Part Nine: House of Façades
Only a few minutes prior they had a clear view of her sitting by the pond. Any other time, Akki would have refused to leave her alone, but he trusted the amazons. Now, she was gone. Akki would have been pissed if he weren’t so worried.
Immediately he thought back to when she disappeared on the boat. It was only a few minutes later that the Black Dragon showed up. Mushin seemed to be constantly watching them, and this was much better opportunity to grab her than on a boat in the middle of the ocean.
He rushed out of the hut. There was no trace of her anywhere, and the amazons conveniently hadn’t seen where she had gone. They all claimed to have last seen her standing beside the pond, if they had seen her at all. Kestrel ran back to him, slightly winded. With a few deep breaths she stopped at Akki’s side. It took her too long to answer, and already he was agitated.
“One of the girls thinks she saw Eve talking to Devona not but a few minutes ago,” said Kestrel.
“Do you think the others are trying to cover up for Eve?” asked Kai. “You know, that is what vermin do.”
Akki snapped his eyes on Kai’s throat. “Watch what you say, we are still their guests.”
“Not if they kidnapped Devona.”
For once, Kai was right. It was all too coincidental that none of the amazons had seen anything, but one brave soul. One of the two was lying, and he would have to try and pry the truth out of the accused.
Once again, Eve was easy to find. She was lounging in her hut, stitching together some leather. Her concentration was broken upon the arrival of the three guardians. Immediately she was on her feet with her arms crossed tightly over her chest.
“What do you want, Akki?” asked Eve.
“Devona’s missing,” answered Kestrel.
Eve glared at Kestrel, “That’s funny, I wasn’t talking to you was I?”
Kestrel balled her hands into fists, but kept her feet planted where they were. Akki was grateful for that at least. He felt horrible confronting Eve, he had trusted that she had nothing to do with Devona disappearing.
“What do you want?” Eve asked again, looking directly at Akki.
“Devona is missing,” Akki repeated, “one of your girls said that they saw you talking to her recently.”
Eve glared at him, “Who told you that?”
Akki turned his attention to Kestrel who looked shocked. “Uh, I didn’t get her name.”
Eve laughed and stepped toward Kestrel. “So, let me try and comprehend all of this, my vermin brain can’t take it all in too quickly. One of your friends happens to disappear, you have no idea where she went. One of my people says that they saw me with her, but you don’t know who it was that told you? Hmm, sounds like you have a tight hold on the reins of this one.”
“Sorry, I was too busy trying to find her to get the names of every person I questioned.”
“Again, good job, and if you must know, I haven’t even looked at the girl since you got here. Not too keen on talking to someone who thinks that I’m scum even after I saved her life.”
“Kestrel,” said Akki. She finally broke her stare down on Eve to look at him. “Can you lead us to the girl who told you?”
“You don’t believe me?” asked Kestrel.
“I think it’s a good idea to hear both sides of the argument.”
“If you insist.”
With another quick glare at Eve, the red head led the way out of the hut. Akki was close behind her. It was then that he noticed something was no quite right about Kestrel. The girl that usually walked with such confidence had a slump to her posture. He thought that now of all times she would be tearing the ground apart with her composure.
He kept close to her as she walked up to a young girl who looked to be about fourteen at the most. The girl was pale, he wasn’t sure if she was scared or just naturally that way. But the light blonde hair led him to believe the latter. Eve stepped out next to Akki. She glared down at the girl who was standing alone next to a tree. The girl took a deep breath and looked up at Eve.
“Where is your sister?” asked Eve. Akki thought it was very strange question to start with, but Eve knew the girl better than he did.
“Wh-who?” asked the girl.
“Your sister that you have been raising without your mother for the last five years.”
“Oh, Natalia is watching her.”
“Considering you can’t stand Natalia, I’m very surprised you would allow her to watch your baby sister.”
Before the girl could protest anymore, Eve withdrew a knife and threw it at the girl. It hit her in the throat. Kestrel gasped as the girl took her last breath. As her eyes went blank, her face changed, everything about her changed. Pale skin turned dark, and blonde hair became black. The girl’s body fell dead against the ground.
“What in the—”
Before Kestrel could finish her protest, Eve swung around and punched Kestrel in the jaw. Kestrel took a few steps back, allowing Eve enough time to retrieve the fallen girl’s fighting staff. She swung the weapon into Kestrel’s side, knocking her to the dirt.
“What are you doing!” cried Kai.
She barely looked at him as she jammed the end of the staff into Kestrel’s throat. A wheezed gasped left her mouth, and her tan eyes turned red. The girl they had come to know so well transformed before their eyes into someone they had never seen before. Pale skin, bright red hair, and red eyes, a Red Dragon.
