He was on the ground again when he woke. He shifted and groaned – his whole body felt sore and stiff, the ground hard against him. It would be nice if, for once, Giv didn’t deposit him on the ground after a shift. In saying that, he felt better this time after the last, his stomach only rolling and not coming up – his power must be coming back.
He felt something pinching at his hand and he cracked open his eyes. And came face to face with a chicken, pecking at his hand and in between his fingers at the floor.
“What the fuck . . . ” he grumbled, pushing
himself up and wincing as his head pounded. The chicken jumped away and fled.
He looked around, frowning. He was in a small house. It was dark, the corners
almost unseen and walls grimy. There was a pile of pillows and blankets in one
corner, a cooking area with a small fire and pots in the other. The door was
open, white light shining through and blinding him. He saw movement out of the
corner of his eye and watched as a small kid appeared out of one of the dark
corners and ran outside.
Where the hell was he?
He blinked and realised there was no ecto-mist rising from anything. He was back on Earth.
A shadow obscured the bright light and Giv was standing there.
“About time you woke up, sleeping beauty,” she said.
“Where are we?”
“More specifically, a tiny village in
“I know where your father is. We’re going to meet him.”
Kade pushed to his feet, noticed that Giv looked pale and drawn.
“How long was I out? Did you get any rest?”
“About half an hour. And no, I’ve got all our supplies. We can head out as soon as you feel well enough.”
Kade reached out hesitantly and cupped her cheek. He needn’t have worried – her head tilted and pushed into his palm, eyes softening and stress lines relaxing. It just made her look more exhausted.
“We’re almost safe,” she said softly. “I can rest then.”
Her eyes slid shut, only for a moment, and when they opened again they were like steel again. She straightened and hitched the pack on her back higher.
“How far away is he?” Kade said, eyeing the pack. “And we can’t shift?”
“It’s halfway up a mountain in a dead zone. Should take us half a day.”
It didn’t take long for Kade to get his bearings and stretch out his muscles. They set out. They really were in a tiny village, filled with rectangular wooden huts and roaming chickens. They soon left the village behind, trekking up into the mountains. Kade’s loafers and the rest of his attire wasn’t really up to it, but he kept walking regardless.
They were silent, the only sound the chatter of birds and rustle of wildlife. There were a lot of things Kade wanted to say but once again, couldn’t put into words.
So he kept silent.
The sun was low in the sky, the hot afternoon sun searing the back of his neck, when the path leveled out and opened up. Above them, at the top of stairs cut into a cliff, an ancient Chinese monastery was carved out of a cliff face. It looked like it had grown right out of the rock, delicate and beautiful, the warm orange sun setting it aglow.
It was also eerily silent.
Kade found that he couldn’t take another step. His father was up there. Could be even watching him now. The explosive argument they’d had last time Kade had seen him echoed in his mind, until—
“Kade,” Giv said firmly. “We need to keep moving. The light’s gonna go soon.”
His gaze jolted to Giv’s, standing a few steps ahead of him and squinting in the light. Her hair was wild now, some sticking to the sweat on her neck and more flying in wisps around her head.
She was beautiful. And she managed to bring Kade’s mind back to the present.
“Yeah . . . yeah. After you.”
Giv cocked an eyebrow, but turned and continued on anyway. The stairs up to the monastery were steep and uneven, and Kade’s thighs were burning by the time they reached the tall wooden gates blocking the way.
It was still completely silent.
Giv had a frown on her face when she turned to glance back at him. He met her eyes and she turned back, hand out to the side as the blue blade appeared in her grasp. She pushed open one of the doors and it swung open easily, the creaking of the timber loud in the stillness. Kade tensed, beginning to wish that he’d kept the fire iron on him.
She took a step forward, then threw herself to the side as something whistled through the air.
“Giv,” Kade gasped, lunging to grab her before she fell off the side of the cliff. He hauled her to his side, then put their backs into the corner the gate made with the cliff face. Kade knelt in front of where Giv had slide down the hall, eyes immediately lighting on the thin throwing blade protruding from her shoulder. Her black shirt was wet with blood. His hands hovered over the knife but he knew not to pull it out.
“Run,” she said, using her good arm to haul herself up against the cliff. “I’ll hold them off—”
“Are you fucking insane?” Kade hissed. “I’m not leaving you here! Now give me a goddamn weapon.”
Giv grimaced, but gave her black dagger to him. The dagger warmed his palm, sending slight jolts up his arm as the Ninth Circle weapon adjusted to him.
“Fine. We need to run.”
She kept the bad side’s arm curled up to her body and pushed Kade ahead of her with the hand holding the sword. He took the steps as fast as he could, concentrating hard on keeping his feet under him.
“How did they find us?” Kade asked. “That was not my father.”
“They must’ve gotten to someone on the inside, I don’t know. If only we could bloody shift!”
