Shadow Games

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Chapter 7

Persephone sighed. Her anxiety had started sliding into the background of her thoughts and she looked over the room. She couldn’t actually get up and explore shackled as she was but she roamed as far as her tether would allow. She’d actually started to get annoyed at how long it was taking Nicholas to decide what he was going to do. Persephone just wanted it to be over with already. When there was a creak outside the door she froze and again tried, with the same result as the night before, to wrap shadows around herself. She cursed under her breath and waited for the door to open. When it did she held her breath, but when she saw Kylia standing there it rushed out. Kylia stood there with a raised eyebrow for only a moment before coming into the room and closing the door behind her.

“I’m guessing your captivity has you antsy.” She said with a sad smile.

“I’m torn between dread and impatience.” Persephone breathed as she sat wearily on the edge of the bed.

“Well, fortunately and unfortunately I’ve come to retrieve you for Nicholas.” Again the sad smile as she held up the key that would free Persephone from the damned chain. Persephone’s heart jumped into her throat and for a moment she was unable to breathe.

“What will he do?” She asked when she was able. Kylia looked down at her ankle and motioned for her to raise it up. Doing so, Persephone shook with dread.

“I don’t know, honestly.” Kylia answered plainly. “But I’m sure you’ll have to go through training if you’re to be a servant like myself.”

“Training?” Persephone squeaked as the shackle fell from her leg. Kylia nodded but wouldn’t look at her directly.

“It won’t be easy.” She continued as she went to the door and waited for Persephone to join her.

Persephone felt tears prick at her eyes as she stood, her Converse squeaked on the hardwood floor as she shuffled forward. Everything in her told her to run and hide, anywhere in the shadows, under the bed, in the closet. Anywhere that would keep her far from Nicholas’ reach. But as she stood there staring at the girl she knew she couldn’t run, she’d always be found.

“Does it hurt?” She asked quietly and Kylia turned to open the door but paused.

“Like nothing you’ve ever experienced.” She murmured as she turned the knob and stepped out into the hall. Persephone’s eyes filled with tears and the world blurred. All at once she hated and respected Kylia for telling her the truth. But the truth was going to do her little good when it came down to it.

“Thanks.” She said earnestly but Kylia didn’t respond.

The walk to Nicholas’ chambers was an infinitely long one in Persephone’s mind but in truth it hadn’t even taken five minutes. All she could think of was Kylia’s answer, and the horror it instilled in her. She’d barely noticed that Kylia was hesitating at a large ornate door that lead to Persephone’s fate. The girl knew what was going to happen to Persephone and didn’t want to see her go through it. For this Persephone was grateful. The girl, after going through unimaginable torture at the hands of her master, still could show kindness to someone she barely knew.

“It’s alright.” Persephone whispered to reassure her that she didn’t hold her to blame for merely following orders.

“No… it isn’t.” Kylia said, her voice thick with sadness, and with that she opened the door.

Again Persephone found herself holding her breath but this time there was no rush of relief. When the door opened she saw for the first time, the room that would become her personal hell. It was one of Nicholas’ private rooms, but not his bedroom. The way it was set up it was more of a parlor than an office or conference room. Persephone let her eyes wander over the overstuffed furniture and the dark wood of the floors. She didn’t want to look up to find Nicholas sitting there. She wished she hadn’t spent most the day hoping to get it over with. Persephone would give anything to just wait in Kylia’s room, chained to the wall for the rest of her life. But, she thought to herself, that wouldn’t be a fitting fulfillment of their contract. Bitterly she cursed herself for being so ignorant. No one should ever make deals with ancient demons. They were cruel and as close to the ‘ideal evil’ as one could get. They’d spent centuries thinking of things to waste their time on, and from the horror stories Persephone had heard, they’d become quiet skilled at it.

Kylia bowed her head as soon as she crossed the threshold and quickened her steps to the overstuffed chair that sat mostly in shadow in the dimly lit room. She sat on her knees, placing her hands lightly on her thighs, keeping her eyes lowered. Persephone tilted her head wondering what in the world she was doing when she saw Nicholas watching her.

“Come in.” He commanded and when Persephone crossed the threshold the doors slammed shut behind her. Persephone would have loved to remain composed but the boom of the doors made her jump and cry out. Nicholas laughed.

“Not so brave now, are we?” He said snidely and Persephone bit back a rude comment.

“Oh… come now, don’t be shy.” He said with a smirk as he sat forward. “Come closer.” As he said this he motioned to the empty space of floor next to Kylia. Persephone hesitated but, for fear of retribution, she did as she was told. Unsure what to do she stood there looking at the floor with her hands clasped in front of her to keep them from shaking.

