Negative Zero (Book 1)

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Chapter 15: Another Curtain

Chapter Fifteen Another Curtain

I stood there by the window for so long, watching the rain fall. I let it hypnotize me in a way that I thought of nothing. Nothing at all. I could see Hayden in my peripheral, raising his arms cautiously to embrace me. I pressed my head against his chest.

“Evika,” he started, “I would give anything to take away the things you saw. I wish I could makes those things vanish, just as I make your pain go away.” He stroked my hair and kissed my forehead.

In previous encounters with him, I would have been wishing for his angel lips to kiss mine, but no such thought occurred to me in that moment by the window. I only wanted him to hold me, like a friend would do, hold me like a normal human would do and just stand there with me and watch the rain fall in the dark night air. I should have known it couldn’t be that simple.

“I know you are not going to want to hear this,” he sighed and I slouched, bracing myself for his next words, “but there is a time limit once the castor is opened, once you’ve made contact with the Seeker.”

I exhaled, flexing my jaw as I responded. “Of course there is,” I said quietly with a hint of irritability in my voice.

“I’d rather wait until you’ve had some sleep, so we will wait until tomorrow morning to continue this,” Hayden said, “but we only have twenty-four hours once you’ve made the initial contact.”

“Or what?” I asked sharply.

Hayden pulled my hair back gently. “That’s the rule, Evika. We can’t break that rule.”

I shook my head and narrowed my eyes, thinking of the images once again. “She doesn’t deserve anything good after doing what she did, Hayden. What’s so bad about letting that Watcher take her back with it? Why shouldn’t we just toss this one back and let her go back to the realm she came from?”

Concern washed across his face as he lifted my chin to observe my eyes. I wondered what he saw more of, the pain or the anger? I almost wanted to look away, so as not to let him see the hatred I felt growing inside me. My eyes never lied and he knew me well enough to see whatever story they told.

“Evika,” he said softly, “I know how you must feel toward the Seeker, and I know it must have been awful to witness the wrongs she committed, but it is not up to you to judge her. If it is her time to move on to the World of Light, then that is the way it must be.” He spoke so matter-of-factually that it irritated me.

I gave him a look of disgust. He had no idea what I saw. And no matter how many times I explained it or however many different ways I told him, he’d never know what I was feeling.

“And how would you know anything about how I feel right now, Hayden? You didn’t see a damn thing! You didn’t see what she did! Don’t tell me that you know how I feel.”

He looked down at me with an appalled expression. His embrace around me loosened and felt colder. “As a matter of fact, Evika, I know exactly how you feel right now. I may not have witnessed her crime, but I’ve witnessed a hell of a lot more than you ever will in your entire lifetime.” I pushed him away, shoving his chest to back away from him. He narrowed his eyes. “Don’t you dare scoff at me, assuming that I don’t know how you feel.”

That was it. His words emptied me of any hope I had left. The way he spoke to me cut through me so painfully. It hurt that he’d snapped at me when all I wanted was for him to say what I felt was normal and true and...human of me. I wanted to hear him tell me it was okay to feel the way I was feeling. Maybe I was being unreasonable with my dismal remark to him, but didn’t I have the right to be that way? I just witnessed some of the worst things I’d ever seen, and what I saw threw me into this undeniable state of despair. All I wanted was comfort, and he made me feel like my conduct was deplorable.

I looked up and into his green eyes, trying not to cry as a new level of anguish overtook me. “Then you are obviously the better person here, Hayden.” Those tears came after I heard myself speak. I couldn’t hold them in any longer. “I’m not you. So, if you’re so damn perfect and forgiving, then you can go save her yourself!” I started to walk away from him and then turned my head. “And while you’re at it, you can ask your god if he really wants me for this job.”

Hayden’s expression softened, as I’m sure he realized he may have said more than he should have. I could see it in his eyes, but it was too late. The damage was done. I gave no thought to my actions as I headed for the door.

