With no sign of Blake in twenty four hours, the police came to investigate. They called upon Randy, Simon, Winter, and Tanner for evidence involving the young man's disappearance. Each of them were brought into a small room for about ten minutes of questioning and then released into the hallway.
The police had told them that they had reviewed the surveillance tapes but none of them showed anything suspicious.
"Is that it?" Randy scowled and crossed his arms over his chest. He was sure Blake's parents would be furious if they weren't to know he was missing. "Have you even contacted his parents?" Simon asked and interrupted Randy.
"As far as we're concerned, he's not even legally allowed to be here.. . " The police officer confessed. "No social security number, no contact information, it's amazing he was even able to be brought into this university without all this information, honestly." The officer glanced back to the staff room where they had questioned the commissioning staff as to how a student with no identity had been accepted.
"He was listed under transfer student." One of the women protested and showed them their screen. "Someone must have made a mistake here."
"No parents?" Simon questioned and raised his brow. "Are you certain?" Simon bit his lip, he thought for sure at one point he had met Mr. And Mrs.Hazlren. But Blake was always so private and discrete that he couldn't recall if he had or not.
"You kids best stay out of trouble, especially you Mr. Barnes." The female officer motioned her head towards the pair of them. The male officer glanced to Winter once before they left through the doors of the college. "Why do they always call me out?" Simon frowned and jerked his head to look out toward the window.
"This just doesn't make sense." Randy shook his head and moved to take a seat on the couch close to the entrance. He sunk into it's plump cloth material and rested his head against the squishy pillows.
"Maybe that's why Blake didn't tell us where he went." Simon frowned and peered toward Winter- who had been blank faced the entire time they had been together.
"Maybe he got into some type of trouble, someone was on to him."
Tanner shrugged his shoulder and placed an arm around Winter protectively. The small girl was shrouded in black from her head to her toes. The funeral was in less than an hour and the last thing she wanted to hear was that Blake was not coming back.
She was just glad Tanner, Simon, and Randy were here to support her through this miserable time. She would have no place to return to for breaks now and would instead remain at the college until she graduated. She sighed and rested her side up against Tanner with her head against his arm. She was not enthused about going to the funeral.
She glanced up and observed the three boys carefully. Randy had been very kind to her and listened to her when she had a gut sinking feeling that Blake was in danger. Simon had been very rational and had not given up- searching the forest during the dark with his flashlight.
The other students had looked everywhere for him. And it seemed to both her and the police, that Blake Hazlren had vanished completely into thin air. She tilted her head to look up toward Tanner, his eyes were half-lidded from fatigue.
'It's so weird. . .such a star athlete and scholastic achiever. . .' The teachers had whispered among themselves.
'How did they make such a mistake?'
Her heart went out to Tanner. Last night he had taken her to her room and sat upon a chair near the door while she slept. She had convinced him that if she was alone within the room she would surely. He allowed his eyes to close while the group sat there staring at one another.
"So you are all going to the funeral with me?" Winter asked softly. She folded her hands within her lap before her and glanced over at Simon.
"You don't have to do this, I can go alone."
He shrugged his shoulders. "It's something that Blake would want us to go to. . .and besides, you're our friend now, I feel like it's the right thing to do." Randy nodded his head gently in agreement. The clouds covered any sun from drifting into the window, so the group was blanketed in slight darkness.
"Thank you." She managed to whisper. "So many weird things have been happening lately. . I'm just not sure what will happen next." She sighed and began picking at one of her nails. She took one deep breath and then counted to five within her mind before standing up slowly.
Simon followed her smoothly and held out an arm for her to hold onto. Randy eyed Tanner suspiciously as they stood up at the same time. He had been watching Tanner for any particularly weird behaviors- but he hadn't noticed anything else. They followed quietly behind her in a line. Randy closing the door behind the three.
When the group got to the church, there were not many to stand for the funeral. Less than ten people were present for the funeral party in addition to Randy, Simon, Winter, and Tanner. They sat uncomfortably in the front pew as the ceremony progressed. Exchanging odd glances at one another.
"I've never seen you in a tie before." Simon snickered to Randy, who clunked him over the head. "It's a funeral, you twit." He snapped and crossed his arms. All three of the men were dressed in black with assorted ties. Randy wore his Nike sneakers- despite Winter's mused look to his feet.
The only bright colors within the church were the flowers that lined the photographs of Mr. Hendricks, and the bright green color of Tanner's tie.
"Who are these people?" Tanner whispered to Winter as he observed some of the sobbing onlookers.
"Not sure, more than likely close friends to my grandpa. Everyone else avoided us like the plague." She confessed, her eyes did not deter from the pastor as he began lighting candles while singing a hymn. Tanner searched her face questioningly before looking up to Randy, who appeared equally disturbed by her statement.