Kade came around the corner of the cliff and stopped dead, so suddenly Giv ran into him and he had to catch his balance on the wall.
“Hello there,” Claudiel said, a happy smile on his face. Sadly, his eye was already healed. “Imagine seeing you two here, so far from home.”
Kade glanced behind him, saw other demons racing down from the monastery. They were caught.
“Kade, I have someone who would just love to meet you.”
“What happened to just killing me?” he asked, shifting so he was completely blocking Giv from his view.
Claudiel laughed, the sound grating on Kade’s ears. “Dear princeling, that was never the case. I wasn’t going to kill you. That’s not what the Master wants at all. No. Plus, you’re hardly a worth opponent, blind, deaf, and dumb as you are. You wouldn’t have lasted anywhere near this long if it wasn’t for your lady friend over there. And darling, if you think of using that sword, just remember that my orders are to bring you back dead or alive.”
Claudiel had them walk down the mountain in the middle of his group, both their hands tied tightly behind their backs. Kade kept checking over his shoulder, watching in growing horror as Giv turned paler and paler, and her shirt began to drink with blood. Both of them could heal much faster than any human, but not with the constant push and pull on the wound. The blade was still in there, probably tearing the flesh more with every step. Giv kept her eyes down and her face blank, even though her eyes were tight with pain, movements jerky.
Night had fallen hours ago by the time the fires of the village came into view. They continued walking for a bit until Kade felt a familiar tingle up his arms and Claudiel stopped, breathing in deeply and letting out a happy sigh.
“Ah, there it is. We’re back. And now it’s time to really get this show on the road, hmm?” Claudiel said, turning back to them. He nodded at someone behind him and Kade turned in time to see Giv hit across the back of the head and crumple to the ground. He lunged forward, snarling, but Claudiel grabbed his tied hands and yanked him back.
“Nuh uh uh, not so fast, princeling.”
There was a sharp pain and nothing.
If Kade never again woke on a hard floor with his head pounding and stomach shift-sick, he’d die a happy man. He pushed himself up, looked around as the last few moments replayed themselves in his head.
He was in a dark room, the only light coming from thin slits in the top of the walls. It was stifling, not overly hot but just that claustrophobic feeling from being underground. Another cellar, then. And the blue ecto-mist swirling in the shards of sunlight gave away where he was – the Eighth Circle.
He was home.
Kade was fairly certain his father was still alive – because if he was dead, what use had they for Kade? So that meant Kade was being used to control his father. Whether or not his father had gotten free or not was the real quandary.
He realised, with sudden clarity, that he could feel the world around him again. Not overly much, nothing like he used to, but he could feel the shifting mists and Giv in the room with him.
Kade scanned the room and found her crumpled against a wall. He dropped to his knees next to her, brushing her hair off her face and feeling wet blood at the back of her head. It wasn’t much, and had already begun stitching itself together. The knife was still sticking out of her shoulder.
“Bastards,” Kade hissed. He shrugged out of his jacket and threw of his shirt, then tore it into a few pieces. The light was shit and it was terrible working conditions, but Kade had dealt with worse.
They’d taken his dagger and her sword, so he ripped open her shirt. He wadded up one of the strips of his shirt and, when he pulled out the knife, pressed it tightly against the wound. Her blood flow was getting sluggish, and the cloth didn’t soak through as quickly as he thought it would. He took one of the thinner strips and wrapped it around her shoulder, binding the cloth to the wound. He sat back and examined the rough bandaging. It wasn’t the best he’d done, but it was suitable.
He cradled her head in his hands, and his eyes landed on the thin throwing knife. A weapon. They’d confiscated their other weapons, but had forgotten about the slender blade inside Giv. He put his jacket back on and hid the blade up one of the sleeves.
When Giv’s eyes cracked open they were bleary and unfocused, before centering on Kade.
“Hello,” she mumbled, voice hoarse.
“Hello,” he said back, a helpless smile creasing the corner of his mouth. She struggled to sit up and Kade pressed her back down gently. “No, you need to rest as much as you can.”
“At least let me sit up,” she said crossly. Kade finally remembered that Giv made for one of the worst patients ever. He pressed his lips together but helped her anyway, keeping her wounded shoulder as steady as he could. Her hands were bound together behind her back with heavy iron manacles, enough to dampen any power Giv tried to call. Thankfully, they’d left Kade’s wrists unshackled, since he was as useless as a human at the moment.
“Where are we?” she asked, her face even paler than before.
“Somewhere in the Eighth Circle,” Kade said, standing up and scoping out the rest of the room. There were no other doorways or anything, except for one staircase that went up to the roof. When Kade tried the door, it rattled against a lock and stayed firmly shut. With his senses coming back, he could feel that it was magically bound as well. “No luck,” he called down to Giv, then descended the stairs and sat with his back against the wall, next to her.