“Evika,” Hayden called to me sternly, “don’t do this to me again. Please.” He almost sounded exasperated. I knew what he meant. I recalled the last time I’d displayed this “running from my problems” episode; all because he wanted me to curb my habit. He’d had another thing coming to him if he thought that was happening now.

I tried to find a care within me to make me change my mind, but when I searched for it, I found nothing. I turned slowly, wondering if I really wanted to open my mouth and let the hurt pour from it so I could direct it at him, the one who I needed the most. But then those words came, raw and harsh as ever with contempt. “Go to hell, Hayden.” And I was out the door, gliding down those nine flights of stairs.

I remember making it out to the street, sloshing through the puddles and looking down either way as the rain pierced my skin, falling harder than before. The streets were busy that time of night, and even though I knew it was safer to be where all of the commotion was, I couldn’t have cared less as to what was safe anymore. I wanted to show Hayden just how difficult I was going to make things for him from then on. This horrible side of me was just brewing and wanted to get out, it wanted to make itself known.

I let all of the negative feelings inside me fuel the stupidity that swept my mind as I jogged along the busy street, trying to find one of the darkest alleys nearby. I was nearing the end of the street where traffic slowed and turned the corner around the brick building to find the narrow alley. The moon lit only the top parts of the tall buildings and made the puddles in the pavement glisten along with the metal dumpsters.

I felt cold, heartless and, worst of all, alone. Alone, one of the worst feelings in the world.

I slammed my shoulder against the brick wall of the building, leaning on it to catch my breath as I tried to get air into my lungs. It seemed so much harder to work for the air now. My chest hurt, and my head was spinning. I recalled that pain in my chest and realized it was my heart that was aching. My eyes stung from the tears and rain. I wanted Hayden so badly at that moment, but hated him so much more. Even though I’d hoped he would be coming to my rescue at any time, I felt abandoned by him. I was too proud to run back to him, and if he wasn’t there to stop me from going any further by the time I’d turned the corner, then I was going to ask for even more trouble.

The anger swept through me again and the pain subsided momentarily to let the better emotion take over. I knew what I could find if I was alone and vulnerable and I asked for it as I started walking into the dark. I tightened my jaw and clenched my fists, preparing for the danger I felt around me. I took only five steps before a pair of beady, yellow eyes met mine up ahead, only about twenty feet away. My body froze in fear, and I was hardly able to swallow the gulp stuck in my throat. I kept my eyes on my enemy. The silhouette of the creature was much like I remembered, but the darkness made it so much more difficult to see. I forced myself to push through the wall of fear that left me standing still and proceeded to walk toward it. As I got closer, I noticed the shape of this creature was slightly different than the Drone that attacked me. It was thinner, lighter in color, almost gray, and noticeably smaller in size, like that of a male human. Then, I knew what it was.

I narrowed my eyes as I studied it. It didn’t crouch like the Drone or stand in defense with its wings spread. It only stood on its hind legs with its ugly eyes and dragon-like face, waiting for my approach. I felt less threatened by this creature for some reason, but the closer I got, the harder my heart beat. Despite the warning, something inside me begged for answers.

“You’re waiting for her, aren’t you,” I asked. “Watcher?

Lowering its head, it opened its jaw and hissed at me. I wasn’t quite sure if it was bowing to me, pleading with me or it was just a strange body movement the creatures did when they attempted to communicate.

“Well, you can take her back!” I yelled at it. The Watcher lifted its head and narrowed its eyes. “Do you understand me? You can have them all! If her crime is as bad as the rest of those freaks, then I’m done! They can stay with you and all your little family of minions for all I care! All of them!”

I saw more faces surface in the darkness then. Human faces. I knew they were the Seekers, the lost ones, probably trying to come and bug me to speed up the process and get to all of them, to save all of them. They disgusted me. I looked around at all of their sad expressions and felt absolutely no sympathy. I didn’t even try to search for it this time; I knew it wasn’t in me anymore.