“By the Spirits,” whispered Kai.
Eve slammed her staff into the ground, and turned toward Akki.
“Still think I took your girl?”
He was silent. This was the last thing he had been expecting, and it made things much more difficult. If one of the amazons had taken Devona, he might have been able to follow the scent, but the dragons had evolved to hide their scent, so most of them smell the same. Not too big of the problem, except when there were at least two around and perhaps more.
“Do you know what could have done this?” finally asked Akki.
“It is what I feared from the children on the road. There must be a Black or Red Dragon out there with some power to change how people look. I never believed that those children were acting on their own accord.” A few seconds went by, and Eve finished her observation. “But if that is true, why in the name of Blanca would a dragon be after your poor naïve friend?”
Darkness was all she could see and feel. Her head was heavy, clouded in a fog of black. She felt so tired, but knew that she should try and open her eyes. The comfort of the darkness was all she craved and feared at the same time. It was only when she felt the pain on her wrists that she opened her eyes.
Her hands were bound together above her head, chained to the ceiling. Her body hung in the air, her toes barely touching the ground, so all the pressure was placed on her wrists.
Devona grimaced and pulled on the chains to no avail. It was obvious that wherever she was that she wasn’t going anywhere. She was terrified, a feeling that was becoming all too common in Zakiah Adara.
The last thing she remembered was talking to Eve. She had been acting strange, and grabbed her arm when Devona tried to leave. After that, her other memories were clouded, but through the darkness she could see burning red eyes.
It was not Eve, or at least she hoped it wasn’t.
She looked around the room that she was held in. The floors were made from white marble and the walls had elegant rose colored wallpaper etched in burgundy. This was not the type of place that Eve would associate with, or keep someone captive in.
On the far wall was a door made from hard cherry wood. As Devona watched it, the door slowly opened. The golden handle turned before her eyes and she began to shake. All she could think was, Please don’t let it be Mushin.
From behind the open door stepped out a young woman. Her skin was so pale that it nearly matched the marble floor. Her lips were edged out in a deep red that matched her eyes. Devona would have assumed that the girl was a Black Dragon. However, unlike most of the Black Dragons she had met, this girl’s hair was white. It was cropped very short and almost looked like a boy’s haircut except for the feathered ends.
Her hand, decorated with black nails, gripped the golden handle, and slammed the door shut. Devona jumped and bit her lip. The woman smiled. She took long slow steps toward where Devona hang, her brown boots clicking against the ground.
She was dressed in a long red skirt that matched her eyes and wore a brown mid-drift top. However, Devona wasn’t too concerned with how she was dressed. She was more focused on why she was there and how she could possibly get away.
The woman stopped a foot away from Devona and watched her with seemly curious eyes. Then she slapped her. Devona’s head was flung to the side. Her teeth bit her lip in the process and she could taste the blood. She closed her eyes tightly feeling that these were the last moments before her death.
“Hi,” said the woman.
Devona didn’t open her eyes.
“My name is Hansah.”
Still Devona didn’t look at her. The woman grabbed her chin and turned Devona to face her. Devona kept her lids tightly shut, refusing to give the woman what she wanted.
“Stubborn little bitch aren’t you? Though, I guess I shouldn’t have expected anything else. Do you know why you are here?”
Devona’s resolve did not falter, “Because I’m a Princess and you work for Mushin.”
“Wow, looks like you actually do have a brain. I’ll admit I was afraid that you might actually figure me out back by the pond.”
“You brought me here to kill me, didn’t you?”
“If only it were that simple Princess.” Finally Devona opened her eyes to glare down at the woman. Hansah smiled in pride of her victory. “I will kill you, don’t you doubt that, and I am going to enjoy every second of it.”
“You’re a dragon right?” The woman shrugged her shoulders. “I dare you to just transform and bite my head off or something! Just try!”
“Trying to push me really isn’t going to work. I’ve been around many more manipulating people than you my dear. Besides, I’m not going to destroy my life just to kill you.”
She wouldn’t do it. She wouldn’t dare ask this woman what she meant. If there was one thing she learned about human psychology, that boring class, was that those with power became cocky. This woman would explain everything.
“Dragons aren’t like all other vermin, meaning we aren’t vermin at all.” She did just as Devona thought. Maybe if she could keep her talking it would give the guardians enough time to find her. “All dragons have the ability to transform, and we have the aptitude for more powers. Mine, well you’ve already witnessed them.”
The woman before her molded into a familiar face to Devona: Queen Oriana. Devona’s hands grasped the chain and her body turned to ice. There was the queen she had put so much faith in, smiling at her callously. She took a step closer again, and this time kissed Devona’s cheek.
