I stare at my wet shoes with a tight frown, watching as water seeps through them again. It makes my toes and socks inside all wet too which makes me frown even more.
I didn’t like the rain.
When the little patters first started falling, I almost made both Thén and I fall when I’d tried to run away from it, but that was only because I didn’t realise what it was.
It didn’t take me too long after I stopped screaming to realise that it was the falling waters that Aias had always told me about, the one that he always said was so ‘wonderfully peaceful’ to watch.
When I knew it was just the rain, I’d been so excited about it because it was the first time I was getting to watch the fluffy clouds up above open up and pour all their feelings out! I thought it would be magical, just like my birthday, like some special moment that I’d get to lock away and remember every time it rained.
But when I’d turned around to tell Aias how excited I was and only found the heavy chain hanging between Thén and me, that excitement went away when I remembered very quickly where I really was.
I wasn’t with Aias. I wasn’t home watching the rain-waters fall for the first time with my best friend or my Master. I was as far from home as I’d ever been and there was nothing nice about that.
All my sad feelings came back to me making my insides wither up like a lonely flower and I couldn’t help it grow again, no matter how badly I wanted to. And that bad feeling only got worse when the raining waters up above started to come even faster, falling so hard that it felt like it was trying to hurt my skin on purpose.
Aias had never told me about that part, about how it could hurt and be mean, or how loud the rain was. It dropped like angry pellets that wanted to make sure everyone below knew that the skies above were upset.
It wasn’t anything like the beautiful fall I thought rain would be. The truth was, rain hurt. It hurt a lot and it only made me feel worse inside.
With my arms wrapped around myself, I could only try my best to follow after Thén without making my face even wetter than the mean rain made it. But that was hard when everything around me made me want to curl up and cry.
So, I decided that I didn’t like the rain. It was the worst!
While I wiggle my toes inside my shoes, I try to dry them with my magic before I take another look around the small opening Thén had found for me. He’d hidden me under the roots of one of the biggest trees I’d ever seen while he went to make sure we were safe. I could only fit because the tree was tilted over just a little, like someone super strong pushed it and made it that way.
I hope they didn’t because that wouldn’t be very nice, but I liked my little corner because it made me feel safe, even though I couldn’t move very much since he’d chained me to the thick roots before he’d left.
I didn’t like that most of all.
The first time Thén chained me up, I’d tried to look on the better side by telling myself that he was just doing it to be safe. He didn’t want me to run off or get hurt and he wanted to get his sister Echo free.
But now, I couldn’t stop myself from glaring hatefully at the chains that were bringing back my old bruises while my mind filled with horrible, nasty thoughts that were getting harder and harder to cast away.
I didn’t want to be so angry when I knew Thén needed my help, but I couldn’t stop a piece of me from hating him for what he was doing.
But it wasn’t just Thén that I hated anymore...
At first, I thought it was sadness, that sinking, empty feeling that someone filled you up when it was really bad. The type that made my heartache and my eyes wet every single time I thought about Master and our fight, just like it did now.
But that empty feeling wasn’t the same as what I felt now, not really. This was different.
It was like something hot and blazing was filling me, making me hate everything.
“Hate is for me, not you, Zani.”
Digging my fingers into my hair, I try to bite back a whimper as the voice comes back to me again, making my head ache all over.
It had been coming in little pieces ever since Thén had taken me and I didn’t know why. Sometimes it was loud and clear, and other times it came in low whispers that scared me, but it wasn’t going away.
I tried my hardest to remember the voice and who it was, but I couldn’t remember them at all!
At first, I thought it was just a bad nightmare that followed me into my awake times, but it felt familiar and real. I knew it was, deep down in my heart and bones and most important places, I knew that it was real, just like I knew that when they said Zani, they meant me.
"You are the one with the light.”
My fingers dig even deeper into my scalp, the loud voice hurting so bad it made my eyes full as I tried to keep my sobs inside.
I wanted to go home.
My lips wobbles and my heart fills as I think of Lincoln, of our mealtimes in the kitchen and secret cuddle times in his office, and then it bursts when I think of our fight and his disappointed eyes.
No, no. Master will be happy to see me, I try to tell myself but my heart promised that he wouldn’t.
If Lincoln wanted to see you, he would’ve found you.
Master always said he’d find you if something happened, so maybe he’s not looking.
My brain told me those were silly thoughts that I came up with because I was hurt, but I didn’t even care anymore if they were true or not. I just wanted to leave Thén and the mean rain, and pop back home to where it was safe and warm, because at least then, even if everyone was still upset with me, I wouldn’t feel this alone.