“Well, how has your day been?” Nicholas asked in a conversational yet self-satisfied tone. She didn’t answer, she didn’t know how to answer.

“I asked you a question, girl.” He growled as his nails dug into the arm of the chair and Kylia cringed. Defiance surged up in Persephone seeing the fear he instilled in the girl and she looked him in the eye. This seemed to shock him but he let it go with an amused smirk and waited.

“Long.” She bit out, wishing she’d had better control of her temper.

“Oh? Well I’m sorry my timetable doesn’t suit your ideals.” He murmured sarcastically. “Did you want your training to begin sooner? Shall I clear my schedule?” He asked, sarcasm now dripping from his words. Persephone glared at him as she grasped her hands tighter, but instead of stopping her hands from fidgeting it made her entire body shake. Nicholas didn’t miss this.

“No? I guess you aren’t so prepared to start your new life then.” He chuckled darkly as he sat back again.

“I’d much prefer to go back to my old one, thanks.” Persephone growled. Nicholas laughed without humor and rose to his feet. Immediately Persephone regretted her words and felt her body cringing away from the demon before her.

“Well if that’s how you feel, I think I’ll start your training now.” He said evenly as his eyes glittered with a cruel glee.

“Kylia… fetch my whip.” He murmured. By the way Kylia jumped to her feet and darted across the room to a tall cupboard one might have thought he’d screamed at her.

“The barbed one.” He added and Kylia lowered her head, putting back the one she’d picked up. Persephone thought she’d faint any time from the shear amount of adrenaline that was coursing through her veins. At some point she realized she’d started to sob uncontrollably but somehow stayed where she stood. She wasn’t sure it was from paralyzing fear or from stupidity but either way she wasn’t able to move.

Nicholas held his hand out as Kylia returned, placing a horrifying torture device in it. It was a short thin whip with the smallest barbs decorating it. Kylia didn’t look up as she resumed her place on the floor at his feet.

“Good girl.” He said lightly as he patted her head gently. Kylia didn’t flinch or move as he did so but Persephone could see that she was attempting to hold back the tears that were welling up in her eyes.

“Turn.” Nicholas commanded and when Persephone was unable to obey he growled dangerously.

“I said turn.” He commanded again and when she didn’t move he reached out and grabbed her up by her hair. Her scalp burned and she knew he’d torn chunks of her hair out. She heard herself scream as he twisted her around and forced her to the floor. She was on her knees trying to figure out how to make her body move, to run but nothing worked. Shooting pain climbed her legs from where her knees had struck the floor and her tears poured out even harder. Nicholas reached down and ran his claws roughly down her back tearing her shirt open. Again she screamed as they bit into her flesh and she could feel her blood start to well up into the wound and run down her back. Her head was wrenched back and she could hear Nicholas chuckle darkly. But he didn’t say another word as he raised the whip and brought it down on her bare back.

Fire shot through her as the whip tore open her skin in several places and she cried out. Unable to move she tried to arch away from him to no avail. Again and again he brought the whip back to her skin and again she would scream until her voice was hoarse. Persephone thought she might die if he struck her again. With the pain she had lost track of how many times he’d hit her but by the feel of it, it could have been a million. She could feel the blood run down her back in streams now, surely she was going to die of blood loss. As Nicholas wrenched her head back one final time she could see Kylia still knelt on the floor beside her, spattered with blood as tears streamed down her face. Nicholas leaned down to murmur in her ear.

“And so the fun begins.”

***

Persephone opened her eyes, and for one blissful second she’d forgotten where she was… and what happened. Then the burning ache started in her back again. She had been laid out on her stomach, her face turned to the wall. For a moment she thought someone had pressed hot irons to her back and she gasped a ragged breath.

“Shh.” Came a soft voice and suddenly Persephone’s body tensed against her will. Pain shot through her again and a whimper escaped.

“It’s ok, it’s nothing I’ve not heard before…” Kylia paused then moved into view. Persephone’s eyes were blurry with tears and Kylia was nothing but a silhouette. “You’re more than within your rights to cry.”

“My back is on fire.” Persephone croaked then buried her face in the pillow. She felt Kylia sit on the bed next to her and gently move her hair aside.

“I know, trust me... I know. But with my vast, unfortunate, experience comes remedies that might help.” Kylia’s weight left the bed again and Persephone heard her moving around the bedroom and the clinking of glass bottles. She didn’t care, all she could focus on was the searing pain that radiated down her back.

