Chapter Thirty-One: Deathly Undead
Reaching Ashrise City took longer than expected with the slight delays, the short stop to collect fuel being one of them.
Zack wasn’t at all amused when they reached the service station where he had to supervise Andrew.
And to top it all off, the sandwiches Rowan got included the only filling he couldn’t stomach, to which the man insisted was the only flavour left beside the one Andrew was, at the time, digging into while holding a smirk on his face as Zack cast his own aside.
On driving through the heart of the city, Zack couldn’t help but think that out of all of the lands, Ashrise seemed to be doing the worst.
Resources weren’t as common, the harsh and dry air combined with the desert floor killing most things that attempted to grow.
But they seemed to have adapted in their own way, even if it didn’t look as splendid as the others, specifically the city of Embers that showed it up with its gleaming towers.
The city of Embers was the most advanced in terms of construction, out of the four clans, they adapted with the time and learnt how to use the sun as they would with their powers before the Trinity War.
They still refused human technology and followed the broken and all but non-existent accords, keeping to themselves inside the city.
Andrew had told them that Horatio apparently lived on the other side of the city. although Zack thought it was safe to say that no one trusted him, especially after the run-around he’d taken them on down back allies, some of which came to a dead-end, and others that lead to somewhere he clearly didn’t know.
It raised a million red flags in his head, it was like Andrew was stalling.
“Turn left,” Andrew said out of the blue, not that Aveline paid attention to his seemingly urgent demands and took the turn in her own due time.
They entered an abandoned cul-de-sac, the houses undoubtedly once quaint and belonging to young families, hosting them and their lives through the years.
The memories that must belong to the neighbourhood must be countless, all of them kept secret with the people who no longer lived there, for now, all the houses stood bleak and forgotten in the setting, winter dusk.
“Attempt anything, and you will be forcefully returned to the van” Rowan informed him on making an exit of the vehicle.
“I wouldn’t expect anything less” he groaned as Zack opened the back doors and shoved him out soon following behind.
All the homes seemed normal and the calls of children from a nearby park, no doubt from the cul-de-sac over.
It made Zack wonder how something so sinister could linger in a place that seemed so innocent and, well, normal.
Providing another shove to Andrews's back, Zack gave further instructions “Go on, show the way” he said mockingly.
“Impatient bastards” Andrew whispered beneath his breath in reply as he limped towards the house at the far end.
The paint on the wooden boards was slightly peeling, but it seemed in a reasonable condition and simply in need of a little love and care.
“He’s inside,” Andrew said, his voice clearer and louder.
Not trusting an ounce of him, Zack was adamant when he said “You first”.
“Where’s your sense of adventure?” Andrew teased with his bruised, sly smirk.
“I don’t trust you, there could be traps.”
“Where’s your faith?” he asked sounding bored.
Turning around so his back was against the door, Andrew's hand landed on the handle, pushing it down the door opened leaving him gesturing to the empty space in the doorway as if it proved anything.
“You see? It’s completely safe, you shouldn’t be so paranoid”
“Shut up” Zack grumbled and barged past.
He took only five steps inside before he was brought to a stop by Andrew's forearm wrapped around his neck, the rope thought to be binding his hands together was laying on the scuffed floorboards.
In his other hand was Zack’s gun, slipped silently from his holster as he had passed by, now pressed to the side of his head.
“Drop your weapon” Rowan commanded, his weaponless self stood beside Aveline who help a loaded gun in Andrew's direction, although the look on her face told Zack she didn’t have a clear shot without hitting him in the process.
“So it was a trap all along” Zack dared with no fear in his voice as he swallowed beneath Andrew’s forearm. “How did you even get free?”
“It was too simple, you shouldn’t have turned away when I used the toilet. Besides it’s not a trap, more like a decoy” he sneered near his ear, his breath catching the hairs on the back of Zack’s neck.
Keeping her hold steady on the gun, Aveline asked “A decoy for what?” Although dreading the answer as her grey eyes refused to move off of Zack.
