Chapter Twenty Six
The once dark and cold night flashed with the glowing lights of elemental magic. The portals- too many to count and too dark to glimpse through- opened throughout the academy grounds and unleashed the army of the underworld, the smell of death and decay seeping from within.
Chase, Rose and I ran forward, launching ourselves in the battle without as much as a second thought. Our endless training and mystic instincts kicked in and we had but one purpose: protect the academy and send these invaders back to hell.
As I looked around however, I noticed that our numbers weren’t as impressive as what I thought they would be. It appeared that to every five Grim Ones there was only one Mystic and if it weren’t for the fortunate lack of dead bodies littering the ground I would have thought we were doomed.
I closed my eyes for a brief second and relished in the buzz of magic that rushed through my veins as I summoned my fire. My body felt warm, buzzing with energy and ready to unleash my pent up emotions. I had no idea where this power came from seeing as how I was so desperate to get to bed not even five minutes ago, but I was not about to complain. The second I opened my eyes again, a portal opened up right next to me and I was faced with six shadowy figures slithering out from the depths of the underworld. My heart skipped a worried beat but as my fingertips sizzled with fire, I recovered from my hesitation and sprang into action.
Flames, as volatile and destructive as they were these past couple of days, burst out of my palms and headed directly towards the first Grim One. It was making its way towards me, the stench of death surrounding it and the dark aura of black magic hovering over its hands, when it was suddenly engulfed in fire. A shriek so loud and so shrill I thought I’d go permanently deaf left the creature before it was nothing but a pile of ash on the ground. I thought my attack would deter the others or at least stall for a moment but they didn’t even hesitate, the soulless, bottomless pits where their eyes should have been gazed into nothing as they advanced. I had to think fast. To the rest of the academy, I was still Lilith, which meant I only had access to two elements: Fire and Water. Taking a deep breath and regretting it immediately due to the stench, I held my hands palms up and aimed them at the two creatures in the lead. Fire headed straight for the one of the right and met his attack head on, resulting in an explosion of opposing forces. I didn’t hesitate however and summoned my flames again, this time aiming for its heart, or where the thing should be. It went right through the creature’s chest and blew it up in seconds. Water, at the same time, rose from my left palm and took aim. In any other circumstance, regular water would have been of no use against the Grim Ones, but seeing as how this water was essentially made of elemental magic, it had a fatal effect on the creatures that were nothing but darkness. The grim one I was aiming for dodged the stream of water but in its haste it was burnt by a few rogue flames from my other attack. It shrieked -again putting my senses in grave danger- and faltered slightly, giving me a chance I couldn’t afford to miss. I summoned the stream again and as the creature was mid shriek I aimed the water straight down its throat. It choked and gurgled for a few tense seconds, making disgusting noises that rivaled the stench in its ability to summon my gag reflex and finally exploded into a pile of ash and smoke. I silently thanked the universe for making them essentially shadow and energy, because I did not even want to imagine what that explosion would have looked like if they were made of flesh. Glancing around me, I noticed that the other three Grim Ones were nowhere to be found and I couldn’t help the dread that sent a shiver down my spine as I wondered where they might be. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Chase and Rose standing over two piles of ashes as they each took on a new threat. I was about to sprint towards them when pain like nothing I have ever felt before erupted through my left shoulder. The force of the attack sent me straight to the ground, rocks and branches poking my back and shredding my coat. I skidded to a stop and grunting, I lifted myself up to my knees. My coat was tattered and its shoulder was singed and frayed and with another grunt I took it off to inspect the damage to my flesh. My arm was red and tender and my shoulder erupted in pain when I moved it but thankfully nothing was broken and I was still alive. I looked to my left where the attack came from and gulped when I saw the Grim One standing over me, a sizzling electricity surrounding the ball of magic in its hands.
I tried to stand but my left arm gave up and I fell back down on the rocks. I stared up at the creature, my mind in a haze of panic and despair; I was utterly and completely paralyzed with fear as my eyes were fixed on the sphere of dark energy. I closed my eyes, preparing for the pain that was about to consume my being as flashbacks of the night of my attack invaded my mind. I could see the creatures hovering around me, their cloaked figures surrounding me from every angle. I was so lost in that memory that my heart almost stopped when the familiar shriek of death pierced the air around me. Opening one eye, I sighed and leaned back on the ground when I saw the pile of ash scattered beside me.