But that didn’t matter... because I couldn’t leave Thén, if I did, then nobody would be able to save Echo.
It all seemed really easy at the start, I just had to save Thén’s sister and then go the Nyphilim to be stronger. It would be simple and I’d show everyone how strong I could be!
But that had been three days ago...three days before I knew how dark everything would feel without Master and Aias, the clan... my home.
Now, I knew better, because everyone day I had to stare at my chains, I didn’t just feel fear and sadness, felt so much worse things.
There were all these yucky, ugly feelings now, like anger and hatred, and they were only growing.
I wanted to make everything hurt just like I hurt. I wanted there to be pain.
Snapping my head upwards, I find Thén stooped right in front of me, studying me with concerned eyes and an outstretched hand that I flinch away from before I can stop myself.
He quickly draws back, putting space between us while he stays out in the mean rain with sad brown eyes.
“I didn’t mean... I-I... it was a mistake,” I try to apologise, but the words didn’t want to come out, “I’m sorry.”
With his bravest smile, Thén backs away and looks only at my chains as he starts loosening them for me, “It’s alright, I just shocked you.”
I open my mouth, but my apologies fade away while I watch the metal move and feel it twist against my skin.
It comes so quickly, all those angry emotions that crawl back over me like a dark shadow to whisper bad things to me.
I shouldn’t be apologizing when he was the one hurting me.
He should apologize, I should make him apologize.
“Always take care with how you handle hatred, you weren’t built to retain it.”
Shaking my head again, I try to quiet all the noise there before it could grow too big.
“We’ll stay here a little longer, until the rain clears,” Thén explains as he settles himself down, “I’ll get you some food and then we’ll carry on.”
I watch the way he gulps as his worry slips through just a little, saying all the things he couldn’t.
When we’d first started walking, they’re been lots of trees around us, thick massive ones that were like circular walls that shot up from the ground and tries their very best to touch the clouds.
They were amazing and colourful, but the farther we went, the fewer trees we saw until there was nothing but dry open lands with only little shrubs here and there.
The tree I was under was one of the last ones that stood before the empty lands that waited before us, the lands where the evil vampire Diablos was.
“We’re almost there, aren’t we?” I ask when Thén doesn’t say anything else.
Avoiding my eyes, Thén nods his head just a little as he mumbles a quiet, “Yes.”
I give myself a firm nod as well as I sit up and try to quiet the fear that starts to make my heart run faster and my fingers shake at my sides.
I didn’t know if I was ready to face Diablos, I didn’t think I was strong enough.
“Do you know what makes elves so powerful, young one?” Aias had asked me once at the end of one of our lessons.
I’d shook my head, knowing that there were a million wonderful things about Aias that I thought were special but probably not the right answer.
“It is simply our ability to look fear in the eye and charge towards it nevertheless,” Aias had said with a small smile, “truthfully, it is hardest the first time. To make yourself gather the strength to face that what you fear, it is daunting like nothing else, but when you do it,” Aias’ eyes had glowed like gems, “there is nothing in all the realms that can stand against you, once you master fear.”
Aias’ words still seemed too big for me, even after all this time.
I didn’t think I could master fear when there were still so many things to be afraid of; the trainers, the bad vampires, the slave house... a life without Lincoln.
But if I stayed this way, then I’d never be the boy I wanted to be, the one who could stand by Lincoln’s side and protect him if I ever had to.
I wanted to be strong and brave like my name, to fight for myself like I knew that I could and if that meant facing the worst vampire in the world, then I would just have to do it, even if it was scary.
I wouldn’t let myself keep being afraid.
Wiping the water from his face, Thén glances up at the sky with a sigh, “I’ve never liked the rain.”
“It isn’t very nice,” I mumble back as I glare at the falling pellets.
Thén’s lips quirk up just as little as he looks out again, “No it isn’t, but I can’t help but be grateful for it slowing us down.”
I watch as Thén swallows again, his fingers trembling just like mine.
Over the last few days, Thén had shared so much with me, more than he’d ever said before.
I used to think that he was just a quiet person, and maybe he really was, but it was like now that he could, he couldn’t stop himself from sharing all the things he had to keep to himself for so long.
He told me all about his sister, how brave Echo was, and how she was kind and funny too, and he shared stories about how they’d grown up together and when they’d turned too. He told me about how he felt when he learned that she was hurt and still in danger, about how many times he wanted to tell someone and tried before he’d stop himself, scared he’d lose her. He talked about the plans he made to rescue her himself and how much he feared that he was already too late, even now.
