Shadow Games

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Chapter 16

Serina jogged to the window, preparing to follow the stranger out into the early daylight. She judged the distance to the ground and how much sun exposure she’d get before hitting the shadows on the ground. It would hurt but she felt it was survivable if she acted fast. As he started her sprint for the window a flash of black swooped past her and suddenly Alec was before her. If it were just him she could have plowed through him, and maybe even around him somehow but his appearance drew her up short. He was the same but his presence was somehow bigger and he had unfurled his silky black wings to block her path. They were enormous and seemed to stretch on forever. In a way she found them beautiful in their darkness. The sunlight shown through his hair from the window and gave him an ethereal glow that matched the luminescence of his eyes. His eyes bore into her and his look was stony as he shook his head. Serina growled softly as she bared as slip of her teeth and Alec’s presence seemed to grow more threatening.

“You can’t help.” He growled back.

“You haven’t seen what I can do.” She muttered back as she tried to sidestep him, only to find him still firmly blocking her way.

“You know that’s not at all what I mean.” Alec’s voice fell flat s his wings tensed, spreading a little wider.

“Move.” She spat at him, her muscles straining.

“Look...” He growled in frustration. “The sun is going to severely limit anything you can do, if you’re able to act at all before your skin is turned to charcoal.”

Serina glowered at him as he stood firm. His presence seemed to shrink as a look of frustration passed over him.

“Someone is going to die and It’s an inevitability at this point. You can’t stop it and neither can I.”

Rage boiled up through Serina as she shoved at Alec trying to get him to move just a little so she could get past. Her frustration and anger making her lash out ineffectively and with a final shove at his chest she screamed in rage and stalked away from him.

“How could you know?” She asked him not really expecting an answer. Her need to move and act was becoming more aggressive, she slammed her fist into the wall across the hall from the window.

“Seri...” Alec pleaded as he glanced over his shoulder and swept his gaze over the courtyard. “Vin can handle himself...”

“Vin?!” Serina bellowed both in shock as well as calling out to him two stories below. “Do something.. anything. Don’t just stop me and do nothing. You know what’s going to happen, why aren’t you helping?” Serina cried as she got in his face and tears stung her eyes. The fact that she was crying came as a shock to her but she brushed them away angrily.

“I can’t... I can’t interfere.” Alec sighed regretfully.

“Why the hell not?” She growled back.

“If I interfere then I’m altering events and that could change the outcome.” He shook his head and his wings folded down against his back.

“That doesn’t make sense.” Serina scoffed and shook her head.

“It’s the curse of being what I am. I can feel that the end is coming so that I’m there to do my job.. but I’m entirely powerless to prevent it. A little quirk of the job...” He said with venom.

“So if you know the person you can’t change their fate. You can’t play God.” Serina whispered, defeated and Alec nodded grimly. Serina’s shoulders sank as the weight of a hundred worlds sat on her shoulders. She couldn’t lose Vin again, she was just getting back to normal. She couldn’t sit by and do nothing, but there was nothing she could do.

The hit landed with the familiar sound of flesh against flesh and Vin’s world tilted on its side. Nicholas wasn’t afraid to get his hands dirty after all. He fought dirty though, but it wasn’t anything unexpected. As Nicholas sidestepped Vin through the shadows with a speed that was baffling, the thought that he might not make it out of this fight crept into the corners of Vin’s mind. His doubt was drowned out quickly by incoherent questions spurred by his surroundings.

What happened to the ceiling? When had it started snowing in the house? But those were quickly knocked aside as his head impacted the fresh layer of powder on the ground. New and old wounds flared to life and he groaned. Vin hadn’t realized as he wondered about the sky and snow, that he’d been knocked through the second story window to the courtyard below. Still this fact struck him as odd as he weakly pushed himself up to his hands and knees. He almost giggled as he watched blood drip from his freshly broken nose to the snow. With wonder he watched the black drops bounce before staining the pristine fluff. Behind him the crunching of footsteps, no doubt belonging to Nicholas, barely caught his attention.

