Smoke and Mirrors

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Chapter 15: Ain't No Angel

~SOUNDTRACK: Blues Saraceno – The river~

Ember was a little more scared than she would’ve cared to admit. She wasn’t coughing up blood anymore, but the odd rash on her hands was quickly spreading and it hurt like a hundred knives tearing up the flesh.

Max led her up deep into the woods and she didn’t have it in her to ask questions. He hadn’t uttered a word to her ever since they’d left her hut. They’d made endless turns and had taken routes Ember was having trouble recognizing herself and, at some point, Max had stopped in a random place and had instructed her to wait for him. Ten minutes later, he’d returned with several objects that didn’t seem related in any way, from what she could tell. A bowl, some candles, weird herbs and oils.

Max came to a halt in the middle of the woods so suddenly that Ember nearly bumped into his back.

“This should do,” he mumbled and started moving frantically around.

“Are you going to explain yourself now?” Ember snapped at him. “What are we running from? Why are you so hysterical and agitated? What was all that talk about hexes?”

He’d pulled out a piece of coal from the bowl and started drawing symbols on the ground that Ember had never seen. But whatever they meant, they made her restless and itchy. She instinctively pulled the cloak tighter around herself as Max was placing candles at the corners of some sort of pentagram.

“Max!” she screamed at him, unable to take the tension anymore. He finally seemed to notice her and turned around and it made Ember shudder to see the expression on his face. He was utterly terrified. What was going on?

He cleared his throat and swallowed hard.

“How are you feeling?” he asked her and Ember threw her hands in the air exasperated.

“I’m fine,” she spat. “Now can you—“

“Good,” Max cut her off. “That means the cursed object that triggered the curse was somewhere in the house. Being near it must have accelerated the hex. Now that you’re far from it—“

“In the house?” she shrieked. “Max, my siblings are there! If there’s even a remote chance that there’s a cursed object in the same house—“

“Slow down, Ember,” he stood up from whatever he was doing on the ground and moved to stand in front of her. “The hex should only work on supernatural creatures.”

She rubbed her face. “Should? It should work on supernatural creatures. But you don’t know for sure. Max, you have got to explain things to me right now, because nothing makes sense.”

“There’s no time for—“

“Then make some!”

They both stared each other down for several seconds, neither of them backing down. And Ember sure as hell wasn’t going to back down. She needed answers. Eventually, Max let out a loud, exasperated sigh and ran a hand over his beard.

“Look,” he hissed. “There’s some really dark, powerful magic involved. As far as I know, witches were supposed to be gone from these lands. If they’re back, then we should damn well be scared.”

“But why does it have anything to do with me?” Ember demanded. “I don’t understand. And why are you so frantic about it? Why would you be so eager to help me?”

He caught her shoulders and tried to slow down his breathing enough to fill her in on as many details as he could in as little time possible. His jaw was clenched and there was an urgency in his eyes that would’ve made Ember take a few steps backwards, hadn’t his grip on her been so tight.

“The way I see it, there’s no mistake about this. There’s a coven of witches who go after dragons. By my guess, you are supposed to be the last one of your kin. That makes you a direct target. And now I’m involved with you. Call if self-preservation, if you will. Or call it greed, if we’re to talk about that treasure I’m not giving up on. Whatever you wanna call it, I am not going to let some bloody witches have their way with you. Alright?”

She noticed she was shaking. Dragons. Last dragon of her kin. Witches. Pirates. Hexes. What had her life become? Only days earlier, she’d been a thief whose greatest worry was providing for her family. In so little time, those worries had turned into a situation in which she had to run for her life. With a pirate she knew nothing about and wasn’t sure whether she could trust.

“Alright,” she found her voice and replied with a steadiness that surprised even herself; now was no time for hesitations. “But what is it that you’re doing here, though? It looks like a spell, too.”

Max dropped his hands from her shoulders and sighed.

“I may be doing a terrible mistake,” he admitted. “It’s drastic, but it was all that I could think of. We must assume things are either at their worst, or about to become just that. Just pray to the Gods I’m making the right choice.”

Ember gulped. “Why? What is that thing you’ve painted?”