Devona wanted to wipe her skin clean, but she couldn’t. All she could do was watch as the woman looked up at her with the dark clouds dancing in her eyes.
“I can create illusions. Not just change how people look, but what anything looks like.”
Immediately, everything in the room turned blood red, and where the door had been now stood Mushin. Her black wings were spread wide and her eyes were locked on Devona.
It wasn’t real, but it sure as hell felt like it. She closed her eyes again, unable to watch any longer.
“It’s okay Princess, she’s gone now.”
Despite herself, Devona opened her eyes to see the woman had been telling the truth. Mushin was gone and the room was back to how it looked before, and the woman was herself again.
“We dragons are a lucky bunch. We were born with the powers that our ancestors had craved all those millennia ago.”
Devona couldn’t help herself, this time she had to ask. “What do you mean?”
“You don’t know much about Zakiah Adara, do you? Well, let me end your pretty little fantasy world. This place is not all as heavenly as the queen might make you think.”
Hansah took a deep breath, and then began her story. “When the world was first created, the Lord put Spirits in charge of watching over it. They had been angels originally, given more power so that they could govern over the world. The problem was that these Spirits lived among the people. The Spirits represented the Lord and an animal as well, and the most powerful of these Spirits were the Dragons. Upon Mushin’s birth, the world changed. One of the Dragons had mated with a fallen angel, and gave birth to Mushin.”
If that were true, then Mushin was half dragon. She was half of the strongest creature to ever exist in Zakiah Adara. No wonder no one had been able to defeat her. How could five girls from Earth kill a half dragon, half fallen angel?
Hansah continued. “With Mushin’s guidance, the people of Zakiah Adara rose up, and stormed the Thirteenth Constellation, and captured the Spirits. The Spirits had sworn never to hurt the humans, so they could not fight back. They had no way to escape.
“The humans each took a Spirit to a Constellation and they raped them. They forced the women to give birth to human men’s children, and they forced the men to impregnate the human woman. That is how all the people of Zakiah Adara have the ability to change inside of them. Somewhere down the line, they were all born from the raping of the Spirits.
“Most of the Spirits gave up while they were imprisoned and died. Only three got away, and that shouldn’t be much of a surprise to you. The three Dragons made it out alive, and they each refused to have any contact with humans ever again. They made it so that if one of their children decides to use their powers and transform that will be the last thing they ever do. They will be trapped in that form for the rest of their life, which doesn’t last very long after that. Could you imagine the consequences of having a rabid dragon running amuck? No, they are always taken care of. So, no Princess, I will not transform into a dragon and bite your head off. I rather keep my own for a few more years at least.”
She had no idea. That was why Eve could change into a wolf? Was it really because thousands of years ago her ancestors raped a Wolf Spirit? It also explained why those who don’t use their powers consider those who do vermin. It was disgusting, and it broke Devona’s heart. She never thought she would be so upset over people she never met being raped and killed thousands of years ago. But, it did, it hurt so bad.
“Why so sad?” asked Hansah. “Were you really blind as to how our world works? I told you, this is not the heavenly world you want it to be. It is just as corrupt as any other, and don’t let the heavenly beings fool you. They have goals and objectives like everyone else. Why else would so many people follow Mushin? We want change. This world has been governed by the Council for too long.”
“So what?” Devona finally spoke up, she couldn’t take the woman’s cynicism anymore. “Are your people going to rape the Council as well? Take their powers from them?”
“No, being with Mushin gives us powers. Once our souls belong to her, those powers that have been hidden away come to life. My ability to control illusions, others ability to transform into an animal, or maybe even just strength, all of it comes from Mushin. Once we are loved by her, no one can take that away from us.”
“Loved by her? You actually think that she can love you?”
Hansah grabbed Devona’s throat, “I know that she can. I would say I’m far better off than you are right now, and whose side are you on? You have to put up with Mushin’s followers hunting you down every second of your life. I, however, get to help Mushin convert people, give them the lover that they have always wanted.”
“Mushin converts people the same way that she convinced our ancestors to obtain their powers. Sex is a wonderful thing, why shouldn’t it be the way to bring people to love?”
Devona felt sick. The demoness was far more messed up then she could have ever imagined. She convinced people to rape, not only the Spirits, but others still on Zakiah Adara, and for what? Just to gain followers and sell their souls to the devil? If that was the case, then that meant the same thing had happened to Akki.
“Clarity sets in. Yes, your beloved Akki become a follower just like everyone else. Let me tell you, it was definitely not rape. I rather enjoyed it actually.” Hansah smiled and let go of Devona’s throat. She stepped back just in time to avoid Devona’s kicking legs.
