Avenari - Chapter 39
The Council, not surprisingly, had its own floor right below the research level, with each member occupying a personalized room of his or her own. Buried underground in the dark, cramped passages, however, I couldn’t help feeling slightly claustrophobic. I never slept in coffins or storage crates the way most of my kind preferred—save for when I managed to wheedle Simone into letting me spend the day with him. I wanted to feel human, even if my daytime sleep only barely resembled what the average mortal experienced.
Sakura remained in the hall while Andris worked his mischief, reasoning that, because she wasn’t allowed in the Elders’ rooms, even the smallest trace of her scent would result in her execution. Nick and I hesitated, thinking that the same fate would await us as well, but Andris refused to let us escape. He wanted witnesses, and besides, we were under his umbrella of power. Even if the Hanarisar were to target us, he would be a fortress blocking their path—a fortress guarded by concentric lava moats, the hounds of hell, and one hell of a powerful demon lord.
I loved him dearly, but even I felt that he was a little too powerful for his own good.
“Abednego is in this one,” Andris said when he broke the magical lock with his mind and opened the portal. “May as well strike the primary Elder first.”
“You’re having way too much fun,” Nick said. The kid paused at the threshold and gave me pleading eyes, but I couldn’t help him. This was Andris’ game now.
He entered after his Maker with a long-abused sigh.
I was equally helpless, and followed just as grudgingly.
The room was as plain as they came. There was a bookshelf, a simple desk and chair, and a sarcophagus. Nothing more decorated the place, and I wondered whether or not this guy had any personality to speak of. I couldn’t imagine such a boring eternity.
“What are you planning to tell him?” Nick asked, eyeing the sarcophagus in distaste. It looked like nothing more than a long chunk of granite stuck randomly at one side of the room. It wasn’t even flush with the wall.
Andris smirked and read the first card. “‘Abednego, will you ever grow a personality?’”
“Ah,” the kid and I said simultaneously. Well, that was certainly the succinct approach.
I watched in fascination as he approached the granite slab, then gasped when he simply picked up the lid and set the card in the darkness beneath. He then closed it and dusted his hands off, as though he had accomplished a satisfying goal.
Nick just gawked at him. “Wait, that’s it? We’re risking our asses just so you can put taunting messages in the Council’s coffins? What the hell is wrong with you?” Rather than anger, his tone held nothing more than blatant incomprehension.
“Is that a problem?”
The kid’s shoulders slumped. “I’m never going to understand you. This just proves it. Your brain is wrong in some way, and there’s no fixing it.”
To our annoyance, Andris laughed. “Sometimes, thinking things through is a waste of energy. It’s okay to be ridiculous every so often.”
“While risking your blood partner’s life?” I gave him a displeased frown, but like the otherworldly creature he was, he easily slipped to my side and shattered my resistance with a gentle kiss on my cheek.
“I take no risks, Lydian. This is a game—no harm in playing along.” Someday, I would be able to resist that seductive tone of his.
Today was not that day.
“Fine. Let the absurdity continue.” I covered my face with a hand and lamented my own weakness while we marched back out and entered the next several rooms.
Each room was different, some filled with paperwork, some with lavish decorations—each and every one had its own feel, as though whoever resided there had done so for so long that their presence had saturated the very stones. I couldn’t help but wonder what it was like when a room received a new occupant. It seemed so wrong. Would the room reject the foreign presence like a transplanted organ? Or would the new occupant begin to take on the previous owner’s personality quirks?
After nearly three hours of enough tomfoolery to exasperate a clown, Andris finally had only one card left, and twirled it in his nimble fingers with unbridled joy.
“Atreus,” he said, a truly evil expression crossing his face for the briefest of moments.
That look sent chills down my spine.
“Hey, don’t get carried away, now,” I warned, going on high alert. “Even if you hate the guy, he’s still part of the Hanarisar. You can’t just do stupid things and expect to get away with them when you screw with people like Atreus.”
We stood before the last door, and the Crimson turned to grin at me over his shoulder. “I won’t hurt the man...but I want to at least hurt his pride a little bit—just enough to compensate for threatening you.”
