A speck of pure red light shone through the darkness. I could see him. My heart lurched. Collin was on his side with one hand extended before him, like he was trying to crawl away from something before he collapsed. I swallowed hard at the sight of his appearance. His clothing was torn to rags and covered in filth. His dark hair was matted to his scalp. Deep black lines were etched into his body. It was as if long blades had pierced his flesh and the wounds were left open to putrefy. A surge of rage shot from deep within me, curling my fingers into fists.
I had to get to Collin.
If I could get to him, I could get us both out of here. But, I had to physically reach him first. My eyes darted through the inky black space. A dim, red light formed a jagged circle in the rock surrounding Collin's body before it fell into darkness. He was separated by a chasm that stretched between us. Collin groaned, and the hollow place in my chest felt like it would burst. I had to get to him. Now. But, time was limited. I had until someone saw me. And in this shadowy place, someone could have been standing next to me the whole time, and I wouldn't have known. My Martis vision didn't work as well down here, though I didn't know why.
Silently, I crept forward with my heart thundering in my ears. Crouching low to the ground, I moved towards him, stretching out one leg at a time. My eyes darted through the darkness looking for other signs that demons were near, but there were none.
Why was he alone? Did they really think that I would stay away? Did they think I would abandon him? My other leg stretched forward, as I shifted my body slowly toward the rim of the abyss. It was illuminated with the slightest trace of red light that moved and flickered like fire.
Suddenly the shadows that I called with my Valefar powers, tried to retreat. The shadows were locked deep inside me, masking the faint scent of the angel blood that flowed through my veins. The shadows jerked, and attempted to sever themselves from within, but I held them tightly. The sensation made me want to scream. I bit my lip to muffle the sound, hoping I could hold them in place a little bit longer. As I neared the rim, I saw demons on the other side. They were behind Collin's limp body with their deformed backs facing toward me.
As I slid closer to the edge, the red light licked across my face, and I peered over. It was then that I felt the bond tug sharply. I looked up at Collin. His blue eyes were wide open, staring at me. He didn't move, but the expression on his face conveyed more pain than I could bear.
His thoughts brushed my mind, Don't come closer. He's here. He kept me alive, waiting for you. Don't come.
I'll get you out, I replied. It'll be all right... As soon as I can reach you, you'll be safe. Collin's blue eyes slid closed as he lost consciousness.
My heart thundered in my ears. The shadows that shrouded me were pulling, trying to slip away from me. I clenched my stomach hard, knowing that I had to hold them in place. But I was losing. Without their presence, the demons would detect me instantly. The angel blood that flowed through my veins was limited, but potent. They would catch my scent immediately. No, I had to hold the shadows in place, but there was a force greater than my own calling them away.
I could no longer contain them. Slowly, the shadow's cold presence was ripped painfully out of my throat, one by one. As the shadows retreated, the demons slowly turned. I sucked in a sharp breath as dozens of glowing red eyes landed on me. There was a moment when nothing happened. I wasn't certain if the demons would recognize me or not. There wasn't time to think about it. The shock that held them still shattered. They rushed towards me with their razor sharp teeth exposed through sneering lips.
Fear threatened to freeze me in place, but I wouldn't let it. I had to get to Collin. There was no time. I focused all my attention on the ruby stone on my finger and efanotated. They knew I was here. Using Valefar powers in this place would expose me, but I already blew my cover.
The sear of heat shot through my body in a single burst before I reappeared next to Collin. Crouching quickly, I gripped his limp hand in mine. There was a commotion among the demons as they tried to figure out where I'd gone.
A smug smile slid across my face. I'd made it. We'd be gone before they could stop us.
But all my attention was focused on the demons. I didn't notice the enormous shadow that had stretched above us. As I looked up, my voice ripped out of my throat in a raw scream. Massive black scales covered the beast's body, and it descended on us like a hawk, poised to strike. Four gnarled finger-like claws curved grotesquely as black blades elongated from its flesh. The winged monster descended so fast that the wind screeched around it. The beast made a horrid shriek that was amplified to a deafening volume. Between ear-piercing cries from its maw, the razor sharp claws, and the cracking of its black veined wings, uncontrollable terror shot through me.
My voice rang in my ears as I screamed. Shaking, I pulled Collin into my arms, and focused on the ruby stone in my ring. Efanotating two people was dangerous, but I could do it. It was part of the powers that I possessed from the tainted blood that flowed through my veins. If I did it wrong, I would kill us both. But if I didn't do it fast enough, we would both die anyway. The heat that proceeded efanotating blossomed quickly and licked my belly from within.
Only a few more seconds and that glorious burst of searing pain would transport our bodies away from here.
We would be free.
But, fate didn't allow us a few seconds. It didn't allow us any. As the heat licked my stomach, the beast's massive talloned paw materialized above us. The gnarled bones flexed as the serpent cried out, and slammed its massive claws down on top of us.