That was Thén’s biggest fear, that when we finally got there, he’d learn that it was all for nothing and that Echo was already gone.
I didn’t know if Echo was okay, I didn’t think anyone who’d been taken by a horrible meanie would be, but I hoped and prayed that she would be alive, so that when we got to her, she’d know just how much her big brother loved her and never stopped trying to save her.
“We’re going to be okay,” I promise with the best smile I could manage, it doesn’t hold for very long.
It was getting harder to smile, to feel happy and see the better side to things when everything seemed so dark to my eyes now. It was like someone had stolen all the light and left me in the shadows.
I didn’t like how comfortable I felt in the shadows.
Thén nods a little, trying to believe what I said but I knew he didn’t.
But that was okay because I didn’t plan to leave without Echo and Thén. Not even my angry, sad thoughts could stop me from helping them.
“Let’s go over the plan again,” he says instead, turning to face me completely. “When we’re in range, the witches are going to bring us to them. If they separate us, don’t worry about me or Echo, you just get out the minute you see a chance to.
“If they don’t separate us and we go to Diablos together, you shouldn’t engage him or anyone else,” Thén advises, his tone super serious now, “they’re not like the vampires in our clan. They’re not kind and they won’t show mercy, they will take any chance they can at hurting you and Diablos will not bother to stop them, he’ll only join in. So you keep your barriers up and when you see your chance, go home.”
I nod again while I go over my own plan in my head.
The second I knew who Echo was, I was going to pop her and Thén with me to Thailand so they’d be super far away from where Diablos could hurt them ever again.
If I felt strong enough, I’d pop back and do the best count I could of how many fighting people Diablos had, so that Master could prepare better when he attacked. If I could, I’d also try to find a weak spot in the camp, just like Lincoln taught me so that they would know where to attack from.
But that was only if I felt strong enough to do it, Master always said that none of that was as important as making sure I was safe was.
“There is nothing in this world I love more than you, Kalem. Nothing.”
My chest squeezes, aching and bleeding to find its missing piece that we’d been apart from for so long, even though he was the reason it was bleeding.
“Kalem,” I jump just a little as I look back to Thén, “did you hear what I said?”
“Y-Yes,” I promise, “I know the plan.”
“What about what you do if you’re left on your own with Diablos?” He presses.
I can’t stop the shudder that rushes through me as I think of the horrible man again, the one that gave me nightmares.
“If I’m left alone with him, I keep my barrier up at all times. I don’t let him get in my head,” I say, repeating all the instructions Thén had told me every day. “I don’t give him a chance to hurt me.”
Thén nods, “His gift is death and warfare, but that doesn’t just apply to his battle skills. He knows how to twist people from the inside out, do not let him do that to you.”
I nod firmly, this time not for Thén but for myself because I knew that his words were true.
“And if you can’t find a way for Echo to get out, you do the thumping,” I say as I put my hand into a fist and do the little rhythm I’d taught him yesterday, “I’ll hear it and I’ll get you both out.”
Thén nods a little as he does the thumping, playing my favourite pixie tune.
“We’re going to be okay, Thén,” I promise once again. “We’re going to be okay.”
We had to be.
It takes two hours for the rainwaters to stop falling, but a little more for us to start walking again.
Thén didn’t want to go. He kept giving me food and telling me to rest while he tried to find new things to do. I knew he wanted to help, but I also knew he was scared to keep going.
I was scared too, so I didn’t push him.
When we did start walking, we only made it a little way into the dry lands Thén called the desert before I felt the first sparks of magic that wasn’t my own.
It wasn’t Aias’ either. It was just like the one that took me from my home in the first place.
“Remember the plan,” Thén pants as he appears in front of me, closing the space between us faster than I could blink as he loosens the bolts to my shackles, “you don’t engage and you get out.”
“And you be safe,” I whisper as the magic begins to wrap itself around us as best as it can around my barrier.
When the shackles hang loosely from my wrists, Thén drops them and looks up at me, his smile weak and his eyes wet, “Yo-”
Thén doesn’t get a chance to finish as the sick twisting magic snaps around us like a band before it gives us a tug I feel in my bones as it makes us pop to another place.
But it was nothing like when I did pop, this one felt wrong.
It made my insides run in circles and my head feel all wheezy like someone had turned me upside down and run all around. But I don’t have a chance to feel sick because when I open my eyes next, it was no longer just Thén and me.
There were vampires everywhere.
More vampires than I’d ever seen in the slave house, in the clan, in my entire life! They were way too many to count and way more than I remembered Master talking about in the war room.