“Where is Horatio, Andrew?” Rowan questioned fiercely, his body however held a relaxed composure but it didn’t calm anyone in the room this time.
“One question at a time, you’re all making my head hurt. I’ve had to listen to you all yap and babble on for days, but not anymore. It’s me calling the shots now and my first demand is all three of your lives” he said, tapping the barrel of the gun against Zack’s head.
Taking a chance, Zack threw his head back colliding with Andrew’s face, he then staggered backwards his body contorting with pain-filled movements.
It gave Zack a chance, one single chance that he took to turn and grab a hold of Andrew’s arms to which he drove back into the wall and pinned them above his head
Having taken the gun out of his murderous grip, Aveline and Rowan had followed suit, but Andrew had more fight in him.
He lashed out, thrusting his knee into Zack’s stomach sending him doubling over and reaching for the wall for stability.
Rowan, bowing down, began charging at Andrew and didn’t stop until his shoulder stuck his waist in a tackle stance, but as their movements ceased due to the wall again, Andrew brought his fists down over and over against Rowan’s back.
Back on his feet, his expression grim, Zack raised a fist directed at Andrew’s face, however, before he could go through with it, a fist met Andrew’s forehead knocking him into unconsciousness.
Aveline stood, shaking out her roughed up knuckles, her hair, despite being pulled back on her head, was wild with curly streams of auburn cascading down the sides of her face.
“Nice punch” Zack complimented
“Do you want to be punched too?” she asked with a straight face and a voice that said don’t mess with me.
Stepping back, all the whole Rowan heaved Andrew over his shoulder, Zack holstered his gun “What did I do?”
“You never put yourself in front of a threat, especially when they’re as sly as him,” she said and slapped him on the arm as frustration and the dying panic set in.
“You’re right, I’m sorry” he apologised.
“Don’t say you’re sorry, it was a mistake and everyone makes them, just make sure you learn from it.”
Nodding in, somewhat, agreement, he attempted to leave the conversation and follow Rowan out of the front door, but as Aveline’s slender fingers encompassed his wrist, he stopped.
“I understand that your head isn’t where it usually is, but it put your life at risk Zack. You had a gun to your head”
“I’m-” Zack began but caught himself before he could say the words he so despised to hear from others.
With cleared space between them, he stepped forward and collected auburn locks around his fingers, his other hand taking to caressing the soft blush on her cheeks.
“We both do things we regret, yet we forgive each other. Can you forgive m, for my mistakes, Aveline?” he asked in a broken tone.
“Of course. I am not mad, I was just worried”
“I know” he whispered and left a gentle kiss on her forehead before his own rested against hers.
Such a delicate nature, she thought, if only all of the people who shamed him in his youth could see him now, so strong and yet, so doting.
Every time he touched her, sensual or not, he did so with careful hands, but not in the sense that he thought she was fragile but rather in the sense that he did so with every ounce of love and adoration.
Each gesture, made her feel it all.
“We should go, it won’t do us any good to be on Rowan's bad side”
“This is a nice house” Zack muttered unresponsive to Aveline’s statement, his own mind crashing around him as his eyes fell to stare at the walls and halls in a blank haze.
“Now is not the time to house shop, did you even hear what I said?”
“It would be a good place to raise a family” he mindlessly replied.
“Zack” she began, but his words never faltered with her interruption.
“I know we can’t naturally, but there are ways we could make our family”
“Why now?” She asked curiously, seeing the bleak and brooding expressions shadowing his usual bright, icy irises and not being able to dampen his clearly cheerless mood more.
“I’ve been thinking about it a lot. After losing Helena and Rena, I’ve realised things happen unexpectedly and that some things you shouldn’t wait for” Zack stated dolefully.
“But children, Zack, and a family? That’s a big move. It’s a lot we’d have to talk about”
His eyes fixed on hers “I know, but I also know that we both have dreamt of having families. Besides, up until a while ago, we didn’t know we’d want to have one together, but now that it is a possibility, why don’t we just go for it?”