“Are you okay?” Kira’s voice was like music to my ears. I lifted my head up and stared at my best friend who looked more like a vengeful angel of death than the blue haired mystic I was so used to. Her hair flew about her face, her face streaked with ash and her jeans ripped at the knees. I took the hand she gave me and stood up, wincing slightly as I did. The pain had already subsided to a dull ache and I rolled my shoulder in an attempt to dispel it.
“Yeah, I’m good.” I shoved my white locks away from my face. “Thank you.” I beamed, throwing my arms around Kira and squeezing her tight.
“You’re lucky that thing missed the first time.” She sighed. Behind her, Brad, Sky and Gabby finished off another group of Grim ones together and ran towards us. I checked on all of them, happy to note that there were close to no injuries on them and then we all made our way to Chase and Rose.
“Is it just me, or are we seriously outnumbered?” I asked once we were all in no immediate danger.
“I noticed it too.” Chase nodded. “It’s like half of us are not even here.”
“You guys haven’t heard?” Sky glanced between us.
“Hear what?” Rose asked.
“This isn’t the only attack.” Kira sighed. “Four other simultaneous attacks were launched on the kingdoms. Someone weakened their wards some time these past couple of weeks enough to allow the portals to open. Half the faculty and council members were dispatched to the four kingdoms to help.”
Silence dawned on us as we processed the severity of the information. Someone, most likely the traitor, managed to slip into the four kingdoms and weaken their protective wards then orchestrated 5 simultaneous attacks all while the royal council was in the midst of a full blown investigation to flush them out. How was that even possible? How did they manage to evade being discovered and plan all of this? And most importantly, why were they doing this at all?
Our moment of contemplation didn’t last long. In less than a split second two new portals materialized right in front of us and through them drifted a new wave of the dark creatures. With the new knowledge of the peril the kingdoms were in, we knew we had no hope of back up and it was up to us to save the island. This time, I didn’t allow for hesitation to cloud my mind because one second could change everything.
Fire, water, earth and air mingled together, the field of energy that the seven of us summoned lit up the starless night. Magic fed on magic and we worked together, power like nothing we’ve ever experienced pulsing through our bloodstream as more and more bodies dropped and ash drifted into the air. Soon we were joined by Kyle and his friends, and then Catherine and her clique showed up. Our group of seven turned into a small army as we moved further into academy grounds, and despite the wreckage and destruction, we were happy to note that we didn’t lose a lot of mystics. It seemed that our training was paying off.
“Something doesn’t feel right.” Kira murmured.
We were standing in the middle of the school’s garden, the air felt heavy and humid and the silence that surrounded us was ominous.
“What do you mean?” Brad asked, his voice low and careful.
“It all feels too… easy.” Rose interfered.
“Maybe we’re just really well prepared this time?” One of Kyle’s friends, Eli, shrugged unsurely.
Just as we were about to move, one colossal portal appeared. The air around it crackled with electricity, the once dark garden now lit up in the metallic shimmer that announced the arrival of more creatures.
“You were saying?” Kira glanced at Eli.
“You have got to be kidding me!” Gabby yelled over the noise of the static.
The vile stench of death hit us like a tidal wave as over a hundred Grim Ones drifted through the open gate that connected our island to the dark realm. Our group, barely half that number with more than a dozen untrained freshmen, would not last long under an attack of this magnitude especially not after what we’ve already tackled. My body tensed as I tried to contain my magic. The elements within me were bursting at my fingertips and as I joined my classmates in their defense against the Grim Ones I half wondered if I could make a difference if I were able to unleash all of it.
We split up into four groups, covering all angles and ensuring no one got past our circle of protection. To my surprise, the lower classmen were holding up better than I thought despite their lack of battle training. Unfortunately that did not mean we were immune. Our numbers were slowly but surely dropping as we took on more and more of the Grim Ones and soon enough we were half of what we started out as.