Get up… The voice deep inside him growled and Vin sighed inwardly, whining like a child.

GET UP. The voice demanded again, this time forcing him into action even if only to shut it up.

“You know… I am quite capable of getting up in my own damn time.” Vin mumbled as Nicholas strolled casually across the ground.

“Talking to yourself?” Nicholas purred with satisfaction. As Vin turned, standing to his full, if wobbly, height he saw the cause of his fall. Nicholas was wiping smears of Vin’s blood from his hand before replacing the handkerchief back into one of his pockets. Nicholas’ clothes were severely outdated. He was dressed in black robes that may have been in style the century Vin was born. He remembered masters dragging mages to the Otherworld when they tried to escape the deals they had made. They were always dressed in some sort of funny robes that looked like it was too much fabric for one person. Vin often thought these dealings spurred many of the misconceptions of demons in the world’s theologies.

“Honestly, sometimes it’s the best conversation I can get anymore.” He spat, spraying more of the snow with black dots. The voice only growled quietly inside him and for once Vin echoed the sentiment aloud in agreement.

“You have people to talk to…” Nicholas shrugged as his smug smile returned. “Granted I’ve been trying to make a shorter list of them.”

Vin balled his hands into fists so tight that the small cuts caused by the broken glass split open letting blood flow more freely. Nicholas raised an eyebrow at this show of anger and his attitude became cocky.

“Mm and the fun I had with your dear... little... Sephie…” He closed his eyes, savoring the memory and sighed softly. “She was delicious.”

The monster inside him howled and again Vin echoed it aloud, his breath heaving out of him in plumes in the cold air. Nicholas had been looking to strike a nerve and when he did the anger thrummed through Vin.

“Tsk, tsk, tsk Vintgar. You’re tipping your hand, showing me which buttons to push.” Nicholas admonished as he started to walk a lazy circle around the courtyard. “Honestly, I thought you’d know better after your upbringing.” He sneered before turning and walking back the half circle he’d cut through the snow.

“You couldn’t just accept your fate, your brat couldn’t just let well enough alone.” Nicholas simpered as he kicked a pile of snow out of his way.

“What do you know about my son?” Vin growled and Nicholas’ smile turned into a devious grin.

“He wasn’t important really, just a way to remove opposition.” He shrugged.

“To remove me you mean… to what end?” Again Nicholas tsk’ed and took a step forward at the same time Vin took one back. Vin was mirroring his motions to buy time, time to figure it all out.

“See, all this started so very long ago with my experiments. Taking pit demons and looking for a way.” Another step forward, another step back.

“I wanted to get my hands on a way to the mortal world and you worthless Darklings seemed fitting specimens.”

“Ready subjects for slaughter, anything to get out of the pit.” Vin summarized and Nicholas nodded taking a side step.

“Yes and no. You have the ability to move realms with such ease… and it’s natural. So your kind taught others that were less apt.” Nicholas began pacing, the crunch of the snow underfoot became a cadence to his words.

“But what I want to know is why. Why is your species special, why is it natural to you?” Nicholas had started to get distracted in his rant. “The ancients, the upper class of demons can’t do this… Why should you be able to hold this power over us? At first they were smart, just stepped out of the pens and the pit. We couldn’t have our entertainment escaping, hence the shadow barrier spells. That made it a true prison for your type.” The bitter hatred in his voice caught Vin’s attention but was gone as quickly as it had appeared. Nicholas shook his head and donned an accomplished smile. “One of my better spells I must say.”

He rubbed his hands together as Vin watched him closely. Watched for any sign of the demon he was projected on to, any weakness. If there was one he couldn’t see it, Nicholas’ projection skills had adapted too perfectly to show what was underneath. Nicholas caught Vin’s eye and a satisfied smile spread across his face.

