The museum stood tall and alone. The flags up high on their metal poles billowed in the wind, creating shadows before us. The moon created a certain kind of gloominess to the building that made me shake. It gave me a strong recognition of a Greek temple with a line of giant pillars made of sandstone towering up above our heads. The night air was cold, there were tufts of grey cloud crawling across the sky, stealing away the stars.
We were now in California, standing outside a museum on the coast. I had no clue what we were doing here, it had taken all four of us a day and a half to get here in the van, with small rest stops. None of us had slept very well, we were all irritated and grouchy. Alexander tried not to act like he was exhausted but we could all see that he was. I was sticky and my skin felt greasy, I hadn’t showered since before we left. I could smell myself heavy in my nostrils, it clouded over and masked any other scent that was close.
I cradled one of my many hex-bags, attached to my belt, in my hands. It was a soft and subtle brown leather, far from rough, it felt like I was holding a velvet jewellery bag containing a charm bracelet. We had all tied them to ourselves tonight, to avoid disturbance from unwanted pests, from the Shadows. Eztil and Alexander had run on ahead to figure out a way to get into the building and left me with a very grumpy Phoenix.
She and I were stood by the thick trunk of a tree; concealed by the darkness, veiled by the leaves swaying on the branches; unseen by everyone.
“Explain something to me,” I hissed, not taking my eyes off the floodlights shining onto the face of the museum, “What are we doing here?”
I saw from the corner of my eye Phoenix lifting her violet eyes to the heavens. Her long ebony hair was pulled back tightly into a toggle, glimmering under the moon, “We’re here, because we need something. It’s going to help you in the long run.”
“We need a lot of things ’Nix,” I said humorlessly, “Money would be a start. Too bad there wasn’t any in Eztil’s box.”
Phoenix pursed her lips together, “Ivy, trust me. It’s going to help us.”
“You’re being very cryptic this evening,” I frowned, “Is everything okay?”
She shook her iron leg sharply, “Just agitated that’s all, everything’s getting to me.”
“Talk to me,” I laid my hand gently on her forearm, “You can trust me.”
She flicked her eyes at me for a split second, “Now is not the time,” She hushed me by blowing air sharply through her mouth.
We fell back into silence. I could hear the breeze as it rustled above us, playing with the leaves as it passed, caressing them with its fingers. We waited and we waited. It had been a while now and there was no sign of the two men returning to us just yet.
“’Nix?” I pressed cautiously.
She bit down on a low growl, “Yes?” She said through gritted teeth. She was getting agitated.
My legs had begun to ache at the rear from the amount of time we had been standing, “Can I sit down?”
“Don’t be such a baby,” She bent both of her knees to loosen her muscles then resumed her perch against the tree bark, huddled low and ready to pounce. She was like a lioness waiting for her prey, “You can stand up, they shouldn’t be too long now.”
“You said that an hour ago,” I tried to keep the whine from the voice, but somehow it still crept through, “I’m tired, I’m cold and I’m hungry.” I didn’t see the point of being here, I didn’t see any point in wasting the precious time I had left. I was bored and I was fed up.
“Look,” Phoenix turned to me, her bright eyes flaring with anger, “We are here to steal something. Yes, that’s right, steal. It will help you destroy Hades and trap, not only his spirit but, his body and his mind as well. Alright? So, if you want to live shut your mouth before I shut it for you.”
I bit down on my lip, “Sorry.” I mumbled and that was that.
I leaned lazily against the tree, my eyes drooping every so often. The moon cast rays of silver light onto the bay and it bounced off the ocean and sparkled into my eyes. It had been a long time since I had seen a beach, I had missed the taste of salt in the air and the sound of waves rolling across the sand. It was the closest thing to paradise that I had experienced in a long time.
Phoenix stood up straight, “Here they are.”
I straightened my spine and squinted out in front of me. Two figures sauntered towards us hurriedly, one was tall and broad while the other wasn’t exactly small but was smaller than the other. Alexander and Eztil were back.
