The Rise

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Chapter Forty-Eight

I removed the skull from my bag and peeled off the towel I had wrapped it in. If Aeron could resist me, he wouldn’t be able to resist this. It was the one thing that I had over him.

The skull’s power swelled in my hands. Aeron must be weaker than ever, but I was about to be too. He would crave this in his hands again. He needed the power.

I was risking everything for this.

Pulling the skull to my chest, I gazed down at White. Valerio caught my eye for a moment and my heart lurched in my chest. If this didn’t work, I didn’t know if I’d ever see him again. A huge part of me felt defeated by that thought - which was exactly why this needed to work.

Before I could second-guess myself for the hundredth time today, I closed my eyes. A pain split through my chest and power surged from it. The shaking skull glowed in my hands and so did my fingers. I felt more power than I had ever felt before. The skull’s power rushed into me, and my power into it.

Sun’s flares were so long that they reached my skin, nearly burning it. That’s when I knew what I had to do.

With a deep breath, I allowed myself to float in the air. Soaring higher and higher, I floated above my wolves, above the forest, above the low-sitting clouds. White was standing at my side, brushing her fur against my bare leg.

I waited in front of Sun. One moment passed. Nothing. Another moment. Nothing.

The color in the sky hadn’t changed. It was still light. I was afraid that I wasn’t in the right formation for this to work.

My gaze shuffled across the trees until I spotted the darkness. To the far, far East a single speck of darkness erupted. In a second, it was gone. All the way West, another speck of darkness. Then, to the North. And before I knew it the whole sky filled with darkness.

It spread like a silent wildfire, smoking intensely, suffocating every fiber of light left, except the ring of sun behind me.

In an instant, Aeron was on me. His hands wrapped around the skull, transferring the power from it to him. The longer he was there, the stronger he tried pulling it away from me.

I held it tightly to my chest, but that didn’t stop him. Everything was moving so fast, I couldn’t break formation with Sun to stop the eclipse. Weak my ass. Aeron was stronger than I expected.

I shivered in disgust as his fingers trailed over my breasts. He pulled himself closer to the skull and to me.

My mark burned with a pure white beam, hitting him straight in the chest. He stumbled back for only a moment and released the snakes from his fingers - the ones that killed Damon.

They wrapped around my own fingers, nearly burning the skin. The skin on my fingers melted slowly. “My Radiance,” he said. “Let me have it before I have to take it from you.”

A part of me knew he wasn’t just talking about the skull.

White’s teeth sunk into Aeron’s calf, her purity tearing him up. Black growled from below, begging me to let him come up here to defeat Aeron, but I knew that this wasn’t the time for him.

I closed my eyes again, letting the power build up underneath my eyelids. When I reopened my eyes, the white film over them nearly burned. I mustered up the strength to push him away and sent him tumbling down. He somersaulted over and over again, like he was too weak to stop himself until he crashed into the trees below.

Immediately, I followed him, allowing Sun’s brightness back into the sky. I wasted no time, rushing down to where Valerio, Black, and the rest of the Protectors were already fighting him.

When I reached the ground, at least ten of the Protectors were lying in the forest, clutching wounds so they wouldn’t bleed out. Aeron held Valerio by the neck, holding him against the tree and off of the ground.

One of his snakes were positioned around his neck, others around his body, squeezing harshly. My breath caught in my throat. Flashbacks of Damon’s last moments replayed in my mind. Damon died for me. And now… now Valerio was about to die for me too.

I didn’t know what to do.

“Give me the skull, My Radiance, and I will let him live,” Aeron said.

“Mae… do-don’t,” Valerio choked out.

Tears welled up in my eyes, watching his face turn red. Valerio’s claws dug into the snakes, but it was no use.

I clutched the skull closer to my chest. I wasn’t about to give this up. No way was I going to give it up. If I did, I lose my entire species. If I didn’t, I lose Valerio - the one man I had depended on and trusted.

One man for the entire species.

One man that I loved for the entire species.

As much as I wanted to give it right to Aeron and save Valerio, I didn’t.

Black leaped into the air and sunk his teeth in Aeron’s neck. Aeron grabbed him by the throat and threw him into the nearest tree. He landed with a thud, the tree cracking in half and falling behind him.

But Black stood back up, like it didn’t even affect him. Then, I noticed that the snakes didn’t burn into Valerio like they had with Damon.

He lost his most terrifying power. All he had now was a false sense of confidence. And he definitely didn’t expect me to call his bluff.

For the second time today, I mustered up all the strength I had. “If you want to kill him, then do it.”

Aeron granted me a split second as he processed my words - in shock - to position myself. He squeezed tighter, and I watched Valerio’s face redden even more, but he fought like I knew he would.

I focused all of my energy on the snake around his neck. A white beam shot out from my fingers, cutting the snake from Aeron’s body.

Valerio fell to the ground, pulling it off of his neck. I stalked closer and closer to Aeron who was staring at me with a hint of surprise and a hint of... pride?

Within moments, he shook off the look and charged at me. Another snake, this one a little more powerful, shot from his entire palm. I focused on it, slicing it right down the middle. When I reached him, his eyes were black and his stars were burning brightly.

He raised both of his hands, but I wasn’t afraid anymore. He was weak. And I was the strong one.

Before he could release his final blow, Sun appeared behind him, her flares still raging from her body. Immediately Aeron was on his hands and knees, his skin peeling. I grasped his throat in my hands.

We did it.

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