“What poor soul did you send up here to haul the girls back? Did you promise them freedom from your twisted experiments?” Vin spat as he flexed his hands again, dried blood flaking to the ground. His stomach clenched as Nicholas’ smile twisted again.

“Pretty good, right?” He stopped his pacing and bent picking up a handful of snow and rolling it between his hands. It started to melt on his palms and Vin’s brows furrowed. If it were an illusion as it should have been the snow wouldn’t melt just the way it did, it should have seemed to sink through the illusion to the hands of the man he was using as his puppet. With horrifying clarity it clicked.

“You’re here…” Vin murmured as his brain scrambled to make sense of how. “You’re actually here.” He stared in horror.

“Now you’re paying attention.” Nicholas purred as he wiped the water from his hands.

“How…” Vin asked quietly as he thought of Vincent dying in his arms, the life being drained from him. He killed him. The voice growled in his head sending a shiver of rage through his arms. Vin wanted to tear him apart with his bare hands if he had to. Nicholas had dismissed Vin as a threat as he began to examine a snow covered branch. The bottom of his long robe brushed the new layer of snow soundlessly, only barely disturbing the freshest layer.

“Spells and experiments weren’t going so well for the longest time...” Nicholas mused as he flicked the branch and watched with interest as the snow fell to pile at his feet. “Centuries actually. And then the little revolution you started was a bit of a set back. Once the masters got the majority of your kind back under thumb my supply of willing test subjects dwindled significantly.” His eyes trailed back to Vin and they were hard, hatred gleaming. “You could say that was when I set out to destroy everything in your life in earnest.” He blinked away the look in his eyes and turned to examine the now bare branch with decidedly less interest.

Vin listened silently, his chest heaving with anger. His breath came out in thick clouds that dissipated slowly. The voice inside him urged him to fight, to kill and he took a step forward. Nicholas flicked his hand and Vin stopped dead. Not that he wanted to stop but there were tendrils of force coiled around him and held him there.
“Dear Vintgar... I’ve spent so long constructing your downfall, please allow me a little time to gloat.” Vin tried to move one more time before relaxing, his rage simmering. The madness inside his head screamed and wanted to throw itself against the restraints, the pressure making his head pound. Instead of throwing himself around like a caged animal, Vin settled for a murderous glare.

“Why my downfall?” He said dangerously low. Nicholas shrugged a shoulder as he folded his arms behind his back and began pacing. His demeanor suggested he was getting ready for a long lecture.

“I hate your kind for your gifts.” He said flatly clearly exposing the statement for the lie it was.

“I find that extremely hard to believe with all you’ve done” Vin spat briefly testing the restraining force around him and as he expected it held firm.

“Ah, well you’ve got me there.” Nicholas chuckled. “ You’ve lived so long that you’ve forgotten everything.” He shook his head as he stopped his mindless pacing. The hem of his robe slid soundlessly across the now trampled snow becoming wet and muddy.

“Not as long as you.” Vin spat with as much menace as he could. Caged as he was the venom in his voice fell short of threatening.

“Ah...” Nicholas cooed as he raised a finger at the thought. “Or so you think.”

“So, what?” Vin scoffed and absently tried to throw his hands up in exasperation, biting back a growl when his body remained motionless. “This was your plan? To talk me to death? I don’t know about you but that seems pretty anticlimactic.”

“You’re incredibly impatient, you know that?” Nicholas tsk’ed but a heat flared in his eyes that told Vin that he was getting under his skin. “I’m just amazed that you don’t remember anything of your up bringing.”

Vin sighed softly, rolling his eyes. “Please just get to it. Did I lose you money on a Pit bet? That seems a bit petty if you ask me.” The heat flared in Nicholas’ gaze again and this time it took him a moment to compose himself. “Money... is the least possible factor in all of this. No...” He bared his teeth as his glare turned murderous. “No... is a far far more grievous wrong done to me and mine. And I swore that I would end you and yours.”