“That’s right, you freaks! You can all go to hell!” I slammed my fist against the dumpster, making the pound against the metal echo through the alley and disturbing the silent darkness. “Whatever hell you’re in, you can all just stay there.”

The Watcher shrieked at me, but stayed at bay. It kneaded its claws into the gravel of the cracked pavement on which it was standing. The creature seemed roused and agitated, but excited. The Seekers dissipated then, leaving me alone once again. I reveled in the idea that it had been so simple to rid of them.

I averted my attention back to the Watcher again and walked nearer, keeping my eyes on it. If Hayden had begun to forsake me, what was left for me? At this point, what the hell did it matter anymore? As I got closer to it, it hissed, moving swiftly and gracefully like a spider, latching its body to the side of the building, keeping its head down and never breaking its intense stare. The Watcher was now above my head, only a foot from me as I looked up into its eyes. I could smell its hot breath as it breathed hisses from its throat, a musty scent. The yellow color of its eyes shined brightly, as radiant as a flame. I tried to see something. Anything. I knew it was wrong to look for answers from an accomplice of the enemy, but it was all I had left. I wondered what it was that was so important that it try to retrieve the Seeker back into its possession.

“What is it that you get for taking them back, huh?” I asked the creature. “What do you get out of it? Why does it have to be this way? Why doesn’t Alysto just let them go like he’s supposed to?” I looked deeper into the Watcher’s eyes. Its pupils dilated to black and almost cleared the flame color away as it stared back. “What’s in it for him, Watcher?” I whispered. “And what’s in it for you?”

Then its mouth opened as if ready to speak, finally making an audible word I could not understand. “Te-ne-brae,” it said slowly, in a crackly male voice through its hisses.

I gasped and looked at him in amazement. “You speak?”

He widened his eyes and jerked his head as if he was startled. I could see the black leave his eyes, and the yellow color of flame reappeared. I involuntarily reached my hand to his face, so close to touching the hard, gray skin before he started backing away, climbing higher along the wall. Watching the creature scurry away from me made me panic, and desperation swept through me entirely as I reached up to beckon him back to me.

“Wait!” I called after him. “Don’t g---” I was thrust forward after I felt a strong pressure over my chest and stomach. The wind was knocked out of me before I could let out a scream. I felt the wind in my face and my heart pound. My eyes widened as I looked at my dangling feet. I caught a quick glimpse of ivory, feathery wings flapping in my peripheral as the ground below escaped me.

Seriously, Evigreen! How can one little human be so much trouble?” Relief set in as I realized it was Luka’s voice. “Lucky for you, I was available tonight.” He chuckled.

“Luka, what are you doing?” I asked frantically. “I wasn’t in danger!”

“The hell you weren’t,” he retorted.

He flew us higher, and as I looked down, I could see that we were nearing the roof of my apartment building. Once I realized we were that high, I started to feel extremely nauseous. Whether it was the height at which we were flying or just the memories of my First Death, I didn’t know. As far as flying went, Luka wasn’t as graceful with me as Hayden had been. Although, he was carrying me in a completely different way, so I made a conscious effort not to fault him for it that time.

Just before I was ready to warn him of my queasiness, Luka took us down to the roof of my building, and we landed gently on our feet. I regained my composure and felt the sickness abate. I also noticed the rain had let up quite a bit. He released me and tucked in his wings.

I looked around. It was only the two of us. “Luka, where’s Hayden?”

“He’s close. He’s taking care of a Drone a few blocks from here. He caught it before it got to you. All I got was his call to come and get you. He said you were up to no good.” He raised an eyebrow at me. “I now see that that was an understatement. Do you mind explaining what it is you were doing with that Watcher?”

I looked away and huffed, reluctant to tell him what had been on my agenda. “I was trying to communicate with it.”