My heart sinks in on itself as I try not to cower under all the red eyes that shift to Thén and me.
I didn’t know any of them but yet they still bared their fangs at us and settled their hateful eyes on us from the makeshift buildings that were littered all over the dusty lands.
It wasn’t like the castle or the tall and short buildings I saw in the human world, everything was in the open here. I couldn’t see any books or food, only weapons and people dressed in armour from head to toe.
Maybe that was why they all looked so angry, because they didn’t have special rooms, but I didn’t think that was it. This anger I could almost feel under my skin like I could feel them all around me.
My eyes shift again, searching for anything other than someone glaring so meanly at me, but the moment my eyes land on the piles of bodies I wish I didn’t.
Water fills my eyes as I take in the heaps of people who were stacked on one another, pieces of themselves missing in chunks they bled from. It made me feel sick inside and I knew I should look away, but for some horrible reason, I couldn’t.
I couldn’t stop looking at the mauled bodies and the sad, pained features of the ones who’d owned them.
It was like the slave house, all their worst parts laid open here.
Before I was forced to take any more in, that nasty feeling magic gives Thén and me another tug that takes us to the inside of one of the small buildings that were made of sheets.
I swallow a whine as I try to keep down the fruits Thén had given me before we left, swallowing over and over to stop myself from emptying it all out in the space.
I thought of Master and all his encouraging words when I had I hard time eating or letting him go, all those reminders of how I could do anything I put my mind to, but it was so much harder now when this place felt so familiar.
But it wasn’t familiar like I’d been there before, it was familiar like I’d been in the same type of atmosphere before.
“Finally, I was getting quite bored of waiting for you to find these two,”
My entire body freezes as the cold voice rushes over me.
It sounded so wrong, like it wasn’t real or supposed to be, but it was and it made me feel like something wicked was trailing up my skin.
I didn’t want to look up, not until I stopped my fingers from shaking and my heart from beeping so fast, but my eyes lifted anyway which I knew was the worst thing ever when I meet the dark red eyes of the man who stood at the other side of the room with the type of smile that made my magic waver.
Diablos. It had to be, I couldn’t imagine that there was anybody else in the world who looked that evil.
Dressed in nothing but back, with his arms held at his back, Diablos peers down at me and Thén from the higher platform he stood at with several others at his back, all looking more hateful than the last.
There were vampires behind us too, I could feel it, but I was too scared to take my eyes off the one in front of me, terrified that if I did, he’d somehow find a way to hurt me.
You’re strong, Kalem. I remind myself in a chant. You’re a strong boy. They can’t hurt you anymore, this isn’t like the slave house.
But it felt like the salve house. It had always felt like this, cold and wicked, with no room for light or happiness.
That’s what he felt like. With his dark red eyes that looked like they were full of blood, he looked like a joyless, soulless being with no light.
Like pure darkness.
“My apologies, sire,” another voice answers, a tall woman who stood at his right with a scowl so deep it looked like it hurt to make it, “they were more difficult to find than anticipated.”
From my side, I could see the way Thén was struggling to stay still, he was right by my side, but I could see his eyes darting all around in search of Echo.
I wanted to look too, but I didn’t know what she looked like and besides that... my body couldn’t move an inch with Diablos’ gleaming red eyes so focused on me.
It made my skin crawl and my entire body tremble as I tried to keep my barriers up and my chin up too. Mr W always said if you looked confident, you might believe it too.
I was trying my very best to believe it.
“Well, all is well that ends well I suppose,” Diablos replies while his grin grows wider.
Still eyeing me, he takes a step towards me.
I immediately step back, my body automatically taking the protective stance Master taught me to make for fighting, but it only makes the wicked man grin with all his teeth.
“How wonderful it is to finally meet you, Kalem,” he announces cheerfully, his tone so cruel it made my heart speed up, “that is what you named yourself, isn’t it slave? Kalem.”
The word spat at me like it had always been makes me crumble a little on the inside. I could still hear the trainers saying it the same way, picture their faces in my mind while they brought the whips down on my skin.
It brings sadness like it always did, but it also brings my new anger too. The anger that made the magic under my veins boil and scream to be let out, to hurt because I was not a slave, I knew that better than I knew that sunflowers were the best flowers in the world.
Hearing someone call me a slave again made me angrier than it made me sad.
“It was quite a task to get a hold of you,” Diablos comments with a tsk, “hidden behind those castle walls ensconced by elven magic,” he sighs, “quite a task indeed.”