"I don't think anyone should avoid you Winter." Randy resorted and closed the brochure for the service to set it off to the side. Simon amused himself by jumbling some of the pages to put them out of order in Randy's packet.
She stayed silent and continued looking forwards.
"I haven't really mentioned it to anyone." Winter whispered to herself as the candle nearest to her on the podium began to drip wax. The congregation began to sing a haunting hymn in the background as the small ceremony was coming to a closing. Speeches would follow afterwards before everyone was dismissed.
"Except Blake. . .and then he left too." Her blue eyes seemed distant and lost as she continued to utter soft words that were hardly audible except to Tanner and Randy who were on either side of her.
"My family murdered my family." She whispered. The hymn came to an abrupt end. The pastor stood up and glanced at the small group "if anyone would like to say a few words on behalf of Ernest Hendricks, now would be the time."
Winter remained seated as well as everyone else. And with a nod of his head the guests began to disperse.
"Burial?" Randy asked.
"Cremation" Winter answered. On the way out Winter bumped into an older woman shrouded in black as well. She was stout and hunched over and clutched onto Winter with curled fingers. She glanced over Winter at the others and hurriedly pulled her to the side. Winter seemed surprised but went along with the woman. The boys looked at each other in surprise but figured it was a family member looking to reunite.
"In the manor is what you seek. All the answers to the strange things will be answered there." She whispered in a hushed voice and pulled Winter closer as she protested.
"I'm not sure what you mean!" Winter gripped at the old woman's hands to release herself.
"Your grandfather sent me to warn you, be cautious of those you trust." She hissed before turning back and hustling through the pews to reach the alter. Winter watched her all the way before turning back to the group.
Tanner kept his eyes upon Winter as the doors closed shut quietly behind them. He placed his hand over his chest for a moment and stopped while they continued walking.
"Are you coming Tanner?" Winter called out for him when they became more than ten feet apart. "Yeah. ..I'm coming." He uttered, and increased his pace to keep up with the group. Randy squinted up to the sun. Today, he noticed, it had become sunny. He was curious. ..he wanted to know more than anything else, Randy questioned what Winter had said.
What was behind the Vandelann Tragedy?
He cocked his head as she looped her arm within his for comfort. Tears ran steadily down her cheeks once more. He offered her a small klenix that he had taken from the pew. Randy kept to himself and covered her small hand with his as they walked. He never would have guessed that someone like her, Winter Vandelann, had been hiding in so much misery.
"They always say the happiest people are the most sad." He said, inaudibly to Winter. She overheard, and nodded her head.
"Unfortunately. ..I would agree with that."
Tanner followed slowly behind them, his eyes peeled. He sensed a magical power tracking them slowly but surely.
"I'm going to pick up some food, you guys keep going." He called out, with one foot upon the curb.
"Be careful." Winter called over her shoulder. He nodded his head and turned back the way they came. Winter did not want the ashes. She said her family had a burial area specifically for the burned remains of her grandparents. Perhaps that is why she didn't stick around for the 'burial'.
He wandered back up the sidewalk and peered around the corner. He knew he had seen someone tall lurking in the shadows. He glanced around him before turning his back into the darkened portion of the alleyway and vaporized into a black shadow. He jumped from dark place to dark place. From shadows cast by moving vehicles to people to signs.
His eyes skimmed people as they walked by, searching for something out of the ordinary.
And then he found it. Or rather, it found him.
A tall shadow stood across from him in the alleyway between a thrift store and the back of a school. He peered around before leaping into the shadow of a moving vehicle and tumbling into the shadow of a stop sign to roll into the alleyway.
"Who are you?" He asked with a curl to his voice. His shadow leaned to rest against the brick walling before he materialized back into his human form. He stared at the black figure before it's own disguise melted away to reveal a strikingly tall female.
"I'm surprised you failed to recognize my energy. . .distracted?" The female responded with a smirk. Her long blonde hair curled down her back in wicked loops. Her face was angled and sharp down to her nose. Her eyes mirrored his, green but with large pupils that almost swallowed the color.
"Irena. . . ." He whispered under his breath and then cleared his throat.
"Too many mortals around." Tanner tilted his head as he looked at her. "Why are you here?"
She rolled her eyes and her pupils seemed to retract as she examined her nails closely for chips that weren't there. "To ensure that you hold up our end of the bargain." She let a wide smile cross her lips that revealed her long jagged canines.
"I didn't want you thinking you could betray me without losing your powers." She hissed and thrust a pointed finger toward him. She eyed him up and down and crossed her arms.
"You've changed Asmodian, perhaps you've spent too much time with the mortals." She suggested and paused for a moment.
