If the witch intended for the potion to fail, she would know damn well who the stood in the moonlight. But then what did she expect? Oihane had to leap through the smoke of the exploded concoction, bound to the side of the clearing, just to get close enough to backhand a legendary hellbeast.
But he went down.
When the so-called protection spell had destroyed the air in a flash of color, Nikodemos’s body formed like black blood, oozing from nothing. His features took shape with a gaunt face. Anger snapped to Kaia before his bewilderment passed, an animal smelling its prey first. Even in the dark, Kaia felt his attention strike her, and if Oihane had wanted her dead, she only needed to wait just a moment longer. As Rasmus gaped helplessly, the witch had taken the one opportunity to save Kaia’s life.
“Oihane!” Rasmus said. “What did you do?!”
“Summoned him apparently,” she replied, throwing her leg over the fallen body. She stood triumphant.
Whatever her plan, she wasn’t quick enough. Strong enough. Prepared enough. Before Kaia could swallow the reality of the danger, the demon had Oihane flat on her back. He moved swiftly—Kaia’s vision blurry, her mind tried to follow how he was on his feet now, how he was striding towards her.
“Wait!” Kaia said, hands up. “We’re not enemies.”
His eyes narrowed. He did not stop, did not quicken. He toyed with the girl, jaw set.
“We just want to help—”
A loud cry and Rasmus’s body pummeled the demon. The tiny dagger glinted off Nikodemos’s shoulder; if it even scratched him, it didn’t show in the dark. Rasmus’s hand bounced back, jerking him off balance. With one hand, Nikodemos seized his attacker’s throat and shoved.
The demon was on Kaia. His face appeared like a ghost in the shadows and stopped, speed scattering dirt into her eyes. Her heart knocked her back, feet not catching up. Kaia plummeted, wrists cracking on landing. She blinked up at him.
He gave her time to think. He gave her time to breathe.
The moonlight bathed his white hair in gold. Shadows swallowed his sharp features. Nothing glinted behind his eyes, yet he didn’t go in for the final kill.
Kaia shut her gaping mouth, feeling returning to her cheeks. She glowered. She forced it, as deeply as she could muster, to the point her cheeks hurt and neck squeezed until the girl was certain she looked ridiculous.
“What are you doing, idiot?” she said.
He bared his teeth.
“Why are you still here? Do you understand why I helped you?”
“To help yourself,” he growled.
“Because you didn’t do anything to deserve to die! Why didn’t you get the hell out of the area? Go! They’re following you.”
Nikodemos sucked in a breath. He swayed back.
“I can’t leave you,” he said. The folds of his features deepened, his mouth curling in pain.
She debated, stalling with a dry swallow. Kaia smirked at him, forcing humor. “Why? You worried about me?”
The line in his brow lengthened. Kaia’s body melted. She shifted her balance and rose.
Their feet were close, her nose almost touched his chin. Nikodemos didn’t move, and she refused to back down.
“Except you, huh?” she smiled.
She flicked a glance for her brother, but couldn’t see far enough around the demon. Kaia returned her gaze to the man before her, body itching at the intensity of his eyes.
“Nikodemos, leave. I risk the lives of many to save you. And now you’re risking your life to get rid of me? Why? You tethered here by some magical favor? Is killing me an option? Really?”
His scowl didn’t falter. Agony hardened this throat.
Soft, padding footsteps caused him to break the stare. Oihane approached, cautious, eyes trained on her prey, determined.
“Kaia,” she said, still circling the beast. “I don’t know where you hit your head, but I’m going to capture him. Move.”
Rasmus was by her side, gripping his dagger.
Kaia’s breath caught, chest tight.
“If he wanted to kill me,” Kaia said with a smile. “He had done it by now.”
“He is magically indebted to you,” Oihane said. “He’s not human, and he’ll never forgive you for that.”
“Is that what it is?” Nikodemos smiled.