“What the hell are we going to do?” Giv said, blowing out a breath.
“Wait, I guess. See what the situation is. I’d say they’re either holding us hostage to my father or setting up a meet.” He paused for a moment. “Why did you think my father would be at that monastery?”
She turned a glare on him.
“He was there. We set up a system, in case something like this happened. There are meeting points like that all around the world and the Circles. The message I got was for there and it could have only come from him. He must’ve left before we arrived. And Claudiel must’ve somehow tracked him down before that. The Overlord would not have left if he knew we were coming and Claudiel was waiting there.”
Kade blew out a slow breath. “Fine. There’s another traitor in father’s House. Great. In that case, we shou—”
Kade felt it before he saw it – the magical lock undoing, then the trapdoor banging open. Light spilled down, making them both squint at the figure coming down the stairs. Kade rose to his feet, holding out a hand to keep Giv seated.
“Sorry to interrupt, lovebirds, but I have need of Romeo over there,” Claudiel said, that charming smile on his face once more. “Come along now.”
Kade stayed where he was.
“I’m not going anywhere without Giv.”
Claudiel sighed dramatically, then gestured at someone outside the trapdoor. Two demons, Fifth Circle like Claudiel, came down the stairs.
“It makes no difference to me,” he said. “It’ll keep you a touch more in line, I suspect. Now, we have a meeting to get to.”
The two demons hauled Giv up, making her cry out in surprised pain, and Kade started forward. He stopped when one held a blade to her throat.
“If you do anything, princeling, she’ll be the one to feel it. Understand?”
Claudiel’s voice was closer than before, and when Kade turned to direct his glare at the demon, saw he was only a few feet away.
“I understand,” he said through gritted teeth.
Claudiel smiled again. “Good. Now follow along like a good princeling. Your father is dying to see you.”
Kade clenched his fists but followed Claudiel up the stairs. They emerged into a larger room, the place completely devoid of any furnishings except for a chair. The trapdoor was slammed shut behind them.
“Hands behind your back,” Claudiel said, waving zip ties in front of Kade’s face. Kade set his jaw and did it, standing rigidly as Claudiel stepped behind him and did them up. They were a touch too tight, cutting into the skin of his wrists. Suddenly, Claudiel pushed him back and Kade flailed, falling into a chair that rocked violently before staying upright.
“And now we wait.”
They didn’t have to wait long. Only five minutes or so after they’d emerged from the cellar, the door kicked open and in walked someone from the House of the Ninth Circle. It wasn’t the Overlord – Kade remembered him well – but bore a slight resemblance to him in the thick black hair and wide, dark eyes. He wore a ring on his finger with the crest of the Ninth House, and the saber at his side exuded black ecto-mist.
Giv recognised him, though.
“Hello, Giv,” he replied, his voice deep. His gaze switched to Kade. “And hello, prince. You and your father have been giving me quite a lot of grief.”
“Does your uncle know what you’re doing?” Giv asked. “Trying to upset the natural succession for a domain of your own?”
“Of course he doesn’t,” Ebenos said mildly. “I wouldn’t be standing here if he did. But nevertheless, I am doing the work he is too cowardly to do. After your Circle belongs to mine, we’ll move onto the others, until the rightful order is established again. That used to be the natural succession, did it not? Under Lusivar’s reign?”
“All stories,” Kade said. “Myths and legends from many millennium ago that no one can confirm. That doesn’t justify what you’re doing here.”
“Perhaps I just want the power. Or perhaps my uncle does know about this after all, and he ordered it. Either way, it was startling easy once I knew whose ears to whisper in. Some have named my Circle treachery, and maybe that was why it was so easy to get particular people to turn. Or perhaps people are just fickle by nature, human or otherworldly.”
Ebenos seemed to like the sound of his own voice. It didn’t bother Kade at all, since during it, he’d slipped the blade into one of his palms and began sawing at the zip tie.
Ebenos stopped, and cocked his head to the side. Smiled.
“Ah, I do believe that is your father on his way. And not quite alone like he promised, either. Nevertheless, this makes the game that much more fun.”
Ebenos stalked towards Kade and he shoved the blade back up into his sleeve. The zip tie hadn’t broken, but he’d sawed through most of it. Ebenos grabbed his arm, hauling him to his feet and out the door. Kade rushed to keep up as they walked only a few metres before entering a great hall, completely empty as well. It was a huge, cavernous space, and their feet echoed loudly around the room. Kade glanced back and saw Claudiel and the other demons following with a stumbling Giv. Her feet could barely keep up and he frowned, hoping the bandage hadn’t soaked through yet or she’d done more damage.