Persephone tried to stay as still as possible but it didn’t do much help. Every breath she took was another stab of pain and she felt her wounds weep. It felt as if Kylia was rummaging around forever but when she came back, Persephone tensed. After the new wave of nauseating pain passed she turned her head to the side again. She could see Kylia’s eyes meeting hers. For a moment she got lost in them, realizing they were a dark brown with gold and green flecks making them brighter than they should have been. Kylia was stalling for the moment as she knelt down next to the bed to be face to face with Persephone.

“I’m sorry but this is going to sting.”

Persephone blinked slowly and steeled herself for what was to come. The fiery pain was already too much for her and she was preparing to experience it more.

“Ok.” She choked out before opening her eyes again to look at Kylia’s solemn face. Kylia reached up gently and grasped Persephone’s hand that was resting close to her face. Persephone squeezed her hand maybe a little harder than she’d intended to but Kylia didn’t flinch and only held her tighter.

“It’ll be ok…” She reassured Persephone again but didn’t say another word as she poured a thick liquid onto the raw wounds. Persephone kept her eyes locked on Kylia’s, her hand turned white with the pressure she’d applied. A scream built in Persephone’s chest as the wounds burned anew and she clamped her jaw until she thought her teeth might shatter. Kylia looked like she was in as much pain as Persephone as she poured on the torturous liquid until the last drop was gone and she set the jar aside. Persephone ground her teeth as the pain worked itself deeper, until it felt like her entire body was on fire. She tried to keep from screaming but it was too much for her and it burst out in the form of a blood curdling sob. With her free hand, Kylia reached up and stroked Persephone’s hair as she poured out every ounce of pain in her crying sobs. Every jerk, gasp and then sob relit the fire burning through her body.

“Shh... I know… I know, it’ll be ok.” Kylia murmured, knowing it wouldn’t help but tried to comfort her anyway. Persephone couldn’t stop her crying or the pressure with which she’d been crushing Kylia’s hand, the only thing she could do was watch Kylia’s sad eyes and try to remain conscious.

“I know it hurts, but by the time it’s done it’ll be almost halfway healed.”

Persephone held on to Kylia as if she were her only anchor to the world and cried as the fire swept through her.

***

Serina avoided any and all of her brother’s questions as she sat waiting for others to join them. She looked around as Patrick gave up with an exhausted sigh and leaned against the edge of the table, his arms crossed moodily.

“Why am I always out of the loop?” He complained under his breath as he sulked. Serina tried not to smile but her brother’s playful moodiness was too much. She tried to hide her face but he saw it and smiled too. He was too happy to see his sister, his twin, smile again.

Neither of them spoke but instead of their usual awkward silence it was comfortable, more like brother and sister for once.

Patrick couldn’t help but feel like there had been a weight lifted from the entire house. Serina was smiling again and he didn’t care why or who caused it, he was getting his sister back little by little.

“Well I’m bored.” Serina breathed.

“Patience has never been your virtue.” Patrick murmured wryly and gave her a lopsided grin. Serina rolled her eyes and pushed up from the table.

“Well why acquire it now? I’m set in my ways.” She said as she walked across the room to the doors. They had been waiting for Vin and James to return to the house. They’d left at twilight to do god knows what and let Serina sleep.

“Where you going?” He asked as he stood and she waved over her shoulder dismissively.

“Out.” Was all she said as she left the room and closed the doors behind her. Patrick just sat down again with a huff and looked around.

“Guess I’ll just… sit here, talking to myself.”

Serina heard her brother and giggled softly as she walked out the front doors. She took a deep breath, filling her lungs with the crisp night air. The full moon and stars glowed and she tried to find the constellations she’d memorized as a child. She brought her head down and looked towards the cars that were pulled up alongside the drive. Servants would bring out a few of James’ cars every night in case anyone or James himself needed to take one. Serina thought about taking one and seeing what she could get into, but decided against it. She loped down the stairs with no particular destination in mind, she just wanted to walk. She listened to the crunch of the driveway’s gravel under her feet and took in the velvety shadows that surrounded her. She could step into them and bounce around the world but being home was what she wanted. So she stayed on the mortal plain and took in the sights sounds and damp smells of the night. She rounded the house and opened the gate to the backyard.

Backyard really wasn’t the right term for the massive acreage that was attached to the back of the house. She glanced to the large empty space where there was still no grass growing. Three years after Sam’s funeral pyre and the earth still mourned. A stab of pain brought her to a stumbling halt as phantom flames sprang up from the ground. She blinked as the memory of the smell drifted on the breeze and was surprised to find tears hadn’t welled up. It was a good thing, or so she told herself. It was a good thing that she didn’t lose her mind at the thought of Sam, or his death. It was a very good thing that she was gaining some kind of sanity.

