"Oh fuck." I swore.
I couldn't believe this was happening. Seriously, couldn't I just get a break from all this? Hadn't I flipping been through enough? Why couldn't I just struggle through this stupid forest in peace without a stupid killer angel showing up?
"Babu, get away from me." I said tiredly, glaring at the white haired, white clad douchebag.
"Not without my ring." He said stubbornly, his face impassive as he stared at me.
"My sister is dying here!" I shouted, clinging to Jess' limp figure. "I need to get back to the cathedral!"
"I'll let you go once you give me my ring!"
"It's not even your ring! And I need to take it with me so that Requiem won't hurt me and Jess!" I cried.
I wanted to curl into a ball of misery and cry my eyes out. Why was everything so difficult? Why couldn't things just work out for me?
"I can't let you do that. I can't let Requiem will find out that I betrayed him." Babu said evenly, not batting an eyelid.
"Oh hell on a stick." I moaned.
This stupid angel just wouldn't stop.
I glared at him, standing tall and confident in front of me, with his long white hair and long white robes like some sort of divine being.
"Why are you so desperate to save yourself? Why don't you just accept your punishment?" I demanded, grinding my teeth.
"Do you know how long I've been here in Purgatory?" Babu said softly, stepping closer to me. I shuddered, disgusted by the very thought of him being near.
"I don't care." I said clearly once I realised he was waiting for an answer.
"Three hundred years. Three hundred years I've been stuck here, trying to help you worthless humans. Three hundred years I have failed my purpose because your race is too arrogant and stubborn to follow the path of destiny. Are you really so surprised that I am bitter and resentful? Besides, I'm not the only one refusing to accept my punishment. What do you think Raith has been avoiding all this time?"
The thought of Raith suddenly made me feel weak.
I couldn't believe I had actually forgotten about him and Lucas.
Where were they now? What were they doing?
Almost on cue, a loud bang suddenly echoed around us, making the ground tremble with the force of the sound.
Something was happening deep in the forest a few kilometres away. I could see flashes of blue and red light.
The sight made my stomach feel sick with dread and I turned back to the angel desperately.
"Babu, please, you can't cover up what you did for Scara. You should be proud of it. You helped a girl find her identity." I said, trying to take a different spin on the situation. I had to say something to let me go free with the ring. I had to convince him to do the right thing.
"I didn't help her. I just fuelled her obsession. I shouldn't have done it and I've regretted it ever since. Requiem can never know anything about this. I'll go mad if I have to stay in this godforsaken place any longer." Babu hissed fiercely.
There was an unnerving passion in his eyes that made me realise that this was going to be harder than I thought.
"Requiem is going to find out one way or another. It's only a matter of time. Just this once, do the right thing! Help me get my sister to safety!" I cried.
"I'm an ancient being. Don't try to play the guilt card on me. It's been so long since I've felt anything remotely close to any emotion."
"But you must have felt something for Scara. Otherwise you wouldn't have helped her." I pressed. "Please Babu, I know we've never got on, but this ring will save my sister. I can't lose her. You of all people should know how much the loss of my first sister killed me. You used it against me." I pleaded, desperate.
Babu's expression didn't change and I wanted to bash my head into the ground.
"Give it to me now." He said, holding out a large, slender hand with the palm facing up.
"Please don't do this." I sobbed, feeling the tears run from my eyes for like the twentieth time. I glanced at Jess and felt fear spread through my chest when I realised she was unconscious.
"Please." I gasped, dropping to my knees and lying Jess softly down beside me.
"Babu," I said again, clasping my hands in front of me and bowing down at his feet. "Look, I'm begging you. I'm on my knees. Please don't take the ring away from me."
"Get up. You're pathetic." Babu scoffed, staring down at me in disgust.
"I won't. I can't. I have to get Jess to the cathedral and the ring is the only thing that will protect her there. Think about how Scara's death made you feel. That torment is what I'm going through right now. There has to be some shred of goodness somewhere in you. Why else would you be an angel?"
I started crying uncontrollably, weeping all over his pristine white shoes. How could someone be so cruel?
I felt a comforting hand on my back and I looked up, confused.
At first I thought it was Babu, but the sweet angelic face I saw was Smile.
"You will not take this girl's ring." Smile said in a voice as cold as ice and as sharp as steel. His eyes were directed at Babu and I watched in wonder as Babu's carefree expression suddenly morphed into one of fear.
"But elder one, this girl is trash. She and her sister are just two out of a billion meaningless souls that pass through here." Babu protested, his eyes wide with shock.
"You will leave this girl alone." Smile said in a voice that seemed to echo everywhere at once. His tone was one of authority and absolute command, and it sent goose bumps up and down my arms.
Babu stared at Smile, and then me.
Then, to my shock, he nodded gravely.
"I guess it's not point trying to hide it if you know." He said quietly, his eyes downcast. "I just hope that you tell the Death Lords to be lenient on my sentence. I didn't want any of this to happen."