Standing before her now was the real reason that all of those people died. She was the real reason that Kai’s family was murdered right before his eyes and the real reason that Akki still couldn’t sleep at night. This woman was the cause of it all. Devona had never wanted to kill someone before, but she was willing to make an exception.
“You seem so angry. Deep breaths Princess, let them out slowly.”
“How dare you!”
The woman raised her hand to silence Devona, but that was not going to shut her up. As Devona was about to continue her rant, the woman turned toward the door.
“Where are you going!” snapped Devona. She really needed to think before she spoke.
“Your friends are here,” said Hansah, without looking back at Devona. Her hand was on the handle again, and she glanced back at Devona. “After seeing your reaction over Akki, I know exactly what to do the torture you. I’ll be right back.”
Devona screamed more obscenities at her, but Hansah heard none of them. She slammed the door shut, leaving Devona alone again. All she could do now was hang there and shake.
They had few options. With both Devona and Kestrel missing, they had to rely on the amazons to help them. Akki really didn’t want Eve to get involved. She was already digging for information that she could never have. But, they needed the strong nose of Natalia to try and find Devona. Without the scent of the dragon to go after, she had to try and catch either of the girl’s scents from the air. Not an easy task and not one that Natalia was too eager to accept. According to Eve, Natalia was one of the more vocal against allowing them to stay.
After much convincing, Natalia finally agreed, but only to help them find the girls. Now Akki had to try and get Kai to accept working with so called ‘vermin.’
“Well,” said Kai, “I already work with you, so it’s not really that big of a change.”
Akki refused to argue with him, so the four of them set out after the missing girl. Natalia led the way as a brown wolf, Eve was close behind her. For once in his life he actually felt jealous of them. Being able to use their powers so freely must have been liberating. Instead, for him it was simply a reminder of Mushin’s control on his soul. If he dwelled too far into the dark, the wolf would take over.
He pushed it to the far crevice of his mind and followed after the wolf. She took them deep into the forest. Kai actually stuck close to Akki, it was quite strange.
After about twenty minutes of searching, they came upon a clearing. There in the middle stood and old two story house that looked as though it were about to fall apart. It was missing many shingles and some of the wooden posts were rotting away.
Natalia changed back without warning. She staid crouched to the ground, so the other three followed suit. Cautiously she looked back at Akki.
“Your friends are in there. I wish I could tell you how many others are there too, but my nose is not that good. I only know that Gliza is in there too.”
Gliza was the pale girl that the dragon had taken the shape of, and with one of their own in there, the stakes were suddenly increased for the amazons. Eve nodded at Natalia and tightened her hand on her staff. There would be no convincing her to stay behind now. Akki just hoped that she didn’t learn more in the house than necessary.
“We have to be careful. Their forms could be used against us again,” said Akki.
“Just use your nose,” said Natalia. “If they don’t smell like they should, then kill them.”
“Yeah,” whispered Kai, “if only that tactic worked for all of us.”
“Then we have to stick together and be smart,” said Akki. If only those simple words worked with Kai. Instead the young man just rolled his eyes at Akki.
Akki stood up first and lead the way toward the house. The girls were close to him with Kai lagging behind. He withdrew his sword and gripped his hilt tightly. Behind him he could hear the others preparing as well.
He put a cautious foot on the first wooden step. It creaked and bent horribly under his weight. He didn’t falter and continued towards the door. Natalia walked over to a window and glanced in.
“It looks abandoned,” said Natalia.
“Doesn’t mean that it is,” said Eve.
The leader of the amazons wasted no time. She pushed passed Akki and proceeded to kick the door. Akki grabbed her shoulders and pulled her away.
“What are you doing?” snapped Akki.
“Getting my friend out of there,” said Eve.
“We can’t just rush in!”
“This coming from you, who wanted to just walk in the front door.”
“It’s a little less noticeable than kicking the door down!”
“Please don’t fight, not over little ole’ me,” said a new voice.
But the voice wasn’t new. Not to Akki.
Hearing it again caused fire to run through his veins. His nails dug into Eve, trying to hold onto something solid. Instead she stepped back from him seeing the transformation that had taken him over. He looked toward the door to find it open now.
There, in the doorway, stood a small woman with short white hair. A woman whose face had been so burned into his memory that it could never be scrubbed away.
And she had the nerve to smile at him.
“It’s been a long time, Akki,” said the woman.
He didn’t give her a chance to say anything else. Akki lunged at her, his sword raised and ready to finish what he had wanted to for so long. As his blade lowered toward her shape, it disappeared.
He fought hard to regain his step, and he turned around to find her directly behind him. She smiled and shoved one of the small green wasp stringers into his neck. The world became even darker as he felt reality slipping away.