Serina smiled sadly and turned away from the bare ground and into the thin stand of trees that edged the grass. It wasn’t a long walk to her destination but she stretched it out. She hadn’t dared go out there since the first time Sam had been assumed dead. She felt brave and as her feet carried her through the towering trees and she found they weren’t as weighted as she thought they would be. As they began to thin out the sky appeared above her again. It opened up into, what she’d once considered, a magical place. Rounded rocks had been placed around the edges of a large spring fed pool of water. Decorative trees were illuminated by soft fairy lights where lightning bugs would dance lazily in the warmer months. The memories that she’d blocked out for longer than she cared to remember came flowing through her. The one that sprang fore front was a happy memory, but because it was so happy it made it that much more sad. She walked around the edge of the water from rock to rock until she got to a specific one and stared down at it for a long moment as phantom voices floated forward from her memories. She smiled as she sat down and ran the tips of her fingers across the glassy surface of the water.

Serina stepped through the trees and saw Sam sitting there on the edge of the pond talking to himself. She smiled and strolled up behind him. She was trying to hear what he was saying, but he heard her and jumped. Turning around he nearly fell into the water.

You afraid of an errant wild animal or something?” Serina giggled as she squatted down and brushed his long blonde hair from his face. She was surprised to see that he was blushing.

I see you got my note.” He murmured as he stood up almost knocking her backward in his haste. She looked up at him as she slowly stood straight, wondering what he was up to. Suspicious, she glanced around then back at him.

What’s going on?” She asked as she took a step back to see his face clearly.

What? No, nothing is going on… well not exactly.” Sam fidgeted. He stopped when he realized what he was doing and grabbed her hands. Serina looked at him with her brows furrowed but let him lead her to the seat he’d vacated.

Sam…” Serina started but Sam hushed her and she quirked an eyebrow.

Serina…” He started and both her eyebrows went up at his formal use of her name.

Seri.” He corrected and gave her a smile that soon vanished with the reappearance of the nervous, thoughtful expression.

Seri, I love you. I love you so much I think I’d die without you. You’re my everything, and… and I want it to be that way.” He rambled and his feet moved restlessly until he was pacing. Serina opened her mouth to say something but she was quieted by Sam’s hand held up to stop her. He knelt down and gathered her hands in his again meeting her eyes. She backed up, the dubious look on her face making Sam more nervous.

I know that it’s been an interesting few years here, and that you take your position very seriously.” Sam shook his head and closed his eyes trying to get his thoughts in order. He opened them again and looked her in the eye, determined to say the right thing.

I want you, always. I want you to be my wife.” He blurted as his face flushed and she could tell he was holding his breath.

Serina wanted to laugh at his pained but hopeful expression and a little part of her wanted to see how long he’d hold his breath. To say it had taken her by surprise was an understatement and now it was her turn to fidget. Marriage had never been discussed nor did she think she had wanted it before. But now as she sat watching her lover wait for her answer with literally bated breath it seemed like the next step she never knew she wanted. He’d not really asked her, he’d just stated that that’s what he wanted so she wasn’t sure if this was a discussion or a proposal. When she tilted her head Sam realized his error and his breath rushed out.

Serina will you marry me?” He asked, stumbling over his words, unable to catch his breath as he held her hands tight. Serina blinked as she looked from their hands and back to his hopeful face. Again that little part of her wanted to make him wait just a little longer but the smile that was curling her lips communicated her answer more clearly than her words.

Yes.” She barely got the single syllable word out before Sam was hugging her so tight that she could barely breathe. As she hugged him back their balance was thrown off and they both went tumbling into the water.

Serina was pulled from the memory as water splashed her face and she looked across the pond. In the reflection she could see a dark figure watching her. She knew it was Alec and she could feel her stomach tighten. Part of her was pissed that her happy memory, one she could think on without pain, was interrupted but the other was elated to see him there.

“You look lost in thought.” He said quietly as he stepped down from the rock he had been standing on. He strolled around the water and through the tall grass lazily, careful not to misstep and fall into the water.

“Memories.” She murmured as she flicked the water off her fingers and watched the ripples run into one another, warping the moon’s reflection. She wondered why he could elicit such honest and unevasive responses from her. Alec smiled as he clasped his hands behind his back and stood where Sam once had paced waiting for her answer.

“From the looks of it, happy ones.” He rolled his shoulders and let his hands fall loosely to his sides. Serina watched him taking in his black jacket and the little silver buckles that caught the moon light. She didn’t want to look at his face for fear of getting drawn in again.

