I stared at the phone, whilst everybody else stared at me.
I glanced at Phoenix, her eyes were large and filled with confusion. She glanced over at Alexander, who glanced at me. The phone continued to ring. It felt like hours went by before I started walking cautiously towards it, although only a few seconds had passed.
I reached out, my hand shaking violently, and picked up the phone. I held down the “answer” button and pressed the receiver to my ear.
“Hello?” I said, hoping my voice would be strong and clear but being disappointed when it cracked over a single word.
“He knows what you did.” The voice sounded far away. It was weak but unmistakably belonged to David Cutler.
I stiffened and my eyes widened. I imagined I looked much like a rabbit who had just realized they were in the pouncing range of a hungry fox. “David?” I whispered, tears brewing.
“He knows what you did.” His voice was different, almost unreal. It was like I was underwater and he was shouting at me from above the surface. “He’s taken her and now he’s coming for me.” Despite his voice sounding warped, David was scared.
“Who’s coming for you?” I span round, my gaze locking with Phoenix’s, her expression mirrored mine, “Taken who?”
“He’s coming.” David said.
“Who’s coming?” I demanded, my tone was irate and desperate now. My entire body tingled and I felt as if I was covered with crawling insects, “David, who is coming?”
“It’s too late.” David explained, for a split second I thought he might be crying.
“Who’s there?” I cried, tears spilling from my eyes, “David, tell me who’s there.”
“It’s too late.” He said again, “He is here.” Then the line went flat.
The phone fell from my hand and I didn’t hear it hit the floor. My ears were ringing and my sight was blurry through the tears. I didn’t understand what was happening and for a moment I forgot where I was. I leaned against the window ledge to keep myself from falling over, I was suddenly extremely dizzy. I felt sick and disorientated. My mind refused to even contemplate putting the pieces of the puzzle together. I didn’t even know where to begin. There was no point even trying.
“Ivy?” Someone said through the white noise in my ears, “Ivy? Are you okay?”
I slid down the wall, curling up on the floor. I swallowed past the lump in my throat. It was like reliving the moment Ben was taken from me all those months ago. I was thousands of miles away but even that couldn’t save my friends.
“Ivy?” A different voice this time, “What’s wrong?”
I coughed and blinked a few times to clear my vision. The words I spoke rang out distinctively. It had to be him. It couldn’t possibly be anybody else. “Hades has taken him. Hades has taken David.”
I gazed out in admiration at the awe-striking view before me. The sky was clear and the brightest blue I had ever seen, the summer sun was high above, causing my skin to warm, the feel was heavenly. Its rays bounced lazily off the ripples made by the lake, which lapped up at the shoreline hungrily.
Birds twittered away happily in the air, twisting and turning gracefully as they flew. It was a quiet day and I could hear the wind sifting through the leaves, the creak of trees. The air was practically silent, however a herd of deer that roamed this land were close-by, sniffing and picking through the thicket carefully. I was sat on the dusty ground beside the van, parked up on the highest ridge for the best view.
I had driven us out here to get some fresh air yesterday evening. The other three were asleep in the van, I was on the last watch of the night. It was mid-morning now. I had pinched one of Phoenix’s cigarettes in the night, I knew she wouldn’t mind. I watched the grey-blue smoke danced as it towered up and away into the atmosphere, highlighted in the daylight. I took the last drag and leaned back against the van’s rusty side, resting my head and soaking up the sun.
I looked up at the sky, still clear, I closed my eyes briefly and just listened. There wasn’t much to hear, the deer herd had moved on and the birds were now far away, soaring high above the lake. I liked the quiet. It gave me peace where I could no longer find it elsewhere. I watched a leaf from a nearby tree as it twirled like a ballerina and drifted bewitchingly to the ground.
The side door of the van slid open with a grinding clunk. It sounded like nails on a chalk board, interrupting my moment of reflection. I turned my head slightly, using my hand to shield my eyes from the sun.