“He can’t,” Kaia said, stepping towards the witch. Relief filled her as she gained space, air, and she passed the demon casually, hands swinging, her back to him. “He is incapable of doing me any harm. It’s obvious. He’s pissed because he’s powerless, but he’s powerless, so…”
Rasmus’s eyes lit with energy. His mouth opened, first to speak, and then to snarl before the hot, stinging pain shocked through Kaia’s head. It blackened her vision, jaw lighting on fire at the joints. Her stomach jolted as she felt herself falling. Falling… Falling… the world around her slow.
But before she could even experience fear, the demon flew over her in a blur of white. The wind thrashed as he leaped, thumping hard before her brother. The beast sprung forward. Rasmus was on the ground.
Kaia scrambled. “Don’t touch him!”
The girl’s breath stopped dead in her chest. The demon had frozen in place, only his fist swinging lightly at his side. He waited. Rasmus stood. Hope blazed through Kaia’s core.
“Nikodemos, you have a choice…” she said slowly.
The demon raised a hand. Two fingers held out straight to Rasmus’s eyes, the smooth motion jerked like caught by a leash. Rasmus’s expression went dead. The brown of his iris shrunk, mouth slack, face the color of sleet in the moonlight. Kaia moved forward, but Oihane thrust out an arm in her direction: Don’t
Nikodemos raised his wrist, snapping his fingers up, arm breaking through an invisible substance until it stood high above his head.
Kaia could see, from her distance, the light in Rasmus’s eyes—golden flickering like he stared deep into a flame. Something flashed across his vision, changing the colors in his iris as his face lengthened, brows raised, whites of his eyes as large as the sockets themselves. Whatever he saw, it terrified him.
“Nikodemos!” Kaia cried.
“Now,” the demon said. “I want you to tell me something, Rasmus. What do your people know about my kind? Really?”
“Please,” Rasmus whispered to the visions before him. “I’m trying.”
“The pain will end once you tell me. What do they think I am?”
“You don’t have to do this!” Kaia shouted, rage contorting her face. “You could just ask!”
But Nikodemos smirked.
Rasmus clutched his head, eyes bulging with terror. His voice was nothing more than a breath. “Damned if I do, damned if I don’t.” He jerked up. “Please, I’m trying! Leave me alone!”
“Or do you want
to do this?” Kaia demanded.
Oihane snapped forward. She went to strike again, but this time, the stretch of her hand gentle. It landed on Nikodemos’ chest, and the demon didn’t move. He gave her a glance, keeping his gaze trained on the quaking man before him.
“You sonnabitch,” Kaia breathed, striding forward.
Oihane began to whisper. Her head bowed low, she chanted something, something deep, something threatening. The words were guttural, hissing, unknown to Kaia. It wasn’t until the magic glowed in an orange halo around her fingertips that finally Nikodemos leaped away.
Rasmus snapped out of it. He swallowed air, searching, as if he’d just broken free of drowning. His sister moved for him, to hold him steady in his confusion.
An embrace stopped her. Kaia’s insides jerked as the arm, like a beam of iron, smashed into her stomach. Wind knocked out of her, she barely could turn to see the face of the demon, who held her tight. Their cheeks almost touched, but he stared off into the distance before the trees above them whirled. She felt a wave of sickness as they spun. Then they were gone.
Water rushed. First, nothing but an airless void. Then the sound. The cold wind. Dirt solidified under her feet, the hard arm setting her down to a collapse. Now, finally, sight. She gasped for breath. A blurry world formed.
A lake. Crystal clear, the bright blue reflected ripples of the moonlight. Green of the mossy rocks peeked out from below the water, water that moved across the small pond in a spiral. At first, the current slid softly, faintly, but as Kaia’s vision grew stronger, she witnessed the cause of the loud crashing: a great whirlpool sucking into blackness, right in the center of the lake.
The sight planted a rock in her core. Her breath returned, and she pulled herself free from her crippled bend to stand tall.
Nikodemos glided along the edge of the water, his focus trained on the dark whirlpool. His hair glistened in the moonlight. The redness of his burns along his cheeks stood strong against the glow of his white skin. He brushed back strands sticking to his face with sweat, eyes distance, mind wandering.