I couldn’t help but watch the way Alexander’s hair glimmered like gold thread as he walked, the way he flicked his fringe from his eyes with a roll of his neck and causing his head to be thrown casually to the side. His brown eyes, always so soft and gentle, spoke words that his lips refused to. I knew that I fell deeper and deeper into his eyes the longer I looked into them. He was attractive, there was no denying it, the way he walked and the way he talked... his smile was contagious, if he smiled I smiled. I loved every single thing about him.
But it was his kind heart that made me melt inside, the way he would touch me softly as if he was scared to break me but every single time he ran his fingers through my hair or patted me on the back, there was feeling behind it and I knew that he cared about me in ways nobody else ever had. The way he looked at me, he could make me knees give way with a simple glance.
I knew I loved him but I was scared. I was terrified of losing him, that I would wake up one day and he would no longer care about me, he would no longer look at me the way he does, he would no longer be here with me. Because of that, I treasured every moment I had with him, and every moment we spent together was special and was kept close to my heart.
“Ivy?” Phoenix shook my shoulder lightly.
“What?” My voice sounded very far away
“Ivy?” She said again, a little more urgently.
“What?” I snapped, frustrated at her for stealing me away from my perfect daydream.
She blinked at me, “Sorry.”
I eased my stance, relaxing my muscles and I gave her a basic smile, “No, it’s alright. You made me jump, that’s all.”
She smiled back and me and rubbed my upper arm, she then turned to the two boys who were now about three meters away, “What took you so long?”
Eztil dropped his backpack at our feet and sighed, “It is hard to get inside,” He groaned, “It will be very difficult.”
Alexander winked at me, “No problem for Ivy and I, we’re brilliant. They won’t even know we’ve been in there.”
I smiled widely up at him through my lashes, “We’ll be in and out.”
“We were born to be spies.” Alexander added cheekily.
Phoenix looked us both up and down, like she could sense the tension flaring between us. His arm brushed mine and I had to force myself to not flinch from the hot electricity that shot up my arm, the little hairs on my wrist stood on their end in expectation. Phoenix raised an eyebrow skeptically, “Right, okay then.” She mused, “Off you go.”
Alexander turned and headed back across the courtyard as I bent down and picked up the black shoulder bag that was lying lazily at Phoenix’s feet.
The shoulder bag. That was one thing that we found inside Eztil’s creepy but enticing black box.
A couple of nights ago. I’d found out what was in the box. I did not like what I’d found.
“It contains what you most desire.” Eztil had explained to us, “Inside is what you need the most.”
“Which is weapons,” I suggested.
Eztil laughed, but the laugh had held no humor, “It does not work like that Ivy Taylor.”
“Then how does it work?” Alexander pressed.
I saw Eztil and Phoenix both tense in front of me. There was something wrong with this box, something sinister, I could tell by the look on their faces.
“It is powered by dark magic,” Eztil had explained. “It knows your weaknesses and it thrives on your misery and despair. I will only use it if we have to.”
“Dark magic?” Alexander asked, “What exactly do you mean by that?”
Phoenix was the first one to speak. “Also known as black magic. It’s not to be used lightly. It’s dangerous. If performed unprotected, witches can lose all their power and not to mention their minds.”
I looked over at Eztil, my mouth gaping, “Have you ever opened it before?”
He shook his head, “I took it, from a Shadow “clan” that had been hunting me down for a number of years. It was a long time ago, I did not know what it was at the time but I knew that they needed it. So, I stole it.” His face was grave, “I am not proud of what I have done, but they stopped looking for me after I had taken it. This box saved my life.” He took a deep breath, “I did not open it because I knew that I found it in the possession of demons and the box probably belonged to Hades originally.”
Phoenix was crouched down beside the wooden chest. She was slowly and carefully running her hands along the edges, rubbing at the corners. It glowered with mystery and dark undertones of hatred. The pretty patterns carved into it were a trap, ensnaring you into false safety. The wood wasn’t dark, it was black. The colour of evil. The colour of shadows.
Eztil spoke again, “I have done a little research. The chest was created by Zeus and Hades stole it. It is for his demons, his Shadows. If it is opened by Hades it will unleash Hell upon the Earth, his Shadows will be faster and stronger. They will be able to walk in the light and nobody will be able to stop them.”
Phoenix finally spoke, “I think I can open it.”