He crouched and started lighting up the candles, then made a deep cut in his hand and let the blood drip onto the herbs and the rest of the ingredients in the bowl. Then he bandaged his hand with a dirty handkerchief and set the ingredients on fire as well.

“It’s a devil’s trap. I’m summoning a demon,” he replied grimly, and before Ember had a chance to answer or to react to the information, he started reciting some sort of incantation in a language she couldn’t understand. The words rolled fluidly off his tongue and it made Ember wonder who exactly this man was.

The bowl lit up and the entire circle Max had drawn caught fire. Ember covered her eyes to protect them from the light and the sparks flying and when she opened them again, she gasped.

~SOUNDTRACK: Friends in Tokyo – Call me devil~

In the middle of the circle stood a man with his hands behind his back and she had to admit, he was the most gorgeous bastard she had ever laid her eyes upon. And she had met men like Kaleb Lahey and Maxwell Lockhart. Ember gulped. Except this one was a demon. His hair was the color of bronze and a few curls hung loosely over his forehead. He was well-dressed, and Ember thought she might have mistaken him for some noble, hadn’t she known better. Gods, he looked so… human. Except for the eyes. She’d expected them to be red or black or to be visibly evil, but instead, they were gray as a storm cloud. It was breathtaking. Or would have been, but beneath the beauty of his irises, she saw the cruelty and ruthlessness. The blood thirst. This was actually a demon.

The demon looked Max up and smirked with endless boredom. Ember could see Max’s shoulders tense and she could tell he wasn’t able to move a single muscle. After a few seconds of silence, the demon spoke, his whole attention on the captain.

“You must be either a fool or truly desperate, pirate,” the words flowed off his lips, and his voice sounded so velvet compared to what Ember had expected.

What had she expected really? Growling? Hissing?

“Beelzebub,” Max muttered under his breath and Ember looked from the demon to the pirate. Beelzebub?

The demon smiled surprised.

“Oh, so you’re not as dumb as you look,” he mocked, the same bored look on his face. “Tell me, pirate, what could possibly make you summon a prince of hell? Feel like making a deal with the devil?”

Max gritted his teeth and just as Ember opened her mouth to inquire what they were even talking about, the demon – Beelzebub – took a step forward, right past the edge of the devil’s trapped that was supposed to, well, trap him.

“Were you even trying at all?” the demon mocked. “That must be the worst devil’s trap I’ve ever seen.”

She heard Max draw in a sharp breath. Oh, he wasn’t kidding about the dangerous part.

“I have no intention of hurting you,” the demon prompted himself in front of Max. “I’m genuinely curious. And by all means, call me by my earthly name. Christopher. Christopher DeMarco. Beelzebub sounds too pretentious for my liking. Pleased to make your acquaintance. I shall be even more pleased to rip your limbs off if you waste my time.”

Max gulped loudly and Ember realized she was quite stuck in place, too. Her tongue felt heavy and all of a sudden, she was hyper aware of the sensation of general sickness taking over her body. Whatever this hex was, she assumed it required a little more distance between her and the cursed object if she wanted to slow down its effects. The demon kept waiting and Max couldn’t help but take a step back before speaking.

“We need your help,” he stated with fierceness and boldness that Ember admired, considering he looked just as scared as her. “Witches have returned to these lands.”

The demon – Christopher – looked thoughtful for a moment. “And why would that be my problem, pirate?”

Max stood his ground.

“They’re the Hades Brides. And they’re throwing hexes around.”

The name didn’t ring a bell for Ember and she made a note to demand some serious explanations from Max if they made it out of here alive. However, she did see a slight, almost indistinguishable shadow cross the demon’s face that he was quick to dismiss almost immediately.

“I see,” he replied as contained as before. “Interesting. Yet not at all my concern. What would lead you to believe I would offer you my protection?”

“Her,” Max turned his head to Ember, and her eyes widened as realization hit. He was throwing her at him like bait. Throwing her to the wolf. She gulped out loud. Well, if this demon wanted a good fight, sick or not, she was going down swinging.

Christopher’s eyes turned to her and his eyebrows raised a little.

“What an interesting turn of events,” he took a few steps towards her. “A dragon.”