Kaia took in the scene, a beautiful man with his face etched in pain, but her mind told her nothing. Once it did begin to reform, she knew she needed to do something, something before he did. But that left her at a loss.
“What the hell?” she said finally.
“What is wrong with you?” Kaia demanded, storming forward. “What did you do to my brother?”
“What demons do,” Nikodemos shrugged.
“I would’ve told you, you freak.” Rage caught inside her but stayed in a tight ball, unwilling to release. Her outsides felt numb, and the anger twisted, trapped in a cage, making her sick. “You didn’t have to hurt him. Did you want
Nikodemos broke free from his reverie, as if she suddenly truly existed to him, in this place.
“What do you think I am?” he snapped.
“An idiot!” she said, walking towards him. “Where are we? Why did you bring me here?”
Disappointment lowered his head. “You humans know so little. You talk…” He held up a hand, fingers stiff like the branches of a dead tree bobbing in the wind. “So constantly talk and write and record, and yet you only know the tiny things inside your life. What did you think I would do once I escaped?”
“It didn’t matter!” Kaia said. “You didn’t deserve that. No, I didn’t think you loved destruction and sending my brother into insanity. But I did it because it was the right thing to do. What are you
She was at his side, shoving the intense ferocity directly in his face. He hesitated, then whirled, gaze digging deeply into her. “You are a problem,” he said. “Your brother is in the way.”
Her eyes narrowed. Her chest released, and she stepped back. With a small tilt of her head, she asked kindly, “You are magically tied to me. Is that what you mean?”
Again, a faint smile crossed his mouth. He chuckled. “I guess you could call it that.”
“So what? Torturing my brother will sever the bond?”
But he nodded, his gaze turning back to the whirlpool. At first, Kaia thought he wouldn’t explain, but he did.
“You know, I think it might. There is a relief there, to be able to hurt him. To see you in pain and yet feel nothing but power. It says I can do something about this.”
She scowled, absorbing his words. Her eyes followed his. “Where are we?”
“This is where I came from. I didn’t realize I was so close until… You chased me here.” He smiled at her, approvingly. “Was that your game?”
“Nikodemos…” she said, quiet. Her soft tone caused him to stiffen.
“I don’t understand,” she continued, “why you are like this. The only plan I have is to save you. And myself. I can’t just let you go after what I did. I hoped you would just leave. Instead, you come here?”
He wouldn’t look at her. She took a deep breath and, despite herself, gently placed her hand on his shoulder. It was like touching a statue, cold, and impossibly hard.
His lips tightened.
“I want to save you,” she said. “I don’t want to hurt anyone else either. That’s it. I don’t believe I have to choose.” She sighed. “But if you keep acting like a jackass…”
“Do you know what this place is?” Nikodemos asked.
She tore his gaze from him, stepping away. She gave the small beach a quick scan. “A gateway.”
“Hell,” he said. “Would you send me back?”
“I’m not God,” she replied, walking past him. “Common mistake.”
His chest, an immovable rock, collapsed softly as he began to breathe. “They are chasing me here, I think.”
She debated. “The hunters?”
“They know. Or maybe they don’t. I can’t say. But I won’t go back.”
She whirled. “Then, why are you here? You just teleported. Why did you stick around?”
“You,” he said gruffly.
She took a second to fully accept it. “Because I did you a favor?”
“Sure,” he grunted, face contorted. “Because you were human. I guess. You are the reason I’m trapped here, that they were able to lead me back.”
Kaia threw out her arms. “Well, what? You’re bound to me? So, you bring me here… to… What? What?” Her mind tore through all the options, what he had said to her, what he could possibly mean. Why bring her here?
Her eyes widened. “You’re going to push me in.”
He opened his mouth, face pained. Shouting echoed from a distance.
Nikodemos spun, swearing.
“Rasmus, do you even know where you are going?” Oihane demanded.