“Because the world isn’t stable enough Zack, babies and children aren’t something you just aim for on a whim. We will have small lives to look after, it won’t just be our own to protect anymore. Bringing up a child in a world like this wouldn’t be fair, nor as enjoyable as you think” she said gravely, despite having pondered the possibilities also, but she knew better than to put a child through what she had gone through in her youth, she expected Zack to as well but she supposed she’d thought wrong, once again.
Agonized, Zack dropped his head a degree, enough so that she couldn’t entirely see his face or the pain held within the swirling glacier waters in his eyes “Can we keep it on the table?” he asked with the last bit of hope he felt as though he possessed.
“Of course, just for now, we have other things to think about. When it’s taken care of, then we can talk about a family and a house”
Taking her hand tenderly, he left a faint kiss on her bruised knuckles like a prince in the fairy tales his mother used to read to him and Helena as children.
Stories where all the character's troubles would be sorted by the time the sun went down, where the prince always receives the princess's hand in marriage when the day is always saved by the heroin.
“And they all lived happily ever after” he whispered to the musty air.
* * *
In the main hall, Vasilios comfortably taking up the throne behind him, his father standing with a single kris knife in his left hand, twirling it obnoxiously around his fingers now and then, Kaydence observed his opponent.
“The deal was that I would fight you both” Kaydence noted irked.
“Fight your father, then decide if you want to go up against me too,” he remarked sanguinely.
Vallen stepped forward and despite what everyone said about him before the Trinity War, he neither looked paranoid nor crazy, if anything, he was alarmingly calm.
Breathing steady, his eyes fixed and calculating.
“Wait, this isn’t a fair fight” Kaydence called
Wryly, Vasilios’ lip twitched into a snarl-like grin “You’re only just realising this now?” he said.
“I can’t hurt either of you”
“You should have thought about that when you agreed to the fight. Now enough of the dawdling, I have things to be doing and all of this chit chat is boring me”
Not daring to look at either Mayfel or his mother, Kaydence griped Acuere just a little tighter.
He saw no point in striking first and so he gave a sure nod to his supposed father and awaited the moment of his first attack.
Vallen charged at him with a speed that alarmed him, he supposed he found out where Dalamis inherited his battle speed and technique from.
Parrying the blow, sword and knife clanging together, Kaydence ducked beneath the blades and twirled around in an attempt to wrap his arms around his father's throat.
But Vallen as quicker, his foot hooked behind Kaydences and as he tugged it out from under him, Kaydence and his short-sword was sent thudding to the floor.
“That looks like it hurt” Vasilios hissed without the concern in his voice, one might think should have been there.
Ignoring the hand offered to him by Vallen, Kaydence collected himself and his weapon and assumed a new stance, the blade running parallel with his forearm, pointing in the direction of his elbow.
“Stop acting like a fair opponent” he grumbled.
“As you wish” Vallen replied politely, his wings rising and stretching open, lifting him into the air, the blade once again passing in flipping motions in his hand
The man wasn’t there for long, his wings thrust him upwards before they tucked around his body and he began his plunging descent towards Kaydence.
He waited until the last second to dodge and clearly a second too late as the wavy blade caught his shoulder.
Kaydence dropped to his knees, sliding himself across the smooth floor out of the way so he could observe the damage done.
It was nothing life-threatening, but the stinging of the dust-clogged air lapping and smothering it wasn’t helping his focus.
“You are not going to weep are you, my son?”
Kaydence sprinted towards him and as anticipated, Vallen lowered his body into a jumping position and leapt into the air and avoided Kaydence as he passed, or so he thought.
Taking hold of Vallen’s ankle with his free hand, he used his wings to boost himself up before letting himself drop, yanking his father down with him, although his father fell much harder than he did, the result being Vallen left in a crumpled heap on the floor.