"How close are you to retrieving the crystal?" He shrugged his shoulders and turned to place his back against the wall. "Chill out." He reached into his pocket to withdraw a cigarette and place it to his lips. He fumbled around for a lighter, and when he could not find one, he looked to the woman.
She rolled her eyes as the hardness dissipated from her facial expressions. She reached within her pocket to withdraw a lighter. Tanner eyed her as she pressed herself flesh to his body and reached up slowly to light his cigarette. He felt his heart thud within his chest. He knew he shouldn't like someone like Irena.
"Who do you take me for Irena. . .a mortal man?" He snorted and breathed in deeply, he exhaled and let the smoke float away within the sky.
"No, but I do take you for a man." She smirked and pressed her hands against his chest to feel his abdomen. Tanner relaxed and rested a hand against her shoulder as she continued to work her way down his body. At first he had resisted her advances, but eventually he succumbed to her power when she had offered him an escape weeks ago from the Land of the Damned.
"I suppose for your final fight against Aion, you'll need all the strength you can take." Her voice purred and she brushed her fingertips against his cheek. His eyes blurred each time her skin bumped against his. It was her power. Irena the Caster of Lust and Prosperity.
He had always been curious as to why she was watching him from afar. Irena had the ability to steal magic and gift it to whomever she desired however she desired. And because of her ability she often could do impossible things with redirected magic- like break him out of The Land of the Forgotten. Something Asmodian had thought to be impossible with the magic voids that surrounded the realm.
Their deal, he would never forget, was something he had agreed with too quickly. He had let her take him, and completely drain him of his power for weeks before they escaped. When he had crawled back to the human world he had been nothing but a Spirit drained of all energy. He had promised many things to Irena once he escaped the realm of torture. He had promised that once he received the Prime crystal he would share the magic and Aion's passageway with her. He stared down at her as she moved against him.
Her curves and breasts were enough to tempt any man. He grasped firmly onto her hair as she tormented him. He had promised to her that he would help her obtain Aion- the caster that she lusted for who had continued to refuse her. Aion was the strongest and Irena had wanted to be his for hundreds of years.
Another car rushed by them, the fuss was blocked by the silence of the alleyway. "Take care of the mortals?" Irena breathed as she pushed his shirt up over his head. He took another breath and blew the smoke out through his nose. Asmodian smirked and with a flick of his wrist, they were accompanied by silence.
"What mortals?" He whispered and reached down to grasp her hips with his one hand and press her closer to him. He tossed his cigarette onto the ground and turned to press her up against the wall as their lips crashed together.
"You will get Aion for me. . ." The Goddess commanded and dug her fingernails into his back. He cried out in pain and pleasure when he felt her draw blood. Beads of clear blood trailed down his spine and seemed to heal as quickly as they happened.
"I will." He managed to get out.
He let Winter cross his thoughts again and it became easy to relax and let go. He wouldn't need to crawl to Irena if he had the Crystal to fill the void in his powers. He could have Winter and not need anything else.
His soft groans carried through the quiet ally. The unknowing mortals walking right by them without seeing or hearing a thing.
Simon and Randy paced the floor and sat silently within the dorm room.
"Man. . things weren't supposed to end like this." Simon mumbled and crossed his arms. Blake's phone had rung several times and Randy had checked the voicemail. A voicemail from the Dean of the College had been left to tell him he was being removed from attendance due to citizenship and his missing finals. Blake would not graduate.
"Obviously he didn't get the message about Blake disappearing!" Randy had yelled at the phone and thrown it against the wall. Simon had torn through the rest of Blake's desk searching for phone numbers or anything he could use to help them in this case.
"I don't know man. . ." Simon mumbled and sighed as he moved to sit on the wood floor.
"I'm giving up." A knock at the door caught Randy's attention and he shook his head.
"Come in!" He called. The door opened up and Tanner stepped in. "Well, I wasn't expecting that." Randy shrugged and continued shuffling through some papers.
"What do you want?" Randy snapped. Simon shushed him and looked to Tanner. "What's up?"
"I figured Winter would be with you guys." Tanner shrugged his shoulders and put his hands into his pockets.
"You guys are pretty close." Randy snorted and stood up.
"Go find her yourself." Randy stormed off into his room and slammed the door. Simon looked apologetically to Tanner.
"I'm sorry. . .he doesn't mean it. . .he's still really upset about Blake."
Tanner opened his mouth and then closed it. He looked like he was in thought.
"Thanks for letting me come here to be with Winter before the funeral, it really meant a lot." Tanner bowed his head as he stood up.
Winter sat alone within her room. She curled her knees up to her chest with a pillow nestled between them. Her soft cries were the only thing that filled the dimly lit room. Randy and Simon had offered to keep her company- but she had told them she wanted to be alone.