“Good morning,” Eztil said with his usual thick accent, stretching as he spoke, “Anything exciting happen for you?”
I shook my head and turned my gaze back upon the lake, it’s ripples still shimmering in the sunlight. “Nothing.” I adjusted my hex bag belt and got to my feet, patting the dust off my backside as I went to join Eztil. He was stood a little way from me now, the grass stroked my legs as the caring breeze ruffled my clothes and brushed through my hair as I walked.
“How did you sleep?” I asked.
He rubbed the back of his neck, “In that thing?” He pointed back at the van before booming a laugh, “Rough.”
Surrounding us was pure nature; I stared out in wonder at the mountain ridges as they met the edges of the lake with ease for the millionth time that day, creating a beautiful scene. I closed my eyes again and breathed in deeply, Eztil and I were surrounded by long grass seeded with wild flowers, their sweet smell invaded my nostrils and I welcomed it.
“I am sorry,” He said after a while.
I peeled my eyes open reluctantly, “About?”
I was hit immediately by a wave of emotion, threatening to fill me with grief. I felt my lip trembling and my eyes welling up but refused to cry. I would not cry in front of Eztil, in front of anyone. I had to stay strong. Not just for them but also for myself. If I let the pain in and take over me who knew what state I’d be in – definitely in no state for fighting.
I merely replied with a simple, “Thank you.”
We stood there for a few minutes, taking in the scene. It was the most beautiful thing I had seen in months, perhaps in my life. I didn’t want to lose it just yet. I caught sight of the deer herd, far off into the distance now and smiled, watching them nervously make their way around the lake.
“We should wake the others,” I said finally.
Eztil shook his head, not taking his eyes away from the breath-taking view, “No, not yet. They will need their strength.”
“And what about your strength?” I raised an eyebrow at him.
Eztil chuckled throatily, “I have lived on five hours sleep every night for years, I will be fine.” He assured me.
I nodded. Then a thought struck me, “Strength for what, I might ask?”
Eztil raised and lowered his bulky shoulders to form a shrug, “In my experience when you want to know answers, you ask a Shadow.”
“Converse with a Shadow?” I asked skeptically, “I hardly think that’s a good idea.”
Eztil gave me a look, “It has worked for me in the past.”
I blinked at him, “You’ve had a polite conversation with a Splinter?”
“I would not have said it was polite,” He snickered, “But yes, I have spoken with and gotten answers I needed from a Shadow.”
“Well, first you capture one. It is not an easy task, especially on your own, but there are four of us. It will be much easier with all of us. Then you ask the questions you wants answers to. It answers them, and then…” He stopped.
“And then?” I pressed.
“Then you kill it.”
I mused over this for a couple of minutes. “It sounds simple enough. All right, we’ll do it.”
Eztil’s eyes sparkled, “When?”
I paused again before answering. “We’ll wait for nightfall,” I decided, “That’s when we’ll hunt.”
We were all in complete silence. We had walked a couple of miles from the van, taken off our hex bag belts and begun to wait.
We were sat in a cluster of bushes just off a beaten track that snaked through the trees, not that it would help us at all as they could sense my presence like a beacon. At least we were surrounded by a tonne of broken twigs so even the Shadows’ light step wouldn’t go unnoticed.
Alexander coughed and we all simultaneously turned round to hush him.
My eyes were alert and my body was back into its cat-like stance, ready for action. My muscles prickled with the sense of being alive. The scent of rich earth and pine needles was strong in the air, I looked up at the night sky and could barely make out the moon shining through the lattice of leaves. My throat was dry and, in attempt to moisten my mouth, I licked my lips but tasted only sweat.
The howl of an unseen wolf echoed across the mountains, interrupting the soft sound of the wind slipping through the leaves and causing us all to jump out of our skins. My calves had started to burn from being in my squatted position for so long but I didn’t dare move.