“Out with it then so we can get to the killing, and at this point I don’t care if it’s you or me that dies.” At this point Vin was trying to get Nicholas to lose his grip on his magic, but it only seemed to make it stronger.

“Out with it? Yes lets have it out then.” Nicholas growled. “You’re just like your father, impatient and hot headed.” He muttered as his hands swung up and the tendrils of force squeezed a little tighter.”

“Well I wouldn’t know, never met the man myself. Must’ve been a real bastard to have you this mad after a couple of centuries.” Another quip received another burst of violent anger and the tendrils started to feel like a living squirming creature trying to kill him slowly.

“Oh, how much of our history has been forgotten.” Nicholas sighed with mock nostalgia, his rage having cooled into a simmering anger. “You know of course I’m considered an ancient demon because I am part of the elite few that have artfully survived the millennia. I’ve seen many a demon even take their own lives out of sheer boredom, it really is a long time to live in the dark you know. Made from the blackest nothing only to wallow in it.” Nicholas took a deep breath and let it out slowly, all of Vin’s poking and prodding washed away with a cloud of breath on the cold air. Nicholas seemed more bitter than angry now and Vin felt his stomach drop ever so slightly as the pressure lessened around him. He wasn’t free just yet but he felt as if his chance to break free by unfocusing Nicholas had passed. He could imagine the monster in his head pacing back and forth wanting to test the unbreakable cage but knowing better than to try. He wished he could at least pace now, standing here motionless was killing him by itself.

“And then you all started your experiments trying to get out of the shadows. It’s an old but well told tale.” Vin said.

“Yes, that is a well crafted tale indeed. One of my generations finest works in fiction.”

“Fiction?” Vin asked before he could think. His curiosity had gotten the better of him this time.

“Oh yes. You know how it goes, to the winners go the history books. Every culture has done it since the beginning of time, even your beloved vampires.” Nicholas scoffed and shook his head as if correcting a student. “You see your father was an ancient, unable to move between worlds... stuck in the darkness like the rest of us. Nothing special really, just a peer.”

Vin wasn’t sure if he was really hearing what was being said or he was imagining it. No one was able to tell him anything about his father from the time he was young. To him it had seemed he’d simply appeared as a young adult with no past and his only future had been surviving his next fight. Even the voice inside him seemed to silence itself to listen, it’s interest piqued. When Vin hadn’t said anything to this news Nicholas continued.

“Well, peer might be an overstatement. Races of demons were just as diverse as they are now. I am more the fire sort...” He flicked his fingers in a show of power and embers fell, hissing through the snow. “And you a Darkling. Ugh even your species name is boring, it literally means that you are made from the dark. No imagination.” He rambled as he started pacing again, his foot falls now treading through the mud where snow had melted.

“Anyway, because of the literal meaning of the name most of them thought they were above others and took slaves. They bought and sold, raised and bred my kind. Like we were animals.” His voice trailed off as memories flitted past his eyes. Vin could see him recounting the years of captivity.

“Even killed entire clans because of one small fault, like if they didn’t have the right amount of power or skills. Entire families slaughtered in the blink of an eye.” At this Nicholas’ lips pressed into a thin line with anger again. “I was owned by your father...” He spat the word as if it were foul tasting.

“As was my family. My mate and our children served him for quite some time...” He said matter-of-factly and Vin could see him walling off as much emotion as he could, only letting the anger shine through. “We were apparently too much to worry about when his own child arrived...” Nicholas’ voice cracked and he cleared his throat. “I was the only one that was spared.. if you want to call it that. I escaped with my life but my world had burnt down around me.”

“So, my father was a bastard... How is that my fault? How was that my son’s fault?” Vin interrupted as his anger started to boil over again. Nicholas ignored him and turned his back to face the sun streaked courtyard.

“I helped start the rebellion that flipped things around... just like you almost did when you got out of the Pit. But I stayed and fought for my kind, I didn’t flee to another realm to hide behind lesser beings.” He faced Vin again and raised an eyebrow daring him to deny it. “So to the winners go the history. Most of the Darklings were wiped out and those that remained were very young, like you were.”