Sweat covered my face as I sat up screaming. My fingers desperately tried to find Collin's hand, but only grabbed air. Sucking in sharply, I wiped the sweat from my eyes, and pulled my knees into my chest.
"That's the third time that I had the same vision," I rasped in a shaky voice.
Shannon's hand was on my shoulder. She squeezed it, as the trembling worked its way out of my muscles. "The one with the dragon?"
I nodded, feeling too freaked to talk. That was the third time that I'd seen my attempt to save Collin fail. And it was the third time that I'd seen my own death.
I pushed back my seat as we soared over the Atlantic Ocean. Shannon and I were on our way to the Martis headquarters in Rome. We boarded the plane that morning and I hadn't seen land out the window since.
Some part of me wondered how insane it was to walk straight into the Martis compound, even if I was invited. Most of the Martis still thought I was evil incarnate. It was an honest mistake, but it could have deadly consequences. While describing me as the Prophecy One was accurate, the evil part was a little out of date. I proved that fighting next to Julia, the Regent Dyconisis, and other Martis on Long Island. They had regarded me as some sort of hero after that. Well, everyone except Julia. She still had suspicion plastered all over her face the last time I'd seen her. I was learning that it was difficult to expect a Martis to look beyond the color of my tainted mark. When she looked at me, the only thing she saw was certain destruction and death.
The prophecy foretold of a seventeen-year-old as the destructor of the world. Everyone believed that I was that seventeen-year-old. It was hard to deny since the prophecy was a painting and not just words scratched onto a sheet of paper. I could have contested words, but not the painting. The resemblance was too strong. Her face was the mirror image of mine.
But, it was the violet mark on her brow that was irrefutable. That intricate mark confirmed that I was the Prophecy One without a doubt, because I was the only one who had it. No other Martis had a violet mark. Theirs were all the perfect shade of blue. Their enemies, the Valefar, had a scar scraped across their forehead that oozed an ugly red. No, there was no denying that I was the girl in the painting. My mark and hers were one and the same.
The Martis were terrified of that mark. They were terrified of me. I was the embodiment of two enemies that had been at war with each other for hundreds of thousands of years. That violet mark revealed that angel and demon blood flowed in unison through my veins. It showed the delicate and lethal balance of power that rested in the hands of one human girl.
The Martis and the Valefar were at a stalemate before I came along, but no one knows what will happen now. They think I'm a wild card. I was hoping that my actions would speak loudly and the Martis would know without a doubt whose side I was on. Being the demon queen and ruling the Underworld held no appeal for me. And, I had no desire to wipe out the Martis and destroy the world. The Valefar could go screw themselves for all I cared. I wasn't going to help them free Kreturus no matter what that prophecy said. So, my only option was to try and derail the prophecy, and hope for a different outcome. Until recently, the prophecy painting was housed safely in an old church. Now the damn thing was in the Underworld with Collin...and Kreturus.
And it was my fault.
Guilt gnawed at me constantly. I wondered what I could have done differently, what I could have changed to cause different results, but I didn't know. Collin was trying to keep the prophecy from happening as much as Eric, even though they were on different sides in the same war. The Martis and the Valefar were immortal enemies since their creation, so it was astounding that Collin and Eric were fighting for a common goal - keeping me alive. And, here I was, sitting on an airplane with my best friend, flying thousands of miles from home, to try and save the boy who sacrificed himself for me. Maybe it was the guilt that motivated me. Maybe I was stupid. Maybe I was utterly love-struck. Whatever the reason, I was determined to bring Collin home.
Julia and Eric left for Rome a couple of weeks ago. They had to report the Long Island battle to the Martis. Way too many Valefar and Martis had invaded my life. Back then, I had no idea why. Now I knew exactly why - both forces were converging on the point of the final battle. It wasn't a coincidence at all. It was me, pure and simple. The Valefar needed my power to free Kreturus and the Martis wanted me dead. Before I had any idea what I was, both sides were hunting me. Eric's sole mission for the past two-thousand years was to find and kill me.
I heard that the Martis took Eric's testimony and banished him to some remote location for his disobedience. Julia was the only one who knew his whereabouts. It seemed they wanted to make sure I didn't go looking for him. But, I couldn't. The knowledge that he was involved in my sister's death ignited something within me. It burned in my bones, and made me insane with rage if I thought about it too long. I pushed the thought away, and stared out the little oval window. The topsides of fluffy white clouds passed beneath the jumbo jet. I leaned my head against the glass.
Shannon spoke to the back of my head. She had wanted to tell me something since they closed the plane door. "The Tribunal wants me to testify as soon as we get there. Once I do that, I can help you search the library for the stuff you're looking for."
I nodded, waiting for more. But, she said nothing else.
She pulled her feet up onto her little coach class seat, and wrapped her arms around her legs. The passengers around us were sleeping. "You wanna talk?"
No. I didn't want to talk. Instead, I shrugged, and said, "There's nothing to say." I turned back toward the window. Hollowness consumed me. I hadn't spoken of Collin or my mother to anyone. I couldn't. It was too horrible.