I woke up to the sound of running footsteps. It was me a few seconds to realize they were my footsteps, I was the one running. Running and running and running. I was running so fast away from something. I refused to look back, concentrating on putting one foot in front of the other.
I was in a tunnel, a dark tunnel flooded with cobwebs and dust. There were no turns. I couldn’t take a left, or a right, it was simply a long, straight tunnel... a tunnel that seemed to have no end.
I stumbled over a rock which was jutting out of the otherwise smooth floor. My face collided with solid concrete and ground across the rough surface, scraping my skin away.
I screamed out in pain.
It was over.
I had stopped running.
I was going to die.
I flipped onto my back and submitted. I patiently waited for the evil and excruciating end.
I glanced down at my exhausted body. Thousands of big, hairy spiders were crawling all over my skin, weaving webs of intricate patterns in glistening silver. They worked quickly, spinning the threads across my torso, my arms and my legs. They had pinned me down, causing me to become paralyzed. I couldn’t move and even if I had wanted to I was unable to get to my feet and carry on running. I was frozen to the spot.
I lay there, almost oblivious to the arachnids crawling all over my bare skin, and focused on the heavy stomps which thundered along the tunnel. They echoed all around me, causing the floor to tremble.
The ground crumbled away from beneath me, and I fell downwards, spiraling and spiraling deeper and deeper into the black abyss below.
Air shot passed me rapidly, my hair flying around my head, tugging this way and then the other. I was falling to my death, closer and closer.
A voice, strong and clear, sounded in my head, “You’re mine” It said.
I closed my eyes, squeezing them shut in attempt to escape the reality that surrounded me. I was going to die.
My eyes slammed open. I was hyperventilating uncontrollably, tears streaming from their pockets and rolling across my skin. I looked around frantically, trying to decipher where I was. That’s when I remembered, where I was and how I got here. I was in Eztil’s room. I was alone, but alive. I was safe.
It was just a dream.
I rubbed my forehead, tired and confused, wiping away the cold sweat that had settled upon it. I scrubbed my hand against my trousers to clean off the residue and sat back against the wall, exhaling heavily.
That is when I suddenly realized. The bed next to me was empty. Phoenix was gone. I struggled hastily to my feet, eager to answer the questions that slipped into my head. Evil ideas, ideas that scared me. What if she had been taken? What if she was dead? What if I never saw her again?
I darted across the room and flung the door open. The van was still there, but was Alexander still inside it? What if he had been taken too? What would I do?
The morning sun was beating down on my back extensively, the horizon shimmered in the distance from the heat. I was suddenly thirsty and smacked my lips together. I shaded my eyes with my hand, squinting out at the baron wasteland.
My legs pressed forwards, desperate to find Phoenix, hoping that Alexander would still be residing inside the vehicle. I begged to a higher power for them both to be safe, I couldn’t live without them. They were my whole life, they reminded me of home and without them I would be completely alone.
I approached the van very carefully, my footsteps light and cautious to produce minimal noise. I strained my ears to try and distinguish any sound that came from within. I held my breath in anticipation and earnestly listened. I could hear the fragments of a conversation, human voices. I didn’t know if I recognized them, they were too quiet.
I waited for another few seconds then hesitantly reached for the door handle. What if it wasn’t Alexander? What would I do then? I fleetingly shoved the thoughts from my mind, and opened the doors.
Phoenix was lying on her back, eyes still closed. Her skin was ashen and her entire body quaked with tremors through her slumber. This wasn’t what stopped me dead. Phoenix’s leg had taken the twisted form of a tree branch.
Alexander stood over her lifeless body, tying a tourniquet around her upper thigh above the wooden limb – a part of her leg that was still human flesh. I ran to her side to join Alexander, taking her hand up in mine. Eztil was stood adjacent to me, looking as calm as always.
Inside I was panicking, I wanted to scream and I wanted to cry. This was my worst nightmare. This had to still be one of my nightmares. “We have to get her to a hospital!” I cried.
“There is no time,” Eztil met my eyes solemnly, “I am sorry.”