“They were. For a long time I didn’t dare to think on them, and now it’s easy.” She mentally kicked herself for letting him in a little more when she couldn’t do the same with her family.

“Oh?” He breathed as he squatted down to be face to face with her. She finally had to look up to see his face and immediately regretted it as she found herself lost for words.

“Yeah, I guess it’s not as painful anymore.” She murmured as she tried to find a way to sit comfortably.

“Time heals all wounds.” He shrugged and rested his forearms on his knees watching her with a grin.

“A lot of time apparently.” She brushed off the feelings she got from his grin and tried to detach herself from them.

“Larger wounds require more healing.” His ghostly eyes moved away from her and gazed out over the water and she saw him without the arrogant, cocky attitude and her heart thudded against her ribs.

As she watched him she noticed that not only was he beautiful but he looked sad. The way he acted in the presence of others was something he’d honed so well that they could never see past it to the man that was hiding there. Serina felt as though she was getting a peek through a chink in his armor and looked away. She didn’t want to learn anything about him that he wasn’t ready to divulge. And like that, the moment was over and Alec’s smirk reappeared.

“What were you thinking about?” He asked as he leaned back and sat in the grass. Serina watched as he got comfortable stretching his legs out straight and crossing his ankles.

“The last time I was here.” Serina looked around the pond and at how it hadn’t changed at all in so many years.

“When was that?” He asked as he watched her move in and out of her memories again.

“When Sam asked me to marry him.” She didn’t want to recount the memory that had made her smile. It was her personal happy place, or at least it was now. She found herself feeling more exposed than she had in years and it wasn’t as uncomfortable as she remembered it being. She moved her eyes back to Alec and gave him a smile.

“Wow.” He grinned as he shook his head. His hair moved with the motion and the moon reflected from it.

“What?” Her brows furrowed.

“The mysterious Serina Belaren actually smiles. I’d heard stories about how she used to but that she’d lost the ability.” Alec quirked his eyebrow as he leaned forward again and she didn’t fail to notice that he was infinitely closer to her now.

“I had, for a little while. It seems that I’m slowly remembering how.” Serina didn’t know what to do with herself so she stayed still as he moved closer again.

“It’s a fascinating thing to witness.” He murmured as he watched her lips curl up in a smile again. Her nerves forgotten Serina rolled her eyes as her smile widened of its own volition.

“I didn’t know I was that terribly interesting.” She murmured as he moved. But she barely noticed because as he did he placed his hands on either side of her face gently. In her shock she stared into his blank eyes, only half thinking about how soft his hands were against her skin.

“Trust me, you’re very interesting.” Alec whispered and Serina felt his breath brush her lips only moments before his lips did.

It was a more chaste kiss than Serina had been thinking about but it still packed a punch. When he pulled back she was finding it hard to catch her breath. She licked her lips and found herself wanting more but as he sat back again and stretched his legs out she inwardly sighed. She finally calmed her breathing enough to be able to speak and when she did she sounded more confident than she’d been around him before.

“What was that for?” She asked as she brushed her hair off her shoulder and looked him in the eyes again. Serina knew she’d lost her confidence but with this new development along with her ability to recall memories painlessly, she was finding it easier to slip back into herself. It felt good to feel confident, strong and if she had to admit it, sexy again. Alec watched her unfold from herself as her confidence returned little by little and he smirked.

“I’ve wanted to do that since I walked into your father’s conference room.” He drawled and gave her another self-satisfied smile that was less arrogant and more truthful.

“I must have made quite an impact.” Serina breathed and she couldn’t help but smile. This time it was more arrogant. She couldn’t help feeling damn good about making such an impact on him when she herself fought not to squirm on their first meeting. She was pleased that she had as much effect on him as he did on her. Serina found it ironic that she was attracted to death and he to someone willing to die. She wasn’t sure if that was a good or bad thing but at the moment it was hard to care.

“You did, but also you presented a challenge.” He laid back on his elbows and looked up at the stars. Serina frowned as she sat forward.

“Challenge?” She snapped.

“Yes, you’ve been cut off for so long that you seemed to have lost all interest in the opposite sex. I thought I could interest you.” He brought his eyes down from the stars and smiled at her but this time Serina could only furrow her brow. A new thought was dawning and it was one that would make her violent if it were true. Serina was hoping he hadn’t used her to prove his sexual prowess. This, on one of her good days, would make her at least want to castrate him. Alec noted her facial expression and his smile faded. He realized what he’d sounded like and jumped up. Serina could see the panic flit through his eyes as he tried to remain his confident self but it was slipping and the real Alec shone through.