Dragging his bleeding eyes across to Thén, Diablos’ smile wavers just a little, “I suppose I have you to thank for this, it wouldn’t have been possible if you hadn’t betrayed your clan and everyone you know.”
I could hear the way Thén’s teeth grind together as he squares his shoulders and glares at Diablos, “Where is my sister?”
The smile plastered across the wicked man’s face falls for the first time as he stops in front of Thén with a stare so poisonous it made me want to hide.
“You are in no position to make demands, suckling,” he snaps, his voice suddenly burning hot instead of cold, “you’re lucky to still draw breath.”
I knew vampires’ hearts couldn’t beat like mine, but I could still hear how heavily Thén was breathing beside me and I knew everyone else could hear it too.
“Though, never let it be said that I’m not a man of my word,” Diablos drawls before he flicks his fingers over his back, “reunite this one with his sibling and leave, I’d like a moment alone with the slave.”
From the tiniest corner of my eye, I could see the way Thén looks at me, reluctant to leave me since he was still scared that I’d be hurt. I was scared too.
I didn’t want to be alone with this bad man, I just wanted us to leave as soon as we could, but I also didn’t want to make it any harder for Thén or Echo, or our escape.
“Go see, Echo,” I say to Thén with the best smile I could manage, “I’ll be okay.”
Whether Thén planned to stay with me or not, he doesn’t get a chance to decide as an orange-y mist quickly circles around him and takes him away before I could even say bye.
It does the same to the others in the room, taking them one by one until there was no one left but me and Diablos.
I gulp, or try to, it’s hard when my mouth suddenly becomes very very dry as Diablos steps right in front of me and stares down at me as if I was something small he wanted to push over.
I strengthen my barriers and put all my focus into keeping them strong so that when he tried to hurt me, it went straight back at him, but he doesn’t. He just watches me, his eyes running over my face for so long I thought he might’ve found something there I’d never seen before.
“For the life of me I can not identify what it is about you that has completely pulled the wool over Lincoln’s eyes,” he finally says, sounding strangely normal for the first time as he blinks down at me, “I’ll admit, you are pleasing to look at and there is a quiet power to you, but neither of those are things we haven’t seen a million times over in our lengthy lifespans. You’re nothing special.”
I frown a little as his words settle in me. I was very special, because there was nobody else like me so that made me special.
I wanted to say that but I didn’t know if I should when Thén’s warning kept loopy-loopying in my mind.
Diablos was scary, in that quiet way nightmares snuck up on your happy dreams and made you sad, but he was also nothing like I’d imagined.
In my head, I’d made him up to be this really big and terrifying monster who breathed fire and kept pixies in little cages so he could squish them when he was feeling extra evil.
I’d heard so many horrible things around him, that my mind had made him into something equally as horrible. But he was just a man, with two legs and two arms. Yes, he looked evil and scary and like he would enjoy squashing pixies, but he was still a person like me and Master, just a really bad one.
“What’s strange is how much of him I see in you,” he whispers as he leans in a little closer, his eyes turning ever sharper, “it’s as nauseating as it is suspicious.”
Turning away without even a glance back, Diablos strides away from me to the furthest corner of the fabric-room until he reaches a low table where a large jar and cup sat.
I take the chance to look around so I could try and spot where the pain would come from, who would jump out and attack me, or how they’d try. But it was just the two of us and Diablos was only pouring himself a cup of blood, barely looking at me which made no sense at all.
I thought the first thing he’d do was try and hurt me, but he hadn’t even touched me.
“W-Why did you want to take me away from Master?” I ask, my voice shaking no matter how hard I tried to settle it.
Diablos stills just a little as he turns to look at me with a confused wrinkle in his brow, “Bless the Gods, you call him Master?” Chuckling lowly he shakes his head, “he swears he’s trying to stop the practice and yet, he has a slave of his own.”
“I am not a slave,” I bite back before I could stop myself but I didn’t want to stay quiet anymore.
Diablos smiles, “Then what are you, slave?”
“Kalem,” I snap as my fingers clench in front of me, “I’m not a slave because Lincoln freed me from evil, horrible people like you. I can call him Master because I want to, because I am free.”
“I can tell you have to tell yourself that often,” Diablos whispers with a nod, sounding almost sad, “haven’t you ever wondered why that it? Why you have to convince yourself that you’re free.”
“Because you’re horrible people put bad things in my head all my life!” I shout back, my heart racing inside my chest now, “It was them, not Master.”
“You truly believe that,” he says with a little sigh.
“Yes, and I know you’re just trying to get into my head. It won’t work, so stop trying.”
