“In here,” the cold, snake-like voice echoed from the back of the house, and Sarah marched into the dimly lit dining room. Margret sat on the chair, in the same restrained way Sarah saw on the video, and Jake stood behind her, a long kitchen knife in his hands.
“Why are you doing this, Jake? Let her go, please.”
Jake grinned, a sardonic thing, that turned her skin cold. “I honestly didn’t think you would show up here alone. I knew you wouldn’t call the cops, but I have to say, I expected you to be stupid enough to bring that monster with you.”
Sarah inched her way into the room meeting her grandmother's scared eyes. “Please just let her go. She has nothing to do with this.”
Jake nodded, his eyes not once leaving Sarah’s. “You know what? You’re right, we don’t need her anymore.”
He moved around her, the knife dangerously close to the frail skin on Margaret’s neck. He stopped at her side, raising the knife to her head.
“No! Jake, please, please. I’m begging you, don’t do this. You have me, you can let her go.”
Jake paused the knife inches away from her grandmother’s chest, his eyes burning into Sarah. “Why should I listen to anything you say? Huh? Why?”
She held her hands up at her sides and carefully moved forward. “We’re friends, Jake. Before all this craziness came into my life, we were friends. Please, just tell me why you’re doing this.”
“How much has that asshole told you? Did he tell you about the crusades? About the witch hunt? About what he does to people in Purgatory? What my mother went through because of him?”
“No.” She moved closer. “But I know about the crusades. I know about how he devours souls in Purgatory. I have a friend who told me a lot.”
The arm holding the knife lowered as Jake frowned at her. “So, you know what he is? You know you can’t trust him,” Jake's arm sagged to his side and he stepped forward, “Help me, Sarah. Help me kill him. If I can end his reign of terror, then Purgatory can go back to the way it was. To the peaceful afterlife it used to be before he destroyed it.”
That stopped Sarah in her tracks. Axin didn’t do that. Your mother did!
She contemplated telling him the truth, hitting him with the facts, but the crazed look in Jake’s eyes had her rethinking that idea. For now, all she could do was play along, as she called out for Axin in her mind.
“I never asked for any of this, Jake. I had no idea any of this existed before a few days ago.”
Jake narrowed his eyes at her, “Don’t lie to me, Sarah. I know Axin has watched over you since the day he killed your folks. I was there, I saw him pull you out. I could feel his filthy existence around you every time I saw you. His stench in your apartment, on your skin. Don’t tell me you never noticed him.”
Sarah hastened to answer. “I only ever saw his smoke. It terrified me my whole life. I thought I was going crazy! Does that sound like something I wanted in my life?”
Jake let out a long breath, his eyes turning sad. “Did he tell you what he and Nilu did to the rest of my family? To Nilu’s sisters and brothers?”
Sarah met her grandmother’s eyes. They were wide, confused, and still dripping with tears.
“No,” Sarah said, giving the old lady a small nod.
Jake laughed. “Of course he didn’t. He would never make himself look bad in front of his precious Sarah. Well, let me hit you with a bit of truth about him! Nilu had five siblings. Three sisters and two brothers. My mother was the youngest of them. She died in a war he started! The rest fled to the high mountains in Chile. They lived there for hundreds of years, in peace. They never bothered anyone. They hardly used their magic. But Nilu wanted them dead. He sent Axin to hunt them down. Did you ever hear about the earthquake of 1960? One of the largest ever recorded in the world. That was my family trying to defend themselves from Axin. But it was no use. He still killed each and every one of them. Generations of my family slaughtered like animals! That is who he is. That is all he ever does!”
Jake was getting upset again, and the knife waving in front of her grandmother's face made Sarah step closer to him. “I’m so sorry, Jake. I really am. But please understand that I had nothing to do with that.”
He glared at her, his breaths quick and shallow, and his eyes glowing with rage. He took a long, calming breath and shut his eyes.
“I’ve never had a problem with you, Sarah. You’re a good person. You just got tangled up in some really bad shit.”
“It’s shit I never asked for. The choice was made for me when I was five years old.”
Jake met her eyes and pointed the knife at her, then at the chair next to her grandmother, “Sit.”
Jake continued his ranting. “You have no idea what kind of monster he is, Sarah. He sits on his moral high horse, believing he is protecting the living world, and fighting the evil in Purgatory. But at the same time he serves the man that started all of this in the first place.”
“What?” Sarah asked, sitting down next to Margaret, placing a hand on her knee.
Jake snorted. “He left that out of the welcome tour, did he? The part where Nilu was the one that made the spell linking random people to animals? Then, when my mother and the others did the same thing, releasing all those people to live who they were born to be, Nilu was furious. He wanted to play god, and he hated that the others had the power to do the same. As the firstborn, Nilu had the most magic of them all, so in order to break the spell releasing everyone, he had to take his own life. But not before creating himself a paradise to live in. But when my mother died, he couldn’t stand to be around her, so he set fire to it, and moved on. He left her there, to suffer for eternity. Then he sent his lapdog in to keep the peace. Bulshit! All Axin did was kill. His power over the souls in Purgatory got to his head, and he moved around there like he owned the place. When my mother got sick of the tyrant, she began working on a plan to set everyone free of Axin and Nilu… Me.”