Big double doors on the opposite end were flung open, and a lone figure came through. He was powerfully built, taller than most men and carrying an aura that brought everyone to attention around him. He’d grown out his red hair so it was more of a mane, down to his shoulders. And Kade knew, when he got closer, than his eyes would be the same piercing, roiling blue as his own.
It was his father.
“Lovely of you to join us, Eighth Overlord,” Ebenos said, his voice booming down the room. “Too bad you couldn’t follow simple orders.”
A dagger appeared in his hand, exuding black ecto-mist, and spun once around his fingers before he brought it down in a blur.
Straight into Kade’s thigh.
The pain blurred his vision and he knew he cried out. His nerve endings were on fire and he was collapsing when Ebenos grabbed him and hauled him upright. The pain drowned out all other thoughts until he managed to think above it, employing the meditation and pain lessons he’d learnt years and years ago. He imagined the extreme pain as a ball of vivid red, then he made it smaller and smaller in his mind. He breathed through it, deeply and slowly, until he regained enough of a handle on his own body to open his eyes.
His father was a few feet away now, the expression on his face thunderous. Kade was against a hard body, Ebenos’, with the same dagger that now dripped with his own blood at his throat.
“I’ve called them off, now you can let him go,” his father was saying. “The trade was my throne for my son and I’m here. Now let him go.”
“It was, wasn’t it?” Ebenos said. “But I can’t have you wondering around, powerful and free and throneless. Which is why it was a stroke of luck that I came across these a few years ago, in my travels around the Ninth. Claudiel, if you will.”
In his peripherals, Kade saw Claudiel come forward with two thick, iron bracelets in a hand. As he stepped forward and came more into Kade’s field of vision, he saw they were covered in frost, melting around Claudiel’s red-tipped fingers.
“Judecca’s Bracelets,” his father breathed. “Those are meant to be lost!”
The name sent a bolt of fear down Kade’s spine. He’d heard of them, in rumors and books about myths. Judecca’s Bracelets – formed from the merging of iron and ice, they dampened the wearer’s power and ate away at their ability until they were nothing but human.
“Not so lost, after all,” Claudiel said jovially. “Hands out, please.”
Kade stared hard at his father, willing the man to meet his eyes. The man’s eyes went from the Bracelets, then slowly to Kade. Kade widened his eyes, trying to convey his meaning. The man paused.
Kade let a slow breath out, relaxing his body, and at the end of that breath, he moved.
He ripped open his arms, breaking the zip tie, and grabbed Ebenos’ forearm that was around his neck. He pulled it down, bringing the blade away from his neck, then slipped out from around him. Ebenos tried to jump away but Kade followed, lunging forward and thrusting his arm back until it snapped.
Ebenos screamed and all hell broke less.
Kade glanced to the side, saw that Giv wasn’t anywhere near as injured as she had pretended and was dodging between the two demons. Kade’s throwing knife buried itself in the throat of one, making it promptly disintegrate. He spun again on his good leg, grabbing Ebenos’ other arm and keeping them both locked behind his back. One hand kept Ebenos’ wrists together while the other relieved him of his knife. Kade glanced to the other side and saw his father pinning Claudiel to the ground, hand inside the demon’s chest.
Kade looked away as Claudiel gave a gurgling scream then fell silent, following a sickening wet sound.
“The others are outside?” Giv asked the Overlord, coming up to stand beside Kade. She was carrying one of the demons’ swords, a slender and long blade with a curved tip, that exuded red ecto-mist.
“They are, but they don’t need any help. I need to get you two to a healer,” he said. He wiped his bloody hand on his black dress pants, walking over to Giv and taking her manacled hands in his. She’d managed to break the chain connecting the two, but the iron still dampened her power. With a few murmured words and a touch, they fell to the ground.
“Hello to you too, father,” Kade said.
His father turned to him with a faint frown on his face, looking much more like the disapproving man Kade knew well.
“Kade. This isn’t how I expected our reunion to go.”
“I’m surprised you expected to even have a reunion. What were those words you last said to me? ‘If you choose to leave, you can get the hell out of my sight and stay there’?”
“Words said in the heat of the moment – is this really the time and place?”
Ebenos lunged to get free, and Kade put his pent-up aggression into hauling him back and kicking him to the floor.
“That’s bullshit. You can’t just erase all that shit because you think those words are a mistake now.”
“Kade,” Giv hissed. “We can argue about this later but right now, you’re bleeding out.”
He glanced down and saw that his trouser leg was dripping onto the floor, a small puddle of blood surrounding his shoe.
“Fine,” he said shortly. He nudged Ebenos not-so-gently towards his father. “You can deal with the errant nephew.”
Giv breathed a sigh of relief and came to his side, placing her good hand on his shoulder.
“I’m sorry about this in advance.”
Then she pulled him through the shift with her. His eyesight went red, pressure building up in his head like a boiling kettle until the pain became too much and he blacked out.