That’s when I smelt it. I smelt that rank, unearthly stench that came along with a Shadow. I heard Eztil growl, felt Phoenix tense up beside me and Alexander shift his weight, I knew they smelt it too. We readied ourselves to attack, I tighten my grip on the rope hanging through my belt loop and my torch with my other hand.
We sprang out of the bushes, flicking our torches on in mid-air. I heard it hiss, the sound of a thousand angry snakes, coming from slightly to my right. Everyone else headed towards the deafening noise too.
We gradually backed the thing into a corner with our torch lights, careful not to send their beams too far forwards so we didn’t set the demon ablaze. From what I could sense the Shadow had nowhere else to go. We besieged the demon in the dark, all lassoing our ropes at the same time. I knew my rope had struck true as it became taught in my hand. I pulled on it, and something pulled back.
We had caught it.
“What now?” Alexander whispered at me from my left.
I stared straight ahead, I couldn’t see the demon through the darkness. It was a shadow, invisible to the naked eye in the black of the night. “Now, we get our answers.”
Eztil was glowering, he looked like a ravenous lion about to roar.
“You know who I am?” I asked loudly, feeling a bit foolish as I couldn’t see my prisoner.
For a long moment or two there was no reply, I had a horrendous thought that the Shadow had tricked us and we hadn’t captured it at all so it could circle around behind us and strike. Finally, the skin crawling whisper escaped from the gloom, “You are Ivy Taylor. You belong to my Master.”
“Do you know why we’ve apprehended you?” I continued.
“He took David.”
“Why?” I demanded, “Why did he take David?” It was surreal, talking into the darkness. Anyone who wasn’t the four of us would’ve thought of me as mad. I looked as if I was talking to myself, talking to no one, talking to nothing but shadows.
“My Master is angry,” It rasped back. “He wanted to make you angry like you made him. He thought you needed to be punished accordingly for your crimes.”
“What crimes?” I demanded.
There was an eerie pause. “You angered my Master. You opened his box. He knows you, Ivy Taylor, opened his box.”
I shot a glimpse at Eztil. He caught my eye for a split second then turned away as if ashamed.
“He took your friends in retaliation,” It hissed, “You should never make my Master angry.”
“Wait,” Phoenix spoke up before I could even open my mouth, “Hang on a second. Friends, as in, plural?”
There was a soft cackle. It sounded like rotting wood cracking under a heavy weight. “You didn’t know?” It spat, “You didn’t know he took Elle too?”
My heart stopped. I didn’t move.
“Elle?” Phoenix breathed, unable to believe it herself.
“I will not talk to the one with Pandora’s curse anymore.”
Rage bubbled up inside me, my blood boiled through my veins. I couldn’t stand to be in its presence any more. I wanted it gone. Without a second thought, I flooded the empty space in front of me with light from my torch. The Shadow screamed. I watched as it caught fire, writhed and shuddered in front of me. It was the first time I had enjoyed the death of one of them, the first time I reveled in killing one. In a few more seconds it disintegrated into a mere pile of ash.
I sniffed and, suddenly weak, collapsed to the floor with a haunted look etched onto my face. I didn’t try to stop the tears pouring over my cheeks. My entire body felt heavy but at the same time completely numb. Elle, precious Elle, who we had tried so desperately to keep out of this had been abducted and taken to Gods knows where.
Eztil laid a hand on my shoulder but I didn’t react to it. I stared at a space on the ground in front of me but wasn’t seeing it. I was seeing images of Elle flood from my memory, Elle at school, Elle in her pyjamas, Elle watching TV, Elle laughing, Elle eating. Elle.
There was a conversation going on somewhere, but I wasn’t listening.
“He mentioned Pandora’s curse again,” Alexander’s voice, I think, “What does that mean?”
“I don’t know,” A girl’s voice, frightened and worried. Phoenix. “But I know someone who does.”
“What do we do now?” These next words came from Eztil.
“The only thing we can do,” Phoenix said, “We go and talk to the witch.”