It seemed like their numbers were endless, like no matter how many we killed or blew up into thin air, more and more kept coming from that god forsaken portal. My senses were so overwhelmed, close to shutting down due to the disgusting smell they brought with them and the loud noises that surrounded us, that it wasn’t until it was too late that I picked up the new static noise that came up from behind me. The stench of death crept up on me so suddenly that I didn’t even have time to turn around, let alone protect myself before I was thrown half way across the quad when a tidal wave of black magic collided with my back. Air left my body in one sudden whoosh and my lungs struggled to provide me with oxygen. My face and palms stung as I collided with the rocky ground and my ears were filled with nothing but earsplitting noise. My vision blurred for what felt like an eternity and my throat burned as I coughed endlessly, trying desperately to breathe again. After what felt like forever, I finally managed to roll onto my back. I blinked away the stars that clouded my vision and took several deep breaths to try and calm my wild heart. Lifting my head up, I watched in terror as the new arrivals made their way towards me. The portal that opened right where I was standing minutes ago was tiny compared to the one that was still glowing in the middle of our group, but that didn’t mean it was harmless. Three dark creatures floated silently towards me, avoiding the battle scene and aiming their soulless glares my way. I tried so desperately to get up, to summon whatever energy I had left and defend myself, but I soon realized that they must have attacked me simultaneously because I was still struggling to breathe. Terror surged through my veins, the reality of my approaching doom sending my already panicked heart into overdrive. I couldn’t even summon enough energy to yell for help or grab my friends’ attention. A whimper left my mouth as I failed to summon even a tiny flame. This couldn’t be it. I didn’t get killed, lose my memory and disappear for two years only to come back and die at the hands of the same creatures that came close to ending me the first time. This cannot be the way I die.
“You cannot be serious right now!” Catherine’s shriek reached my ear seconds before a ball of flames consumed the first Grim one.
“How many times do we have to do this exactly?” Another flame, another fallen.
“I swear it’s like you’re doing this on purpose.” She yelled right before dodging the last creature’s attack and incinerated it with one final burst of energy.
“You do realize the school and the four kingdoms are under attack right? We have other things to do than continuously save your sorry ass.”
Yeah, I think I would rather have died than be saved by Queen bitch herself. Collecting whatever energy and dignity I had left, I rose to my feet and gave a reassuring nod to Rose and Kira who looked both worried and pissed off. Shaking my limbs off, I was relieved to note that the attack didn’t rob me of my powers, but only weakened them temporarily.
“We can’t do this forever!” Catherine screamed as she attacked another creature.
I was surprised to find myself silently agreeing with her as I launched myself back into the battle.
“We have to.” Kira glared her way.
“We’re losing here!” Catherine glared back.
“Not to mention our most powerful mystics are back at the kingdoms.” Kyle supplied.
“We have no choice!” Sky yelled back.
“We have to keep going. We can’t let them win.” I grunted as a sphere of black magic nearly collided with my face.
“How very heroic of you.” Catherine seethed. “We’re dropping like flies, there is no point in continuing this charade. Not to mention having to save your ass every 2 seconds is setting us back. ” Her words sent a tingle of dread down my spine but I pushed them aside and focused on my target. The flames sprouted out of my palms in quick succession and soon 4 more creatures turned into ash.
“If you want to leave, be my guest. I didn’t ask you to protect me!” I turned to Catherine.
“Oh well then I should have let you perish, shouldn’t I your highness?” Catherine spat as she derailed another Grim attack.
“Are you fucking serious right now?” Kyle fumed.
“We are literally in the middle of a battle field you raging psycho!” Kira threw her arms up in the air before bringing them down with a flood of water on a group of creatures that Rose was restraining.
“She’s the weak link here!” Catherine yelled before turning to me with a look of pure hatred in her pale blue eyes. “Always have been weak and will always be weak. As long as you’re still breathing we’re all doomed. Instead of saving the school and portaling back to the kingdoms to help our families and friends we have to stop and save your sorry ass! I can’t be the only one with half a brain cell here to see that she is the real threat!”
Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed Chase’s movements come to a sudden halt about the same second mine did. Ice rushed through my veins as the chaos of the night was overshadowed by the utter silence of my frozen thoughts. Beyond the incessant ringing in my ears, I could vaguely make out Brad’s voice wondering why Chase, Catherine and I all stopped fighting in the middle of a life threatening situation, but I couldn’t bring myself out of my muddled mind to answer him. My body went numb as my mind started unlocking boxes I didn’t even know existed and out of the darkness emerged a nightmare that engulfed my entire being.