Another cry choked out of her mouth and she pushed her face into the soft material. She could feel her sanity drawing closer to the edge with every minute she spent alone.
"Blake. . .why?" She whimpered and became focused on the photos that lined the wall of her friends.
"Grandpa. .. why did you leave me?" Another cry wracked her body and she didn't think she would resurface from the pillows again until she had stopped sobbing. The pain was so great that she felt it within her chest, like it was squeezing her heart within a painful grip.
"I'm the l-last one. .. " She couldn't manage to say it out loud so she whispered it. She reached for a Kleenex blindly to wipe the tears from her eyes.
"I have to pull myself together." She lectured herself with a sniffle. The dance was today and she honestly looked like shit, but it was the least of her problems. She sniffled and stood up to move closer to the mirror. The clock on her wall showed it's hands at five. She had been crying for four hours. She peered at herself in the mirror.
Her face was puffy and red from crying so long. Trails of mascara and foundation strung down her cheeks. Her hair was disheveled and tangled. She sat on the edge of her bed and looked to the door. A sudden gentle knock sounded in her room.
". . .go away." Winter sniffled and maneuvered back into her blankets sadly. She had been hoping someone would come, but now that they were here she wanted them to leave.
"Winter. . .I'm sorry I was busy." Tanner's voice crept through the wood. She immediately perked up, but then lowered her head in shame at her appearance.
"I look awful. . just go."Her voice crept behind the door frame sadly.
"I said I would be here for you." He whispered and from the outside pressed his forehead against the wooden panel. His heart hung guiltily within his chest. Winter sounded awful, and he had been too occupied with other things to come to her aide.
"I'm coming in." He warned and pushed the door open slowly. His heart melted when he saw her. She was sitting up in bed surrounded by pillows and animals and God knows what else. He stood in the doorway and looked at her sympathetically, waiting for her reaction.
"I'm sorry I wasn't here for you." He confessed and moved over gently to the bedside. He lowered himself onto his knees beside the frame and rested his chin against the mattress. He watched her face for a reaction to tell him to leave, but she said nothing.
They sat in silence for several minutes. The birds outside her window chirped quietly to fill the emptiness. "Can you hold me?" She asked softly. Tanner's knees ached and he was grateful for the invitation. He stood up with a groan and moved next to her in the small bed. He pressed his shoulder against the wall as he moved around her and eventually got comfortable enough to pull her back against his chest. The silence ensued followed by several of Winter's gentle sobs.
With every minute, Asmodian felt his heart break. Any thoughts of Irena slipped from his mind and he squeezed Winter tight to his chest.
"I've only done what I had to do." He whispered as he stroked Winter's head. She didn't respond to his comments but quietly wept until she mumbled to him:
"Your heart is beating fast. . ."
He raised a brow and glanced down at her curiously. She smiled and he leaned over her to wipe a tear from her eye. "I know." He answered and pressed his lips onto her forehead.
"Winter I've done a lot of bad things." He confessed softly. The room was silent all around them and he felt like a spotlight had been cast upon him.
"I swear I'll be better, I really do." He buried his nose within her hair to hide his face.
"I'll protect you."
It caught his eye suddenly. The small ring upon Winter's finger glittered in the light, casting a shining shadow onto the bed. Immediately he knew that the crystal was hiding within it.
She bent her head back slowly to look into his eyes.
"Thanks for being here for me Tanner." She whispered and reached up to press her lips against his. He seemed surprised for a few moments, but let his hands rest upon her shoulder to pull her closer to him. Their kisses started out small, but it became clear that Winter was unknowingly depositing small amounts of her sadness into him. He shifted her to him and held her within his arms as he deepened their kisses. She did not reject him, but stopped after a few moments for some air. She allowed him one more kiss before settling down to sleep. He laid himself behind her and propped himself up on one arm to watch her sleep.
The kisses they shared had felt great. He wanted more. He played with a loose lock of her hair and began to untangle it in his fingers. The crystal had revealed itself but it was not as he had imagined. He frowned.
If he did collect the Crystal what would happen to Winter Vandelann?
His hand froze above her hair and clenched into a fist that slowly lowered to his side.
Irena would take his magic. All of it. If he failed. His lips pressed into a firm line and he rolled onto his back to stare at the white ceiling. He counted the cracks that ran through the tile. He began to think to himself that perhaps being a human would not be such a bad thing.
Who was he becoming?
Asmodian, the Caster of Mischief?
He sat still as a tear rolled down his cheek and then another. He silently began to cry next to this beautiful woman. A soft sob echoed out in the room and was muffled by Winter's soft breathing.
"H-how could I do s-something like this?" His words came out choked and inaudible as he tried to be quiet. He covered his eyes with his palms. But the tears didn't stop running. And he couldn't recall when he finally fell asleep.