“Sorry for what?” I demanded, my voice cracking from the fear creeping into me.
Without another word Eztil reached down to his waist and brandished a long blade from his belt. I continued to watch in sheer horror as he raised the knife high above his head.
“No!” I screeched and leaped forwards to stop him. I was too late. Eztil had already brought his hand down in one swift motion through the air and Phoenix’s contorted leg.
She cried out once and then fell silent.
What met my senses next was incredibly vile. The foul odor of rotting human flesh filled my nostrils, causing my gag reflex to kick in, violently retching. The images that flooded through my eyes were even fouler; blood poured from the wound and stained every surface. I screamed too, the sight was gut-wrenching and I had to hold back the bile that bubbled in the back of my throat.
I choked down another scream. I shook all over, feeling the life drain from my face. I gawked at the stump where her leg used to be, taking it all in, the white of her bone protruding from the crimson surrounding it. The rest of her leg was lying on the floor, still distorted. Only now did I think it looked like the limb of a juvenile Shadow. It was tainted with a shade of deep red, like everything else.
I was going to be sick. I felt myself go weak at the knees, I sank to the floor. My world was spinning. The lights flickered before my eyes and everything went dark.
“Ivy..?” The word seemed distant, very far away from where I was, “Ivy...?” It came again. I didn’t understand what or who it was. I didn’t recognize it.
“Ivy...?” The tone was different this time, much deeper than before, it also came from a long way away. I felt as if I was underwater and the noises were coming from above the surface, distorted and odd.
I flickered my eyes open and was almost blinded by the amount of bright light that flooded into my irises. I immediately shut them, feeling my entire face cringe in pain and my head pounding heavily. It was like looking at the sun.
“Ivy...?” There is was again, what was that? “Are you alright...?”
I tried to answer the question, at least I think it was a question, I wasn’t too certain. I tried to force the sounds from my chest but instead of words only a spluttering groan erupted from within me. I frowned, why couldn’t I speak?
I drifted in and out of consciousness for what seemed like days, when I was finally able to open my eyes I slowly discovered it had only been a few hours. I was lying on my back looking up at two blurred, but obviously worried, faces; both gazing down at me in awe.
I tried to sit up, but then the world span around me and I nearly passed out again, but thanks to the two hands on my back supporting me I was able to stay upright and awake. My memory was a puzzle, and I couldn’t put the pieces back together.
“What happened?” I croaked, rubbing at my eyes in effort to clear them.
“You passed out,” One face said, concern set deep within his jaw, his golden hair lying in a messy manner on his forehead, “You’ve been flat-out all afternoon.”
I blinked a couple of times and let my eyes adjust to the room. I had been placed on the bed inside Eztil’s cabin. Then, all at once, my memory fired itself back into my brain.
I was leaning against Alexander’s arms, they were so soft yet strong. They were nice arms, muscular and perfectly formed, I loved how his biceps bulged when he folded his elbows.
I shook my head from side-to-side, trying to clear my vision and thoughts. “What happened?” I asked again, my throat was sore and it hurt to talk. I coughed and pain exploded from within my neck, “Ow,” I whispered hoarsely.
“Easy,” Alexander soothed in my ear, “It’ll take a while for you to feel back to normal.”
I grimaced, my head was very light and seemed to be floating above my body, I put my hand up to hold my hair, it was more matted than it ever had been. I noticed my murky clothes and I said, “I could really use a shower.”
Eztil chuckled throatily, “Sure thing,”
“And something to eat?” I whined, “Please.”
Alexander laughed shakily, “Of course, Phoenix is making you something now.”
My ears prickled, “What?” The word was soundless, I tried to calm my flaring throat, “Phoenix?” I said inaudibly, droplets of salty water began to cloud my vision, “Phoenix!” I cried hoarsely, “Where is she?!”
Before anyone could answer my frantic questioning, I heard a voice so sweet and familiar it was like music to my ears. “I’m right here Ivy,” I felt someone clutch my hand in theirs, dainty and delicate fingers.
“Are you okay?” I asked.
Phoenix smiled at me, “Yes, I’m fine.”