Sarah listened to everything he said, not sure who to believe. Jake looked crazy, the way he spoke of his life, and his mother, but she had spent time with Axin. He had over twenty years to hurt her, or drive her insane, but he didn’t. Deep inside, Sarah just couldn’t believe that the sweet, funny, and caring man in the field, was really this monster.
“Did he tell you about the crusade that followed? About how he slaughtered everyone. Little children asleep in their beds were ripped apart by him. Families that only wanted to live in peace, who had never done anything wrong, were murdered.”
She’d had enough. She didn’t want to hear any more.
“That’s not true,” she whispered, moving her eyes to her lap as tears stung.
“He led the charge, Sarah! He is Nilu’s second-in-command! The right hand of the most powerful witch in all of time! Well, not for long.
“Then there is the all-powerful Nilu. The leader of the warriors, and the protector of the living. Bullshit! He lives for the power it gives him. He thrives off it. He collects his little pets, all willing to kill and die for him, and the rest he sentences to a life of misery, darkness, and fear. You have no idea what Purgatory is like. It’s a vicious place, where only the strongest survive.”
Sarah sat in silence, listening to Jake's rant.
Axin, please, Sarah called in her mind, Help us. He’s lost his mind.
“What do you want with me?”
Jake’s grin made her heart fall. She had never seen a more sinister thing in her life before.
“You are the last piece. I finally got the book my mother needs, and the only thing missing is you.”
“Do you know how to kill a dragon?”
“You rip out its heart and burn it in its own fire. Getting Axin’s heart is impossible, but not yours.”
She swallowed, her breaths growing quicker, “And then what? You release all the linked in the world? Cause Armageddon?”
“Not just those alive, Sarah. The ones in Purgatory, as well. Then, finally, I will be free. I will be able to live the life I dreamed of with Lex.”
She frowned at the mention of her friend. “Lex? You broke up with her. And what do you think will happen to her once all hell breaks loose? How do you think she will feel about knowing the man she loves had a hand in killing so many people. You say Axin is the monster, but take a long look in the mirror. If you do this… If you help your mother set this into motion, you will kill so many more people than Axin ever did. And not just the linked. Innocent people that have no place in this game of tug-of-war your mother and Nilu have.”
Jake let out a sigh as his shoulder sagged. “I don’t have a choice, Sarah. You don’t know my mother. If I don’t take you to her, she will find a way to hurt me. To remind me of who is in control of my life. What I was born for. The only thing out there that could hurt me is Lexi. You don’t even want to know the kind of shit my mother can do to her if I fail.”
It dawned on Sarah then. Jake never wanted to be a part of this. He spent years taking his time in getting that book he spoke of, just so he wouldn’t have to go back to his crazy mother. She decided to try a new tactic.
“Jake,” she called, getting his attention.
He turned to look at her. “What?”
“You can have the kind of life you want. You can have Lexi and the beautiful home in the country. The kids and the dream she told me about. You can still have all of that, without having to destroy the world in the process. I know you don’t want to hear this, but think about who the lesser of two evils here is. Your mother has brainwashed you into believing that Axin and Nilu are the bad guys, and I’m not saying they aren’t, but you have to admit, so is she. Think about everything you told me. Everything you know about Purgatory. Without someone to keep the peace there, imagine what it would be. With all those linked running free, no control, it would be far worse than it is now. Think about what your mother has done, as well. You are the only child born in Purgatory. How do you think that happened? She had to tap into the darkest of magic to get that right. Not only that but have you ever met your father?”
Jake listened, then shook his head. “No. He died when I was born.”
“Died? Or killed? With no one to take you away from your mother, she raised you the way she wanted, unchallenged. She could tell you any bullshit story, and no one would correct her, or tell you the truth. You can find the truth yourself, Jake. I will help you, but please, just think about what it will mean if you go through with this.”
“I can’t run from her.” His voice was low, filled with emotion. “She will find me no matter where I go. My magic is strong, but hers is unmatched. I can’t hide from her.”
“There is someone that can help.”
She waited, watching Jake closely for how he would react. He raised his head and met her eyes.
“He will kill me the moment he sees me. If not, then Nilu will take away everything I am.”
Sarah stood, inching closer to Jake. “I will help you. I will make sure they don’t hurt you, and we can deal with your mother together.”
He turned to face her. “She is all the family I have left.”
“No, she isn’t. You have an uncle. You have Lexi, and you have me. I know we never really got along, but I know why. Even so, I am still willing to do whatever I can to help you get out of this.”
“She has everything she needs. All that’s missing is you. She will come for you, Sarah. I won’t be able to protect you from her.”
“I will,” Axin’s deep voice called from the entrance to the house. Sarah whipped her head around to look at him, and the rage in his eyes made her fear return.
Axin marched towards them, his eyes fixed on Jake and his lip curled. She saw the death in his eyes as they locked onto their target.
Thinking quickly, Sarah stepped in front of Jake, blocking him with her body and held out her hand to Axin. “Stop!”