He reached forward and touched her hand and Ember flinched. His hands were cold, yet his tentative touch was sensual enough to make the little hairs on the nape of her neck stand up. He took her hand and inspected it briefly, looking over the gashes that just kept looking worse and worse.

“How inconvenient,” Christopher commented as if he was talking about the weather. “What’s your name, dragon?”

Ember gulped before answering and held her chin up, keen on not letting her fear stumble her once again.

“Ember.”

“Ember,” the demon repeated. “I’ll admit my curiosity is piqued. I believed your kin was extinct.”

He dropped her hand and took a few steps backwards, his hands still behind his back. His eyes sparkled with mischief and Ember could practically see the way he was plotting all the ways in which he could benefit from this situation. Christopher stayed silent, waiting for the two of them to speak, as a cat would wait for the mice to fall for its trap.

“You want a deal,” Max eventually stated simply, no inquiry in his tone. It fazed Ember how acquainted he was with this whole situation.

Christopher shrugged bored.

“It is known to be my style,” he commented.

“What do you want?” Max asked him sharply and Christopher moved a few steps forward, standing again in front of Ember and ignoring the captain completely. She stood her ground and he smirked at her bravery. Though perhaps stupidity would have described it best.

“My proposition is very simple,” he spoke near her face, and she resisted the urge to step backwards. “I offer you my complete protection for whatever needs should arise in your path. I shall help you take down these witches. And in exchange for my help and for my protection, I want your tears.”

In the intensity of the moment, Ember couldn’t help but snort a little. She froze for a second, expecting the demon to snap at her for some supposed lack of respect, but there was a hungry expression on his face, an insatiable desire that lingered. And it dawned on Ember. He was serious.

“My tears?” she asked breathlessly. “Why would you want my tears?”

He didn’t answer right away, and it ended up being Max who clarified it.

“Tears of a dragon,” Ember heard the captain’s voice from behind Christopher. “One of the most powerful ingredients used for some dark enchants. Black magic.”

“Oh, well,” Christopher finally turned to Max. “A well-read pirate. I was so certain those were even rarer than dragon these days.”

Ember thought it through. If what Max said was true, then giving the demon her tears might have brought mayhem upon realms and peoples who would face their perdition at her hands. Christopher was supposedly a prince of hell, so she doubted she wanted those tears to cure poverty and illnesses. She was well aware that every lost soul that was bound to suffer at the hands of Christopher and whatever spell he meant to cast, they were all on her. And she found that she was oddly fine with that. With her life on the line and a coven of witches roaming free on these lands that were her home, she realized she didn’t care about the aftermath. She needed to win this battle.

“I agree.”

The demon turned to her, no noticeable changes in his expression except for a smirk just a little wider. Max was biting his lip furiously.

“Ember—“ he tried to reason, but she shut him up with a glare. This whole charade had been his idea.

“I will give you my tears,” she told Christopher. “Just help us get rid of those witches.”

Christopher studied her intently for a minute and Ember was growing weary under the heaviness of his eyes. It was as if he was trying to read deeply into the patterns of her soul, to decipher her deepest desires. She noticed his gaze travelling around her body, but not stopping on her per se, and she actually looked around to see if there was something near her that he was so focused on, but she saw nothing. Eventually, he broke the silence.

“Very well. It would appear we have a deal. Firstly,” he said, approaching Ember and taking her hand again, then touching one side of her face tentatively; Ember shuddered under his touch, and then she realized another gash had just appeared on her left cheek. “We need to rid you of these.”

“H-How?”

“There is a stone,” Christopher began. “An ancient opal that is said to having been crafted in dragon blood and forged in the fire breathed by all the dragon clans of the time. We must begin searches for the fire opal immediately. It won’t be a cure, but it will alleviate your symptoms and slow down the process until we find a more permanent solution.”

“Fire opal?” Ember muttered under her breath, her blood humming in anticipation. “Is it, by chance, called dragon’s breath?”

Christopher raised his eyebrows, the first genuine emotion she’d seen on his face.

“You heard of it?” Max inquired.

Ember looked from one to the other, not quite believing that they were finally granted such luck.

“I know exactly where it is.”

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