Alexander spoke, “Why? Have you not been listening to him? Hell on Earth Phoenix.”
Eztil shrank back into himself at the thought, shuddering with fear. “If you open that box, I can never return here. We will all have to run. Hades will know that his box has been opened, he will send every force of evil imaginable to claim it back. He will find us,” Eztil paused, “And he will kill us all.”
My stomach turned. We had all been on the run from Hades, from the Shadows for a long time. This was different. Hades was a God and he would send more than just Shadows to take back what he had lost.
Eztil sighed, “This can no longer be my home.”
Phoenix’s face softened, “I’m sorry, Eztil. You won’t be able to come back here again, but we need whatever is in there.”
For a horrible moment I thought he was going to cry, his eyes turned bloodshot and he swallowed hard. Instead, he just said, “Okay.”
“I’ll help you pack up your things,” I laid my hand on his arm, “We can bring them with us, you’ll be able to keep them all in the van.”
Eztil nodded at me once in thanks then got up out of his chair and began to gather up his belongings in silence.
Phoenix had paused but continued as Eztil started to collect up his jars, “It’s a difficult decision,” She announced simply, “We can’t do this on our own anymore, it’s become too big for that now. God’s are powerful and it’s alright to fight Shadow’s on a day-to-day basis, but not Gods. Not black magic. We definitely need help, even if it’s from Hades himself.”
“It’s ironic really,” Alexander mused, “Hades helping himself to kill Hades.” He chuckled at the thought.
“Witchcraft is not a game, Alex!” Phoenix had spat back at him.
He didn’t reply.
She glared at him momentarily with fire burning behind her eyes.
He looked away without another word.
I got up out of my chair and helped Phoenix prepare herself for the rituals she would need to perform before she opened the box.
I straightened with the shoulder bag in my hand.
Phoenix suddenly grabbed my hand in earnest, “Be careful,” She whispered, her eyes bored into mine and they were full of concern, her brow was pressed together and her expression winced as she said slowly, “Just get the job done.”
I chuckled softly and squeezed her hand in mine, “Don’t worry, everything’s going to be all right. Like I said, we’ll be in and out without a trace.” I gave her a grin then turned and jogged carefully and silently to Alexander.
I followed on his heels, stepping lightly across the stones beneath me, creating no noise. I was wearing the skin-tight suede shoes that Eztil sewed together for me earlier, they made moving with much more simplicity and were much quieter than my old ones, Alexander also had his on and together we were merely a pair of shades sneaking, unseen by anyone’s eyes, through the dark.
Alexander came to a stop and placed his bag on the ground. “So, you ready?” He turned to me, “This is it.” He bent down. I placed the bag onto the ground and Alexander started pulling ropes, harnesses and wires out of it. He began tying them together so quickly anyone would have believed he had been a thief his whole life, not for less than twenty-four hours.
I tilted my head back and stared at the entrance that had been chosen. I frowned, looked up at Alexander and with a negative feel to my tone I said, “The roof?” I felt my eyebrow twitch upwards, “It’s a bit high...” I complained in a low voice, “What’s wrong with the door?” I dropped my bag and it clattered softly.
Alexander gave me a smoldering look, his eyes so compelling I nearly fell backwards in awe. He stood up and held out a harness at my waist, he reached around to my back tenderly and wrapped it around me, his fingers tracing the line of my hips. I shuddered in delight, I couldn’t stop myself, pleasure ruptured through me, rippling across my muscles like a caressing flame.
My back arched forwards, trying to close the gap between us desperately. I heard the click of the harness fastening around me and I closed my eyes momentarily, biting back on my lip. Alexander’s eyes met mine, I could feel the heat rise into my cheeks as they flushed pink, he reached up and cupped my chin between his thumb and forefinger. I stood there, my muscles had frozen stiff with anticipation. I closed my eyes and exhaled, I felt him lean down and run his lips along the line of my jaw; inch by inch, ever so slowly.
“Doors are for people with no imagination.” He sighed.
I opened my eyes, they twinkled with humor and curiosity spurred through me, I wanted him. I was yearning for his lips against mine. I took a reluctant step back breaking the strong bond that was once between us. “Right, let’s go.” I watched as the corners of his lips inclined into a wide smile, he then picked another harness out of the shoulder bag and fastened it around himself.