Her arms wrapped tightly around him and she whispered in his ear. “I’ve missed you more than you can imagine.”
Eve swung her staff at the woman, and she vanished again, taking Akki with her. It was clear now than the woman didn’t just have the ability to change someone’s form, but the ability to create illusions. This was going to be very bad, but it meant that the woman was still nearby.
“So much for being ‘smart’ about it,” whispered Kai.
“Natalia!” Eve snapped her attention to the tall brunette. “Follow the one of the girls’ scents. We know that they have to be close by.”
Natalia nodded and changed once more.
Glancing over at Kai, Eve knew the sight bothered him. As much as it upset her how people looked down on them for their acceptance, it didn’t bother her with Kai. She knew what Akki had done to his family. How Akki had torn apart Kai’s siblings before his eyes. He, of all people, had a right to hate them for it. She could not hate him for hating her.
“I hope you can trust us long enough to find your friends,” said Eve.
Kai slowly nodded.
At least the prince had enough tact not to be rude to her face. Natalia rushed past Eve into the house, and Eve was right after her. Once again, Kai hung back a bit, but was not walking this time either.
In all of his years alone, he never thought that he would hear her voice again. Yet it was her, calling out to him. It was not the same voice that had brought him back from the darkness years prior, but it was another voice etched in his heart.
“Wake up Akki.”
He did and he saw her. The woman who started it all. Her death had sent him flailing into the arms of Mushin. She was dead. Yet, there she stood, no more than five feet in front of him. His arms shook against the cool chains restraining him.
“Ana,” he whispered.
“Hi,” she said. She smiled at him, “It has been a long time.”
He could only nod.
She looked the exact same. Her frame was still petite and pale. Her head was crowned in strawberry curls that fell neatly to her slim shoulders. Her eyes were pure red and shone like rubies on snow. To this day, she was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen.
She took a step closer to him and he couldn’t help but pull away. As amazing as it was to see her again, she should not be there. A woman who died five years ago did not belong in the world of the living.
“You’re dead,” he said.
“Am I?” she asked. “I’m here. Shouldn’t that be all that matters?”
With his fiancée alive and breathing in front of him, did he really have the right to question the powers over the dead? She placed a hand on his chest, and his entire body shook. Even to this day she had a grip on his heart that caused him to shiver.
She leaned closer and placed her lips against his. He could not protest anymore. He let go and allowed himself to kiss her.
The door opened again. Devona gripped the chains tightly, ready to throw out another assault of words on Hansah. She might not be able to free herself, but she was going to make this woman’s life hell while she was captive.
Instead, there was a man standing in the doorway. A man with short orange hair, tips dipped with red and a flail at his side. Devona gasped as Eve pushed passed Kai into the room. She hardly held back tears as the amazon lowered Devona from the ceiling and into Kai’s arms.
Though her wrists were still bound, she wrapped them, chain and all, around his neck. Kai gasped and held her tightly.
“Oh thank God!” cried Devona.
Kai looked down at Devona. He ran a comforting hand over her hair, and then down her back. She held onto him even tighter now.
“Are you okay?” he asked.
She nodded fiercely against his neck. Clinging to him was the only reality she could possibly believe in. She prayed this was not another illusion, because if it were, it might destroy her. Seeing Kai brought her comfort. If it had been Akki walking in, she wouldn’t have believed it, but since it was Kai, she knew that it had to be real.
A brown wolf scampered into the room, sniffing the ground. Devona couldn’t help but hold onto Kai even tighter. She had an idea that the wolf was there to help them. However, all she could think about was the wolf attacking the children. She still couldn’t see the wolf saving her life.
“Well,” said Eve, “at least we found one.”
“One?” asked Devona. Kai let go of her and she removed her arms and chains from around his neck. He was able to remove the chain from her shackles, but the manacles were still attached to her wrists. At least she could move more freely. She looked at Eve as the amazon looked around the room. “There are other people missing?”
“At least three that we know of,” replied Kai. “Kestrel, another amazo—”
“Gliza,” said Eve over her shoulder. “Her name is Gliza.”
“Gliza,” he corrected, seemingly unaffected, “and most recently Akki.”
“Kestrel and Akki are missing?” Devona was shocked. Yet, if the girl really was the one who brought Akki over to Mushin then that might have given her a motive to take him. What horrible things did she have planned for him? Devona balled her hands into fists as she fought against the horrible images trying to find their way into her head.
The brown wolf finished making her way around the room and return to the door. Eve was quickly after her leaving Kai and Devona to lag behind. Devona tried her best to keep up even though her body was incredibly sore from being held up for so long.
Close behind Kai, she bowed her head and whispered, “Thank you Kai.”