“Ha!” he guffawed. Luka gave me an unfavorable glower. “And why in the world would you do something like that?”

“I need answers,” I said.

“You are quite foolish to think that one of those entities is going to help you, Evika.” Luka gave me a scolding look.

I sighed and looked down, not sure how much I really wanted to explain. “I talked Hayden into letting me do my first save tonight. Everything went wrong.”

He looked at me incredulously. “And, somehow, you miraculously got separated from your Guardian among the evils lurking on this dark, rainy night?” His tone was condescending, but I knew what he was trying to get at.

I rolled my eyes and blew air. Luka raised his brow, waiting for me to answer him. “Okay,” I said, “so I kinda stormed out of the apartment.”

“Hmm.” Luka nodded in satisfaction. “That’s what I thought.”

Before the conversation could go any further, Hayden came bolting out of the sky above, landing safely on his feet while shoving the hydro-gun into his inside jacket pocket and closing his wings immediately. I looked at his jacket and saw four shred marks that went straight through the leather, the pocket hanging by a few threads.

Hayden walked over to me briskly, not a hair out of place. He gave me a disapproving look as he approached. “Do you see this?” he pointed at the rips in the leather. “This is what happens when you really start becoming a pain in my ass.”

I glared back at him. “Oh yeah, Hayden?” I huffed. “Well, you’re starting to become a massively-insensitive prick!”

“Evika, I’m sorry this all went wrong, but you need to stop doing this to me, storming out with these fits of yours!” He started pacing, moving his head and arms around animatedly. “You can yell, pout, cry, hit something....hit me for all I care, but you can’t go running out into the dark asking for trouble with these entities! You are a bonefide, loose cannon, and you need to start thinking before you react!”

“Oh, please!” I scowled. “You know me well enough to expect a reaction. You could have stopped me at any time!”

“Jeez, Evika! You know, I have half a mind to just---”

“Just what, Hayden?!” I roared. “Turn me in to the Council?” I blurted the words out and immediately regretted it after giving Luka a quick glance as I recalled the story about my father. He stood there perplexed. Even in my rage, I still thought of his feelings and how guilty he’d already felt over his last quarrel with Jack.

“Where is the line with you, huh?” Hayden shook his head disapprovingly. “I’ll tell you now, there is not one rule that states a Soldier is only to have one Guardian. I can call in a whole damned squad if I have to,” he threatened. I grunted at him. “And, next time you want to throw a fit, you stay put instead of running around in the night causing havoc with the underworld. Got it?”

His tone with me got me heated all over again. “Wow!” I gasped dramatically. “Now, there’s the pep talk I needed. Thank you, asshole!”

“Okay! Enough!” Luka yelled, stepping between me and Hayden, holding his hands up. “This needs to stop right now!”

“Couldn’t agree more!” I yelled and folded my arms.

Ignoring Luka, Hayden walked around him to approach me once again. “Seriously, Evika! What goes on in your head?” I scowled at him for continuing the argument. “Is it some rite of passage for you to deliberately make things so difficult for the both of us?”

“Someone needs to tell me what’s going on!” Luka demanded.

I felt my nostrils flare and my blood start to boil as I tightened my fists. “And what, may I ask, crawled up your ass and died today, Hayden? I didn’t ask for this! If I have to see another murder like that, I am going to lose it! This is bullshit!”

“Wait, what she is talking about?” Luka turned to Hayden.

Hayden threw his head back and blew out a long, deep breath. I did more than assume that he was holding his tongue in regards to what he wanted to say to me. He looked over at Luka. “It appears she can witness the Seeker’s memories, the offenses that put them in the dark realm.”

“What?” Luka looked confused, and then a look of shock washed across his face.

“Offenses,” I guffawed maniacally at Hayden’s use of the word. “That word is a bit light. Try acts of inhumanity. And how much would you bet that they are all just like hers?”

“Evika,” Luka looked at me with concern, “after you saw these images, did you save her?”