“No… that’s not what I meant. I don’t want to prove anything to anyone. Yes, I did hear about you from others but they were only stories and I wanted to meet you for myself. I didn’t know I’d be drawn to you for some reason. I was just curious.”

“Curious? Well, have you satisfied your curiosity, Alec?” Serina spat at him with an icy glare. Alec reached out to touch her again but she moved her face away from his out stretched hand.

“I don’t think I’ll ever satisfy my curiosity where you’re concerned.” He murmured as he lowered his hand. “I don’t know why that is.”

Serina watched him with a guarded look then shrugged a shoulder.

“You’re death incarnate and I’ve been tempting you for a long time.”

Alec’s eyebrows shot up as he leaned back again a troubled look crossing his eyes.

“You’ve given it a lot of thought.” He laid back on his elbows again and let his fingers pick at the grass. Serina folded her legs under her as she shrugged a shoulder again.

“It seemed logical. I’ve tempted fate and risked my life more times than I can count. Why wouldn’t I be attracted to the thing I once wished for.”

“I’m a thing now?” He joked as he picked a small flower that was hidden in the grass. He twirled it between his thumb and index finger as he watched Serina.

“I’m not exactly sure what you are. I just know I’m intrigued.” She joked as she rested her elbows on her knees.

“Well at least I’ve caught your attention… for whatever reason.” He muttered as he pushed up again and got to his feet.

“Who says you’ll keep my attention?” She asked defiantly as she looked up at him. Again the self-satisfied, arrogant smirk donned his face. His dark skin didn’t show much but when he smiled Serina could see the little crinkle at the corner of his eyes.

“Serina… Bella Mia… I will make you mine.” The confidence he said this with sent shivers down her spine and she smirked at him.

“Is that so?” She was relieved that her shiver didn’t reflect in her voice. She wanted to be more defiant than she felt. At that moment she might have done anything he asked, gladly. Alec seemed to already know this as he curled forward, crossing the short distance between them. The way she felt, Serina could have vanished from shear nervousness but she somehow found a sliver of courage and stayed where she was. Not only stayed but stared his ghostly eyes down with haughty defiance.

Alec leaned down, his lips inches from hers and stayed there. Serina wanted to cross those few inches and claim his lips, but again she didn’t move a muscle as her upturned eyes stared into his. He looked back with amusement as his lips turned up in a grin that forced her muscles to tense.

“And I always get what I want…” He inched closer, half the original distance. Serina opened her mouth to continue the banter but before she could draw breath Alec kissed her again.

Serina was stunned, her retort sticking in her throat. She soon gave into this kiss, which was less chaste than the first by a long shot. It was what she had wanted the first time. It was soft but rough… heat, passion and lust rolled up into one head spinning kiss. A kiss that lead to another and another until Alec backed up abruptly and licked his lips slowly. Serina pushed up after him wanting more of him but stopped short and watched him catch his breath.

“You are intriguing, Bella MIA.” He murmured as he straightened the cuffs of his jacket and smiled. Serina looked up at him her eyes shining with lust as her breath rushed in and out of her. She wondered how he could be so calm but she could see her emotions reflected back at her from his pale eyes.

“By what I can see I’m piquing more than your curiosity.” Serina smiled sweetly as she crossed her arms and cocked her hip. Her stance was meant to show off her body nonchalantly and it was something she hadn’t done for anyone since Sam. She knew he notice by the way his eyes roved over her and she felt a warm sensation spreading through her. She wasn’t blushing but her face felt hot. By the way he looked at her she knew they were on the same train of thought.

“I liked the fidgety you, but this new confidence I have to say is quite pleasing also.” Alec crossed his arms over his chest, mirroring how she was standing without cocking his hip. Serina giggled softly and shook her head as she stood straight again.

“Nothing new, just becoming my old self again.” She murmured as she walked around him and back under the trees. Alec watched her without moving.

“Well I like the old you too.” He murmured to himself and heard her giggle in response.

***

Vin sat back and watched James and Elira stare one another down.

“It doesn’t work that way.” Elira chided as she tossed her cards onto the table. James frowned comically as he rubbed the back of his head.

“Why the hell not?” He said with a smirk breaking through his frown.

They had been playing poker as they talked. At first Vin found this annoying when they’d arrived. But he then realized that James had brought him along on a previously planned night with Elira.

Be that as it may…’ The voice in his head whispered and absently Vin thought it sounded like Jafar, the cartoon version. ’You need to be out there, killing… eating… destroying.’ Vin brushed away the voice’s tantalizing ideas with a huff and started playing cards. They hadn’t discussed much past Vin retelling his story and what the current events were. Elira was acting more than normal, for any normal day but you could see the tension written on her face. She was playing cards on the outside but inwardly she was going through names and faces of the Otherworld. She was distracted even as she kept up with the game and conversation.

