The Rise

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Chapter Twenty-One

Three voices, running through my head, jolted me awake. They were anxious, loud, and quick and all jumbled together, making it difficult to decipher the messages.

I gazed at the window, noticing the moon still shining outside. I sat up and rubbed my eyes, trying to kick my tiredness aside. “What’s wrong?”

“Moon Goddess,” one voice said, louder and more urgent than the others. “Mariella, the Woman on the Mountain is freaking out. She’s screaming Aeron’s name.”

My heart raced. “Is he there?”

“No,” he said.

I gulped. He could be. He was able to hide himself to those who he didn’t want to see him. I remembered the first night I met him, during my Ascension. Nobody could see him but me.

“Gather a group of Protectors and meet me on the mountain. Aeron is there,” I linked Valerio.

Before I could say another word, he was in my room. “You’re going? Alone?” He shook his head. “He’s too dangerous, Mae. You can’t just-“

“I’m going,” I said, ending this one sided argument. If Aeron was really there, I needed to get to him now. No more waiting. This was his first sighting since he killed Damon, and I wasn’t about to let him go so easily.

The Protector’s voice rang again in my mind. “Hurry, Luna.”

Without a second more, I teleported to the exact place I left Mariella and a few Protectors.

She was pressed against a tree, tears streaming down her face. “I don’t know!” she screamed, shaking her head and staring up at the nothingness in front of her. She was pressed even harder against the tree, and I knew that he was there. “I don’t know where it is!”

I ran toward her, and suddenly she was released from the tree and fell onto her hands and knees.

“Where is he?” I asked, jumping in front of her to protect her.

Once she could breathe evenly again, she gazed up at me. “He-he’s gone. He fled when he heard you,” she said. She leaned against the tree and slid down it.

“Did he say anything?” I asked, rubbing her shoulder briefly.

“He needed to know where the skull was. He was going insane over it. I-I’m not sure why. This was the first night that he’s tried to find it since you took it.”

I chewed on the inside of my lip, sifting through reasons why he needed it now. What was he, Luca, and this divine planning? An attack, maybe?

“Is that all?” I asked, trying to piece together any useful information.

She struggled to get to her feet, but when she did she started walking around from tree to tree. “No, it just surprised me. I didn’t expect him to be so... weak. All of the women in my family before me always said how strong and powerful he seemed, but to me he seemed weak – like anyone here could kill him.”

My brows furrowed. Had he gotten weaker? Did the skull make him strong?

When Valerio and the Protectors got to the mountain, they searched for any signs or clues as to where he was or how we could track him when he made himself invisible to nearly everyone.

Mariella’s neck had a few black streaks on it. It was like he was close to using his powers - those snakes - that he had used on me that day. I frowned. Poor woman. She never had the chance to explore the world. Hopefully, when I kill Aeron, she will be set free from his curse and I could bring her to any place that she wanted to go. She deserved it.

Valerio appeared at my side. “She said he looked weak?”

I nodded. “The skull keeps him strong – maybe even alive.”

“If we destroy it, will it destroy him?” Valerio asked.

“Good question,” I said, thinking it over. If we destroyed it, he might die, but we weren’t certain. Not only was it special to me – it was the skull of my ancestor – but we didn’t know what it did. It wasn’t a normal human skull, and the other Moon Goddess’s skulls have not remained. They both turned into ash when they died, but this skull was different. I needed to understand why before we just go on destroying someone from thousands and thousands of years ago.

And besides, we didn’t know if destroying it would actually kill Aeron or not. It could release a whole new problem into our mess of worries. But I did have a feeling that in some way it was making him stronger. Taking it away was the best thing we could’ve done. As long as he doesn’t find it, we should be fine. And he won’t find it.

Once we finished gathering samples, I ensured her Mariella that she would be safe. She tried to give me some of the berries that she picked in the forest for her thanks, but I declined. Instead, I waved goodbye to her from the car and watched her figure fade in the distance.

On the ride home, I gazed out the window, hoping we would pass a breakfast cafe. Rays of sun were just peeking over the top of the clouds and my stomach was already howling for food.

When we reached a traffic light, I noticed the small breakfast shop that Damon had took me to for our first unofficial date at the corner. Valerio pulled over, sensing my hunger.

As we walked into the cafe, everyone turned to smile and bow at me. A nice older couple was sitting in the seats Damon and I sat in. I gazed at them, so sweet and happy. It looked like they’d been together forever and still had so much love for each other.

The older woman noticed me staring, and she smiled. “Would you like to sit here? I see you eyeing it.” She grabbed her cane to stand, but I ushered her back down.

“No,” I smiled, “I’m just reminiscing on old memories.”

“Tell me,” she said. She scooted over to the end of the table, giving me room to scooch in with her. “Did you two have a first date here?”

I graciously took a seat next to her. “I did.” Valerio sat down next to her husband. “With a very special man.”

The woman raised her brows at me, then at Valerio, suggesting Valerio was this very special man. I shook my head. “His brother,” I clarified, smiling at Valerio.

“What was his name?” she asked, her hand on mine.

“Damon,” I said softly. I closed my eyes, remembering his hand on mine from across the table that first morning, the morning after I got drunk, was bratty, wouldn’t tell him my address.

Look how far we had come. We had come so close to building a family together, but our time was cut short. I shook my head smiling down at our hands. I was annoyed at him the whole morning, but that single touch of his fingers against mine made everything better.

“His name was Damon.” I said again, tears threatening to fall.

I didn’t want to seem weak in front of all these men and women who I was supposed to be strong for. But this older woman gently caressing the side of my cheek like Dad would do when I was younger, and told me, “You can cry and still be strong. You can be angry at the world for giving you sadness and still be strong. We would’ve gotten nowhere without a bunch of tears.” She tilted her head and wrapped her arms around me. Patting my back, she whispered, “You can cry. Nobody here will judge you if you do. I promise you.”

And sitting in that diner with this old woman I just met, reality hit me. Nobody in my family was left to hold me like this when I needed them too. Sure, Valerio could. But Dad couldn’t. Mom couldn’t (not that she would). My grandparents were dead. Damon was dead. Luca was taken by the Hunter. I missed being held lovingly like that.

Once I wiped the tears from my cheeks, we all ordered. All of us sat together, telling stories of better times and enjoying the now. When we finished, she gave me one last hug. I never saw her again, but to me she was like an angel when I needed one the most. Maybe it was Dad in disguise. I would never know.

A/N Read up to chapter 58 on Patreon now :D Click "Support Me" in my bio!


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