“So the slaves became the masters and we were kept ignorant.” Vin finished softly as he pressed against his restraints again and found them a little looser than before. Nicholas was loosing focus the more he talked.

“For someone that claims to have been kept ignorant you are quite astute. Yes, others took over things and some took rule of their own little corner of the darkness. But the joy of that only lasted so long when we discovered that some how the younger generations of Darklings could travel the shadows and escape the hell that had always been home.”

“Let me guess, that’s when your experiments started.” Vin said blandly as he tried to move his arm.

“Oh yes, they started with you. But you had used your natural born talent to slip through my grasp after only a few years. By the time I heard of your Pit fights, you’d caused a riot and disappeared. When I poisoned your son I knew it was only a matter of time til you came to make a deal. That living death spell was hell to perfect but it worked quite nicely.”

The mention of his son sent the blood pounding through Vin’s head and the growling voice boomed in his ears with a snarl. RIP HIM APART. Vin again tried to fight against this invisible prison to no affect, only the strain in his face belied his efforts. Nicholas either ignored it or didn’t notice what was going on outside his own story.

“Imagine my glee when your little carbon copy came to me to find and bring you back. Anyway, from there it was just a matter of finding you and he did quite well in that. Even had the added bonus of him actually getting the spell right.” Nicholas scoffed, smiling as if it were an inside joke that Vin didn’t get. At this point Vin could feel his insides boiling with rage. He had reached a point that he was so angry that he became calm, watchful of Nicholas’ every move. He ignored the searing pain behind his eyes, the pain of every half healed wound throbbing with hell fire. Vin walled off the pain and gritted his teeth hard, making his jaw ache. Finally Nicholas glanced back at his captive and raised an eyebrow before a smile curved his lips. He was taunting Vin and taking severe pleasure out of it. It was his final jab before the conclusion of his centuries old plan came to fruition. He was savoring every little reaction he got. Vin didn’t know what pissed him off more, the fact that he’d been caught off guard by this ass hat or that he was unable to do anything about it but stare at him while he slowly talked him to death.

“Is the talking portion of this game over now?” Vin muttered low and dangerous. Nicholas shook his head disappointed and sighed softly. He seemed to be disappointed by the fact that Vin kept interrupting his long rehearsed speech.
“Are you in that big of a hurry to die? While I’d rather enjoy my plans coming to an end, I don’t mind just crushing the life out of you now.” With his last emphasized word Nicholas fisted his hand and squeezed it tight. Vin’s prison crushed in around him with a force that earned a snarl of pain against his will.

“I was postponing the inevitable with my, shall we call it, verbal autobiography. I just thought it would be a nice little interlude to the blood and gore to follow.”

Vin could barely hear Nicholas’ softly spoken words over the sound of his blood rushing to his head. If the crushing force continued Vin was sure that he’d soon be a black splatter on the snow. But then the force lessened and he took a deep breath as the blood draining from his head made him dizzy.

“But no, if this is torturing you I’d rather continue. I like to see the pain on your face when I talk about your son and how you’re alive just because he died for you.” Nicholas grinned as Vin winced with the feeling of a dagger being plunged into his chest. With how painful it was he expected to look down and see an actual knife sticking out of him, but it was just the phantom pain of his loss. A pitiful sob broke from him and it made Nicholas chuckle. The chuckle was what did Vin in. He could feel the rage and heat rising within himself again. Darkness started to pulse out of him in visible waves, extending far beyond his prison. The monster inside took notice and joined in with a growl of anticipation, adding to the power building inside him. Nicholas’ brows furrowed as he stood up straighter, his condescending grin falling from his face. With each beat of his heart Vin pushed the darkness further from himself, and felt his binding loosen. Hope sprang to the forefront of his mind as Nicholas took a step back, his fear flitting through his rounded eyes for only a moment but that was all Vin needed to see to re-double his effort.