Her breath was hard, the woman trying to keep up with an unrelenting pace over the rocky mountainside. Rasmus followed no trail; it didn’t even seem he was following logic.
“You need to think clearly,” she said. “We don’t understand the demon’s powers. We didn’t even realize he could do that. If you’re running off in a random—”
Rasmus pointed. Oihane paused, frozen in a balancing act across a sharp rock. She followed the gesture until her eyes adjusted to the strange movement pouring from the trees: red cloaks, the entire encampment, charging forward, up the cliffside. An extensive ledge, high above their heads, funneled the monkey-climbing.
“What’s up there?” Oihane asked.
“I don’t know. But they seem to. I need to get Kaia out of there.”
At first, he expected her to speak on her own. He continued to climb towards the ledge he was sure his sister had to be. The ruckus started soon after the demon vanished from sight; something had the hunters in fits. When Rasmus saw his sister in the arms of a monster, swallowed into thick shadows, his entire heart disappeared with them. Whatever the creature wanted, it wasn’t what Oihane was thinking. Kaia could not be caught with him. Not after releasing him.
Oihane waited in her spot until their gazes locked.
“I have to go back,” she said.
“I left something important. I hid it from the hunters. Go. I’ll follow.”
“Just... be careful, okay, Rasmus?”
“You don’t have to—”
“I’ll be back.”
She smiled and was gone, slipping down the rocks she’d so painfully followed him up.
He waited, debating, before his throat clenched, and he moved back for his goal. Determination surged, Rasmus leaping up the cliffside one rock at the time, searching for his sister.
Kaia heard the oncoming onslaught, turning to peer off into the distance. Through the trees, she could see the night’s sky and horizon, suddenly aware how high they were. Her heart caught, though she hadn’t felt a fear of heights much before.
“Niki,” she said sweetly. “Is it possible the Vampire Hunters know where you are?”
His eyes flashed at the name, but his face remained flat. “Shadow dancing takes a lot of effort,” he replied. “It leaves a trail that anyone who knows how to read auras can follow.”
“So,” she said, barely able to maintain her patience, “why did you do it?”
“I needed to get you away from him.”
She repeated this thought twice before moving. “From Rasmus?”
Nikodemos raised his chin. “You are more logical when he is not around.”
Kaia opened her mouth, then shut it. She twisted in frustration. He wouldn’t look at her, beginning to pace the edge of the lake like a beast at its bars.
“Nikodemos,” she said finally, her voice low. “What is it that you want from me?”
Now he turned, his yellow eyes large. “You cause me a lot of pain.”
“So, you want to kill me.”
“Or…” He clenched his jaw. “Or, you can be here.”
“In hell?” she grinned.
“With me. Your proximity makes me feel at peace.”
She raised her brows. “You want me to be chained to you? Because you owe me a favor? Just do me a favor, if that’s all!”
“That’s not it.”
The clanking grew louder, and they knew they were close. Kaia squinted at his calmness. What was he planning?
“I know you want to see the depths of the Wyrd,” Nikodemos said. “That you are curious about me. Where I come from. Why I am here. You can learn. I can escort you. And then, maybe we will find a way to sever our bond.”
“And then you’ll shank me.”
“I don’t want you to die,” he snarled. “Are you getting this? If killing you was the easy way, why would you be here?”
Kaia went to speak but again was lost for words. She never expected anything like this. “I’m not sure where you want me to go…”
“You are a wanderer, no? You don’t have a home to go to.”
“I have Rasmus.”
“I don’t want him.”
“So, you’ll kill him?”
“If I must.”
“That’ll sever a bond quick,” she glowered, voice deep in her throat. Her demeanor shifted, her gait growing, face contorted. “Don’t you dare touch him.”
“I’ll have no reason to. Leave him here.”
Blood rushed to the back of her ears. Her heart began to pound in her chest, body enflamed. What was he asking of her? And more to the point, based on everything she ever wanted, could she refuse?
All rights reserved. ©2019 Charley Daveler.