He looked back at her with a smile. “Of course. You’re the Princess after all. I couldn’t just leave you to rot.”
There was such warmth to him that she wasn’t used to from other men. Kai always made her smile, no matter what the situation. Did that matter more than a blind attraction? It should.
Yet even now as she clung close to him she felt as though she were betraying someone. She wasn’t sure if it was Mark or Akki, but she knew that she shouldn’t feel that way about either of them.
He stopped kissing her.
Ana drew away from him, looking confused. He closed his eyes and pulled at his chains. Still confused she shook her head.
“I’m not an idiot Hansah,” said Akki.
Her lips quivered as her eyes glossed.
“You already fooled me once. I will not fall for your same tactic again. Besides, you didn’t think chaining me to the ceiling would give it away?”
Ana, still visibly upset, took a deep breath. After a few moments of composure her image changed, leaving Hansah. It still awed him that he could love a Red Dragon, one who could join sides with Mushin, and have his soul sold by a White Dragon, who was sworn to follow the queen.
“You should be dead,” he snarled.
“Why? Because he turned me into the Black Dragons? Do you know how valuable I am to them?”
“You still smell like the bitch.”
Hansah smirked, “And so do you.”
She pinched his cheek. He had never wanted to kill someone so badly. It was only after the Black Wolf turned her over to the Black Dragons that he found out that she caused the fire. It was Arma who informed him and that Hansah had been watching him and wanted him for her own. She knew that the only way to get him to come to her was to take out Ana.
It worked, and she sold his soul for one night.
“It’s a pity,” whispered Hansah. She released his cheek to place her hand on his chest again. He tightened his muscles beneath her hand, fighting hard against the chains. “I was hoping to reenact that night. I do have to say, I think you were my favorite.”
The door to the room literally blew off the hinges. It was followed by a blast of heat and tails of fire. The wood hit the ground, crispy and still sparking. Akki looked to the door frame to find Kestrel standing there. Her hand was on her bracelet in awe, the ruby star still glistening beneath her fingers.
Kestrel looked from the star to Hansah. The look of awe fell off to be replaced by disgust.
“Uh oh, someone looks mad,” said Hansah.
“You whore,” said Kestrel. She raised her hand toward Hansah and fire crawled out of her hand to scratch up and down her fingers.
“That’s a neat trick.” Hansah actually sounded impressed.
“Oh, there’s more.”
The fire exploded away from Kestrel’s hand. It seemed as though Kestrel had finally mastered the power of flame that came with the bracer that she wore, and she was going to take full advantage of it. Hansah threw up her hand, generating a stone wall in front of her. Just as she stopped the flames, the stones crumbled apart and the fire burst through. Hansah screamed as her body was sent to the wall from the blast.
Her back cracked against the wood frame and fell with the rest of her to the floor.
“Perhaps illusions aren’t worth their weight against the tangible,” said Kestrel.
Hansah was able to right herself on her elbows enough to glare at Kestrel. Her straight face curved. “Perhaps, if you can see through them.”
Her already tight body snapped. Kestrel’s head turned to the side and her jaw dropped. Akki didn’t have to see what stood outside the doorway to know what she saw. It was a little girl, pleading to Kestrel, questioning why she had let her die. His fingers wrapped through the chains and he threw himself against them.
“Kestrel! It’s not real! You know it’s not!” he yelled. There was no response on her face. She stared blankly at the Thea’s form that had to be there.
“Of course it’s not real,” said another voice. He shouldn’t have been shocked to hear Kai’s voice, but he was the last person that Akki ever expected to come to his aid. The young prince stepped next to Kestrel, looked at her for a second, and walked past her. “Haven’t we learned that by now? Nothing here is real.”
Nothing. Nothing was real.
Akki looked up at the chains. The rusted links felt real enough, but if they weren’t…
He stared at them, concentrating hard as Hansah struggled to get to get up but failed.
“No you don’t!” As the words left her mouth his wrists slipped free from the chains. He fell to his knees, eye level with his captor. Had he not been afraid of slipping back to the darkness, he would have reached out and snapped her neck.
Eve entered the room with Natalia, Gliza, and Devona closed behind her. The Princess looked angry and battered. If Hansah did anything to harm Devona, he would not be able to hold back. He would have to rip out her throat with his bare hands. But there was no time for that.
The roof above their heads split. Splitters rained from the sky and they each covered their heads in fear of falling debris. It was an immediate reaction that he would have to train himself against. It wasn’t real. Hansah easily got to her feet and brushed away from cinders from her leather skirt. She shook her head at each of them, lingering the longest on Akki. He sank his nails into the wooden floor.