The sound of high heels against the cobbled ground soon reached my ears and the shadows made way for something, or rather someone to come through. The feeling of recognition that always took over me finally made sense as Catherine’s face materialized out of the darkness.
“How could you?” I yelled, shock, betrayal and fear were the only things I could feel as my hands and feet remained paralyzed. She pushed her cloak back, reaching for something in the folds of her dress. It shimmered under the moon light as she pulled it out, and my eyes widened in shock when I recognized the symbols that were hovering menacingly around the blade.
Catherine took a few steps forward, closing in the distance between us and cackled, that loud familiar obnoxious laugh that I despised, and twirled the knife between her fingers.
“I couldn’t possibly let a weakling like you ascend to the throne. That would be pathetic. You’re weak Aline, always have been and always will be. You’re a threat to the peace.”
The shadowy figures surrounded us in anticipation, their twisted features reflecting their dark souls, and sneered. A soft whimper escaped my lips as she held the knife firmly in her hands, and with one swift move she plunged it in my chest.
“It was you.” I whispered, my words low enough to dissipate in the noise around us, but not low enough to go unnoticed by Catherine.
“What?” the look of irritated confusion on her face did not fool me.
“How could you do this to me? My own flesh and blood? How could you betray me like that?” My voice rose from pathetic whimpers to loud, angry shrieks. “We were family. I was your cousin and you stabbed me right in the heart without even a blink. You left me there thinking I was dead and came back like nothing had ever happened.”
I was too engulfed in my own heated ramblings that I failed to notice the utter silence that overtook the academy. Out of the corner of my eye I could see the portal sizzle in and out of existence, the last of the attacking creatures meeting their doom at the hand of my friends and allies who soon after turned to gape at me like I had just lost my mind. I couldn’t blame them to be honest, in that moment I felt like I had gone crazy and there was no coming back from the brink of insanity.
“What in the hell are you talking about you crazy bitch?” Catherine was practically foaming at the mouth.
“You know exactly what I’m talking about. You conspired against the throne, attempted to kill the Queen and dabbled into the forbidden dark arts. All these accusations could get you beheaded, dear cousin. Not to mention your role in the attacks against the academy and the four kingdoms.”
“Lilith.” Chase called out, his voice conveying barely contained rage. “You think she is the traitor?”
“Who else could it be?” I glanced at him, my mind working twice as hard to put the pieces together. “The traitor used dark magic to weaken the wards, allowing portals to be opened across the island. The same dark magic that was used that night two years ago to kill me.”
“Are you out of your mind?” Catherine shrieked. “You’re accusing me of practicing black magic?”
“That’s not all we’re accusing you of, Catherine.” Chase’s glare could have turned anyone to stone.
“I can’t believe you’re on her side! Not only is she delusional enough that she thinks she’s my dead cousin, she also thinks I tried to kill her and half the Mystic population?” Catherine marched towards me, the look of uncontrollable rage a heavy contrast to the confident smirk she had on two years ago. “I always knew you were a pathetic, attention seeking weakling, but this is a whole new low even for you.”
“Drop the act.” I matched her glare with one of my own. “I remember everything. The dagger, the symbols, the Grim ones you summoned to help you that night and that god forsaken banshee cry you call a laugh as you stabbed me in the chest.” My hand automatically went to the wound, a phantom pain that made me relive that whole scene again.
“Lilith?” Kira’s voice snapped me out of my daze. I turned my head slightly, noting the look of shock, confusion and irritation that were displayed on my friends’ faces. Kira, Rose, Kyle and Sky were all out of the loop so far but I could see that they started to understand what was going on, albeit not believing it. “What is going on?”
“I’ll tell you what’s going on.” Catherine interjected before I had the chance to answer Kira. “Your dear friend has finally lost her mind and now she’s trying to make a scapegoat out of me. But I’ll be damned if I just stood here and took her bullshit.”
Before I could even blink, Catherine had brought her hands forward. In the back of my mind, I could hear Chase calling out my name and asking Catherine to stop, but it was all white noise. The fire that erupted from her palms was nothing like I had ever seen her conjure before, a deadly force that was meant for one purpose only and that was to end me. I half heartedly wondered if her powers were backed up by some dark magic but I couldn’t be sure, I only knew that if I didn’t act fast I was soon to be toast. But before I could do anything, someone pushed me roughly out of the way seconds before they collided with the flames. A tormented scream, one I have never heard the likes of before and will probably never forget, pierced the silence of the night followed by the sound of a body hitting the floor. Breathing heavily, I turned around as fast as I could only to see Kyle laying motionless on the rocks.