Diablos doesn’t argue as he steals a sip from his thick glass cup, “To answer your question, I took you because it was the next move to this war. Your disappearance will make Lincoln act impulsively.”
I frown, knowing that the word meant acting carelessly and that didn’t match Master at all, but I also remembered all Master said he’d do if anything ever happened to me.
“He’ll charge in here without the right plan and face quite a shock at what he finds,” Diablos finishes before he takes another gulp of his blood before he quickly refills his glass, “and then this bothersome affair can but put to rest once and for all.”
At his words, my mind reminds me of my notes and all the pieces that never seemed to work together when I thought of the war.
Master won every fought, the clan grew every day and Diablos always lost, but he didn’t seem scared or nervous, and I knew Aias always said pride was dangerous, but it didn’t seem like the pride thing.
Diablos sounded calm and sure, like how Lincoln did when he talked about the war.
It scared me more than he did.
“What type of shock?” I force out my tight throat. Maybe if I found out, I could tell Master so he’d be prepared.
“My best witches think you’re a Vorgium,” Diablos says instead of answering, switching his topic so fast it made my head hurt. “They say only one of the strongest bloodlines could manage the teleportation your vampire friend reported.”
Staring at me for a few seconds, Diablos shakes his head, “I don’t think that’s what you are. The Amorenias are near extinct, all the Thoras that matter are in my camp and the Vorgium are lost fanatics. Beyond all that, it’s written all over your face that you don’t even know what any of that means.”
I wanted to deny it, to say that I did understand so that I wouldn’t feel so slow, but he kept talking before I could even try.
“I do think you are something else. What that may be? I haven’t the slightest clue, but I know that you are something powerful that somehow managed to slip through my fingers,”
For the first time, Diablos sounded upset but it went away just as quickly as it came as he took another sip of his blood.
“Powerful to leave if you wished it, I suspect, and yet...you’re still here, with me.” I try to keep my heart still but it runs faster anyway. “If that’s the case, I can not help but wonder why you’ve stayed in the company of that weaselling vampire for days now, instead of returning to your fortress and your Master.”
I squirm, feeling uncomfortable with how easily he was putting everything about me together, even though I hadn’t said a word. Which only made me 2000x more determined to keep my lips sealed tight.
But even when I don’t reply he keeps going, pressing and pushing while I try my best to call on nature around me to tell me if Thén for Echo so we could go, but it was hard with all Diablos was saying.
“A ploy? Perhaps if I were dealing with another, but Lincoln would never risk your safety to me. A ploy of your own? I thought so, but upon meeting you, it’s easy to see you wouldn’t risk upsetting your Master, slave. So it leaves me to think that you do not wish to return to your home. But what could be the reason for such a thing?”
“Trouble with your Master?” He guesses, interest pinned all on me, “A strife within the clan? Or perhaps, someone’s been neglected.”
I still and the moment I do, the wicked gleam fills Diablos’ eyes as he nods to himself.
“You mustn’t blame your Master for that, slave,” Diablos whispers with a sympathetic frown, “my visit set that in motion, it was simply a matter of war.”
“A matter of war?” I ask not understanding how Master and I’s fight could be part of a war.
“Do you know what war is, slave?” Diablos questions, spitting the word out again, “It’s not just an accumulation of battles and a final victory to round it off. It is a game.”
I didn’t think that was true, games were fun, this was not fun at all.
“It’s the ever-moving set of pieces that require ploys to be set in the right way for your favoured outcome to be the only outcome,” he continues with that smile again, the cold one I did not like at all. “I’ve been playing this game for a long time, slave.”
“How long?” I ask, my worry building as I take a step back.
“Does it matter now?” Diablos asks as he rests himself on the edge of his table, “the pieces have begun to fall and not one of you have an idea of what they are.”
“You won’t win,” I press, meaning it with all my soul.
“I understand why you’d believe that,” he replies with a tight smile, “I truly do. Your Master has won every battle, his power is like nothing any of us possess, not to mention the elf. It would be illogical to claim any other as the winner but him. But remind me, slave, what did I tell you war was?”
A game. One he’d been playing for a long time.
Diablos’ grin widens once more, enough to show his fangs before he heads for the opening of his tent, “Feel free to leave whenever you wish, none here will try to stop you.”
I watch him walk past me with a deep frown, my head turning and twisting to try and figure out what was happening. I knew sometimes I missed pieces to things and couldn’t see the full picture but this didn’t make sense.
Diablos was the big meanie, the worst vampire in the entire world who’d only ever wanted to tear me and Master apart, he wasn’t supposed to just let me go.