Me? He was all keyed up for this because of me?
“Andris, I swear on my mother’s soul that if this ends badly, I will make certain that you know pain to make your millennia of torture seem like a scraped knee,” I said through my fangs.
He gave me a funny look, as if my threat were so bizarre that he wouldn’t mind seeing what it was. “Go on.”
I whispered in his ear, and he jerked away in horror. “Princess!”
“Don’t trifle with me.”
He stared at me for a long, long moment, while Nick did the same in confusion, before Andris hung head in defeat. “I’ll restrain myself,” he said as though I had crushed his dreams.
“Okay, what the hell was that?” demanded the kid.
“Nothing!” my demon replied with a slight shudder. “Let’s just finish it up here and get training. I need to wash this image out of my head or I’ll go mad.”
He nearly destroyed the door in his haste, and while he did his thing, Nick turned that confused gaze on me.
“Spill it. What did you say to freak him out that badly?”
I shrugged. “I said I’d go sleep with every man within a twenty-mile radius. Twice.”
Nick leered at me in disbelief for so long that I started to worry about him. Then, just as Andris was stepping out of the room to report back, he said wryly, “Am I included on that list?”
Like a viper strike, Andris’ fist hit him so swiftly that his arm was invisible for a split-moment, and so hard that the kid went flying several hundred feet down our intended path before skidding some distance across the floor and slamming against the wall at the end. I could have sworn I heard the sound of cracking stone…or maybe bone.
He was little more than a tiny humanoid figure at that distance, but I could still see him leap back up and shake his fist at the ancient.
“You bastard! Can’t you take a goddamn joke?!” he screamed.
I looked up at the demon, and found him shaking with his own ire.
“I’ll mercilessly slaughter any bastard who dares touch my Princess,” Andris seethed, so angry that his powers began to creep across the floor and entrap everything they touched. A ring of blood appeared around the darkness in his eyes, glowing with barely contained emotion. I was surprised to see any color at all in his daytime scheme.
He was such a possessive demon.
I wasn’t afraid of him, though, and without hesitation I took hold of his trembling fist and tugged him down to me, bringing his lips to mine and chuckling a little in my head when he unhinged and caught me up in his embrace. It was such a passionate kiss that I had to exercise quite a lot of self-restraint just to pull away.
“Lynn, don’t say such things,” he pleaded in a helpless whisper, tightening his grasp and staring down into my eyes. The red was gone from his, but I could still see shadows of amethysts in their dark depths. “You could destroy me so easily.”
Sighing, I stroked his face and replied, “You know I would never do anything like that. I love you too much, and nobody could ever compare. However, set a limit to the silly things you do. I don’t want to lose you for a joke, and I’m sure you feel the same, right?”
His eyes widened, and then closed for several seconds before he calmed down and smiled weakly. “I’m sorry for worrying you…”
“You should apologize to Nick, too. For someone so intent on playing a prank, you certainly haven’t much tolerance for others’ jokes.” I gave him a stern frown, and he chuckled in submission.
“Yes, cara mea.”
Sakura gave the two of us a curious look, then sighed a little and started towards Nick.
It was official: she had graduated from coffee maker to toaster oven. I hoped to get her at least to a cocker spaniel by the end of our stay in Ivanarke. She seemed sweet, but it was lost in her austerity. If I somehow got her to laugh, even just once, I could consider my life validated.
When we reached Nick, he was sitting cross-legged on the floor, frowning hard at his Maker in irritation. “Well?!” he snapped.
Andris smiled slightly and held a hand out to the kid. “I apologize for my harsh rebuttal. I’ll try not to let it happen again.”
Nick leered at the proffered hand, then after a long consideration he took it and stood with Andris’ help. “Accepted, but if it happens again, I’m gonna be royally pissed. Think Bengay and super glue.”
I patted them both on the back. “Excellent! Now that we’re all on friendly terms once more, why don’t we get to the training grounds?”
Nick nodded. “I don’t think I could take it much longer here, anyway.”
I looked to Andris, who shrugged.
“I’ve had my fun.”
“Thank goodness,” I muttered. “Sakura, could you take us to the training grounds?”