"You were selfish. You were trying to protect yourself and only yourself. It's despicable. Be gone from my sight." Smile spat.
Babu disappeared and an instant later, Smile's stern face changed into one of concern.
"Are you alright Tegan?" he asked, in the high, sweet voice that was familiar. I stared at him, not really understanding what had happened or who he was. His wise old eyes stared back at me, much older than his face.
"You know if you had just told him all that in the first place, months and months ago, this whole situation would have been avoided." I said softly, still a little in shock.
"I'm unable to appear physically on Earth, and I didn't want to meddle in your life unnecessarily. I could only protect you in your dreams, and I wasn't even very good at that."
I shook my head.
"No, you were there when I needed you the most. Thank you." I whispered, my eyes getting all watery again.
"I know you didn't want me to protect you anymore, so I hope you forgive me for intervening."
"Are you kidding?" I cried, disbelief turning to gratitude. I stood up and threw my arms around the small boy's neck, hugging him as tightly as I could.
Smile hugged me back and I instantly felt soothed.
"Will Jess be okay?" I asked, pulling away from him and staring down as my unconscious sibling.
"She will. I'll take her back to the cathedral. She will be very well protected in that place, and she will be able to heal in peace." Smile said softly, using one of his puffy white sleeves to wipe my tear streaked face.
"I can take her." I said quickly, but Smile shook his head.
"It will be faster if I do it." He said. "And besides, I think someone needs you."
He glanced over at the flashing blue and red lights a fair distance away. While we had been talking, the flashes had become more frequent, followed by rumbling and cracking noises.
"Raith…" I mumbled to myself.
"Go Tegan. I'll take care of Jess." Smile said and it was almost like a command.
I nodded and slowly stood up.
"Here." I said, slipping my hand into my pocket and pulling out the small silver ring. "Make sure this stays with Jess so that Requiem won't do anything to her."
I handed Smile the ring and the little boy slipped it onto one of my sister's limp fingers.
"I promise." He said softly. "Now go quickly. I fear time is running out."
I didn't need to be told twice.
Without another word I ran off, uncertain of what strange chaos I may find up ahead.
The forest was dark and closing in on me but I kept pressing forward, the steady thump of my feet on the ground matching the rhythm of my heart.
The path was clearer this time, but the flashing lights were so far away that half the time I couldn't see if I was running in the right direction.
The darkness scared me. Sometimes I could see things moving around in the shadows. Sometimes I could even hear breathing. But none of it mattered. All I had to do was get to Raith because I felt like if I didn't, something awful was going to happen.
As I swerved left and ducked under the low hanging branches of two trees, my right shoe slipped off and I tripped onto the ground.
Leaves and sharp stones dug into my shins and I swore, squinting through the darkness.
I used one hand to feel around on the ground for my lost slipper while I used the other to wipe the cold sweat from my brow. My heart was absolutely racing now and all I could feel was the dread of what I would find up ahead.
My fingers finally came into contact with my missing shoe but just as I slipped it back onto my foot and stood up, there was a massive bang that shook the ground and threw me off my feet again.
I fell on my back with a yell, my head cracking hard across the ground as what sounded like thunder erupted over head.
I got up quickly, ignoring the throbbing in the back of my skull as I sprinted forward, my shoes making soft crunching noises against the layer of leaves littering the ground.
I weaved through the trees as quickly as I could, the dark figures rushing past me left and right as I ran further and further into the strange wilderness.
I was getting closer. The lights were brighter and more blinding as the pulsed rhythmically from somewhere in front of me. There was a strange smell; like a mix of charred wood and smoke.
I slowed down and listened carefully.
I thought I could hear voices and the sound of strange electric cracks in the air.
Suddenly, a brilliant white light flared up ahead and I turned away, covering my eyes before the brightness could sear my corneas.
Someone was laughing. It sounded like Lucas.
I flinched at the sound and covered my ears, the terrible noise grating at my eardrums like rusty nails on a chalkboard. I wanted to stop and turn back. I wanted to run away, back to the cathedral where it was safe. I should just take my sister and leave this place forever. I had no reason to be here.
And yet my feet continued to carry me forward.
I stopped walking when the trees started to get thinner. I could see them now, but I could hear something else too. It sounded like running water.
There was something shimmering up ahead. I moved through the trees as quietly as I could, peaking through the branches as I tried to get a better view. It was a flat surface of water, reflecting the ghostly full moon above it.
I knew this place. I had been here only hours before. It was the strange pond that Smile and I had stopped at.
The ground started to rumble again and I clung onto the trunk of the nearest tree, watching as several of the boulders surrounding the pond exploded in a series of grey dust and stones.
I felt my heart stop as I saw two figures standing on the other side of the lake.
They were standing face to face with fifty metres between them, their thin silhouettes barely visible through the darkness surrounding them.