“Y-You don’t want to hurt me?”
Diablos stops just at the exit as he glances at me from over his shoulder, “If you were as easy to kill as you appeared, you’d already be posted outside with a spear through your mouth.”
I lick the roof of my mouth as I shut it super tight to avoid any spears from coming through.
“Every one of my witches has been trying to kill you since the moment they found you and all they’ve done is exhaust themselves.” He shrugs, “I am a man who can accept his losses, and you’ve already served your purpose.”
Before I can push any more, the dirt beneath my feet carries over the soft thumping rhythm Thén and I had practised - the signal.
It’s only then that I realise how much time I’d spent with Diablos alone, letting him share his twisting lies and confusing words that made everything I knew feel like it was turned upside down.
I hadn’t done any of the things I’d planned or gotten even a little bit of information to share with Master, only thoughts I didn’t want in my head.
When I frown deeply at him, Diablos chuckles lowly to himself, “This is a game, slave,” he reminds before he pushes through the tent, “you’d do well to remember that.”
“I’m not a slave,” I grind out, wanting to make him believe the words like I did.
“We shall see...”
Left alone with nothing else but my dizzying and confusing thoughts, I try to figure out what Diablos’ evil plan was, but I was not any closer to understanding than I’d been in the castle.
(a/n - chapter change starts here)
Nothing he did or said made sense, which was super frustrating when I’d tried my hardest to understand him.
I wanted to find out more, to keep pressing until I had anything to give to Master, but I knew that’s what he wanted. To get into my head and make me think all sorts of crazy things that would make me sad.
I wouldn’t let him.
I would do what I was supposed to do. Save Thén and Echo.
I listen out, straining my senses as best as I can so I could pick up on the soft thumping I’d taught Thén, but it doesn’t come.
I try harder, keeping my eyes open just in case someone would really try to heart me, but even when I was using Aias’ serious focus techniques to listen but there’s nothing.
My heart shifts uncomfortably in my chest, but I try not to let myself do the panicking thing as I think of my back-back up plan.
The desert wasn’t anything like my lovely garden; it was quieter, but there was life here too, and if I asked nicely, the nature here would take me to Thén.
I think of the water deep beneath, the faint trickles that were everywhere that Aias loved so much, and I beg them with all my might to show me the way.
It answers my call almost immediately, seeming sad and desperate, which told me that they didn’t like the evil Diablos or his witches either.
I pop straight over to where the quiet desert life pulls me, which was another sort of fabricated room, but this one was more open, and it didn’t have any of the nice things Diablos’ one had.
Only three vampires at the entrance and...
I stop breathing. My mouth falls open, but I can’t breathe; my body wouldn’t let me, not when everything suddenly hurt so much.
My legs shake beneath me, threatening to fall with my barriers and my heart.
From two thick lengths of rope h-hung two bodies... Thén’s and... Echo.
I knew it was her, even though the body was so old its eyes were gone and cheeks as sunken in. Even though it was missing both feet, not just a hand, patches of the withered up skin that said too much.
It was her because though Thén’s eyes were blank, empty of his normal light and kindness, there were still tears streaking his face.
They lined his face all the way down to his throat, where his skin was burned away to the bone under the rope as if it had sawn his flesh away.
Thén was dead.
My body forces itself to take in air as I stumble back, my own tears rushing up fast as his body sways just a little.
A choked sob leaves me, and then I’m crying, loud and broken, screaming so loud the desert’s life draws away from me and runs. But I couldn’t help it, couldn’t quiet myself because Thén...
I’d seen so many people hurt in the slave house, but even though it was sad and hurt to see, it didn’t hurt like this because I didn’t know them. But I knew Thén. He was my friend, one of my first friends.
He’d been good, not bad. I was mad at him for taking me, for lying to me, but he only wanted to help his sister, and now...he was gone.
“I did not lie,” the whispered words bring my shattered mind back. “I reunited the pair.”
I turn around, blinking my wet eyes at the vampires who stood at the entrance, doubled in numbers now as they stared at me without any sadness or care.
In front of them all was Diablos, with his wicked smile and blank eyes that said too much.
“I may not be able to hurt you physically, but they’re other ways,” he says, his arms held at his back while he lifts his gaze to the bodies behind me, “other ways to tear a man’s soul apart until there’s nothing left.”
Turning around, he waves a hand over his head, “A game, slave.”
Diablos disappears, and the moment he does, all his vampires rush towards me, but time itself down as his words spin in my mind.
This was all a game to him, to all of them, and they didn’t care who they hurt or took away to win.