“So predictable,” said Hansah. Her face looked darker and he realized he could see through her to the wall on the other side of her. “So not over.”
A staff flew through her image, shattering it. The free pieces scattered in the air and filtered into nothing. Just as the last one vanished, the ceiling tore again. Natalia grabbed Gliza and huddled her close. Pieces the sizes of logs fell now, threatening more damage than the earlier splinters.
“It’s not real, you have to know that it’s not!” shouted Akki.
He could only watch as the rest of the house came down around them. Gliza screamed from under Natalia. Kestrel and Eve threw their arms over their heads, eyes tightly closed, and it was Kai who lunged toward Devona. He pulled her down to the ground and threw himself over her. She gripped him tightly, watching Akki as she did.
Akki shut his own eyes, hoping that his theory would hold true.
Wood snapped, shouted, and crashed. The house bent and bowed, moaning to the ebony sky. It clung to the dirt and then fell in on it to become one with the soil that gave birth to its marrow years before.
And he felt nothing.
Once silence was the predominate sound, he opened his eyes again. They now lay in an open field. No splinters, or logs, or Hansah. He looked to the others. Some of them had a few cuts and splinters in their skin, but the wood quickly dissolved from their flesh.
Kestrel opened her eyes and looked up to the empty night sky. Natalia pulled off of Gliza, allowing the younger girl to look around at emptiness. Eve righted herself. She then walked over to where her staff had destroyed the image of their enemy.
It was Kai who was the last one to move. Akki was concerned about Devona who was still trapped beneath the prince. As he looked at them the fury rose in his blood again. They were both safe, for now, but Kai’s lips were pressed against Devona’s forehead. A sweet tender kiss that drove Akki mad. He shouldn’t care. There was no reason for him to care. It wasn’t even a passionate kiss. Even if he had a right to care, this shouldn’t have made him as angry as he was. Why did this bother him?
Because, his intellect told him, you care more than you’re willing to admit.
Kai pulled his lips away from her and whispered something to her. Devona’s face turned red and she nodded. She kept her eyes locked on Kai for the longest time. After an eternity she let her eyes dart over to Akki for a second, only to look back at Kai.
He had seen enough.
Akki got to his feet, even though his body protested a bit. Kai looked bored as he watched Akki from still on top of Devona. Akki wouldn’t react, he wouldn’t care, and he couldn’t.
“Let’s go,” he said.
There were no protests. Kai helped Devona get to her feet and she nodded in thanks. It had been a long day, they all needed rest. Eve took the initiative to lead the way back to camp and the others followed behind her.
Kai and Devona clung close to each other. Akki glanced back at them to see that Devona was smiling. He should be glad that she could smile after such an ordeal, but he was still angry. As her smile faded, her eyes moved over to Akki. He wanted to know what she was thinking, if she was giving Kai attention just to anger him. But, why would she? How could she know that it would make him so mad when he had no idea himself?
He turned forward, not wanting to look at them anymore.
It had been five years since Ana died, and in those five years he hadn’t allowed himself to care for another woman. She was the love of his life, no one could take her place, nor did he want someone to. Yet now, all of a sudden, all he could think about was Devona. The kiss that he had forced himself to believe meant nothing was romping through his mind. He could still feel her body against him. He could still smell her. He could still taste her.
Even if he didn’t want to admit it, he knew it was true now. He cared for Devona, way more than he should. However, nothing could be done about it. He could never act on his feelings. It was forbidden. He would manage, and he would make sure that Kai knew the rules as well.
Hansah let out a horrific gasp as her body collapsed to the ground. It was hard to keep up such a vivid illusion for so long, and it took a toll on her body.
From her hiding spot, she watched as the group left the clearing. She knew that they couldn’t find her, and she thanked Mushin for that. Even if the demoness would be angry with her for failing, she was still helping Hansah without knowing it.
She should have killed the Princess when she had the chance. Yet, knowing that Akki was so close, she could not pass on the opportunity. It had been far too long since she had been with him that she just had to get him alone. In doing so, she let the others find the Princess without protest. It was foolish and Mushin would be very upset.
She touched her lips with her cool finger tips. Even if she did fail, at least she got the chance to kiss him one more time. If she had her way, there would be many more times. If only she could tame the Black Wolf, and with what she had in store, she was positive that she could.
She sighed and pulled herself up to her knees. Her red eyes turned black as she prepared to give the bad news to the demoness.
They were back at the camp and things were very awkward. There was very little conversation. Eve and Natalia went off on their own, Gliza vanished to find her sister, and Devona and her guardians went to their hut to sit in silence.
Everyone helped, but at the same time, most were at fault for something going wrong. It was only Kai who had the right to be thanked. He helped the whole time, even pointed out that everything was an illusion, allowing them all to make it out alive. Yet, after he saved her, things became even more awkward.