Pictures of Vincent laying cold and lifeless on the ground before him pushed the rage up another notch even as memories of him as a boy threatened to break him. His grief fueled his rage more than anything ever could, and this was how he was going to shatter his bonds. A memory surfaced that almost brought him to his knees. Vincent smiling at him the last time he’d seen him as a boy, telling him he’d see him soon. Vin screamed in rage and like glass the tendrils of force shattered around him with an explosion of darkness pulsing from him. His chest heaved from the exertion but he was long given over to the monster madness that had until now been caged in his mind. He looked up from furrowed brows and his eyes glowed not only with the rage that came forth but with power of the darkness he harnessed. The monster was loose and there was no more reigning him in. Vin shuttered as he took a heavy step forward. His body responded sluggishly at first, the monster getting used to his freedom. Nicholas was muttering incantations to himself as he kept backing away. The ancient demon was terrified, he hadn’t expected Vin to tap into anything as powerful as this. Vin reached out with a hand with his fingers clawed, still twenty feet from the arrogant demon and Nicholas’ words cut off with a gurgle his fingers clawing at invisible hands around his throat. A feral grin curved Vin’s lips as he lifted and swung his arm with a jerk, effectively slamming Nicholas’ flailing body into the side of the house. With a thunderous noise stone cracked and windows shuttered in their sills. A splatter of blood left an interesting and satisfying work of art on the carved stones. He pulled his arm his arm back to do it again but something stopped him. The softest noise of crunching snow under foot made him turn to see Edie standing there, her hands glowing with power of her own, her eyes brimming with unshod tears. The monster withdrew infinitesimally, just enough to let Vin think as it kept Nicholas held aloft.

“Edie?” Vin questioned huskily, his voice raw with emotion. She met his eyes briefly and the look passing between them was one of shared pain and a tear escaped her lashes to roll down her pale cheek. A mother’s wrath is something to fear, Nicholas knew this and started to struggle with renewed vigor as blood poured down his face.

“Mine...” She rasped as she took a hard step forward. The thud of her foot the only sound pounding through the silence. Vin watched as another silver tear trailed down her cheek, glowing with the power that was overflowing from her. She looked from Vin to Nicholas and her eyes hardened again as she lifted her hands with an intricate gesture. She was using a very old form of spell casting that was rarely used any more, it was too hard to perfect but when it was, it was devastating. The soft purple glow deepened around her fingertips and with no more thought or effort she completed the spell form and looked up at Nicholas, her face never changing from the hard mask and she uttered a single word to release the spell. Cold black and purple tendrils snaked out from around her and to Nicholas. He tried to scream as his eyes bulged in terror. The tendrils seeped into the demon and for a moment Vin thought that the spell had failed, nothing had happened. He was preparing to beat Nicholas’ brains into mush against the house again when he managed a gurgled scream. As Vin looked again Nicholas’ body seemed to disappear and he thought that he’d lost his grip on him and he’d run. Then he noticed the spray of demon blood falling to the ground around them in a fine mist. He’d disintegrated, simply blew as if someone had shoved a grenade down his throat. There were no pieces bigger than a drop of blood to be found, nor would there be. Vin would have been lying if he didn’t feel the monster inside his head shrink back a bit in fear. He turned to Edie again. She looked tired but her hard mask hadn’t changed and she didn’t look a him as she turned and walked a few steps, stopping with a silent shudder, the plume of her breath coming out in a sobbing sigh. Vin wasn’t sure if he could bring himself to move now that he’d let the monster take him over but he found it easier to go to Edie than he thought it would be. She’d sat heavily on the edge of the empty fountain, her face empty of emotion and stared at nothing. Vin found himself sitting next to her as his arms went around her shaking body and that was the last of her resolve as she collapsed into him and sobbed into his chest. The monster took a back seat to his grief and Vin closed his eyes silently letting the tears slide freely down his face.

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