None of them cared.
“Hate is for me, not you,”
The trainers never cared. They just hurt people again and again and again.
“Hate is for me, not you,”
They used to hurt me too.
“Hate is for me, not you,”
It was a warning. I heard it now in the quiet that passes over my mind during the single moment I’m speared before all the hatred rushed in.
I wasn’t supposed to hate, not with what followed after.
The vampires don’t get a chance to reach me or my barriers, not when the earth opens up beneath their feet and swallow them whole, smoothing itself back over without a sound as if they were never even there.
But they were, I could feel them, under the dirt screaming while it hardened around them. Squeezing and breaking them down, like they broke everyone else down. There was no air, no escape, just the pain they’d caused us.
Then there was nothing at all.
Nothing but the cold power that crawls over every part of me it could reach, taking away the light that flickered in my heart.
It was just like when Aias and I had fought, when something else had taken over me, helping me move before I told myself to, doing things with my magic I couldn’t imagine.
But this time, I wasn’t scared. This time, I wanted it.
I wanted it so I could find Diablos and make him suffer. I wanted him to place his in chains and drag him across the earth’s plains, to shred his insides apart until he screamed. And when he did, I’d give him something to scream about.
I let it all in, all the anger and pain and suffering, because, without it, I only saw Thén’s blank eyes and the crumbling body beside him and that hurt too much.
This was better.
I look down at the metal that was still clinging to my skin and watch them turn to dust as the air answered my call and breaks them to nothing.
This was much better.
I could make them all pay. I could make them all feel the pain they caused me.
I could kill them all. I would-
“Every time you get scared of your magic, I want you to remember this,” Aias’ voice drifts through my head like gentle waters, cooling me down slowly as I remembered the feel of his arms around me and the gentle kiss to put to the top of my head. “Never forget what you can do with your magic.”
As Aias’ voice fills my head, bringing back the image he’d made of me in the rocks, I blink past the haze in my head and think of all the good things he’d shown me.
My magic was for good, not bad, I wasn’t supposed to hurt people.
But I wanted to. I wanted to hurt them all just like I-
Looking back to the covered dirt on the floor, I feel my eyes fill all over again as my shaking hand lifts to cover my mouth.
I’d just... I could still feel their bodies under the dirt.
Crushed by my hand because I-I... I’d done that. I’d made the d-
I killed them.
I clutch at my chest, trying to stop the ache there but my heart was beeping too fast now. It was rushing so hard my head couldn’t stop spinning all over.
Beneath it all, I could still feel that darkness there, waiting just under my skin, so close like anything could make it come back.
I didn’t want it to come back.
I try to turn away, not wanting to look but that only brings me back to Thén’s limp body. When my eyes reach Thén’s, my tears fall and they don’t stop as sobs pull from me until I’m crying so hard my throat hurts.
I wanted to go home, to have Master fix this, but I knew he couldn’t.
I knew nobody could make this feeling go away, nobody but-
“If the scales were ever to tip over, what are you to do?”
“I come find you,”
“That’s right, Zani. You come find me.”
As if answering the memory, the cold chill that had settled inside of me burns just a little brighter, beeping inside of me like a call I couldn’t deny even if I wanted to.
“Come find me.”
The voice scared me but I knew it, knew that they wouldn’t hurt me, they never did. So I let my wet eyes fall shut as time slows down all around me.
“Come find me.”
I block out the world around me like I knew I should when I used a lot of magic. I make it as quiet as I can before I call on everything around me to help reach that cold glow waiting for me.
The one that was always waiting for me.
When my magic burns as brightly as the other nyphilim, I wrap it around myself, and pop towards it.
“Come find me.”
I just had to...
Thoughts on Kalem’s emotions? Demon side perhaps?
What about the Diablos interaction?
To explain the change where Thén and Echo are dead. I’ve started taking some writing classes and they have been AMAZING, but someone said you just have to kill the characters, don’t let your love get in front of the plot.
Initially, I kept Thén alive for Kalem. I knew this would fucking break him in the long wrong and change him and I didn’t want that cause I love the bean so much, but I mean SHIT, if I don’t do it who will.
So I made the change and I’m even more hyped to write the chapter.
I am happy to report that I am no longer underwhelmed by Diablos because that fucker is the spawn of Satan.
Anywayssss, I’d love to hear how you all felt about this chapter, so share share share!!!
This literally took the life out of me to get done, my brain just wasn’t functioning but I am happy with this chapter and I hope you guys are too!
Vote up and comment pleaseeee, it’s always encouraging.
Until next time,