She seemed visibly relieved that we were finished with the restricted areas of the manor. “With pleasure.”
Now she was a hamster—victory was near!
* o * o *
Sakura couldn’t spend much time outside before her Shimari half began to fry in the dappled light beneath the trees, so she told us to call for her if we needed a guide once we were done with training. This was for the best, however, seeing how Andris’ powers might have hurt her, even when he wasn’t making them do anything.
He really was rather creepy, once I thought about it.
“So what, you have your own sword now because it likes you?” Nick said, frowning at the wall and me in turn.
“As do I,” added Andris, ignoring the kid’s uncertainty and approaching the wall of armaments. “This is mine, Chigui, Japanese for ‘blood-eater’ according to Quelos.” He pulled the sheathed sword from its brackets and held it in the light for Nick to look at.
Finding my sword, I took it down as well and twirled it once, recalling the freedom I had felt while sparring with Quelos. “It’s funny how they have Japanese names. Mine’s Shinryu.”
“Well, from what I recall, Zanthir Srissello was Japanese sword smith who changed his name when he joined the Shimari ranks,” Andris said. “Atreus’ blade is named Aeolus, which means ‘nimble’ in Greek. It’s customary to name a Shimari weapon after its first real battle. However, it’s been some centuries since the last war—which was partly my fault, though I’m still not clear on the details—so there aren’t many Shimaren who still make them.”
I rolled my eyes at his nonchalant attitude. “So, does Nick get one?”
“I really don’t care whether he’s allowed or not. He’s picking something sharp and I’m going to train him.” He gave me a rebellious grin, and I cried a little inside.
Nick didn’t seem to care about permission. He was already examining the menagerie of weapons before him. It took a few minutes, and several impatient noises from Andris, but he eventually settled on a guard-less, curved scimitar with a handle made from some kind of animal horn. The horn had a dark red hue to it, and I wondered whether this was from a special finish or from the blood of its victims.
I wasn’t sure I wanted to know the answer, actually...
“Oh, I know that one!” Andris said. “So he died? Huh…I wonder what did him in.” He fell tacit, and I watched in interest as he lost himself in memories.
Of course, Nick knew nothing of tact, and ruined the mood splendidly.
“What’re you spacing out for?”
Andris threw him an irked glare before responding sharply, “I once fought that blade. The former Hanarisar member who wielded it was the leader of one of the squads assigned to hunt me down and have me destroyed. I believe it’s called Nergui.”
Nick looked at the blade in his hand, then at Andris. “That’s not too different from yours. What does it mean? ‘Nerd-eater?’”
He shook his head. “It’s Mongolian. Some Mongolians will give their children names to either disinterest or warn off disease and ill fortune. The name of that blade literally translates as ‘no name,’ like saying there’s nobody there worth attacking.”
“Like Nemo in Twenty-Thousand Leagues?”
“The purpose of the name is different, but both have ulterior motives.”
“Freaky.” Nick examined the razor-sharp scimitar. “Won’t it feel weird to teach me if I’m using an ex-enemy’s weapon?”
“Is that the one you want?” Andris asked.
He nodded. “It’s kinda...weird, I guess. It’s like someone’s telling me to pick it.”
I knew exactly what he meant. “In that case, the sword wants you,” I said, “and you’ll feel more comfortable using it. Comfortable is safer, so says Quelos.”
“Indeed. Hesitation is your greatest enemy in a fight.” The Crimson drew his blade and gently set the lacquered ebony sheath against Ivanarke’s side. “Teaching you would be easier if you were to use the same weapon, but it can’t be helped at this point, so I’ll just show you a few basic strategies. You’ll have to be careful, though. Nergui has no guard, so you don’t want to loosen your grip, or it might slip out and cut your fingers off.”
Nick frowned at his sword in obvious reluctance. “Right. Cut off my fingers. Will they grow back or will I have to reattach them?”
“You talk as though you’re certain that an accident is going to happen,” I said.
“As a noob, I have zero confidence in my abilities. It’s not like I can hit a series of buttons and end up with a wicked combo. Reality is harder than what I’m used to, I’ll bet.”