“No,” I shook my head. “I panicked and just kept screaming for Hayden.” I closed my eyes and winced at the images flooding back to me before I continued. “The mist left my body and went back into the castor.”

Luka nodded. “Well, that explains the Watcher still hanging around,” he said, unsurprised. He looked over at Hayden with a determined expression. “Have you even told her yet?”

“Told me what?” I jumped at Luka’s inquiry.

Hayden narrowed his eyes as he looked at Luka, who sighed and shook his head. “Hayden, she needs to know the dangers. ALL of them.”

“She knows that once she has made the initial contact with the Seeker, they must be saved. That’s the rule, plain and simple.” Hayden answered and then looked at me. “And she will abide by that rule,” he added. I glared at him.

“Right,” Luka looked at Hayden grimly, “but did you explain why?

“Luka, she doesn’t need us to create more alarms. It’s hard enough on her as it is, especially after what just happened tonight.” Hayden seemed irritated now. “She’s been safe all these years. What’s the point in worrying her now?”

“Oh, for crying out loud, I am right here!” I was frustrated. “Will one of you please just tell me what you’re talking about? The cat’s halfway out of the bag now, so just spit it out already.”

Hayden glanced over at me and balked before saying anything; I could sense his reluctance. He finally answered. “Fine,” he threw his hands in the air and started pacing. “Maybe this will knock some sense into you.”

I rolled my eyes, folded my arms, turned to Luka. “See what he does to me? And he wonders why I get all bent out of shape.” I turned to Hayden again. “I wish you would stop being so damned cryptic and just tell me what the hell it is I need to know!”

“Evika,” Luka pulled my attention to him, “the reason the Watcher is there while you conduct the save is because it has the ability to take back the Seeker. In fact, it has two chances. If you let the spirit mist form completely once you open the castor, the Seeker can be captured. That is just a nuisance and not really the perilous part. The more critical part we have to worry about is after you make that first contact with them. After you breath in the mist, there is no turning back. The Seeker must be saved.”

I stood, waiting for him to identify the actual problem this created. “Okay, I get that part now. The Seeker has to be saved within twenty-four hours. That’s the rule.” I was tired of waiting for the punch line. “What happens when the rule doesn’t get followed? Because that’s the part I’m aiming for.” I was thankful that Luka was there finally to put some fire under Hayden in order to get him to tell me something I should have already been told. I could see him pacing in the corner of my eye as Luka continued.

“Before your father turned the castors over to Hayden, he’d conducted one last save. However, he recognized the Seeker after the initial contact and decided not to do the save. This happened while I wasn’t present.”

“So where were you?” I asked Luka.

His head lowered. “I never should have left him alone. It was the night I’d gone to the Council. I thought he was sleeping. I think he knew my intentions and opened that last castor just to spite me after I left. By the time Hayden came to collect the four castors, the time was already up and the Watcher had already taken the Seeker back.” Luka lifted his head to look at me. “Little did we know, your father created something terrible.” Luka looked at Hayden, who was ready to finish the story.

“Ev,” Hayden walked up to me slowly, studying my eyes, “do you remember after we went to the bank, we spoke about your father giving you his spirit earlier than he should have had to?”

I nodded. “You said something was already after me.” I pursed my lips as I remembered how angry I’d been. “Then you dropped the subject.”

He sighed, ignoring my blatant comment.“That something is called a Phantom. Your father inadvertently created this new entity when he didn’t save the last Seeker. A Phantom has never existed before your father broke that rule. The Watcher was able to recapture the Seeker’s spirit and manifest as a new entity.” His stare into my eyes intensified. “If the Seeker is not saved, the Watcher can recapture them and merge itself with the spirit, becoming something dark and menacing. The Phantom is the first of its kind.”

I closed my eyes and tightened my jaw, trying to clear my mind in order to focus on the right questions I wanted answered. “And where is it now?” I asked.