I didn't hesitate. I ran, my feet thundering across the ground as I sprinted through the trees on the outskirts of the clearing.
They looked so far away, and yet I was there in what felt like seconds.
I ended up behind Lucas, still shroud in the depths of the forest. He was glowing, only it was a strange kind of glow. It was like he was pulsing with a strange sort of white smoke that made my eyes water every time I tried to look at it clearly. It scared me.
I shuddered and took a few steps sideways so I could see Raith as well.
Lucas was talking, but his voice was carried away by the wind.
Reluctantly, I walked forward but stopped before the trees grew too thin and far apart to shield me from view.
I hid behind the thickest, sturdiest tree trunk I could see and peaked through the branches.
Raith and Lucas were both breathing hard as they stood opposite each other, but Raith was the one who looked a mess.
His clothes were ripped and torn, even singed in several places, and his left arm hung limp and awkward from his shoulder. His face was covered in bruises and cuts, and there were three large gashes across his chest that looked like they were done with a giant claw. He suddenly crouched over, coughing up blood and wiping his mouth with the sleeve of his good arm.
Lucas just laughed.
"Not so strong now, are you?" he taunted, raising a large hand.
I covered my mouth to stop my gasp as his fingers elongated and darkened before my eyes. They became the razor sharp claws I had seen Raith use before, only larger.
"Do you know what it is like to lose your closest, dearest friend?" Lucas shouted, clenching his outstretched claw.
There was a loud rumble and I had to suppress my scream as a bolt of lightning flared down from the sky straight towards Raith.
Just before it hit, Raith swung his right arm above his head and the lightning scattered, crashing into the ground around him instead.
As the soil craked and bits of dirt went flying everywhere, Raith suddenly fell to his knees, heaving and taking gasping breaths as his head hung limply over his chest.
"Well do you?" Lucas asked again, smirking.
Raith raised his head defiantly.
"Yes." He hissed, his teeth stained with blood. "Tomb killed Scara."
"And you killed Tomb. Now, logically, I must kill you."
Before Lucas could move, Raith slammed his hand down on the ground and a trail of fire flared up from his fingers, travelling faster than I could blink towards Lucas.
The Death Lord just laughed and waved his normal hand in front of him. A strong gust of wind blew through the clearing, dousing the flickering flames before they reached their target.
"I didn't mean to kill Tomb." Raith gasped, growing paler and weaker by the second as he watched Lucas with bloodshot eyes.
"But you did and I must seek justice."
Lucas let out a roar and the wind picked up again, only so great and fast that it sent Raith tumbling backwards and smashing into one of the large boulders behind him.
Shards of rock flew everywhere. Amidst the rubble, his body slid forward and he collapsed into a pile on the ground in front of it. Grey dust and chunks of stone littered his unconscious body, and all that remained of the boulder behind him was a pile of large, misshapen slabs of stone.
Lucas smiled triumphantly and cracked his knuckles.
"Requiem has grown too old and lenient for this kind of thing. That is why I must do this myself." He said softly to himself. His eyes were wide and full of madness as he approached Raith's body. Each step sent a small quiver through the ground and he left a trail of white ghostly fire behind him as he walked.
When he was still a few metres away from the boy, he stopped and smirked.
"This is why I hunted you out without him knowing. I need to make you pay with my own hand." He whispered.
Then he raised his arms and a strange blue flame enveloped his claws.
I felt my heart stop. Then it ripped apart. I knew what was going to happen next. He was going to kill Raith and for some reason, it felt like my whole entire being was being torn apart by that very thought. It hurt all over and I felt tears stream from my eyes.
I couldn't let him do it. I had to stop him.
Against all rational thought, I darted out from my hiding spot and started to run.
Then everything seemed to slow down.
Every step seemed to take an eternity.
I could feel every heartbeat, hear every trickle of water.
Badump, badump, badump.
I ran faster, my legs taking me closer and closer towards the Death Lord, but I was going to be too late.
He held is arms out towards the unconscious Raith and I threw myself forward, flying across the rest of the distance.
Just as he let loose his burst of blue energy, I collided with him, knocking us both down to the ground in an explosion of dirt and leaves.
The burst of blue flame went flying away from us, catapulting towards Raith but ricocheting off the remains of the boulder above his head.
It reflected back towards us, a bright blue light that blinded my vision.
Lucas let out a scream and tried to crawl out of the way but I grabbed his arm and pulled him back towards me, holding him tight in a death grip embrace.
I wouldn't let him escape.
In a split second, the light was upon us, but just as my skin started to burn, it reflected upwards and slammed into the trunk of a heavy tree behind my head.
There was a crack, then a squeal, and suddenly the tree fell forward, slamming into Lucas and I in a mess of blood and bark.
My ribs cracked and I screamed against the pain and pressure on my chest.
Lucas made a gurgling noise, blood pouring out of his mouth and onto my face as he stared at me wide eyed.
I started to choke.
Then I passed out.