“You have no idea.” Andris grinned, and both the kid and I shuddered involuntarily. He was having far too much fun throwing us into the blender.
“Anyway, how do you want to begin?” I asked, trying to shake off the feeling that maybe Andris wasn’t any less intense than Quelos had been.
He paused to consider, then slung the flat of his blade up on his shoulder and sat abruptly on the coarse grass. “This is his first time even touching a weapon, so I want Nick to go first. I suppose stances should be our main priority at the moment, seeing how that’s where all attacks and defenses begin.”
“What should I do, then?” I asked.
Andris smiled and patted the grass beside him. “Have a seat. Your blood is familiar with combat, so you have an advantage. Besides, you’ve been a Shima for much longer than he’s been a Nariuvne. He’s still not completely confident in his body’s new limits.”
“Good point.” I plopped down next to him and held Shinryu in my lap as I settled against his warm shoulder. It was nice to sit in the sun with him. His pearl skin practically glowed in the light, like some kind of ethereal phantasm. I felt better when I could feel him beside me as a solid presence, rather than watch from a distance and wonder if he really existed.
Chuckling at my behavior, he turned to Nick. “How does it feel? Is it heavy or light?”
The kid tested it, swinging the blade slowly left and right, then up and down. “Well...I can feel it resisting when I move it, but it’s not actually heavy. I guess if I were human, it would be, but now it’s just kind of there.”
“That’s good. I’ve seen some weapons made so strangely that even most Shimaren had trouble lifting and moving them.”
I squinted at him. “No way. It’s like flinging a feather around—we’re too strong.”
“In the case of man-made weaponry, that is true, but Shimari and hunter weapons are vastly more complicated. They’re made using elements not found in mortal weapons, like the blood of a specific line, or special charms which give the blade or whatever a more preternatural edge in a fight. Some of them are poisoned, like the one used on me had been. Many are created to suit a specific individual and reject all others.”
“Huh. Weird.” Nick checked his grip on the sword and shook his head. “Nope, it’s just comfortable. Actually, it’s got the perfect weight for me.”
“Good. Now for stances.”
The kid nodded and prepared mentally for whatever Andris was planning behind that suspicious smile of his. “What do you want me to do?”
“I’ll have to customize it a bit if you want to keep your fingers where they are. First, which is your dominant hand?”
“I’m right-handed, just like everybody else in the world.”
I chuckled. “I’m not.”
“I have the luxury of choosing which hand I use,” my demon said.
Nick frowned. “Right. So you’re both abnormal. Now get on with the training stuff before I decide to ad-lib and start slashing around like a crazy person.”
“Well, if you insist,” Andris said with a laugh. “Place your left palm against the pommel of the sword and grip with your right, holding it straight out in front, then try putting one foot in front of the other. Whatever feels more natural is the way you want to go. The blood I gave you knows what it’s like to fight with a blade, so most of it is just for your own comfort.”
Nick shuffled his feet into an awkward position. “Like this?”
“You look ridiculous. I’m not teaching you splits—this is swordplay, you idiot!”
“Then be more specific! ‘One foot in front of the other’ isn’t clear enough!”
“Look, if you want to die, be my guest—but die gracefully, not like a clown with one foot bigger than the other one.”
“At least I’m not a bossy old tyrant!”
Two minutes in and they were already arguing? I could see my purpose already. “Boys, please stop bickering and just focus on what we’re here to do,” I said in disappointment.
They both gave me stubborn leers, but did as they were told.
Once the initial unrest was quelled, Andris managed to teach Nick about ten different stances, as well as how to move between them in a fluid manner. Most of them were defensive, but a few were offensive, and he explained how to change the position of a foot or a hand to switch a defensive stance into one from which Nick could attack.
It was funny, actually. I recognized them all, even though no one had ever taught me. While I played referee to prevent further dissent, my blood was studying everything and making small comments here and there, sending me little tidbits of information on how I could improve my own abilities.
With your height and the hook on that sword, you can easily duck in low and cut across the abdomen, it said thoughtfully once Andris stood and began demonstrating various attacks.
They couldn’t hear me respond, equally thoughtfully, “But won’t that leave my back unguarded?”