Whistling with an impressed look on his face, Vasilios all but nearly stood up from his seat “You sure do have some tricks up your sleeve, Kaydence Harkhallow”
“Don’t call me that” Kaydence warned, his features toughened with the memories and adrenaline of battle.
“Continue” Vasilios dismissed him with a careless wave, by which time Vallen was already on his feet and running towards him.
With widened eyes, Kaydence was caught off guard and rapidly lost his footing as he stumbled back and also the sight of the entire room.
His father still charging towards him, the deathly, claw-like rocks of the valley he’d seen so many times in his dreams rose up around him, embedded into the cavern walls and floor.
Blades clashing as he fends off his father, Kaydence tried not to acknowledge his surroundings, knowing it’d cloud his mind with too many questions.
Spawning from the particles in the air, Vasilios appeared by his side “Well, isn’t this unfortunate?” he said, his eyes moving to Vallen’s hand that had encompassed Kaydences throat, but it wasn’t the worst part as his father was edging a blade towards his jugular, his only choice of survival being to grab his wrist.
With the pressure on his airways, Kaydence croaked out “How?” his mind berserk, grappling for words and answers.
“Have you not wondered, why it was only you that suffered the visions during your connection to the boy? Did you not wonder why you got hallucinations? And why I was able to enter your mind so easily? Your mind is weak and your magic weaker it is like a thread just waiting to be pulled” he announced and as he did so, a green shimmering thread leading into the ground appeared in Vasilios’ hands.
“What’s that?” Kaydence muttered as he swallowed his fear.
Grinning maniacally, Vasilios raised an eyebrow “Why don’t we find out” he said and yanked suddenly on the thread bringing up more from the rocky ground.
The murky, green fire began to travel up the line, sparked by an unknown source and as it neared Vasilio's hands he threw the slender string onto Kaydence.
It slithered around him, the twine latching to his skin like jellyfish tendrils and stung like them too until the fire reached his body and set him alight.
Slowly but surely, the flames sunk into his skin leaving behind scar-like markings of a foreign language, a language Kaydence recognised.
His eyes switched to parakeet green, as his hands dripped with flames that slid down the blade of Acuere.
Something dark and powerful too over and the subconsciously, Kaydence shoved Vallen backwards and followed swiftly after him not allowing him to catch himself too much, he swung Acuere at his so-called father but instead of colliding with his face where he aimed, it came into contact with an invisible barrier, just an inch from his face.
“At least we know it works,” Vallen noticed smugly, to which Vasilios smirked at proudly from his seat, legs crossed and hands resting on the arms of the throne, he appeared so arrogant.
Kaydence restlessly swung and slashed at Vallen forcing them into a dance around the room, Kaydence was gone to the world, his consciousness lost and all control and thought processes were put on hold.
Vallen began to tire, his parries and attacks becoming weaker and inconsistent, nevertheless, Kaydence continued not once faltering or slowing.
Mayfel could see the way Kaydences eyes were glazed over and a different colour to the usual blue and gold and if that wasn’t enough of an indication that something was wrong, then the fire down the blade of his sword was and the fact it wasn’t harming him.
“Kaydence! Kaydence” Elena cried desperately over and over, hoping one of her calls would pierce through the haze surrounding his mind.
“Do not bother, he will stop eventually. All magic has to recharge, especially that of that power” Vasilios stated, his eyes fixated on the fight.
“What did you do to him?” Mayfel asked bluntly.
Grunting with a frown on his lips, Vasilios pried his excited eyes away and directed them to the gathered group “Nothing, I simply encouraged him, I suppose you could say”
“Kaydence!” Mayfel called.
Kaydence, responding somewhat turned to face him but the lack of emotion on his face scared him.
That was until he held up the necklace gifted to him and like a beacon of hope, Kaydences eyes shimmered with a glint of recognition, even more so when the words on the back of the pendant slipped from Mayfel’s lips.