“Because you can’t have a royal flush without a king.” She murmured as she took up the cards and shuffled them without showing her hand.

“I am the king, baby.” James growled playfully as he tossed the last of his cards into the middle for her to scoop up.

“I remember.” Elira said as a playful smile curled her lip. Neither of them paid much attention to Vin as he sat there, feeling mildly intrusive.

I wonder…’ The voice chimed from the back of his mind. ‘I wonder if you could take their souls before they had time to react…’ Vin’s eyes moved between the other two calculating the distance and time it would take to do it. It was a possibility but Vin shook off the feeling rising up inside him

Shut up. Vin told the voice to which it answered him with a hissing laugh and made him think of a thousand slithering snakes. That alone made Vin’s skin want to get up and crawl away.

It was just an innocent question… I bet you could do it, why don’t you try?’

I won’t do it, you can’t make me.

I AM you, you idiot.’

Vin didn’t know what to think about that. He didn’t know when it started but he had fully embraced that he was now talking to a sentient part of himself that was residing in his subconscious. What he formerly considered his madness was now the voice inside his head. That didn’t make it any less crazy, just easier to talk to apparently. He sighed softly and accepted that he’d never be right again. One day he’d have to figure out why his inner voice, the one arguing with his insanity, had a heavy southern twang. Vin moved and looked around again as the two in front of him were absolutely undressing each other with their eyes. To say he felt uncomfortable would have been an understatement. He cleared his throat and neither looked his way.

“If it was Nicholas that took Persephone we need to know why and if she’s still alive.” Elira finally glanced his way and her eyes magnified the seriousness of her statement.

“I very much wish her to be alive, but I don’t know what state you’ll find her in if he’s taken her as one of his own.”

Vin sat forward as he placed his hands carefully on the table. With his inner crazies vying for a spot on the outside he couldn’t take chances with his anger.

“What do you mean?” He said as calmly as he could but his voice shook.

“I mean he’s a cruel and vindictive man. If she made any kind of deal with him she’s fucked and not in a good way. He collects the woman that don’t fulfill their deals with him…” She let her words trail off to the imagination.

“She wouldn’t make a deal… I mean why?” Vin asked more of himself than James and Elira but even as he asked the question he was starting to guess at the answer.

“She was trying to save me…” He murmured to himself again.

“Save you?” James sat back and crossed his arms over his chest. Vin had trouble meeting his eyes but he did and found that James was waiting for the answer.

“I went a little into the darkness when Vincent woke me.” Vin murmured his son’s name as the villain like voice snarled in the back of his head.

“A little?” Elira asked quietly. “The way I heard it, it was more of a killing spree.”

Vin blinked as he looked back at Elira, the corner of her mouth curled up into an apologetic smile. He hadn’t known word had spread but there must have been others creeping in the shadows the night he let himself go over the edge.

“Maybe a little more than a little.” He admitted as he rubbed the back of his head. “Anyways, she was extremely adamant that she be able to help me.”

“How would she be able to help you exactly?” James chimed in as Elira simply nodded. James barely remembered the girl they were talking about let alone the abilities she had. Elira cleared her throat quietly and shuffled the deck as she sat back and crossed her legs.

“The short of it is she’s a living filter. She can take away the pain, darkness and all the bad stuff that stains a soul and filter it out into the universe.”

James raised his eyebrows and let out a low whistle. “Well then… that seems awfully powerful for such a tiny girl.” He crossed and uncrossed his arms trying to imagine what it would take to draw things out of people’s souls.

“Yeah, she can do a lot.” Vin murmured as he listened to the voice chuckle at him.

“But even for her it would’ve been difficult.” Elira added thoughtfully.

“What do you mean?” James asked, voicing Vin’s question.

“She can’t take that much away, she’d need... help.” She let the thought trail off and again Vin’s jaw tightened.

“That would be a reason to make a deal.” He growled. James looked between the two demons, his brows drawn down in confusion. Elira caught the look and her lips tightened into a thin line.

“She needed a power boost.” She explained with the patience of a teacher. James nodded his understanding.

“So?” He asked and waited fro more explanation.

“I don’t think either of you get it… after my father, Nicholas has the most power, legally.” Elira emphasized the importance of what she was saying by setting the cards down harder than necessary.

“What do you mean legally?” James asked and scoffed as he leaned his arms on the table.