Hayden looked at me solemnly and sighed. “Hunting,” he admitted.

I narrowed my eyes at him, wondering if I even wanted to ask, but I had to. “Hunting what, Hayden?” Hayden and Luka gave each other a look of concern, and I glanced between the two of them, taking in what the meaning of their silence meant. “Oh, you have got to be kidding me.” I threw my arms in the air and my head back. “Me? It’s hunting me?”

Hayden shook his head. “Evika, it’s not something you need to worry about. Every Guardian is well aware of the danger, and the Council set orders that we heed in order to keep you safe. Precautionary measures have been taken and have been followed since the very day we found out about the Phantom. I don’t want you to worry about---”

“What measures, exactly?” I interrupted, slightly panicked. “Why does this thing want me?”

“Jack gave you his spirit, so you are no longer a Half-life,” Hayden explained. “He did this in order to keep you from the dangers of the new entity.”

“But I thought that was to save me from Alysto’s hands,” I inquired.

“Yes, but you would have been safe from him until you Crossed.” His eyes narrowed before he spoke again. “Jack saw the things that the Phantom is capable of. He said he had visions of the Phantom becoming strong enough that it will eventually be able to possess things.”

“Possession. As in exorcism crap?” This was unbelievable to me.

Discontentment showed in his eyes. “Yes.”

I was more irritated than I was scared. I’d had enough of this new life already. “And what does that have to do with me? Why would it want me?” That was the real question I needed an answer to.

Hayden sighed. “Because you are a vessel for it to get to the others.”

“The others. You mean the Seekers?”

Hayden nodded.

“Is this Alysto’s doing?” I asked.

“We don’t know,” Luka said. “From what we do know, the Phantom can cross between each realm freely and isn’t under the power of Alysto anymore. It’s not something he can control.”

I glanced at Hayden’s expression and saw a softer look on his face. His guard was down and I hoped, with all I had in me, that he would answer me true. “What else are you keeping from me?” I asked him.

Hayden’s head shot up quickly to meet my eyes, then sank again. “You know all that you need to know, Evika.”

“That’s not what I asked you, Hayden,” I snapped at him. “What else are you keeping from me?

Hayden finally met and kept his eyes with mine. “Nothing.”

It only partly pacified my distrust in him. In my heart, I knew he had only been omitting certain things for my own good. I wanted to believe that, but that other part of me knew there was more, and it frustrated the hell out of me.

“Hayden,” Luka broke the silence, “why don’t you go back inside and get cleaned up? I’ll take her out for a while.”

Hayden nodded to Luka as he opened the metal door. I watched him stand there thinking for a few seconds until he turned to look at me. “Will you, at the very least, humor me and put on a jacket before you go out?” There was something more in that question when he asked it. His eyes looked apologetic and defeated. And even after the night’s events, I could see he still cared so deeply about my well being.

I looked down at my soaked clothes. I’d run out in jeans and a t-shirt, and it seemed like they were stuck to me, indefinitely. My wet hair hung heavy, some pieces dangling in my face. I looked at the angel and nodded. “Okay,” I said softly.

“I’ll meet you downstairs,” Luka said to me.

“I’ll be down in a few, Luka,” I said as I followed Hayden into the building.

Hayden opened my apartment door while I stood in the hall. He was back in a flash with my army jacket, holding it open for me to slide into. “When you get back, we really need to talk,” he said solemnly.

I didn’t feel threatened by his tone, even though it sounded like something a parent would say to a child whom they were about to scold. “Yeah,” I said as I slid into my jacket. “I know.”

“I’ll wait up,” he promised.

As I walked over to the elevator, I hit the “down” arrow and turned to him. “Wouldn’t expect anything less from you,” I said with a half-smile. I watched him in the doorway until the elevator doors closed. He still hadn’t taken that ruined leather off, and I started to wonder if he’d ever part with it.

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