Bringing the blade over your shoulder will prevent any opportunistic attacks.
“Okay, so what about that one? What kinds of variations can I manage?”
Rather than mere slicing, the hook can be used to trap the enemy’s blade or arm. By bringing down the opposite edge, more damage can be done.
Huh. I guess it only spoke when it had something worth saying. “You should talk more.”
And have the child questioning your sanity again? It was almost laughing. Almost.
“Well...I guess when you say it like that...”
I shall tell you what I must tell you, when you must be told. That is my way. I have no more for now, so why not test what I have taught so far?
“Okay, then. I leave the details in your capable hands, partner.”
The silent voice fell away, and I stood to begin testing my blood’s strategies. As before, that same sensation familiarity sped through my veins, and after a few warm-ups, I began practicing my new techniques on invisible enemies. I kept away from Nick and Andris, just in case I forgot that I wasn’t actually fighting, but it still felt good.
Like a brief out-of-body experience, I let my body move on its own, pushed and pulled by the slight nuances in my blood as it guided my movements. I imagined that I was up against a dozen of Tivor’s lackeys, pretended that they had various kinds of weapons and adjusted my style accordingly. Sometimes they attacked alone, and sometimes in groups. Maybe one would do something surprising and I would respond with something equally ingenious. Some of them even had guns, and I tried to anticipate what changes to make so that I could avoid getting hit.
Flying, falling, leaping, skipping, ducking, diving—I battled an entire army within my own mind, and my blood was my general.
Before I knew it, a voice called me up from my near trance-like state.
“Princess, it’s your turn!”
Immediately, I stopped, and dropped back into my body to turn and see Andris standing alone at the center of the clearing. Nick was sitting against the tree, looking as though he’d been sent through the wringer, and clearly regretting that he had ever met my slave-driver of a demon.
“You’re done already?” I asked.
“It’s actually been about four hours, but I suppose time flies when you’re enjoying new power.” He smiled with pride, and I chuckled a little.
“It’s not really me. The blood just tells me what to do.”
“It’s a part of who you are—that’s enough to count as your own power.” Slowly, he began to pace a wide circle, studying me as though assessing a challenge. “Would you be opposed to a little sparring match so I can check your progress?” he asked, switching the blade to his left hand and smirking. He was too far away for me to see which shadow was hiding behind his dark eyes, but his tone seemed playful enough.
I shrugged. “I guess. I kind of want to know whether or not I can use my powers for this, like you and Quelos can. With the amulets and your blood, I should be able to surpass my previous limits, shouldn’t I?”
He nodded once. “That’s the theory. Shall we test it?”
That brought a grin to my face, and I raised Shinryu to point it at his circling form. “We shall. I challenge you, demon.”
“And I accept. Call on your powers, and let’s have a little fun,” he laughed.
Giddy at the thought of trumping my seemingly invincible blood partner, I reached into the amulet with my mind, searching for my core and finding the power swirling around its usual place, like a barely-contained hurricane. The power hated that cramped little room, always yearning for the sky above, which the oculus allowed it to see. It was like keeping a wild animal caged and starved, and laying a steak outside the bars just beyond reach.
I was the only one who knew the combination to that lock, and once I opened the door, it all came rushing out, like a cool wind creeping through the moonless night.
When I focused again on Andris, I felt lighter, more capable. The energy brushed its cold static against my skin and mingled with my hair, treating me gently, like a beloved master.
I was ready.
“Let’s go, Andris,” I whispered, throwing myself forward as though nothing, not even gravity or the limits of my own flesh, could tie me down. This was my power, this ability to make time stand still and allow me speed beyond anything a mere fledgling had ever known.
It felt like my spatial sense, reading the various nuances in my surroundings in order to avoid Andris’ swift initial strike...
But no, this was more. This was an expansion of my existence, a series of new connections to things I hadn’t ever thought I could link to and use. The chilly air was my cloak, the dappled shadows on the ground were my stepping stones—any place that resonated with my triggers became a new route I could take instantaneously.
I could become the wind itself.