Dread filled me to the core.
Pushing my shock aside, I scrambled to get to him, praying to whoever was listening that he was alright and that he would be fine and that I didn’t just witness my ex boyfriend intercept a deadly attack that was meant for me.
“Kyle?” Breathing heavily, I finally reached him and the sight that greeted me almost made me vomit and pass out at the same time. His black leather jacket was practically incinerated and the shirt he wore underneath was no better but that wasn’t the worst of it. His chest, the whole area around his heart was burnt to a crisp. Flesh sizzled and burnt, blood ozeed out of every crevice and bone peeked out from behind charred muscles. His breathing was shallow and sounded pained and his eyes were unfocused. I barely held back a sob.
“Kyle, it’s okay, it’s going to be okay.” My hands hovered all over his torso, wanting to help but not knowing what to do in fear that I would cause him more pain. “We’ll get help okay? You’ll be just fine, just hold on. Please just hold on.”
I hadn’t noticed the tears that were streaming down my face until Kyle’s shaky, ash singed hands came up to wipe them off.
“I always knew it was you.” I barely understood his pain filled whispers.
“I knew it was you from the day you came back.” He gave me a weak smile. “There aren’t a lot of people out there who affect me the way you do, Aline.” Blood came out of his mouth as he coughed.
“You knew?” I wiped the tears out of my eyes. “Why didn’t you say anything? Why did you push me out of the way Kyle? Why did you help me after what I did to you?” My loud sobs shattered the silence around us.
“Because I couldn’t save you the first time.” His breathing was labored and his words barely left his lips. “She took you away from me once and I couldn’t do anything to stop her. I wasn’t going to let you slip away again.”
From the corner of my eye, I saw Kira and Rose restraining Catherine as Chase watched with barely contained hatred in his eyes. I pushed that traitor out of my mind for the time being and focused back on Kyle. As slowly as I could manage, I lifted his head up and put it on my knees, wiping away the ash and tears from his face. His smile was as mysterious and charming as it was that day by the lake and my heart ached for him. No matter how possessive and controlling he was, he didn’t deserve this fate. He didn’t deserve to die for me.
“Listen to me, Aline.” He breathed. “I don’t regret it. If I had the chance, I’d die for you again because I love you.” Blood continued to pour out of his mouth as he spoke and I felt even more miserable because I knew there was nothing I could do for him. Our healers were all either scattered across the kingdoms or dead and I had no idea who could heal a wound this lethal.
“Don’t say that!” I sobbed harder before taking a deep breath. I can’t freak out now when he needed me. “You are not dying on me, okay? You’ll be fine.”
“You were always a terrible liar.” A laugh that resembled a breathless cough made its way out of his chapped lips. “There is no coming back from this.” As if on cue, his breathing slowed to a barely noticeable gasp. His hand reached out to hold mine and with whatever energy he had left in him, squeezed hard. “They took so much away from you. Don’t let them take any more.”
I nodded twice to let him know I heard him and was about to say something when I noticed his hand slipping away.
“Kyle?” I whispered.
His eyes, once grey as a stormy evening and filled with life were now cloudy. He took a long, winded breath before all movement stopped.
I shook him once.
I shook him twice.
“Kyle come on don’t do this.” My voice rose as I shook him again.
The world stood still as I was watched the life slip out of his eyes and I felt my heart break into a thousand tiny shards that stabbed me in the chest over and over again.
“No!” A rage filled sob escaped my lips that shook the night around us and an endless stream of scathing hot tears poured out of my eyes. The pain I felt was nothing like I’ve ever felt before, not even the pain of getting stabbed in the heart by my own cousin compared.
Kyle was dead.
He died protecting me.
He died to save my life.
Behind the pain, the loss and the gratitude lay an ungodly amount of wrath that threatened to consume me, because none of this would have happened if it weren’t for her. Everything that had ever gone wrong with my life was because of her and I was done letting her take my life away from me. I was done being a pawn in her sick, twisted game.
Tonight, I end her.