When he leapt on top of her, there was no way out of it. It was for her safety and he was the closest guardian. She was grateful that he did, but it still felt wrong. He had as much right to protect her as Akki did, but it just wasn’t right. Even as Kai saved her life yet again that night, she watched Akki. To her amazement, he actually looked hurt. Not confused, or scared, or shocked, just hurt.
What was wrong with Kai protecting her? She still didn’t know. But it was when he kissed her forehead after the whole incident was over that she felt worse. It was unexpected and even though it wasn’t passionate, she could still feel all the emotions behind it. He hadn’t just saved her, he was grateful that he had.
As his lips left her skin he whispered to her.
“I don’t think I could stand if this were to happen to you again. Don’t fall into any more traps, alright?”
Casual words, but they had so much meaning behind them. She couldn’t help but blush at his tone. Her fingers wound themselves tight around the fabric of his shirt. The same as she had done to Akki back in the dungeon of the port city. This moment was not too different from that, emotionally anyway.
On the way back, she noticed Akki watching them. Even as Kai spouted off jokes, crude yet humorous ones, she continued to look at Akki. The hurt was gone from his eyes, now there was only indifference. She remembered a quote that one of her teachers had told her years before.
“The opposite of love is not hate, it is indifference.”
Her heart sank.
She thought she lost her chance with him in that moment, if she ever had one to begin with. All of the hopes she had for any relationship in Zakiah Adara came falling down around her as the house had.
“Devona?” asked Kestrel.
Kestrel awoke Devona from her daydream. There was no time to worry about the past. It was only the future that mattered now. Hansah was one of many, more would come after her. Besides that, Hansah was still out there and could be anyone. Without a nose to sniff her out, she would never know who to trust. Her life was on the line. Her heart ticked away, every moment was one closer to her death…and hopefully not to her murder.
“Yes?” asked Devona.
“Are you feeling alright?”
She rolled her shoulders, “I’m a little sore, but I’ll live.” For now.
“Try and get some sleep, we have a long journey ahead of us. We should be able to make it to the next port by the end of the week.”
Devona nodded and headed over to her bedding. The harsh torn blankets actually felt comforting. For now she could go to sleep and feel safe for a few hours. Upon awakening, the journey was on again. Trapped in a world with dragons, werewolves, and raping a demoness, a world of illusions where no one could be trusted.
She shut her eyes and tried to drift off. The owls hunting in the night kept hoo-ing her awake. It was a constant reminder that she was no longer at the top of the food chain.
Mushin was alone.
It was a rare occurrence for her and a sweet treasured moment. She was in-between recruits, cleaning up for the next. It was only a few moments prior that she heard the bad news from Hansah. Mushin could easily tell that her follower was distraught over her mistake, but that alone would not appease Mushin. Hansah promised to try again and actually kill the Princess this time.
However, Mushin doubted that would happen, but it was good to have such a devoted follower. She was not entirely convinced that Hansah did not offer to try again just to get closer to Akki. It would be a mistake for that to happen. It would dampen her own plans if she allowed Hansah’s obsession to go too far. Mushin glanced up at the mirror. She watched her reflection in the golden frame. Her wings and horns could not be seen, but she knew they were there. Just as they had been ever since she killed her parents.
Well, the people who raised her.
At that moment, dragon and fallen angel blood wrestled inside of her. Both powers exploded from her body, manifesting themselves in wings, horns, and a tail.
A look fit for Lucifer.
The smile left her face.
She hated that look. At least she had the ability to hide it every once in a while. At least she didn’t have to look at herself every second of her life. It wouldn’t be worth the fight if she had to.
Mushin still could hear the screams of her mother, begging her to stop. But she was too hurt and too young to know better. Her father didn’t even have the chance to scream, even though she hadn’t even wanted to hurt him.
It wasn’t his fault he married such a bitch.
But it was part of the agreement.
“Two deaths for freedom and the power to take what you want. If this part of your birth right won’t accept you, then the other will.”
Tempted by the serpent, she bit the apple. She lived with its soft bitter taste in her mouth every day of her life. How would the world be if she hadn’t succumbed to temptation? Would she be happy? Or, would she be bound in hell?
She didn’t even look at the servant in her doorway, she knew what he wanted.
“The next recruit it ready for you.”
Her solemn faced twisted to a cocky grin. Finally she met the young man eye to eye and simply nodded. He clicked his heels, bowed, and left to fetch the recruit.
She looked back at the mirror and picked up a tube of lipstick. She unwound the moist pillar from its confines and lined her lips with the color of blood. With her make-up done she was ready once again to put on her show.