However, Andris had personal experience on his side. I had no real combat experience, but he did, and he could use it to study my movements and read my attacks. Plus, his power was much more than mine would ever be. It actually became somewhat frustrating after awhile.
Within only a few minutes my blood kicked in with its advice, but that quickly became an annoyance, and it stopped at the realization that I wanted to learn for myself.
“Thanks,” I muttered, lunging at Andris once more and growling slightly when he blocked my attack and used my momentum to send me flying past him.
“Battle isn’t a linear thing, Princess!” he called when I whipped around and frowned at him. “It’s a multi-dimensional occurrence, something which requires more than what you are accustomed to using. Stop thinking attack and defense, and start thinking like the air. Never cease movement, as though you’re not using a series of motions, but one, single fluid motion which encompasses the entire fight.”
That clicked with my powers, and I grinned.
In real-time, it was instantaneous, but to me it was as slow as the movements of stars.
I lunged ahead at him, skipping across the shadows and gathering bits of power from them, swinging my blade towards his side only to be blocked, but using that block to catch his sword with my hook and fling it downwards, then back around while I spun and adjusted my grip and slashed upwards.
For a brief moment in my snail-pace time, there was a glimmer of fear in his eyes, just as I caught him...
A moment later, I stood behind him, and I stopped to look back and check my handiwork.
Andris was still, and Nick gaped in shock.
“You got him...?” whispered our fledgling.
Finally, my demon turned around and I grinned. There was a neat, perfect slice from his hip, up his chest, up his throat, and across his left cheek. I had adjusted my grip so that I didn’t cut more than a millimeter deep, and his newest ruined shirt made it clear that I had done well.
“Amazing,” he said in awe, staring as though I had solved the Theory of Everything.
“Is that all you’ve got, Andy?” I teased, twirling Shinryu in my hand and laughing.
He grinned, baring his many fangs and bringing his own blade to bear. “Not in the least.”
One second, I felt light and free, and the next I felt his powers spill out, filling the clearing with that sticky, resistant heat which bent so easily to his will.
“We’re just getting started,” he said.
I was used to his powers, so it wasn’t as bad as it would have been for someone who didn’t know him at all, but it still took its toll on me. More power was being forced from my core, rather than drawn from the cold air. I adored his heat. I cherished his heat.
But his heat made me weak.
I remained a capable fighter in spite of this, and the longer we fought, the better I understood his strength. If my power moved like black wind, then his was like lava encased in ice. His very existence defied natural laws, and that made him strong; but I was one with those very same laws, and I could draw strength from them. He didn’t have that luxury.
I skipped through shadows and pockets of cool air that flowed through the clearing, following their invisible rivers and avoiding the ground as much as possible. Andris could mostly predict where I would go, but at the last moment I would dive low or twirl high, forcing him to improvise and bring his blade up to counter me. As long as I stayed out of his power’s heavy influence, I could keep him on his toes.
The more I relied on my powers, the more he was forced to do the same, until I felt as though I were wading through molasses. I could keep pushing, though. I hadn’t reached my limits yet. I reached higher and grasped the colder air beyond his sphere of influence, zipping through so that the cold followed me into his realm.
He moved so fast, and his powers flowed so effortlessly, but I could sprint in and out much more quickly, almost catching him by surprise. I just needed to move faster, to push harder. I needed to become the cold, dark wind of a winter night, unseen and unpredictable. I needed to show him how good I could be, to wrest control of the fight back to myself and stand on equal footing with my powerful blood partner.
Tatsune seemed to think that I couldn’t bring anything to the table, and I needed to make him see that I had some value. I needed to prove that I wasn’t weak. I had spent my entire life looking for a chance to make a mark that would resonate through my world, and not even the Emperor was going to stop me now that my goal was in sight. I needed this. I needed my world to remember me, no matter what. Even if I died, even if the amulet obliterated me, I wanted to burn my existence so deeply into the earth that nothing could ever hope to erase me.
Even as I began to feel my strength waver, I pushed just a little more…a little harder…and then, at last, I spotted my chance. Finally, it clicked.
Andris was fast, but he never stopped his movements. He always followed through, tried to make everything flow together…but what if I didn’t let him finish? Quickly, a plan put itself together in my mind, and my blood approved just as I put it into motion. It would be my last chance. I didn’t have enough energy left to keep this up.