“I saw you… There was blood… I thought you were dead.” I couldn’t have stopped the tears even if I wanted to. I needed to hold her, I needed to know that I wasn’t dreaming. I exhaled deeply, it felt like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders. “Phoenix, you’re alive...” I whispered, almost soundless, “You’re alive.” I couldn’t believe it, I refused to let go of her hand, I had never squeezed her so tightly. If I let her go, I thought I would lose her. I couldn’t lose her again, not ever.
“Thanks to Eztil, he figured it out,” She sat beside me and cuddled me close in her arms, “He knew what was happening and what he needed to do.”
I shot up, big mistake, my head span around and around and I cringed. “But... your leg?” I murmured, dazed, trying to fix my gaze on Phoenix’s subtle olive skin.
“It’s alright, Eztil gave me a new one,” Phoenix seemed to say through a smile, her short and newly-dyed red hair danced as she tittered.
My eyes focused long enough to see that attached to Phoenix’s stump, was something foreign and complex, much like that of Eztil’s arm. Intricate metal work of inhuman creation was fused into her thigh, it was artistic and it had saved her life.
“What happened?” I stammered.
“You remember what a bite from a Shadow can do to a human?”
I nodded. “You would be turned into a Shadow or the transformation would be too much for you and you’d die.”
Phoenix looked grave. “That’s what was happening to me. I wasn’t scratched by a Shadow. I was bitten. If Eztil hadn’t amputated my leg, I would be dead. Or worse, one of them.”
I let out an uncontrollable whimper, “I thought I had lost you.”
Phoenix soothingly stroked my hair, “I would never leave you, not without saying goodbye.”
I sobbed, throwing myself at her, “I thought I would never see you again!” I cried, clinging to her.
She winced, “Easy Ivy, I’m still rather fragile.”
I paused, then hugged to closer to me gently, “Sorry,” Then I beamed through my tears, “I’m so glad you’re okay!”
She giggled, the sound I had been longing for chimed in my ears, “Here,” She passed me a wooden bowl, “Eat this, you’ll feel much better.”
In the bowl was a stew, hot and steaming, I breathed in the fumes deeply. It smelt delectable, I ate it hungrily, not caring what was in it. Phoenix sat beside me without complaint, waiting for me to finish. My taste buds tingled in ways they hadn’t done in a while, flavor exploded in my mouth. Food, real food, not food from a packet or grubby leftovers, freshly cooked food. I practically licked the bowl clean, and sat back against the pillow, “Mmm,” I groaned in satisfaction. “That was delicious, thank you.”
“Was it? I would never have been able to tell,” She smirked, wiping a bit of potato from the tip of my nose, “Also, it’s not me that you have to thank,” Phoenix jerked her head to the direction of the ‘kitchen’ area, “It’s Eztil.”
I craned my neck to see him and Alexander bending over the counter, discussing things in hushed tones. It looked like they were having a very deep conversation, their faces were incredibly serious. They were looking at a piece of parchment, rolled out with creases and small rips. “Hey, what’s that?” I called, putting the empty bowl on the bedside table, trying to find space for it between a few old books and a selection of yet more candles.
Eztil sneaked a glance at Alexander, and Alexander met his eyes warily, “It’s the prophecy.” Alexander said in a monotone voice.
“Prophecy?” I asked, puzzled, “The one about me?”
The boys exchanged another look, then after a long pause, “Yes.”
I felt giddy, written down on a piece of paper was my past, my future and my present. I almost leaped out of bed but Phoenix pulled me back by my sleeve. I frowned, “What is it?”
She inclined for me to sit back down, “There’s something you need to know.”
I didn’t ask any questions, I knew this was a sincere matter. I could tell from the look in Phoenix’s eyes, she was worried and scared. I sat on the edge of the bed, waiting intently.
She cleared her throat, “The thing is...” Then she took a breath, trying to calm her quivering words, “The prophecy is written in Ancient Greek. I translated it very loosely and it says...” Phoenix began to cry. She took a deep breath, composed herself and then said words that I didn’t expect to hear, “It says you die at the hands of Hades.”