didn’t mean it.” Her breaths grew shallower and shallower as she found it continually harder to take in a lungful of air. She tried to think again through her dizziness, tried to see where she missed it. Was none of it real? She grabbed onto his foot before he managed to leave. “Wait. I know you feel something.”

He stopped, shaking her off without a single look in her direction. “I almost pity you for your ignorance.” She sucked in another painful breath, her teeth gnashing together. He may as well have stabbed her twice. “You never should have left home, Les.”

And he kept on walking. She was too tired to stop him anymore. Her voice was worn out, so she could only whisper, “I hope you die—no, not even that. I hope you live forever, and when you find someone to make you feel as I did, as I still do now…you won’t have her.” She hissed with pain, her hands balled up into fists. “I won’t let you, Cole.”

He could still hear her. But he didn’t stop again. He didn’t show any emotions, unable to feel them again. Or perhaps, too afraid to. Even as he heard her call for him, he glanced back merely once. “I lied.” He only paused before he closed the door. “My name isn’t Cole.” Slam.

Lesila could feel her eyes drift close, but she tried hard to stay awake. Just for a little bit. She turned slightly on her side, ignoring the pain, and stared into the shadows. “How long have you been standing there?”

Her servant stepped out of the shadows, shivering with fear. “Long enough,” she answered, trying to put on a brave face. “I-I’m so sorry, miss. I couldn’t—”

Lesila held up a hand to stop her. “It’s alright.” Silence passed for a moment, only filled with the sound of her labored breathing. Something dawned on her, something that the maid couldn’t see. “I need you to do something for me, Alis.”

However lowly a servant she was, the girl knew she had to help the princess somehow. But she also knew no amount of healing could save Lesila now. She stepped forward, and knelt down to her level. “Anything, my lady.”

My sister, she almost said.

Lesila raised her hand again, this time placing it on the girl’s head. “What I will put you through is permanent. It will change the life of you, and your children, and your children’s children…never stopping. What you’ll feel will give you power, but you’ll suffer endless pain, and you’ll have no control. Can I trust you to carry this? Are you ready?”

Alis quivered, but she stayed strong. “Yes.”

“I grant you my soul,” she said slowly. “From now on, you’ll be this way. Forever.” Her eyes closed.

“Inked.”


~ G ~

Time started up again.

The ax swung, coming down through air and emptiness. People stared in amazement and confusion, heads turning to find the human woman who had disappeared to nowhere. Little did they notice that the only man who actually cared had vanished as well.

They were hidden, tucked away in an alleyway no one ever bothered to check. And there was no cheering, no rejoicing. Because he hadn’t saved her. He had failed.

“I suppose fate can’t be changed.”

He looked up, his hands shaking with fury. “You—I’ll kill you!”

The woman tossed her long, dark hair over her shoulder. “I’d like to see you try.” She twirled one of her arrows between her fingers, smiling. “I’m living forever.” Her words reverberated through the alley as she walked away, her ringing laughter piercing his ears. “You should’ve known the king wouldn’t hire just a formal executioner!”

Greyson sobbed, cradling his dying wife. He listened to her last breaths, watched her blood-stained chest rise and fall. “I’m so sorry.”

She raised her hand to cup his face. “Remember what I told you.”

“I know,” he said, not caring for the tears that fell. “Sic itur ad astra. ‘Thus you shall go to the stars.’”

Xana managed a smile. He pushed aside strands of her raven locks to see her eyes, staring up at him with the same awe. She’d looked at him that way ever since they’d met. “Not just that.” She sighed. “What it really means…” She trailed off.

His grip tightened. “What? What is it?” He gritted his teeth. “Xana! Stay awake.”

“Silly,” she said faintly. Her hand began to relax, slipping.

“Xana, please.”

She closed her eyes. “And you…you shall live. Forever.”

His voice was unsteady as he held her hand in his. “What do you mean?” But she was quiet.

And suddenly, the words of the king resounded in his mind. “To live forever? There’s only one way. You’d have to be—”

But his last thoughts were drowned out by the echoes of a familiar melody drifting back to them, soft and sure, but haunting.

“Come with me, and then you’ll see. We are all linked…

“Inked.”


~ A ~

- Now -

Once upon a time, my mother used to tell me stories. She would tuck me in bed, ruffle my hair, and smile down at me like everything was all right in the world. Then she would fill my mind with visions of a land far away from Earth, a world only known as Lux. Lux, she told me, was very much unlike Earth. It was a place where no one could feel love, hate, or sorrow.

Instead, they had these extraordinary abilities that allowed them to go far beyond the potential of humans. They could fly, they could bend time and space, they could play with fire without getting burned, and so much more. But, she would go on to say, it was a very lonely world.

“And that’s why I left,” she would say, a glimmer of sadness in her eyes. “Because you cannot truly feel on Lux. No one can.”

Someday, she told me. Someday she might take me there.

Then she would kiss me on the forehead and hum the tune of a strange, familiar song, leaving me to dream of a world where I could soar high above the clouds. Every night I would lie and wonder what it would be like. Would I be able to walk on water there? Would I be able to vanish through walls, or make myself invisible? Would I be able to cast any spell I wished? Like magic?

Despite it all, I never thought of it as anything more than a made-up story. A fairytale.

Then everything changed.

Now? I have no idea what’s real or fairytale.

Still, sometimes…I swear I can hear the echoes of my mother’s strange song.

"Oh come, won't you hear

From a friend to another

Of the most extraordinary thing?

For years it has passed

From a kin to the other

A soul, an essence to bring.

For it has been said

You’ll ne’er fill with dread

At the thought of a life ever lost.

Yes, heed these words so

All death you’ll overthrow

For only one, very simple cost.

Blood stain

A new vein

Leave your fate in the hands of whomever

Choose wise

Careful ties

If you want to live forever.

So come with me,

and then you’ll see.

We are all linked.

Inked.”


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