I ran around the clearing’s perimeter, gathering speed and energy from the deeper shadows near the trees, then leapt up and ricocheted off a thick branch about twenty feet above the ground, aimed right for Andris. Of course, he was ready. Glowing crimson flickered in rings around Andris’ eyes as he grinned at me.
I whipped by the demon, our swords ringing against each other as I passed. In the split-nanosecond that followed, I spun in midair, jamming the sword into the dirt as I landed, and reversed my direction. I lunged back at him just as he was ending his swing, and brought my blade up over my head with a triumphant cry—
I slammed back against Ivanarke’s trunk. It knocked the wind out of me and forced my powers to retract and protect me. The impact shocked me out of my zone, and I immediately sprang back up, unhurt but panicked.
The energy was astonishing, flowing out in waves which spread further and further, stopping at the edge of the clearing and beginning to pool like a flash flood. I gaped at my blood partner where he stood frozen, breathing hard.
I had pushed him too hard, forced him to let too much power through, and now he was losing control. Even the ground rumbled, shuddering beneath as though his power reached into its depths. The monstrous trees groaned and protested all around us, swaying with the massive surges of energy and the trembling earth.
“Stop!” I cried, trying to make my way back to my demon despite the thick, intense heat and the ground’s unpredictable movements. “Turn it off! That’s enough for now!”
I was so stupid! What was wrong with me? I was the one who had told him not to overdo things with Quelos, and now here I was, pushing him to the brink. My idiocy deserved some sort of divine retribution.
Somehow, through sheer willpower, I made it to his side and I gripped his arm. “Andris!” I shouted when he didn’t react. “Call your power back before someone gets hurt!”
Slowly—so, very, very slowly—he turned to look at me, and I jerked away in surprise.
His eyes had gone completely black, with blood red irises that glittered in the sun.
“It’s coming,” he breathed, and as soon as the words left his lips, his powers exploded outwards, shoving hard against the training grounds’ barrier and curling up like tidal waves when they couldn’t escape. Instead, they crashed back into the earth with the force of an asteroid impact and pounded the dirt down at least a foot, leaving a depression in the ground exactly the same size as the clearing. The sheer force threw me back a second time, and Nick caught me before I slammed against the tree again.
“What’s going on?!” he demanded shrilly, his grip on my arms almost painful.
I just shook my head. I wasn’t sure. Andris had probably crossed some forbidden limit, and this was the consequence—but I couldn’t be positive. I could barely even think. The energy had found a way out of the barrier and was now coiling around me, seeking me out and constricting around my body like a terrible serpent. I could only watch in fear as the darkness in his hair began seeping back into his scalp, like ink drawn from a straw.
After a minute, the darkness vanished. His hair had gone completely white—whiter than Akuro’s—like fresh snow and ice. Then he moved, and it was such an easy, graceful movement, as though there were no power restricting his steps. His eyes remained hidden beneath his white fringe as he set the sword on his shoulder and began walking our way, but I was certain they still retained that eerie color scheme.
The ground and the trees finally calmed down, but Nick and I remained incapable of movement. The energy remained thick, and as it rose it solidified around us like setting concrete. All we could do was wait for Andris to reach us. I didn’t want to try and guess our fate.
Closer and closer he came, and my blood remained frozen—that scared me the most. My blood was a proud, authoritative entity. I hadn’t even known that it could show fear.
Andris was monstrously powerful. If something had snapped inside of him...
“Well, I hadn’t expected this, but I shall take what I can get, I suppose.” A soft, resonant voice floated over to where we had collapsed, and I blinked. I knew that strange voice. It was Andris’ voice…almost.
“That’s—that’s not Andris!” I managed to croak past the suffocating pressure. It took all of my willpower not to scream. Nick gawked at me, his pupils dilated in horror. We were bunnies trapped in a lion’s den.
Andris stepped up out of the depression and walked calmly over to us, and we stared up into his alien eyes.
Blood in the darkness...
No, this wasn’t Andris.
This was something much, much worse.