Whilst his eyes were busy I physically shook myself, swinging my limbs back and forth to clear my head and body from the emotions clouding me, taking my focus off the task.
I took a sharp breath and said, “Hurry up Bond, it’s not a competition.”
“Oh I apologize Speedy, it’s not like I had any help getting into my gear like you did,” He wiggled his eyebrows and then shook his head, “Put these on,” He launched a length of rope at me, which I caught, and began to thread his own through the metal loop on his equipment.
I watched carefully and copied him with ease and soon we had both tied a safe knot tightly attached to our kit. “So, what’s the security low-down?” I asked, fastening my pockets to ensure nothing fell out of them.
“There are heat and pressure sensors on the floor, we’ve already disabled the CCTV and Eztil took out the guard who was unlucky enough to be on duty,” Alexander beamed, “Do you have the knife?” He held out his hand and packed up the things we weren’t using back into the bag and zipped it up swiftly, ready for a last-minute get away.
I lifted my foot onto a near-by wall and swiped my knife out of my shin protectors. I flicked it around in one, fashionable and skilled, finger shuffle and placed the blade into the palm of Alexander’s hand.
“Cheers,” He muttered and placed it into his own shin protector, “I’ll need it later.”
I scoped the surroundings, searching for any sign of unwanted company. I squinted my eyes together and scanned over the environment, the coast was clear.
“You ready?” Alexander asked, twisting the excess rope around a belt loop so it was out of his way, on his back was an empty rucksack.
I nodded, doing the same with my rope. It was hard work climbing up a flat wall-face without having to worry about loose materials dragging you down and getting under your feet.
Alexander winked his signature wink at me, a gesture he had always done before we went out on a hunt or a mission together, and hauled himself up onto a ledge. He then began to scramble up the vertical surface like a monkey, clinging on with merely his fingertips and toes, he scaled up the wall like a mountain climber. I hung on to his every movement, ready to catch him if he fell, but he didn’t, soon he was dragging himself smoothly onto the roof in one flourishing movement.
I took a deep breath, exhaling slowly. I had done this before whilst running across a town to get home, and the museum wasn’t the tallest of buildings but my muscles were still trembling in fear. I had done this before without a rope.
Alexander called down to me in a hushed tone, “You all right Ivy?”
I gulped, “Yeah,” My voice cracked causing me to cough, “Yeah, Alex, I’m fine.”
“Take your time,” He offered in encouragement, “You’ll be okay, you’ve done this hundreds of times.”
I closed my eyes to calm my nerves. I couldn’t be hasty, I had to think about this. I had to be tactical with my movements so I wouldn’t slip up. There was nobody to catch me if I fell. I still didn’t hook myself up onto the wall, I was frozen to the spot. I urged myself forwards but my body refused to obey.
“I can throw my rope down for you, if you want?” Alexander’s voice was gentle, not patronizing, but understanding. “I’ll have hold of you if you fall.”
“Yes please,” I said, my lips were incredibly dry and my tongue was sticking to the roof of my mouth, “That would be great.”
I caught the rope as he threw it down to me, I latched it onto my harness and gave it a hard tug to reassure myself. I began to ascent up the wall, lifting my own body weight took energy and effort from my arms, they shook under the pressure and for a moment I thought they were going to give out. They didn’t, they supported me for long enough to get both of my feet on the wall. I could feel Alexander giving me short, little pulls of assistance through the vibrations in the rope. He was holding me steady and I knew if I fell, I would be safe.
I didn’t take me very long to get to the halfway mark, I still had quite a distance to go but the hard part, getting myself off the ground, was over. My confidence grew with every inch upwards I covered and I started moving quicker, I was a couple of feet from the top when I felt there was something wrong.
There was a subtle change in balance, and my foot slipped off a groove. I let go of everything and for a few moments I was toppling backwards, there was no tension in the rope and I thought Alexander had stopped paying attention.
I was going to fall.
I slammed my eyes shut and I let out a blood-curdling scream that echoed off the trees and through the air around me.