Like sand to fire, the green was extinguished, the flames on his sword simmering down to smoke and with the eerie magic gone, Kaydence regained his composure and managed to force Vasilios and his cruel words out of his head.
“Acuere” his mother called and in a blink of an eye, the hilt left his hand and the blade sailed through the air into her awaiting hand.
With it in her possession, she took off up the steps of the throne and towards an unresponsive Vasilios who failed to rid his face of a knowing smile.
“I can put you back in the ground” he hissed causing her to glance over her shoulder in her son's direction.
“Ut radices ligare nos” she said before plunging Acuere through Vasilios’ leg pinning it to the throne where she longed it into the bone.
“Run” Ida hollered taking up a sprint that encouraged the others to follow suit, Kaydence being the more hesitant one but was briskly encouraged along by Evan who, in his hands held the box with the three stones, having slipped out during the battle.
His mother had wanted to be the one to retrieve them, insisting she needed to make up for her mistakes, but Ida had assured her that she couldn’t be trusted and that Vasilios would feel the tugging of the magic bond as she distanced herself, in Ida’s words “You would have set yourself up to fail”
As luck could have it, Evan found the courage to volunteer and so the debate had come to an end.
Once outside, Ida continued her assumed lead, Erabos by her side and Xenia not far behind followed by Mayfel, Fraya, Evan and Kaydence himself.
Vallen dropped the air, his arms reaching for Kaydence but at the last second glided over him and grasped Mayfel instead, taking him off of his feet and into the open air.
Attempting to pursue his father, Kaydence reminded himself of what Dalamis had taught him during his flying lesson, but even with those tips and tricks, he only reached so high before descending.
However, his hand just about grabbed Vallen’s foot and as if by some weird recreation, all three of them fell landing in a pile.
Kaydence was the first to claw his way out, onto all fours, grabbing Mayfel and yanking him out also both of them making it onto their feet where they run at a stumbling pace.
Bit the great shadow of Vallen above them, like a circling predator bird alerted them to the arisen danger.
“Watch out!” Kaydence yelled as Vallen dropped with his arms outstretched for a victim.
They managed to dodge his attempts, Fraya’s hair barely skimming through his fingers, a few strands pulled form her scalp as they tangled around them.
Ida, with no warning, stopped and aimed her staff at Vallen, the others didn’t stop and passed her without a second thought.
“Keep running!” Kaydence hollered ahead “There’s no point trying, he can’t be hurt”
Ignoring him, she tossed her staff, its pointed end sailing through the sky getting closer and closer to Vallen’s wing.
Kaydence watched as it hits the barrier, the impact against it throwing Vallen off-balance and tumbling down.
“How did you do that?” Mayfel asked.
“I noticed, during the fight, that we may not be able to injure him, however, the shield does not protect him from the impact” Ida mentioned, taking up a running pace again.
“What was that you said about us already wasting our one and only shot?” Evan asked mockingly, relief haunting his lips.
“We have not escaped yet” she replied, dampening the spirit as usual.
Taking a chance, Kaydence glanced back only to see Vasilios hounding them, Vallen having rejoined him and Elena in hot pursuit with Acuere in hand.
She jumped inhumanly high and far, burying the sword into Vasilios’ back.
“Help me” Vasilios demanded
“What about them?” his companion stated pointing to the escaping prisoners.
“We’ll find them, there’s nowhere they can go. Now help me”
As Vallen retreated to help him, Elena yanked out the blade “Kaydence!” she called and threw the sword with all of her might in his direction.
Turning just in time, the hilt hit his palm, his fingers swirling around it as if both were magnetised.
He looked back for the last time, seeing the last piece of humanity in his mother's eyes whither away as her hands latched around Vasilios’ throat against Vallen’s weight that then blocked his sight of her.
As his mother's ghostly white face faded into the horizon, he forced his tearful eyes forward.
Kaydence never thought he’d believe in ghosts, and yet, there went the undead body of his long-dead mother.