“I mean he has his hands in a little of everything. A little slave trading, a little backing of different factions. It doesn’t matter what it is, if he feels he’ll profit he’ll have his hand in it. Every demon, if they’re smart knows better than to cross him.” She pointedly looked at Vin and he lowered his eyes.

“So Vin got his ass handed to him and lost his son…” James paused and looked at Vin. “I’m sorry man.”

Vin murmured something along the lines of ‘it’s ok’ without looking up and James continued.

“Then when someone tried to save Vin they were taken. Seems like a little of this revolves around one central point.”

“Vin.” Elira muttered as she rested a finger across her lips in thought.

“But why?” Vin asked as he sighed and rubbed his eyes. “Why am I so damned important? I’m just a Darkling that got out of the pit. It’s not like I’m the only one that ever did that.”

James shrugged. “Maybe it’s not what you did but what you could do.”

“All I want to do is get a little revenge for my son and get Persephone back. Hopefully in one fell swoop. Past that I have no idea what grand plans Nicholas has. I just want things put right.” Vin knew he was rambling but he didn’t care. He was already responsible for his son’s death now maybe even Persephone’s.

“Well we’ll have to see what Lawrence says.” Elira muttered as she pulled out her phone and let her fingers fly over the buttons as she texted.

“Who?” Vin and James asked in unison. She paused before looking up.

“You really didn’t think that we were just having a fun little get together to play cards did you? I sent word to a friend of mine to check into any rumors, whispers or goings on in the Otherworld. Just waiting for him to get back to me.”

James nodded and gave her a pleased smile. Elira had definitely paid attention to her father’s household and even more so in her time with him. She was running things the way he would have and James found it interesting.

“It hasn’t been too long since we’ve been here, how much could he have really gotten into?”

Vin was anxious, he couldn’t think past getting more information now.

“He’s good with the murmurs. My father’s used him for information a time or two.” Elira said absently as she snapped her phone shut and tossed it on the table. Vin’s eyes were glued to the blank screen as he hoped he’d hear something, anything.

Just track down Nicholas yourself. You can get to him, and if you die trying at least you’d be where you’re supposed to be.’

Shut up. Vin was talking to himself again but it was becoming second nature.

“How long does he usually take? We’ve only been here a few hours.” James asked as he checked his watch then opened his phone to check for any messages. He had a few people on the mortal side keeping their ears to the ground and he hadn’t heard anything either.

“He’s not going to just get the info and run. He has to do a lot of nonchalant inquiries. He doesn’t want to call attention to his investigation.” Elira leaned forward and started picking up cards one by one and flipping them over just for something to do. James watched her hands as she did this and shook his head.

“Sometimes I miss the days when we did all of our own work. When we got out in the field and tracked down the rumors. Not to mention little rendezvous in dark alleys with informants.” His eyes weren’t seeing what was going on in the room any more, his little half smile curled his lips as he thought of days gone by. Elira laughed softly and shook her head.

“Oh yes… your secret little meetings in the shadows. Wasn’t Blinx a product of one of those?” Elira’s eyes cut to him.

Vin could see that she was teasing him but the hurt was still there, hidden behind her smirk. Elira had defied her kind by falling for James and he’d taken it for granted at one time or another. She could cover her pain with humor but anyone that knew her knew that it still stung. James had the sense to look like he felt bad. Which Vin was sure he did but it was a lot of years in the past and he was also sure that they’d been over and over this conversation. James had a playboy reputation, he was a notorious flirt. Elira met him in a time where their attraction was forbidden therefore all the more coveted. Both James and Elira had rebellious streaks miles wide and they took immense joy in defying ideals. Before James could go into his usual defense Elira’s phone buzzed on the table. Vin was transfixed by the buzzing. A lifetime passed before Elira reached down and picked it up. Her eyes scanned across the screen, their black depths hardening with each line she read.

“Well?” Vin asked as his muscles tightened throughout his body.

“Apparently there have been whispers about demons going missing. No word about Persephone per se but Nicholas has bragged about a new acquisition.”

Elira’s words hung in the air as Vin’s hands clamped down on the chair arms and the wood creaked dangerously. James and Elira both looked at him as if he were about to explode.

“Vin…” James started but he wasn’t listening to any voices from outside himself.

You know where he is.’ The voice whispered conspiratorially to him. ‘You could get there in a minute and get her out.’

“And then take him out.” Vin voiced aloud as the other two stared at him, their brows furrowed. They obviously didn’t know what was being said in his head but he couldn’t worry about what they were thinking. Vin was slowly forming a plan, a half assed plan, but a plan none the less.

“Vin you can’t go off half cocked.” Elira reprimanded, knowing where his thoughts were going.

“Watch me.” He growled as he disappeared.

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